Summit via Everett Collection
You can imagine that Renny Harlin, director and one quadrant of the writing team for The Legend of Hercules, began his pitch as such: We'll start with a war, because lots of these things start with wars. It feels like this was the principal maxim behind a good deal of the creative choices in this latest update of the Ancient Greek myth. There are always horse riding scenes. There are generally arena battles. There are CGI lions, when you can afford 'em. Oh, and you've got to have a romantic couple canoodling at the base of a waterfall. Weaving them all together cohesively would be a waste of time — just let the common threads take form in a remarkably shouldered Kellan Lutz and action sequences that transubstantiate abjectly to and fro slow-motion.
But pervading through Lutz's shirtless smirks and accent continuity that calls envy from Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland performance is the obtrusive lack of thought that went into this picture. A proverbial grab bag of "the basics" of the classic epic genre, The Legend of Hercules boasts familiarity over originality. So much so that the filmmakers didn't stop at Hercules mythology... they barely started with it, in fact. There's more Jesus Christ in the character than there is the Ancient Greek demigod, with no lack of Gladiator to keep things moreover relevant. But even more outrageous than the void of imagination in the construct of Hercules' world is its script — a piece so comically dim, thin, and idiotic that you will laugh. So we can't exactly say this is a totally joyless time at the movies.
Summit via Everett Collection
Surrounding Hercules, a character whose arc takes him from being a nice enough strong dude to a nice enough strong dude who kills people and finally owns up to his fate — "Okay, fine, yes, I guess I'm a god" — are a legion of characters whose makeup and motivations are instituted in their opening scenes and never change thereafter. His de facto stepdad, the teeth-baring King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), despises the boy for being a living tribute to his supernatural cuckolding; his half-brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) is the archetypical scheming, neutered, jealous brother figure right down to the facial scar. The dialogue this family of mongoloids tosses around is stunningly brainless, ditto their character beats. Hercules can't understand how a mystical stranger knows his identity, even though he just moments ago exited a packed coliseum chanting his name. Iphicles defies villainy and menace when he threatens his betrothed Hebe (Gaia Weiss), long in love with Hercules, with the terrible fate of "accepting [him] and loving [their] children equally!" And the dad... jeez, that guy must really be proud of his teeth.
With no artistic feat successfully accomplished (or even braved, really) by this movie, we can at the very least call it inoffensive. There is nothing in The Legend of Hercules with which to take issue beyond its dismal intellect, and in a genre especially prone to regressive activity, this is a noteworthy triumph. But you might not have enough energy by the end to award The Legend of Hercules with this superlative. Either because you'll have laughed yourself into a coma at the film's idiocy, or because you'll have lost all strength trying to fend it off.
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In 1956, Iowa native Pauline Phillips, aspiring writer and established source of personal wisdom, got a job doling out advice to the readers of the San Francisco Chronicle. Under the pen name Abigail Van Buren, Phillips would come to reach an audience of over 100 million, earning an iconic stature in the worlds of print, pop culture, and life lessons. She is known best as the moniker with which she titled her column: Dear Abby. Sadly, TMZ reports that Phillips, born Pauline Friedman, died on Wednesday at the age of 94, following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's Disease.
Phillips was only the first in a family of professional "advisers" — her twin sister Esther Lederer would too come to make a living as an advice columnist, under the pen name Ann Landers. And it is Phillips' daughter Jeanne who carries on the Dear Abby legacy as its present author (Jeanne began co-writing the column with her mother in 1987, and took over completely in 2002 following the announcement of Phillips' diagnosis with Alzheimer's).
Since the early days of the column, readers have consistently solicited the wisdom of Abby, but have also tuned in to discover a relentless source of entertainment in some of the strange and silly questions sent in by fans. As a tribute to Phillips, we've collected some of our favorite Dear Abby letters and responses, ranging from absurd to heartfelt."I have never written to a paper for advice before, but need help desperately and cannot talk to my family or friends about my problem. I am a private secretary to a well-known executive in the Bay area. I have been employed by him for five years. You may think this sounds cheap, but we are deeply in love. His wife speaks to him only when she wants money and he has no respect or affection for her. He has told me repeatedly that I am the woman he loves, but we can't consider marriage because it would ruin him financially and socially. In addition to an excellent salary, he has given me an automobile, a fur coat, and he pays my rent. When he takes business trips, I always go along. I am not getting any younger, yet I feel one day he will make me his wife. What do you think?" (Written by CONFIDENT - the first Dear Abby letter ever posted)
"As a baby boomer 'coming of age,' my hair has gone from brown to 60 percent gray. When filling out forms and documents that ask for color of hair (like driver's licenses), what should I write?" (Written by PRE-SENIOR MAN IN ARIZONA)
"Here's one for your 'Can you top this?' file. A friend planned a 50th birthday party for his wife. He hired a male stripper to 'entertain' the guests. His mother was terminally ill, but gave her approval for the party to take place whether she was alive or not. Shortly before the party, she died. The party took place before she was buried. The only change was that the guests were asked to wear black." (Written by WHADDAYA THINK IN SEATTLE?)
"When I read the letter about the widower who wore his wife's ashes in a vial around his neck while making love to his subsequent ladyfriend, my response was, 'I wish I could be married to a man that devoted to me.' My female co-worker's response: 'At that age, she should be glad she's getting sex. She should IGNORE the vial!'" (Written by DEVOTED READER, ALTOONA, PA)
"I am a professional whistler and bird caller. Whenever people ask what I do for a living, my reply is often met with the question, 'What is that?' About the best I can respond with is, 'Someone who whistles.' My art is not at the height of its popularity, as it was in the early part of the last century. Whistlers are no longer featured with big bands as they once were; the late, great whistler Fred Lowery no longer headlines at Carnegie Hall or whistles the national anthem at Yankee Stadium; Elmo Tanner is not whistling 'Heartaches' with Perry Como and the Ted Weems orchestra; and Muzzy Marcellino isn't whistling the sweet and plaintive theme song to 'Lassie' that we all remember. Abby, it's hard to deal with the fact that the art of whistling has become so far removed from the public. Could you kindly print my letter as a reminder to your readers that whistling is a beautiful art form with a rich heritage in America and elsewhere? (No name, please. This one's for the art.) (Written by THE WHISTLER, of course)
"Although I read your column daily, I have never had a reason to write until now. I read the obituaries and have noticed that lately there are female pallbearers listed. Is this proper, or should it be a man's role? I always thought that men were supposed to do it. I'm sure other people wonder about this, too." (Written by VICKI IN JOPLIN, MO)
"My husband and I have been invited to a formal, 'white-tie' reception and sit-down dinner. I have finally found the perfect gown. I'm planning on wearing long, white gloves that I've had for many years, but never had occasion to wear. What I'm unsure about is what to do with my gloves once I get there. Can I wear jewelry over my gloves? Should they be removed for dinner? Shall I leave them off for dancing? I'm looking forward to being dressed to the nines, but don't want to overdo it. Help!" (Written by ALL DRESSED UP IN WILMINGTON, DEL.)
"My best friend asked me who I liked. I told her, trusting that she wouldn't tell anyone. Her response was, 'Eew! You like him?!' The next day she got one of our other friends to get the guy I like to ask her out. The worst part is she doesn't even like this guy and she's moving away. What should I do? Help! - (Written by MAD IN LEESBURG, VA.)
"My boyfriend and I are considering living on a sailboat together. He is my true love. We're not yet married, but perhaps we will be in the near future. We get along really great, but I am not confident that living together would be a good idea. Our parents would hate us. What should I do?" (Written by MOTION IN THE OCEAN)
"I am a pretty 29-year-old woman living in a conservative area in Canada. I have always been comfortable with my statuesque body. My boyfriend loves that I dress flatteringly -- or even downright provocatively! My question is about the 'do's and don'ts' of thong bikinis. We have lovely beaches here. Bikinis are common, but I have yet to see another woman wear a thong bikini. I enjoy wearing them, but I'm wondering if it's a breach of etiquette to wear one around families or children. Thong bikinis on older, out-of-shape men (eew!) are common. Abby, if it's good for the gander, what about the goose?" (Written by TOO SEXY FOR YOUR KIDS?)[Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.