Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
For whatever reason, there's been a flood of sword and sandal epics charging toward the screen. But Brett Ratner's Hercules, already the second film starring the mythical demi-god to be released this year, is the best of the lot. Unsurprisingly, this feature lacks the polish and ambition of the year's weightier blockbusters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or the sublime Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But what it lacks in ambition, it makes up for in pure thrills.
It's been years since Hercules completed his mythical labors, and stories of his gallantry have spread far across Greece, which benefits Herc and his merry band of mercenaries just fine since a résumé that can double as a child's bedtime story is worth its weight in gold. But when King Cotys of Thrace (John Hurt) enlists Hercules to end a rebellion that threatens to send his city into chaos, a quest that has the untrained Thracian soldiers whispering nervously of monsters, beasts, and an evil sorcerer, the mighty son of Zeus might not have the gods on his side.
Who knew a film by Brett Ratner and starring Dwayne Johnson would have more than two brain cells to mush together? Hercules boasts a narrative that's all about the power of mythmaking; it examines the way legends grow, spread, balloon, and deflate, and takes the classic Hercules story in unexpected directions in a nicely subversive, clever way.
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
The Rock's brawny good looks do the Greco-Roman demi-god his due justice, and the hulking hero's physique looks like a supreme feat of nature (and the gym). But even through the muscles and leather armor, Johnson's natural charisma shines through. While The Rock is the centerpiece of the film, the true highlights are his supporting cast of heroes, who fire off expertly loaded quips when necessary. The standout here is Ian McShane's soothsaying Amphiaraus, whose quest to meet his fate often requires standing right in the way of flaming spears. The jokes sometimes feel anachronistically modern, but they mesh well enough into a story that's wholly uninterested in adhering to classic representations of ancient Greecian myths.
Hercules is by no measure a great film. Hell, I'd even be cautious to call it a good film. The suspect CGI and cheesy costumes break the spell all too often, but it's such a cheerfully ridiculous take on Hercules myth that it's nearly irresistible. The film is knowingly doofy and hits every rung of the standard action adventure, but does so with such a spirited commitment to the material and swashbuckling sense of fun, it's hard not to buy into its legend.
When Fox announced that they were dropping the standard pilot-season model of developing new TV shows; it earned them a great deal of attention from fans and critics. So when they unveiled their Fall 2014-2015 schedule, everyone's focus went straight to the slate of new shows premiering in the next few months — after all, they have to be good if Fox is willing to gamble on a brand new way of doing things. In certain cases, it seems like the gamble might just have paid off — you can't go wrong with Batman or British remakes, right? - but others seem like they'll only rub salt in the wound of recent cancellations.
We've run down all of Fox's upcoming series in order to predict which ones will live up to the hype and be worth your time come fall. Although sadly, none of them seem likely to fill the Enlisted-shaped hole in our hearts.
Gotham What It Is: DramaWhat It's About: Following Det. Jim Gordon and the Gotham City Police Department as they deal with the crime and corruption that plagues the city, and Gordon attempts to find Who's In It: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee and Jada Pinkett-SmithWhat It Sounds Like: It's basically Batman, minus Batman himself. How Good Will It Be: Based on the first trailer for the show, it looks like it could be exciting and gritty, although tiny Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle do make us a bit wary. Still, it's got a talented cast on board, so if the show can keep the visuals and story interesting, it could be surprisingly good. How Long It Will Last: At least two seasons. Fox has thrown a lot of support behind Gotham, so they won't let it go easily.
UtopiaWhat It Is: Reality showWhat It's About: 15 people move to an isolated, undeveloped location for a year and attempt to build their own society from scratch. Who's In It: No word yet, but they have to be crazy if they're willing to sign up for this. What It Sounds Like: Big Brother meets Survivor, with a dash of Kid Nation. How Good Will It Be: It depends entirely on the cast, but our best bet is that it will either be outright terrible, or horrifically entertaining. How Long It Will Last: Unfortunately, it will probably run for ten years.
Red Band SocietyWhat It Is: Drama What It's About: A coming-of-age story set in the pediatric ward of a hospital that follows a group of patients as they grow, bond, and battle illnesses. Who's In It: Octavia Spencer, Griffin Gluck, Charlie Rowe, Dave Annable, Brian Bradley aka Astro, Ciara Bravo and Zoe LevinWhat It Sounds Like: One Tree Hill meets Grey's Anatomy, except only one person is in a coma. How Good Will It Be: Spencer is generally the best part of everything she does, but even she might not be enough to make the many elements of this show — comedy, drama, tear-jerking moments of triumph, general teenage drama, hospital administration — blend well together. How Long It Will Last: About a season. Even if it is good, it will probably struggle to find an audience.
GracepointWhat It Is: Drama What It's About: Based on the British series Broadchurch, it centers on a small town and the murder that upends the lives of all of its residents. Who's In It: David Tennant, Anna Gunn, Michael Peña, Jacki Weaver, Kevin Zegers and Jessica LucasWhat It Sounds Like: It's literally just Broadchurch with Tennant doing an American accent. How Good Will It Be: A lot depends on how much they take from the original, but since that was such a good series and they've got a fantastic cast on board, things look good for Gracepoint. How Long It Will Last: At least three seasons, regardless of how closely it hews to the original.
Backstrom What It Is: Drama What It's About: A crime procedural about an obnoxious and offensive, but brilliant detective who is brought back from exile to run the special crimes unit. Who's In It: Rainn Wilson, Dennis Haysbert, Thomas Dekker, Beatrice Rosen and Kristoffer PolahaWhat It Sounds Like: Every other "rogue cop" procedural that's hit the air in the last few year, but with Dwight from The OfficeHow Good Will It Be: It has a pretty decent cast, but the premise is something we've seen before many times, with varying levels of success, so there's a lot against it. A lot is riding on Wilson, although it's his first real foray into drama, which also doesn't bode well. How Long It Will Last: Like almost every other crime procedural premiering this fall, it will probably be canceled within the year.
Mulaney What It Is: SitcomWhat It's About: An aspiring stand-up comic gets a job writing jokes for a narcissistic comedian and game show host, which causes conflict between him and his two best friends and roommates. Who's In It: John Mulaney, Martin Short, Nasim Pedrad, Seaton Smith and Elliott GouldWhat It Sounds Like: Seinfeld meets New Girl, with a touch of 30 Rock How Good Will It Be: The cast is fantastic, but multi-cam sitcoms can be pretty hit or miss, and this one was dropped by NBC and then reworked before FOX picks it up. However, the combination of SNL alums and comic legends means this one will probably be one of your new favorite shows. How Long It Will Last: Sunday night at 9:30 is a tough slot, but we think this one will scrape its way to a second season.
EmpireWhat It Is: Drama What It's About: It follows Lucious Lyon, the head of a major hip hop record label and the ex-wife and family who are competing to take over the family business. Who's In It: Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Bryshere Gray, Jussie Smollett, Trai Byers and Kaitlin DoubledayWhat It Sounds Like: Hustle and Flow meets Nashville How Good Will It Be: Empire has a lot of big-name talent behind it - in addition to the Oscar-nominated cast, it was created by Lee Daniels and written by Danny Strong — but it seems like the kind of show that would fare better on cable, so it might end up being a little lackluster. How Long It Will Last: Well, Nashville got three seasons, so we're predicting Empire will get the same.
Hieroglyph What It Is: Drama What It's About: After he gets caught stealing a magic scroll, a thief is brought to work for the Pharaoh, only to discover that court might be more dangerous than prison. Who's In It: Max Brown, Reece Ritchie, Condola Rashad, Caroline Ford and John Rhys-DaviesWhat It Sounds Like: Game of Thrones meets Sleepy Hollow, set in Ancient Egypt. How Good Will It Be: It's written by Travis Beacham, who wrote Pacific Rim, so it could turn out to be entertaining and campy. However, it's completely ridiculous-sounding, so the odds are against it. How Long It Will Last: Unless it manages to pull in a devoted audience like Sleepy Hollow, probably only one season.
Wayward Pines What It Is: Drama What It's About: An idyllic American town... that you can never leave. Who's In It: Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Melissa Leo, Tobey Jones, Juliette Lewis and Terrence HowardWhat It Sounds Like: The Stepford Wives meets The Twilight Zone How Good Will It Be: On the one hand, it's got an impressive A-List cast. On the other, it's executive-produced by M. Night Shamylan, so we're hoping it will be good, but expecting it to be terrible. How Long It Will Last: The Shamylan outrage will bring attention to it, resulting in it just barely earning a second season.
Bordertown What It Is: Animated sitcomWhat It's About: Set on a town that borders the US and Mexico, it follows two families as they navigate life, relationships and politics. Who's In It: Alex Borstein, Nicholas Gonzalez, Judah Friedlander, Missi Pyle and Efren RamirezWhat It Sounds Like: American Dad meets The Cleveland ShowHow Good Will It Be: The last time Seth MacFarlane made a show about racial and family dynamics, we got Dads, so we're not optimistic. How Long It Will Last: 5 years at a minimum
Last Man on Earth What It Is: SitcomWhat It's About: After an apocalypse wipes out all of humanity except one man, he wanders the earth looking for other survivors. Who's In It: Will ForteWhat It Sounds Like: Zombieland, minus the other peopleHow Good Will It Be: Forte is hilarious, and his recent dramatic turn in Nebraska will probably serve him well, but it's hard to see how this concept will last longer than one episode. How Long It Will Last: It's a quirky comedy from an SNL alum that isn't Amy Poehler, Tina Fey or Jimmy Fallon. It'll get a year if we're lucky.
Weird LonersWhat It Is: SitcomWhat It's About: Four relationship-phobic weirdoes find each other living next door to one another in a New York apartment. Who's In It: Becky Newton, Zachary Knighton, Nate Torrence and Meera KhumbhaniWhat It Sounds Like: New Girl meets Happy Endings, minus Damon Wayans Jr. How Good Will It Be: The cast is made up of actors who have primarily played the "best friend" role in comedies, so it could be the showcase they need to establish themselves as leading actors. However, the premise seems like a re-tread of most post-Friends comedies, with some forced "quirk," so we don't see things going well. How Long It Will Last: Three out of four actors were on shows that were cancelled relatively soon, so we'd be surprised if this one made it to a second season.
To those only vaguely familiar with The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel about a murdered teen who observes her family — and tracks her killer — from beyond Peter Jackson might seem like an odd choice to direct the film adaptation. Why would the visual effects maestro who orchestrated such grand spectacle in films like King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy be attracted to Bones’ somber reflective subject matter wherein nary an orc or a goblin can be found?
Shortly after the film's opening moments Jackson’s definitive answer arrives in the form of the “in-between place ” a breathtaking limbo where our wide-eyed heroine 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) arrives after her life is cruelly cut short by a next-door neighbor and closet predator named ominously enough Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Susie’s experience of the afterlife as a sort of spiritual way-station featuring elements of both heaven and hell (but mostly heaven) is a veritable CGI playground for Jackson one in which he can employ all of the digital tools in his vast arsenal in the service of a powerful affecting story.
And what a gorgeous playground it is. As Susie journeys through her wondrous netherworld — sometimes alone sometimes accompanied by a perky young spirit guide named Holly (Nikki SooHoo) — Jackson serves up a succession of exquisitely rendered landscapes for her to explore from placid spring meadows to boundless Alpine slopes to lush green forests. Jackson knows all too well that the issue of life after death especially when considered in regards to those who left us too soon is fertile emotional ground. With the help of an irresistibly expressive Ronan he mines it shrewdly.
Back on Earth unfortunately The Lovely Bones takes the form of a poorly-constructed deeply unsatisfying police procedural. Frustrated by the authorities’ inability to find the killer Susie's anguished father (Mark Wahlberg) mounts an investigation of his own aided occasionally in Ghost-like fashion by his daughter’s unseen hand. Tension rises as the mystery unravels — Jackson having drawn us in with his shamelessly manipulative handiwork has us by the emotional short-hairs so much so that we’re willing to overlook the film’s gap-laden storyline redundant narration underdeveloped supporting characters and a generally underwhelming Wahlberg. We just want payback damnit.
But when The Lovely Bones’ moment of truth arrives Susie abruptly changes her mind effectively turning almost every preceding plot point into an infuriating red herring and depriving us of the emotional release Jackson so steadfastly prepared us for. What we’re left with ultimately is an experience akin to taking a shot of morphine and watching someone play the videogame Myst for two hours (a span that might very well be reduced to 45 minutes if the film’s copious slow-motion shots were all played at normal speed). And once the anodyne buzz wears off the comedown is agonizing.