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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Former DWTS professional Maksim "Maks" Chmerkovskiy joined us on the other side of the judging table, where he was handily wedged in between Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli. Bruno's playfully lecherous flirtation was, needless to say, pretty entertaining. Plus, in such close quarters, Bruno's wild gestures almost decapitated him at one point – luckily, Maks used his dancers' swift instincts to dodge.
The challenge this week was quite interesting as well; the dancers were given the task of performing two distinct dances to different versions (original and acoustic) of the same song – the theme was plugged/unplugged. High points included Amber Riley and Derek Hough's eye-poppingly energetic jazz dance to "Bad Romance," and Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke's fiery tango to the Moulin Rouge acoustic version of "Roxanne" (in the face of M.S. flare-ups, no less). Lowpoints: Bill Engvall and Emma Slater's half-baked "Sexy and I Know It" routine (he was pushing through a groin injury, but still), and Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff's overly flame-inspired tango to "Light 'Em Up" (seriously, that was just too much fire. And what was with the hooded cloaks?)
We also got to hear a bit of each contestant's backstory, which was quite sentimental (schmaltzy even for DWTS, but that's why we love it) – we got to see how The Osbournes messed with Jack's childhood, and how Multiple Sclerosis now plagues his adulthood. Also notable were the struggles Amber faced with casting directors, largely based off of her race and weight. I almost wish we could have had these testimonials earlier in the season, but I guess going through it with all 12 of the original couples would have been overwhelming to say the least.
As for eliminations: the reign of Bill Engvall continues...it's getting tricky, isn't it? He truly is delightful (as the judges continually remind us before docking major points), and he has a compelling relationship with his partner – but how far should that take you on a dancing competition? The fan vote has saved him week after week after week, with technically more proficient dancers going home. With Brant Daugherty and Elizabeth Berkley, it was surprising, but with Leah, it was almost melancholy. The two of them came from the same place – both inexperienced dancers with enough personality to make up for it. But even though she has technically improved much more than he has, she was the one who was booted off the show.
We were sad to see her go. With her copious wisecracking, she brought a sense of levity to the show; watching her and Tony imitate each other's sexy faces at each other was kind of awesome. And while they didn't have the chemistry of say, Brant and Peta, you really got the sense that they were looking out for each other. Tony has oft voiced the opinion that Leah is what DWTS is all about – and in a lot of ways, she was. She came in insecure, with little-to-no dance experience (ahem, Corbin), and has slowly worked her way up to the semi-finals, all the way as an underdog through and through; someone you could root for. She in turn, has said how much his belief in her has meant to her as a competitor – their mutual respect for each other led to some lovely moments throughout the season, and as Corbin, Bill, Jack, and Amber continue on as finalists, she'll definitely be missed.
* Worst costume of the week: Emma Slater's mesh bodysuit/furry-looking bikini.
* Some of the song covers were just plain awful. "Locked Out of Heaven" in the style of Evanescence? No. Just, no.
* Leah's daughter crying after her elimination was awfully precious.
You'd better sit down for this one.
You're speeding along through Netflix's newest original series Orange Is the New Black. You're really investing in the ups and downs of anti-heroine Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a white collar criminal adjusting to life in a New York prison. By now, despite all her flaws, you've come to love Piper. You wonder if she'll turn it all around and abandon her proclivity for bad choices. You wonder if she'll earn the trust and friendship of her fellow inmates, many of whom have not taken kindly to her uppity sensibilities. But you also wonder, on the other hand, if the prison will take her down, bury her beneath the dark rubble that exists within her. Well, wonder no further; it doesn't matter. Because she doesn't exist.
If you've made it to the 11th episode of Orange Is the New Black, you might have taken note of a gift bequeathed upon a group of downtrodden inmates by one Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley): a bag of Let's Potato Chips. An innocuous sight to many. But to Community fans, the Let's brand will jog a few memories.
Memories of Leonard "The Human Raisin" Rodriguez (Richard Erdman) proclaiming his delight with the snack food on his YouTube channel. Of Dean Craig Pelton (Jim Rash) paying an unannounced visit to students Troy Barnes (Donald Glover) and Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), munchies in tow. Of Troy and girlfriend Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs) squabbling over the quality of the product... although that was a Season 4 episode, so we don't have to talk about it. Yes, while Let's may not be a real potato chip syndicate, it exists with quite a fervor in the Community universe. And, apparently, in the Orange Is the New Black universe. Which means, quite inarguably, that these two shows exist in the same universe.
And, of course, it doesn't stop there. Not even close.
If you're an Orange Is the New Black watcher, then we must assume you are a subscriber to Netflix. And if you are a living human, then we must assume that you're a fan of Arrested Development. In said case, you might have caught a glimpse of GOB munching a few Let's Potato Chips while chumming around with his newly acquired entourage. Does this mean there are three shows that fall into the mix? Hell no. It means there are about a thousand.
Back in the days of Arrested yore, fans were treated to a scrapbooking seminar taught by undercover detective John Munch — Richard Belzer's character in the Law & Order franchise. Belzer, as Munch, had a series of other one-off cameos (The X-Files, The Wire, Sesame Street, 30 Rock) and appeared on Homicide: Life on the Street... a show linked by the Alfre Woodard character Roxanne Turner to none other than St. Elsewhere. St. Elsewhere famously concluded by revealing (spoilers!) that the entire six-season reality existed inside the mind of an autistic child named Tommy Westphall. And with this reveal, it would be only logical to conclude that Homicide (due to the Turner connection) was also concocted by young Tommy. As well as every show linked to that one by John Munch... and every show linked to every one of those shows. It gets pretty extensive.
This is old news, of course. Many have spent years calculating the mass of victims of Tommy Westphall's insatiable imagination. And now, we can welcome Orange Is the New Black into this community. Also Community.
So next time you're watching Litchfield's psychotic world unravel around the hapless (or nefarious?) Piper Chapman, fearing you might no longer be able to bear the treacherous events crafted by Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, take relief in the simple fact that it's all just the daydreams of some kid staring into space in 1988.
But take heed: the Tommy Westphall universe is forever growing, striking down the veritability of people and places everywhere. You might be next.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow hollywood.com on Twitter @hollywood_com
More:'Orange' Is the New 'Lost''Orange Is the New Black' Has a 'Doug' Connection'The Simpsons' and 'Family Guy' Crossover
From Our PartnersBattle of the Bikini Bodies (Celebuzz)Fangbanging: Complete Guide to All of 'True Blood's Sex Scenes (Vh1)
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
She was the best part of Mark Steven Johnson's painfully sub-par Marvel Comics adaptation Ghost Rider, but she's apparently had enough flaming skulls for one lifetime. MTV reports that Eva Mendes, who played love interest Roxanne in the 2007 stinker, will not reprise her role in Sony's developing sequel, tentatively titled Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
When asked if she would be participating in the upcoming relaunch of the Ghost Rider franchise, Mendes offered a simple: "No, unfortunately." Apparently, she's never been keen on a sequel, as the source also adds a quote from a 2008 interview: "I think it was a great experience, and I was so proud of it. It was fun... but I think it's done," she said. "But look, hey, if it's Nicolas Cage again — I'll do anything with him."
She lived up to that sentiment by working with the Oscar-winning actor/producer on last year's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which was met with mixed reviews. Though I don't have any enthusiasm for a Ghost Rider sequel (especially one to be helmed by Crank's Neveldine and Taylor), Mendes would've given me a reason - a pair of reasons - to buy a ticket. As for now, count me out....
Mendes can be seen next in August's The Other Guys, opposite Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell.