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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School’s out for the summer! Instead, what’s in is a season full of ridiculous wardrobe, nonsensical lies, and bewilderment at the number of VIP waitresses that exist in this world. (Surely, Tiger Woods doesn’t have enough hours in the day, right? Hey, when did it become 2009?) That’s right: It’s Big Brother time — that time of year when we trade in social hours cocktailing on the beach for disarmingly sheltered existences in which we destroy our livers while bemoaning the burgeoning stupidity of our country… while fully acknowledging that we love watching the burgeoning stupidity of our country on our TV screens. If the country’s obsession with Big Brother doesn’t prove we’re slowly becoming the real-life version of Idiocracy, then I don’t know simple math. (Wait, where was I going with that?)
But guess what, America? Season 14 of Big Brother is all about education! So pick up your spelling books by the Department of Technotronics, and get ready to learn. Because this season’s twist surrounds the return of four former houseguests who have come on to coach the 12 newbies. (Coaching isn’t coaching without any spinning chairs, though. Thanks for ruining everything — like an existence without “Moves Like Jagger” — The Voice.) So who are “four of the greatest Big Brother players” who have come on board to help one houseguest win, and score $100,000 in the process? We have: Season 10 winner Dan Gheesling, a personal favorite who has the distinction of beating a mixologist and the most unlikeable old man to grace TV since Charles Widmore; Season 2 player and All-Stars winner Mike “Boogie” Malin, one-half of “Chilltown” known for his social game and appearance in Enrique Iglesias’ “Do You Know (The Ping Pong Song” music video); Season 6 and All-Stars player Janelle Pierzina, whose drive to win is as big as her… hair; and Season 12 Britney Haynes, who… hmm… was on Big Brother, she sure was! Is it me, or is one of these things not like the other?
During a time in which reality TV series have all been stuck in a rut — opting to boast high star-wattage without delivering quality programming that people want to, you know, actually watch (ahem, Idol and X Factor — it’s admittedly nice to see Big Brother continuing to put in effort. And the twist this season should prove to be an interesting one: With each of the returning houseguests mentoring three players, it’s only time before teacher and student don’t see eye to eye when it comes to gameplay. Wax on, vote off.
But since this was an educational evening, full of twists and admirable pantsuits (Chenbot’s inner clock took her back to 1976), let’s run down some of the lessons we learned during the premiere, shall we?
NEXT: Lesson #1: In case of looming apocalypse, go directly to Vinton, La.Lesson #1: In case of looming apocalypse, go directly to Vinton, La.
Because the Hantz family will be the only surviving living organisms, left to feed off of Twinkies and hump refrigerators to further mankind. Surely, I couldn’t have been the only person who thought Willie Hantz was destined for an unremarkable Big Brother run the second I read he described himself as “serious, hostile, and docile,” right? Still, despite the fact that Ian, Janelle, and Boogie all had him pegged as Russell’s sibling (and the fact that Dan strongly suggested it in front of the rest of the houseguests), and despite his stupidly revealing a hometown suspiciously close to Russell, Willie not only cemented a spot in the game, but was awarded Head of Household by Britney after her team won the first competition. Could this Hantz be the cockroach that finally wins it all? For the sake of CBS, yes; for the sake of our emotional well-being, no.
Lesson #2: Being surrounded by good-looking ladies might make you win in life, but not on Big Brother.
They say that those who can’t do, teach. So I suppose those who can teach, don’t do? Or something like that? Either way, my favorite player, Coach Dan, sorely disappointed when choosing a team full of lovely ladies with little ability to actually execute a competition. It wasn’t even close — though the fight for third place between Boogie and Janelle’s team was nearly a photo finish, Dan’s women failed to come close to catching up, despite the fact that they looked pretty losing. Dan, in the future, don’t disappoint and take a page from Coach Taylor: It’s “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” not “sparkling eyes, full breasts, lose.”
Lesson #3: Sometimes the loser is clearly the winner.
Poor Jodi. Regardless of the fact that she pushed harder than any of her teammates — and regardless of the fact that her marathon history does make her a fierce competitor — she is not svelte 20-something bimbo with a ridiculous occupation. So, clearly, she is not meant for Big Brother. Consider Dan’s choice to evict you a compliment, Jodi. See you on the season finale stools, dignity and all. Congrats!
Lesson #4: World War III sounds fun!
That is, if we believe Wil’s (with one “L”! Where did the second one go?! Let’s guess!) proclamation that the Head of Household challenge — complete with spinning mattresses and teddy bears — was like “World War III” with “flapjacks” flying around. You guys, the future sounds amazing — I want to go to there.
Lesson #5: Do study the game.
All Big Brother players can learn from Ian, who, despite his standout appearance, has already managed to fall under the radar. Dude was the seventh pick of the HOH, despite his clear advantage in the intellect department. Plus, the Tulane student was the only houseguest to recognize Willie’s familial connection, and he appears to spend most of his college days watching television. This is my kind of contestant, people! NEXT: Don’t lie about trivial personal detailsLesson #6: Don’t lie about trivial personal details.
I’ll be honest: I dig the dishonest on Big Brother. If you’re going to play nice, why play at all? If we wanted to watch an unbearable sleepover, we’d watch an episode of The Girls Next Door. But nothing grates on me more on Big Brother than when houseguests lie about trivial personal information for no discernable reason whatsoever. See: Season 11’s Natalie telling houseguests she was 18 when she was really 24. And, last night, Danielle telling her fellow houseguests that she’s not a nurse, but a kindergarten teacher. Okay, first: There’s nothing that bothers me more than people who have bloated senses of self-worth about their choice of employment. (Yes, a nurse is a respectable career path, but nothing about that job tells me you’re a strategy-driven mastermind… especially if you’re standing next to a chemical engineer and especially if you’re willing to spend your summer jumping off mattresses to collect bears.) And, secondly: Your occupation does not matter on Big Brother. Past the first day of gameplay, your fellow houseguests don’t care about how you get paid outside of the house. Instead, your fellow houseguests care about whether you’re sticking their toothbrush in the toilet or, more importantly, if you’re lying. Which Danielle is. And if you’re going to lie on Big Brother do it right and despicably. (See: Season 12’s Matt’s sick wife lie.) So, please, future contestants: Do not lie about trivial matters…
Lesson #7: …Unless you should.
After all, if your fellow houseguests think you’re lying about your unemployment, then it’s probably time to at least get a fake job, Frank.
Lesson #8: Don’t be boring.
I’m talking to you, Kara and Joe. Who? Exactly. At least the mostly silent Shane has the defining characteristic of warning people of his personality by wearing a tool belt.
Lesson #9: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Especially in the Big Brother house, because what are books?!. I do, however, have to admit: Though I thought I would hate Ashley the second she mentioned she was a mobile spray tanner (as if she were an actual object!), but her affection for Ian and reference to Frogger has somehow made her endearing. Could I possibly back a contestant whose career is a spray tan technician?! I’m shuddering like the house shower after Wil’s declaration that Season 14 is “The Year of the Hair.”
Lesson #10: People who watch Big Brother must have a lot of herpes.
How else to explain the mouthwash commercial for “sore mouths”?
What do you think of this year’s twist? Do the newbies have much to learn? Is there a point to watching Wipeout once Big Brother comes back on? Did the show choose the right returning contestants to serve as mentors? Do you hate yourself for liking Ashley? Does Ian have this in the bag? And did you, like me, miss Dan’s voice immodulation in the diary room after all this time?
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[Image Credit: CBS]
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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.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.