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 a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
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.
Has Shia LaBeouf gone bad boy on us? Well, you might say that. Remember when he got arrested last November trying to buy smokes at a Walgreens? Now, the Transformers star is facing DUI charges and maybe even rehab (rumors are swirling). But don’t worry, there’s still hope! Robert Downey Jr., Vince Vaughn, Charlie Sheen and countless others survived Hollywood and came out on top. Perhaps Shia could learn a thing or two from our favorite bad boys gone good.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.
After a successful career through the eighties and early nineties (including an Oscar nod for 1992’s Chaplin), Robert Downey Jr. hit a speed bump … or two or three or four in the mid-nineties with several drug-related arrests. He once told a judge in 1999, “It's like I have a loaded gun in my mouth and my finger's on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal.”
Notable naughty moments included speeding down Sunset Blvd. with heroin, cocaine and an unloaded .357 Magnum, wandering into a neighbor’s home and falling asleep in an empty bed, and a Thanksgiving day 911 call in Palm Springs that led to an arrest for possession of cocaine and valium.
It took several stints in jail and rehab before Downey got his life back on track. A few roles here and there like The Singing Detective and Gothika helped garnish credibility. By 2005 he was back in full swing with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Good Night, and Good Luck and A Scanner Darkly. Downey’s popularity went through the roof in 2008 with his summer hit Iron Man, grossing more than $300 million at the box office. Look for the native New Yorker, 43, next week in Paramount’s Tropic Thunder alongside Ben Stiller and Jack Black.
A break might be beneficial, just try not to spend it in jail, court or rehab.
Who would have thought a few publicized scuffles could lead to second degree assault? In the case of Russell Crowe, that’s exactly what happened. The Oscar winning star was caught on a security cam squabbling with two men at an Australian hotel in 1999, followed by a temperamental tiff with BAFTA Awards producer Malcolm Gerrie in 2002 for cutting a portion of his acceptance speech from the broadcast. In 2005 Crowe was arrested and charged with second degree assault and fourth degree possession of a weapon when he threw a telephone at a hotel employee in New York who refused to help him place a call. The Mercer Hotel concierge had to be treated with facial lacerations while Crowe had to pay $100,000 to settle out of court.
Less than a year later, Crowe was ready to laugh off the incident and so was the rest of the world (except maybe the hotel concierge). While hosting the Australian Film Industry Awards in Melbourne that November, the actor brought an old-fashioned Bakelight telephone onstage and warned the nominees, “If there are any problems and you do get up here and go on too long, then ‘hello’ to my little friend.”
Pick your battles and never ever take yourself too seriously.
Similar to Josh Brolin’s recent bar brawl in Shreveport, Louisiana, Vince Vaughn and costar Steve Buscemi ran into trouble in 2001 while filming Domestic Disturbance in North Carolina. The fight with pub patrons left Buscemi with several stab wounds and Vaughn was charged with fighting in public. Vaughn plead no contest and the charge was dropped.
While the tussle bolstered Vaughn’s reputation as a Hollywood party guy, it did little to damage his career or his fan base. His later roles alongside Will Ferrell, Luke and Owen Wilson and others even earned him a spot in Tinsel Town’s Frat Back.
Everything in moderation.
The old adage “don’t kiss and tell” never applied to Charlie Sheen. As the son of star Martin Sheen (who once had Charlie arrested for cocaine use), the eighties star had Hollywood at his fingertips and never batted an eye at taking advantage. Whether it was sex-capades with Heidi Fleiss’ high-class call girls or boasting about taking five women to the sack at a time (Empire magazine), it’s no wonder Maxim named him number two on their list of “Living Sex Legends.” While Sheen claims the bragging rights to 5,000 sexual conquests, the actor walked down the aisle multiple times. His first marriage to Donna Peele lasted only one year, his second to Bond girl Denise Richards was sensationalized in the tabloids (and still is), while his third wife Brooke Mueller seems to have tamed his wild ways.
After a successful stint on CBS’ Spin City, the network decided to use Sheen’s bad boy image to their advantage, casting him as a freewheeling bachelor on Two and a Half Men. The Golden Globe and Emmy nominated role combined with his new partner Mueller have proved to be a recipe for success.
Play to your strengths.
Kiefer Sutherland loves to have a good time (just type in “Kiefer Sutherland Christmas Tree” in a youtube.com search), but the 24 actor had to learn when to say when. We thought he learned his lesson back in 2004 with a DUI arrest, until it happened again in 2007. Sutherland was leaving a Fox Casino party in Los Angeles when he was pulled over and allegedly blew twice the legal limit. Luckily the writer’s strike allowed him to do his 48 days in jail without missing any work.
Since his last arrest, Sutherland has been back at work filming a made for television 24 prequel and keeping himself out of trouble and out of the spotlight.
Learn from your mistakes.
“I think you know in life what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing, and I did a bad thing. And there you have it,” Hugh Grant told Jay Leno just days after being arrested. The British actor was referring to a night of indiscretion when L.A. Vice officers caught the star with Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown. Grant plead no contest to the charges, paid $1,180 in fines and still made an appearance on the Tonight Show to promote his next movie Nine Months.
Despite the finest public relations strategy money could buy, there was one thing Grant couldn’t hang onto – his longtime model girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley. She dumped him after the incident and rightly so.
Love the one you’re with!