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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It's Christmas and the only thing shining brighter than the tree at 30 Rock is SNL alum Jimmy Fallon. He didn't waste any time, appearing with Justin Timberlake in the cold open. It's like the show knew that the audience couldn't wait to see these two together. Before the monologue, Timberlake appears alongside Fallon as rapping and dancing presents alongside Aidy Bryant in Timberlake's signature "Bring it on down to _________-ville!" sketch. This high-energy opener set up expectations for Fallon and Timberlake to collaborate and SNL more than delivered. Unbelievably Fallon sang more than his musical guest, meriting consistent squeals of delight from the audience he got his start in front of.
This music-heavy episode, though centered around giving the crowd what they want (Fallon and Timberlake) also allowed the women of the cast to show off. The catchy and hilarious song "(Do It On My) Twin Bed" features the female cast killing it as they attempt to get laid in their childhood rooms, an all too familiar scenario during the holiday season. The sketch features expert rapping from Fallon, who "can't fully undress in case your parents come through. Just shirt, no pants like Winnie the Pooh."
Not to be outdone by last week's cameos from Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, Fallon and Timberlake reprised their best Bee Gees impressions for "The Barry Gibb Talk Show," featuring appearances from Madonna and Barry Gibb himself. The singing, outfits, and Gibb fits are endlessly amusing, but unfortunately Madonna and Gibb's cameos did not add as much comedy as excitement from just seeing them. Fallon and Timberlake continued to commit but because the content had little to do with Christmas, revisiting this recurring sketch felt forced. (Not to mention that reprising the sketch after Robin Gibb's death seems a bit tacky.)
Weekend Update as usual showcased expert topical joke writing, going after Duck Dynasty, Kathie Lee and Hoda, and Kate McKinnon as tennis champion Billie Jean King, the newly-announced official U.S. delegate to the Sochi Olympics, . McKinnon's earnest intensity is what comedy is made of, especially lines like "There's no demographic in this world that gives less of a flip than 70 year-old lesbians. All I need to survive is a clean canteen and a sweater." Her air tennis swings don't hurt the hilarity either.
Prior to the episode, Late Night heir apparent Seth Meyers tweeted that this would not be his last SNL. Weekend Update still confirmed that there would be constant reminders of his departure, this week with Fallon and Mayor Bloomberg. The men in transition spoke of what's next, while there were few hints as to what is ahead for the Update desk. Having served as SNL's head-writer since 2006, Meyers has contributed to the show in ways the audience doesn't always see. Tina Fey credited him with writing the hit Palin sketches she starred in during the 2008 election. His success moving on from the show is no surprise, but his sharp news and political writing will be missed.
The show returned its focus to the holiday spirit with a Christmas-themed "Waking Up with Kimye," complete with a "Bound 2" parody. Fallon later appeared as a gay Ebenezer Scrooge who discovers his sexuality with the Ghost of Christmas Present. But SNL came festively full circle with a clingy counterpoint to the song "Baby It's Cold Outside," reversing the song's gender roles to explore what happens when the woman doesn't want to leave. Cecily Strong held her own as a performer next to Fallon in this episode favorite, a clever and sweet finale to a classic Christmas show.
Hollywood action man Sylvester Stallone was "embarrassed" when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame back in 2011, because he didn't feel worthy enough beside fellow honouree Mike Tyson. The actor was celebrated at the Canastota, New York venue for turning the spotlight on the sport in his Rocky film franchise, but he felt out of place next to real boxing icons Tyson and former World Boxing Council Middleweight Champion Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.
Stallone says, "I was actually embarrassed by it (Hall of Fame honour) because I'm not a fighter, but they look at it like someone who helps promote boxing (sic). Mike Tyson and Cesar Chavez, Jr. is (sic) amazing so it was another validation that I'm here promoting the sport.
"But I've always loved the sport even when I was a kid, seven or eight years old, just fascinated with this idea of two men just showing their hearts and going for it."
Stallone steps back into the ring for new release Grudge Match, co-starring Robert De Niro, and director Peter Segal admits he was a little intimidated at the prospect of working with the movie hardman on the new boxing comedy.
He explains, "I was both elated and scared. I had watched (director) John Avildsen's commentary on Rocky and how meticulously Sly had gone through a beat by beat choreograph of 'left, left, right, right, left, right,' everything. And so I realised there is no person on the planet earth who has choreographed more cinematic boxing matches than this guy.
"But then there was a story that I had laid out and one that I had to convince him would be the right story to tell. I had to convince Sly that this was a way to do an interesting story without holding a gun and killing someone. We worked together but I didn't know how that was gonna go at first."
Florida Georgia Line were the big winners at the 2013 American Country Awards, taking home six trophies at Tuesday's (10Dec13) ceremony. The duo won prizes in the Single of the Year and Single of the Year: New Artist categories for its hit song Cruise as well as Radio Track of the Year, Radio Track of the Year: New Artist, Music Video of the Year: New Artist and the prestigious New Artist title.
Blake Shelton also had a big night picking up four awards, including Album of the Year for Based on a True Story... as well as Single of the Year: Male, Music Video of the Year: Male and Great American Country Music Video of the Year.
His wife, Miranda Lambert, didn't go home empty handed - she was awarded the Female Artist Of The Year title.
Luke Bryan, who dominated the prizegiving last year (12), received three awards, including Artist of the Year: Male and the coveted Artist of the Year honour, bringing his total to a record-breaking 12 awards, more than any other musician in the ceremony's history.
Lady Antebellum reclaimed their status as Group Of The Year after winning the title in 2012, and former American Idol champion Scotty McCreery was hailed the Breakthrough Artist Of The Year.
Throughout the night, special awards were also handed out, as Dwight Yoakam presented Brad Paisley with the Video Visionary Award and Taylor Swift received the first-ever Worldwide Artist Award from Olivia Newton-John.
The fourth annual American Country Awards, which aired live from Las Vegas, was hosted by Trace Adkins and American NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, and featured performances from Sheryl Crow, Darius Rucker, and LeAnn Rimes.
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.
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Wrestler-turned-movie action man John Cena has sensationally revealed he once "pooped" himself during a fight. Cena was chatting to his lady love, fellow wrestler Nikki Bella, for an upcoming episode of U.S. reality show Total Divas, when he opened up about his most embarrassing moment in the ring.
The current World Heavyweight Champion came clean after Bella poked fun at another female fighter, who accidentally wet herself during a wrestling match, stating, "I pooped myself once... It was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I had food poisoning and I still went out to wrestle. Everybody knew - I was embarrassed."
His stunned girlfriend was initially left speechless by his confession. She then added, "I don't know what to think right now... That would be so embarrassing!"
Sir Elton John's bodyguard is getting his own moment in the spotlight after winning a contest to land the cover of a top fitness magazine. Peter Howe, 34, has beaten his fellow musclebound competitors to be named the champion of Men's Health's annual model search.
He will now star on the cover of the publication's December (13) issue.
A former U.S. Marine, Howe now helps protect the Rocket Man and his family as they jet around the world.
Men's Health Editor Toby Wiseman says, "He personifies everything the Men's Health man should be - a natural in front of the camera and a down-to-earth guy. The competition was very tough, but he is a more than worthy winner."
From the triumphant return of pop's biggest warbler to the first taster of the new The Hunger Games soundtrack, here's a look at five of the best tracks to have been unveiled over the past seven days.
Natasha Khan & Jon Hopkins – "Garden’s Heart"
Accompanied by a stunning fantastical promo starring Saoirse Ronan, "Garden’s Heart" sees the artist also known as Bat For Lashes team up with electronic producer Jon Hopkins for a beautifully sparse blend of low-slung bass-lines and brooding melodies which proves that less is sometimes more.
Celine Dion – "Loved Me Back To Life"
A contender for most surprising pop comeback of 2013, Celine Dion ditches her usual MOR power ballad leanings for a contemporary mix of emphatic R&B beats, stuttering vocal loops and dramatic synth-strings. Topped off with a skyscraping chorus and a wailing hair metal guitar solo, the Sia-penned "Loved Me Back To Life" could well give the Canadian her first genuine hit in over a decade.
Sleigh Bells – "Bitter Rivals"
Flitting between seductive minimalistic R&B and the kind of crunching noise-pop that defined their first two albums, Sleigh Bells return with a schizophrenic but hugely enjoyable affair which suggests New York's most brash and hyperactive duo might just be slightly mellowing.
M.I.A. - "Come Walk With Me"
Lulling listeners into a false sense of security with a simple guitar riff and a pop melody that could almost be described as Disney Channel-esque, "Come Walk With Me" then explodes into a tetchy fusion of dancehall beats, ravey synths and an insane array of samples including the Macbook volume sound and an arcade game punch-up. No one does organised chaos quite like M.I.A.
Coldplay - "Atlas"
Recorded especially for the second big-screen adventure of Katniss Everdeen, Coldplay's first cinematic offering initially begins as a melancholic piano-led ballad before slowly building up to a suitably epic slice of shimmering indie-rock which could have been lifted from their 2000 debut, Parachutes.
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Boxing champion Tommy Morrison has died, aged 44. The former heavyweight champion passed away on Sunday (01Sep13) after a long battle with Guillain Barre Syndrome, according to DoghouseBoxing.com.
The cause of death was respiratory and metabolic acidosis and multiple organ failure.
Morrison beat George Foreman to win a WBO heavyweight title in 1993, but he quit the sport three years later (96) when he tested positive for HIV and was suspended from boxing in Nevada by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
He briefly returned to the ring in 2007, insisting that his tests had been false positives.
Outside the sport, Morrison played Tommy Gunn in Rocky V, and he also appeared in John Carpenter's They Live.
Former Dukes Of Hazzard star John Schneider has teamed up with the actors behind the horror genre's creepiest characters to make a movie under his new film company banner. The actor realised his dream of running a movie company after starting up John Schneider's Fairlight Films in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last year (Sep13), and now he's ready to roll out the venture's first project, horror comedy Smothered.
He tells BlogTalkRadio.com, "It stars Kane Hodder, who was Jason Vorhees (in the Friday The 13th movies), Don Shanks, who was Michael Myers (in Halloween 5), R.A. Mihailoff, who was Leatherface (in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), William Moseley, who was Otis from House of A Thousand Corpses and The Devil's Rejects and Brea Grant, who is from Rob Zombie's Halloween and Dexter.
"It's (about) a group of college students and invariably one is the large-breasted blonde. (In my film) all the guys in the mask have a bad trade show and take an offer to go haunt an R.V. park for $1,000 each for the weekend and they wind up getting systematically killed off by the large breasted blonde! It's revenge for blondes everywhere.
"I kind of feel like the champion of the disenfranchised because these are all the guys in the mask... None of these guys have ever starred in a movie without a mask or some weird disguise, so this is all those serial killers unveiled in this movie. I have a cameo.
"We're hoping for a release date of December 13, 2014, which happens to be a Friday."
Schneider admits his dream of running a movie production company has been a long time coming, adding, "I decided to start a film company when I was eight; it's just taken me this long to get it going! I was one of those kids who sat in my living room and cut together Super 8 films... that I'd shot with my friends.
"This has been my goal forever and once all my kids got out and to college I told (my wife) Elly (Castle), 'Tax breaks are great in Louisiana and it's possible to make a film here'. So I moved here a year ago and I've been here ever since."