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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Universal via Everett Collection
Lone Survivor isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a film that beats you down and only lets you up for a few precious moments before the credits roll, but that emotional throttling is what helps make the film such a powerful experience.
Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, primarily focusing on a group of four Navy SEALs who are sent to the mountains of Afganistan to capture or kill a member of the Taliban. The plan goes wrong, and the team has to fight for their lives to escape the enemy-infested area. The film does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension before collapsing into its main action sequence, one that is as thrilling as it is unsettling. The long sequence brings forth memories of the infamous D-Day opening of Saving Private Ryan, except this film's fire-fight stretches out the violence like a medieval torture device. The langourous scene is, at times, hard to sit through. Each moment slips by in coiled tension. It's undoubtedly uncomfortable, and the film makes a point to never make the violence fun or enticing. The action isn't consequence-free, and every bullet fired carries weight, making the scenes brutal and unrelenting because of it. The film takes on the aura of a horror movie that wants you to feel every second that ticks by, and director Berg makes sure that a pressing hopelessness starts to weigh on the viewer just as it does on the soldiers.
Mark Wahlberg is plenty capable as Marcus Lutrell, a member of the SEAL unit that is sent on the mission. The supporting cast plays its parts admirably by believably infusing a diverse set of personalities and values into the soldiers, while still keeping them in tune with the same military culture that governs much of their thoughts and actions. There's a great scene where a difficult decision has to be made, and the viewer gets to see the different directions to which some of the character's moral compasses are tuned. Sometimes the right thing can mean different things to different people when the risk of death is on the table. The real standout in the cast is Ben Foster, whose SO2 Matthew Alexson swirls with barely contained fury. He is darkly intense and has electric screen presence that really starts to manifest when the bullets star flying and things become dire.
Universal via Everett Collection
For all the good will that the film builds up in its first and second act, the final third of the film hits some snags as history demands that the story take itself to a different location, sacrificing some of the tension that it has built up. In the last 30 minutes of the film, there are some odd tonal choices that don't gel with the tension brimming in the first half. A comedic scene involving a language barrier stands out in particular.
The movie makes a point to steer clear of any political judgment, and it doesn't try to lay blame for the botched mission on any one head. And while the film never outwardly states and opinion on the conflicts that America found itself embroiled in during this time period, the searing brutality depicted in the movie highlight that no one should be subjected to the pain that these men were faced with. Made abundantly clear is the soldiers' willingness to drop everything and serve their country the best way they know how. Lone Survivor tries to honor the soldier, but not glorify war.
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Lone Survivor is at its best when it makes you feel the worst. It gives soldiers their due reverence by showcasing the true terror of the battlefield, and while the film does start to sag a bit in its third act, it's still more than worth the experience in order understand the consequences of war, and its toll on the people in the trenches.
The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
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.
Gone too soon, too fast.
The fact that the R&B singer Aaliyah has died is still hard to accept not only by her family and friends, but also by her fans.
As funeral services are being planned for Aaliyah on Friday in Manhattan, fans are rushing to stores to purchase copies of her album for memory's sake. According to SoundScan, sales from her third self-titled album have increased by 41 percent since the day of her death.
Aaliyah's boyfriend, Roc-a-Fella records co-CEO Damon Dash, who reportedly hasn't gotten out of bed since he heard of the fatal accident, told Sonicnet.com on Thursday that the loss was "heartbreaking."
"She was the best person I ever knew. I never met a person like her in my life," Dash said as his voice broke with emotion. The pair had planned to marry "as soon as she had time," he said.
But what will the music industry do to keep the singer's memory alive?
According to video director Hype Williams, the ideal move would be to release the video for her song "Rock the Boat" as a tribute to the star. Williams directed Aaliyah in the video filmed at the Bahamas days prior to her death.
"I know there's a lot of pain involved, but that's all the more reason people would appreciate what we've done as a group," Williams said on Thursday.
According to Williams, clips from the footage showed Aaliyah on the beach with her back towards the ocean, dressed in a red top and wearing dangling hoop earrings, as she sang slightly suggestive lyrics to the song.
A spokesperson for Blackground Records said it was too soon to say what would become of the footage.
Metallica loves a lawsuit
...Or at least that's what it seems, after the hard-rock band finds they getting involved in lawsuit after lawsuit.
Their latest case occurred last week, when the band found that MHT Luxury Alloys in Torrance, Calif.., introduced a wheel called Metallica. The band has asked the automobile company to recall all Metallica products from its customers and to either make a settlement or face a lawsuit, MTV.com reported.
"My boss is 48 years old and doesn't know much about the music industry," MHT sales manager Steve Anderson told MTV.com. "The wheels were metal, so he called them 'Metallica,' that's all there is to it."
Anderson added that his company is likely to comply with Metallica's demands.
According to Metallica's lawyer, Jill Pietrini, the band gets involved in more than 10 copyright infringement cases per year. But rest easy, Metallica usually resolves them without going to court.
This is not the first time the rock band has taken action against companies that use their name without permission.
In January 1999, the group sued Victoria Secret for producing Metallica lip pencils; West Mill, a tuxedo-manufacturing license of Pierre Cardin that used their name in advertisements; and Cosmar, a nail file manufacturer that embossed file sleeves with their name printed on them.
In December 2000, the band also sued French perfume maker Guerlain and department stores Neiman-Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman for selling a Metallica perfume.
"I'm not sure why [companies] think they can get away with it," Pietrini told MTV.com. "Anyone who does a trademark search would come up with the Metallica name and see how much we protect the trademark."
I don't know about you, but when I put on my Metallica lipstick every morning, the song "Enter Sandman" is not the first thing that comes to mind.
McLean stays sober...and counting
"I'm celebrating 51 days sober today," Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean said to the 14,000 fans that came to see the Backstreet Boys perform at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee on Aug. 24. This would be the first time the boy band would resume their Black and Blue tour after McLean left a Los Angeles rehab center where he was treated for alcoholism, depression and anxiety.
"I just wanted to say I wish I could go out and hug each and every one of you," McLean said, choking up. "Thank you for letting me go through what I needed to go through to get myself better."
With McLean back, the Backstreet Boys are also preparing to release a compilation of their greatest hits due Oct. 23 entitled Chapter One, BSB member Kevin Richarson told Sonicnet.com on Wednesday.
"We're gonna put out something that means the end of a chapter in our lives and the beginning of another," Richardson said.
The group's heartthrob, Nick Carter, wants to make clear that this is not a greatest hits album because "once you put out the greatest hits, everybody's like, 'That's it, they're gone," he said.
Eminem stops performance for injured fans
While many Americans pass judgement on Eminem's controversial, yet intriguing work, Scottish fans can't get enough of him.
Around 45 people were injured on Saturday after the rapper took the stage at the Gig on the Green concert in Glasgow, Scotland. Eminem was 15 minutes into his set when he was asked to stop performing and was forced to take a 30-minute break, pleading with the crowd to stop surging, MTV reported.
In a statement, a police spokesman told CNN, "A number of people were removed from the crowd and after it was deemed safe Eminem came back on stage. No one was seriously injured; thankfully, they are all walking wounded."
Eleven people were treated at local hospitals and released, while others were treated at tents around the outdoor concert. "Eminem and his band did all they could to help the situation and we are grateful for his support," the spokesman said.
In related news, Eminem's animated cartoon series, The Slim Shady Show, which have been airing online at SlimShadyWorld.com, will be released on DVD and VHS on Nov. 6, Sonicnet.com reported.
Around 70 minutes of previously webcasted episodes, showcases behind the scene footage, disses "Pristina Gaguilera," and includes an interview with Eminem.
'N Sync goes 5x platinum
'N Sync's album Celebrity was certified five times platinum by the Recording Association of America (RIIA) on Aug. 22, exactly 30 days after its release, Billboard reported.
The album sold 1.88 million units in its debut week, followed by their previous No Strings Attached, which sold 2.4 million units last March.
However, Celebrity didn't stay at the top of the charts for very long, as it was bumped down when the seventh volume in the hit compilation series NOW! 7 hit the stores climbed to No.1 on The Billboard 200 charts for the last three weeks.
The NOW! 7 album series stands strong at No. 1, followed by the fourth and sixth volumes in the series, which have also rocketed to the top of the charts in previous years.