Hercules (2014)

HerculesReleased: July 25, 2014. Directed by: Brett Ratner. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane. Runtime: 98 min.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is easily one of the biggest wrestler-turned-actor success stories to date.  He’s branched out of those mildly entertaining WWE films to bigger things, and even in roles where he’s more Dwayne Johnson than his The Rock persona; meaning he gives a more dramatically involved performance, rather than one where he is just the muscle.

This brings us to him playing the titular Hercules in Brett Ratner’s new film Hercules based on Steve Moore’s graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, which is why it has a similar, but less tame, gruesome style to that of Frank Miller’s 300. I think it’s hard to not have a similar style when they are both graphic novels and similar bad-ass stories.

Overall, Hercules has a much weaker narrative. Basically, Hercules is a sword-for-hire (a bounty hunter) where he and his posse are promised their weight in gold if they can defeat a tyrannical war lord, a lacklustre character named Rhesus, for the King of Thrace (John Hurt) and his daughter.

The important people in Hercules’ friends group is a wise Amphiaraus (Ian McShane, who actually brings the most humour out of any of the characters); a lovely Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal); Autolycus (Rufus Sewell); the strange Tydeus (Askel Hennie), who seems to be more animal than man; and his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), who never really gets in on the action and is instead a storyteller of all the great things his uncle has done.

And most of those things are great – and told with lavish style, especially his twelve labours. I would have loved to have seen another film about those, because they were just great scenes. Also great are two brief, but finely choreographed, war scenes that are plain to a fault.

The film’s final thirty minutes is the most compelling part of the film, because it’s actually when the narrative feels like it finds any coherence. Before that, it’s quite snooze-worthy save a few scenes, and it’s not a great film if it takes an hour to possess any meaty storytelling.

As for the performances, Johnson’s is the only notable one. Here, he is definitely more The Rock thanks to his intense training regimen prior to filming. And also due to Brett Ratner’s impulse to always show The Rock’s abs and never let him have a shirt. His character development, like the fact that he doesn’t know what actually happened the night his family died, is strong. The performance is easily his most dedicated to date.

He is powerful in the film’s most iconic scene (one that demanded eight takes, in which he blacked out after each), but other times I couldn’t take him seriously. This is when he has a lion’s hyde on his head, accompanied with his beard made out of yak testicle hair. You read that right.

Score: 50/100

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X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men FirReleased: June 3, 2011. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Runtime: 132 min.

X-Men: First Class opens with what opened the original X-Men, but Matthew Vaughn adds his own stylish direction to it and extends the story. It introduces what motivates Erik Leshnerr (a.k.a. Magneto) and the main villain – Sebastian Shaw, portrayed by Kevin Bacon – from the get go. How Erik delves into her powers is through pain and anger, it’s shown through a heartbreaking sequence, mostly for Erik. I like it when a film gets right into the narrative. I think it compels from the opening scene – and it’s nice to see how Charles Xavier was good friends with Raven Darkholme (Mystique). 

The film then skips to 1962 after staying in 1944 for the opening fifteen minutes. The plot concerns Shaw, who is attempting to start World War 3 in 1962. Charles Xavier, and Leshnerr, team up with the CIA to stop the villains, and they recruit a few cool heroes in the process. I had only heard of Beast of the ones they recruit, but their powers are cool. I especially like Banshee’s (Caleb Landry Jones) sense of humour. Havoc (Lucas Till) is a bit of a total dick at times. The sequence where Xavier shows them how to control their powers is engaging and fun. Matthew Vaughn’s style and the excellent camerawork gives the film an extra fun layer, and engages one’s attention even more. 

I think setting this origins story in a very cool age is a smart choice, and Vaughn depicts the style of the age really well. It’s a sort-of Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis film, and it seems to set up an imaginative way of how the Cuban Missile Crisis was started in this universe.The film’s also visually compelling. Prior to Days of Future Past, this is the franchise’s most engaging narrative thus far. It’s great to experience the chemistry shared between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Leshnerr. Some of their clashes in opinions are heartbreaking, but necessary.

The two share a great scene together where Charles shows Erik to find out how to use his power – finding a balance between rage and serenity. What he does to show him how to do it is mesmerizing and emotionally charged. I seriously think it’s some of the strongest acting of the franchise shown in that simple scene. James McAvoy brings charm to his role, and a calm attitude; while Fassbender gives a sometimes chilling performance as Magneto. My favourite characterization for the film is for Mystique/Raven. She’s still coping with fitting in, as she has to use half of her concentration to stay beautiful all the time. It seems like a real struggle; because other mutants can hide and blend in easier than her and Hank McCoy, who has feet that are like an extra pair of hands. Nicholas Hoult (as McCoy) and Lawrence share strong scenes together. What Magneto says at one point about Mystique is thought-provoking: “How can society accept you, if you can’t accept yourself?” 

The only boring characterizations are for the CIA characters, largely Oliver Platt’s Man in Black Suit. Rose Byrne’s Moira gets decent characterization, but apparently humans are boring. I think Kevin Bacon is good as the big baddie Sebastian Shaw. He’s critical to Erik’s development. I like his power, but it’s also very lame when he can just flick someone and send them flying, because he absorbs so much energy. (He receives weird visuals at times, but weird in a good way.) At times, he is brilliant and super cool – and the introduction to his power is one of my favourite scenes. My favourite baddie in this film is Azazel – he is so cool. There’s a baddie called Riptide who is boring because I just saw him as a male Storm, and he doesn’t get an ounce of characterization. He’s dressed in a suit and he looks cool, but I don’t remember him having any dialogue other than nodding in agreement. At one point, I thought he might be an angel and Azazel a devil, and they might act those little dudes who show up on someone’s shoulder in a moral dilemma. Geddit? January Jones is awesome as Emma Frost.

One thing is certain: Matthew Vaughn handles his characters as well as Bryan Singer, and lightyears better than Brett Ratner or Gavin Hood. With the film’s great sense of humour and engaging atmosphere, Vaughn directs the franchise back to greatness – and helps re-invent it with a compelling story, too. There’s an endless amount of great sequences, even ones that aren’t primarily action-packed. This is my favourite film of the franchise and it features a great pace and a strong finish. The dazzling film has a musical score that complements the feature well, and it also has some great visual effects. At one point, the visual effects are mesmerizing discovery. They’re sometimes out-of-this world. I am just left astounded by the atmosphere Vaughn is able to create. This is how you make an origins story. 

Score: 90/100

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men Last StandReleased: May 26, 2006. Directed by: Brett Ratner. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry. Runtime: 104 min. 

I guess all mutants getting along was nice when it lasted. This time Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) X-Men face off against Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) Brotherhood. Stewart’s limited screen time helps prove that a presence will still be felt throughout the flick. In this film, a cure is introduced for mutants everywhere. Is mutation something that really needs to be cured? Do mutants really need to conform to what everyone else looks like? Is it cowardice if they choose to take the cure? This time, it touches on the idea that some mutants might benefit from the cure. This is basically in Rogue, who might benefit from it because if she holds onto someone too long, she could kill them. I learn that she is contributes a lot more in the comic books, when she’s felt sidelined to me in the films – at least in terms of battle. I think that’s awesomely touched on more intelligently with Mystique’s characterization in 2011’s X-Men: First Class.

This film just doesn’t feel as smart as the first two films. Heck, it’s still fun – but there are a lot of frustrating occurrences, mainly because some are so unnecessary. Something this film is missing is Bryan Singer’s direction. He just brought such an intelligent style to it, and it just feels like it’s lacking. This time Brett Ratner directs the film, and it’s a bit of an odd choice. Prior to this he directed the Rush Hour franchise and the Hannibal Lecter flick Red Dragon. It was a cool attempt, but it’s only successful to some avail. The fighting for freedom just feels a bit too clichèd this time around under Ratner’s eye. 

Like the Rush Hour flicks show, his style of direction just feels a bit familiar, and not quite a memorable style you could recognize a single director for. Though, he does direct a phenomenal prison escape sequence and kudos to the cinematography department during it. The actors bring humour to the film, per usual, it just isn’t as strong because the story gets dark at times. The film handles heartbreaking aspects of characterization well to some degree, just not perfectly like the last two films. It does handle being a blockbuster pretty well, though, because this is all really fun. 

It’s cool how Jean is a new sort-of character this time around, found in her alter-ego Phoenix, who is much more aggressive and angry than the regular Jean. Professor X wants to contain it in a series of psychological barriers, while Magneto wants to let her out of her cage. What happens with that is an intense sequence. Janssen gives her most interesting performance of the franchise thus far. In Wolverine and her relationship, Hugh Jackman brings some power to his performance. 

There are some good other mutants. It seems that the Beast, a political representative for mutants, is replacing the blue good guy (Nightcrawler in the last film) this time around. I love Ben Foster as the Angel, even though I would have loved to see more from the character. Callisto (Dania Ramirez) on the villains side is a really cool villain, because she’s like a walking, talking Cerebro. She can sense when mutants are near, and also know their power level. There’s a sort-of porcupine blowfish villain named Kid Omega who’s kind-of fun. He’s portrayed by Ken Leung, and I think I subconsciously assumed he was a villain when I saw him on TV’s Lost because I recognized him from this villainous role. As a villain, Pyro (Aaron Stanford) is a bit of a bland idiot. I thought he was a lot more fun as an antagonizing hero. 

I think the title indicates that there might be a few losses from all ends. I think there’s a minor problem when the opening simulation fighting sequence is the same amount of fun as the finale, but that might be because it’s lacking a few fun characters who would be helpful. The finale should just stand out in memory more, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I like the finale and I like the film, but it’s just disappointingly not as character-driven as the previous two films.

Score: 65/100

Movie 43 (2013)

Movie 43Movie 43

Release Date: January 25, 2013

Directors: Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly (and 10 others)

Stars: Liev Schreiber, Emma, Stone, Richard Gere

Runtime: 94 min

I just watched a version online, and I believe it was the version released in the U.K.; it’s an alternate plot to the U.S. version that doesn’t have Dennis Quaid pitching crazy ideas to a studio. I was not going to spend money on this.

Movie 43 is a haphazardly edited sketch comedy that stars as many A-list actors (including Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Justin Long, Kristen Bell, and Elizabeth Banks, to name a few) as the filmmakers could convince that this movie would be lots of fun to make. Charles Wessler achieves his vision: A satire that brings up common issues in the most offensive of ways, and it is the most outrageous comedy ever made.

But it is also one awful movie. If only his passion project (an idea that he’s had for over a decade) wasn’t so silly. Saturday Night Live has okay sketches, good sketches and those rare great sketches. This, however, has awful sketches, bad sketches, and just tolerable, but kind-of funny sketches. Even if you do laugh at some points, it doesn’t stop this from being one bad, bad film. This is still sort-of imaginative and quite original, and unlike anything you’ve seen at the movie theatre before. It’s one of those times where too many cooks in the kitchen (13 directors, a huge cast, 30 writers) really spoils the broth. Apparently, it takes thirteen directors, 102 credited cast members and thirty writers to make a really bad film.

The plot follows three adolescent boys who are searching the depths of the internet for Movie 43, the world’s most banned feature. The two older teens who tell a younger brother, the incredibly irritating Baxter who looks like he’s really ten years old, about Movie 43 are really just making it up because they want some April Fool’s revenge. Little do they know is that the video could very well end the world, somehow.

That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, nor is it explained. It’s completely random and idiotic. This backstory manages to be worse than some of the comedy sketches, to a point where you might actually want to see another bad sketch. This is because the actors in the background story have little to no charisma, and they’re increasingly annoying and bland.

While the idea of sketch comedies in movies is fairly new, this is still trash. The plot is almost as disorganized as every spoof movie out there. If this is compared to Scary Movie 5, this might as well be an Oscar contender. This is definitely not for the easily offended. The humour is thoroughly crude, offensive, absurd, violent, vulgar, inane, insane, sophomoric and rarely funny; but it’s ironic that I’ve seen a lot more nudity in less offensive films. So… Humour that will offend almost the entire world is okay, but extreme nudity is off the table? Hmm.

Out of the movie’s thirteen comedy sketches, there are thirteen stupid and fairly offensive ones. The one with Terrence Howard is hardly funny at all. The sketch showing that people get much too angry with machines and it upsets the kids inside the machines is incredibly stupid, but it’s creative. There are arguably five tolerable ones, but there are none that provide consistent laughs. The ‘Super Hero Dating’ segment with Jason Sudeikis and Justin Long has a few solid jokes, and it’s an imaginative look into the culture of super hero impersonators. It’s the movie’s strongest segment (even if it’s hardly great). The ‘Happy Birthday’ segment with Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville also has some good laughs (albeit forgettable), but it is one of the movie’s more violent and vulgar segments. The ‘Truth or Dare’ segment starring Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry is funny in the beginning, but it progressively gets worse until it falls on its face. Suffice to say, the ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Super Hero Dating’ sketches are my favourite, and they are somewhat entertaining.

SPOILERS FOLLOW IN THIS FUNNY PARAGRAPH, I briefly describe the film’s worst three sketches. It seems as if the movie is designed to have the worst three sketches at the beginning of the film. The first sketch has Hugh Jackman sporting a pair of testicles under his chin and it is unfunny and unwatchable. It’s a one-joke sketch where it seems as if Kate Winslet’s character is the only one to notice the prominent nuts. Though, it does show that society cannot help but judge someone for the way they look. The second sketch features Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts homeschooling their child and mercilessly bullying him to a point where he will definitely need to be institutionalized. The third sketch features Anna Farris requesting Chris Pratt to poop on her (you read that right) because it’s apparently a big step in a relationship. Apparently, it’s okay to poop on women, but it’s frowned upon to sh*t on them. Because if you shit on a gal, it’s deemed very offensive. (Read the next part very sarcastically.) Wow. This is the world of my dreams. I’ve always wanted to live in a world where the norm is to poop on women and have a pair of testicles dangling under my chin. Oh, someone, take me there! I can’t take this society where women bitch about me even farting in their general direction! END OF SPOILERS.

Alas, this movie is awful. (But, I am able to use the word ‘alas’ in one of my reviews.) I’ve seen much worse, but it’s really, really, really, stupid. The laughs are forgettable; but it’s the disturbing sketches that are unforgettable. Much to my dismay, this stuff kind-of just sticks with you… Forever.

30/100

Tower Heist – A film review by Daniel Prinn – A sort of poor comedy but a decent crime film.

Tower Heist

Release Date: November 4, 2011

Director: Brett Ratner

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck

Runtime: 104 min

Tagline: Ordinary guys. An extraordinary robbery.

Unfortunately, [Tower Heist] is a bit too average and not as funny as one should expect.

After a group of hotel employees find out they have fallen victims to a very rich man’s Ponzi scheme, Josh Kovaks (Ben Stiller) gathers a criminal, a hotel guest and former employees to get back at this man. They conspire to rob the man of all of the money he has stolen, which is in the penthouse suite of his very tall hotel. What a very straightforward title.

It’s just very average comedy schlock, if you can call it comedy because I can hardly remember laughing-out-loud at any jokes that were told, nor can I remember which jokes were told. I may have chuckled quite a bit though. If you think of it as more of a crime film with comedic elements, maybe you’ll like it more.

Also, it’s supposed to be a comedy with action and crime; I see the crime here, but the action sequences are a smidge boring and predictable. You want to root for the guys to get the job done and get their money back, but it really isn’t anything that has to be seen. The characters are generally likeable, well except for Shaw of course.

The film has a really nice ensemble cast, and the plot’s decent but there could have been more laughs. The film starts off okay, but the pacing is off and it takes way  too long to actually get to the heist.

The film stars some great drama/comedy actors like Casey Affleck and Gabourey Sidibe from Precious, and also Alan Alda, and good comedy actors like Ben Stiller, Michael Peňa and Téa Leoni, to great comedic presences like early Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick.

Still, it’s nothing I overly regret seeing but nothing I’d really run back to soon. But generally, it’s a comedy that most teenagers will enjoy (and I did on a moderate level) but it could have been much better.

63/100