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

Advertisements

The ABCs of Death (2013)

abcs of deathReleased: March 8, 2013. Directed by: Various including Angela Bettis, Ti West and Ben Wheatley. Starring: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Iván González, Kyra Zagorsky. Runtime: 129 min.

Anthology films are a series of shorts compiled together, and the only thing they have in common is the genre they portray. A few anthology films from 2013 include this, Movie 43 and V/H/S/ 2 and since two of the three I’ve seen (this, The ABCs of Death, and M43) have been awful, state just how crappy anthology films can be. Movie 43 is a crappy compilation of crappy comedies, which are very rarely funny; ABCs is a lazy compilation of 26 chapters chronicling the vicious wonder and brutal beauty of death. The commonplace for the segments in this film it that someone dies in all of them (well, for the most part oddly), the majority of them are dull, and they’re supposedly trying to portray the horror genre. The thing is, not one is scary. They just exploit violence and there’s just a whole lot of blood.

I don’t have much of a problem with violence in cinema when it’s done well; and I really don’t mind gore. I like them both in good movies. This anthology flick is just stupid as anything, and there’s not even a story that ties them all together – V/H/S/ at least has the courtesy to feature a frame narrative. The poster makes it seem like maybe Death himself is reading a bunch of short tales to a weird little baby, but sadly we don’t get anything like that. Instead each short gets separated by a simple fade to a red background with those alphabet blocks kids play with saying something like “A is for…,” and then on to the next one. Anyway, a lot of these are original, and a good change of pace from the usual horror fare, but I couldn’t get into this. But almost every short film in this is very bizarre, and there’s only about five okay shorts, and one really good one.

They are ‘Q’, a mildly clever short where a pair of directors discuss what their sketch is going to be for such a hard letter. They discuss how they’ll stand out, but it’s hard for any of these sketches to stand out because a lot are awful. One actually good sketch is for the letter ‘S’, which is a lot of fun. Mind you, not scary, but it has a really cool atmosphere with some great metaphors and it’s actually really entertaining. It’s the only enjoyable sketch in my eyes. Again, it doesn’t work as a horror sketch – it’s more like an actioner that has hot babes and fast carsThe short film’s plots are mostly dumb, but at least they get to the point quickly; but they have to, each segment is only about 4.96 minutes each on average. The shortest is one called “Gravity,” and it’s the only time I’ve ever wanted to see Sandra Bullock bumping into stuff for a few minutes instead. The one in consideration features POV-style cinematography, which is sometimes a nice change of pace. There’s another point-of-view sketch that’s pretty crappy, too. The one for the letter ‘D’ is told completely in slow motion and is almost entirely pointless, the slow motion just renders it completely empty of any sort-of emotion. It looks good, but it’s just very empty.

One other okay sketch is the death for the letter ‘T,’ which is mildly entertaining (still not scary, mind you) and memorable because it’s told in a cheap-looking claymation. I mean, if I ever take acid and then everything turns into claymation, I’ll stay away from toilets. There’s one sketch that is actually fun, strange as anything because the characters are in animal costumes it seems, but it’s a sort-of fun R-rated Tex Avery battle of sorts during World War Two. It’s for the letter ‘H,’ by the way, but guessing the word might be a fun challenge, so I won’t reveal it. There’s one simplistic but utterly stupid one called “Klutz,” where, to express its stupidity, I’m just going to spoil it. The woman basically dies by the metaphorical hands of a pesky piece of poop that is too stubborn to be flushed down the toilet, and instead teases the woman, sticks to the ceiling, and when she looks on the ground for it, launches itself into her ass and comes out of her mouth, killing her. Seriously, what the f$%k? The animated sketch is so, so awful. The sketch for ‘F’ is equally bad. A few thoughts on the worst sketches: the one for the letter ‘L’ is just disgusting and twisted; the sketch for the letter ‘X’ is a sort-of social commentary of media influence, but I don’t think people are this cruel, at least in my experiences, and it’s a bit too insane for me, but gore lovers will adore this; and the sketch for the letter ‘P’ is a sad story that shows how far someone will go to make money when they’re under pressure, but the finale is heartbreakingly despicable. Moving on…

I think the idea that the producers thought this would be scary is because the premise of death is scary to many people. I’m scared of death, but this is never thrilling or scary – but a lot of this is awful, with only a few decent sketches, and some of them that use an artistic approach to filmmaking don’t make a lick of sense. It’s a shame that a fair deal of the half-decent to bearable sketches come in the second half of the alphabet, because by that time, I found myself counting how many letters are left and checking my phone constantly for how much time remained. This is just an exhausting experience. It might be fun for the horror movie buff who wants something different from mainstream horror, and I think that’s the point.

The thing is, a lot of it isn’t that well-made (but each director from around the world is working on a budget of $5000), and this ends up being less enjoyable than regular horror fare. Though, for those who want to see a bunch of different ways to die, many bland and gory, and a few really twisted, watch it if you must. But this is just one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. This one is just too twisted and unenjoyable for me, and it simply isn’t very thrilling or scary. Cringe-worthy at times, but something I’m trying to figure out is, could cringing at a horror film truly be considered good horror? At least in this case, I say no. This one’s definitely not for the mainstream audience, so they should just stick to the 1000 Ways to Die TV show. I also hope in the sequel, the directors remember to make their material scary. Keep the same originality and sometimes twisted material, but make it scary, please.

Score: 25/100