Hercules Schmercules

I recently had a day at the movies. You should go catch Snowpiercer but here are a few notes on Hercules. Hercules is currently playing in theaters.

Hercules

 

Hercules (2014) РRated PG-13

Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.

Once again we have multiple projects on the exact same topic. Last year, it was an assault on the White House. Previous years have seen competing versions of Snow White to the pairing of Valmont/Dangerous Liaisons. This year, Hercules is our whipping boy.

Renny Harlin rushed his “The Legend of Hercules” out at the beginning of the year. I haven’t seen it but by all accounts it is pretty awful. It stars Kellan Lutz and straight-to-DVD action hero Scott Adkins. The Legend of Hercules was dumped into the graveyard of bad movies aka January.

We’re well into July which used to be prime blockbuster territory but now that the blockbusters are all scheduled for May with a few June holdovers, July has become a testing ground for movies that have summer appeal but we don’t think are going to be blockbusters. In this summer heat haze, Brett Ratner brings us Hercules.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is certainly physically like I would picture the mythical Hercules, way better than a model and sparkly vampire. His sense of humor would also seem to lend itself to a lighthearted approach to the material.

I suppose the most unfortunate part of Hercules is that Ratner and the writers can’t seem to figure out what they want the movie to be. This Hercules is adapted from the Radical comic of the same name by Steve Moore. I have not read the comic so I cannot comment on that but Evan Spiliotopoulos and first time film scriptwriter Ryan Condal did the adaptation. This is Spiliotopoulos’ first screenplay in five years. Before that he did treatments of the direct-to-DVD sequels for Tinkerbell, Lion King, Tarzan, Cinderella, and Jungle Book.

If you are looking for a Steve Reeves peplum romp, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a CGI monster heavy fantasy, look elsewhere. Hercules patterns itself as a cross between the Kevin Sorbo series (Hercules as more of an adventurer than a demigod) and The Magnificent Seven (themselves based on The Seven Samurai).

Hercules leads a team of mercenaries, each with their own specialty (female archer – how original, feral hand axe fighter, seer with a staff, man with knives, etc.) while Herc carries a large styrofoam club. The villains of Hercules are ridiculously underdeveloped. The movie could actually have used to be a bit longer but Ratner wanted to keep things breezy. Hercules runs a scant hour and thirty-eight minutes long.

I guess I should be glad that they kept CGI to a minimum as the scene with the snakes is laughably bad as are some of the fire effects late in the film. The Nemean Lion and monstrous boar, shown briefly in flashback/storytelling mode, looked good though.

The movie plays out a little darker than Johnson’s preferred acting style. He is still fun to watch as are Ian McShane and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as teammates. John Hurt effortlessly steals the show as Lord Cotys. The movie seems tailor-made for a series of adventures featuring Hercules and friends.

The movie isn’t terrible but I can really only recommend it for fans of The Rock.

 

Snowpiercer and the Korean Invasion

I recently had the opportunity to catch a few movies in the theater. Snowpiercer is currently in theaters.

Snowpiercer

 

Snowpiercer (2013) РRated R

Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.”

I have really enjoyed a lot of Korean cinema over the last decade. My favorites have been “The Host”, “The Good, The Bad, The Weird”, “I Saw the Devil”, and “Mother”.

I Saw the Devil” and “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” were directed by Kim Jee-woon. The former is a wonderfully dark and twisted tale of revenge and a serial killer. The latter is an epic Eastern Western. Both are currently available on instant Netflix. Obviously the success of these films caught the attention of Hollywood.

As with many successful Asian directors, Kim Jee-woon was brought over to direct a Hollywood picture – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback, The Last Stand. While there are some nice visual flourishes, The Last Stand is not very good and not just because of Johnny Knoxville.

The Host” (2006) and “Mother” were directed by Joon-ho Bong. The former is a wonderful horror tale about a pollution monster with some oddball humor. The latter is a dark movie about a mother’s efforts to clear her son of murder charges. The Host is currently available on instant Netflix.

Joon-ho Bong chose the more independent route of making an international picture, neither Korean nor American. Snowpiercer is an English-language film starring Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Tilda Swinton. It also features some Korean sequences with Kang-ho Song, star of “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” and Ah-sung Ko, star of “The Host”.

The ever fickle Weinstein Company chose a new strategy for this release. Two weeks after the theatrical premiere, Snowpiercer was made available on Video on Demand. Since it takes about two weeks for independent films to trickle down to Asheville, this meant an almost simultaneous release here. While it may mean less revenue for them theatrically, Weinstein gets a much larger share of the profits from the VOD end.

I applaud whatever arrangements allow Joon-ho Bong and other directors to realize their visions without the obvious compromises caused by the Hollywood corporatization. Here I feel it results in the difference between The Last Stand and Snowpiercer, just as decades ago it resulted in the difference between John Woo’s The Killers and Hard-Boiled and his Hollywood movies like Windtalkers and the aptly named Paycheck.

Snowpiercer is a fantastic science fiction masterpiece. Every scene is wonderfully crafted. Each car on the train serves a different societal purpose. Special effects are omnipresent yet are understated and serve the story rather than detracting from it.

The movie has a lot of interesting things to say about the (inevitable) class system that develops but never becomes pedantic. It also has quite a number of interesting revelations along the way. I really enjoyed the power of self-delusion shown in several of the characters.

Acting is wonderful from the ensemble cast. They make Chris Evans quite scruffy and tone down his charisma so fits right in. Jaime Bell makes an earnest second-in-command for the revolution. John Hurt is a charmer and a scene stealer as is Tilda Swinton though she is perhaps a bit over the top. The aforementioned Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko are great as well despite speaking in Korean without subtitles (for the most part).

Snowpiercer is the second best film I have seen this year, behind only The Grand Budapest Hotel. Catch it in theaters if you can. If not, it is available through Amazon and other VOD services.

44 Inch Chest

Okay the mediocrity of yesterday’s Dead Cert left me with an urge for a good British gangster flick. 44 Inch Chest is currently available on instant Netflix.

44 Inch Chest (2009) – Rated R

“After his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), cheats on him, gangster Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) gets his revenge by enlisting his underworld pals to kidnap her hunky French lover (Melvil Poupaud) in the feature debut of director Malcolm Venville. Top British actors, including Ian McShane, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson, round out the cast of the crime thriller, penned by the screenwriters of another memorable Winstone vehicle, Sexy Beast.”

“Love’s hard work, hard graft. Love can be murder. Love is watching what she wants to watch on the telly, taking her the papers and a cup of tea on a Sunday morning in bed and inquiring to how she might be feeling, “You all right, Liz?” whilst plumping up her pillows. “

Warning: When this says it is rated R for strong language, they mean it. According to imdb, the F bomb is dropped 162 times in this movie and that isn’t the worst of the language. I’ve never heard the C bomb dropped so often in any movie but it means a lot less in Britain than it does here in the States.

Well I liked the British B-list class of actors in Dead Cert. Steven Berkoff and Dave Legeno from that film also appear in this but 44 Inch Chest has much bigger names to throw around. Ian McShane (a favorite of mine since Deadwood), John Hurt (ditto but since Alien), Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins), and Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones) all star here. They are all here to backup Ray Winstone as cuckolded gangster Colin.

The film opens brilliantly with Colin (Ray Winstone) lying amid the wreckage of his living room with the strains of “Without You” playing over the stereo. Most of the rest of the film is just Colin in a room with his mates and Loverboy (I like that we never know his name).

I really don’t mind language. Actually I love language, harsh or otherwise. I don’t use harsh language much myself – I dropped something yesterday, accidentally said ‘crap’ and had it repeated immediately by my two-year-old granddaughter. Whoops! South Park: The Movie used the volume of harsh language to humorous effect. The HBO series Deadwood used harsh language lyrically in a splendid combination of cursing, historical slang, and poetry.

Unfortunately 44 Inch Chest simply throws in language willy-nilly. It is important to throw in enough language to show how salty these friends are, particularly John Hurt’s misogynist character. Sadly they often go over the line into self-parody.

In spite of the nice cast, the movie goes nowhere for the first two acts. The third act has a few interesting revelations but is not terribly well-handled.

Be aware that in spite of the Netflix description, this is by no means a crime thriller. It is meant to be an introspective character study of Colin with some window dressing. It is mildly interesting but could have been really good with a better director and screenwriter.

People Watch: Derek Lea who plays Bumface is normally a stuntman and has worked on Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Troy and many others,