This weekend sees The Legend of Hercules take on two Oscar holdouts from 2013, Her and Lone Survivor. These two movies have been in limited release for a while and are finally given a wide release. Which movie is worth your money? The Oscar bait, the navy seal survival story or the Pompeii premake starring that dude from Twilight?
The Legend of Hercules
I miss the days of Kevin Sorbo. There will never be another definitive version of Hercules. I’m wondering if Sam Raimi’s production company should put Hercules on the big screen alongside his partner, Iolaus. Heaven knows Lucy Lawless would still be game to play Xena.
This version, however, stars Twilight’s Kellan Lutz as the mythic half-god hero. His mother seeks to stop her ruthless husband from conquering all of Greece and she asks for help from the gods. In turn, she is “visited” by Zeus and later granted a son. Though, she keeps his divine nature secret and they raise him as the king’s natural born son. He grows up in his ruthless father’s kingdom and is constantly envied by his older brother. He falls in love, yet his love is promised to his older brother and Hercules is sent away to die in battle. In a matter of minutes, he is captured and rises the ranks through the pit-fighting underground and eventually returns to Greece to exact revenge and lead his soldiers to overtake the kingdom.
Along the way he finds out about his true destiny and performs miraculous feats of strength, uses a lightning-enhanced sword (ala Kratos in God of War) and does a whole bunch of wire stunts.
The Legend of Hercules is Renny Harlin’s first big screen feature in a decade. I honestly don’t understand how this movie made it to the big screen. If this movie went straight to DVD, that would be one thing. There wouldn’t be any expectations. In fact, the effects might even look decent. I just can’t see how anyone decided that spending millions on a movie of this caliber would be a good idea. And if millions were spent, they sure weren’t spent on the effects. The sets look like they are straight out of “Life of Brian.” The effects themselves looked worse than the aforementioned Kevin Sorbo series. In one scene, Herculutz fights a lion with his bare hands, but it looks like he’s doing nothing more than wrestling with an over-sized Build-A-Bear.
Suffice it to say, I laughed several times at the unintentional comedy and it wasn’t just the bad effects, but also the terrible dialogue. Kellan Lutz is not ready to be a leading man. If this was a cable TV series about a gladiatorial Hercules, he would be just fine. But he cannot carry a movie.
In the Legend of Hercules, I experienced something I’ve never felt before and never hope to again. I actually wished that I was watching Clash of the Titans. Avoid this version of Hercules. We’ll see how Hercules: The Thracian Wars, starring The Rock, will turn out this summer. For now, save your money and watch Hercules: The Legendary Journeys on Netflix instead.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a seemingly pathetic man in his private life, yet a personal poet at his near-futuristic job where he ghostwrites heartfelt letters using the persona of strangers. To combat his life as a lonely hermit, he tries out a new operating system meant to be the perfect companion to each user. He quickly falls for “Samantha” (Scarlett Johannson’s voice). He becomes her guide to the world and his private thoughts, Theodore takes her traveling through his city and they spend every waking second linked through a device and ear piece.
Spike Jonze (Adaptation) has intentionally layered this movie with his style, yet doesn’t go over the top. Everything shown in this movie, from the video games, technology and social norms, don’t exist yet. Yet, Jonze makes the science fiction seem plausible. This movie centers on Theodore, so it takes a while before you realize that he’s not as unusual as he seems to begin with. He’s more a product of his environment. As he walks through the city, you can see that nearly everyone is carrying on a conversation/relationship with their own personal version of the AI.
Phoenix deserves an incredible amount of praise for his work here. He carries the movie on his back and usually only has a voice to act against. With talk of a best supporting actress nod, Johansson is getting far too much praise for her vocal work here. She’s fine, but I would have picked someone that doesn’t sound like a 1-900 number veteran.
The creativity of the world Spike Jonze has created is a marvel to watch. There’s just one problem. “Her” is such a small story that there really isn’t a story to begin with. Theodore has gone through a failed marriage but it never seems quite clear of what he needs to get over to stop being so pathetic. Even at the end of the film, he is still a flat character with very little growth.
To its credit and detriment, the events in this movie play out exactly like an actual relationship. Even though Samantha is only an AI voice, they have a very realistic relationship. By that I mean it’s full of jealousy, failing confidence and doubt. Theodore falls deeply in love with Samantha, which affects him in the worst possible way when things don’t go as planned. In this way, Jonze has made a science fiction relationship movie that feels real. But was I looking to be depressed in a robot girlfriend movie?
The plot meanders and eventually wraps up in an indie fashion. I really wish I could bring myself to love this movie, but it’s only likable. It’s a movie hand-made for film critics. It has a great style, with true emotions and shows a brave new world of technology. Sadly, this movie is more enjoyable to talk about than to see. Her is worth renting. See it and love it only if you consider yourself high-brow and want to see what all the fuss is about before the Oscars.
Lone Survivor tells the true story of the disastrous “Operation Red Wings” mission in Afghanistan. The action focuses on four Navy Seals (Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch and Emile Hirsch) as they are pinned down by Taliban fighters on a mountain range. These Navy Seals fight for survival against insurmountable odds and hope for a quick rescue. The center of the story is Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg) and the film follows his actions in the gunfight and events that followed.
This is an intense movie. Over half of the film relies on non-stop gunfire and the intensity of retreating to safer ground. The narrative is less focused on who is going to survive (I think the title makes that very clear), but on how anyone could survive such a physical and mental assault.
The fight and flight for survival is well shot (pardon the pun) but it felt like a standard modern war movie. It wasn’t actually until the final third of Lone Survivor that I perked up and truly enjoyed it. Certain sacrifices are made that show the power of the human spirit.
Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) whose last movie was Battleship has lost his image of being a hack and has returned to being a credible filmmaker.
This is the movie that the atrocious “Act of Valor” from two years ago wanted to be. That movie tried to be unique by showing the true strategies of the Seals. However, it felt like a bad episode of 24. Yes, even worse than the Kim/Cougar episode. Lone Survivor feels real because it actually happened. People died, people lived and the battle rages on. Obviously, this movie will do very well among the military crowd and they finally have a movie they don’t have to be ashamed of.
I’m not going to lie, if it wasn’t for the last 5 minutes of the movie, I wouldn’t be so quick to offer praise on Lone Survivor. Yet, their manipulative techniques hit me right in the tear ducts. It’s cool if man tears are shed in a war movie, right?
This movie isn’t for everyone. Those offended by language will take issue. On the other hand, you may just forgive these Seals for their language as they jump off cliff faces to avoid being hit by bullets. See Lone Survivor, it’s surprisingly good.