Movie Review: The Legend of Hercules (2014)

April 2, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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First of all, The Legend of Hercules is the Hercules movie starring Twilight beefcake Kellan Lutz, not the yet-to-be-released one with The Rock. Secondly, despite everything you’ve heard about it, The Legend of Hercules is not THAT bad. Its 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is misleading because it means only 3 out of 100 critics thought it was a good movie, not that the average rating of the movie is 3 out of 100 (or 0.15 stars out of 5). In truth, The Legend of Hercules is just terribly average and lacking in originality, and likely inferior to that other Hercules movie. But it’s not THAT bad. Really.

Where do I start? In ancient Greece, of course. King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins from The Expendables 2) is the king of the world, but he’s also a selfish, warmongering dude who’s extremely villainous. His estranged wife prays for guidance and “boom”, she’s doing the naughty with Zeus, who is apparently a wham-bam-thank-you-mam kinda fellow. The result is a baby who would grow up to become Hercules (Kellan Lutz).

I’ll stop there, but essentially Hercules is the story of a prophecised half-man, half-god pretty boy who has to find the strength within himself to take on the evil regime of his adopted father and wimpy half-brother while finding time to woo a pretty blonde lady played by Gaia Weiss. Without giving too much away, the film is part Gladiator, part The Passion of the Christ, part Braveheart and part Thor – in that order.

That’s one of the biggest problems with The Legend of Hercules – it feels derivative and lacking in passion. It borrows liberally and shamelessly without putting its own twist or stamp on things. The pedestrian script doesn’t do the film any favours either, but despite the Herculean efforts of director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) the film can’t quite shake its “cash-grabbing” vibe.

The film was made for US$70 million, which is a relatively small budget for a “blockbuster” like this. And it shows. From the weak special effects (like the bizarrely fake-looking lion) to the overall look of the sets and its visual texture, The Legend of Hercules is lacklustre all over.

To be fair, however, I did enjoy some of the action sequences in the film, both in and out of the gladiator arena. They were well choreographed and occasionally exciting, and it helps that Scott Adkins is a professional martial artist who knows what he’s doing. The scenes of Kellan Lutz doing his best impersonation of Kratos from God of War were fun too.

Speaking of Kellan Lutz, aka “charisma vortex”, it seems more than plausible that he’s the biggest reason the film has been a worldwide flop. He seems like a nice guy and a fine physical specimen who looks like he just jumped straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch print ad, but it might come as a shock to many of you that he CAN’T ACT.  He has two facial expressions — blank, for when he doesn’t need to do anything, and an ape-like grimace for every other emotional expression. He’s basically the opposite of Daniel Day-Lewis.

I don’t profess to be an expert at judging male aesthetics, but Lutz is also one weird looking dude. There are some angles where he appears conventionally handsome and others where his face looks like an orangutan stuffed into a glass cube. The orange fake tan doesn’t help either.

Still, he’s an upgrade over Liam Garrigan, who plays Hercules’ half-brother Iphicles. Garrigan, I’m sure, is a good-looking man in real life, but here he sports a haircut that makes Tom Hanks’ rug in The Da Vinci Code look like a masterpiece. With a hairstyle like that you might as well have stuck a sign on his head that says “wimpy, gutless, jealous older brother with inferior complex who will die and no one will care.”

Anyway, as much as I have shit all over it, The Legend of Hercules is not THAT bad. For all its flaws, the fight scenes are solid and it’s only a merciful 99 minutes long. If you treat the bad script, bad dialogue, bad haircuts and Kellan Lutz’s performance as comedy, it’s actually not an unentertaining movie.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Host (2013)

May 1, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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There is only a handful of times in a life that one will see a movie that is so laughably pathetic that they don’t even know how to react to it. The Host is one such movie.

Based on a book written by the skilled pen of Stephenie Meyer, the author who bestowed upon us the Twilight Saga, The Host tells the story of how mankind has been mostly taken over by an alien race. These aliens, who look like big dandelions and are called “Souls” (convenient), inject themselves into human bodies and use them as hosts (hence the clever title). The consciousness of the original human owner is erased and replaced by the alien, who still retains the human’s memories and knowledge. One particular alien called Wanderer takes over the body of a young girl, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), whose consciousness refuses to subside and battles the alien for control of the body. The alien is moved by this wonderful love Melanie had as a human with Jeremy Iron’s son, Max Irons, but there’s also some other dude (Jake Abel from I Am Number Four – Kevin Bacon’s son?) that fancies her — cue patented Stephenie Meyer love triangle.

It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Twilight. Shudder.

I can imagine this kind of story working as a novel, but as a film (especially one that is merely hoping to cash in on Twilight‘s popularity) it just had no chance. I tried to give The Host a genuine shot, but the plot had more holes than Prometheus and the love triangle made the one in Twilight seem like the greatest love triangle of all time. I found myself either shaking my head or bursting out in laughter from the unintentional hilarity for almost the entirety of the torturous 125-minute running time.

Technically, the visuals and the direction of Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, In Time) are fine. Even the performances from the all-star cast (which also includes William Hurt and Diane Kruger) are not too bad, considering the lines they had to spew out. But there is little anyone could do when the source material and the screenplay and dialogue are so awful. For starters, Saoirse Ronan has conversations with herself all throughout the movie because she is, um, trapped within herself. Trust me, it’s stupid.

Then there are the questions. Of all the relationships in the world, the alien is moved by one between a young girl and guy who have known each other for a couple of months? WTF? Why does Wanderer (“Wanda”) go from hated enemy one second to the most beloved and trusted ally the next? Why does Jake Abel go from wanting to kill Wanda one second to wanting to make out with her the next? Why does she have to make out with people for contrived reasons? (There is, I swear, one scene where the guys take turns making out with her). The list goes on.

And the ending, which I will not give away, is the icing on the cake. You have to see it to believe it.

What else can I say? The Host is dull, lacking in tension, excitement and heart, and just plain absurd. Avoid it if you dare.

0.5 out of 5…

Book Review: ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ by EL James

January 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Reviews

Fifty Shades Freed

Fifty Shades Freed is the perfect title to the third and final book of EL James’s 50 Shades Trilogy. After struggling with to get through this book for months, I can finally say, “I have been freed!” Freed from one of the worst pieces of crap I have ever read.

You may ask why I would read something I find so horrible — and trust me, I have asked myself that question several times — but the Fifty Shades trilogy is actually an excellent lesson in bad writing and how to avoid it. I may not be a good writer, but I sure know terrible writing when I see it. This is not to say James is necessarily a bad writer. As Anne Lamont wrote in Bird by Bird, almost all writers start off with shitty first drafts. All of Fifty Shades is, essentially, is a shitty first draft. It could have been pared back,  fixed up and improved significantly with two or three (most probably more) rewrites, but instead, we were given the product in practically raw form. And it’s ghastly.

I had tried to defend the first two books of the series to some degree, but I simply cannot think of one redeeming feature about this one. The first entry, Fifty Shades of Grey, was at least fresh and had some interesting dynamics as our protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is courted by the enigmatic, impossibly handsome and super rich Christian Grey. The second book has the couple reconciling after a brief break up and then has them “getting to know each other” a little better, before ending with a really bizarre epilogue that foreshadowed the rise of a nasty villain in the final book.

Well, this so-called villain turned out to be completely pathetic and incapable of generating any tension whatsoever. He/she was a completely different person to the character that James had described and depicted in the first book and a half. It just made no sense at all. Even when this villain made a final appearance for the “climax” it was still incredibly lame, and again, made no sense at all. I can’t say too much without giving away the “twists”, but whole thing made less sense than Mulholland Drive multiplied by Primer.

To insult readers further, instead of explaining why a certain part of the story didn’t make sense in the aftermath of the climax, James added an “author’s note” at the end and inserted an additional conversation to fudge the plot back into coherence. Unfortunately she needed another dozen authors notes to explain all the other stuff that remained inexplicable.

Enough with the villain, who is, to be fair, only a tiny part of the book. The majority of Fifty Shades Freed is still devoted to the unbearably saccharine relationship between Ana and Christian. I tried my best but I just couldn’t find anything real about their relationship, their emotions or their personalities.

Ana loves Christian so much and Christian loves Ana so so much. They can’t live without each other despite their respective flaws. Christian is so unbelievably beautiful and domineering and rich and a sex god. Ana can’t believe how lucky she is. Women can’t stop making passes at her man and she can’t stop rolling her eyes at them. James keeps telling us the same things over and over, rubbing it in our faces and shoving it down our throats — for 1,500+ pages.

But having them constantly and repeatedly tell each other how much love is in the air doesn’t make us feel that love. In fact, the more times they said it (almost every second page, really) the less convinced I became. To James’s credit, she does tone down the pointless email conversations and the inner goddess/subconscious gymnastics that irked me so much in the first two books, but to be honest I still had to regularly break out the speed reading I learned in high school (which had not been utilized for fiction in more than a decade) just so I could get through the worst sections.

As for the sex — there wasn’t a whole lot, and what was left behind lacked the passion of the earlier entries in the series. If Fifty Shades of Grey was all hot and heavy between two horny teenagers, then Fifty Shades Freed is like an old couple who have been married for 60 years and lost their libidos long ago.

Without arguably the best part of the novels working its magic, Fifty Shades Freed was more or less a fantasy diary that simply went on and on aimlessly and kept rehashing the same things. I don’t remember ever reading something so repetitive and tedious. There probably was an attempt at plotting, but it sure didn’t feel like it. The efforts at creating tension were horrendous — SPOILER ALERT — with the car chase and kidnapping the most laughable examples.

To top things off, at the very end of the book there is a retelling of the first encounter between Christian and Ana — but this time, from Christian’s perspective (I believe it was attempting to mirror what Stephenie Meyer tried to do with Twilight until it was leaked online and she scrapped it). If there was ever any charm to this Christian fellow, James’s misguided attempt at his male voice pretty much destroyed it. Instead of remaining this enigmatic, tortured soul with a heart of gold, Christian Grey turned out to be, as feared, an obnoxious prick with only one thing on his mind.

Good for James and the millions she has raked in, but personally, I’m just glad it’s all over.

0.5/5

Book Review: ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ by EL James

November 28, 2012 in Book Reviews, Reviews

There are significantly fewer reviews of Fifty Shades Darker, the second book of the Fifty Shades Trilogy by EL James, than its predecessor. My guess is that the reason is the same as why sales of the trilogy have dipped noticeably after the first book: readers stopped being titillated by the erotica and got sick of the Twilightesque melodrama and bad writing.

As for me, after powering through the first 150 pages of Fifty Shades of Grey (review here) with ease and excitement, I am saddened to say that the rest of the series has thus far been a chore to get through. I began reading Fifty Shades Darker immediately after the first book, and even though I had a lot going on in between, it still took me a full four months to complete.

(By the way, this review is going to have spoilers for those who haven’t read the first book, so be warned.)

Fifty Shades Darker picks up almost right where Fifty Shades of Grey left off — the young, recently deflowered Anastasia Steele (based on Bella Swan from Twilight) is devastated because had just broken up with her young billionaire lover Christian Grey (based on Edward Cullen from Twilight) over her belief that she can never fully satisfy his sadomasochistic desires.

We were left thinking that the spanking, nipple clamps and anal beads were going to be a deal-breaker for these two star-crossed lovers, but for some inexplicable reason they are back getting it on by chapter two as though nothing ever went wrong in their relationship and all problems have been forgotten.

I don’t get it either, but rest assured that the young couple is less tormented by each other in this second book and more by external forces who want to keep them apart.

In a sign that James’s planning and structuring has improved, the story feels slightly less “roaming” and has identifiable story arcs this time. There’s Ana’s sleazy boss who continues to hit on her, Christian’s “Mrs Robinson”, the woman who “saved his life” but turned him into a freak in the bedroom, and some skinny-ass looney girl who used to be one of Christian’s subordinates and can’t get over him. These stumbling blocks appear intermittently throughout this 544-page (paperback) epic to offer some breathing room from the passions of the central characters and to inject some much-needed tension and suspense.

The writing is also generally better, with improvements addressing some of my worst complaints from the first book, but on the whole it is still messy and occasionally downright amateurish. On the bright side, James has cut down on her reliance on mundane email correspondences (that go on for pages and pages without purpose), the constant blushing, cocking of the head to one side and the repetitive descriptions of Christian’s unbelievable beauty — though I suspect the reason is because James got sick of writing these things over and over as opposed to a conscious decision to pare back.

Hanging around, however, the unbearable references to Ana’s “subconscious” and her “inner goddess”, which still drive me up the wall every time they start doing backflips and other acrobatic crap (which is probably at least a hundred times). They are not the same thing, by the way, because she sometimes refers to them both in the same sentence. And call me pedantic, but how can anyone be CONSCIOUSLY aware of what their SUBCONSCIOUS is thinking or doing is beyond me.

You can also almost tell from reading the book when James begins and ends a session of writing because she goes through phases where certain terms are used repeatedly and excessively. For instance, she goes through chunks of the book referring to Christian as “Fifty”. Maybe I’m being a dick here, but I can’t imagine anyone thinking it is endearing to nickname the love of their life a “number” representing their psychotic behaviour and bi-polar tendencies (well, maybe apart from 50 Cent).

Another interesting style change is James’s decision to cut back on the sex scenes, even using the “fade-to-black and skip to next scene” technique we often see in PG movies. It’s a catch-22, really, because when I was reading the sex scenes I was like, “Man, this is so boring and repetitive, I wish she would just skip it”, and when she skipped them I was like “Man, why am I reading this book if she’s skipping all the good parts?” — before realising how unfair I was being.

You can also tell that James has been experimenting after reading too many commercial crime thrillers. Bearing in mind that the series is otherwise told entirely through a first person narrative from Ana’s perspective, the introduction to the novel is inexplicably written in first person through the eyes of Christian when he was a child — and it’s an insignificant piece of information that gets little attention for the rest of the novel. Even more bizarre is the sudden turn to third person narrative for the final pages of the book, from the perspective of a character who has, up to that point, been little more than an annoying, inept nuisance, but is for some reason set up to be the major villain in the final novel. Your guess is as good as mine.

Strangely, despite all my bitching, I actually think Fifty Shades Darker is, on the whole, no better or worse than its predecessor. It’s a different kind of novel that does some things better and other things worse, is more consistent but has less highs and lows. The series has kind of transformed since the first book, much like a relationship. It started off hot and heavy but its mellowing and become more about the emotional connection than the physical one. For some readers, that might be refreshing, and dare I say, rewarding.

There are three problems, though. One, people started reading the book because of the erotica, and the erotica is not that exciting anymore. Two, the relationship has never been very interesting or believable. And three, the book is way too freaking long.

2 out of 5

PS: Yep, reading the third book now.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (2012)

November 19, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

The world must really be coming to an end soon because — I can’t believe I am saying this– Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II is GOOD.

How the Hogwarts is this possible? I have followed the films from the very beginning and read 2 of the 4 books (the first and third), primarily out of curiosity, and all they have done is bewilder because, let’s face it, they’re crap.

But inexplicably, this final film somehow manages to be by far the best of the lot and is a rewarding conclusion to an otherwise lackluster series.

The love story between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire beau Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) picks up from the end of the last film, where Bella was finally turned into a bloodsucker after dying during childbirth. For the first part of the film, we get to see the world in her new red eyes as she learns to deal with her newfound powers and desires. Oh, and there’s of course also her freakish hybrid baby daughter, Renesme (what the hell?) who is growing up so quick she belongs at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

But things aren’t all roses in Bella’s world. There’s finding a way to tell her father (Billy Burke) without really telling him anything. And there’s the Volturi, led by Michael Sheen and Stewart’s bandmate from The Runaways, Dakota Fanning, the vampire’s version of the Vatican, who are also evil and abuse kids. The Volturi (I’m assuming its plural for the “Voltura”) say baby vampires can’t be controlled and must be destroyed, but they aren’t the best listeners. Blah blah blah; get ready for an epic battle.

It’s actually the same formula that the Twilight films have followed since the second film, where the majority of the running time is spent waiting and training for some all out vampire fight. The big difference this time is that the dreaded and embarrassing love triangle between the lovebirds and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is finally broken, so we no longer have to be subjected to that cruel and unusual punishment.

There is also a whole heap of new characters from all over the world.  They may be forgettable, horrible and unoriginal stereotypes — but at least they each have awesome powers that will make you feel like you’re watching an episode of Heroes (back when it was still a good show).

You’d think they would have figured it out by now, but unfortunately, the special effects did not improve. The werewolves still look kinda weird, though nothing could compare to whatever they did with the baby, who was the most terrifying thing I’ve seen since Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. Was it really that hard to find a real baby for the role?

Despite all its problems, for the first time ever, the storytelling in Twilight is efficient (it’s a “compact” 116 minutes when recent trends suggested it could have been 146), the performances even and the action exciting. Granted, the are still moments of cringe that will make even the strongest bellies prone to violent bouts of projectile vomiting, but having put up with it for the first 4 films already I had become surprisingly immune. I trust there are others in the same boat.

As a vampire, Kristen Stewart gets to do a little more than heavy breathing and looking anxious this time, at last displaying a little of the range she’s capable of. Taylor Lautner remains relatively strong, although Robert Pattinson still has that “this is all so stupid” look plastered across his face for most of the movie. Michael Sheen makes the most of a ridiculous role that would probably would have completely failed if it went to a lesser actor, and actresses like Dakota Fanning and Maggie Grace seemed happy to just be part of the fun.

If you’ve followed the saga from the beginning as I have, you might find Breaking Dawn Part II to be a grand finale that delivers. There are pretty vampires and buffed werewolves, very good guys and extremely bad guys, wry humour and decapitations; and there’s love — a whole lotta love. Unlike the previous films in the franchise, there is not a dull moment in this one, as director Bill Condon (who captained Breaking Dawn Part I) appears to have finally figured out how to make things work. Better late than never, I suppose.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: By the way, there is a really — and I mean REALLY — cheap shot in this film. I won’t spoil it by saying what and when, but it’s quite typical of author Stephenie Meyer and the entire series. Let’s just say there were a lot of audible groans, and none louder than mine.

 
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