Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (R)

7 Stars

Sigh.

It’s an injustice when critics refer to Sin City as a ‘cult classic.’

Likewise ‘campy’ denotes a lack in quality, and is an unfit qualifier for the first film.

A Dame to Kill For isn’t as good as its predecessor. Therefore if a group arises to defend their equality, it’s fair to deem the sequel ‘camp.’

Dame is not bad. It has many redeeming qualities.

But overall, AD2K4 is underwhelming.

Part of the problem involves the visuals.

Why didn’t they release it in IMAX? The larger screen and better sound could help.

I can’t put my finger on it, but something’s different about the shooting style between the two movies. The visuals are sharper, less gritty, and that’s not a good thing.

The clarity lends the settings/backdrops a more artificial feel. The environment feels cartoonish; not ‘lived in’ or ‘real.’

What happened with the editing? Seriously.

Why weren’t the filmmakers more generous to Jessica Alba?

The first film has an iconic two-minute scene of her dancing on-stage, but it’s mostly background to Hardigan’s (Bruce Willis) activity. The camerawork is elaborate, tasteful and never self-indulgent.

It’s as if the fans cried for more dancing Jessica, and the filmmakers way overcompensated. They’re building story with the nuances of strip teasing, but the performance is unconvincing.

Who deserves the blame? Why didn’t they do multiple takes? Why didn’t Alba prep better? After finishing the rough cut, didn’t the directors realize the stripping feels excessive? Where’s the stylistic panning, the cutaways, the slow-motion?

Why didn’t they re-shoot the boozing scenes? Who didn’t have time for whom? I want to know!

Ugh. Disappointing.

There’s way too much voiceover. Characters are constantly telling the audience unnecessary details.

If only things were a little bit tighter. Less voiceover, more background extras.

Other than the dancing and drinking, Alba’s acting is pretty good.

In fact, the entire cast is strong. Each thespian manages to fit the tone of the movie (except Julia Garner.)

That doesn’t include the ‘under fives’ (characters with less than five lines) however.

The frat boys are particularly alien. They oversell the frustration, the weirdness and the ‘douchiness’ (I guess?) that ‘frat boys’ are supposed to emulate.

If you can’t tell, I feel slighted by the open, in which ‘frat boys’ with an eye for ‘brand names’ are associated with disrepute. This is a tired cliché, and a feeble attempt at social commentary.

One of the characters actually says, “I have a trust fund!” while begging for his life.

Bobby, Franky; come on, guys. Nobody talks like that.

I’m curious to know why Clive Owen didn’t reprise his role as Dwight.

Josh Brolin accomplishes the job sufficiently. But is it possible the sequel suffers without Clive?

Absolutely. It’s just one more source of unnecessary confusion.

Bruce Willis, a protagonist and highlight from the first, returns as a supporting character and doesn’t disappoint.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s rock-solid as usual. That goes for Mickey Rourke, too.

Along with a cameo in A Million Ways to Die in the West, Christopher Lloyd appears twice on the summertime big screen (both times as a doctor, no less).

Lady Gaga was a minor disappointment. Small as it is, she doesn’t sell the waitress role.

Eva Green, on the other hand, buys the pie. Her performance as Ava Lord is rather impressive. She does a good job of selling a tough role and her character is the single greatest redeeming quality of the sequel.

Second place goes to how it illustrates the metaphysical nature of the city’s location.

Sure it’s noir L.A., but it’s also a weird sort of limbo in which archetypal anti-heroes congregate and intermingle.

The allegorical environment’s a phantasmal depot for sinners caught in the cycle of criminality.

Think about it, man.

When considering both flicks from that perspective, the sequel becomes much more thought-provoking.

The action’s pretty good; some moments are downright fantastic.

All in all, Dame 2K 4 is inferior to its predecessor, yet contains enough enchanting moments, compelling character interactions and violent mystique to satisfy fans.

See it if you like the first. Just don’t expect much.

There’s no stinger after the credits, so you can leave once they start to roll.

Perhaps Sin City 3 will make up for lost ground.

If Eva Green reprises her role, they’ve got a shot at turning things around.

Godzilla (PG-13)

8 Stars

Summer’s a-winding down.

You know what that means?

Less PG-13.

That’s right, folks. Content rated for ‘a mature audience.’

Considering the premise, one might presume this movie’s unsuited to a teenage audience.

At its core, Godzilla’s a horror story, no?

In terms of genre, it belongs under the ‘Giant Monster Movie’ heading.

Here’s my top six, from best to worst –

1. Pacific Rim (2013)
2. Godzilla (2014)
3. Cloverfield (2008)
4. King Kong (2005)
5. The Host (2006)
6. Gojira (1954)

To be fair, those are the only six.

Like most people, I missed 1998’s Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick for two reasons.

One: It’s a unanimous flop.

Two: My sole attempt at rental was thwarted.

A decade ago, after biking three miles to Blockbuster, I realized the disc had never been returned. Because why would they take down the cardboard insert, even years after the actual DVD disappeared?

I borrowed the subtitled original instead.

Never watch Gojira. Ever. It doesn’t hold up.

It’s noteworthy as a pop cultural touchstone, particularly in Japan, where it was clearly received as horror. But check Wikipedia if you’re interested – I don’t support ironic viewings.

Rent this year’s Godzilla if you’re looking for an inoffensive weekend flick.

I dragged my sister and brother-in-law to an IMAX 3D screening and all of us thoroughly enjoyed it. Both cited low expectations as a major contributor to their delight.

If you take advantage of the rental (available starting September 16), stream it on a big screen, crank up the volume and kill the lights. This isn’t ideal for an airplane.

What’s great is the sigh of relief: Zilla delivers on several levels.

The story isn’t cliché or flat. It’s well thought-out and nuanced. It’s not perfect, but it’s tough to hit the bulls-eye with mega-monsters that withstand rocket-powered artillery.

The visuals are solid, especially the CGI.

Now, this flick had the best trailer I’ve ever seen. Back when it first appeared in theaters, it was so creepy and built the anticipation. Unfortunately, the paratrooper sequence is underwhelming as a result.

Thus continues the search for any redeeming quality in the general practice of trailer viewing.

Sally Hawkins can be put to much better use. Although she delivers a more than proficient performance, it’s not a strong role. Which is similar to the part she plays in another great movie, The Double, released a week previous. But she’s outstanding in Blue Jasmine, even receiving the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Hopefully we see more of Sally in the future.

Other than Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche, the acting’s only okay.

Elizabeth Olsen is pretty good.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t bad, but he completely lacks charisma.

All in all, Godzilla is great enough for what it is.

I’m sure the sequel’s going to give us, at the very least, a peak at King Kong.

Consider this a challenge to the filmmakers: Be original and release an ‘R’ rated sequel.

You may not make the same haul domestically (which is debatable), but it’d be a way better movie. Folks would applaud the creativity and ambition.

Plus, you could ratchet up the horror.

And who doesn’t love a good scare?

Let’s Be Cops (R)

7 Stars

A Wednesday release is odd enough.

But a 12% amongst top critics on Rotten Tomatoes?

Heavens to Murgatroyd! Things don’t look good.

Now. Are you sitting down?

When asked my opinion of Breaking Bad or The Wire my response is always the same, “I haven’t seen an episode, but I’m sure I’d love it.”

Folks don’t follow this formula when it comes to New Girl. Blowhards and contrarians delight in its dismissal, but it’s amongst the best comedic series in recent television.

How is this relevant? Those who enjoy the FOX sitcom will love Let’s Be Cops.

The subject matter feels like it’s pulled from the same barrel. The exposition is lightning fast; the pacing and tone are incredibly similar.

For those unaware, Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. (two lead actors from the aforementioned sitcom) star in LBC. Their characters don’t differ much between the big and small screens.

New Girl fanhood isn’t required to enjoy this movie, but it helps being familiar with their brand of comedy.

One might call this ’22½ Jump Street.’

It’s a self-aware buddy-cop satire that pokes fun at the entertainment industry.

The problem is the disjointed narrative. From a technical perspective, Let’s Be Cops isn’t a well-made movie.

This is evident from the very beginning: A pillowy introduction in which the protagonists sum up their lives in two sentences. As their conversation winds down, Johnson encourages Wayans to approach a girl at the bar. Just as he’s about to crack, the camera cuts to their curbside lament as the valet pulls up.

It’s very odd. Many of these moments happen throughout.

Perhaps the budget ran dry. The total dollar amount is not available on Box Office Mojo, so it’s likely pretty small.

The film begs quite a lot from the viewer. Johnson is constantly driving across lawns.

It’s poorly edited and directed. The camerawork is incongruous. The plot is thin and absurd, and the set design is by no means elaborate.

Then again, at times, the directing and camerawork are noteworthy. The filmmakers put slow motion to innovative use on several occasions, and social media is creatively incorporated.

None of this matters, however.

Johnson and Wayans are spectacular as a comedic duo. Their banter consists of constantly overlapping hilarities; before one reaches the punch line, the other begins the next quip, visa versa and so on.

The story of this film is like a dense jungle canopy of stupid. Beams of creative light poke through but they are few and far between.

LBC contrasts the ways in which violence is fantasized pop culturally: Through video games, movies, COPS (the TV show), etc.

Each moment attempts to break convention by over-embracing cliché; neo-satire, I call it. A realistic engagement with prototypical formatting.

The supporting cast is strong. Rob Riggle is always incredible and plays a much quieter role than usual.

Keegan-Michael Key is a funny supporting character and Natasha Leggero plays a small, but hilarious part. James D’Arcy does an excellent job as the villain.

One particular line, although hilarious in the trailer, was removed from the final cut, and it’s such a relief.

Stay for the beginning of the rolling credits to view some bonus footage.

LBC may be imperfect but for everything lacking editorially, it makes up in uproarious laughter.

A Million Ways to Die in the West has its peyote scene, Neighbors does mushrooms, 22 Jump Street trips on Wy-Fy (similar to acid) and Let’s Be Cops rounds the summer off smoking crystal meth.

Let’s hope Harry and Lloyd stay away from heroine in Dumb & Dumber To.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (R)

6 Stars

Why get your hopes up?

It won’t help.

A Million Ways to Die in the West contains several genuine laughs and a number of chuckles. Don’t sully them with high expectations.

Have you seen the trailer? Hence the anticipation.

The preview spoils the majority of jokes, reveals and cameos. Wait a year before renting.

This is the type of comedy where, if you’re viewing with only a vague recollection of my dissatisfaction, there’s a shot at enjoyment.

John DeFore, a writer for Huff Po, suggests a, “mid-film cameo prompts viewers to wonder how MacFarlane might have fared playing a time-traveler from our era stranded in the Old West. Instead, his 1880s sheep farmer Albert Stark simply talks like someone born in and transplanted from the 20th century.”

DeFore’s analysis couldn’t be more accurate.

Albert feels like a stand-up comedian; a prisoner in the Old West who attempts to gain freedom through wacky frontier material.

The problem isn’t a fun topic for discussion, because Seth MacFarlane deserves our respect.

Celebrities only have nice things to say about him. He’s one of the greatest contributors to contemporary comedy, offering quality on both the small screen (The Family Guy) and in the box office (Ted). As host of the 2013 Oscars, he delivered a bang-up performance.

Therefore, it’s unpleasant mentioning the weakness of his performance, and how it detracts from the film overall.

For whatever reason, his acting isn’t up to snuff.

Harping on it won’t do any good. Chalk up the loss to over-ambition.

A $40 million budget isn’t enormous for this type of production. And Seth’s trying to write, direct and star in the biggest comedic western since Blazing Saddles. That includes flying the ensemble cast/production crew, building sets and shooting on location, while using horses, dancers and maybe guns (plus all the necessary advisors/extras.)

Fun fact: Liam Neeson’s the only cast member who rode horseback across the tarmac, up the steps and onto a private, horse-bearing jet. Apparently Neeson goes nowhere without his nag.

That’s a joke. But you can see how a budget dries up relatively quick.

By the way, the supporting cast is what makes this movie good. Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Amanda Seyfried are great.

Charlize Theron and Neil Patrick Harris are fantastic. Charlize is so impressive; she prevents the movie from becoming a ‘thumbs-down.’

N.P.H. plays a hilarious villain and is such an incredible talent that he manages to cultivate hysteria from an unfunny scatological bit.

Aside from Neil and Charlize, the best part is an original song.

For your convenience it’s posted below. If nothing else, at least give, “If You’ve Only Got a Mustache,” a listen.

All in all, AMWTDITW is not a complete success.

Nor is it a complete disappointment.

Let it simmer on the backburner.

You’ll thank me later.

The Raid: Redemption (R)

9 Stars

Kung fu needs a new publicist.

Somewhere along the way, martial arts acquired a bad reputation.

Perhaps Keanu’s been over-quoted.

Regardless, a number of great movies from the past few decades feature hand-to-hand combat: The Matrices, Shanghai Noon, the Rush Hours, Rumble in the Bronx.

[Sidebar: Top two films involving a woodchipper: Rumble in the B and Fargo.]

Now, hesitation’s healthy when a martial art is all a motion picture offers.

The Raid: Redemption is a lot more than just kung fu.

If I ever review an entirely male-oriented flick, it’s The Raid.

It’s often compared to another movie released around the same time, because both flicks portray an assault on a crime-ridden high-rise.

Dredd, however, isn’t good.

Lena Headey as the cruel antagonist, and SLO-MO (the reality altering drug) are the only redeeming aspects in that overrated reboot. Everybody that played GoldenEye 007 on N64 is well-aware of proximity mines, smoke grenades and the like.

On the contrary, The Raid is fantastic.

The fellow who owns the criminal complex being raid redeemed has an interrogation room with a chain restraining system. It’s a chamber specifically suited towards information extraction via shackled prisoners.

Speaking without hyperbole, Raid: Red contains the single greatest action sequence in cinematic history.

Gareth Evans deserves a standing ovation for the fire-axe scene.

The tension is multi-layered as the characters realistically adapt to an evolving conflict. There are varied threats and the individual movement through the scenery (plus the interplay with props/weaponry) is magnificent.

It’s a delicate waltz, my Friends.

A riveting score overlays elaborate choreography, creative stunts and sharp camerawork.

The Raid is originally an Indonesian film and Sony Pictures tasked Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park and Fort Minor) with creating a new score for the U.S. market. The Shinoda scored version made its U.S. debut at Sundance 2012.

The fireaxe is just one of many great scenes though. Rent it and see for yourself.

The stakes are high. The plot is smart and dark.

Neither slasher nor ‘torture porn.’

It’s as good as action gets.

Somebody at the festival must have noticed the issue with the subtitles, right?

Whoever translated the closed captioning did very poor work. One of the main barriers between non-viewers is the necessary reading, so naturally a minimalist approach would seem appropriate.

There were subtitles for grunts, music notes to indicate the swell of Shinoda’s composition (which goes against the very nature of a film score), footsteps and other sound effects. This would make sense if America were a deaf culture.

One subtitle in particular, “Okay [English],” appears toward the middle of the film. This is more than a distraction. It’s especially problematic because it instigates needless confusion.

Why the distributors haven’t fixed the closed captions (especially now the sequel’s been released) is beyond me.

But behold; I let it go. You will too.

If you’re a lady who loved The Raid, please set me straight; your comments are welcome below!

Gentlemen – go nuts.

Chef (R)

8 Stars

Who knows if it’s always been this way, but the phrase ‘date movie’ is a surprisingly bad omen.

It’s synonymous with bad comedy and cheesy romancing.

The idea that a sequel to Valentine’s Day got produced…

Anyway.

Last year’s The Spectacular Now is a great example of what a ‘date movie’ should be.

So is this year’s Chef.

It’s a heartwarming story about a talented L.A. foodsmith finding his niche. In part a road-trip buddy comedy, Chef explores father-son relationships and the struggle to maintain balance.

‘Slice of life’ is what you might call it.

Jon Favreau is lights-out. That dude’s a boss.

He writes, directs and stars in Chef. Favreau directed Elf; he has a cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street, and plays a great supporting character in Iron Man 3. You may be surprised to find out he’s also Danny Bateman, the overzealous linebacker from The Replacements.

He’s also into comics and a big supporter of the Marvel franchise. (Yes, I can easily forgive him for Iron Man 2.)

Plus the off-type roles he wrote for Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara in Chef are very strong. The whole movie’s well written. It’s not a comedy in the traditional sense, even though most websites categorize it such.

If we’re to get technical, Chef meets the prerequisite minimum of hilarious dick jokes. So in a scholarly sense it’s a comedy.

Perhaps ‘realistic fiction’ is the right name for it. I still prefer ‘slice of life.’

It tells a real story about a hardworking, driven middle-aged man who’s reached a seemingly insurmountable crisis. The interactions between Favreau and Dustin Hoffman are believable and compelling.

The viewer quickly forgets they’re watching the Hoffster, and can empathize with both sides of the conflict.

Between Scar Jo, Sofia, Dusty and all the rest, the supporting cast is phenomenal.

One final actor worthy of mention is John Leguizamo. He’s always great, and doesn’t disappoint here.

A common criticism is the initial half is far more compelling than the later. But I couldn’t disagree more.

It’s between six to eleven minutes too long but that’s the film as a whole; there is no greater or lesser half.

Chef also dives into social media and creatively incorporates animation to illustrate ‘tweeting.’

There’s no ‘stinger’ after the end-credits but if you wait until halfway through, there’s a short clip of Favreau learning to make grilled cheese from a professional. It’s not mind-bending, but it’s fun and worth the three minutes.

Chef’s not a blockbuster but it’s hilarious, heartwarming fun if you’re seeking a flick in-theaters.

I saw it for six bucks, which is a steal nowadays.

So don’t leave it on the backburner any longer.

Chef’s packed with laughs and just the right amount of sentimentality.

It’s a realistic date slice of comedic fiction life movie.

With a dusting of romance.

Snowpiercer (R)

8 Stars

Dystopian societies are hip.

So are post-apocalyptic civilizations.

It’s rare to find them together without robots, space travel or undead.

Snowpiercer is based off a French sci-fi graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, which colloquially translates to “The Train of the Snow Land.”

And boy is it fun.

It’s available for HD Rental through iTunes and Amazon for $6.99, or a dollar more through Xfinity OnDemand.

This is South Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s third film. Mother was released in 2009 after his creature feature The Host from 2006.

Which, far as subtitled scary flicks go, is not a bad film.

Unless foreign horror’s your wheelhouse, you can skip The Host, and move right along to Snowpiercer.

It’s Bong’s first English-speaking film, and although this is clear at times, it’s a remarkable experience.

Set entirely on a train circumventing the world, this post-doomsday thriller is riveting, intelligent and visually stunning.

Chris Evans is good as the protagonist. He’s catching a lot of critical flack for his performance. There’s a moment late in the movie where he delivers an emotional piece of dialogue that’s a bit jarring.

Perhaps a superior actor could have delivered the line better. I’d argue it wasn’t strong writing in the first place.

Other than that, Chris gets the job done.

The characters encounter quite a bit of combat, all of which involve intricate physical procedures. Between the battleship in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the blade car in Snowpiercer, Chris plays the centerpiece in two of the finest fights in cinematic history. And they were released within three months of each other.

When it comes to action sequences, the director does everything right. He utilizes long takes, different camera lenses, varied setting features, drastic changes in momentum, realistic physical contact, slow motion (there’s an outstanding sequence in which Evans dispatches several thugs with a felling axe), martial arts, weaponry, tag-teaming. The list goes on and on.

The supporting cast is great as well.

Jamie Bell, who you know from Billy Elliot, turns in a solid performance as the jokester best friend.

Upon reaching the classroom car, the schoolteacher’s played by Alison Pill. She, like Tilda Swinton, performs a quirksome role. Their characters are odd (in different ways) but the actresses pull it off.

Bong’s got Octavia Spencer pounding dudes with body shots, with fists and a piece of metal pipe on-screen!

It’s just delightful.

If you dig fights, Snowpiercer’s the flick to rent.

That being said, I think the ladies won’t like this as much. The story is thoroughly bleak and imperfect.

In fact, I agree with much of what the critics are saying. The boundary between reality and metaphor is blurry to the point of confusion.

The narrative’s allegorical which makes it difficult to connect with the characters on a human level.

Events unfold in a manner that feels more orchestrated than organic.

Despite its imperfection, the story is still thrilling and sweeps you up.

Just like the animated sequence describing the rail’s creation, this movie’s full of style.

This tendency doesn’t continue after the ending, though. So you can shut the movie off once the credits start to roll.

After reading up and carving thru all the confusion, the ending’s a tad bit dissatisfying. My buddy fell asleep, and I’m still not in love with it.

As a final note, there is an aspect of this story I find gross.

People respond to the grotesque in four ways: 1) Revulsion 2) Silent Distaste 3) Cool Indifference 4) Embracement.

I’m weak in this area. I’m a 2 but would rather be a 3, like my friend who watched Snowpiercer with me.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But my buddy disagrees.

We both agree, however, it’s totally worth the ride along the way.

So to the 1’s I suggest caution.

To the 2’s I say, “Power through, compadres.”

To the 3’s, keep chilling.

And to the 4’s, God help you.

Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

10 Stars

Don’t be fooled by my review.

Guardians of the Galaxy won’t help you achieve enlightenment, fall in love or lose weight.

Especially if you’re the chick who sits beside me, crushing a popcorn tub singlehanded.

But if you’re looking for a great movie this weekend, you won’t find anything better on the big screen. Guardians delivers what it promises, and more.

That being said.

As is always the case with Marvel Studios productions, some won’t enjoy it. Guardians isn’t part of the superhero genre, however.

It’s science fiction. None of the characters are ‘superheroes.’

Technically thus comprises the ragtag band: one human, two aliens (one genetically enhanced), one anthropomorphic raccoon and one humanoid plant.

It belongs in the intergalactic genre; the same barrel as Star Wars and Star Trek.

If that sounds displeasing, you may be in the same boat as the douchey dude two seats down from me.

The opening scene’s a tearjerker, and I’m ‘swept up,’ so to speak.

It takes place on Earth and involves nothing extraterrestrial. At the emotional climax he speaks.

“Is this when the raccoon shows up?” Douchey Dude asks the Popcorn Vacuum.

Not only is it unfunny and in bad taste, it’s illustrative of his mindset. He’s completely unwilling to buy in.

His wrap-up comment post-viewing is, “It was all corny.”

If he’s so above it, why go in the first place?

I try to avoid personal yarns but am endlessly astounded by the behavior of other adults. If you can’t let yourself enjoy the movie, then don’t go see it.

James Gunn, the writer/director is just a great guy. He’s been on the Adam Carolla Show twice recently. He’s enthusiastic, intelligent and wants to do the sequel if the first is received with public favor.

In his latest appearance on Carolla’s podcast, Gunn claims they cast Chris Pratt as the lead when the actor was out of shape. But it’s clear Pratt got physically fit by the time shooting rolled around.

Zoe Saldana is the queen of science fiction. She plays a major role in both of the more recent Star Treks and wears similar makeup in Avatar. Saldana’s phenomenal as Gamora, and you can tell she does a lot of her own stunts.

Plus she’s enchanting. It’s odd how lovable she can be with all that makeup on.

Bradley Cooper is almost unrecognizable as the voice of Rocket, the raccoon everybody’s been talking about. As per the usual, Cooper’s great.

This is Vin Diesel’s second voiceover role as a humanoid being. Not only is he the voice of Groot in Guardians, he’s also the robot in The Iron Giant (1999).

Karen Gillan’s performance is particularly noteworthy. She’s a Scottish actress who’s quite prevalent in Doctor Who, and played a role in last year’s Oculus.

Gillan’s terrifically menacing as the bionic woman. She’s creepy and evil and fits the tone of the movie perfectly. Hopefully we see more of her in the future.

It’s overall a balanced, vastly diverse cast of characters. The sum total of which makes for a well-acted movie.

Guardians does a lot of things right. The writing constantly defies convention and satirizes common sci-fi themes.

For example, when the heroic outlaws ask for help from the authorities, it’s a relief to see their call’s considered, rather than immediately dismissed.

Much like the humorous discussions of plan creation, Guardians masterfully navigates clichés.

Location and contextual details are presented in a cool and efficient fashion. Digital readouts accompany interstellar approach shots of planetary environments as the perspective transitions between settings.

The shooting, editing, cinematography, music and score are all impressive. I think it’s time we retire “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” from all future soundtracks, though. That song belongs to Remember the Titans.

Despite some overcompensating laughter in the theater, the humor is strong and consistent.

Although the end credits leave much to be desired, the opening credits are informative and wildly entertaining.

There is a lot of action, both hand-to-hand and aerial combat. It’s well choreographed and thrilling.

I wonder what percentage of the on-screen material is CGI. It must be upwards of fifty, but it all looks realistic.

My only criticism regards the scene after the credits.

It’s a major disappointment if you don’t understand the reference. I’m almost twenty-five and despite my vague familiarity, I’m still outside the joke.

If the reference is slated toward an audience older than me, why can’t this movie be rated R?

I know all the answers to my question; they’re just infinitely dissatisfying.

And I was hoping for something that gets us looking forward to the sequel.

Regardless. It’s a tiny failure in an otherwise remarkable film.

Guardians of the Galaxy is cute, thrilling and fun.

It’s everything we can ask from PG-13.

Hercules (PG-13)

9 Stars

I cried.

Go ahead. Laugh it up.

Greek minstrels sang tales of his twelve labors. Roman historians like Tacitus and Plutarch inked record of his deeds.

Most recently he was the protagonist of the 1997 Disney animated feature. Which is good, but on the lower end of the classic spectrum.

The demi-god makes a cameo in Homer’s Odyssey, for Pete’s sake!

My point being: We’re due for another dose.

This weekend Hercules lost in the box office to Lucy, despite a superior score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Lucy pulled in almost $44M, earning back its $40M budget. It’s now at 58%, certifiably rotten and deservedly so. My displeasure with Lucy’s deceptive trailer has increased considerably since reviewing it.

Starkly contrasting the experience with Hercules, which made only $30M and cost $100M. It now clings to ‘Fresh’ status with 62%.

Based on a Radical Comics series “Hercules” by Steve Moore, director Brett Ratner offers a revisionist take on the classic tale.

A recent trend in PG-13 is to parade the rating throughout. Two summer blockbusters are guilty of this: Godzilla and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. DotPotA is particularly at fault for feeling like a franchise vehicle.

IMDB and Rotten ‘Matoes should include another statistic: Number of submissions to the ratings board.

Hercules has admirably high stakes. If one’s looking, there are moments you can pinpoint when the footage is cut to ‘earn’ the stamp of approval. Either way, I’m nearly certain this one pushes the limit. The battles feel real and characters die on-screen.

In order to acquire a PG-13 rating, one of the criteria limits the number of ‘F-Bombs’. If the curse word is uttered more than once, the movie can’t be released with anything less than an ‘R.’

Like last year’s All is Lost, Hercules puts its one ‘fuck’ to good use.

Perusing various reviews, one quickly recognizes the vitriol toward Ratner. One critical reviewer mentions how the director, ‘nearly ruined Hannibal Lector and the X-Men.’

Hannibal, really? Who cares?

In regards to the X-Men, we can agree he made mistakes.

I don’t believe his goal was to lessen their integrity, and try to avoid schlepping hurt feelings between franchises.

Speaking of which, I’d much prefer a sequel to Hercules in exchange for the next Apes flick.

Fans of that series need to settle down. The Apes movies are cool, okay? Can we please move on?

Anywho.

What really makes Herc shine is the casting.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is perfect for the role.

In Roman mosaics Hercules’s image is shown tanned bronze for symbolic reasons. The same goes for the Etruscans who cast his deeds onto bronze mirrors.

Therefore Dwayne’s skin tone is appropriately dark – on a symbolic level, no less.

Plus he’s an excellent actor. He’s charismatic and lovable. Some might associate him with the ‘good guy’ role, when he’s nailed it as the antagonist twice: In Doom as the corrupted honorable leader, and in Get Smart as a charming double agent.

More importantly, he’s prolific.

Most importantly, he never mails it in.

For that we thank him. Good on ya D.J.

The value of Ratner’s version is bolstered largely by the supporting cast.

Ingrid Bolso Berdal is a Norwegian actress and plays the orphaned Amazon, Atalanta.

Her badass bow-slinging performance is worthy of esteem. Warrior women are always physical roles, and I think directors hesitate to craft intricate female fight sequences.

The majority of the credit’s due to Ingrid’s acting, however. Not many could pull off Atalanta, and most wouldn’t be brave enough to take it in the first place.

Especially considering the two-piece armor she wears in every scene.

Before quibbling, someone should compare the percentages of bare skin between Ingrid and Dwayne. I can almost guarantee he’s more naked.

To the point: Hopefully Ingrid pops up more often.

The movie opens and closes with Ian McShane doing voiceover as Amphiaraus. You might recognize him from the HBO series Deadwood, in which he plays one of the greatest sympathetic villains ever. Or his more recent role in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman.

McShane’s terrific regardless, and his character is reminiscent of Vitruvius, the unreliable prophet (voiced by Morgan Freeman) in The Lego Movie.

Rufus Sewell plays Autolycus, and delivers a performance in which he must navigate some clichés. He’s a tremendous actor, because he quietly softens their impact.

You may recognize him as the lead role in a great movie: John Murdoch from 1998’s Dark City.

As a final note, Hercules ends with one of the best credits sequences released this year. It’s noteworthy because it’s brilliantly animated, and contributes to the narrative.

If you haven’t seen Ratner’s revisionist take, I’d suggest catching it in IMAX 3D. People love to hate on the new movie-going experience.

It’s bigger. From a technical standpoint it’s better.

Try not worry about the price to visual improvement ratio when you can be enjoying the film.

All in all, in a summer sea of PG-13, Hercules is a cut above the rest.

With its riveting story, a strong cast of diverse characters and plenty of fighting to go around, something’s bound to catch your eye.

Lucy (R)

6 Stars

Six stars is rare.

Categorically, it’s ‘just barely worthwhile’; a timid thumbs-up.

Anything less I can’t recommend.

This particular rating syncs up with the Rotten Tomatoes score at 60%. Which is, coincidentally, the lowest possible for the ‘certifiably fresh’ stamp.

So the question becomes: What’s the value of a review teetering on indifference? Let me explain.

The main problem involves the trailer. Almost all of the good moments are spoiled.

It’s been mentioned before, but I’m sick and tired of seeing previews that ruin the movie. This day marks the official beginning to a lifelong campaign against misleading trailers.

If you saw the preview and hopes are high, don’t catch this one in the theater. Give it a few months or a couple years before tackling Lucy. Try to let your memory of the footage fade before renting it.

After all, it’s only ninety minutes. You’re not losing much; even if you hate it.

If you’re planning on a future rental or catching it on the big screen anyway, you may wish to stop reading now. There are potential spoilers below.

The trailer isn’t the only problem.

An expectation is The Bourne Limitless with a female protagonist. The story doesn’t allow Scarlett Johansson to develop a particularly memorable character. Her acting is strong as always, but it doesn’t fit the tone of such weak storytelling.

The premise is similar to the Bourne films in terms of being an international action-thriller. A similar plot device to Lucy’s CP4 is utilized in 2011’s Limitless. The main character, played by Bradley Cooper, takes a drug that allows him to unlock a higher percentage of brain capacity.

But the viewer never feels ‘swept up’ like one associates with watching those comparable works.

Unfortunately, Lucy attempts to accomplish similar goals, but ends up falling short.

For example, all of the combat is spoiled in the trailer. There are no elaborate fight sequences. There’s a solid car chase, in which Lucy drives against traffic. As effectively shot, choreographed and edited as it is, it’s still illogical.

The editing is disjointed and the story is riddled with plot holes. Lucy leans further toward fantasy, rather than science fiction.

Style abounds throughout, but not in a positive way. Much like the ticking digital clock in the TV show 24, title cards with percentages are utilized as dramatic transitions. All in all, they add nothing to the story and serve as only a further distraction.

Quite a bit of wildlife footage is interspersed, presumably to build tension and create a more elaborate experience. But it just comes off as cheesy.

I truly wonder why such a prolific writer/director as Luc Besson would include the cheetah chasing down the gazelle as Lucy’s captured. This is a pinnacle of heavy-handed metaphor. The enormity of the cliché seems almost purposeful.

The montages of various wild animals engaging in intercourse and giving birth are hollow moments devoid of value.

Besson’s use of time lapse and montage is clunky and distracting; not to mention it feels cheap. Montages, time lapses and original animated interstitials are in vogue. Such films as Noah and 22 Jump Street make productive use of them.

Lucy does not.

The animation of the CP4 molecules spreading throughout her nervous system is momentarily interesting, but eventually drags on. The footage is later revisited, much to the viewer’s misfortune.

The narrative voice is unfocused. It opens with Johansson speaking her thoughts through voiceover. They’re not real-time thoughts, more like generalized notions about the beginning of mankind. This transitions sharply into Lucy snapping out of a daydream.

This disparity is heightened by the introduction of Morgan Freeman’s voiceover regarding the evolution of the brain and human potential. Later it transitions back to Lucy’s real-time thoughts, so the nature of the narrative voice remains unclear.

During the film’s introduction, the missing link is featured on-screen. The part’s played by an actor in discomforting make-up and is featured several times throughout the movie.

Its too bad Besson didn’t speak to Andy Serkis, who crafted a simian army using stop motion technology for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Serkis could probably create one missing link without removing his bathrobe.

Besson is hit-or-miss. His early career hits include Leon: The Professional, The Transporter and The Fifth Element, and more recently Taken. These are all great movies, each in their own way.

There’s a through line to his pictures, though. They aggressively toe the boundary between fantasy and reality, asking a lot from the viewer in order to suspend disbelief.

Take Leon: The Professional for example. Gary Oldman plays Stansfield one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. His drug of choice is less potent than CP4, but it’s still a ‘fantasy intoxicant.’

The point being: Lucy would be a lot easier to accept if I was still a teenager.

All things considered, it’s a good movie that isn’t great.

It’s ironic Lucy went out the same way as ‘Samantha’ (from Her).

Hopefully they’ve successfully avoided Skynet (from The Terminator) now governed by Arnim Zola (from Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and joined the torch-bearing digital people (from Tron: Legacy) in the cyberspace community.

Unfortunately I’m one of the few people who haven’t seen Transcendence, so I can’t include Johnny Depp’s character in that reference.