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Hercules

Hercules

(2014)
49 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Popular entertainment has not been kind to the Hercules myth. Ancient Greek's most beloved Demi-God has long been the lovable, brainless, joke buffoon of popular entertainment. From the juggling strong man Hercules of the circus to television's Hercules: The Legendary journeys, and cinema's animated Hercules from Disney. The sell of Hercules has long been that he's big, dumb and fun. But in Ancient Greece and Rome, he was a dichotic character comprised of hero worship and unbearable tragedy. Whilst he was the heroic figure of the twelve labours and champion and inventor of the Olympic Games he was also a vicious barbarian and child killer, who slaughtered his own family in a God-driven blind frenzy. He was also originally called Heracles. Hercules is the adapted Roman name.

But the Hercules that most people know today is the cheesy Hercules portrayed in popular entertainment: The Kevin Sorbet hunk-a-Hercules, the Disney 'zero to hero Herc' and even Arnold Schwarzenegger's 'Nice chariot, but vhere's yor horses?' ancient demi-god stuck in the big apple, Hercules in New York. How then, do you present a version of Hercules that is closer to the myths but will also please fans of Hercules' pop culture history? Of all the possible people, Brett Ratner and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson seem to have provided somewhat of an answer: You compromise.

The result is still a dumb swords and sandals cheese fest, but it's the closest Hercules has ever been, in modern popular entertainment, to his beginnings. Could this be the start of the popular image and understanding of this figure changing?

For fans of the Hercules myth, informed through pop culture or even historically and academically, Ratner and Johnson's Hercules should prove rather enjoyable and possibly surprising viewing. As this Hercules is not just a poppy swords and sandals romp. It is largely that, for sure, but it also provides a study of the Hercules myth as a whole, incorporating a good selection of chapters from his illustrious career and exploring the possibilities of the man behind the myth. Where did the myth come from? Was there a real man who was famous for killing a dangerous lion, killing a big boar and doing various other fantastic things? Were his actions exaggerated and did he become the Demi-God myth that we know him as now? That's what this new incarnation of Hercules tries to explore. And the mere fact it's been attempted is refreshing.

The movie is an adaptation of Steve Moore's and Admira Wijaya's Hercules: The Thracian Wars; a series of comics published by Radical in 2008. It's in a similar vein to that of Neil Gaimon's revisionist Beowulf graphic novel and Frank Miller's 300; Pop culture successes that are, to some degree, historically informed and revisionist.

In fact, Steve Moore's Hercules: The Thracian Wars, is very well informed. The writer has clearly studied and understood the Hercules myth and tried to create a faithful adaptation of the character in his story. In an interview with Mike Conroy, Steve Moore, explains that 'the whole story is set, as far as possible, in an authentic Bronze Age setting, c.1200BC.' Setting it at this time, which is when the original myth stems from and when the classical Greeks set their stories and plays about him, allows us to understand that this man, wearing his lion skin and fighting huge animals, is essentially a barbaric caveman. Throughout history, the Heracles/Hercules character has been adapted and civilised, even by the Ancient Greeks. But what Moore has attempted in his comics is to explore this original barbaric character and present him faithfully, creating something fresh, by looking back to the original stories the character came from and the historical context that surrounded them. Moore's story is not about a hero, it's about the barbaric man the Hercules character originated as. Moore comments, 'I'm not trying to turn Hercules into "a comic book hero" . . . in fact most of the time he's far from heroic . . . I'm telling a Hercules story that happens to be in comic book format, but even so I've thrown out some of the conventions . . . and I've tried very hard to avoid intrusively 21st century dialogue or contemporary references'. What then must Moore think of Brett Ratner and The Rock's poppy crowd pleasing Hollywood Studios movie version?

Moore adds in the interview, before a film was on the cards, '. . . if you look at the ancient stories, Hercules was a murderer, a rapist, a womaniser, subject to catastrophic rages and plainly bisexual, and I've tried to accommodate all those aspects in my characterization. So if there ever was a human being behind the Hercules stories, I'd like to think he was something like the character portrayed here, rather than the cleaned up "hero" of other comics and TV. Mind you, I wouldn't have wanted to spend much time in his company.'

It's unlikely that Steve Moore is overly thrilled with Ratner's movie interpretation: Ratner's and Johnson's Hercules is precisely 'the cleaned up hero' Moore had avoided in his story. Ratner's adaptation is a cop-out really, designed to please the masses. It's a shame the project wasn't taken up by the team behind the HBO Game of Thrones' series, whose characters, like their original book counterparts, are anything but 'cleaned up' heroes. Instead Ratner's is a disappointingly safe interpretation of the hero. The film has a 12A rating and the protagonist is, through it all, an out-and-out good guy.

But then so was Euripides' protagonist in his tragedy of Heracles; the play from 400BC, where much of our understanding of the Hercules myth, comes from. His Heracles was good. He just had terrible things happen to him. In Euripides' Heracles, or Heracles Gone Mad, as it is sometimes called, Heracles returns home after completing his final labour to retrieve the three headed dog Cerberus, from the Underworld. But when the hero reaches home, he finds his kingdom has been taken over by a tyrant and his wife and children are about to be murdered. Heracles saves his family and kills the tyrant in his own family home. But just as he is about to perform the cleansing ritual, he loses his mind; thinks his wife and children are his enemies and brutally murders them. He then falls unconscious and when he awakes, is completely unaware of what he has done. That is until he finds what remains of his family. The context surrounding Heracles' actions is that the Goddess Hera, has put a spell on Heracles and driven him mad. That being the only way she can see to successfully harm him. (Hera hates Heracles as he is the bastard son of her cheating husband, the king of the Gods, Zeus. The Hero's name, Heracles, means in honour to Hera; a clumsy decision from Zeus in the hope it would appease Hera. It didn't, and she spends all of Heracles' life, trying to destroy him) But in modern readings of the play, we can associate post-traumatic stress disorder to Heracles' actions. And indeed this is the context that surrounds most new adaptations of the Heracles play. At the end of the play, Heracles understandably wants to kill himself, but his friend Theseus, stops him and convinces him to come to Athens, where he will care for him. Theseus is indebted to the hero as Heracles had saved his life, retrieving him from the Underworld when he stole Cerberus.

Euripides' Heracles was a moralistic figure loyal to family and to his people, and whose suffering and ability to live through it was a symbol of strength aided by friendship and support of the Athenian people. That is one of the earliest incarnations of the character we have. Ratner's Hercules rings relatively true to that incarnation. As Ratner's Rockules, is a moralistic hero, who has had terrible things happen to him. Of course, ultimately, Ratner's movie finds a cheap loophole out of Hercules' uglier moments. But then there's room for that when the whole idea of this Hercules is revisionist, questioning what might have been true and fabricated about a possible real man behind the myth. It's just a shame post traumatic Stress disorder isn't a more prominent them in the movie. But then, that might not sell as many tickets as the Rock's new Schwarzenegger wrestler turned actor persona evidently does.

The Hercules from ancient myth has still not been faithfully presented in mainstream entertainment and it's rare that his tragedies are performed on the stage. Though the plays based on him are fantastic; Euripides' Heracles was a masterwork of tragedy. Seneca's Roman version, Hercules Furens, portrays a fascinating analysis of possible post traumatic madness and in a 21st century version of the play from Simon Armitage, called Mister Heracles, our protagonist is a government owned soldier programmed to lose his mind should he desert. But each interpretation is difficult, ugly and rarely performed. Oedipus, Antigone, Medea and Electra are the tragedies of choice in popular theatre. But now Hercules is once again in the foreground of the public consciousness. He's back in pop culture and for once he is there in a depiction that at least glimpses at the hero's darker connotations, and is aesthetically closer to the original caveman-like figure of ancient Greece, wearing his lion skin and fighting with a giant club.
What Ratner's Hercules does do well is bridge the gap between the cheesy Hercules of pop culture and the ambiguous figure from Ancient Greece. Perhaps now the way has been paved for the popular representation of Hercules to be changed from 2 dimensional pop culture icon to the intriguing myth from which he originated. For now though, he's just The Rock . . . in a Brett Ratner film . . . but still, it's a step, all be it a big, clunking, clumsy one, but still a step, in the right direction.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

(2014)
55 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Guardians of the Galaxy is great, it's really great. It's funny, self-aware, and has a lot of heart. It knows its audience and also its inspirations, taking a huge leaf from the original Star Wars, A New Hope. It seems like it may well be part of Disney's preparations for its upcoming Star Wars films, reminding audiences how much they loved the original and showcasing that Disney understands what made Star Wars so special; excellent world building, great space battles but above all humour and heart. But Guardians of the Galaxy also manages to be its own unique film, aware of its similarities to and tropes from the sci-fi fantasy genre but winning us over with nods and jokes but above all a solid story of its own.

A human man finds himself in an alien universe and must fight and steal to survive. His exploits land him in the company of a strange rogues gallery of characters including Drax the destroyer, a talking Raccoon called Rocket, a giant, walking tree called Groot and alien assassin woman called Gamora. The characters are great.

Who knew that wrestler turned actor David Bautista would have such a great presence and actually have some of the funniest moments in the film as Drax the Destroyer? And the rest? A walking tree that can only say one line? A talking, gun toting Raccoon? Yeah they're great, really great. They have some of the strongest moments in the film, and not just the funniest. Groot, the tree character, is a beautiful creation, bringing moments of pro-earth and Mother Nature imagery to a movie that is mostly in space and on space ships. In these moments it gets a little like Wall-e. And Rocket the Raccoon is essentially a majorly grumpy Han Solo, angry because he's a Raccoon, but doesn't even know what a Raccoon is. Groot is his Chewbacca, and the pair are just as likable.

Chris Prat as Peter, or Star Lord as he insists on being called, is also great. He's a man-child, partly Tony Stark playboy, but with the moral compass of Captain America in his pocket. He's also very James T. Kirk. He's our window into this strange and wacky universe and a representation of 70's and 80's nostalgia, still listening to the songs of his (and our) world and past he cannot let go of. It's that nostalgia that roots this film and makes it so enjoyable. Zoe Saldana is a cracking Gamora and the chemistry between her and Chris Prat's Star-Lord is another one of the film's strengths. The villains are menacing, although as is often the case with Marvel, not a patch on the heroes, and the supporting cast are also plenty of fun particularly John C. Reilly and Glenn Close.

This is a great Blockbuster and proves there is life in the Blockbuster when it is created with wit, fun and passion. So much stuff happens, and indeed so many things are constantly thrown at you. Stuff constantly blows up, half of the film is CGI. But it never becomes the CGI attack fest that other blockbusters like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and of course the Star Wars prequels were. It entertains with a similar charisma to that of the self-aware and brilliant Lego Movie. It also has a fair amount of practical effects too as well as CGI.

The visuals are great, the gags work and the chemistry of this ensemble is fantastic. This film feels a lot like The Avengers due to its comedic band of misfits strung together, but it arguably surpasses that movie by being so much fresher with a rich cast of completely new characters and a completely new, beautifully realised universe. With Disney, it's safe to say that Star Wars is in the best hands it's been in since Lucas' started to shake.

Guardians of the Galaxy may well be the best Marvel movie yet. Straight off the heels of the also very impressive Captain America: The Winter Soldier, phase two of Disney's Marvel movies continues to move from strength to strength.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

(2014)
4 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I don't get the negative reviews. I think it's the best Spidey movie made.

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man

(2012)
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

This is an average outing for the webbed wonder. Andrew Garfield makes a brilliant Spider-man and there's some really great stuff in here. Generally the origin story is handled really well, staying faithful to the comics while being quite unique. But the film gradually loses its originality, re-treading plot-points from Raimi's original film and the villain fails to pack the kind of punch that Defoe's Goblin or Molina's Doc Ock did.

In this movie the vigilante aspect of the character is really explored and the police play a much larger role than they did in the original trilogy. This is due largely to Denis Leary's well realised Captain Stacey, the police chief dedicated to cleaning up the streets. He views Spidey's actions as dangerous and destructive and we really get a sense that the police have good reason to consider this kid who goes around in a costume beating up random criminals as a public menace.

In this movie Peter Parker is a much more complex character than what we've seen before and Andrew Garfield plays him brilliantly. He is a tormented and emotional orphan haunted by his parents leaving him as a child with no explanation. When tragedy strikes again for Peter he is thrown into a storm. The first crime fighting outings for this Spider-man are not the simple heroic exploits courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-man we saw in Raimi's original. They are the desperate actions of a grief stricken teenager who has the proportional strength of a spider. There is a sense that if unchecked, Peter could easily become a thug or a criminal himself. This is explored in an early scene in the film, When Peter goes to attack the school bully, Flash Thompson, Flash says to Pete,'Go ahead. It feels better doesn't it?' There's an excellent mini study of the typical school bully, exercising his personal demons in destructive ways. Uncle Ben's famous message is not spoken by the man himself in this movie, but it is explored in these scenes brilliantly. With great power there must indeed come great responsibility.

You really get the idea that Peter's behaviour coupled with his new found Spider powers may indeed turn him into a monster unless something shakes him out of it. Enter the movie's real monster, and appropriate villain for our new Spider-man, the Lizard. And its here where the film's short comings begin. The Lizard just isn't that great a villain. He's a giant Lizard and he's rendered almost entirely in CGI. It really doesn't fit with what has come before in the film. The film tries so hard to create a realistic and complex character in Spider-man and even makes his acrobatics realistic, Garfield does many of his own stunts, and there's even some real physical stunt web-slinging. So it's pretty frustrating that the film turns into a typical CGI riddled monster movie. And then the film just unnecessarily repeats a bunch of plot points from Raimi's original movie. It's as if they'd started off with some great ideas and then ran out of steam so just finished off the movie by borrowing from everything else that has come before. It makes for awkwardly familiar viewing. It's like when you ask someone to tell you you something, they say they've told you it already but you're sure they haven't, so they start telling you and then you remember and find what they're telling you intensely boring, but its now too awkward to tell them that they did tell you this thing, so you just have to sit there and wait for them to finish telling you this thing again. That's what the second half of this movie feels like.

The acting in the film from all the cast is great and there's some real winning moments, but with a weak villain and plot lines that are too familiar the film ends up being very disappointing and average outing for our friendly neighborhood Spider-man.

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Intel Hollywood Star Program (July 2012 - December 2012)
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