He SAID: Deconstructing Hercules

Scott F. Evans

Brett Ratner’s Hercules is a hard film to review.   It’s not bad enough to hate or even strongly dislike. There’s some good stuff on display, and it seems like all the talent involved are trying their best, but unable to make the material work. Hercules just lays there, firmly ensconced in cinematic mediocrity.

hercules8The problem may be Hercules’ approach to the story of the Greek demigod. This version, adapted from the Radical Comic, seeks to deconstruct the character’s mythical roots. Maybe he wasn’t an actual demi-god. Perhaps he completed his 12 Labors with a little help from his friends. What if all the stories we’ve heard were just exaggerations designed to increase the marketability of Hercules and his team of mercenaries?

Writing this out, the plot sounds really intriguing, but the film refuses to truly commit to this approach. It wants to have it both ways.  First, it’s the casting. Dwayne Johnson would have been perfect as the lead had the filmmakers gone with the legend. He looks like a demigod, like he’s actually capable of accomplishing superhuman feats without the help of assistants. hercules7Maybe with a less bulked up actor, the “reality” take would have worked better, but here it just serves to undermine all of the physical work Johnson puts into the character. They surround him with strong supporting actors like Rufus Sewell, John Hurt and Ian McShane, but this turns into a problem as well as they pull focus from the lead. Ratner is so in love with the idea of a team picture, he doesn’t even give Hercules the closing shot of the movie. The camera pans across the survivors and lands on a supporting character (who gets the final line as well) before cutting to credits. Everything that Hercules does in this film is only accomplished with the help or motivation of his team. But Ratner even flinches here by teasing the audience who came for the super goods. We are told that he’s just a man, but then get moment after moment of Hercules doing things far outside the boundaries of normal human abilities.

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Despite all that, Johnson is solid as Hercules. He brings the right amount of physicality and charm to an underwritten and underused “lead” character. Unfortunately the film seems unconvinced of his ability to headline without aid. Ratner gives us some pretty good action bits that are surprisingly violent for a PG-13 film. The fight scenes are all expertly choreographed with well framed physical stunts that isn’t made confusing by needless close-ups and hyper editing. The CG effects are decent. Not Michael Bay level, but certainly not Sy-Fy grade either. All of which makes the choice to demystify the whole thing even more puzzling and somewhat contradictory. We hear characters talk about centaurs and are even shown some pretty convincing footage before Ratner pulls the rug out from under us. The same happens with an oversized lion, and multi-headed wolf and sea serpent. The filmmakers had the resources to make a Clash of the Titans level epic with a much better lead actor but instead chose to make a movie about a strong dude and his buddies fighting other, less strong dudes.

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With the mythology either stripped down or completely removed, this story just isn’t as interesting as the original form. The legend is why these characters and stories endure, not what might have been the reality behind them.

RATING: Matinee

 

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He SAID: Lucy is a Mind Trip with no Luggage

Christopher M. Enis

Let’s just dive right in.lucyposter

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a hard partying college student (Really? Is Johansson still able to pull off college student? Maybe she’s a graduate student?). She’s getting her education, and (mostly) her party on in Taipei.  Not so shockingly, this party girl has suck-tastic taste in men.  Her latest hook-up, Richard, turns out to be the absolute worst.  Before you can say, “Girl, he ain’t no good”, Lucy is caught up in some hot mess with some “Very Bad Men” led by someone called Mr. Jang.

Jang ends Lucy’s party days and starts her on new “career” as a drug mule by placing a packet of drugs placed in her “lower tummy” (yes, he really said that).  When the packet starts leaking and the drugs leech into Lucy’s system (what, you didn’t see that coming?)… instead of over-dosing her, the drugs super-charge her brain.  She eventually gains control of 100% of her brain – versus the 10% that we stereotypically use. Most thinking people know the 10% rule is a bunch of nonsense, but when did ‘facts’ ever get in the way of making a movie?

Moving on…

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As her control of her mind increases, Lucy becomes more and more powerful. She gains the ability to control her body, she can instantly diagnose people by touch, work two laptops at the same time… you get the idea. Her new brain power also turns her into a killing machine. Now before you start expecting all Hell to break loose, stay with me.

Lucy does bust out some whoop ass, for this is a Luc Besson movie after all. With  Besson, the Femme Fatale is oft some badass on a mission of some sort, and there’s all manner of creative violence and lots of gunplay (see: Nikita and The Fifth Element).
 But this time, Besson tears up his usual blueprint and comes up with a different game-plan. It’s a mashup of everything from National Geographic (and a cell-division opening that screams Discovery channel), plus Cosmos, the History Channel, and some sort of homage (spoof?) to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Lucy makes the big leap when she gains use of 40% of her brain (we know this because the movie keeps score for us)… and violence becomes less about revenge and more about the experience. Lucy kicks such silly things like human emotions to the curb in the process. And suddenly we’re tripping through time and space on an office chair (don’t ask). If you’re thinking that this is a ‘WTF am I watching here’ moment… you’re not alone.
lucy5Lucy isn’t perfect, but with her increasing brain access, she’s practically omnipotent. So why, pray tell, does she still have to rely on men (Morgan Freeman and Amr Waked)? Waked is the closest thing to a love interest in the movie (but… not), and I just don’t understand what purpose they served for such a powerful character. Maybe it’s not for me to know. I nearly started a war on Twitter with just this simple question.

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Johansson has been on a major roll in the last year or so… from going big as Marvel’s Black Widow to dialing it back as the ‘voice in the machine’ in Her, and even further back in Under The Skin. Lucy, it seems, is a mashup of all three characters. Johannson delivers a wining performance, even when she’s required to be nearly robotic.  There’s an interesting scene in Lucy’s early stages of brain evolution, where she remembers every single moment of her life. She calls her mother to tearfully recall that she can “remember the taste of your milk.”  Call me gross if you want but that (unexpectedly) got me right in the feels.
Overall I like Lucy, although likely for none of the reasons that the creators intended.
RATING: Matinee
*Lucy obliterated the competition (Hercules) in her opening weekend, taking in $43,899,340.

She SAID: Travel Wise

Terri Kennerson

‘Tis the season to pack up and get away! The Summer travel season means more time on planes and hotels than home, so lots of us are tempted to bring as much of ‘home’ with us as we can. We rounded up some of the best ‘travel friendly’ items that will help you get packed up and on your way, without taking up too much space.

Herban Essentials Wipes

We’re suckers for these individually wrapped essential oil infused wipes. They come in five different varieties, or (if you’re indecisive like us) an assorted pack of the top selling blends (Lemon, Lavender, and Peppermint). Each wipe is big enough to clean hands, face… and even a few ‘hot spots’ (oh, don’t pretend you’ve never ‘freshened up’ in the car or airplane lavatory). They also double up as a makeup remover in a pinch. They feel good going on, and we feel good using those essential oils directly on our skin. bathoils

Aromatherapy Associates Mini Bath & Shower Oils

This set of nine oils work beautifully when directly added to bath water, or lathered onto your skin in a shower. Each oil is infused with a unique blend of esssential oils and fragrances, for a therapeutic boost. We think it’s perfect way to detox after a long flight, before getting on with the rest of our vacation.

NIA 24 Spring Resurfacing Kit

nia24This limited edition kit features 3 full sized (but still travel ready) products from NIA24. The skin care line claims to ‘time release’ skin strengthening Niacin to resurface dull dry skin. This kit contains the Skin Strengthening Complex, Mineral Sunscreen, and Rapid Exfoliating Serum. The products are specifically designed to wear during the day or at night, to give you full protection around the clock. The largest size in this kit is still less than 3 ounces (travel size requirement) so you’ll be able to it into your luggage (or even your carry-on) without any danger of it getting confiscated at a security checkpoint.

 

Experience the ultimate therapeutic splendour with this multi-award winning Miniature Bath and Shower Oil Collection. Complete with all the Aromatherapy Associates Bath and Shower Oils in 3ml bottles, each allowing for one unique bath or shower experience, this set of nine miniature oils is the perfect collection to get you or a loved one immersed in the compelling power of aromatherapy.

 

Directions for use

Add contents of bottle to a full bath or apply to body before showering. Each 3ml bottle contains one unique bath or shower experience.

– See more at: http://www.aromatherapyassociates.com/travel/miniature-bath-oil-collection.html#sthash.H4vQFD6k.dpuf

Experience the ultimate therapeutic splendour with this multi-award winning Miniature Bath and Shower Oil Collection. Complete with all the Aromatherapy Associates Bath and Shower Oils in 3ml bottles, each allowing for one unique bath or shower experience, this set of nine miniature oils is the perfect collection to get you or a loved one immersed in the compelling power of aromatherapy.

Directions for use

Add contents of bottle to a full bath or apply to body before showering. Each 3ml bottle contains one unique bath or shower experience.

– See more at: http://www.aromatherapyassociates.com/travel/miniature-bath-oil-collection.html#sthash.H4vQFD6k.dpuf

Experience the ultimate therapeutic splendour with this multi-award winning Miniature Bath and Shower Oil Collection. Complete with all the Aromatherapy Associates Bath and Shower Oils in 3ml bottles, each allowing for one unique bath or shower experience, this set of nine miniature oils is the perfect collection to get you or a loved one immersed in the compelling power of aromatherapy.

Directions for use

Add contents of bottle to a full bath or apply to body before showering. Each 3ml bottle contains one unique bath or shower experience.

– See more at: http://www.aromatherapyassociates.com/travel/miniature-bath-oil-collection.html#sthash.H4vQFD6k.dpuf

 

We SAID: It’s the Coolest!

coolestcooler1 coolestcooler4coolestcooler

Staff Writer

Call it the ultimate outdoor accessory… the Coolest Cooler is already breaking records, and it’s not even officially on the market! The dream cooler features everything from a Bluetooth speaker and USB charger, to a blender station! If you can imagine it, it’s probably on this thing. Product developer Ryan Grepper is the mastermind behind the cooler, which truly helps you take the party wherever you want to go.

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Features include:

  • A removable and waterproof Bluetooth speaker
  • A USB charger for your mobile device or speaker
  • LED interior lighting
  • Tie-down straps
  • A divider that doubles as a cutting board
  • A ceramic paring knife and plates that store in the lid
  • A bottle opener
  • Oversized tires to dig through rough terrain
  • A fully-functional 18v blender with rechargeable battery

Grepper is breaking records with his latest Kickstarter Campaign (his first attempt was a bust), which is now one of the most successful campaigns of all time. Grepper has already raised $7 million, and there’s still a month to go! He also has more than 32,000 pre-orders for the Coolest Cooler.

coolestcooler4coolestcooler5  coolestcooler1

If you want to get your hands on one, you’ll have to pony up $299, and you’ll be able to enjoy your Coolest Cooler by Feburary 2015.

He SAID: Extant proves Summer Drama is not Extinct

Christopher M. Enis

Halle Berry has come a long way. The last time she appeared in lead capacity on a CBS show, it was for the mini-series Alex Haley’s Queen. That was 20 years ago. And to be honest, while she was up to the challenge, I didn’t feel that Berry had the chops to pull off a leading role. Flash forward to 2014, to Extant, and it seems Berry has managed to change my mind.

She’s back on CBS as theextant1 lead in another famous creator-led series. This time, Steven Spielberg is the man behind the curtain… helping to guide the sci-fi story in Extant.

Berry plays Molly Woods, an ISEA (International Space Exploration Agency) astronaut in an unspecified near future. She has returned to Earth after a 13-month solo mission on an orbital space station, and finds out (after a post mission checkup) that she’s a few weeks pregnant. Hmmm. Looks like Molly has some ‘splainin’ to do. Not only has she been floating around in space by herself for longer than a year, before leaving Molly and husband John (Goran Visnjic) had been trying (unsuccessfully) to procreate.extant4

To fill the void in their childless lives (and to further his own A.I research), John created a prototype android who looks and behaves like a human child. Molly and John respond to the android, named Ethan, very differently. Molly is trying to be an actual mother to it, but is having trouble making a connection because… well… now she’s pregnant with a human(?) being. John has taken on the persona of a sci-fi Geppetto and feels that all Ethan really needs is a little TLC, and everything will work out.

extant6Meanwhile, Ethan is getting aggressive and weird (isn’t that always the case with A.I? Skynet anyone?), and with the exception of her doctor friend Sam (Camryn Manheim) Molly still hasn’t spilled the beans about being knocked up. Sam is keeping Molly’s secret… for now. But it might not even matter, because some of the mucky mucks at ISEA probably already know. Or at least, they know more than they’re letting on.

Extant is a decent story with a few flaws… the most glaring perhaps a lack of chemistrextant5y between Berry and Visnjic (who, let’s face it, is the poor man’s George Clooney). But the premise is interesting enough to cast that aside for the time being. With Speilberg’s imagination as the guiding force (and futuristic elements from the likes of Minority Report and A.I tossed in for good measure), the show has definite potential. Extant will likely take its sweet time answering the million questions that have come up in just the first few episodes, but I’m okay with that. Because this is a Summer series, the panic among network executives when a show doesn’t exceed insane expectations is absent. Had this series been released with the Fall lineup, it might already be on its way to the chopping block. Extant has been allowed to breathe for the moment, and answer all questions in due time.

It also doesn’t hurt to have a legendary producer like Speilberg involved, and Academy Award Winner Berry on retainer.

 RATING: Worth It