‘Hercules’ Review

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Dir: Brett Ratner

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Rebecca Ferguson, Peter Mullan, and John Hurt

Synopsis: Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

We are all pretty much familiar with the character of Hercules. Whether it be the animated Disney film or the Kevin Sorbo TV series from the 90s, Hercules is one of those characters we know. This is the second Hercules film this year and while I didn’t see The Legend of Hercules early this year, his adaptation of Hercules take both the legend of the hero and takes its basis from the Steve Moore comic book called Hercules: The Thracian Wars and adds a little more.

 

Director Brett Ratner explores a different view of the legend known as Hercules. Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules doesn’t work alone. He has five loyal to the core followers that have helped him finish his infamous 12 labors. But the main thing Ratner does here is he walks the line between the legend and the actual man. The question he offers is if Hercules really is the son of Zeus. Can one man do all this amazing things or are they all exaggerations?

 

In Hercules, Hercules and his group of mercenaries; Amphiaraus (McShane), Autolycus (Sewell), Tydeus (Hennie), Atalanta (Berdal) and Iolaus (Ritchie) are asked by Lord Cotys (Hurt) daughter, Ergenia (Ferguson) to help them save Thrace from a civil war started by a war lord. It’s a rather simple story, Hercules and his group go and help Cortys farmers becomes actual soldiers to go to war.

 

Johnson obviously looks the part and add some of his charisma, and you have a likeable Hercules. But he isn’t just dealing with saving Thrace, Hercules is also dealing with tragic past, making sure he keeps composure to his men and Cortys’s army, and keep up his legacy.

 

But Johnson wouldn’t be able to do that without his group of warriors. They all serve their purpose and have moments to shine on their own or together. Ritchie’s Iolaus is Hercules’s nephew and is the mouth piece of the group, his job is to talk up Hercules and his stories to make his seem larger than life. Although not a warrior he wants to prove himself to his uncle and the group. Hennie’s Tydeus doesn’t talk through the movie and is a bit unstable but is a skilled fighter. Berdal is the only female fighter but is excellent with a bow. Sewell’s Autolycus is Hercules’s oldest friend and skilled with small knives. Finally there is McShane’s Amphiaraus who is a mystic but still kicks a lot of ass his very cool weapon.

 

We get some back stories on them but it doesn’t really seem like enough. I’ll admit I think I would watch a side story or prequel with those characters just so I can get to see more of them. They are a cool group so it’s a shame to not really get to know them. McShane and Sewell get most of the screen time and share nice quips and add in most of the humor in the movie.

 

Speaking of the humor, there is a great deal of it. Not saying that it’s a bad thing, it’s actually welcomed. The movie has a fair amount of violence and a couple of darker moments, so seeing Sewell and McShane delivering some hilarious one-liners was nice to see.

 

The action scenes are pretty impressive. The sets are real so it gives the scenes some more levity and makes you feel immersed in the movie. The scenes are cool to look at and I almost feel sorry for everyone involved because there is so much going on that it makes you feel like it was a pain to shoot.

 

The movie of course does have some drawbacks. Besides the supporting characters not really being fleshed out, John Hurt is almost completely wasted but does leave an impression because he does his best with the character that he can. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ergenia has her moments but otherwise isn’t really a main player. The other problem, and it might seem nitpicky, but some of the CGI is a bit wonky and kind of took me away considering how much work they put into the set-pieces, clothing, and armor. But, it’s the question of is Hercules really a demigod or not, that kind sort of makes it stand out but also hurts it in some way.

 

All in all, Hercules was a little better than I thought it would be but by no means is it a great one (no pun intended). Dwayne Johnson is Hercules and some of the supporting cast is great. Even with some drawbacks, the movie has it’s fun and funny moments but overall is nothing more than an average action movie.

 

 

Hercules

3.5 out of 5

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‘The Purge: Anarchy’ Review

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Dir: James DeMonaco

Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Jack Conley, and Michael K. Williams

Synopsis: Five strangers find themselves trying to survive the night during the most dangerous night of the year, The Purge.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

When The Purge came out last year many people, myself included, thought the movie had a great premise but lacked the real execution that the movie needed. The Purge: Anarchy delivers the same premise but this time puts us outside a confined space and on the streets of Los Angeles. Does the setting change give us a better movie? Does it still make an underlying political commentary? More importantly, is it any good? Short answer, yes.

 

Although the movie is technically a sequel, it does have the feeling of being a different movie, expect with the return of one Edwin Hodge’s character in a very small role. Still set in the world where crime is legal for 12 hours we follow a new group and are placed outside in the gritty streets of Los Angeles. We get are introductions early on of all our characters. We have the mother daughter duo of waitress Eva (Ejogo) and Cali (Soul), married couple of the edge of divorce Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez) and our real main character Leo (Grillo).

 

Eva, Cali, Shane, and Liz are innocent civilians who get stuck on the street during The Purge, and Leo, although he’s on a mission of revenge, reluctantly decides to help the group.  He agrees to take them to a safe location, but first they must survive the violent street gangs (including the ones that are featured heavily in the ads), random psychopaths, and heavily armed troops wandering outside and chasing them.
 

It can’t be said enough, the best part about the sequel and probably what makes it better is DeMonaco takes the action outside this time around. Although there is nothing wrong in a home invasion or close quarters movie, Anarchy has the advantage of going to multiple places making the tension and thriller aspects of the movie stronger. You genuinely feel afraid for these characters because danger can come out of everywhere. The other great thing, even though it is cliché is what DeMonaco does with silence in the movie. There are a few pop-up moments but they don’t feel cheesy or dumb, they are actually done in a manner that’s okay.

 

Again, The Purge had some commentary on social issues that are relevant and DeMonaco still retains the commentary but this time he’s content to play it as loud as the action sequences rather than try to skillfully weave it into the story. Anarchy introduces Carmelo (K. Williams), a militant rebel leader that wants an ending to the Purge by breaking one of its unwritten rules: Don’t prevent others from purging.  He’s also one of the voices questioning the system rather than accepting the harsh reality.  He tries to make people rise up. But of course that’s the cruel twist because there’s no way to stop the violence until the leaders are brought down through violence. By the way, in case you don’t know who rules and is most protected during the Purge, it’s the rich.
 

The cast is pretty great here. Ejogo and Soul serve as the audience surrogates with their characters have a humanizing effect on Leo. They deliver believable performances as a mother and daughter thrown into this dangerous situation. The film’s other pair of Gilford and Sanchez are less effective (even though they are married in real life), serving more as a young couple in danger, although they do have one standout moment. Even Michael K. Williams character, who is really more of a cameo, has ups and downs and Williams is usually reliable.

 

But the movie belongs to Frank Grillo. I don’t think I’ve talked much about Grillo in reviews and it’s a damn shame. Grillo is one of my favorite actors and one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, so it is nice to see him getting more attention in movies like Warrior, The Grey, and most recently Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Anyway, Grillo looks the part and grounds the movie in a gritty reality. He could have been a one-note vigilante, but Grillo finds this interesting and nice balance of being an anti-hero. He could be another older actor ready to take over the action genre like Liam Nesson in Taken. But the other thing that got to me, and this will be very nerdy, is that Grillo’s presence in the movie really made me think he’d be a great Punisher. He’s got the charisma, the look and the talent.

 

All in all The Purge: Anarchy does a lot of things better than the first. It’s got some great action sequences and a pretty impressive cast. Blumhouse Pictures is known for doing small budgeted movies and I’m amazed at how they got away with in Anarchy. Instead of a heavy handed political commentary or complex moral questions – even though there are some – it chooses to go the route of bloodlust.

The Purge: Anarchy

4 out of 5

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Review

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Dir: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nick Thurston, Judy Greer, and Gary Oldman

Synopsis: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

The Planet of the Apes franchise has gone through a lot from; ahead of its time, shocking, good, bad, weird and terrible. It has touched on political issues and questions that no one dared touched, but has also shown us how far people will go to do what they think is right. The original series came out before I was born (but I have watched and appreciated them) and then saw the horrible Tim Burton Planet of the Apes. Luckily, the series rebooted and gave us the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes giving us not just a brand new series but giving us fresh new opportunities. Does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continue that? Quick answer, yes. And gives us a hell of a lot more.

 

The movie starts off giving us a quick and eerie rundown of how mankind has been ravaged by the “Simian Flu” followed by a war that left only small modest groups of human colonies.  Ten years later, Caesar (Serkis) and his apes have grown and thrived in the woods.  They’ve become smarter, self-sufficient, built a home, and have a tight-knit community built on laws such as “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape” and “Apes Together Strong.”  Caesar leads his community with wisdom and has also become a family ape with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), newborn child, and son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston).

 

However, Caesar’s life is disrupted when Malcolm (Clarke), his wife Ellie (Russell), his son Alexandra (Smit-McPhee) and others accidentally stumble into the apes’ territory while trying to repair a dam that will supply power to their colony.  Caesar must then decide if he can protect his apes through isolationism, a tenuous truce, or agreeing with his chief lieutenant Koba (Kebbell), who wants to start a war against the humans.

 

One of the great things about the movie is director Matt Reeves does not make us wait to see Caesar and the apes. After eerie opening, we see the apes right off the part. Matter of fact, the movie spends time more with the apes than the humans. Caesar’s people communicate through a mix of limited speech, signing, and body language. The ape children attend school, where Maurice, the orangutan from Rise and Caesar’s trusted adviser, teaches lessons like how to write and one that I stated earlier “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape.”

 

Although the movie has many standouts (which I will get to them later) the main standout is Andy Serkis as Caesar. This time around Caesar is older and wiser. He bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. With every body movement you can feel the responsibilities that he is wrestling with, regarding not just leading his fellow apes but also taking care of his family and guiding his elder son into adulthood. Serkis is one of the masters, if not the master, of motion capture and his turn as Caesar this time around with the help of WETA is truly one of his best works.

 

The dynamic between Caesar and Clarke’s Malcolm is a strong arc in the movie. The two have much in common, as Malcolm is also trying to protect his family and his people. It’s an uneasy truce that’s made between the two, but it comes from a shared understanding that they’re both working for the same thing — for family, for community, and for the future.

 

Of course some of the apes don’t agree with helping the humans and those are lead by Koba. While played by stunt performer Christopher Gordon in the first film, Reeves recast the role with actor Toby Kebbell. The probable reason is that Koba is a key player in the events of Dawn, and Kebbell gives Serkis a run for his money in the performance-capture acting and is much more than one-dimensional. Koba has pledged himself to Caesar ever since he freed him from the experimental laboratories of the first film, where the ape was operated on hundreds of times by human scientists. His hate for man is strong, and you can’t really blame him. He shows Caesar the scars from the human mistreatment.

 

The relationship between Caesar and Koba is just one of the many remarkable, textured character back and forwards of the film. Koba is given to outbursts as he questions Caesar’s approach to the humans, but when Caesar rebukes his old ally, Koba begs for forgiveness with an extended hand and a posture of supplication. Caesar embraces his friend’s hand with sympathy, accepting his apology as he understands the complexity of the situation and Koba’s misgivings. It’s a strong moment, but it becomes so much more as it’s repeated a couple of more times throughout the film, with each slight variation on the same interaction informing us greatly about how the relationship between the two is changing.

 

While the ape actors are great, including a string of lesser known performers including Konoval and Nick Thurston (who plays Caesar’s son Blue Eyes), we can’t overlook what WETA has done here. This movie is full of apes, and they’re very often in exterior locations or engaged in battles or riding freaking horses! All technically complex and next-level stuff. Oh, and the apes on horses? There are certain unforgettable shots on this front that make that very concept as cool and thrilling as it must’ve seemed when the original franchise came out. Reeves also utilizes the WETA magic to create some truly beautiful images. Much of this stuff gets into spoiler territory, but it truly is beautiful to see.

 

As for the human cast, it is hit and miss. Jason Clarke is great as always as he sees Caesar trying to basically do the same thing but under different circumstances. Clarke’s Malcolm sees the apes as more than just “animals” as Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus does. Keri Russell has her moments here and there but overall doesn’t do much and the same can more said for Smit-McPhee. Gary Oldman however is unfortunately underused in this. While he does have some strong moments he disappears for a chuck of the film and even when he returns he isn’t nearly as strong as he could have been.

 

Matt Reeves, who takes over for Rupert Wyatt, really expands the world that Wyatt had only developed. Rise was also filled with more obvious homage’s to the original series, Reeves holds back and makes the occasional and subtle references like using bits of the original score and an ending that is very Planet of the Apes. Although, there are some similarities of other huge moments of the original series that might be lost on the causal Planet of the Apes fans but to the hardcore fans – or ones that binged watched the series before watching Dawn – those will stick out.

 

Ultimately, the great Planet of the Apes movies all share one very important element: a willingness to examine and contemplate the issues facing the real world. And Dawn certainly falls into this category. While the always-relevant notions of family, friendship, and the responsibility to protect both run deep in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there is much more here as well for those who are willing to look. I won’t say what they are here just in case you want to see them unfold in the film yourself but all of these concepts are left to ponder.

 

All in all, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does what the best of Hollywood genre movies can do — it’s exciting, thrilling, and visually amazing to look at. But it’s so much more than that as well. Reeves is a great addition and arguably has made a better movie than Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But this movie belongs to Serkis and Kebbell who give amazing performances, and all through motion capture.

 

Hail Caesar!

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

5 out of 5

‘Deliver Us from Evil’ Review

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Dir: Scott Derrickson

Cast: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Chris Coy, Sean Harris, Olivia Horton and Joel McHale

Synopsis: NY police officer Ralph Sarchie investigates a series of crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest, schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Based on retired NYPD detective Ralph Sarchie’s memoir “Beware the Night,“ (I have not read the book so I don’t know how faithful it is) Deliver Us From Evil follows Bronx cop Sarchie (Bana) as he investigates a series of grisly and eerie crimes that end up being connected by the supernatural. He eventually crosses paths with a Jesuit priest and exorcist Mendoza (Ramirez). Mendoza tells him that there is two types of evil, and the evil he’s dealing with is one that he should not underestimate. Sarchie however doesn’t believe Mendoza because, of course, everything can be explained. Sarchie also has a hard time believing in religion because he never got anything from it. This leads the two of them to down a dangerous path against a demon.

 

Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), who has quickly become one of my favorite directors (and will direct Marvel’s Doctor Strange), gives the movie a nice mix of police procedural and supernatural thriller. The police material is great and for the first half of the movie, it’s all cop stuff with some supernatural aspects with the second half following more of the supernatural with some cop stuff. The good thing is that Derrickson does not give too much of the supernatural elements. He teases us throughout the movie but not enough to annoy but enough to keep us interested. That’s one of the things Derrickson does so well in his movies. It’s the slow builds that make the third acts in his movie worthwhile. Like his other films Derrickson manages to evoke gritty imagery and makes New York, more partially, the Bronx a character in itself.

 

The supernatural stuff is more or less of the same we’ve seen in other movies. It’s creepy, disturbing, eerie and sometimes gut-wrenching. But Derrickson already has a knack for directing the genre that it still creeps you out when it unfolds. The demon’s plot, might seem a little “meh” for people but once we find out what’s going on we are already invested in Sarchie’s character and everything else that it (at least to me) didn’t matter.

 

There are some things that might take some people out of it. Obviously for the sake of no spoilers I won’t write them, but considering this is a supernatural/demon/exorcism movie, it hopefully won’t throw people off that much.

 

As for the cast, mostly everyone does a pretty good job. One of the missteps is Olivia Munn’s wife character. It’s nothing against her and her acting but more dealing with her character being underwritten and really having nothing to do expect for two scenes. Surprisingly, and nothing against him because I do like him, Joel McHale gives a nice turn as a badass and Sarchie’s wise-cracking partner who has a thing for knifes.

 

Eric Bana is reliable as ever and plays Sarchie as the audience’s skeptical surrogate. And props to him, and the rest of the cast, for putting on strong New York accents but Bana gets the most props since he’s not even American. Next to Bana, the movie’s other highlight is Edgar Ramirez. Most exorcists in movies tend to be old men whose faith is either tested or being lost but Ramirez’s Mendoza is much more complicated than that. His past isn’t a bright one but it’s that past that makes him keep his life together. He drinks, smokes, checks out girls, and wears a leather jacket, but that doesn’t stop him from knowing what has to be done.

 

A special mention also has to be given to Sean Harris as the man possessed making Sarchie and Mendoza’s life hell (no pun intended). The character could have been laughable or just a character that stands in the shadows. It’s Harris’ intense performance alongside Bana and Ramirez’s that make the demon-battling scenes a little more give. The same is to be said about Olivia Horton’s Jane, which we’ve seen in the promotional material.

 

All in all, Deliver Us from Evil might be a little dull than the other exorcism movies but Derrickson manages to keep us invested with his powerful imagery. Add Bana, Ramirez, and Harris’ performances and it makes the movie a little stronger and much more than an exorcism movie.

 

 

Deliver Us from Evil

4.5 out of 5