Did Dwayne Johnson drop “the Rock” from all of the promotional material for Hercules because he figured he’d banked millions enough of box-office dollars to finally put to bed his wrestling persona in the milieu of cinema, or did he drop “the Rock” because he knew this movie was going to be pretty mediocre and he didn’t want to tarnish his brand with it?

I love the man. He’s as charismatic as he is handsome, and he is very very handsome, as my wife will be happy to explain to you in detail. He’s been great in movie after movie, and in surprising parts. He is a man who made his name on elbow drops and side slams, but plays quiet better than bombast.

He’s not great in Hercules, though. It’s baffling. It seems like a good fit, but it’s not. He has too many “rally the troops” speeches and he doesn’t carry them off. He shouldn’t have any at all. They’ve written a strange movie about Hercules the general and commander of troops, not Hercules the brute who wrestles animals. They undercut all of the larger-than-life aspects of the mythical character and also all of the tragic aspects of him, to make a character whose only real trait is strength. Hercules in the movie is still unbelievably strong, but otherwise he’s just a nice guy.

There’s a good Hercules movie featuring Dwayne Johnson out there, but it isn’t this odd story. It’s just a mediocre movie.

It also feels like they shot an R movie and then cut it down to PG-13, but I don’t think that’s the problem.

Anyway, Hercules: Don’t Bother

After Earth and M. Night Shyamalan

After EarthOccasionally, for want of something better to do, I’ll see a movie that is getting its ass kicked in the reviews. Movie reviews are almost like Yelp reviews – often critical of things that don’t bother me in the slightest. This weekend I saw After Earth, which is taking a hiding almost everywhere, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 12% and a Metacritic score in the low 30s, and, to go one step further, had a pretty unappealing trailer that left me thinking “what accent are the Smiths trying to do?” and not “we should probably see that, but the fact was, we’d seen most of the movies we wanted to see already and needed something to do in the west valley before dinner.

The movie is not oscar material, and it’s not one of the best movies of the year, but when we all got out of the theater, my wife, my brother, and his wife and I all looked at each other and gave a confused scowl.

“That wasn’t a 12%,” I said.

“We both think that was better than Star Trek (Into Darkness),” said my brother.

“I’m not sure that was worse than Frances Ha,” I said to my wife.

On the way to the restaurant, my wife read me the critical reception section of the film’s wikipedia page, while we shook our heads. If you don’t want to read it yourself, it’s a lot of complaints about Jaden Smith’s acting, and a lot of shots at M. Night Shyamalan.

Because you may not have been aware of it, but the director of After Earth is M. Night Shyamalan.

I don’t remember seeing that in the trailer, and it’s the very last of the opening credits. They’re playing that information close to the chest, and the reason shines through in the wikipedia quotes above: the public has turned on the director of the Sixth Sense now, with a strange vitriol. I don’t understand it, personally. I liked the first few of his movies and I’ve seen fewer of them as time went on, but the emotion I don’t feel that the reviewing public seems to burn with is betrayal. Somehow he has let people down and now his name is an actual liability. And I have to wonder: how much of that Metacritic score is fair and unbiased? Because it seems like people are grinding their axes.

As for Jaden Smith’s acting, we thought it was fine. There are basically two actors in the movie, and in fairness, Jaden doesn’t do as well as Will Smith, and being second best of two isn’t much of an achievement, but he plays the character true: the first thing we learn about Kitai is that he is unready to take his place in his father’s corps, and that is how the movie plays out. Ender’s Game is coming out this year, and that is a story about precocious, competent child soldiers. Jaden Smith’s portrayal of Kitai wouldn’t fit in that universe, but it fits everything we know about the character he is actually playing.

The movie has a few obvious weaknesses. The CGI (especially at the end) is a little weak. The exposition at the very start of the film feels like a last minute addition, because it is done in voiceover and most of the information is redundant. The central conflict between father and son feels a little untrue, which could have been patched up with a couple of quick dialogue changes. And some areas of the setting could have been more thoroughly explored.

But here is my recommendation: If you didn’t see it because of the reviews, see it anyway.

The Hobbit (Part I)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [Blu-ray]In 1937 J.R.R. Tolkien published a short, silly children’s book called The Hobbit. It was set in a fictional universe he’d been thinking about and taking notes on for twenty years, but it was probably his first real crystallized effort. Later, when a sequel was requested, he wrote the much more serious and epic Lord of the Rings. It was a better, more complicated, and much more mature work, and as soon as it appeared, it obsoleted the Hobbit in several ways, leading to a series of revisions to the work itself and a number of additional tales working to mesh the two together.

A decade ago, Peter Jackson put the Lord of the Rings to film, with three very long and very well received action movies, and immediately the public began clamoring for a similar treatment of the Hobbit. This Christmas, he released the first film in a planned trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The movie is almost three hours long and incorporates a lot of expanded universe material that can’t be found in the novel of nearly the same name, making it a much looser adaptation than the previous films, but I think this is absolutely unavoidable, because Jackson had a big, big problem on his hands when he took on this project:


There’s a moment in the opening act of the movie where twelve dwarves sing a very silly song about breaking all of their hosts dishes, as they deftly pass and stack them. It’s taken directly from the book, and generally works as a series of commands to ruin Bilbo Baggins’s crockery, followed by the punchline, “that’s what Bilbo Baggins hates.” It probably made Tolkien’s children laugh, and it’s part of the general setup of the book–a timid, excessively polite English country squire is dragged along on an adventure with a bunch of uncouth ruffians, triumphing through cleverness and strength of character–but it doesn’t fit in alongside Peter Jackson’s version of Lord of The Rings, where the silliest thing that happens is a little drunken pantomime. Podcasters I follow have been calling it out as one of the worst scenes of the film, and I’m sure movie reviewers have something to say about it, if I could only bring myself to read that nonsense, but in any close adaptation of the book, scenes like this would be the rule, rather than the exception. It is a dreadfully silly little novel.

My overall review is that so far, Peter Jackson has done a good job with tricky material. Adding in the white council and the Necromancer corrects the tone toward the trilogy, and though the dwarves begin very silly in keeping with the book, they have good serious moments in the latter half of the film. It could easily be worse… it would probably have been worse if it were closer to the book. So I’ll be there to see the next one and likely the one after it.

Verdict: See it.

Summer Movies: Action Schlock

Hey, where has the time gone? Into the summer of terrible movies! What have I been watching?

Yesterday: Dredd

Not Stallone’s Poorly regarded Judge Dredd, but this year’s Dredd 3d. It currently holds a 77% fresh rating, and the first comment Katie and I had afterwards was “why is that rating so high?”

Dredd is like one of those shitty European action movies that some guy you work with is always trying to get you to watch. It all takes place in one huge tenement block, the violence is exquisite, and it doesn’t leave you feeling good. Definitely worth a look if you’re into super-slo-mo bullet penetration and brief cutaways to people being skinned alive, but since that doesn’t actually increase the buoyancy of my own personal watercraft, my personal recommendation is going to be don’t bother.


Last Week – Resident Evil: Retribution

Resident Evil is a series of movies based on a series of video games, and this year’s installment is… like… a zero player video game. It isn’t even really like a movie. The characters appear, they look at a map and discuss the sequence of levels they’ll have to progress through, every level is an action set piece, and then it’s over. I guess you get to see a nipple. Does anyone care about that in a world where Game of Thrones exists?

The best and worst part of the experience was when a neckbeard came over after the movie and started patiently explaining to Katie alllllll about the games, and which characters were hard to fight and which ones were easy, and I think he said something about a player piano, but I was getting one of those weird blood rages that I think alpha males usually get, and fingering the large pocketknife I was carrying.

Anyway: don’t bother.


Before that sometime – Expendables II

Of the three movies I’m reviewing here, this was the best. It was still mediocre, but from talking to people, I think I’m actually on the rare side of the issue. I thought this was worse than the first one, everyone else seems to have liked it better.

Anyway, the dead guy from the scary movie sends Rambo and his team of illiterates after a tiny computer, and Guile shows up to stop them. He kills the handsome rookie and the Transporter and Rocky sort of look at each other and nod and then it’s fucking ON! The flying boat has a howitzer in it now and it crashes in a mine and they shoot and shoot and shoot and then everybody makes thinly veiled references to the other movies everyone else was in which must be pretty uncomfortable for the UFC guy who’s only ever been in Expendables I. Walker, Texas Ranger, is very soft spoken.

In the end, the Muscles from Brussels takes off his sunglasses and looks like a Planet of the Apes extra, and the team gets into the Spirit of St. Louis and fucks off back to America.

Judgement: Actually the best of these three movies.

Quick Hits: Movies

Watched a couple of movies this weekend, here’s the quick quick version:


Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior

We assumed this thing wouldn’t pass the ten-minute test, but we ended up watching the entire movie. Don’t bother. It’s not life changing. But not the unmitigated disaster we were expecting.


Chasing Amy

Guys don’t tell Katie I said this, because I think she really likes the movie, but what the fuck? Didn’t you people all get together when this came out and decide it was good? Why? It’s awful.