PICTURE OF THE DAY: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE PHANTOM

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Ghost of Frankenstein - PhantomPICTURE OF THE DAY:  FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE PHANTOM, or DAD, CAN I HAVE THE KEYS TO THE CAR?

 

Here’s a fun image from the blog site Classic Movie Monsters located at http://classicmoviemonsters.blogspot.com/2013/05/father-son.html.

 

In this manipulated image, we see the Frankenstein Monster (Lon Chaney, Jr.) paying a visit to the Phantom of the Opera (Lon Chaney, Sr.) in the balcony of a theater, presumably the opera house haunted by the Phantom.

 

Of course, the joke here is that obviously Chaney Sr. and Chaney Jr. were father and son, and so it’s fun to see these two actors with their monstrous creations in the same shot.  Of course, I would have preferred an image of Chaney Jr.’s most famous creation, the Wolf Man, rather than one of his worst, the Frankenstein Monster.

 

So, why this combination of images?  Since I didn’t create it, I don’t know for sure, but I can wager a guess.  In the movie THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), the Frankenstein film in which Chaney Jr. played the Monster, the son of Dr. Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) is visited by the ghost of his father who urges him not to destroy the Monster but to carry on with his experiments in the hope of perfecting the creature.

 

With this in mind, perhaps the son, Chaney Jr. as the Frankenstein Monster, is also visited by the ghost of his father, Chaney Sr. as the Phantom.  But, what might the Phantom’s message be?  What might the father be telling the son?  Perhaps, “Hang up the square headed make-up and get back to playing the furry guy with the sharp teeth.”  Good advice, dad!

 

Or for those of us who like to dream and imagine and get inside the heads of their favorite movie monsters, perhaps this is an image of the Frankenstein Monster, having eluded his manipulative companion Ygor (Bela Lugosi) for a few minutes, finding himself inside an abandoned opera house, and as he explores the ghostly grounds, he is perplexed by the strange image which has embedded itself inside his mind, that of a horrifying looking maniac of a man in love with a woman named Christine, an elusive phantom who for some reason calls out to him with the words, “My son,” and the advice, “Don’t ever let them catch you.”

 

The Monster then utters, “Father.”

 

Fade to black.

 

Enjoy!

 

—-Michael

 

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SECOND LOOK: THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)

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The Great Gatsby Blu-RaySECOND LOOK:  THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)

By Michael Arruda

 

THE GREAT GATSBY was one of my favorite movies last year (see my post from May 12, 2013 for my full review).  In fact, it made my Top 10 List for Best Movies of 2013 coming in at #9. 

 

I liked it so much I decided it was already time for a second look, and so I checked it out again the other day on Blu-Ray.  How well did it hold up? 

 

Pretty well, actually.

 

The biggest difference between seeing it at the movies and watching it at home was the quality of the visuals.  I saw it in 3D at the movies, and I was very impressed with the 3D effects.  The visual splendor of the film is lost somewhat in 2D on the living room screen.  Also, the fast moving camerawork which appeared smooth and perfectly natural at the theater was somewhat jarring on the smaller screen at home. 

 

Bottom line:  even though the Blu-Ray print was crystal clear, the film was nowhere near as visually stunning and impressive as it was in the theater.

 

The living room setting didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the controversial modern soundtrack, however.  I still thought it worked.

 

The strong acting performances hold up as well.

 

I appreciated Tobey Maguire’s performance even more the second time around.  His Nick Carraway is exactly the way I pictured him in Fitzgerald’s novel, and he really nails Carraway’s disillusionment with the people around him, as well as his growing affection towards Gatsby, a man he didn’t know what to make of at first.

 

And while I still enjoyed Leonardo DiCaprio’s interpretation of Jay Gatsby, admittedly I was somewhat less impressed with DiCaprio’s performance during this second viewing. I didn’t find him as spot-on as I did the first time around.  Don’t get me wrong.  DiCaprio is still excellent.  I just wasn’t wowed as much the second time.  Maybe it was because of his more recent and even better performance as Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013).

 

Carey Mulligan is just as adorable at home as Daisy Buchanan as she was at the movies, and Joel Edgerton is just as shamelessly confident and coarse as her off-the-charts rich husband Tom. 

 

And the parties are still just as vibrant and fun.

 

However, I still didn’t like the way director Baz Luhrmann handled Gatsby’s first appearance in the movie.  I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, and I liked it even less the second time. It’s probably the phoniest part of the movie, one of the few times the film doesn’t ring true.

 

I still like this version though, and prefer it to the 1974 Robert Redford version.  Its biggest strength is that it does a good job bringing THE GREAT GATSBY to life for modern audiences, without sacrificing the integrity of the story.

 

It’s full of energy and oomph and really puts a charge into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel.

 

THE GREAT GATSBY was a must-see film at the movies, and it’s still highly recommended, even at home on Blu-Ray in the comfort of your own living room.  The visuals may not translate as well, but everything else about this vibrant production still rocks.

 

So, go ahead and visit Jay Gatsby.  Like the rest of the guests at his mansion, you don’t need an invitation.

 

—Michael

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014) Reboot Borders on the Ridiculous

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Jack-Ryan-Shadow-Recruit-Poster

Here’s my review of JACK RYAN:  SHADOW RECRUIT (2014) which went up earlier this week at cinemaknifefight.com.  Remember, if you like to read about movies, check out cinemaknifefight.com where you’ll find new movie content posted every day.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

MOVIE REVIEW:  JACK RYAN:  SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)

By Michael Arruda

 

Let’s get all the baggage out of the way first. 

 

With the exception of THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990), a film that starred Alec Baldwin as Tom Clancy’s CIA operative Jack Ryan, I haven’t really liked any of the other “Jack Ryan” movies.  I’m not a big fan of PATRIOT GAMES (1992) or CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994), the two films in which Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan, nor was I all that thrilled by THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002) which starred Ben Affleck as Ryan.

 

That being said, I do like Chris Pine, as well as Kenneth Branagh who both directed and played the Russian villain in this one, and so I was actually looking forward to seeing this movie, even if I didn’t have the highest hopes for it.

 

JACK RYAN:  SHADOW RECRUIT (2014) is a “re-imagining” of Clancy’s character as this Jack Ryan comes of age during the events of September 11, 2001.  The film opens with Ryan (Chris Pine) at college seeing the events of September 11 unfold on the television screen, and it’s shortly after this that he enlists in the military to serve his country. 

 

He soon finds himself in Afghanistan where his helicopter is shot down and he suffers a devastating back injury.  Lucky for him, he’s nursed back to health by a beautiful young intern named Cathy (Keira Knightley), who he eventually becomes engaged to.  He’s also noticed by a CIA operative Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) who was so impressed by Ryan’s brilliant dissertation on U.S./Russian relations that he practically recruits Ryan on the spot. 

 

The action jumps to present day with Ryan now working for the CIA.  Of course, no one knows this other than Harper, and Ryan’s cover is that he works on Wall Street keeping an eye out for international financial abnormalities that might lead to the next big terrorist attack.  He finally finds one, as he spots suspicious financial behavior by a powerful Russian businessman named Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh).

 

Since Jack Ryan is the hero of this movie, he’s the one sent to Russia to investigate Cherevin, since supposedly there’s no one else in the CIA better suited for this mission than Ryan.  Really?

 

Once in Moscow, Ryan finds out firsthand that Cherevin is indeed a dangerous man, as an attempt is made on his life almost immediately.  Undeterred, Ryan uncovers evidence of a major terrorist plot against the United States, and of course, it’s up to him to stop it.

 

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT features some decent acting performances by its main players, but its storyline of a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack borders on the ridiculous.  It’s also not the easiest story to get excited about, as the bulk of Ryan’s investigation revolves around numbers and financial information that simply isn’t all that compelling.  It’s hard to get all that riled up about money being manipulated online.

 

I did enjoy Chris Pine as Jack Ryan, as he effortlessly falls into the role and makes Ryan an easy guy to like.  Pine’s energetic performance is the best part of the movie.  He makes Ryan a believable hero.

 

Kevin Costner runs hot and cold as CIA operative Thomas Harper.  There are times when he comes off as smooth and covert, and other times when he’s trite and sappy.  Keira Knightly is okay as Ryan’s fianceé Cathy, and while she gets to be more than just a token female victim for Ryan to save, her cool levelheadedness in the face of mortal danger comes off as unrealistic and phony.

 

Kenneth Branagh sports a fake Russian accent as the main baddie Viktor Cherevin and in spite of looking menacing and angry throughout proves to be a rather ineffective villain.  Jack Ryan outwits him and outplays him with ease, and for a seasoned mogul like Cherevin to be undone by a young whippersnapper like Jack Ryan on his first job in the field was somewhat of a disappointment.

 

Alec Utgoff is effective as a young Russian agent who is the most formidable opponent Ryan faces in the movie, but he’s not in the film enough to make that much of an impact.  There’s also a brief appearance by Nonso Anozie who plays Renfield on TV’s DRACULA, and he gets to enjoy a memorable fight scene.

 

The film gets off to a slow start, especially the pre-credits sequence which seems to go on forever.  The credits don’t start until well after the ten minute mark.  Things pick up once Ryan gets to Moscow.  There are a few neat fight sequences and chase scenes, but none that I would consider intense.  Director Kenneth Branagh has made a very polished looking film, but it could certainly have benefitted from more intensity.

 

The script by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, based on characters created by Tom Clancy, did not wow me.  For starters, the actual story— a Russian plot to use a terrorist attack to destroy the U.S. economy— did nothing for me.  It seemed farfetched, a roundabout way to go about bringing down the U.S. economy.  It’s also not an easy story to like.  When Jack Ryan starts talking numbers to his boss Thomas Harper, giving him the details of what Viktor Cherevin is up to, I wanted to fall asleep.

 

There were also some forced plot points that I simply didn’t buy.  For example, young Jack Ryan is the best guy the CIA has to send to Russia?  Really?  He has no experience in the field!  You’re telling me there’s no one else better suited for the job?  I found that hard to believe, and it seemed very forced, just an excuse to build a story around Jack Ryan.  There’s a running gag in the movie where Ryan will say something like “have your guy go here,” or have him do that, and then he reads his boss’ face and says, “I’m the guy, right?”  After seeing this movie, you’d think the CIA has nobody worth their salt working for them.

 

There’s also a ridiculous scene over dinner with Ryan, his fiancée Cathy, and Viktor Cherevin.  First off, the set-up is incredulous.  Cherevin invites Ryan to dinner and tells him to bring Cathy, and Ryan wants no part of this because it’s too dangerous, but his boss Harper insists Cathy go with him so that Cherevin’s not suspicious, even making her a part of the ruse their pulling with Cherevin, going so far as giving her a role at the dinner table, even though she has no experience and is a civilian.  And of course, she pulls it off brilliantly.  Really?  She’s a doctor not a secret agent!  I just found this difficult to swallow.

 

Early on, a big deal is made of Ryan’s back injury.  Will he ever walk again, Harper asks?  Yet later, Ryan’s running around fighting off assassins like he’s Jason Bourne.  So much for consistency.

 

The ending is also rushed, as Ryan and the CIA’s efforts to thwart a terrorist attack in New York City happen so quickly it is simply not as suspenseful as it could have been.  After watching an entire film about an unnamed threat, once it’s exposed, the race to stop it is anticlimactic because it’s a sprint not a marathon.

 

These faults come as a big surprise because screenwriter David Koepp has some pretty impressive credits, including having written the screenplays to JURASSIC PARK (1993), Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN (2002), and Steven Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005), three films I liked a lot.  But he also penned SECRET WINDOW (2004) and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008), two films I did not like very much.

 

Well, my favorite Jack Ryan movie remains THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, and I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I liked that one so much not because of Jack Ryan, but because of the presence of Sean Connery as the renegade Soviet submarine commander Marko Ramius.

 

That being said, I was certainly impressed by Chris Pine as Jack Ryan in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, and should they make any more of these movies, I could easily see him returning to the role.  Let’s just hope it has a better story.

 

I give JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT two and a half knives.

 

—END—

 

In The Shadows: MICHAEL RIPPER

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Michael Ripper as coffin maker Jeremiah Mipps in NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

Michael Ripper as coffin maker Jeremiah Mipps in NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

In The Shadows:  MICHAEL RIPPER

 

By Michael Arruda

 

 

Character actors add so much to the movies they’re in, it’s hard to imagine these movies without them.  Never receiving the praise heaped upon the major actors and stars of the genre, these folks nonetheless are often every bit as effective as the big name leads.

 

One of my favorite character actors from Hammer Films is Michael Ripper.  Ripper appeared in many Hammer Films over the years, so much so that if you watch enough of these movies, he becomes a very familiar face.

 

I was fortunate enough to meet Michael Ripper in 1998 at a convention, two years before he died, and I remember the look of joy and wonder on his face as he was greeted by so many adoring fans.  It was almost as if he couldn’t believe the outpouring of affection he was receiving.

 

My favorite Michael Ripper role was Max the tavern owner in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).  His Max is a happy-go-lucky guy you could easily see yourself having a drink with, and he helps to lighten the mood in this third Christopher Lee Dracula movie.  It’s one of Ripper’s largest roles.

 

A close second is his portrayal of the former pirate/smuggler turned coffin maker Jeremiah Mipps in the Peter Cushing movie NIGHT CREATURES (1962).  In this film, he’s the loyal right hand man to Cushing’s Captain Clegg.  It’s one of Ripper’s more dramatic performances.

 

Here’s a partial list of Ripper’s amazing 220 movie credits, focusing mainly on his Hammer Film appearances:

 

X-THE UNKNOWN (1956) – Sgt. Harry Grimsdyke

 

QUATERMASS II:  ENEMY FROM SPACE (1957) – Ernie

 

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) – with Peter Cushing-  Kurt, the grave robber

 

THE MUMMY (1959)- with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee –  Poacher

 

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) – with Peter Cushing-  Coach Driver

 

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) – with Oliver Reed –  Village Drunk

 

NIGHT CREATURES (1962) – with Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed-   Jeremiah Mipps

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) – with Herbert Lom-   Cabbie

 

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964) – Achmed

 

THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966) – Sgt. Jack Swift

 

THE REPTILE (1966) – Tom Bailey

 

THE MUMMY’S SHROUD (1967) – Longbarrow

 

TORTURE GARDEN (1967) – with Peter Cushing, Jack Palance, and Burgess Meredith-   Gordon Roberts

 

THE LOST CONTINENT (1968) – Sea Lawyer

 

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) – with Christopher Lee-  Max

 

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) – with Christopher Lee-   Inspector  Cobb

 

SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) – with Christopher Lee-   Landlord

 

THE CREEPING FLESH (1973) – with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee-   Carter

 

LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF (1975) – with Peter Cushing-   Sewer man

 

 

Michael Ripper provided many memorable movie moments in a career that spanned seven decades, from the 1930s through the 1990s.  I will always remember him from his roles in the Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, although he appeared in many more movies than just the horror movie credits listed here.

 

Michael Ripper: January 27, 1913 – June 28, 2000.

 

Thanks for reading everyone!

 

—Michael

 


THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)- ROUND 2

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Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) promises to give his Creature (Christopher Lee) life again.

Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) promises to give his Creature (Christopher Lee) life again.

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING:  THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

-Round 2

By

Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we celebrate Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.  I kicked off this column in March 2013 with quotes from Cushing’s first horror movie, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).  This movie is so jam-packed with classic lines that I just had to revisit it to look at some more of them.

 

So, here we go.  Today on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, it’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN Round 2, where we look at more classic lines from this classic movie, its screenplay written by Jimmy Sangster.

 

 

One of my favorite scenes is when Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) invites his mentor and former tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) into his laboratory to show him the progress he has made on the unborn Creature.  When he shows Paul the Creature’s face, Paul turns away in disgust.

 

VICTOR:  Well, what do you think of it?

 

PAUL:  It’s horrible!

 

VICTOR:  Paul, the features are not important.  What matters is I am creating a being that will live and breathe.  Once the scars on the face heal it won’t look so bad.

 

PAUL:  Victor, I appeal to you.  Stop what you’re doing before it’s too late.

 

VICTOR:  But what am I doing?  I’m harming nobody.  Just robbing a few graves.  And what doctor or scientist doesn’t?  How else are we to learn the complexities of the human animal?

 

PAUL:  Doctors rob for the eventual good of mankind.  This can— this can never end in anything but evil.

 

VICTOR:   Now, why do you say that?  Look, I admit.  He isn’t a particularly good looking specimen at present but don’t forget:  one’s facial character is built up on what lies behind it— in the brain.  A benevolent mind and the face assumes the pattern of benevolence.  An evil mind, and an evil face.  For this the brain of a genius will be used.  And when that brain starts to function within the frame the facial features will assume wisdom and understanding.

 

I told you I was at the last stage but one.  The brain.  A brain of superior intellect, a lifetime of knowledge already behind it.  Imagine that, Paul.  My creature will be born with a lifetime of knowledge.

 

PAUL:  Victor, where will this brain come from?

 

VICTOR:  I’ll get it.

 

This has always been one of my favorite scenes in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  I would also argue that it’s one of Peter Cushing’s best acting moments in the movies. 

 

 

 

 

Later, when Victor realizes that he needs Paul’s help for his experiment to be successful, he pleads with his former tutor:

 

VICTOR:  I want you to help me.

 

PAUL:  You must be mad.

 

VICTOR:  That apparatus was constructed for dual operation, you know that.  I thought I could work it myself but I can’t.

 

PAUL:  I’m delighted.  That means your experiment will not succeed.

 

VICTOR:  You’re going to help me Paul. Whatever you say.

 

 

And a bit later—

 

VICTOR:  If you help me Paul, I promise that once I prove my theories, I’ll dispose of this Creature.

 

PAUL:  How long will that take?

 

VICTOR:  A month, two at the outside.

 

PAUL:  And have that thing alive up there all the time, no, Victor! 

 

VICTOR:  If you don’t help me Paul, then I make no such promise.  Somehow I’ll manage on my own.  However difficult, I’ll do it.  And when I’ve succeeded, I’ll introduce Elizabeth to the world of science and see how she likes it.

 

PAUL:  You wouldn’t dare!

 

VICTOR:  There is nothing, do you hear me?  Nothing more important to me than the success of this experiment.  It’s what I worked for all my life!

 

PAUL:  All right, Victor, I’ll help you.

 

 

 

 

Over dinner with his fiancé Elizabeth (Hazel Court) Victor gets to unleash these zingers:

 

ELIZABETH:  Victor, I wonder about Justine.  You know, it’s a week since she went away and we still have no word from her.

 

Of course, Justine is missing because she’s dead, murdered by the Creature, after Victor locked her in the same room with his murderous creation on purpose.  The reason?  They’d been having an affair, she got pregnant, and she threatened to go to the authorities and tell them what Victor was up to in his laboratory if she didn’t marry him.

 

Victor’s response here to his fiancé Elizabeth at the dinner table?

 

VICTOR:  I told you not to worry.  I expect some village lothario eloped with her.  She always was a romantic little thing.

 

A few minutes later, Elizabeth tells Victor that she invited Paul to the wedding.  This was a big no-no, because Paul and Victor had had a huge falling out, because Paul had shot the Creature dead.  Paul had moved out thinking with the Creature dead, Elizabeth was now safe.  But Victor had brought the Creature back to life, and it was once again living upstairs in his laboratory.

 

ELIZABETH:  He hasn’t accepted yet so maybe he won’t come.

 

After a long pause, Victor finally says:

 

VICTOR:  I hope he does come.  There’s something I’d like him to see.

 

 

Earlier in the movie, after Paul had shot the Creature dead, Victor returns to his lab.  He and Paul had buried the Creature in the woods, but now the lifeless body of the Creature hangs from a hook in the lab above Victor’s head.

 

Victor looks at the body long and hard and finally says coldly:

 

VICTOR: I’ll give you life again.

 

 

Great lines, great moments, great movie!  THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of my all-time favorite horror movies, and contains one of the best performances by Peter Cushing in his first ever portrayal of Baron Victor Frankenstein.  Be sure to check this movie out.

 

I hope you enjoyed today’s column and will join me next time on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING when we’ll look at other fine quotes from another classic Peter Cushing movie.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE LEGEND OF HERCULES

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Hercules_(2014_film)_posterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014) which went up this weekend at cinemaknifefight.com. Remember, if you like to read about movies, check out cinemaknifefight.com where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014)
Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: An amphitheater in Ancient Greece filled to capacity with a roaring raucous crowd. Six muscular athletes enter the stadium bringing the crowd’s roar to a fever pitch. A Master of Ceremonies holding a microphone quiets the crowd.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES: Welcome everyone to today’s main event. The bout you’ve been waiting for. When six of the strongest men in Greece take on two insane—er, brave challengers.

(A gate opens and a single solitary man enters. It is MICHAEL ARRUDA.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Excuse me, but they didn’t have microphones in Ancient Greece.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES: We didn’t have athletes as sad looking as you either.

MA: Touche. A little CGI help will take care of that. (MA’s head suddenly appears on a muscular body.) Yikes! I look like a Wii creation. I’ll keep my normal appearance, thank you very much. (Body returns to normal).

MASTER OF CEREMONIES: Ladies and Gentlemen, today’s bout has become even more interesting. Today you shall see our six strongest men challenged by only one man! The amazing, incredible, unstoppable Hercules!!! But since he’s booked at a previous engagement, our athletes will be challenged by— him. (points to MA.)

(One person in audience claps.)

MA: L.L. Soares would decide to take this weekend off. Now I have to face these guys alone. Anyway, this is exactly what Hercules had to do in today’s movie, THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014), an origin story which explains how Hercules came to be and just what all the hullabaloo was about concerning this ancient hero from classic literature.

I hope to review this movie today, but I’m afraid I’ll have to do it while contending with these six mastodons in the arena with me. Hey, you guys wouldn’t be interested in reviewing today’s movie with me, would you?

(The athletes growl.)

Do you guys even know what a movie is?

(They growl again.)

Looks like I’m not going to get any help from them. (Suddenly points behind the six men) Look! It’s Jessica Alba in a bikini! (The men turn around and look.) That’s my cue.

(MA starts running, and as soon as the athletes see they have been duped, they start chasing him. The crowd cheers.

MA (while running): So, as I was saying, today I’m reviewing THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, the new film about the ancient hero by director Renny Harlin, the man who gave us A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER (1988), DIE HARD 2 (1990), and EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) to name just a few.

In THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, we meet the evil King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) who rules his kingdom with an iron fist. This does not sit well with his religious wife Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) who prays to the gods for help. She receives an answer from Zeus that he will give her a son who will one day liberate the land. She accepts, and why not? The invisible Zeus gets to sneak into her bed and the two of them have as wild a time as a PG-13 movie allows. Now we know why Zeus came up with this particular answer! That naughty god!

The son is Hercules (Kellan Lutz) who as a young man lives in the shadow of his older brother Tarak (Johnathon Schaech) because his father the king suspects that Hercules is not his son, which is hard to believe, since Hercules is muscular and strong like the king, and Tarak is whiny and weak.

Hercules falls in love with the beautiful Hebe (Gaia Weiss), but Tarak also has the hots for her, and so the king announces that Tarak will become the next king and will take Hebe as his queen. When Hercules objects, they banish him to a faraway land, hoping he will die there.

Of course, Hercules has other ideas and fights his way back where he hopes to defeat his father and brother and win back his love, Hebe.

Okay, I have to stop running and catch my breath.

(The six athletes catch up to him and surround him. MA pulls out a deck of cards.)

MA: Pick a card, any card. (Each man picks a card.) Okay, anyone have the Ace of Spades? No? That’s too bad, because that’s the magic death card, sanctioned by Zeus. The holder of that card can never die. Hmm, it must still be in this deck somewhere. May the best man win. (Tosses the deck of cards into the air, and as the cards fall to the ground, the six athletes begin to fight each other, as they search for the Ace of Spades.)

MA: That should keep them busy for a while.

I had zero expectations for THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, and while this movie might not have been as bad as I feared, it’s still not all that good.

As a cinematic adventure, it’s all very average. Thankfully, it’s not one of those movies where it’s just one action scene after another. This one definitely has a story to tell, and I was grateful for that, and it’s one of the reasons I didn’t hate this film.

But as stories go, it’s not the most exciting or dramatic. Hercules has to fight his way back to his homeland to oust the evil king and win back his love. I never thought for a minute that he would fail in this endeavor. It’s Hercules, after all. And so, the drama here was nil.

None of the action sequences wowed me. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse. I was thankful that these average fight scenes didn’t go on forever, as they do in some other movies. The scene where Hercules has to fight the six athletes, for example, was okay, but it was hardly exciting. This scene would have worked better had we known who he was fighting, but his opponents only show up for this one scene to be quickly defeated, and we don’t know anything about them.

There’s also another fight scene with a very fake looking CGI created lion, which just might look worse than those awful wolves in the TWILIGHT movies.

CGI effects are really a mixed blessing in a movie like this. On the one hand, filmmakers can create mythical kingdoms and show us hundreds of warriors in a single scene, but if they look animated and not real, it simply takes away from the awe and wonder of it all. No longer are we looking at massive sets built for a particular movie or fantastic stunts by teams of stuntmen. We’re seeing images created on a computer, and while they may look good, they’re not as easy to believe, and as such, the film doesn’t resonate as it should.

The cast is okay, but no one really stood out.

Kellan Lutz is mediocre as Hercules. He’s sufficiently handsome and muscular, and he has his moments where’s likable as the hero, but for the most part he’s rather blah. He comes off as sort of a poor man’s Chris Hems worth. His Hercules is Hemsworth’s Thor without the charisma.

Speaking of Thor, Hercules’ brother Tarak as played by Johnathon Schaech is so whiny and pathetic he makes Thor’s brother Loki seem like a stand-up guy.

Gaia Weiss is acceptable as Hebe, but she doesn’t wow. The same can be said for Roxanne McKee as Hercules’ mother Queen Alcmene, who by the way doesn’t seem to age in this movie. She looks exactly the same in her early scenes before Hercules is born as she does later in the story when he’s an adult. In fact, in scenes she shares with Hebe, she looks to be about the same age as her future daughter-in-law.

Scott Adkins fares slightly better as the villainous King Amphitryon. At least he looks like a true meanie, even if we don’t see him do a lot of dastardly things. In terms of screen villains, he’s hardly a blip on the radar, which has less to do with his performance and more to do with the writers inability to create a three dimensional character.

I also enjoyed Liam McIntyre as Sotiris, the king’s ex-soldier who finds himself imprisoned with Hercules. The two men forge a friendship, and Sotiris is by Hercules’ side as they work their way back to the kingdom. In a cast which hardly had much oomph and charisma, McIntyre showed a little of both in this decent supporting role.

I saw THE LEGEND OF HERCULES in 3D, not by choice, but because it was the only version available. That being said, strangely, the 3D effects were my favorite part of this movie. The film looked terrific, and I found myself really admiring the 3D visuals in this one. Of course, one reason I was admiring them so much was because I was bored with the story, but I can’t deny that this film looked excellent in 3D.

THE LEGEND OF HERCULES could really have benefitted from a stronger story and some memorable dialogue. The screenplay by Daniel Giat, Renny Harlin, Sean Hood, Giulio Steve offers neither.

This particular story of Hercules lacks conflict. Everything comes so easily for Hercules it’s a bore after a while. When he says things like “I promise I will get you back home alive,” it’s not saying much because in this movie he fails at nothing, so of course he’s going to get his friend back home alive.

And the characters here have zero personalities. Hercules is a good guy, but you know what? He would have been more interesting had he had some flaws peppered onto him. He comes off as Superman in a loin cloth. Truth, justice, and the Greek way!

King Amphitryon is not much more than a cardboard villain. He’s a bad guy because he scowls and says evil things, and sure, he does get to kill a couple of people, but he’s as interesting as one of those CGI soldiers defending his kingdom.

THE LEGEND OF HERCULES is rated PG-13, which means the fight scenes are all neat and tidy and sanitized without any bloodshed, which makes the film even less convincing. Not that I need to see a bloodbath, but when people are stabbed with spears and they don’t bleed, that kinda cuts into the believability factor. I mean, what am I watching here? An adventure movie for adults or for children?

The final nail in the coffin is the film just doesn’t have any crowd pleasing moments. There weren’t any scenes where Hercules really connects with the audience, either through an exciting action sequence or with a dramatic or humorous line of dialogue. Speaking of humor, the film could have used some. It’s flat throughout.

While I certainly didn’t hate THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, I didn’t like it all that much either, and I certainly can’t recommend running out to the theater to see it, unless you have nothing better to do and have extra cash to spare on the cost of the 3D ticket, because the 3D effects do look good. But other than that, stay away.

I give it two knives. It gets this rating rather than just one knife because I did like those 3D effects. So, that’s that.

ATHLETE: Hey, I’ve killed everyone here, and gone through all the cards, and I still haven’t found the Ace of Spades!

MA (grins): That’s because I have it right here. (shows him the Ace of Spades.)

ATHLETE: Why you—!

MA: Don’t look now, but there’s a monstrous Cyclops coming up behind you.

ATHLETE: Yeah, right. Just like Jessica Alba in a bikini.

MA: Well, he’s not as good looking as Alba in a bikini, but—.

(CYCLOPS pulls off ATHLETE’S head and tosses it into the crowd.)

MA: Thanks. I owe you one.

CYCLOPS: You’ll put in a good word for me if they ever do a new Sinbad movie?

MA: You bet I will! (CYCLOPS smiles and exits.)

Okay, folks, that’s it for now. L.L. SOARES will be back with me next week, and we’ll be reviewing another new movie, right here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.

—END—

PICTURE OF THE DAY: DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

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Cushing joins DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE castPICTURE OF THE DAY:  DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

 

 

Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot from DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), the third film in the Hammer DRACULA series, at least if you count the ones starring Christopher Lee.  [Lee skipped THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)].

 

In the picture that’s Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Christopher Lee, and Barbara Ewing.

 

Wait a minute.  Peter Cushing didn’t star in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.  What’s he doing there?  Just stopping by for a visit?  Well, yes, but he also had a reason.

 

This is a photo from when Cushing visited the set of DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE to help celebrate Hammer Films receiving the Queen’s Award for Industry in 1968.  It sure would be nice if some video existed of this event.  Anyone out there seen such footage?

 

I wonder what Cushing is reading here?  The award, perhaps?  It looks like a paperback novel!

 

And that looks like an envelope and a tube on the table in front of him, perhaps the containers of the award itself

 

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE has always been one of my favorite Christopher Lee Dracula movies.  It’s probably my second favorite behind the first one, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

 

That being said, this photo made me wish Cushing had been in the film as Van Helsing, as it would have made the movie that much better.

 

This image comes courtesy of   http://norberthellacopter.tumblr.com/post/63904710599/chilitemple-peter-cushing-joins-christopher.

 

Enjoy!

 

—Michael