Two Late Reviews: The Legend of Hercules (dir by Renny Harlin) and Pompeii (dir by Paul W.S. Anderson)


As I mentioned in a previous review, I’ve only got a few months left before I’m going to have to make out my list of the 16 worst and the 26 best films of 2014.  With that in mind, I really need to get caught up on reviewing some of the films that might appear on those two lists.  For the most part, I try to review every single movie that I see but, occasionally, a movie or two will slip through the cracks.  And now, with Oscar season approaching but not quite arrived, seems like as good as time as any as to try to get caught up by reviewing two films that came out earlier this year: Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules and Paul W. S. Anderson’s Pompeii.

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The Legend of Hercules is a film that I first saw with my BFF Evelyn way back in January.  And while I meant to review it after I first saw it, I simply never got around to actually doing so.  Some of that is because, when Kellan Lutz first showed up on screen, Evelyn said, “Nice tits,” and I ended up laughing so hard that I nearly fell out of my seat.  This led to Evelyn spending the entire film trying to make me laugh again and, in between all of the whispering and the giggling, we undoubtedly missed out on a lot of the film.

However, I recently rewatched The Legend of Hercules on Cinemax and I was quickly reminded about the other reason that I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it.  There’s really just not that much to say about The Legend of Hercules.  It’s just not a very good film but yet it’s not bad in a fun way either.  It’s just boring.  As played by Kellan Lutz, Hercules wanders through the ancient world and he does all the stuff that you would expect Hercules to do.  Actually, he does all the stuff that you would expect any character in a rip-off of 300 to do.  The film could have just as easily been called The Legend of Eammon, an Irishman in Greece.  

In fact, I’d really like to see a movie called The Legend of Eammon, an Irishman in Greece.  Get on it, someone.

According to Wikipedia, The Legend of Hercules had a budget of 70 million dollars, which makes it a bit odd that the film itself just looks cheap and generic.  At one point, Hercules fights a lion and the CGI is so bad that, for a few minutes, the movie looks like one of those senior projects that students occasionally upload to YouTube.  (I was half-expecting to see a comment apologizing for the “crappy special effects” flash across the screen.)  During the film’s many fight scenes, director Renny Harlin does that thing where every punch is shown in slow motion.  It gets annoying after the hundredth time.

A few words about Kellan Lutz.  I happen to like Kellan Lutz.  I think he’s been likable in other roles.  But, in The Legend of Hercules, he really did spend the entire movie looking like he was wishing that he could be anywhere else.  But can you blame him?

Pompeii-posterFor a far more enjoyable trip into the past, allow me to recommend a film that came out a few months after The Legend of Hercules, Pompeii. 

Now, before I review Pompeii, I should admit that, as you all know, I am a history nerd and, as you all might not know, I’ve always been fascinated by the Roman Empire.  The summer after I graduated high school, I took a trip to Italy and I actually walked through the streets of Pompeii.  My two main memories of Pompeii: while we were touring an ancient brothel, an Australian man lay down on one of the slabs.  My other memory is that it was a very windy day and I was wearing a skirt so I can legitimately say that not only have I visited Pompeii but I’ve flashed Pompeii as well.

Anyway, Pompeii the Movie tells the story of the final days of Pompeii the City.  A Celtic slave and gladiator named Milo (Kit Harrington) is sent to Pompeii where he, in quick order, meets and romances the noble Cassia (Emily Browning), establishes a friendly rivalry with fellow gladiator Atticus (the always intimidating Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), spots the evil Roman General (Kiefer Sutherland) who killed Milo’s mother, and then eventually has to run for his life as a cloud of ash and a river of lava crashes down on Pompeii.

Pompeii is a lot of fun.  Harrington and Browning have a lot of chemistry, all of the actors are obviously having a good time with their melodramatic dialogue, and Kiefer Sutherland was born to play an evil Roman.  As opposed to the Legend of Hercules, Pompeii looks good and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is genuinely impressive.  Perhaps best of all, the film actually allows things to play out to their natural and logical conclusion.  For once, history is not changed just to force a happy ending on the viewers and Pompeii is all the better for it!

So, in conclusion: forget about The Legend of Hercules and give Pompeii a chance.  Actually, you’ve probably already forgotten about The Legend of Hercules so just try not to suddenly remember it.  But seriously, Pompeii is better than you might think.

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Sailor Moon Crystal – Act 7 – Mamoru Chiba!


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This is still event television for everyone, right? Right. I didn’t even need you to answer that, actually. Well, I myself had a slight delay in getting around to Sailor Moon Crystal this week, for which I know there can be no forgiveness. All I can do is move forward, head held high, knowing that my work as the curator of this anime is important to the total of the human race’s accomplishments. That this art cannot, in fact, be discussed enough.

As we left things off last week, Tuxedo Mask had fled into the shadows with Sailor Moon, presumably to take her someplace safe to convalesce after the confrontation with the fearsome Queen Beryl. And as it happens, we now have direct continuity… because here our hero is, waking up at Mamoru’s pad. You all know Mamoru, right guys? The guy who is totally not completely obviously Tuxedo Mask, who Usagi keeps bumping into? He dresses kind of flashily, wears sunglasses a lot… you know the type.

So right away Usagi notices the whole Tuxedo Mask costume lying around and comes to the appropriate conclusion. Glad that’s out of the way by Act 7 this time around. I don’t know how long the truth takes to sink in in the original show… but it was a while.

Cue that title song, fools.

So it turns out that Mamoru has very few memories. Some brief snippets of childhood. That’s about it. Apparently he’s got boku bucks though, which is always handy. He’s searching for the Legendary Silver Crystal because it’s the only clue about his missing memories. From a recurring dream he’s been having about a certain princess. Unfortunately it seems our heroes aren’t quite ready to put any of this all together yet. I’m sure they’ll get there. Usagi leaves, but not before she and Mamoru have another semi-creepy moment. Since it’s their love story, ultimately, I’m going to have to stop giggling at them all the time… but I’m just not there yet. Forgive me, readers, forgive me…

Next we get a couple cuts so swift, I could swear we were watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In her secret headquarters, Luna is talking to a mysterious figure who is totally not Sailor Venus, but totally is. They’re out of time! There’s no time left! The enemy is coming!

Meanwhile, in the Dark Kingdom, that enemy is doing things. Incredibly important things. In fact, let’s take a full line break to reflect upon a name that is now being mentioned for the first time:

Queen Metalia

Fans of the original anime may or may not even be familiar with this character, as she did not exist in the English dub, instead replaced by some nebulous energy that Beryl would occasionally consult with, to unclear purpose. Here, things are laid out fairly explicitly. Back in the day, Queen Beryl discovered the Dark Kingdom near the North Pole of Earth. There, she awakened the slumbering Queen Metalia, which led to the downfall of the Moon Kingdom. In the end, Metalia was defeated and sealed by the Sailor Guardians, but now she – the nebulous ‘Great Ruler’ that our Kings (Kings!) are always on about – is back for revenge. With the Legendary Silver Crystal, Metalia will consume Earth, destroy everything, and kill everyone.

Queen Beryl is more of your world rulership kind of gal. She’d actually prefer less annihilation, more domination. Zoisite still seems to be recovering from the beating Sailors Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter dropped on him, but there’s a Silver Crystal to be found, damnit. So get moving.

Word on the street about Sailor Moon is spreading. It doesn’t seem entirely… or at all… benign.

But at school, unaware of all this apparently, Makoto, Ami, and Usagi are having lunch, and Ami has been researching Sailor V. Who is probably totally not Sailor Venus. I mean, she has the Moon Kingdom’s crescent boldly emblazoned on her forehead, which seems like a weird tattoo to get out of coincidence, but otherwise… and then in by far the creepiest thing to happen yet, Umino emerges from the shrubbery, enhanced by all kinds of hilarious anime tactics, you know, to really drive the creepiness home. This guy is a winner. Even Usagi thinks he’s creepy, and she likes everyone! Also his new suspicious plan is to “catch” Sailor Moon. HMMMMMMMMM! That does not seem ominous at all! After the break, even Naru-chan is hunting for Sailor Moon. Everyone is. Everyone. It’s like a creepy Japanese horror movie, only you know, it’s a cartoon for young adults.

Zoisite has turned the entire city into Sailor Moon hunting zombies. I have to be honest, this is a good deal more impressive than anything I ever saw him do in the original anime. The Sailor Guardians transform and roll out to protect Sailor Moon from the harm apparently wished on her by the entire populace, but with little hope of success… but Sailor Moon’s powerful new healing spell also breaks the mind control without trouble! …Oh, and probably draws Zoisite. This time, our friend (King!) from the Dark Kingdom is ready even for the combined attack of the Sailor Guardians, with a sphere of black kick-ass-ness. Fortunately, Tuxedo Mask is there to intervene, not with fancy magicks, but with a devastating right hook! He gets exactly one of those off before Zoisite decides his evil power can probably protect him from amateur boxers too. There’s some mushy stuff… Tuxedo Mask’s true wish… etc. … But what it boils down to is HOLY SHIT THERE’S SAILOR VENUS. I mean. It could be Sailor Venus. Who knows, really? There’s no confirmation. Who knows!?

I learned a lot more about the Sonique Cleansing Brush during this episode than I did about Sailor Venus. I’m willing to admit for now that that’s nobody’s fault, though. Actually, Hulu’s commercials have been somewhat tolerable this week. I’m impressed. Thank god that esurance commercial is out of the rotation. I’m seriously not sure I could have made it through this episode if I had to endure the esurance commercial.

Act 8 is titled Minako – Sailor V! So I think we have some hint of what to expect there… but the preview also hints at the arrival of Kunzite as enemy commander, and possibly some real exploration of the whole past lives and ‘Moon Kingdom’ stuff. We pretty much all know what to expect here, but it’ll be fun anyway. I personally can’t wait! Seriously, though, what happened to Jadeite… and Nephrite? Just hanging around base? Wouldn’t it make sense to pool strength? Ehhh. Best not to ask questions to which I will regret learning the answers. Perhaps they’ll turn up, with a part yet to play, ere the end.

Horror on TV: Thriller 1.36 “Pigeons From Hell”


In this episode of Thriller, two brothers from up north (played by Brandon De Wilde and David Whorf) have car trouble while driving through Louisiana and, naturally, they decided to spend the night in a deserted mansion that happens to be sitting in the middle of a swamp.  Needless to say, as is usually the case whenever Yankees get stranded in the bayou, bad things happen….

Pigeons From Hell is actually a surprisingly effective horror story.  Director John Newland creates a pervasive atmosphere of dread and De Wilde makes for a sympathetic protagonist.  This episode was originally broadcast on June 6th, 1961 and watching it today, it’s hard not to suspect that a lot of the kids who watched Pigeons From Hell later grew up to the be the directors who made the slasher films of the late 70s and 80s.

Incidentally, Pigeons From Hell is based on a short story by native Texan Robert E. Howard.  Apparently, Stephen King once said that this was one of his favorite TV shows ever but we won’t hold that against it.

Horror (?) Review: Left Behind (dir by Vic Armstrong)


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I have always felt that film critics and bloggers should be open and honest about their biases.  Most critics, of course, claim that their reviews are solely based on the merits of what they’ve seen and that they leave their personal political or religious beliefs out of it.  That, needless to say, is complete bullshit and I’ve never quite understood why some people are so terrified over the prospect of being revealed to be just as biased as everyone else in the world.  The fact of the matter is that critics are supposed to be opinionated and readers have a right to know exactly where those opinions are coming from.

With that in mind, allow me to let you know my mindset before I attempt to review Left Behind.

First off, you should know that I come from a Catholic family.  On my Dad’s side, I’m Irish.  On my mom’s side, I’m Italian and Spanish.  Put those three together and basically, you’ve got a big and fiercely Catholic heritage to deal with.  Therefore, I have to admit that I really don’t know a whole lot about the whole Evangelical Protestant background from which Left Behind apparently sprung.  (In fact, the only thing that I really knew about the Left Behind books is that, apparently, most of the book’s Catholics get left behind.)  So, who knows?  Maybe some of the issues that I had were just a case of me not being a member of the film’s target audience.

Secondly, you should know that I love being a contrarian.  I love any excuse to express an opinion that goes against the majority because, quite frankly, I think that there’s way too much groupthink going on when it comes to film reviewing.  Far too often, it seems that critics have already decided which films that they’re going to love and which films that they’re going to hate.  I knew that the critics were going to hate Left Behind so I was really hoping that the film would somehow be good.  That way, I could write a review defending it and, best of all, I could annoy a lot of people.  After all, the only thing worse than organized religion would be organized hipster douchebags.

(I’m looking in your direction, A.V. Club commenters….)

On the other hand, another part of me hoped that the movie would be really, really bad.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a truly bad film and, in another few months, it’s going to be time for me to make out my list of the 16 worst films of 2014.  And since I can only list films that I’ve actually seen, I need to step up my game and see more bad movies.  I mean, A Million Ways To Die In The West and Transformers 4 are a good start but they can’t make up the entire list…

Fourth, I was really hoping that Nicolas Cage would somehow be responsible for redeeming Left Behind.  I hoped that he would either give a brilliant performance or he would give a performance so weird that the film itself would become oddly watchable.  A lot of this is because Cage was so good in Joe that it kind of breaks my heart to see him throwing away whatever critical respect he may have regained by appearing in Left Behind

And finally, I’m on vacation!  Why is that important?  Because it meant that, when Jeff and I went to Left Behind, we saw it in a theater that we’ll never have to visit again.  As such, we didn’t have to worry about running into anyone we knew.  Yay! (The theater, incidentally, was nearly empty.  Jeff and I were the youngest people there…)

So, with all that in mind, Left Behind was really, really bad.

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Nicolas Cage plays Rayford Steele and let’s just start with a bit of praise.  Rayford Steele is a great name!  Anyway, Rayford Steele is a pilot who, one day, is flying an airplane and thinking about cheating on his wife (Lea Thompson), who just happens to be an Evangelical Christian!  (How religious is Mrs. Rayford Steele?  So religious that she apparently carries her bible with her everywhere.)  Rayford has picked the flight attendant that he’s going to cheat with.  He’s even got brand new U2 tickets that he’s going to use for enticement because, apparently, Left Behind takes place in the 20th Century.

And then suddenly — his copilot vanishes!  Several passengers on the plane vanish!  Children all over the world vanish!  It’s the Rapture, a point that becomes clear as soon as Rayford takes a look at a vanished flight attendant’s date book and sees “BIBLE STUDY” written in all caps.

Even worse, apparently every flight controller in the world was a Christian because there’s nobody on the ground to help Rayford land his plane.  Uh-oh!

Also on the plane (and unraptured) is a reporter named Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray) and, let’s just be honest — Buck Williams is not as good a name as Rayford Steele.  Shortly before boarding the plane, Buck met Rayford’s daughter, Chloe, (Cassi Thomson) and they bonded over their mutual atheism.

(Chloe might as well have been wearing a Neil deGrasse Tyson t-shirt.)

Of course, post-rapture, Chloe spends most of the day desperately searching for her mother and her younger brother.  Riots are breaking out down on the ground.  Airplanes are falling from the sky.  Will Chloe survive?

(Ha, Chloe!  Where’s your Neil deGrasse Tyson now!?)

One thing that I did find interesting is just how quickly society collapsed after the Rapture.  It’s almost as if everyone in the world decided, “Now that the children are gone, let’s burn this place down!”

To be honest, it all felt a bit like a SyFy original film.  SyFy films are almost always divided in half, with 50% of the film dealing with someone in either a plane or a boat while the other half of the film deals with that person’s son or daughter trying to lead a group of idiots to safety and hopefully avoid the monster.  It’s tempting to think of what a SyFy version of Left Behind would look like.  It would probably be a lot more fun than this one…

Anyway, the problem with Left Behind is that it’s just so boring.  The film takes forever to get going and then, once everyone vanishes, the film tries to generate some suspense as to what happened but we already know it was the Rapture so why drag it out?  The dialogue is flat, the performers do just enough to get by, and it’s obvious that the majority of the film’s budget was spent on Nicolas Cage.  This, of course, is what I expected but I was hoping that Nicolas Cage would at least go crazy.  Well, he doesn’t.  In fact, he’s remarkable restrained and this film, if nothing else, proves that Cage can deliver even the worst dialogue with conviction and a straight face.

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But we don’t want a restrained Cage in a film like Left Behind!  We not only wanted him to go crazy, we needed him to go crazy!  And he didn’t and, as a result, the film is even more disappointing than it would be otherwise.

Now, you may have noticed that I referred to Left Behind as being a “horror (?)” film in the title of this review.  My argument there is that the film is obviously meant to scare nonbelievers.  Indeed, this film was actually advertised with a pull quote from Satan.  (“Please don’t take nonbelievers to this film.” — Satan.)  Unfortunately, I think that Left Behind missed an opportunity.  If the filmmakers had strictly focused on the horrific implications of being left behind — as opposed to trying to be both a sermon and a disaster movie, it probably would have been a lot more effective.  Seriously, The Exorcist is probably the most effective religious film ever made.

Now, I do have to take issue with some of Left Behind‘s critics.  Quite a few critics have made it a point to say, “Even if you agree with the film’s worldview, you’ll be annoyed by the bad acting and the bad directing…”  Uhmmm …. no.  Sorry, it doesn’t work like that.  Usually, people will enjoy any film that supports their beliefs, regardless of how terrible it is.  That goes for all people regardless of religion or ideology.  We all enjoy having our beliefs confirmed.

But, yeah — Left Behind is pretty bad.  Is it the worst film of the year?

Well, the year’s not over yet.

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Horror Film Review: Nurse 3D (dir by Doug Aarniokoski)


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So, last night, my boyfriend and I watched Nurse 3D because, based on the trailer that was released way back in January, we thought that it would be a sexy, fun, and enjoyably lurid movie.  Do you remember that trailer?  In case you need a reminder, here it is:

So, we finally got around to watching the movie and oh my God, you guys — sometimes trailers lie!  I know, I know — it’s a shock.  I’m still struggling to deal with it myself!

Actually, technically, the trailer for Nurse 3D doesn’t really lie.  The trailer tells us that the film is about a nurse who is obsessed with another nurse and who spends the majority of the film wearing only a bra.  And that’s true!  But, somehow, the trailer also makes the film look like it’s a lot more fun than it actually is.  The trailer reveals that Nurse 3D is meant to be something of a satirical tribute to the exploitation films of the past.  What it doesn’t reveal is that the film largely does not work.

In Nurse 3D, Paz de la Huerta plays Abby Russell, a nurse who also happens to be a serial killer.  When we first meet her, she’s wandering through a club in a black lace, see-through dress.  In a narration that de la Huerta delivers in an emotionless drone, Abby explains that men are a disease that has been created in an “alcoholic petri dish” and that is now “infecting innocent vaginas.”

“There is only one cure for the married cock,” Abby tells us, “Only me.  I’m the nurse.”

Abby, we discover, specializes in murdering married men who are on the verge of committing adultery.  Sounds like a good idea for a movie, right?  Well, don’t get too attached to it because, once we get through the opening credits, that entire storyline pretty much disappears.

Instead, Abby becomes obsessed with a new nurse named Danni Rogers (Katrina Bowden).  One night, after Danni both has a fight with her boyfriend (Corbin Bleu) and gets yelled at by a jerk of a doctor (played by Judd Nelson), Abby invites Danni out to a club.  Abby gets Danni drunk and drugged and soon they’re making out on the dance floor.  The next morning, Danni wakes up in Abby’s bed.  When Danni refuses to spend the day with Abby and quickly leaves, Abby reacts by trying to destroy Danni’s life…

And that plot line goes on for a while until, eventually, the filmmakers remembered that this was supposed to be a 3D film and, with the exception of one man hurtling towards the camera after being tossed off a rooftop, nothing in the film has really lent itself to whole 3D thing.  So, suddenly, Abby goes from being coolly calculating to being batshit insane, essentially so that she’ll have an excuse to toss medical equipment straight at the camera.

(I’m going to guess that this all probably looked really impressive in 3D but since we were watching the film in 2D, who cares?)

And then, eventually, the movie ends.

I like what Nurse 3D was trying to do.  The film is obviously meant to pay homage to the classic exploitation films to the past.  That was obvious in everything from the overwritten narration to the hilariously fetishized nurses uniforms to the unapologetically sordid nature of the entire plot.

However, the film’s execution left a lot to be desired.  For all of it’s attempts to celebrate over-the-top exploitation, the film never quite seems to understand what makes those films so memorable in the first place.  Perhaps if Nurse 3D had stuck with being a film about a nurse who kills cheating husbands, the film would have worked.  But, instead, it just becomes yet another film about an obsessive friend who turns out to be a psycho and who, fortunately for her, is lucky enough to be surrounded by people too stupid to pick up on the most obvious of clues.

And it doesn’t help that, whatever the joke was that Nurse 3D was trying to tell, it’s obvious that Paz de la Huerta was not in on it.  In many ways, her character is meant to be a throwback to the great and deadly femme fatales of yesterday but  it takes more than having a good body to be a femme fatale.  You have to have style and that’s totally what her performance is missing.  Scarlett Johansson could have worked wonders with the role of Abby Russell but Paz de la Huerta just seems to be lost.

That’s actually a pretty good description of Nurse 3D.  It started out on the right track but, obviously, it lost its way.

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Horror on the Lens: The Pumaman (dir by Albert De Martino)


Okay, so technically, the Italian 1980 film The Pumaman isn’t really a horror film.  However, it does fit in with Halloween because it’s about a super hero and who hasn’t dressed up as a super hero for Halloween?  (Well, I never have but I’m sure a lot of other people have!)

The Pumaman is actually a paleontologist named Tony (Walter George Alton) who, though he doesn’t realize it, is the last in a long line of Pumamen.  Fortunately, an Aztec mystic shows up and lets him know.  When Tony expresses some doubt, the mystic responds by tossing him out a window.

And you know what?

It’s a good thing that Tony has learned the truth about his heritage because the evil Dr. Kobras (Donald Pleasence, who reportedly considered this to be the worst film he ever appeared in) has an evil scheme to do something evil.  To be honest, I’m not sure what Dr. Kobras is trying to do, though it has something to do with an ancient mask and mind control.

I watched Pumaman a few months ago with my friends from SyFyDesigns.com.  I have to admit that I was not a huge fan of the movie but everyone else seemed to enjoy it.  The Pumaman himself is kind of a boring hero but Donald Pleasence is a lot of fun as Dr. Kobras.  Plus, the haunting Theme From Pumaman will get stuck in your head (don’t say that I didn’t warn you…).

Enjoy!