Tag Archives: Gladiator

Movie Review: Pompeii (2014)

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Liar. There were plenty of warnings.

I knew Pompeii was likely going to be trash even before I watched it. But perhaps because my expectations were so low, I actually ended up having quite a good time with it. OK, so it’s no Gladiator, but it’s a lot better than The Legend of Hercules.

Fans of Game of Thrones will be happy to know that Kit Harrington, aka Jon Snow, does an excellent job of portraying a protagonist named after a delicious chocolate beverage, Milo. With his parents slaughtered by the evil Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), Milo is forced into slavery and eventually grows up to become a gladiator with impressive abs. His skills take him to Pompeii, where he meets and falls madly in love with Cassia (Aussie Emily Browning), the daughter of the city’s ruler.

It’s a fairly typical story about a wronged man seeking vengeance who falls into a forbidden romance, and as such it’s hard to take the movie seriously. But of course, as the title of the film tells us, there’s something about it that sets it apart from your usual swords-and-sandals flick. Er, like an epic volcanic eruption! I hope this is not a spoiler (and if it is, you need to learn a little more about history).

To the credit of director Paul WS Anderson (best known for all the Resident Evil movies, the underrated Event Horizon and the atrocious Mortal Kombat), you never get the feeling that the rest of the movie is all just filler for the big catastrophe at the end. We get many not-so-subtle reminders throughout the film that it’s coming (though no one in the film seems to think much of all the warning signs), but until it happens the focus is strictly on the action and the love story.

The love story is, well, crap, but it’s surprisingly and pleasantly lacking in corniness.  There are almost no cringeworthy Twilight-esque moments, that’s for sure, and it seems quite natural that the only two attractive people in the city should be together. My only complaint is that Emily Browning needs to eat more. She’s basically skin and bones now, and the round face she had as recently as Sucker Punch has turned all angular and gaunt. It’s not a good look for her, but on the bright side at least she has the English accent down pat.

The action, on the other hand, is solid. The film takes a page out of Gladiator and infuses it with a bit of Resident Evil — the moves, not the zombies — to create some stylistic and exciting gladiator duels. Harrington knows his way around a blade having been on Game of Thrones, but he was nearly overshadowed by the presence of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr Eko on Lost) as the champion gladiator with an awesome screen presence. The two make a formidable on-screen duo.

And yes, it is worth the wait when the volcano erupts. I assume it’s all CGI, which is done reasonable well and gives the impression that the danger is genuine and imminent, though the danger really only strikes when a character has served his or her purpose. For what it’s worth, I thought it was done right.

The thing about Pompeii I can’t quite figure out is whether everything about it was intended to be dead serious or tongue-in-cheek. On the face of it it looks like a serious action epic, but there are just hints here and there that no one is taking it seriously. What probably clinches it is the casting of Kiefer Sutherland, who has absolutely reason to play a Roman politician. It just looks like Jack Bauer stumbled onto the wrong set and played along by putting on a snarling and uneven British accent. One of the strangest and funniest things in the whole film.

As for Carrie-Ann Moss, who plays Emily Browning’s mother, it was a thankless role anyone could have played and frankly it was a little sad to see how her career has turned out following the promising heights of The Matrix and Memento.

Nonetheless, if you know what you’re in for, Pompeii is actually not a bad popcorn film. Some passable drama and romance, well-choreographed gladiator scenes, a hilarious villain and sweet special effects towards the end. Just don’t expect too much and you’ll be fine.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Legend of Hercules (2014)

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First of all, The Legend of Hercules is the Hercules movie starring Twilight beefcake Kellan Lutz, not the yet-to-be-released one with The Rock. Secondly, despite everything you’ve heard about it, The Legend of Hercules is not THAT bad. Its 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is misleading because it means only 3 out of 100 critics thought it was a good movie, not that the average rating of the movie is 3 out of 100 (or 0.15 stars out of 5). In truth, The Legend of Hercules is just terribly average and lacking in originality, and likely inferior to that other Hercules movie. But it’s not THAT bad. Really.

Where do I start? In ancient Greece, of course. King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins from The Expendables 2) is the king of the world, but he’s also a selfish, warmongering dude who’s extremely villainous. His estranged wife prays for guidance and “boom”, she’s doing the naughty with Zeus, who is apparently a wham-bam-thank-you-mam kinda fellow. The result is a baby who would grow up to become Hercules (Kellan Lutz).

I’ll stop there, but essentially Hercules is the story of a prophecised half-man, half-god pretty boy who has to find the strength within himself to take on the evil regime of his adopted father and wimpy half-brother while finding time to woo a pretty blonde lady played by Gaia Weiss. Without giving too much away, the film is part Gladiator, part The Passion of the Christ, part Braveheart and part Thor — in that order.

That’s one of the biggest problems with The Legend of Hercules — it feels derivative and lacking in passion. It borrows liberally and shamelessly without putting its own twist or stamp on things. The pedestrian script doesn’t do the film any favours either, but despite the Herculean efforts of director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) the film can’t quite shake its “cash-grabbing” vibe.

The film was made for US$70 million, which is a relatively small budget for a “blockbuster” like this. And it shows. From the weak special effects (like the bizarrely fake-looking lion) to the overall look of the sets and its visual texture, The Legend of Hercules is lacklustre all over.

To be fair, however, I did enjoy some of the action sequences in the film, both in and out of the gladiator arena. They were well choreographed and occasionally exciting, and it helps that Scott Adkins is a professional martial artist who knows what he’s doing. The scenes of Kellan Lutz doing his best impersonation of Kratos from God of War were fun too.

Speaking of Kellan Lutz, aka “charisma vortex”, it seems more than plausible that he’s the biggest reason the film has been a worldwide flop. He seems like a nice guy and a fine physical specimen who looks like he just jumped straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch print ad, but it might come as a shock to many of you that he CAN’T ACT.  He has two facial expressions — blank, for when he doesn’t need to do anything, and an ape-like grimace for every other emotional expression. He’s basically the opposite of Daniel Day-Lewis.

I don’t profess to be an expert at judging male aesthetics, but Lutz is also one weird looking dude. There are some angles where he appears conventionally handsome and others where his face looks like an orangutan stuffed into a glass cube. The orange fake tan doesn’t help either.

Still, he’s an upgrade over Liam Garrigan, who plays Hercules’ half-brother Iphicles. Garrigan, I’m sure, is a good-looking man in real life, but here he sports a haircut that makes Tom Hanks’ rug in The Da Vinci Code look like a masterpiece. With a hairstyle like that you might as well have stuck a sign on his head that says “wimpy, gutless, jealous older brother with inferior complex who will die and no one will care.”

Anyway, as much as I have shit all over it, The Legend of Hercules is not THAT bad. For all its flaws, the fight scenes are solid and it’s only a merciful 99 minutes long. If you treat the bad script, bad dialogue, bad haircuts and Kellan Lutz’s performance as comedy, it’s actually not an unentertaining movie.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010)

I went into the latest Russell Crowe-Ridley Scott film, Robin Hood, knowing relatively little about what kind of movie it was going to be, considering it is, after all, a “blockbuster”.

What I can say is that while Robin Hood is pretty good, it’s certainly no Gladiator.

I had heard that this new depiction of the iconic hero was panned for “pretending” to be historically accurate when it wasn’t, and the film had eschewed all the merriness that made Robin and his men were famous for.  Accordingly, compared to previous renditions of Robin Hood, this one was dull and lacking in fun.

I don’t agree with that.  Frankly, I couldn’t care less how historically accurate this new Robin Hood is, as long as it is compelling and entertaining to watch.  And why must all Robin Hood films be confined to merry men in tights who sing and dance all day?  Ridley Scott decided to deliver a more serious, gritty and “realistic” vision of the folktale hero, and I don’t have a problem with that.  He can do whatever he wants as long as the result is a good movie.

However, that’s not to say Scott and Crowe hit the bulls-eye with Robin Hood.  Don’t get me wrong, the film does have its positives, namely, the performances and the action.

Russell Crowe brings his Maximus charm and brooding presence to Robin Longstride (aka Hood), making him a sound hero; Cate Blanchett was fantastic was Lady Marion, as was Max Von Sydow as her father-in-law, Walter Loxley; Mark Strong shows once again that he can be a superb villain, and Oscar Isaac does a fine job as the surprising King John.

The action sequences are also done very well, with the best moments coming during the initial siege scene and the final climatic battle.  It’s not quite Lord of the Rings, but Scott manages to capture that epic scale battle feeling (for the most part) by thrusting you into the middle of the action.

Having said that, it still felt like something was missing.  The film is I suppose a prequel to the Robin Hood legend, in the same way that Batman Begins was for Bruce Wayne.  But with this Robin Hood, it didn’t feel like there was any character transformation — at the start he was a good archer and an honest man who believed in justice.  By the end, he was essentially still the same guy, just with different surrounding circumstances.

Furthermore, while the film didn’t feel particularly long at 140 minutes, I felt as though not a whole lot happened during the running time.  I suppose that means I wanted more.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I don’t get all the hoopla about Russell’s accent.  Is it really that big of a deal?  Come one, at least he tried, unlike some other Robin Hoods of the past, cough cough Mr Costner…I’d much rather everyone talk about the feral kids in the movie — what the heck was the deal with that?]