by Jeff Boam


Opening this Week

The Legend of Hercules
Kellan Lutz, Gala Weiss
First, it was Mirror Mirror  versus Snow White and the Huntsmen. Then, it was Olympus Has Fallen versus White House Down. Now, it’s Hercules versus, uh, Hercules. In this PG-13-rated adventure arriving in theaters six months before a similar such take on the Greek strongman, Hercules (Lutz) must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom after being betrayed by his stepfather, the king, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love. The Plus: The competition. Released in the doldrums of winter, this Hercules — the first of two hitting the screens in 2014 — faces minimal contest so far as other new releases. Here, veteran action director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Cliffhanger) helms a cast that includes Lutz (The Twilight Saga), Liam McIntyre (Starz’s Spartacus: War of the Damned) and a myriad of other unknowns. The Minus: The reality. Harlin’s last movie of box office consequence was 1999’s Deep Blue Sea. With Brett Ratner’s Hercules, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Joseph Fiennes, and Rufus Sewell, set to hit theaters on July 25, moviegoers will be more apt to wait it out for the movie with clearly more box office appeal


Now Playing

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan
***1/2 — Tolkein Good Gesture
Despite taking some dragon-sized liberties with its vaulted source material, Hobbit two bats away the fire-breathing scorn of Hobbit purists and offers up a rousingly fun and epically dark adventurous keystone in this new fantastical trilogy. In this PG-13-rated fantasy adventure, magical ring-toting Bilbo (Freeman) and wizard Gandalf (McKellan) accompany the dwarves on a quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from the evil dragon Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumerbatch). Far from a middle (earth) child destined to be overlooked and tasked into submission, the film displays a lot of drama, action, and flame-singed fang from the get-go and never stops for breakfast, second breakfast or anything after. Peter Jackson’s reordered, reshuffled and slightly rewritten version of J.R.R. Tolkein’s novel bests its predecessor, An Unexpected Journey, and REALLY starts to irrevocably thread itself into The Lord of the Rings trilogy’s intricate fabric.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Andrew Jacobs, Molly Ephraim
**1/2 — The Mark of Zzzzzzz
Trading in on the Paranormal Activity name to occasionally good effect, The Marked Ones plays out like The Blair Witch Project meets End of Watch with a little bit of Chronicle thrown in for good measure… only not nearly as scary. In this R-rated horror flick, Jesse (Jacobs) begins to be pursued by mysterious forces after being “marked,” while his family and friends try to save him. Taking the concept from white collar suburbia to a low income ‘hood definitely brings a welcome jolt to the tired and true Paranormal brand, but the name shares little DNA with its forebear beyond execution aside from two key scenes — it’s place in the horror genre included. The thrills result not so much from being scared as being punk’d. Purposely juvenile to the nth degree, this spin-off targets more specific audiences than chapters one to four, which bodes well for some and poorly for the rest. If you like getting your hairs raised courtesy of thrill-seeking teens jumping out at each other for laughs, this flick’s for you. If you’re not a high schooler, however, you’ll rarely even approach the edge of your seat. Okay, so The Marked Ones does play with ghostly supernatural forces… that unfortunately arrive well after the halfway point. For the game cast and cameraman, it just comes down to hinging any pulse-pounding around loosely threaded all-over-the-place episodes. The production does this well, but the sophomoric scares stem more from the Jackass than Paranormal brand.

Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom
Edris Elba, Naomie Harris
***1/2 — Nigh Freedom
Numerous brisk jaunts more than one Long Walk to Freedom, this Mandela bio-pic plays fast but fairly with South African history. In this PG-13-rated bio-pic, director Justin Chadwick chronicles the journey of Nelson Mandela (Elba) from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. An exciting film strip run amuck, this episodic march of time runs through a lot of the defining moments in a remarkable life, some laudable and some lamentable. This warts-‘n’- all approach benefits the production greatly, metering out the cold harsh truth, albeit sometimes as footnotes. What benefits the film most, however, is some brave performances that belie the power projected by the icon and the passion held by those in awe of his legacy. Having cut his teeth with emotionless period piece The Other Boleyn Girl, Justin Chadwick brings great emotion but bites off more than he can chew with Mandela. Oh, he brings historic context, exhilaration, and period detail to the proceedings, but William Nicholson’s screenplay would have been better off zeroing in on a select span of chapters in his subject’s life a la Lincoln rather than trying to tackle all of the unabridged volumes. In having Idris Elba and Naomie Harris realize their storied roles, however, Chadwick boasts the film’s greatest asset. Though Elba doesn’t sport a mirror image appearance to the man, myth and legend, he pushes all three to the forefront nonetheless.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill
***1/2 — Marty Never Sleeps
A long intoxicating lesson in excess, Martin Scorsese’s beautifully shot latest beds filmgoers down in a Wolf’s den so full of Valhallan decadence that they’ll feel the need for a penicillin shot afterwards. In this Hard-R white collar crime dramedy, penny broker-turned-power broker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) rises to a vaulted level of wealth and power only for the Feds to poke around his connections to crime and corruption. Granted, it’s a comfy and gorgeous affair but the NC-17-level of sex and drugs make the extreme violence in Scorsese’s Casino look like small potatoes. Indeed, the audience easily gets dragged into a quaalude and prostitute-filled lifestyle that’s so infectious that it just about incites madness. And that’s the gift of a legendary director still doing some of his best work because, at its heart, Wolf is just a too oft-told rags-to-riches-to-rags lesson–a hopped-up Horatio Alger story in reverse. Fortunately and unfortunately, the style and detail set it apart. Though the film exhibits a talk-to-the-camera narrative voice and detailed breakdown of a bad man’s after hours like Goodfellas, this ‘90s Wall Street tale actually resembles Scorsese’s The Departed more in terms of style. The camerawork proves breakneck and laugh-out-loud comedy bleeds through at every juncture — even explosive showdowns. Only the overly epic running time and some rushed slapdash editing keep it from joining the year’s top tier, though DiCaprio and Hill’s perfectly played debauchees nearly make up the difference.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig
***1/2 — Beautiful Dreamer
A colorful and rich fever dream that could’ve easily played out like a nightmare on screen, Ben Stiller’s not-so-Secret Life as a director instead colors outside of the H’Wood lines to great affect with his latest. In this PG-rated fantasy adventure previously made into a 1947 film starring Danny Kaye, a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies (Stiller) embarks on a globe-trotting journey more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined. Even Walter’s job in Negative Assets sounds innocuous, but the film presents a vibrant palette and expansive canvas that’s every bit as ambitious as Life of Pi. Finding invention in convention, Stiller expands James Thurber’s whimsical short story about a lovelorn daydreamer into a fantastical feature-length narrative about a forgettable everyman whose life turns unforgettable when his dreams inexorably become realities. Sure, the storyline becomes contrived at times but this rare shot of optimism truly taps into a fun-filled dreamstate.


Small Screens

Star Trek: The Original Series (1967)
“The City on the Edge of Forever”
William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy
****1/2 — Forever Yours
With the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise currently trekking into darkness on the big screen with an alternate edgier take on the classic series, newbie Trekkers might be hesitant to revisit the original, groundbreaking sci-fi program. Well, Star Trek into Darkness director J.J. Abrams didn’t put a new sheen on the Trek formula because its forebear was embarrassingly dated—rather because it proved too unforgettably cool and iconic to follow up without tinkering a wee bit with the blueprint. Season 1 of the original series offers so many classic episodes (“The Corbomite Maneuver,” “The Menagerie,” “Space Seed”) but the time-bending gem “The City on the Edge of Forever” always beams to the top. In this episode available on Hulu, a temporarily maddened Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) alters history and eliminates his own time, so Kirk (Shatner) and Spock (Nimoy) follow him to prevent it… but at a great personal cost. Scripted by award-winning sci-fi scribe Harlan Ellison and co-starring Joan Collins, this episode proves that you don’t have to be a Trekker to enjoy A-List classic television.