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NOVEMBER 4TH, 2014

HERCULES // Never has marketing been more misleading than it was for the new Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Hercules”. With trailers touting the legendary character of Hercules and his Twelve Labors from the Gods, which involved fighting several different monsters including a giant lion, a three headed hydra, and massive boar, most people stepping into the theater to see this film would have assumed this was a majority of the film, filled with CGI beasts and bulging muscles. What you soon find out, however, is that the imagery used in the marketing is actually only pulled from the first ten minutes of the film, where a brief description of the events are sped through to build up The Rock’s character before his first step on-screen. Perhaps this is the sign of great marketing, in selling a small portion of the film and then revealing how much more in depth the film goes. But for those looking for the “Hercules” that they saw in the trailers, do not get your hopes up.

Dwayne Johnson continues his successful career as Hercules, the obvious leader of the men that follow him. With the physique of a Greek demigod, Johnson is a great representation of the legend and even embodies the characteristics one would associate with Zeus’ son. Exploring Hercules’ past, in the loss of his family and the concurring of the beasts, the story also sheds light on his team of followers, and actually rewrites a bit of the legend, involving them in the stories and grounding the trials of Hercules in reality. In his band of mercenaries there is the prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), the knife-thrower Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the wild card Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), the Amazon woman Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and the storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), who is also Hercules’ nephew. Each has their own story for why they follow Hercules and involving each in the Twelve Labors and revealing this fact is what actually makes this film refreshing.

Drawing off many of the stories associated with Hercules, the film has a great time messing with perception, and applying new twists on legends like centaurs and Cerberus, the three-headed dog. Proving how entertaining an action-adventure Hercules film can be, there is no shortage of fight scenes, with Dwayne Johnson expertly leading them all with his battle cry. The eventual revenge storyline is carried out in true action flick fashion where the hero is broken down and built back up with the imaginary of Johnson chained up and breaking free being one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Also starring John Hurt as Lord Cotys, his involvement gives the film a touch of talent that it otherwise lacks. Despite not quite fulfilling what its marketing sold it to be, “Hercules” still wades the waters of a decent action film, highlighting the strengths of its leading man. Becoming a perfect fusion of action, Greek mythology, and bit of humor, I wonder what the marketing would have looked like had they sold the film for what it was.

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MALEFICENT // The rise of the anti-hero story continues with “Maleficent,” the retelling of the Disney animated classic “Sleeping Beauty,” this time focusing on the villain of that tale and her fall from grace origin story. Angelina Jolie steps into the role of Maleficent, bringing to the surface the conflicting emotions that make her such an interesting character. One of the biggest challenges of this live action film is bringing to life the animated version of the villain, in a natural way while paying homage to what makes this character such a classic. With expertly done costume design and makeup, Maleficent steps out of the animated world and into reality, with Jolie nailing the iconic moments associated with the character, like the wide gaping smile and evil laugh. The second biggest challenge was creating a version of Maleficent that was relatable enough to carry an entire film. The idea of a villain being the main character of a film is still a fairly new concept and to make that character dynamic enough to eventually have an anti-heroes story arc is not an easy element to master. However, leave it to Disney to completely revolutionize their own branding, opening an entirely new world for them to explore with all their previous animated classics.

Beginning the tale with Maleficent as a young fairy that falls in love with a human boy, her humble start gives way to her becoming the powerful protector of her forest home called the Moors. When the king of the humans attempts to take the Moors from her, he falls, opening the challenge to his people to bring him Maleficent dead. Stefan (Sharlto Copley), Maleficent’s young love now grown into a man, takes the challenge upon himself, using his connection with Maleficent to double cross her and to steal her wings, thus driving her to the dark side and creating the villain that cursed his first born child. Along with some amazing makeup and costume design, the production design of the film is a great blend of computer generated imagery and actual decorated sets. Reproducing some of the key scenes from “Sleeping Beauty,” matching the detail of those sets creates its own challenge, with those familiar with the classic film looking to be reminded of the film they first fell in love with. Trust that you will see most of these production elements nominated for some Academy Awards, with some of the best in the business being involved.

Elle Fanning leads the rest of the cast as Princess Aurora, the title character of “Sleeping Beauty”. Not quite commanding the presence one would expect from this role, her innocence is enough to counter the authority held by Jolie. Knowing that Fanning is such a talented young actress, it is a shame to see her talents wasted on a character whose main qualities are smiling and giggling, rather than having any sort of substantial dialogue or presence besides a conduit for the transformation of Maleficent. Copley enters nicely into the role of villain and proves to have a successful future as such, should he decide to take on more roles such as this. The unknown yet talented Sam Riley fills in the supporting cast quite nicely as Diaval, Maleficent’s iconic raven, who is a shapeshifter as well as one of Maleficent’s only confidants. Providing the classic Disney comedic relief is the trio of Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville as Knotgrass, Thristlewit, and Flittle, the fairies that look after Aurora. Their arguing and bumbling, though comedic, is aimed more at the kiddies that will set out to watch this film.

Proving that Disney may have their best days ahead of them, there is something pivotal in the production of “Maleficent,” in that exploring the origins behind their villains, who were originally evil for evil’s sake, may have more to them than meets the eye. Being able to produce stories about their entire catalog of villains could set the Disney company on some new and interesting paths that go beyond reproducing the stories that we already know and love. Much in the same vein as last year’s “Oz The Great And Powerful,” in which we not only got the origin story of Oz, but also got to see where the witches got their start, imagine getting to see updated stories behind other iconic Disney villains like Cruella de Vil (“101 Dalmations”), Ursula (“The Little Mermaid”), or Jafar (“Aladdin”). With “Maleficent” marking not just a revitalization for Disney, but also the return of Angelina Jolie to big screen, this live action fantasy carries much more weight had it starred some else in the title role. Jolie not just steps back in front of the camera, but becomes an icon in and of herself, making “Maleficent” an instant classic in its own right.

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A MOST WANTED MAN // Marking the final leading role for Philip Seymour Hoffman, “A Most Wanted Man” is an espionage thriller from the same author as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Intricate and complex in design, Hoffman delivers a powerhouse of a performance as Günther Bachmann, adding a fervor to an otherwise extremely dense subject matter. Much in the same way that Gary Oldman was the perfect actor to carry the heavy role of George Smiley in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Hoffman becomes Bachmann almost effortlessly, English accent and all. Bachmann is a German espionage agent in charge of a group of spies that are seeking the whereabouts of a refuge named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) who they eventually hope to use to flush out a local Muslim philanthropist, Dr. Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi) of whom they suspect has ties to Al Qaeda. In a way that only author John le Carré can, the rabbit hole that these characters wind down is so expertly designed that the film requires an active viewer, taking in the subtle facts and building a case of their own.

Filled with plenty of turncoats and shifting agendas, the narrative, although often unclear, does take shape and packs a punch by the time the credits roll. In the same slow burn way that “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” unfolds, the resolution rewards the active viewer with some highly charged sequences, including several highlights of Hoffman’s career. This being one of his final performances, you cannot help but draw similarities between his character’s struggles and his own, begging the question how much personal baggage an actor brings to his characters. What also adds a different dynamic to the film is the diverse cast of actors and actresses used throughout. Everyone from Robin Wright, who plays an American diplomatic attache, to Willem Dafoe, who plays a banker who eventually cooperates with Bachmann, to Rachel McAdams, who plays an immigration lawyer contacted by Karpov. With these brilliant supporting players creating a solid foundation for Hoffman’s leading role, “A Most Wanted Man” becomes the perfect companion piece for John le Carré’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.

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THE ONE I LOVE // No one is pulling off independent science fiction better than Mark Duplass. In 2012, Duplass starred in “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a psychological sci-fi that played more on relationships rather than the time travel element that made it unique. This year, he stars in “The One I Love,” with Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) as a couple that heads off to a retreat to try and save their marriage after their counseling sessions with their therapist, played by Ted Danson, prove unsuccessful. At a secluded cottage in the middle of nowhere, they stumble across some unexplainable phenomenon going on in the guest house. Once again, focusing more on the relationship between the characters rather than the science fiction twists, Duplass presents his homegrown, every man’s man aura while Moss takes the reins and produces one of her strongest performances yet.

Without a doubt one of the most original films this year, “The One I Love” never goes in the direction you think it will. Using the character’s emotions of jealousy and desire to mask what is really happening to them, the filmmakers are able to bury their secrets and reveal them at the most opportune moments. Even the ambiguous ending is expertly placed and thought-provokingly vague enough to cause the audience to mull over what just happened long after the credits roll. One of the biggest signs that make this a successful venture is the fact that there are only the three actors in the entire film, and yet somehow, they never grow stale and they continue to carry the weight that a much bigger cast would carry in any other film. Since I cannot talk about “The One I Love” in too much detail without giving away some major plot points, I will leave the rest up to you and your own viewing of the film. One thing is for sure, I will now associate Mark Duplass with uniquely written, independent fare, and his future projects will become must-sees as soon as their trailers hit the internet.

New Releases
About Alex
Frontera
Hercules (2014)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition
Land Ho!
Maleficent
A Most Wanted Man
The One I Love
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Step Up All In 2-denied2-small

TV Box Set
  • The Exes: Seasons One & Two
  • Hill Street Blues: Season Three
  • Hot in Cleveland: Season Five
  • Impractical Jokers: Season Two
  • King Of The Hill: Seasons Seven & Eight
  • Napoleon Dynamite: The Complete Animated Series
  • The Newsroom: Season Two  
  • Poirot: Series Thirteen
  • Touch: Season Two
  • The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story
  • White Collar: Season Five
Special Editions/Other Releases
  • Archipelago  2-denied2-small
  • Babbette’s Feast
  • Believe (2014)  2-denied2-small
  • Christmas Bounty
  • The Christmas Candle
  • Christmas Gift
  • Dead Girls
  • The Discoverers  
  • The Doctor And The Devils
  • The Dog 
  • Every Day Counts
  • Exhibition
  • The Fear
  • A Five Star Life  2-denied2-small
  • Fort Bliss  
  • Ghost Bride
  • GPS: The Movie – The Hunt Is On
  • King Of The Game
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume Three
  • The Me I Want To Be
  • Mule-Tide Christmas
  • Nowhere Safe
  • Play Funky
  • Premature  
  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: 50th Anniversary
  • Rumors Of Wars
  • The Spirit of Christmas
  • The Taking Of Deborah Logan
  • To the Ends of the Earth
  • Tru Love
  • Unrelated
  • Walter’s War
  • Worst Friends
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