Monday, July 28, 2014

hercules and dwayne johnson have fun with a classic

The kid and I checked out Hercules this weekend and were very presently surprised. I guess I should say that I was presently surprised, the kid just loved it. In fact, she loved seeing it on Friday so much that we went back the next day and took in the IMAX 3D version. I'm not usually very fond of 3D, but love the sheer scale of IMAX. I actually preferred the film in 2D, however. Hercules is a good-looking film, and the 3D, while it may have made some of the battle scenes more visceral, ended up distracting me from the overall action and and cinematographer's composition.

Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) in search of the Hydra

Hercules was directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand, Tower Heist, Horrible Bosses), who has a penchant for overblown actioners, and based on a comic book Hercules: The Thracian Wars by Steve Moore. While some critics have complained that the famous labors of Hercules which spin by quickly in the film's trailer appear just as quickly in the film, that is not quite a fair criticism. It is true that this version of Hercules's story tends to spin the Greek hero's legend on its head, portraying Hercules as just one member of a team of elite mercenaries. The band of brothers (and one sister), with the aid of some skillful publicity, has spun the story of his godly parentage and fantastic exploits to their great (monetary) reward. But fans of Greek mythology will notice some sly nods to both Herc's adventures as well as some other famous Greek heroes — and the movies made about them — especially in a powerful scene where warriors rise from the ground a la the classic Jason and the Argonauts. And what is mythology anyway, but a constant reinterpretation of a classic story?

The Nemean Lion hat and club are just too cool
This film's Hercules, played by Dwayne Johnson, may be quite human, but his physique is certainly larger-than-life. Johnson has said he trained harder for this role than any other, and the results are truly impressive, as his Hercules is, without question, the film's most special effect.
"I trained and worked harder than ever for 8 months for this role. Lived alone and locked myself away (like a moody 260-lb. monk) in Budapest for 6 months while filming. Goal was to completely transform into this character. Disappear in the role. Press journalist asked me today, with the mental & physical toll the role had on me, would I do it again? Not only would I do it again ... I'd do it f*cking twice."
As fun as it is to watch Johnson take on the role of Greek's strongest hero, what really makes the film are all the wonderful actors that surround him. Hercules's traveling companions include Ian McShane as the seer Amphiaraus (who also knows how to wield a long spear); Rufus Sewell as the smart-talking Autolycus, who is very handy with a blade; Norwegian actors Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as the huntress Atalanta, whose bow can be used to take down enemies as much as her arrows, and Aksel Hennie as Tydeus, who suffers from an ancient form of PTSD; and Reece Ritchie as Iolaus, his young nephew, whose tales of his uncle's exploits serve as his calling card. The group forms a tight unit, and their humor and camaraderie helps make them a more convincing and engaging group of super-heroes than the Avengers.

The gang's all here: L-R: (Tydeus) Aksel Hennie, (Atalanta) Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Hercules, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), and Amphiaraus (Ian McShane)
Herc and Co. are just about to hang up their weapons and head for a well-earned retirement when Lady Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) approaches them to take on one last (and very lucrative) job — to aid her father, Lord Cotys (John Hurt), whose land has been besieged by a mysterious enemy named Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). It's a pretty basic adventure movie set-up, but things move swiftly and entertainingly, with some humor and even a few surprises. Joseph Fiennes turns up as one of Herc's previous employers, King Eurystheus of Athens. It's great to see him and especially great to watch John Hurt once again don the robes of a classical-era character. Johnson's Hercules is haunted by his past — he woke one evening to find his wife Megara and their children murdered. He has been trying to atone for his alleged crimes ever since.

So lovely to see you: John Hurt as Lord Cotys

Although everyone adds to the proceedings, Ian McShane almost steals the show with his wry Amphiaraus, who has prophesied his own death, but so far hasn't seemed to time it precisely:
[A flaming javelin comes flying towards Amphiaraus, who spreads his arms wide, ready to receive the blow]
Amphiaraus, "My time ..."
[Hercules runs past him, grabs the javelin, and throws it back]
Amphiaraus, "Do you mind? I was having a moment!"
Hercules, "You're welcome."
The rugged locations (filming was done in Hungary and Croatia) add a lot to the atmosphere, but it is the non-stop action, Johnson's huge musculature, and clever twists on a well-known story that really make Hercules so much fun.

Friday, July 25, 2014

favorite song friday: the need for speed

Pharrell's latest song, "Come Get it Bae" has joined a long tradition in modern music of making a correlation between sex and cars, or in this case, motorcycles. Good looking and fast-moving vehicles have metaphor-ed their way into some of music's greatest hits.

The Beach Boys wrote lots of songs about cars. And girls. And girls and cars.
"You wanna ride it, my motorcycle
You've got a license, but you got the right to
Gonna pop a wheelie, don't try too high too
Take it easy on the clutch, cause girl I like you"

Marc Bolan of T Rex was pretty forthright with mixing his automobile as pretty girl metaphors in "Bang a Gong" and "Jeepster."

"You're built like a car, you've got a hub cap diamond star halo
You're dirty sweet and you're my girl."

"Just like a car
You're pleasing to behold
I'll call you Jaguar
If I may be so bold ...
Girl I'm just a jeepster
For your love"

Prince took things a step further (as he is wont to do) with "Little Red Corvette."

"Believe it or not, I started to worry
I wondered if I had enough class
But it was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right
And you say, "Baby, have you got enough gas?", Oh yeah
Little red corvette
Baby, you're much too fast (yes, you are)
Little red corvette
You need to find a love that's gonna last"

Music and sex and cars seem to be a winning combination. These are my favorites, but there are many others:

"Mercedes Benz" - Janis Joplin
"Drive My Car"
"Slow Ride" - Foghat
"Cars" - Gary Numan
"Pink Cadillac" - Bruce Springsteen
"Little Deuce Coupe" - Beach Boys
"Mustang Sally" - Wilson Pickett
“Drive (Who’s Gonna Drive You Home?)" - The Cars
“I Can’t Drive 55" - Sammy Hagar
“I’m In Love With My Car” - Queen
"I Drove All Night" - Roy Orbison

Any great songs I've left out? Let me know.

And to finish things up, this song by Rose Royce seems to say summer to me ...

"Hey, get your car washed today
Be in our band, you don't have to pay
Come on and give us a play"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

throwback thursday: ginger miso dressing

The kid loves going to the supermarket with me, because it's an endless buffet. And she has always been all about the buffet. Exotic chips and flavored popcorns are available to sample. And then ask mom if we can buy a bag, which are usually, curiously, on a two-for-one sale. Hmmm ... The man behind the cheese counter at our local Publix knows her by name, and when he sees her coming he always slices up some Manchego or some other cheese he thinks she might like. And she does. It is great to watch her broaden her horizons along with her palate.

Lately, at Whole Foods, she has become enamored of cucumber slices on offer that are being used to tout a ginger miso salad dressing. She likes it so much that the last time we went she insisted I try it and buy it. I did and did. Not only was I impressed by the kid wanting a salad dressing (she's not much for salad, but will eat her own version of crudités that we have dubbed "bits and pieces"), but I was immediately brought back, with one bite, to my own salad days in New York City in the '80s.

It had outdoor seating for warm days ... (photo from Yelp)

An art student never has much money. What little I had went towards art supplies, and maybe a vodka drink on a night out from time to time. Food was always a secondary concern, but when hunger did strike, one of the places my friends and I frequently found ourselves was at Dojo's on St. Mark's Place. Dojo's was (presumably) healthy food, and even better, it was cheap. Plus, they served alcohol, so some sake or a Rolling Rock would sometimes sneak their way in to our evening menu. My friend Sibylle introduced me to the place, and one of its signature dishes, chicken sukiyaki salad with carrot ginger miso dressing. Mixing the noodles and the greens may have been funky enough, but it was the ginger miso dressing that made it a dish to reorder and reorder. The dressing also appeared on their soy burgers and I'm sure lots of other recipes, but it was the chicken sukiyaki salad that became our go-to fuel.

New York has changed immeasurably since those days, and a quick online search has confirmed what I feared, that Dojo's is long closed. But those memories of fun evenings and delicious ginger miso dressing remain.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

girl trouble

Hollywood churned out romantic comedies by the dozens in the 1930s and 1940s. Wacky heiresses, bumbling suitors, and their faithful sidekicks made up most of the casts, along with some situational impediments to romance until the final few minutes. 1942's Girl Trouble, starring Joan Bennett and Don Ameche, is one of the genre's lighter, fluffier entires, but it is good fun all the same. ...

Pedro may be unimpressed with June's work ethic, as she picks up the wrong suit from the cleaners, and doesn't seem to spend much time dusting or mopping, doing anything else, but he is no snob, and quickly proceeds to fall in love with her. Complications arrive in the form of a trouble-making friend of June's (Helene Reynolds), and a tire mogul, Mr. Flint (Frank Craven), who wants to cut corners and use a rubber substitute instead of Pedro's rubber in his tires. Film buffs will recognize Billie Burke, Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz, in a small but amusing role as June's daffy friend Mrs. Rowland.


You can read my complete review on Cinema Sentries.