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updated: 8/1/2014 5:24 AM

Reel life: Did 'Hercules' surpass studio's expectations?

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  • Dwayne Johnson stars as "Hercules" with perfect white teeth, something presumably only demigods had in ancient times.

    Dwayne Johnson stars as "Hercules" with perfect white teeth, something presumably only demigods had in ancient times.


Critics notebook

• Paramount Pictures had so little faith in its new "Hercules" epic that it buried the Chicago press screening on the night before opening day (July 25), after the deadlines for local newspapers expired.

Surprise! "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as a reinvented mercenary warrior living off a demigod's reputation, exceeded market expectations by coming in second place at the weekend box office, despite being bested by "Lucy."

What's more, "Hercules" won the coveted "fresh" seal of approval from the film critics on "Rotten Tomatoes." How many positive Friday newspaper reviews did Paramount's tardy press screening actually cost?

• On the subject of "Hercules," one thing about it really bugged me.

The teeth. The perfect teeth.

Every actor in this sword-and-sandal epic could have come straight from a toothpaste commercial shoot with gleaming ivories.

I realize this might seem like a trivial matter in a $100 million budgeted movie, but it's one of those silly, small, but irritatingly noticeable anachronisms that drive me nuts, like the wrist watches worn by soldiers in "Spartacus."

• Five lines of dialogue I would like to never hear again for at least the next five years:

1. "Awesome!" It might have been cutting-edge in the 1980s. Now it's become a screenwriter's equivalent of a verbal space saver.

2. "Trust me." Probably the single most uttered phrase in recent movie history. At least before Jeff Spicoli uttered "Awesome!" in 1982's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

3. "This is crazy!" Woody Allen had the corner on this conversational cliché decades ago. Now, it's practically required script material, as evidenced by the upcoming "If I Stay" in which Chloe Grace Moretz not only says, "This is really crazy!" but also utters the shortened version, "It's crazy!"

4. "That's what I'm talkin' about!" This overused buzz phrase has been hanging around Hollywood for years, but it got real traction after Denzel Washington said it with such conviction in 2001's "Training Day" that it has become a default response for less creative writers.

5. "I can't do this!" Another standard-issue verbal crutch used when a character gives up on a relationship or a tough job. Also used as a response from screenwriters when challenged to create crisp interesting exchanges that don't sound like a zillion other screenplays.

• "50 to 1," a film based on the true story of horse racing legend Mine That Bird, opens Friday, Aug. 1, exclusively at the Elgin Cinema and the Gurnee Cinema. The movie stars Skeet Ulrich, William Devane and Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel as himself. It's directed by Jim Wilson, Oscar-winning producer of "Dances With Wolves." He and his cast spent five weeks on a tour bus through seven states strumming up support for the indie production.

• Speaking of indies, The Midwest Independent Film Festival offers the Chicago premiere of "The Starfish Throwers" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the Century Centre in Chicago.

• "Documented" tells the true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who revealed himself to be an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 New York Times Magazine story.

This movie, to increase immigration awareness, will be presented by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Chicago at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, at the Northbrook Community Synagogue, 2548 Jasper Court, Northbrook. $18 admission. Go to

• Heads up! Or maybe heads off!

The Flashback Weekend Chicago Horror Convention cranks up once again Aug. 8-10 at the Crown Plaza Chicago O'Hare Hotel in Rosemont.

Stars will be there to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "The Children of the Corn" series, plus the original "Phantasm" stars will put on a concert. Even better, actor Robert Englund will be there wearing his iconic Freddy Krueger makeup, applied by original creator Robert Kurtzman. For more info, head to

• The Arlington Heights Memorial Library is extending its deadline for submissions to its 8th annual Teen Film Fest through Monday, Aug. 4. If you've got a short or two to share, go to or call (847) 392-0100. The Teen Film Fest is at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15.

• The refurbished Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove has its own museum exhibit. Through Dec. 20, you can see "Movie Magic: Celebrating 86 Years of the Tivoli Theatre" at the Downers Grove Museum, 831 Maple Ave. Free admission!

• Dann Gire's Reel Life column runs Fridays in Time out! Follow Dann on Twitter at @DannGireDHFilm.

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