Built from comic book auteur Frank Miller’s (Sin City) rock solid foundations 300 is based on his vision on the 1962 film The 300 Spartans filtered through the same tough-as-nails pulp sensibility that populates most of his comics work. Leaving such leaden wannabe sword-and-sandal epics like Troy and Alexander in the historical dust 300 reworks the real-life legendary tale of the Battle of Thermopylae in which a battalion of 300 elite Spartan soldiers heroically hold the line to protect ancient Greece from the invading Persian hordes. The story focuses on the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) who must not only lead his small cadre of troops--each one honored since childhood into a razor-sharp battle-relishing warrior—into a battle they are unlikely to survive but he must also fight for the fate of Greece and its democratic ideals. As the bizarre seemingly endless marauding legions of the tyrant Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) descend upon the Hot Gates—a narrow passageway into Greece that Leonidas’ miniscule band can most ably defend—the soldiers take up arms without the usual post-modern anti-war hand-wringing that most war epics indulge in. These soldiers are both bred for battle and fighting a good fight and the film focuses squarely on the highly charged action. Meanwhile in a new plotline created specifically for the movie his equally noble and faithful queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) takes up arms in a more symbolic way as she also tries to keep democracy alive by taking on the political warlords of Sparta to secure relief for her husband’s troops. Butler has become a familiar and welcome on-screen presence in such films as The Phantom of the Opera and Reign of Fire but there has been little on his mainstream movie resume to suggest the kind of bravura fire he brings to the role of Leonidas. This is the stuff of an actor announcing himself to the audience in a major way akin to Daniel Craig’s star-making turn as James Bond. In a big bold performance that could have gone awry in any number of ways Butler plays even the highest pitched notes like a concerto perfectly capturing the king’s bravado bombast cunning compassion and passion each step of the way. Headey is his ideal match imbuing the queen with more steel and nobility in a handful of scenes than most actresses can summon to carry entire films. Fans of Lost and Brazilian cinema will be hard-pressed to even recognize Santoro whose earnest pretty handsomeness is radically transformed into Xerxes’ exotic borderline freakish form personifying a terrifying yet seductive force of corruption and evil that spreads like a cancer across the earth. And don’t forget to add in the most impressive array of rock-hard abs on cinematic display since well ever (think Brad Pitt in Troy times 300). Even bolstered by canny casting choices and their washboard stomachs helmer Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) is the true undisputable star of 300 establishing himself firmly as a director whose work demands to be watched. With a kinetic sensibility that’s akin to Quentin Tarantino and John Woo and using CGI technology to its utmost effects both subtle and dynamic Snyder creates a compelling fully formed world that the audience is eager to explore. Snyder doesn’t literally match Miller’s signature artwork as meticulously as director Robert Rodriguez did with Sin City. Instead Snyder captures Miller’s essence be it raw brutality majestic size and scope the exotic and otherworldly carnal physicality or hideous deformity--even seemingly antiquated and potentially off-putting techniques like the repeated use of slow-motion are put to fresh effect making every blow and cut seem crucial. Yet even in the visual glorification of some of the most bloody and violent conflicts ever put to film Snyder infuses the tale—which ultimately is one big glorious testosterone-soaked fight sequence—with the sense of honor and sacrifice which characterizes the most noble of war efforts. Yes war can be hell but this is a case where some like it hot.
Set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1940s—a favorite area of exploration for writer-director Guillermo del Toro—the story follows dreamy 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she’s uprooted and relocated to a remote military outpost when her sickly mother (Ariadna Gil) marries the wantonly cruel camp commander Captain Vidal (Sergei Lopez). With the compassionate but secretive housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) as the closest thing to a friend she has in the oppressive environment Ofelia escapes into a richly textured fantasy world. She follows a dragonfly she believes is a fairy into a landscaped but neglected garden maze she recasts as the lair of the goatish godling Pan (Doug Jones). He tells her she’s the last heir to a magical otherworldly kingdom and charges her with several tasks to help her reclaim her birthright. As her personal world grows more and more grim—the impending birth of her half-brother threatens her mother’s health her step-father grows colder and colder in his bid to crush the resistance and Mercedes’ hidden agenda places her in jeopardy as well—Ofelia soon finds herself tangling with hideous monsters both imagined and all too real often having difficulty distinguishing which is the more dangerous. The astonishingly real performance of the amazing young Spanish actress Baquero as Ofelia anchors the film firmly in both its real world and fantasy environments as only the convincing imagination of a child could. Lopez is an equally compelling discovery as the callous Vidal pitiless vicious and malevolent while still remaining believably human throughout. He’s unblinking in his depiction of a thoroughly vile and cruel man but avoids any aspect of cartoonish evil. And Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as Mercedes is a wonder as well with her remarkably expressive face unlimited by the film’s Spanish language barriers. Kudos too to Doug Jones a whisper-thin actor who specializes in “creature” roles (he’s played Abe Sapien in del Toro’s Hellboy and will be the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel) who somehow magically delivers fully-formed performances as both the faun Pan and the freakish Pale Man through layers and layers of latex. Pan's Labyrinth is unquestionably Guillermo del Toro’s finest film work to date as pure an artistic vision as is likely to be committed to celluloid. He wisely worked outside the Hollywood system in his native Spain to bring his dark tale to life. The story exists in that shadowy netherworld between childhood and adulthood innocence and awareness of the world’s more sinister nature and its characters and themes are explored in ways that no mainstream film would ever allow. On the surface the trappings are Tim Burton-esque but the dark corners Pan's Labyrinth peers into are grim and gloomy indeed; del Toro is never afraid to delve into the murkiest of directions that to audiences used to more conventional movies are heart-wrenching even gut-churning but ultimately emotionally honest and in unexpected ways as immensely satisfying as they are haunting. The film is the announcement of the complete arrival of a major filmmaker and we can only hope that the qualities del Toro brings to this work do not get lost in the maze of Hollywood for future films.
Occasionally--mainly out of desperation--a sitcom will detail the supposedly humorous antics that arise when one of its straight protagonists is mistaken for gay. Invariably it involves a pass and a subsequent rejection. Not so with The Closet. Writer and director Francis Veber uses this slight premise to vividly dissect the politics that drive today's workplace. François (Auteuil) overhears plans for his firing. He's dull but not the idiot that thuggish rival Felix (Gérard Depardieu) makes him out to be. To prevent François from committing suicide his neighbor Belone (Michel Aumont) tells him to pretend to come out of the closet. The company could face accusations of homophobia should it fire him Belone reasons. Doctored photos of François groping a man soon arrive at work. His colleagues assume that he's gay; his job is safe but there are those who question François.
Such is Auteuil's initial blankness that it does not become apparent that François is fighting such dark demons until his halfhearted suicide bid. Being fired is the last straw. He still loves his ex-wife. His son refuses to see him. Posing as gay as ridiculous it may seem offers him a reason to live. Slowly and subtly over the course of the ruse Auteuil reveals François' rainbow-bright colors. He also allows François to find honor in even the most potentially embarrassing situation in particular his participation in a very public gay pride parade. In contrast a slightly over-the-top Depardieu makes no bones about playing a boorish spiteful racist homophobic clod deserving of the hysterical comeuppance he receives. Then again the dexterous Depardieu manages to find a modicum of goodness in Felix so we are willing to give him the same second chance that François does.
Veber is famous for churning out the French hits that Hollywood loves to remake but unfortunately for Hollywood something nearly always gets lost in the translation. Veber's straightforwardly directed French films stripped as they are of stylized comedic embellishments are usually smarter and funnier than their Americanized counterparts (witness The Birdcage). Sure The Closet is predictable. You know that someone will see through François' deception. But Veber never allows the proceedings to turn malicious. Instead he allows his cast to articulate the script's humor while focusing on the whispers the innuendoes and the machinations that one must endure in an office environment. It's all done with the intention of zeroing in on people's prejudices and making them aware of the idiocy of their beliefs and misconceptions.
February 08, 2002 2:07pm EST
Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is down and out in California when he runs into his old friend Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) driving a pricey sports car and dripping in gold jewelry. As it turns out Ridley is making it big in an international Rollerball league and convinces Cross to do the same. Fast-forward four months into the future and Jonathan has become one of the biggest and most sought-after Rollerball stars. He's rich drives a nice car and is having a steamy relationship with his teammate Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). From the looks of it Rollerball is a serious moneymaking operation: We are constantly shown million of dollars worth of currency going through money counters at record speed. And by the instant ratings numbers that appear on the organizer's monitors it's obvious that Rollerball fever has taken over the world. When conniving Rollerball creator Petrovich (Jean Reno) discovers that the ratings go through the roof when blood gets spilled things start to go very wrong. Cross and his teammates suddenly find themselves playing for their lives.
Chris Klein (American Pie 2) is Jonathan Cross the all-American Rollerball player but he underplays the role. You would expect a character in his position to have a certain amount of charisma and charm but Klein's delivery is a bit deadpan and lacking in attitude. His best pal Marcus Ridley is played by LL Cool J (Kingdom Come) who manages to add a bit of dimension to his otherwise underdeveloped character. In fact he may have been better suited for the lead. The only good part about model-turned-actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' (X-Men) role is that it didn't incorporate too many lines. Sounding like Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle you have to wonder what she was thinking with that accent which (contrary to the actress' recent statement on MTV that a bad accent is not necessarily bad acting) certainly is part of the acting and certainly is bad. Jean Reno (Just Visiting) was probably the most interesting character. He was all bad without a single redeeming quality which he at least pulled off with flair whether it was in his delivery or his elaborate fur coats.
Rollerball is director John McTiernan's (The Thomas Crown Affair) take on the 1975 classic directed by Norman Jewison. There is definitely enough action in Rollerball to keep viewers interested but the major problems lies within the characters' development-there isn't any. So while the action may keep your eyeballs glued to the screen momentarily you will find yourself indifferent to the characters their plight and what happens to them. Cross and Aurora's relationship for example is implied through one hastily done sex scene in the gym. Consequently when the evil Petrovich threatens to hurt her if Cross tries to leave the game we could care less because we don't really know her or how important she is to Cross. Being such an internationally renowned sport the accents which play a big part in the film are done too shoddily. The French accents go from Canadian to European within a sentence and that's only from the ones I could pick up. Who knows what other languages were massacred in the process?
After being drugged by a rival earl French nobleman Count Thibault (Jean Reno)
murders his bride-to-be Rosalind Malfete (Christina Applegate) on the eve of
their impending nuptials. While awaiting his execution Thibault sends his servant
André (Christian Clavier) to fetch a wizard (Malcolm McDowell) who can send Thibault
back in time so he can undo the night's tragic events. The spell backfires and
sends Thibault and his sidekick into the future instead of the past straight
into a Chicago museum's exhibit of medieval artifacts in the year 2000. Thibault
soon realizes that the exhibit's curator Julia Malfete (Applegate again) is
his descendant 30 generations removed after semi-convincing her of this he enlists
her help in finding the wizard who can send him back to the 12th century to save
their lineage. Meanwhile Julia's unfaithful money-grubbing husband Hunter (Matthew
Ross) throws a wrench in their plans and tries to have Thibault arrested for
false impersonation in order to hold onto the Malfete family fortune Julia stands
to inherit. Though the plot is riddled with holes the story line takes full advantage
of the 12th-century-meets-21st-century jokes and pranks including the visitors'
fascinations with modern day transportation electricity toilets and urinals
all guaranteeing good laughs.
Reno and Clavier reprise their roles in this American adaptation of the 1993 French
blockbuster Les Visiteurs. Reno brings both warmth and wit to Thibault's
character and carries the film from beginning to end. Tough chivalrous and charming
he evokes the legendary knight in shining armor. Though Clavier who plays his
subservient sidekick and brunt of all jokes elicits a few chuckles with his slip-and-fall
physical comedy he also demonstrates a tender side when he pleads with Thibault
for his freedom. Applegate puts on a believable British accent as Rosalind in
12th-century England but fares much better as Julia in 21st-century Chicago.
McDowell in the role of the blundering wizard shows that his strength may lie
more in the villainous than the comedic: his character is never really developed
leaving his portrayal one dimensional and stereotypical at best. Not much can
be said for the performances of Ross and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras either. Ross'
character is your run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter bad guy with no morals while
Wilson-Sampras overplays the made-up preening secretary.
The beginning of the film which is set in 12th-century England is done surprisingly
well from the costumes down to the cinematography; unfortunately this seems
to be where the bulk of the budget was spent. The modern day portion of the film
is sadly lacking especially when juxtaposed against the cold dark and realistically
gloomy feel of the first half. The special effects during the latter portion of
the film seem almost cartoonish and diminish the overall look of the film. While
Just Visiting retains the principal players of its French counterpart
including writer Jean-Marie Poire and director Jean-Marie Gaubert don't expect
this film to achieve a fraction of the success it had on the other side of the
Atlantic. Yet it provides good laughs from start to finish and the best moments
astonishingly enough were not limited to the ones shown in the film's trailer.