Gun to my head, I might be able to say something positive about 300: Rise of an Empire. In a vacuum, I suppose I'd call its aesthetic appealing, its production value impressive, or its giant rhinos kind of cool. But these elements cannot be taken alone, embroidered on a gigantic patch of joyless pain that infests your conscious mind from its inceptive moments on.
It's not so much that the 300 sequel fails at its desired conceit — it gives you exactly what it promises: gore, swordplay, angry sex, halfwit maxims about honor and manliness and the love of the fight. It's simply that its desired conceit is dehumanizing agony. Holding too hard and too long to its mission statement to top its Zack Snyder-helmed predecessor in scope, scale, and spilled pints of blood, Noam Murro's Rise of an Empire doesn't put any energy into filtering its spectacular mayhem through whatever semblance of a humanistic touch made the first one feel like a comprehensive movie.
Now, it's been a good eight years since I've seen 300, and I can't say that I was particularly fond of it. But beneath its own eye-widening layer of violence, there was a tangible idea of who King Leonidas was, what this war meant, and why Sparta mattered. No matter how much clumsy exposition is hurled our way, all we really know here is that there are two sides and they hate each other.
When Rise of an Empire asks us to engage on a more intimate level, which it does — the personal warfare between Sullivan Stapleton (whose name, I guess, is Themistokles) and Bad Guy Captain Eva Green (a.k.a. Artemisia) is founded on the idea that she likes him, and he kind of digs her (re: angry sex), and they want to rule together, but a rose by any other name and all that — we're effectively lost. With characters who don't matter in the slightest, material like this is just filler between the practically striking battle sequences.
But when the "in-between material" is as meaningless as it is in Rise of an Empire, the battles can't function as much more than filler themselves. Filler between the opening titles and closing credits. A game of Candy Crush you play on the subway. Contemptfully insubstantial and not particularly fun, but taking place nonetheless.
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Without even a remote layer of camp — too palpably absent as Rise of an Empire splashes its screen with so much human fluid that "The End" by The Doors will start to play in your head — there's no victory in a movie like this. No characters to latch onto, no story to follow, no joy to be derived. Yes, it might be aesthetically stunning (and really, that's where the one star comes in... well, half a star for that and half for the giant rhinos), but the marvel of its look shrinks under the shadow of the painful vacancy of anything tolerable.
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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Sequels are the sort of thing that either happen right away (see: almost every money-making summer movie from the past five years) or way down the line (Tron: Legacy), but once they hit that middle ground, hope for a follow up quickly wanes.
Apparently that's not the case with the second installment of the proposed 300 franchise, which continues to churn out news bites as quickly as Sin City 2. When it was first "officially" announced back in 2009, there was just a vague notion. Then in 2010, Zack Snyder was set to help write the film with a proposed title of Xerxes. Then it all got switched around, dropping Snyder, picking up a new title (300: Battle for Artemisia) and hiring director Noam Murro.
Now there's a new tidbit: there's a possibility of Gerard Butler and Lena Hedley returning. The quote comes from 300 Bernie Goldmann, who suggested to Movies.com (where you can read the full quote) that there was room for the duo to return for the, essentially, unrelated sequel. Does that make the movie a prequel? Not necessarily—that's why the movie gods invented flashbacks—but it does suggest that the film will be tied closer to the original than one may have suspected.
That is to say, expect plenty more scantily clad, ripped men in red capes beating the living daylights out of one another.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches and @Hollywood_com
Well it looks like things are finally happening with the billion and a half fairy tale movies heading towards production. Filming officially begun for Tarsem Singh's untitled Snow White comedy-action adventure. It follows Julia Roberts as the evil queen (duh) and up-and-comer Lily Collins.
This is of course, big news for Universal's adaptation of the same story, Snow White and the Huntsman, which stars Kristin Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron. I guess the race is on to see who can make the best Snow White-themed project.
Check out the press release below if that's your sort of thing:
(Beverly Hills, CA) June 15, 2011 – Filming on Relativity Media’s comedy action-adventure Untitled Snow White will begin on Monday, June 20, 2011, under the stylish direction of Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Cell).
In Relativity's Untitled Snow White starring Oscar®-winner Julia Roberts and breakout star Lily Collins (The Blind Side), an evil Queen (Roberts) steals control of a kingdom, and an exiled princess (Collins) enlists the help of seven resourceful rebels to win back her birthright in a spirited adventure comedy filled with jealousy, romance, and betrayal that will capture the imagination of audiences the world over. The film also stars Armie Hammer (The Social Network) as the object of their affection, Prince Andrew Alcott, and Nathan Lane (The Birdcage) as the hapless and bungling servant to the Queen.
Rounding out the cast are: Mare Winningham (Brothers) as Baker Margaret, Michael Lerner (Elf) as Baron and Mark Povinelli (Water for Elephants), Jordan Prentice (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle), Danny Woodburn (Watchmen), Sebastian Saraceno (Bedtime Stories), Ronald Lee Clark (Epic Movie), Martin Klebba (Pirates of The Caribbean) and Joey Gnoffo (The Benchwarmers) as the Seven Dwarfs.
Singh’s behind the scenes creative team includes: Director of Photography Brendan Galvin (Behind Enemy Lines), Production Designer Tom Foden (The Cell) and the Oscar®-winning Costume Designer Eiko Ishioka (Dracula). Untitled Snow White will film entirely on location in Montreal, Canada.
The film's producers are Ryan Kavanaugh (The Fighter), Bernie Goldmann (300) and Brett Ratner (Rush Hour franchise). The script was written by Melisa Wallack (Meet Bill) and Jason Keller (Machine Gun Preacher).
The story was made famous by the Brothers Grimm and is best remembered in 1937 animated Disney classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but other incarnations have included little-known 1997 horror Snoww White: A Tale of Terror, starring Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill.
Now Hollywood executives are hoping to follow the success of Tim Burton's recent re-imagining of Alice In Wonderland by bringing Snow White back to the big screen in an "edgier" modern tale called The Brothers Grimm: Snow White.
X-Men: The Last Stand director Brett Ratner will act as a producer on the project.
Meet Bill director Bernie Goldmann, who is also producing, reveals several high-profile names have already expressed an interest in the film, but he's refusing to divulge any details.
He tells Variety.com, "Talent and directors of the highest level have already responded to the new, edgier concept, and to (the) script.
"While retaining the elements of the beloved Brothers Grimm tale, this is certainly not your mother's Snow White."