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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Emmy Award-Winning Comedian Sara Schaefer, Host Of MTV's Late Show Nikki & Sara Live, Will Be Blogging The Bachelorette For Hollywood.Com All Season Long.
Last night's episode of The Bachelorette was an emotional roller coaster (half-submerged in the Atlantic Ocean). Desiree took her gaggle of men to one of the world's most exotic locations: Atlantic City. Here are the highs, the lows, and all points in between:
The High: The Mr. America Pageant
I have to say, this was one of the most delightful group dates I’ve ever seen. Because it was the most honest group date I’ve ever seen: a bunch of guys peacockin’ trying to impress a lady on national television. No pretending to be deep with emotions trying to “connect.” Or, as Drew so eloquently put it, “It’s a hodge podge of tom foolery; a devil’s brigade.” A devil’s brigade indeed. During the pageant, we saw Chris’ hula hoop routine in high heels, Kasey’s fake tap dance, Ben’s beautifully executed ribbon dance, Alex’s pelvic thrusts (I think my eyes got pregnant from watching that), and Zak W. actually singing a not-terrible love song! Unfortunately, nobody pulled a Miss Utah during the interview round. Kasey won the pageant, but Zak W. ultimately won the rose: because he defied the hallowed rules of this game and sang during one-on-one time with Desiree! I have to say, I was shocked that he pulled it off. As Chris wisely wrote in his poetry book, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Just kidding, T.S. Eliot said that.
The Low: Getting Dumped at the Top of a Lighthouse
Before the pageant, Desiree went on one of this season’s obligatory “weed out the weak” one-on-one dates. You know what I’m talking about - every season, the Bachelor or Bachelorette picks someone they’re “not sure about,” so they can dump them mid-date? For Brad, this would be just such a swan song. Though the two had fun acting like kids on the Boardwalk, the date turned into a disaster when an actual conversation had to take place. I’m not sure if Brad is crippled by shyness or a mild brain injury, but he just does not have much to say. The result: cringe-worthy long pauses. I felt like I was watching one of those old SNL sketches when Chris Farley would interview a celebrity. “Remember that time we went on the sling shot...?” A few hours ago? Oh dear. Desiree knew she couldn’t give him a rose at this point, so she knew she had to let him down easy. So she made him walk up a thousand steps to the top of the lighthouse. Because there’s no better way to tell someone you’re not into them: out of breath, in a location where the only two exits are a tiny spiral staircase or suicidal leap.
The Middle: Manny & Jan’s Private Dance with Hootie
While the men were off competing in the Mr. America pageant, James was eating strawberries in a bubble bath, exploring his body and preparing for his one-on-one date with Desiree. Their date was a helicopter over Hurricane Sandy wreckage. In other words, their date was sexy as hell. After the aerial view, they surveyed the damage on the ground by visiting a home owned by an old couple named Manny and Jan. During the heart-wrenching visit, a show producer Desiree got this really amazing idea: why don’t we gift our romantic date to Manny and Jan, and instead, we can eat garbage in a dumpy local restaurant? Wow. Is there a Nobel Peace Prize for Dates? James and Desiree, so moved by their act of charity, made out in front of the demolished house. See? I told you this date was sexy as hell.
Of course, they didn’t actually gift the entire date to Manny and Jan, because that would be silly. They weren’t going to just give up the best part of a Bachelorette date: the private concert. Desiree and James showed up just in time. The scene was beautiful: a homeless couple, married for nearly 40 years, dancing to their favorite musician, Hootie. (Yes, I know his name is Darius Rucker, but Manny and Jan don’t know that. Shhhhh. Don’t ruin this beautiful moment.) The date ended with a heartfelt speech in which James once again emphasized how he abandoned his sickly father for this journey. Desiree, you better be grateful!
According to previews for next week’s episode: it will be armageddon. (Literally, there was a clip of someone saying “This is armageddon.”) What! Wow! Isn’t this show pre-taped? How did we miss the apocalypse? Am I in heaven? Wait, what? Oh, you mean it’s Bachelorette armageddon? Oooooh, ok. So we’re just gonna see some guys get called out for being there for the wrong reasons? Got it. I can’t wait!
Tune into The Bachelorette every Monday night at 8/7c on ABC and check Hollywood.com on Tuesdays for Sara Schaefer's reactions to the madness.
Sara Schaefer is a critically acclaimed stand up comedian, writer, and producer based in New York City. She is the co-host of MTV’s late night show Nikki & Sara Live. She won two Emmy awards for her work as the Head Blogger for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and has written for BestWeekEver.tv and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. Sara has appeared on Comedy Central, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Best Week Ever, FX, E!, Fuse, and AOL. She also has a popular podcast You Had To Be There with her MTV co-host Nikki Glaser.
Follow Sara on Twitter @saraschaefer1 Follow Hollywood.com @Hollywood_com
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Nathan Followill, Bret Michaels and Kiss are among the stars who have saluted America's troops on the country's Memorial Day (27May13). A number of famous faces have spoken out to pay tribute to U.S. soldiers and urge fellow Americans to properly observe Monday's (27May13) holiday, which commemorates the contribution of servicemen and women.
Poison star Michaels performed at the Indianapolis 500 event in Speedway, Indiana on Friday (24May13) and brought three serving soldiers on stage with him to receive applause from the crowd, and he was open in his appreciation for them in a post on his Twitter.com page on Monday, writing, "I'll never forget the continued sacrifices our troops make to protect our freedom. Respect. Appreciation."
Fellow rockers KISS, who are big supporters of military charities, posted a statement on their official website urging fans not to forget the real meaning of Memorial Day.
It reads, "As Americans we need to remember that the day we see as a holiday is actually a time to pay tribute and remember all the brave members of the Armed Forces fighting on our behalf, facing the ultimate sacrifice daily. KISS remembers and honors all our brave soldiers lost in all wars and prays for the safe return of all those fighting now."
Ozzy Osbourne's son Jack adds in a post on Twitter.com, "I hope every1 (sic) is having a gr8 (great) Memorial Day weekend. However we must not forget what this day actually stands for. Take a minute to reflect," and Kings of Leon star Nathan Followill writes, "Thank you to all who have served, sacrificed & are currently serving in our armed forces. Happy Memorial Day. Proud of my grandpa. Korean War."
Billy Ray Cyrus writes, "Pray for our troops today... give thanks for our Veterans" and fellow country star Alan Jackson offers, "On this Memorial Day, we remember the men and women who lost their lives serving in the United States Armed Forces."
Other stars to have sent out Memorial Day messages in support of U.S. troops include Carrie Underwood, the Jonas Brothers, Mia Farrow, Nick Lachey, Darius Rucker, Rose McGowan and Patricia Arquette.
Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.