This British-born director had already amassed an impressive resume of stage and TV credits when her first feature film brought her both a fame and notoriety neither she nor the studio had expected. T...
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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Summit via Everett Collection
You can imagine that Renny Harlin, director and one quadrant of the writing team for The Legend of Hercules, began his pitch as such: We'll start with a war, because lots of these things start with wars. It feels like this was the principal maxim behind a good deal of the creative choices in this latest update of the Ancient Greek myth. There are always horse riding scenes. There are generally arena battles. There are CGI lions, when you can afford 'em. Oh, and you've got to have a romantic couple canoodling at the base of a waterfall. Weaving them all together cohesively would be a waste of time — just let the common threads take form in a remarkably shouldered Kellan Lutz and action sequences that transubstantiate abjectly to and fro slow-motion.
But pervading through Lutz's shirtless smirks and accent continuity that calls envy from Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland performance is the obtrusive lack of thought that went into this picture. A proverbial grab bag of "the basics" of the classic epic genre, The Legend of Hercules boasts familiarity over originality. So much so that the filmmakers didn't stop at Hercules mythology... they barely started with it, in fact. There's more Jesus Christ in the character than there is the Ancient Greek demigod, with no lack of Gladiator to keep things moreover relevant. But even more outrageous than the void of imagination in the construct of Hercules' world is its script — a piece so comically dim, thin, and idiotic that you will laugh. So we can't exactly say this is a totally joyless time at the movies.
Summit via Everett Collection
Surrounding Hercules, a character whose arc takes him from being a nice enough strong dude to a nice enough strong dude who kills people and finally owns up to his fate — "Okay, fine, yes, I guess I'm a god" — are a legion of characters whose makeup and motivations are instituted in their opening scenes and never change thereafter. His de facto stepdad, the teeth-baring King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), despises the boy for being a living tribute to his supernatural cuckolding; his half-brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) is the archetypical scheming, neutered, jealous brother figure right down to the facial scar. The dialogue this family of mongoloids tosses around is stunningly brainless, ditto their character beats. Hercules can't understand how a mystical stranger knows his identity, even though he just moments ago exited a packed coliseum chanting his name. Iphicles defies villainy and menace when he threatens his betrothed Hebe (Gaia Weiss), long in love with Hercules, with the terrible fate of "accepting [him] and loving [their] children equally!" And the dad... jeez, that guy must really be proud of his teeth.
With no artistic feat successfully accomplished (or even braved, really) by this movie, we can at the very least call it inoffensive. There is nothing in The Legend of Hercules with which to take issue beyond its dismal intellect, and in a genre especially prone to regressive activity, this is a noteworthy triumph. But you might not have enough energy by the end to award The Legend of Hercules with this superlative. Either because you'll have laughed yourself into a coma at the film's idiocy, or because you'll have lost all strength trying to fend it off.
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British director Antonia Bird has died at the age of 54. She passed away on Thursday (24Oct13). No further details have been released.
Announcing her death on Twitter.com, her longtime collaborator and friend Robert Carlyle writes, "Such a sad day today.. RIP Antonia Bird. Farewell my beautiful friend xxx."
Bird started off her career directing British TV shows such as Casualty and EastEnders. She went on to win a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for her drama Safe, before moving into films with the release of controversial faith movie Priest in 1994.
Marking the start of her longrunning professional relationship with Carlyle, the pair went on to work together on 1997's Face and 1999 horror movie Ravenous.
She also set up production company Four Way Pictures with The Full Monty star, author Irvine Welsh and film critic Mark Cousins.
Before her death, Bird had been working on new drama Cross My Mind and had directed episodes of gritty BBC series The Village.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
Ran away from home at 16 an joined a rep company as performer and Jill-of-all-trades (date approximate)
Directed the British crime feature "Face"
Directed the BBC drama, "Safe", played on the festival circuit, winning various prizes
Hollywood directing debut, "Mad Love" starring Drew Barrymore and Chris O'Donnell
Began directing at 18
Directed English theater for eight years, notably at London's Royal Court Theater
Began directing TV dramas for the BBC
Helmed "Ravenous", a tale of travelers who turn to cannibalism
Feature directing debut, "Priest" (released in US in 1995)
"Safe" screened at the Public Theater in NYC as part of a series entitled "Against the Odds: BBC Drama 1975 - 1994"
This British-born director had already amassed an impressive resume of stage and TV credits when her first feature film brought her both a fame and notoriety neither she nor the studio had expected. The daughter of a failed actor, Bird ran away at 16 and got her start acting (and being Jill-of-all-trades) for a repertory company. She eventually distinguished herself, spending eight years directing productions on the "legitimate" English stage, notably at London's Royal Court Theater, before shifting to helming TV shows for the BBC (including much of the first season of the popular series "EastEnders" (BBC, 1985- ). Bird gained some measure of international acclaim with "Safe" (1993), a hard-hitting BBC telefilm about homeless teens on the streets of London. Winner of the 1993 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best Single Drama, the movie was also a hit on the festival circuit; Bird garnered a Best New Director Award from the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Among her other TV dramas was the "Inspector Morse" detective mystery "Absolute Conviction," which was shown in the United States on PBS in 1995. Bird courted controversy with her provocative feature debut ,"Priest" (1994). Scripted by acclaimed British TV writer Jimmy McGovern, the film told the story of a young, covertly gay priest (Linus Roache) whose ongoing crisis of faith and conscience deepens when he learns in confession that a teen parishioner is suffering molestation at the hands of her father. Vocally attacked by the religious right as anti-Catholic, "Priest" was defended by its director as an expose of intolerance and hypocrisy within the church and society at large. Bird followed up with her first Hollywood project, "Mad Love" (1995), starring Drew Barrymore and Chris O'Donnell as troubled young lovers on the road. Although the movie met with a mixed reception, it raised her visibility outside of England. Returning to her homeland, she next unveiled "Face" (1997), a moody crime drama starring Robert Carlyle, who had also appeared in "Priest." She subsequently took over the reins on the period cannibal thriller "Ravenous" (1999) at the suggestion of Carlyle, who co-starred in the atmospheric horror film with Guy Pearce. Though the film was not a financial success, it later gained a sizable cult following. Bird went on to work primarily in British television, notably helming a 2006 TV movie revival of the popular series "Cracker" (ITV), a production that reunited her with McGovern and starred Robbie Coltrane as an eccentric criminal psychologist. In 2013, as she was directing episodes of the BBC period drama "The Village," Bird was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer. She died that fall, remembered fondly by her various fans and colleagues, including her occasional collaborator Carlyle.
"I believe very strongly that people make movies that reflect their personalities. And I have a fairly emotional, out-of-control personality at times. My intention in 'Priest' was to expose religious hypocrisy, to expose the deep intolerance not only in the Catholic church, but in society as a whole. The script hit me in the gut--and I set out to achieve in directing the reaction I had when I read it."--Antonia Bird, quoted in Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 1995.