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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An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already?
To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there.
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from.
But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper.
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In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so.
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It’s Wednesday! And come hell or high water, rain or shine, I’m here to bring you your weekly list of oh-so-fun spoilers. This week’s edition of Leanne's Spoiler List comes to you from the cloudy land of the Great North. That’s right, TV lovers, I’m currently in Canada searching for the real Robin Sparkles, and visiting the sets of some of my favorite shows. (More on that next week but here’s a teaser: Things on Once Upon a Time are about to get terrifyingly twisted y’all!) This week is packed with top-rated shows. I’ve got all the details on a rocky Grey’s Anatomy romance, chatted with Criminal Minds’ Joe Mantegna about tonight’s shocking new episode, and nabbed some Vampire Diaries scoop from its all-knowing creator, Julie Plec. Plus, I’ve got the goods on what’s coming up on Supernatural, How I Met Your Mother, and Arrow! Enjoy these steamy spoilers while I try not to freeze to death to get you more scoop!
1. Grey’s Anatomy: Cheer Up Callie!
There are two things in life that I’ll always love: 1. Actors who play doctors. (They’re always happy because they get to wear scrubs everyday!) 2. Sparkly things.(Duh.) So you can imagine my extreme delight last Saturday when I interviewed Sara Ramirez while wearing a pink tiara at Disney Junior’s Sofia the First premiere. (By the way, Ramirez plays Queen Miranda, an actually sweet stepmother.) After we "ooh-ed" and “aah-ed” about the fairies on the lavender carpet (No lie), Ramirez and I had some serious girl talk about what’s coming up for Callie after her particularly devastating life changes so far this season. The actress reveals, “Basically she’s just in survival mode in her personal life and in her professional life she has busied herself with Derek Shepherd’s hand/wrist, helping with all that nerve damage that he experienced from the plane crash. She’s keeping busy and trying to make herself useful at the hospital.“
Callie’s personal life with Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) has been rocky in these past few episodes (to say the least), and Ramirez explains that Callie will continue to be cautious with her behavior at home. “I think that given that her wife is just getting back up on her feet — or foot as it were — Callie is sort of just trying not to make anything worse.”
Though Calzona (I freakin’ love that shipper name, bee tee dubs) is experiencing yet another rough patch, Ramirez told me that she is actually excited for this one. “What I kind of love is that a couple seasons ago, Arizona was there for Callie when Callie was going through [a lot] — you know, she almost died and lost her baby. So what’s really great this season was seeing how, in a sense, the roles have been reversed and Arizona is now going through something medical and that is very, very scary and upsetting and Callie is now having to be strong and be the rock and very forgiving. So we’ll see how that plays out.”
Something tells me that this couple will definitely make it through this mess, but I do wish that Callie would start smiling a bit more. Ramirez says with a laugh, “Totally! I couldn’t agree more.” Looking ahead to this week’s episode, Ramirez says Seattle Grace fans can look forward to yet another amazing episode. “We’ve shot some pretty intense scenes," she says. "This next episode, which is Chandra Wilson’s, is really fantastic. She did a really great job, so I’m excited for that episode.“
2. Supernatural: Meet The New Ladies!
Grab your lassoes and hop on your horses, Supernatural fans, because later this season, the sexiest brothers on TV are ready to cowboy up and get down and dirty on a ranch. In episode 13, “Trial and Error,” fans will be introduced to three new ladies that Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) meet in Idaho. Yes, you read that correctly: Idaho. It sounds a little boring compared to some of our recent adventures, but let’s decide that after we meet the little hoes, shall we? First up is Ellie, a girl in her mid-20s that is being described as “cowgirl hot" — think girl next door, but with a county twist. Ellie manages a ranch and her personality weaves between straight-forward and spunky.
But the most important part about Ellie is that she’s got to be gorgeous. (Um hello! It is a CW show after all!) The casting breakdown says the show's hoping to nab a “younger Sandra Bullock to Emma Stone” type of girl. The brothers will also be chatting it up with two sisters — twins to be exact. Alice and Cindy Cassity are two thirtysomething girls, and are simply described as “pretty” — think Gwyneth Paltrow. They are the slightly pretentious daughters of Cyrus Cassidy, the owner of a ranch. Whether or not this is the same ranch that Ellie manages is TBD. All right I’ve got to be honest, these girls all seem great and all but the biggest question is this: Can they bake pie?
3. Criminal Minds: Rossi’s Reveal
Criminal Minds is freakin’ awesome. I used to be scarily obsessed with it, but when I saw the an episode guest-starring James Van Der Beek as a split personality, homicidal maniac, my Dawson’s Creek heart couldn’t take it and I had nightmares for weeks. Now that I’m a bit older, and have discovered that my cell phone can double as a nightlight, I’ve fully re-embraced Criminal Minds, adding it back onto my elite DVR list. Last week I had to pleasure of chatting with Joe Mantegna and he explained why he believes fans are so obsessed — and rightfully so — with this CBS hit. “We like to think we’re a thinking person’s show," he says. "We don’t speak down to our audience. We try to challenge them and let them explore this world with us." This week’s episode, titled “The Fallen," is going to be a huge treat for long-time viewers of the series. After all, we're finally going to get a more in-depth look into David Rossi’s past. “We’ve alluded to the fact that my character, David Rossi, had some background in the military," the actor says. "That’s going to really get explored [this week]. As a young man, he was in Vietnam with his commanding officer at that time and now David runs into him many, many years after and see that he is homeless on the streets of Los Angeles.”
Through flashbacks, we’re going to gain more knowledge of Rossi’s past as a soldier in Vietnam and Mantegna says he was delighted to meet Robert Dunne, the actor who plays young David. “We only got to meet at the read-through because, obviously, we can’t be at the same place at the same time, but he did a wonderful job and I bought it," he says. "And I figure if I bought it then everybody else would be able to buy it."
So prepare yourself, Criminal Minds fans, for a personal and provocative episode. “In this case, Veterans and homelessness are issues that are relevant and I think that we do it in a very interesting and entertaining way," Mantegna says. "I couldn’t be happier with the episode.”
4. Arrow: That’s So 2007
Tonight’s episode of Arrow once again starts off with a shirtless Oliver (Stephen Amell). I really hope that this becomes a weekly tradition, because, holy hell, that man is definitely bringing sexy back. And speaking of out-of-date pop culture references, it looks like Ollie needs to take a crash course on what’s hot and what’s not in 2012. For example (as Thea so painstaking points out on the series), “Oh snap” is no longer a socially acceptable comeback and Dr. Oz is in no way, shape, or form connected to Dorothy and her Ruby slippers. (It’s okay Oliver, I’ll still love you even if you really have no idea how to navigate a Facebook timeline.) Moving along to this week’s bad guys, Diggle is determined to stop a group of mask-wearing bank robbers, but Oliver says he wants nothing to do with these sub-par Starling evil doers: “I don’t fight street crime.” Of course it doesn’t take long for Diggle to convince his new partner to tweak his crime-fighting standards. Spoiler Alert: Even in the middle of a heated attack, the Starling City Police still call him a “vigilante.” Can someone please send them a post-it note explaining that his badass superhero name is Arrow?! In other more romantical news, Tommy is doing his best to woo Laurel and he turns to a somewhat unlikely friend for help. Thus, our show's love-triangle transforms into a kinda, sorta love-square. Oh The CW, you sure know how to toy with our emotions while all the hot people fall in love with one another, don’tcha?
5. How I Met Your Mother: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
This season of HIMYM has been a tad stale, even for the most ardent of the show's fans. That includes myself — I love this show so much, it pains me to admit that six episodes have already aired and very little (of interest, at least) has happened. Barney and Quinn are caput, Robin and her newest beau on are the rocks, and Victoria left Ted without making a single cupcake! So basically, we’re back to square one and hoping praying that we will soon get some progress towards the infamous wedding/mother reveal.
Until then, I caught up with my favorite bro-ther, Wayne Brady, to see if James Stinson is going to make his way back to MacLaren’s Pub anytime soon. “I believe James is,” Brady confirms with a smile. “I don’t know when. I really can't say. They’re bros and he has to be there to back him up. Especially if his big day is going to happen.”
Yay! Barney is always at his best when his fellow suit-lover is around. So what has the other legendary Stinson been up to since we last saw him? Brady muses, “As far as I know, James and his husband, Jay — they hang out, they have the baby and they’re good. They go to fashion week in New York and they go to a couple Broadway shows and life is great.” Now only if he can convince Barney to start thinking about settling down — then we could finally get some progress!
6. The Vampire Diaries: Dark, Rock Bottom
Last week’s episode of TVD was flawless. Elena had her first kill, Jeremy is now a member of The Five, and Matt learned that he could compel a girl just by looking ridiculously hot. But now that so many game changers have come into play, I looked to Vampire Diaries boss lady Julie Plec to shed some light on what’s up next. First up, Stelena: In this week’s episode, Plec says Elena’s irritation over her boyfriend’s deceit will definitely linger. “She’s mad at him," Plec says. "And she definitely starts [this] week super mad at him. And so, forgiveness and understanding and learning the truth of what he was up to and is up to — all those things are up ahead and we’ll see how she handles it.” The showrunner also teased that mistrust is going to impact and possibly shift our love triangle beginning this week. You hear that Delena fans? Oh, you’re hyperventilating with excitement? Proceed.
Now let’s tackle the mythology details, y’all. We’ve met other vampire hunters in Mystic Falls before (RIP Alaric), but what distinguishes The Five from these wannabes? “This is the original story of the vampire hunter told to its end, as opposed to Alaric, who was really pissed off and had a good stake,” Plec reveals.
The quest for answers about the cure is going to be a large arc that we focus on this season, and there are some major challenges ahead. “Oh, everything's about to change in some way or another," Plec says. "Those changes will have a ripple effect through the entire season. I'm not saying it's all going to change next Thursday at 8 o'clock, but there are some pretty big moves next week as a result of this.”
Right now, everything is going to be dark and twisty as Elena deals with the repercussions of killing a hunter, but her life life will eventually improve. “Elena's certainly been in a pretty dark place," Plec says. "[This] week, we kind of hit dark, rock bottom, and then, the episode that follows is like this episode of light and pretty and sun.” We can all thank the Miss Mystic Falls event for our upcoming sunny disposition. Yay for tiaras! Follow Leanne on Twitter @LeanneAguilera
–Additional reporting by Shaunna Murphy
[Photo Credit: ABC, CBS, The CW]
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Leonardo DiCaprio, one of Hollywood's most talented A-list actors, is set to star in a biopic of the F.B.I.'s first director (and notorious communist hunter), J. Edgar Hoover, to be directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood. The yet-unnamed project will be DiCaprio's first with Eastwood, a substantial shift for the actor who has worked with director Martin Scorsese on all four of his most recent films.
Although some people might be quick to draw a parallel between this film and Robert De Niro's 2006 The Good Shepherd (starring Matt Damon), the comparison doesn't really hold up. De Niro's was a fictional biopic of a man loosely based on James Angleton, the chief of the C.I.A during the early years of the Cold War; Hoover's career spanned the late 20s and early 30s, at the height of a wave of gangster violence caused by Prohibition and organized crime. And most importantly, Eastwood as a director is far superior to De Niro, whose only other directorial project was the 1993 A Bronx Tale.
The epic F.B.I. drama and Hoover biopic will be produced by Brian Grazer and Rob Lorenz, with a script from Dustin Lance Black, who wrote 2008's Academy Award nominated Milk. Principal photography should begin later this year.