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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
The greatest victories of The Walking Dead are its unanswerable questions. Is it right to sacrifice an individual (or two) for the sake of the community? Each side has been argued for by its own number of venerable schools of thought, and this will likely be the the issue faced on next week's episode. We concluded last Sunday with the revelation that someone had killed and burned the bodies of infected prison residents Karen and David, presumably to keep the disease contained. Naturally, this sparked a variety of reactions, which we witness on this week's episode "Isolation":
Tyreese, Karen's boyfriend, embodies the purely emotional response, going berserk over the murder of his lover and vowing to take down whoever committed such an atrocity.
The more stoic Daryl represents the humanistic standpoint, as he is wont to do. He seems to believe, albeit with far more patience than Tyreese, that such an act was criminal and not a measure that should have been taken.
Rick, as always, looks to be the one on the fence. He vocalizes his distaste for the tactic, but we can't help but notice inside of him the appreciation for the hard necessities like these... maybe he's just grateful he wasn't the one who had to make the call.
And finally, Carol. Kind, sweet, matronly, compassionate Carol. She must think killing of any kind is wrong, right? Well... not quite. See... she's the one who murdered Karen and David.
We learn that for certain in the final seconds of "Isolation," when she comes out and admits her deed to Rick. And with conviction, too. It's not as though the decision isn't haunting her — earlier on in the episode, we see Carol breaking down, kicking over a tub of water, and reaching tears. She's not a monster. It's something she wrestled with. But ultimately, just as she decided it was necessary to teach the children how to fight, she decided it was necessary to kill two innocent people to keep them from infecting everyone else.
In using Carol as a vehicle for this particularly utilitarian ideology, Walking Dead actually makes a terrific choice. As creatures of sympathy and compassion, we're inclined to side immediately with Tyreese and Daryl — but the show doesn't want to present any of its arguments with a given winner or loser. It wants to challenge us with questions wherein we'd have to stray far and away from our comfort zones and societal constructs in order to even entertain an alternative viewpoint. Thus, it uses Carol, a fan favorite and someone who always acts selflessly, to represent the harder-to-swallow position in this argument. The Walking Dead wants us to think, "Maybe what she did was right." And Carol, with her slow climb from battered wife to grieving mother of a zombified little girl to self-assured badass and moral compass of the camp, is probably the best venue for that challenge.
As it stands, we don't know exactly what her fate will be — if Tyreese will find out and attempt to avenge his dead lover, if Rick will stand up for Carol's actions, if she'll lose the favor of her pal Daryl. But we're setting up for one of the most interesting, potentially engaging moral debates The Walking Dead has shown us in quite some time.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
S2E3: This week, Shameless explores just how much of a downward spiral they can put Fiona in. Even with his constant scheming (and his hand in Dotty’s demise), Frank’s scenes are less scandalizing – but then again we expect him to do awful things. Watching the accidental matriarch of the Gallagher clan doing all the wrong things - like breaking her own rule and sleeping with a married man - is something that’s a little harder to swallow, but it certainly makes for great television. We spent last season seeing what a great person Fiona is. We watched her defy stereotypes and garner the attention of her Prince Charming. Things were actually starting to get better, until he left and she didn’t go with him. And now, we’re seeing what happens in the aftermath.
At the risk of sounding like a Kelly Clarkson song, watching Fiona as a beautiful disaster is a highly entertaining way to overcome the potential for a sophomore slump in the series' second season. And while the rest of the family has their own troubles, Fiona’s and Frank's respective issues take the cake as usual. Why Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy don’t get more credit for this show is beyond me. Maybe the voting powers that be have issues with a character who’s willing to have sex with his pseudo-girlfriend until she dies. It wouldn’t look so great on a nominations reel, now would it?
“Coffee coffee or banging coffee?” –Veronica
Fiona starts the episode off with a bang – literally. She dreams about hooking up with Craig Heisler on red, silk sheets is interrupted by Debbie waking her up with a list of facts and euphemisms about dead people. As that’s happening, Fiona gets a text from Craig asking her to meet for coffee. Obviously, she accepts. V asks about Craig and Fiona says he’s married and she once again says she’s not interested in married men, she’s just going to show him what he could have had in high school. The classic, look-what-you-missed-out-on ego boost. V’s not buying it and neither are we.
At the coffee shop, they chat about high school, what they’ve been doing since. He’s definitely flirting, telling her “You had the best ass in the sophomore class.” She makes the mistake of referring to his wife and high school sweetheart as “that bitchy cheerleader,” but he doesn’t seem too miffed because he ventures to say they would have been good together. She’s enjoying teasing him, but it seems like he might actually be into cheating. And if that wasn’t enough, he calls later to suss out whether or not she’s willing to be the other woman. Despite her refusal and protestations to V, Fiona seems interested.
But, she’s distracted by a man telling her to pick her purse up on the train: there’s a Louis Vuitton bag sitting on the floor on the El. She assumes it belongs to “some rich b**ch” and starts spending the money in it: 500 bucks cash. The family enjoys a huge dinner at Sizzler and Lip tells Fiona to see if the woman would offer a reward for its return. At this point, Fiona thinks seeing Craig was a good thing because it led to the purse. Once again, V’s stern looks suggest otherwise – as does what happens next. Fiona takes the bag to the “rich b**ch” and it turns out she’s a single mom and the cash was her rent. Step one of Fiona unraveling.
"In some parts of India, they leave dead bodies in the street to be eaten by vultures.” -Debbie
“I can’t wait to die.” –Ethel
Throughout the episode – like when Fiona is dreaming about Craig – Debbie interjects with her little theories and obsessions with death, singing dark lyrics as Lip and Ian discuss the potential of Westpoint; using the Sizzler trip to discuss what happens after death with Ethel; and eventually earning a sit-down with V, who seems to be taking up the role of substitute-substitute mother while Fiona is having her breakdown. Debbie tells V she’s worried that she’ll be alone because her siblings will all die before her; from her angle, their ages are just too disparate. V tries to cheer her up, saying she needs to try to think of nice things. She almost gets there: “A puppy. Getting hit by a car.”
Lip is introduced to a general from the army so that he can potentially help him with a top secret project. Lip says he’s too busy working on a device that wirelessly nabs credit card information, but he wants the general to tell him about Westpoint for his brother. Of course, the general thinks it’s for Lip, since he’s the science and math wiz. He says if Lip works on his project, he’ll tell him anything he wants to know. Lip tells Ian about meeting the man from the Army, but Ian’s not progressing – he’s still getting low scores on his practice tests. Not much else happens here, but we can be sure this dynamic is going to take a hit if Ian doesn’t start bringing up those test scores. And Lip’s about to hit another wall. Karen thinks Jody is going to propose, so while she and Lip are hooking up she says they can’t do it again. Throughout everything she seems so disinterested in all of it – sex with Lip, a life with Jody. Sure, I want Lip to get what he wants, but Karen is toxic and Lip can do better.
“I’m gonna go to the loan store today and pick up some forms.” –Kev
“You mean the bank?” –V
Kev wants to buy the Alibi Room because the owner’s dementia is starting to become an issue. They need to put him in a home, and Kev sees an opportunity. If he buys the bar, there will be plenty of money for at-home care and no one will come in and turn it into a T.G.I. Fridays. Once again, V is the voice of reason, but not right away. Kev tells Veronica about his plan to buy the bar. Veronica thinks it’s stupid, but she can’t bring herself to tell Kev that, thinking he’ll tire of the idea soon enough. He doesn’t, so she tries other means. V tries to tell Kev she doesn’t want him to buy the bar because she’ll never see him. That doesn’t work. So then she tries math: they want 20 percent down. He says he’ll do special events like disco night to make 1000 extra bucks a week. This plan is bound to fail. V is not amused. Kev is still certain he can get the bar. He’s got ideas for borrowing money to get the down payment – all of which will put them in a tight spot. So V finally tells him the truth: it’s a terrible idea. Kev thinks she’s saying he’s dumb; she says she doesn’t want to ruin their credit or her mother’s. She shows up at his first even at the Alibi, a failed beach party, and tries to show him support, but it seems that this issue is going to be a problem for the usually perfectly happy couple.
“She could be like those poor people born without a heart.” –Frank
“You mean dead people?” –Kev
Frank is still despicably working on Dotty for her pension and is dumb enough to bring it up, very obviously trying to figure out if anyone is in line for it. Dotty says Kermit from the bar has been doing electrical work, so Frank decides to make sure he’s not also working on the pension. It turns out Kermit is just a good guy helping a dying woman; he’s in a relationship and has no intentions of exploiting Dotty like Frank is. Then something falls in Frank’s lap: Jody comes to see Frank and asks him for his blessing so he can marry Karen. Frank distracts him with beers and then steals the ring, then uses it to propose to Dotty. She’s not buying it, then she gets it out of him: he’s after the pension. He says he’ll keep her memory alive – says he’ll light a candle for her every day at church, get a drink named after her, and have last call be a toast to her, all so her memory will never be forgotten. I almost believe him and she really does: she agrees to marry him.
While Dotty is in the shower, she gets the beep for a new heart. Frank responds and tells them she’s dead, later yammering on the bar about how transplants go against God’s plan as a way to justify his awful decisions. Sometimes I wish he wasn’t so hilariously awful; I’m probably going to hell for laughing at the horrible things he does.
On the day they’re supposed to get married, Dotty sees that a B positive heart was given to a little boy the previous day. She says they’re rare and that another one won’t pop up for six months – which is time she doesn’t have, so she’s ready to die now. Instead of getting married, she just wants to have sex so it will kill her. Frank wants to get their marriage on paper first but she says she’s giving her pension to her daughter because she mistreated her. All she can offer him to do the deed is $2,000 and her flat-screen TV. SO HE DOES IT. And that, ladies and gentleman, is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen on television. Still, he gave a dying woman her wish. Somehow, he comes out on top this week, while Fiona is the one left looking like a terrible person.
“Wanna pretend like we’re back in high school?” –Fiona
“We don’t have to pretend.” –Carl
Fiona’s guilt gets the best of her and she tries to teach the kids that it’s the right thing to give the purse woman her money back. However, when she takes the money back the woman (rightfully) yells at her for stealing the money and cruelly insults her, calling her trash from the South Side. In anger, Fiona does the wrong thing, keeps the money and takes Craig up on his offer for a tryst. And if you thought the scene with Frank screwing Dotty to death was disturbing, then this scene killed that. Craig and Fiona hook up in his van, with baby food and old sandwiches everywhere, plus Craig’s disgusting sex face – he’s clearly kept the same set of moves since he was a horny teenager.
After she was already driven into the dumps by the purse woman, this pushes her to rock bottom. As she sits on the train, practically in tears, she calls Steve and he answers – with a really terrible fake beach behind him. She says she just wanted to say hi and he’s glad to hear from her, but the real situation at hand is surely going to make her very unhappy as soon as Steve makes another appearance in Chicago. Pan out and the reason Steve is shirtless is because he’s getting head from a woman in his exotic locale. First season romance has to go sour in Season Two – they’ve got to keep us hanging on every word - but this stings.
And, in her current state, Fiona needs to clean up her act before she deserves her happy ending. There’s a difference between empowerment and living life the way she wants – even if it means having wild, promiscuous sex – but Fiona slept with a married man and spent someone else’s rent money because she found it on the train. She’s in pain and as a result, she’s renouncing her usually sound and moral practices – you know, other than stealing toilet paper from restaurant bathrooms, which let’s face it, is a risk they take by providing it, amirite?
Do you think Fiona has done her worst? Or is she just finally showing that she’s related to Frank after all? Let us know in the comments or find me on Twitter @KelseaStahler