Built from comic book auteur Frank Miller’s (Sin City) rock solid foundations 300 is based on his vision on the 1962 film The 300 Spartans filtered through the same tough-as-nails pulp sensibility that populates most of his comics work. Leaving such leaden wannabe sword-and-sandal epics like Troy and Alexander in the historical dust 300 reworks the real-life legendary tale of the Battle of Thermopylae in which a battalion of 300 elite Spartan soldiers heroically hold the line to protect ancient Greece from the invading Persian hordes. The story focuses on the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) who must not only lead his small cadre of troops--each one honored since childhood into a razor-sharp battle-relishing warrior—into a battle they are unlikely to survive but he must also fight for the fate of Greece and its democratic ideals. As the bizarre seemingly endless marauding legions of the tyrant Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) descend upon the Hot Gates—a narrow passageway into Greece that Leonidas’ miniscule band can most ably defend—the soldiers take up arms without the usual post-modern anti-war hand-wringing that most war epics indulge in. These soldiers are both bred for battle and fighting a good fight and the film focuses squarely on the highly charged action. Meanwhile in a new plotline created specifically for the movie his equally noble and faithful queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) takes up arms in a more symbolic way as she also tries to keep democracy alive by taking on the political warlords of Sparta to secure relief for her husband’s troops. Butler has become a familiar and welcome on-screen presence in such films as The Phantom of the Opera and Reign of Fire but there has been little on his mainstream movie resume to suggest the kind of bravura fire he brings to the role of Leonidas. This is the stuff of an actor announcing himself to the audience in a major way akin to Daniel Craig’s star-making turn as James Bond. In a big bold performance that could have gone awry in any number of ways Butler plays even the highest pitched notes like a concerto perfectly capturing the king’s bravado bombast cunning compassion and passion each step of the way. Headey is his ideal match imbuing the queen with more steel and nobility in a handful of scenes than most actresses can summon to carry entire films. Fans of Lost and Brazilian cinema will be hard-pressed to even recognize Santoro whose earnest pretty handsomeness is radically transformed into Xerxes’ exotic borderline freakish form personifying a terrifying yet seductive force of corruption and evil that spreads like a cancer across the earth. And don’t forget to add in the most impressive array of rock-hard abs on cinematic display since well ever (think Brad Pitt in Troy times 300). Even bolstered by canny casting choices and their washboard stomachs helmer Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) is the true undisputable star of 300 establishing himself firmly as a director whose work demands to be watched. With a kinetic sensibility that’s akin to Quentin Tarantino and John Woo and using CGI technology to its utmost effects both subtle and dynamic Snyder creates a compelling fully formed world that the audience is eager to explore. Snyder doesn’t literally match Miller’s signature artwork as meticulously as director Robert Rodriguez did with Sin City. Instead Snyder captures Miller’s essence be it raw brutality majestic size and scope the exotic and otherworldly carnal physicality or hideous deformity--even seemingly antiquated and potentially off-putting techniques like the repeated use of slow-motion are put to fresh effect making every blow and cut seem crucial. Yet even in the visual glorification of some of the most bloody and violent conflicts ever put to film Snyder infuses the tale—which ultimately is one big glorious testosterone-soaked fight sequence—with the sense of honor and sacrifice which characterizes the most noble of war efforts. Yes war can be hell but this is a case where some like it hot.
In The Sentinel the president (David Rasche) faces a whole new threat: the Secret Service. One of its most respected agents Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is assigned to take care of the first lady (Kim Basinger) and does he ever! He has an affair with her which while utterly absurd sets the real story in motion. He receives steamy photos of the two in a blackmail scheme that he learns is part of an assassination attempt on the Prez for which he’s being framed. The agent spearheading the investigation David Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) grows skeptical of Garrison whom he thinks had an affair with his wife. Before long Garrison’s on the lam in true “it wasn’t me it was the one armed guy” fashion. He’ll stop at nothing to clear his name and bring the bad guy(s) to justice even if it means hooking up to the Internet from a gas station (?) via his Dell computer the tech brand apparently most trusted by the Secret Service. Michael Douglas is back and…the same as ever. He loves to play his roles safe and it doesn’t get safer for him than the urbane almost-over-the-hill pro who yells a lot. He has a stranglehold on baby boomers who’ve stuck with him through thick and Catherine Zeta-Jones and they won’t be disappointed. Sutherland--the son of over-actors if Douglas is the father thereof--acts like he was filming on his 24 set which will make his devoted fans just as happy. The actors engage in one shouting match and it’s as engrossing as it is hilarious surprisingly. There should’ve been more of that dynamic since it’s apparently why people like these two. Eva Longoria appears in her first big movie to date and while she shows promise she’s dug herself a deep (pigeon)hole with Desperate Housewives: Fans long for a scantily clad drama queen not a docile fully clothed rookie agent. Think Sandra Bullock’s first big film role: Demolition Man. For a brief moment The Sentinel entertains us with an interesting and perhaps topical notion that a Secret Service agent with clear access to the president could be plotting an assassination. But then that’s where all the “entertaining” parts of the movie ceases of course. S.W.A.T. director Clark Johnson is at the helm here and he does up Washington D.C. Hollywood-style (in addition to giving himself a brief but important role in the film). Johnson tries to insert Sentinel into his S.W.A.T. template but S.W.A.T. for starters was R-rated and Sentinel should’ve been. When it’s not tripping over its implausibility The Sentinel trips over its predictability thanks to all of its more original predecessors from which it pilfers. And there’s so much product placement that if the film doesn’t do well at the box office we could see a ripple effect throughout the entire economy.
September 27, 2002 5:52am EST
Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) is a budding fashion designer living in New York City. She's dating the mayor's son Andrew Hemmings (Patrick Dempsey)--who with the help of a hairpiece looks a tad like JFK Jr.--from whom she receives the ultimate marriage proposal. (In case you haven't seen the trailer the scene involves a late-night proposal in Tiffany's with her choice of any ring.) She readily agrees but neglects to tell Andrew she already has an old man in her hometown of Pigeon Creek Alabama. A plane ride later Melanie is on her way home to deal with her divorce which hubby Jake (Josh Lucas) has been unwilling to give her for the past eight or so years. But once there Melanie realizes that her past is not so bad the folks are not that trashy and Jake isn't such a greaseball after all. She must now decide among many things which road to take. "I'm really happy in New York " she laments. "But then I come here and this fits too." Although the script for this romantic comedy is not the most original you have to appreciate the fact that scribes C. Jay Cox and Douglas Eboch make Melanie's decision challenging by never making either one of her beaus a jerk.
Witherspoon 's character Melanie is not as rambunctious as Legally Blonde's Elle Woods but the 26-year-old actress still manages to turn this movie into a delightful moviegoing experience. Witherspoon has a way of delivering her lines in quirky yet intelligent manner and--just like the reputation that proceeds her--is truly a joy to watch on screen. The film reunites Witherspoon with her American Psycho costar Lucas who more recently appeared in A Beautiful Mind. Lucas portrays Jake in a refreshing manner; he seems a little dopey at first because of his thick Southern accent but is actually a pretty sharp and witty guy who never puts up with Melanie's snotty flippant ways. In fact don't be surprised if you leave the theater longing to marry a Southerner who flies an amphibious plane with the words "Mo' Fishing" scrawled on the side. As the third player in the love triangle Dempsey does an adequate job as the blueblood aristocrat but the role is limited. All we really know about his character Andrew is that he's the mayor's son and has a terribly romantic side. Candice Bergen plays the tough mayor of New York City but not a very busy one it would appear. Bergen's character spends her time fussing over her son's love life and career while ordering her staff to dig up some dirt on Melanie.
In her press publicity for this film Witherspoon a native of Nashville Tenn. has accused Hollywood of often stereotyping Southerners as ignoramuses who talk funny but explains that this film offers a true representation of Southern values. I thought her comment was interesting considering director Andrew Tennant litters the film with clichés including a closeted gay man (Ethan Embry) who fears coming out to his rural peers and a woman who breastfeeds her baby in a bar. Despite its crudely identified characters Sweet Home Alabama is not a bad movie but nor is it great--and if you read the title you know how it will end. What makes this movie stand out more than the average romantic comedy is Witherspoon and Lucas: their characters are relatable and well written and both actors--especially Witherspoon--elevate the film to a higher standard. Tennant does however manage to convey a real essence of small towns. The movie could have done without eerie pro-confederacy messages like Melanie's father (Fred Ward) exclaiming "The South will rise again!"