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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Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
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Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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Here are some of this week's highlights from Flavorwire, VH1, Celebuzz, and Hollywood.com, ranging from Jennifer Lawrence to libraries.
There's a feud going on between Jennifer Lawrence and Joan Rivers. Apparently, Jennifer Lawrence dissed Rivers' show Fashion Police in an interview, calling it damaging to women and the world. Rivers fired back on Twitter, suggesting that Lawrence was arrogant and hypocritical. Read the full interaction at Celebuzz.
VH1 offers likability tips to Anne Hathaway. Number one: Be more like Jennifer Lawrence. The actress has inexplicably drawn the internet's anger, but could there be a solution? Here is VH1's advice to Hathaway to end all the Hathahate.
Find out who the best pop culture librarians are. Whether they are the villainous shushers or the sexy nerds, librarians hold a dear place in pop culture. From Tammy II of Parks and Rec to Conan the librarian, check out which librarians made Flavorwire's list.
There's a lot of genre-bending going on. Hollywood.com picks up on the trend and lists the shows, both new and old, that created their own genres. Super Fun Night is labeled a sad-com, while Golden Girls invented the much-mimicked quartet comedy. Read the full list at Hollywood.com.
Country star Rodney Atkins is a married man after exchanging vows with singer/songwriter Rose Falcon in Florida. The happy couple tied the knot on the beach on Captiva Island on Sunday (10Nov13), with Atkins' son Elijah, from his first marriage, serving as the groom's best man.
The nuptials were made extra special by the fact that Atkins had asked Charles Hutchins, the founder of the children's home where he spent much of his youth before he was adopted by Allen and Margaret Atkins, to officiate the ceremony.
The date was already of significance to Atkins - his parents wed on that day 51 years ago, and the newlyweds decided to mark the special occasion by presenting the singer's mother with a three-carat aquamarine ring.
Atkins began dating Falcon following his 2011 split from first wife Tammy Jo amid allegations of domestic violence. He was cleared of the assault charge and their divorce was finalised in September, 2012.
Actress Melissa Mccarthy was left with a bruised ego while practising a stunt for her new movie after flying off a jet ski and losing an expensive wig before filming had even begun. The Bridesmaids star was determined to perform a water stunt for one scene in Tammy herself, despite having little prior experience on a jet ski, so she decided to go for a test run with her stunt co-ordinator - complete with her character's pricey hairpiece to make sure it would stay in place during the shoot.
However, her safety check didn't go quite as planned and she soon ended up underwater, ruining the wig.
She says, "I wanted to do it (the stunt) myself. I had been on a jet ski for 14 minutes in my life at this point... So we were out there and this is the safety check and I'm out there with the stunt guy and he's walking and talking me through everything...
"I have this wig that cost an unbelievable amount of money... so I got the wig on, there's like 35 pins in my hair, it's not going anywhere and I'm out there and... I got a little cocky.
"I'm now going about 40 (miles an hour) and in my head I'm like, 'I don't know why I don't do this professionally...' So I'm like, 'S curve time.' My very first one I'm thinking I'm going to like, dazzle them and literally on the first one it (jet ski) brakes, I flip over it and I'm under water before I know I'm off the jet ski. It's an incredibly violent fall and I'm like, so deep I don't know I'm under (the water). I don't know which way is the sky. I'm literally like, 'Just let it go and you'll float...' and I came up to the top... and I'm like, 'I lost the wig.' We had to rush and get another wig made, I'm like, 'I'm sorry guys'."
Nick Offerman consistently delivers, whether it's in his new book, Paddle Your Own Canoe, in late night appearances, or in Reddit Q&As. He rarely wavers from his sexy, masculine woodsman persona, one that resembles, but doesn't mimic, that of his Parks and Rec character Ron Swanson. Find out what Offerman had to say at his much anticipated Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA). And man, does this guy enjoy dropping the S-bomb.
The manliest sentence he can write: "I give you my word."
On the biggest similarities and differences between himself between himself and Ron Swanson: "Most like - Tammy 2 [played by real-life wife Megan Mullally] turns me into a rutting sex ox. Least Like - Ron's in the dark ages, whilst I'm up to date with all the kids "kool" lingo, like "neato fresh" and "funky bitchin'"."
His perfect Sunday: "June 22, 1986"
Some parenting advice to a new father: "I have not raised a child, but I believe the fact that you're asking questions and paying attention are very good signs. Love your bairn, try to gently steer him/her towards handtools and away from CNC driven woodworking, which is basically robot craftsmanship. Make sure he/she knows to raise the grain before finish, especially in walnut. When the time is right, introduce charcoal/wood as the clear alternative to gas. Simply put: Give a s**t."
His greatest achievement: "Making my wife scream with a desperate, ragged orgasm that tore her vocal chords and we had to go to the hospital."
On his famous giggle: "I do not giggle, nor ever engage in any activity that could be described as 'adorable.' I sometimes utter a manly guffaw when I see something like football of ultimate fighting. Is that what you meant?"
The men he would kiss on the lips if he had to: "I suppose Meatloaf's lips would be flavorful with bacon and beef. Although I'm tempted to say some homophobic asswipe like Swaggart or Limbaugh, because I would bring them around to the good guys' side with one smooch. I'm that good."
His secrets to marital success: "Have a great sense of humor, be respectful and always communicate fairly, and engage in a s**tload of 69. Appropriate amount of Lagavulin to have on hand? 1-2 shelves."
On redheads: "Redheads are the greatest. Rupert Grint? Forget about it!!"
Something he's never told anyone else: "I have 7 testicles."
The best scotch and whiskey to eat with a steak: "What an incredibly fortunate time and place we live in, to have the extreme luxury in our lives of pondering which scotch is best paired with a steak, a query that presupposes the possession of both steak and whisky. I suppose my answer would have to be 'the best scotch/whisky to eat with a steak is America.'"
The Parks and Rec star who makes the cast laugh the most: "Pratt, easy [Chris Pratt]. Lots of mad talent in the ensemble, and Amy is in a league of her own, like the league of Tina and Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon, but Pratt has the wildcard flavor to make us all s**t little green apples."
The best way to start chatting up a girl: "speak."
How to fix loose metal knobs on a drawer:"Remove knob. Drill slightly larger hole. Glue in a piece of dowel pre-cut to size. Drill new hole. Enjoy an intoxicant. You can also jam a bunch of toothpicks in the hole with glue, then trim them flush after the glue dries, but that method is much less elegant."
His best life advice: "I always tell people to figure out what it is they love to do, and then find a way to get paid to do it. I've been a lot happier in my life getting paid a little bit to do what I love (like acting in theater) than when getting paid a lot to do something I hate."
His favorite adverb: "Verily."
The secret to his facial hair: "No secret. I was lucky enough to have been born with some bracken-like whiskers. If you do not share that fortune, I suggest you cultivate an interesting hair coif or perhaps some pleasing accessories, like a driving cap."
On his recent visit to Scotland on Parks and Rec: "Ah, Scotland! My first time indeed, saw me traipse clear up to Islay, where I had a Swansonian number of wee drams. Also some middle-sized drams. Many of the long, wide shots of Ron on the cliffs would reveal tears of joy and gratitude streaming down my cheeks, were you to zoom in tightly enough, as the beauty and charm of that fair isle had me utterly besotted. The folks at Lagavulin were top-drawer, and I was as giggly as a pig in s**t. A very giggly pig. Also, sheep tend to appreciate my scent. It's flattering at first, but then their nuzzling can begin to bruise."
Read the rest of his charming, and highly sexual, interview here.
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Hollywood magician and actor John Calvert has died, aged 102. The star passed away on Friday (27Sep13) in Lancaster, California. No further details about his death were available as WENN went to press.
A statement posted on the website of The International Brotherhood of Magicians reads, "John Calvert, 102, the venerable magician, author, and movie star, died Friday morning, September 27, 2013, in Lancaster, California... Mr. Calvert's long-time wife, Tammy, was at his side."
Calvert, assisted by his wife of more than 50 years, Tammy, enjoyed a career spanning more than eight decades, performing both on Broadway and in Las Vegas, and he was famous for his ground-breaking tricks, which included firing a woman from a cannon into a box suspended overhead on the stage. He was also known for creating the illusion of sawing off the head of a spectator using a giant buzz saw.
His fans included movie stars Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, who often joined him on stage when he was performing in Los Angeles.
He was also an actor, playing the detective nicknamed The Falcon in three movies, Devil's Cargo (1948), Appointment With Murder (1948) and Search for Danger (1949), while his credits also include Are These Our Parents? (1944), The Return of the Durango Kid (1945) and 1956's Dark Venture, which he directed and starred in.
He continued performing his magic show right up until weeks before his death, and two years ago he fulfilled a lifelong dream by performing at the London Palladium.
Country singer Melissa Etheridge has won a court battle allowing her to take her kids on tour. The star's ex-partner Tammy Lynn Michaels asked a judge for a hearing over the care of their six-year-old twins, who Etheridge wanted to take on the road with her.
A court date took place on 30 August (13) after Michaels expressed her fears that their kids were at risk of illness because they haven't been vaccinated for a range of diseases, and claimed they would be around drugs and rowdy female fans.
But the judge refused to take her concerns into account, and denied her request to ban the children from Etheridge's tour.
The children will only attend seven dates of Etheridge's latest trek - she closes the jaunt in Colorado on 15 September (13).
The couple split in 2010.
Gay icon Melissa Etheridge's former partner is fighting to stop the singer/songwriter from taking their kids on tour with her. Tammy Lynn Michaels' request for an emergency hearing regarding the care of the former couple's six-year-old twins was denied by a Los Angeles judge on Friday (12Jul13), but a court date has been scheduled for next month (Aug13) to review the case.
According to court documents obtained by TMZ.com, the actress fears her kids are at risk of illness because they haven't been vaccinated against diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, measles and chicken pox.
She is also worried the twins will be exposed to rowdy female rock fans, who "remove their shirts and bras and throw them on stage".
Lynn Michaels also doesn't want her kids being around drugs, claiming, "There is use of marijuana on the tour bus and in the dressing rooms."
The former couple split in 2010 and the singer/songwriter recently announced she was planning to make use of California's new same sex marriage laws and wed her fiancee Linda Wallem.
Lesbian rocker Melissa Etheridge is celebrating the news gay people can now wed legally in California by planning her own nuptials. Minutes after U.S. Supreme Court judges declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) "unconstitutional" and High Court officials also overturned California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage, on Wednesday (26Jun13), Etheridge went public with her plans to wed fiancee Linda Wallem.
The singer/songwriter told CNN, "It is about family and I love my four kids. I called my now-fiancee. I'm looking forward to marrying my partner of three years... I'm going to get married in the state of California. I woke (the kids) up this morning telling them the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA... I love everybody out there. It's a great day.
"Love is love and America is beautiful... I'm proud to be an American."
The Come to My Window singer also shared her wedding news with followers on Twitter.com, writing, "I look forward to exercising my American civil liberties and getting fully, completely and legally married this year to my true love of over three years, Linda Wallem."
Etheridge split from her former partner, actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, in 2010. The couple shares custody of seven-year-old twins Johnnie and Miller. She also has two kids from a previous relationship with director Julie Cypher.