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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When a niche director or a beloved cult film actor fades from the spotlight, it’s unfortunate. But when one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, someone who once displayed major box office might, goes AWOL, it borders on bizarre.
Yes, there is something to be said for every actor having their heyday and while it’s true that it’s only been a few years since his last film, we are still puzzled by the disappearance of Kurt Russell.
Why We Love Him
Kurt Russell has been a star nearly his entire life. He got his start doing a number of television series as a child. Then, in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Disney took notice of this talented youngster and Russell starred in several of their live-action family films including The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Barefoot Executive, and Superdad. He took a few other gigs here and there but up until the end of the 70s, much of his revenue came from the Walt Disney Corporation. But just when it seemed he would be a squeaky clean mouseketeer forever, along came John Carpenter.
In 1981, Russell was cast as one of cinema’s premier badasses, Snake Plissken, in Carpenter’s dystopian action flick Escape from New York. Russell displayed so much swagger and hard-edged disdain for authority that, coupled with his best vocal impression of Clint Eastwood, allowed for his complete reinvention in the eyes of Hollywood. He would follow this up with two more phenomenal Carpenter collaborations: The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. Russell was not only proving his merits as a leading man, but also as an action hero.
In the 90s, Russell padded out his action hero resume with even more unforgettable roles. First he played firefighter Bull McCaffrey in Ron Howard’s blazing action drama Backdraft. Next, he portrayed legendary lawman Wyatt Earp in 1993’s Tombstone; my favorite of Russell’s films to not be directed by John Carpenter. He then won the lead role of Col. Jack O’Neil in Stargate; a film that would later spawn a successful television series in which Russell’s character was played by MacGyver star Richard Dean Anderson. Then in 1996 he played an analyst who had to help take down a plane full of terrorists in Executive Decision; a film that, maybe more so than any since Escape from New York, would become synonymous with Russell himself.
What Happened to Him?
Russell’s career hit a bit of skid right at the end of the 1990s. It began with a revisit to the mantle of Snake Plissken in the abysmally silly and incredibly disappointing sequel Escape from L.A. In what I’ve deemed the “insult to injury trio,” we were then treated to Breakdown, Soldier, and 3000 Miles to Graceland. Seemingly seeking to shake off this cavalcade of failures, Russell returned to the studio that had made him a household name so many years prior. In 2004 he appeared in Miracle playing the coach of the 1980 U.S.A. men’s Olympic hockey team that shocked the world when they upset the Soviet Union. The next year he played superhero and father The Commander in the teen comedy Sky High. Both strong films and Russell was fantastic in each one.
Then, in 2007, Russell got the chance to make a comeback and a return to the darker action hero mold that had so informed his onscreen persona years before. With the help of Quentin Tarantino, a man accustomed to resurrecting careers (see John Travolta in Pulp Fiction), Russell brought to life the sinister Stuntman Mike in Death Proof; one half of the throwback exploitation anthology Grindhouse. Stuntman Mike was as charming as he was sadistic and his scenes with real life stuntwoman Zoe Bell amount to some of the best driving sequences on film.
Where’s He Been?
But somehow, despite this apparent resurgence, Russell still has not been seen in a film in four years. Again, this may seem a brief absence, but with the immense body of blockbuster films and memorable characters to his name, it’s an unusual one.
Since 1983, Russell has been involved with actress Goldie Hawn and together they have a child and Russell has another by a previous marriage. He’s also served as the father figure to Kate Hudson, Hawn’s daughter by a previous marriage, so he’s got plenty of fatherly duties to keep him busy. But beyond that conjecture, it’s hard to pin down the source of this particular acting sabbatical.
Thankfully the sabbatical is not permanent and Russell has two projects in the works. The first is called Touchback and revolves around a once-promising high school athlete reflecting on his life after an injury thwarted his dreams almost two decades before. The second is a film called Waco, a retelling of the infamous showdown between FBI agents and cult leader David Koresh. Both sound like interesting roles and hopefully at least one of them will return Russell to the mainstream success he so richly deserves.
The Writers Guild of America has announced its nominations for outstanding achievement in screen in 2002.
Antwone Fisher, Bowling for Columbine, Far From Heaven, Gangs of New York and My Big Fat Greek Wedding have been nominated for the WGA's best original screenplay award.
About a Boy, About Schmidt, Adaptation, Chicago and
The Hours meanwhile will contend for best adapted screenplay.
Antwone Fisher, Written by Antwone Fisher; Fox Searchlight
Bowling for Columbine, Written by Michael Moore; United Artists/Alliance Atlantis/Salter Street Films/Dog Eat Dog Films
Far From Heaven, Written by Todd Haynes; Focus Features
Gangs of New York, Screenplay by Jay Cocks and Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, story by Jay Cocks; Miramax Films
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Written by Nia Vardalos; Gold Circle Films/HBO/MPH Entertainment/Playtone
About a Boy, Screenplay by Peter Hedges and Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz, based on the novel by Nick Hornby; Universal Pictures/Studio Canal/Working Title Films/Tribeca Productions
About Schmidt, Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Louis Begley; New Line Cinema
Adaptation, Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, based on the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean; Columbia Pictures
Chicago, Screenplay by Bill Condon, based on the musical play, book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb and the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins; Miramax Films
The Hours, Screenplay by David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham; Paramount Pictures/Miramax Films
Animation--any length--one airing time (new category)
"The Bart Wants What It Wants" (The Simpsons), Written by John Frink & Don Payne; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Blame It on Lisa" (The Simpsons), Written by Bob Bendetson; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Godfellas" (Futurama), Written by Ken Keeler; 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Jaws Wired Shut" (The Simpsons), Written by Matt Selman; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"My Own Private Rodeo" (King of the Hill), Written by Alex Gregory & Peter Huyck; 20th Century Fox Television Productions in association with Deedle-Dee Productions, Judgmental Films and 3 Arts Entertainment; Fox
Santa Baby! Written by Peter Bakalian & Suzanne Collins; Rankin/Bass; Fox
Original Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
Dor to Door, Written by William H. Macy & Steven Schachter; Turner Pages, Inc.; TNT
The Gathering Storm, Teleplay by Hugh Whitemore, Story by Larry Ramin and Hugh Whitemore; a Scott Free Production in association with HBO Films; HBO
Sins of the Father Written by John Pielmeier, based on the magazine article that appeared in Texas Monthly by Pamela Colloff; Artisan; FX
Strange Relations, Written by Tim Kazurinsky; Showtime; Granada Entertainment; Showtime
Adapted Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
"Batogne" (Band of Brothers), Written by Bruce C. McKenna, based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose; DreamWorks/Playtone/HBO; HBO
Hysterical Blindness, Teleplay by Laura Cahill, based on the play by Laura Cahill; Hysterical Films, Inc.; HBO
Last Call, Screenplay by Henry Bromell, based on the memoir Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald by Frances Kroll Ring; Room 520/Barnstorm Films; Showtime
Mark Twain's Roughing It, Teleplay by Steven H. Berman, based on the book Roughing It by Mark Twain; Larry Levinson Productions; Hallmark Channel
Episodic Drama--any length, one airing time
"Game On" (The West Wing), Written by Aaron Sorkin & Paul Redford; John Wells Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television; NBC
"In Place of Anger" (Six Feet Under), Written by Christian Taylor; Six Feet Productions; HBO
"Nino Del Polvo" (Resurrection Boulevard), Written by Robert Eisele; Showtime; Viacom Productions, Inc.; Patagonia House; Showtime
"On the Beach" (ER), Written by John Wells; Constant C Productions; Amblin Television; Warner Bros. Television; NBC
Pilot (The Education of Max Bickford), Written by Dawn Prestwich & Nicole Yorkin; 20th Century Fox Television; CBS
"Whoever Did This" (The Sopranos), Written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess; Soprano Productions, Inc.; HBO
Episodic Comedy--any length, one airing time
"Change of Address" (Sex and the City), Written by Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"I Heart NY" (Sex and the City), Written by Michael Patrick King; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
Pilot (The Bernie Mac Show), Written by Larry Wilmore; Regency Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television; FOX
"My First Day", (pilot, Scrubs), Written by Bill Lawrence; Touchstone Television Productions; NBC
"Plus One is the Loneliest Number" (Sex and the City), Written by Cindy Chupack; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"Rooms With a View" (Frasier), Written by Dan O' Shannon & Lori Kirkland & Bob Daily; Grub Street Productions in association with Paramount Pictures; NBC
"The Wedding" (Ed), Written by Rob Burnett & Jon Beckerman; Viacom Productions in association with Worldwide Pants, Inc. and NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety---Music, Awards, Tributes--Specials--any length
The Kennedy Center Honors Written by Don Baer and George Stevens, Jr., Film Sequences Written by Sara Lukinson; A George Stevens Jr. Presentation - Kennedy Center Television Productions, Inc.; CBS
NBC 75th Anniversary Special, Written by Doug Abeles, James Anderson, Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Charlie Grandy, Steve Higgins, Lorne Michaels, Paula Pell, Herb Sargent, Michael Schur, Michael Shoemaker; Broadway Video in association with NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety--(including talk) Series
Dennis Miller Live, Written by Eddie Feldmann, Jose Arroyo, Richard Dahm, David Feldman, Jim Hanna, Rob Z. Kutner, Kirsten McFarland, Dennis Miller, Jacob Sager Weinstein; Happy Family Productions; HBO
Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Written by Mike Sweeney, Chris Albers, Andy Blitz, Kevin Dorff, Jonathan Glaser, Michael Gordon, Brian Kiley, Michael Koman, Brian McCann, Guy Nicolucci, Conan O'Brien, Andrew Secunda, Allison Silverman, Robert Smigel, Brian Stack, Andrew Weinberg; Broadway Video; NBC
Mad TV, Writing Supervised by Scott King, Written by Dick Blasucci, Garry Campbell, Lauren Dombrowski, Bryan Adams, Bruce McCoy, Michael Hitchcock, Steven Cragg, Chris Cluess, John Crane, Jennifer Joyce, Tami Sagher, Devon Shepard, Rich Talarico, Jim Wise, Kal Clarke, Sultan Pepper, Bill Kelley, Maiya Williams, Dino Stamatopoulos; QDE/Girl Group; FOX
Saturday Night Live, Written by Tina Fey, Doug Abeles, Leo Allen, James Anderson, Max Brooks, James Downey, James Eagan, Hugh Fink, Charlie Grandy, Jack Handey, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Dennis McNicholas, Lorne Michaels, Corwin Moore, Matt Murray, Paula Pell, Matt Piedmont, Ken Scarborough, Michael Schur, Frank Sebastiano, T. Sean Shannon, Eric Slovin, Robert Smigel, Emily Spivey, Andrew Steele, Scott Wainio, Jerry Collins, Tom David; Broadway Video in association with SNL Studios; NBC
Guiding Light, Written by Millee Taggart, Lucky Gold, Christopher Dunn, Tita Bell, Jill Lorie Hurst, Penelope Koechl, David Kreizman, Eleanor Labine, Alan Madison, Danielle Paige, A.J. Pierce, Janet Reed Ahearn, Susan Rice, David Rupel, Melissa Salmons, Eddie Sanchez, Lisa Seidman, David Smilow; Procter & Gamble; CBS
The Young and the Restless, Written by Kay Alden, Trent Jones, John F. Smith, Jerry Birn, Jim Houghton, Natalie Minardi, Janice Ferri, Eric Freiwald, Joshua McCaffrey, Michael Minnis, Rex M. Best; Columbia TriStar; CBS
Elmo's World: Happy Holidays!, Written by Christine Ferraro; Sesame Workshop; PBS
Off Season, Written by Glenn Gers; Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Our America, Teleplay by Gordon Rayfield, Based on the book "Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago" by Lealan Jones, Lloyd Newman and David Isay; Joseph Stern Productions; All Media, Inc.; Showtime
The Red Sneakers, Teleplay by Mark Saltzman, Story by Jeffrey Rubin; Lynch Entertainment, Tom Lynch Company, RS Productions, Ltd., Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Bioterror (Nova), Written by Matthew Collins; A Nova Production by the New York Times/ Granada Factuals USA and Lone Wolf Pictures, Inc., for WGBH/ Boston in association with Channel 4 Television; PBS
The Man Who Knew (Frontline), Written by Michael J. Kirk, Kirk Documentary Group; PBS
9/11, Written by Tom Forman & Greg Kandra; Goldfish Pictures, Inc.; CBS
Rollover: The Hidden Story of the SUV (Frontline), Written by Marc Shaffer & Barak Goodman; 10/20 Productions; PBS
Documentary--Other Than Current Events
America's First River, Part One, Written by Tom Spain; WNET/Educational Broadcasting Corp.; Public Affairs Television; PBS
Empire State Building Ironworker (A Day in their Lives), Written by Peter Hankoff; Termite Art Productions; History Channel; History Channel
Evolution of a Revolution (Founding Brothers), Written by Kelly McPherson and Melissa Jo Peltier & Allison MacEwan; MPH Entertainment Inc.; History Channel; History Channel
Monkey Trial (American Experience), Written by Christine Lesiak; WGBH Educational Foundation; PBS
News--Regularly Scheduled, Bulletin or Breaking Report
Attack on America Written by Jerry Cipriano, Paul Fischer, Thomas Harris, Hugh Heckman, Bruce Meyer; CBS Evening News; CBS
September 11th Controllers, Written by Jonathan W. Kaplan; CBS