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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Things are shaping up to be interesting this season. So far, the entire Bo Rangers crew has been separated. Kenzi (Ksenia Solo) is shining outside the shadow of our favorite succubus, Bo (Anna Silk). It’s also nice to see everyone have their own unique motivations outside of the typical weekly mystery.
Dyson (Kris Holden-Ried) returns to the scene of the crime. Bo disappeared and Tamsin (Rachel Skarsten) drove him off a cliff. He stumbles upon a child-version of Tamsin (Ava Preston). It looks like Valkyries have near infinite lives and Tamsin has just been reborn as a snarky preteen. Kenzi spends the entire episode babysitting TamTam. It’s great to see the chemistry between them. It makes Tamsin a more likable character. She also accidentally flushes Kenzi’s stash of Jubilee cream. It looks like Kenzi is becoming an addict to sparkly Fae powers. Over the course of the episode, Tamsin grows into a teenager and it looks like she’ll be fully grown soon.
Dyson goes on the hunt for a tracker to find Bo. He ends up at a beauty shop. It turns out the Fae they’ve been tracking has been kidnapped by his girlfriend. Clio (Mia Kirshner) pops up at the right moment to help Dyson and Hale (K.C. Collins) but not before Hale gets wacked with a special perfume that makes him irresistible to women. This is ironic since he’s been super annoying with his pining over Kenzi. Luckily, it works and he and Kenzi share some hardcore making out.
Dyson’s search seems like a fool’s errand because Eddy (Benjamin Ayres) can’t help him find Bo because he’s been a prisoner for centuries. Clio pops up again, very sketchily, to help Dyson find Bo. Meanwhile, Vex (Paul Amos) aka Avatar, the Last Mesmer has been kidnapped by the mysterious Una Mens. It appears that their idea of bringing balance to the Fae involves a ton of violence and destruction. They are punishing Vex for the missing Morrigan (Emmanuelle Vaugier). They decide that as the last Mesmer he has too much power to live. He promises to get them Bo. He calls Clio and negotiates for Bo’s rescue.
The whole episode Bo is trapped on a mysterious train. When the spell broke last episode, it looks like her memory returned. She subdues the Wander’s random chambermaid and escapes from the train. This is great because the train subplot is pretty lame and uninteresting.
Lauren (Zoie Palmer) is living in Bumblef**k, Nowhere as a really bad waitress. Despite multiple doctorates, she can’t seem to bring plates to tables without making a mess. She also has an insanely flirtatious boss, Crystal (Ali Liebert). Crystal catches Lauren saving a Fae choking in the diner and Lauren spends the episode trying to remove the evidence. It looks like there’s some lady lovin’ in the near future.
Trick (Richard Howland) is being super sketch. It’s unclear what happened between him and Aife (Inga Cadranel) last episode but it ended with some blood on a photo of Bo. Hopefully, she will be around because she is one of the best characters on the show. However, since Cadranel is a cast member on Orphan Black, she may only be available for the occasional guest spot.
Kenzi’s Best Line of the Night
Shhhhh! It took like 5 Avril Lavigne songs to get Baby TamTam a ticket to playtime land. You wake her, Sk8er Boy, you’re dealing with her.
It looks like Trick may not be as above board as we thought. The more we see Trick on his own the sketchier he seems. Could he be evil or even the Wanderer?
It looks like Kenzi and Tamsin are going to be besties. Hopefully, being raised by Kenzi Tamsin will become a snarkier member of the crew.
Dyson will inevitably save Bo but at what cost? Will his interdimensional escapades mean he’ll lose his powers or get killed?
This Una Mens cult will not fare well for the Bo Rangers. It looks like they want Bo, Kenzi and Lauren. They seem to be the big bad of the season.
You won't be hearing the name Steven Soderbergh at this year's Independent Spirit Awards.
Instead, try Miguel Arteta, Darren Aronofsky and Kenneth Lonergan -- whose "Chuck & Buck," "Requiem for a Dream," and "You Can Count On Me," respectively, have nabbed a field-best five nominations each at the 16th Annual Independent Spirit Awards.
"Chuck & Buck" -- the second full-length feature from Arteta -- was nominated for best feature under $500,000, screenplay, director, supporting female (Lupe Ontiveros) and debut performance (Mike White).
Among "Requiem's" nominations are best director (Darren Aronofsky) and best feature. The drug-addiction flick will go up against "Before Night Falls," "George Washington," "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in the best film column.
"You Can Count On Me" will run in the categories for best first feature, screenplay, male lead (Mark Ruffalo), female lead (Laura Linney) and debut performance (Rory Culkin).
"George Washington" and "Before Night Falls" garnered four noms apiece.
The nominations were announced at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The winners will be announced March 24, a day before the Academy Awards, at a ceremony held at a large tent by the Santa Monica beach.
Here's a list of all the nominees.
"Before Night Falls"
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"
"Requiem for a Dream" BEST DIRECTOR
Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon")
Christopher Guest ("Best in Show")
Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for A Dream")
Julian Schnabel ("Before Night Falls")
Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck BEST SCREENPLAY
Valerie Breiman ("Love & Sex")
Raymond De Felitta ("Two Family House")
Robert Dillon ("Waking the Dead") Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me") Mike White ("Chuck & Buck") BEST FIRST FEATURE
"Love & Basketball"
"You Can Count On Me" BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
David Gordon Green ("George Washington") Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther ("Tigerland") Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") Jordan Walker-Pearlman ("The Visit") Ben Younger ("Boiler Room") BEST FEATURE - UNDER $500,000
"Chuck & Buck"
"Everything Put Together"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE
Rory Culkin ("You Can Count on Me")
Michelle Rodriguez ("Girlfight") Emmy Rossum ("Songcatcher") Mike White, ("Chuck & Buck") Ensemble -- Candace Evanofski, Curtis Cotton III, Damian Jewan Lee, Donald Holden, Rachael Handy ("George Washington") BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Pat Carroll ("Songcatcher")
Jennifer Connelly ("Requiem for a Dream")
Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock")
Lupe Ontiveros ("Chuck & Buck")
Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire")
Cole Hauser ("Tigerland")
Gary Oldman ("The Contender")
Giovanni Ribisi ("The Gift")
Billy Dee Williams ("The Visit") BEST FEMALE LEAD
Joan Allen ("The Contender")
Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream")
Sanaa Lathan ("Love & Basketball")
Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me")
Kelly MacDonald ("Two Family House") BEST MALE LEAD
Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls")
Adrien Brody ("Restaurant")
Billy Crudup ("Jesus' Son")
Hill Harper ("The Visit")
Mark Ruffalo ("You Can Count on Me") BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER
Lou Bogue ("Shadow of the Vampire")
John De Borman ("Hamlet")
Matthew Libatique ("Requiem for a Dream")
Tim Orr ("George Washington")
Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas ("Before Night Falls") BEST FOREIGN FILM
"Dancer in the Dark"
"In the Mood for Love"
"A Time for Drunken Horses"
"The War Zone" BEST DOCUMENTARY
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
"Long Night's Journey Into Day"
Sound and Fury"