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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In the realm of cinema, especially in the major awards circuit, there is one category that often gets shafted to the background: animation. With the assigned stigma that an animated movie is necessarily childlike and uncomplicated, animated pictures rarely get the respect they deserve come Oscar season. But thankfully, there is the Annie Awards, an institution that turns 40 this year.
The International Animated Film Association's award enterprise has announced its nominations for achievements in the year 2012. Recognized above all are the far-reaching greats of the year: Pixar's majestic adventure Brave, the video game celebration of Wreck-It Ralph, and the respective claymation love-letters to horror cinema of the 1950s and early 1980s: Tim Burton's Frankenweenie and ParaNorman. Check out the complete list of nominees below. Best Animated Feature Brave Frankenweenie Hotel Transylvania ParaNorman Rise of the Guardians The Pirates! Band of Misfits The Rabbi’s Cat Wreck-It Ralph Annie Award for Best Animated Special Production Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 Before Orel – Trust Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem Disney Tron: Uprising – Beck’s Beginning Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury Justice League: Doom Best Animated Short Subject Brad and Gary Bydlo Eyes on the Stars Goodnight Mr. Foot Kali the Little Vampire Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ Paperman The Simpsons Best General Audience Animated TV Production For Preschool Children Bubble Guppies - ‘A Tooth on the Looth’ Chuggington - ‘Magnetic Wilson’ Jake & The Never Land Pirates - ‘Peter Pan Returns’ Doc McStuffins - ‘The Right Stuff’ Justin Time - ‘Marcello’s Meatballs' Best Animated Television Production For Children Adventure Time- ‘Princess Cookie’ Dragons: Riders of Berk- ‘How to Pick Your Dragon’ LEGO Star Wars- ‘The Empire Strikes Out’ Penguins of Madagascar -‘Action Reaction’ SpongeBob SquarePants -‘It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!’ The Amazing World of Gumball -‘The Job’. The Fairly OddParents- ‘Farm Pit’ The Legend of Korra- ‘Welcome to Republic City’/’A Leaf in the Wind’ Best General Audience Animated Television Production Archer - ‘Space Race, Part 1’ Bob’s Burgers- ‘Earsy Rider’ Motorcity- ‘Blond Thunder’ MAD - ‘FrankenWinnie/ParaMorgan’ Robot Chicken- ‘DC Comics Special’ South Park -‘Raising the Bar’ Animated Video Game Borderlands 2 Family Guy – Back to the Mutiverse Journey Skullgirls Best Student Film Can We Be Happy Now– Tahnee Gehm Defective Detective– Avner Geller & Steve Lewis Head Over Heels– Timothy Reckart I Am Tom Moody– Ainslie Henderson Ladies Knight– Joseph Rothenberg Origin– Jessica Poon The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete– Karen Sullivan Tule Lake– Michelle Ikemoto Animated Effects in an Animated Production Andrew Nawrot, Joe Gorski, Grant Laker - ParaNorman Andrew Schneider - Ice Age: Continental Drift Andy Hayes, Carl Hooper, David Lipton - Rise of the Guardians Bill Watral, Chris Chapman, Dave Hale, Keith Klohn, Michael K. O’Brien - Brave Brett Albert - Wreck-It Ralph Jihyun Yoon - Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted Joel Aron - Star Wars: The Clone Wars Animated Effects in a Live Action Production Jerome Platteaux, John Sigurdson, Ryan Hopkins, Raul Essig, Mark Chataway - The Avengers Stephen Marshall, Joseph Pepper, Dustin Wicke - The Amazing Spider-Man Sue Rowe, Simon Stanley-Clamp, Artemis Oikonomopoulou, Holger Voss, Nikki Makar, Catherine Elvidge - John Carter Willi Geiger, Rick Hankins, Florent Andorra, Florian Witzel, Aron Bonar - Battleship Character Animation in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Dan Driscoll - SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Jennifer Dickie - Justin Time: Yodel Odel Day Keith Kellogg - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revenge Forrest Savelen - SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Shi Zimu - Dragons: Riders of Berk Sihanouk Marinona - Before Orel: Trust Teri Yam - Dragons: Riders of Berk Yan Jiazhuang - Dragons: Riders of Berk Character Animation in a Feature Production Dan Nguyen - Brave David Pate - Rise of the Guardians Jaime Landes - Brave Phillppe LeBrun - Rise of the Guardians Pierre Perifel - Rise of the Guardians Travis Hathaway - Brave Travis Knight - ParaNorman Will Becher - The Pirates! Band of Misfits Character Animation in a Live Action Production Erik de Boer, Amanda Dague, Matt Brown, Mary Lynn Machado, Aaron Grey - Life of Pi (Orangutan) Erik de Boer, Matt Shumway, Brian Wells, Vinayak Pawar, Michael Holzl - Life of Pi (Tiger) Jakub Pistecky, Maia Kayser, Scott Benzu, Steve King, Kiran Bhat - The Avengers Mike Beaulieu, Roger Vizard, Atushi Sato, Jackie Kochler, Derek Esparza, Richard Smith, Mac Tyrie - The Amazing Spider-Man Character Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Andy Bialk - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Alvin and the Outcasts Andy Suriano - DC Nation-Plastic Man: The Many and the Fowl Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, Ryu Ki-Hyun, Kim Il Kwang, Kim Jin Sun - The Legend of Korra: Welcome to Republic City “C” Raggio IV - Kick Buttowski: Petrified Derrick Wyatt, Chap Yaep, Steven Choi - Ben 10: Omniverse: The More Things Change, Pt. 2 Gordon Hammond - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Dudley Do-Wrong Robert Valley - Disney Tron: Uprising: The Renegade, Part I Thaddeus Paul Cauldron - Secret Mountain Fort Awesome: Secret Mountain Uncle Grandpa Character Design in an Animated Feature Production Bill Schwab, Lorelay Bove, Cory Loftis, Minkyu Lee - Wreck-It Ralph Carlos Grangel - Hotel Transylvania Carter Goodrich - Hotel Transylvania Craig Kellman - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Heidi Smith - ParaNorman Yarrow Cheney, Eric Guillon, Colin Stimpson - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Directing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Howie Parkins - Jake and The Never Land Pirates: Peter Pan Returns! John Eng - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House Mark Cabalero, Seamus Walsh - SpongeBob SquarePants: Its a Spongebob Christmas Mic Graves - The Amazing World of Gumball: The Job Michael Chang - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Never Say Xever Zack Keller - Dick Figures: Kung Fu Winners Directing in an Animated Feature Production Genndy Tartakovsky - Hotel Transylvania Johan Sfar, Antoine Delesvaux - The Rabbi's Cat Remi Bezancon, Jean-Christophe Lie - Zarafa Rick Moore - Wreck-It Ralph Sam Fell, Chris Butler - ParaNorman Music in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Adam Berry - Penquins of Madagascar: Private and the Winky Factory Alf Clausen - The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XXIII Frederik Wiedmann - Green Lantern The Animated Series: Into the Abyss Guy Moon - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Really Big Mission John Paesano - Dragons: Riders of Berk: How to Pick Your Dragon Michael Rubin - Bubble Guppies: Bubble Puppy's Fin-tastic Fairytale! Music in an Animated Feature Production Alexandre Desplat - Rise of the Guardians Bruce Retief - Adventures in Zambezia Henry Jackman - Wreck-It Ralph Joel McNeely, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda - Secret of the Wings John Powell, Adam Schlesinger, Ester Dean - Ice Age: Continental Drift John Powell, Cinco Paul - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Mark Mothersbaugh - Hotel Transylvania Patrick Doyle, Mark Andrews, Alex Mandel - Brave Production Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Alberto Mielgo - Tron: Uprising: The Stranger Ian Worrel - Gravity Falls – Tourist Trapped Lynna Blankenship, Sean Coons, Hugh Macdonald, Debbie Peterson, Charles Ragins, Lance Wilder, Darrel Bowen, John Krause, Kevin Moore, Brent M. Bowen, Brice Mallier, Steven Fahey, Dima Malanitchev, Karen Bauer, Eli Balser, Anne Legge - The Simpsons: Moe Goes From Rags to Riches Nick Jennings, Martin Ansolebehere, Sandra Calleros, Ron Russell, Santino Lascano, Derek Hunter, Catherine E. Simmonds - Adventure Time – The Hard Easy Peter Martin, Chris Grine, Ira Baker, Ramon Olivera, Scott Brown - hoops & yo yo's Haunted Halloween Scott Brandon James, Lee Keith - Justin Time: The Rubbery Dumplings Production Design in an Animated Feature Production Kendal Cronkhite-Shaindlin, Shannon Jeffries, Lindsey Olivares, Kenard Pak - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Marcello Vignali - Hotel Transylvania Nash Dunnigan, Arden Chen, Jon Townley, Kyle McNaughton - Ice Age: Continental Drift Nelson Lowry, Ross Stewart, Pete Oswald, Ean McNamara, Trevor Dalmer - ParaNorman Norman Garwood, Matt Berry - The Pirates! Band of Misfits Patrick Hanenberger, Max Boas, Jayee Borcar, Woonyoung Jung, Perry Maple, Peter Maynez, Stan Seo, Felix Yoon - Rise of the Guardians Rick Heintzich - Frankenweenie Steve Pilcher - Brave Storyboarding in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Andy Kelly - Doc McStuffins: Righty-On-Lefty Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar - Adventure Time: Lady & Peebles Doug Lovelace - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Portrait of Hiccup as a Buff Man Holly Forsyth - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess Irineo Marramba, Ciro Nieli - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman Robert Valley, Kalvin Lee - Tron: Uprising: The Reward Ryan Kramer, Paul Linsley, Kenji Ono, Le Tang, Alice Herring, Mike Mullen, Aaron Hammersley - Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Enter the Dragon Tom Herpich, Skyler Page - Adventure Time: Goliad Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production Emmanuela Cozzi - ParaNorman– Focus Features Johanne Matte - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Leo Matsuda - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Lissa Treiman - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Rob Koo - Madagascar 3: Europes Most Wanted – DreamWorks Animation Voice Acting in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production James Patrick Stuart as Private - Penguins of Madagascar: High Moltage– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jeff Bennett as Keswick - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Pup Daddy– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jessica Walter as Malory Archer - Archer: Lo Scandolo– Weissman Markovitz Communications for FX Network Kevin Michael Richardson as Willem Viceroy - Randy Cunningham:9th Grade Ninja: Gossip Boy– Disney TV Animation Kristen Schaal as Mabel Pines - Gravity Falls: Tourist Trapped– Disney TV Animation Mae Whitman as April ONeil – - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Sam Witwer as Darth Maul - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revenge– Lucasfilm Animation Ltd. Tom McGrath as Skipper - Penguins of Madagascar: The Otter Woman– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production Adam Sandler as Dracula - Hotel Transylvania– Sony Pictures Animation Alan Tudyk as King Candy - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Atticus Shaffer as “E”Gore - Frankenweenie– The Walt Disney Studios Catherine OHara as Weird Girl - Frankenweenie– The Walt Disney Studios Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria - The Pirates! Band of Misfits– Aardman Animations Jim Cummings as Budzo - Adventures in Zambezia– Saltzman Communications Jude Law as Pitch - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Kelly MacDonald as Merida - Brave– Pixar Animation Studios Writing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Doug Langdale – Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Kung Fu Day Care – Nickelodeon Animation Studios Eric Horsted – Futurama: The Bots and the Bees – Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Gabe Garza – - Penguins of Madagascar: Endangerous Species- Nickelodeon Animation Studios Ian Maxtone-Graham, Billy Kimball - The Simpsons: How I Wet Your Mother– Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Kacey Arnold – - Robot and Monster: The Blimp– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Mike Teverbaugh, Linda Teverbaugh – Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House – DreamWorks Animation Stephanie Gillis - The Simpsons: A Tree Grows in Springfield– Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Trey Parker – - South Park: Jewpacabra– Central Productions Writing in an Animated Feature Production Chris Butler – ParaNorman – Focus Features Gideon Defoe – The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Aardman Animations Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa, Karey Kirkpatrick – From Up on Poppy Hill – GKIDS John August – Frankenweenie – The Walt Disney Studios Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi - Brave – Pixar Animation Studios Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee – Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios Editorial in an Animated Television Production Bret Marnell - Puss in Boots: Three Diablos– DreamWorks Animation Chris Hink - Robot and Monster: Cheer Up Mr. Wheelie– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye - Kung Fu Panda: Monkey in the Middle– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye - Kung Fu Panda: Enter the Dragon– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jason Tucker - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revival– Lucasfilm Animation Ltd. Lynn Hobson - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House– DreamWorks Animation Pieter Kaufman - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess– Disney TV Animation Steffie Lucchesi, Matt Steinauer, May Blaisdell - Dan Vs Monster Under The Bed– Film Roman Editorial in an Animated Feature Production Catherine Apple - Hotel Transylvania– Sony Pictures Animation Joyce Arrastia - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Mark Rosenbaum - Secret of the Wings– DisneyToon Studios Nicholas A. Smith, ACE, Robert Graham Jones, ACE, David Suther - Brave– Pixar Animation Studios Tim Mertens - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios JURIED AWARDS Winsor McCay Award– Oscar Grillo, Terry Gilliam, Mark Henn June Foray– Howard Green Ub Iwerks– Toon Boom Animation Pipeline [Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures] More: 'Moonrise Kingdom' Takes Top Prize at Gotham Awards Seth MacFarlane Says Non-TV-Friendly 'Family Guy' Movie is (Probably) Happening 'The Hobbit': The Dragon Attacks, Bilbo Fights Fire with Shire — VIDEO
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.