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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Somewhere along the timeline of his formative years, Kansas-raised Clark Kent comes to the realization that he can take a punch like nobody's business. He determines on one fateful afternoon that he has the ability — and as his internal makeup commands, the duty — to save a sinking school bus filled with his horrified classmates after it careens off a delicate bridge into one of the Sunflower State's many proud bodies of water. It is this journey, told exclusively through flashbacks, that comprises the very best of Man of Steel.
A young Clark has no understanding of himself, his origins, his powers, or his place in the world. And the boy's soft-spoken, earnest adoptive father Jonathan has nothing but compassion to offer his struggling son. He muddles pieces of conflicting advice, telling Clark simultaneously that he needs to hide his abilities in order to safeguard himself from the intolerant planet Earth, all the while prophesying the day when the Krypton-born navel gazer will have to decide, once and for all, what sort of man he wants to be. But no amount of the senior Kent's empathy and wisdom can foster our young hero through his turmoil. "Man," we think during the movie's earliest childhood scenes. "All this groundwork is going to pay off big time when he finally gets that suit."
But like the preteen Clark, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel has an identity crisis. While an early adulthood Superman should still be struggling with the issues presented in his extensive maudlin memories, the second half of the movie seems to suppress these ideas. Instead of the probing "Who am I?” and "Who am I supposed to be?" questions that make Superman (despite scathing criticisms) a genuinely interesting character, the film opts for a warfare between Clark and Zod that represents the war between Earth and Krypton — both for claim to the planet and for claim to Clark's psyche.
Of course, the themes interweave. Zod invades Earth in hopes of retrieving the grown Kal-El (who holds the genetic code for a populace of unborn Kryptonians) and using the planet as a new breeding ground for his people. As such, the decision is posed to Clark: live among the Earthlings, a race from which you've been forced to hide your true identity, or among your own kind. It seems like it should translate effectively to the sort of gripping questions introduced vaguely by the powerful boyhood material. But the whole ordeal — which plays out with an hour long mêlée between Superman (that's what they're calling him, so says a humble military man) and Zod through the war-torn streets of Metropolis — feels far less personal than what was promised.
Man of Steel sets itself up as close to the heart of the Kryptonian immigrant as possible. While the legacy undertaken from birth father Jor-El is vast and imbued with intergalactic consequence, what separates Man of Steel (or what is meant to) is the earthbound backstory. But the conflict planted by a sobbing Jonathan Kent, played tear-inspiringly by Kevin Costner, calls for more than it eventually pays off to be.
The Clark Kent we see in the vivid, hard-to-choke-down flashback scenes deserves more than the us-or-them breathless battle that the film's third act takes. This chapter isn't without its appeals: the action is unprecedented. The acting — that of Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe's Prometheus-like ghost — is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the conclusive arc's biggest enemy is how good the early parts of the movie are. With so much to live up to, so much to deliver, Superman's face-off with General Zod seems to fall in the territory of the DC character's older, less substantial material. Thus, the film on the whole — even its near perfect days in somber small town Kansas — suffers. While Man of Steel does tinker with the idea that Superman's greatest enemy is himself, I don't think this is how they meant that.
As far as an effort to reconstruct Superman might go, Man of Steel is a noble one. If anything, Zack Snyder tried to inject too much into his project: the vast array of identity issues that Clark might face, a melding of DC past with the sophistication of the present pop culture psyche, and — of course — the sort of action that you can't avoid in a superhero flick like this. Each, individually, is a success. But together, the components start stepping all over one another, leaving little room for the sort of expansion that the most valuable facets deserve. As a result, Man of Steel isn't fun enough or deep enough to satisfy either end of the superhero movie spectrum. It's got a little of both, but not enough of either. Some might call it the nature of the beast. But sweeping accusations aside, Superman can be an interesting character. We just have to decide what it is that is interesting about him.
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I attended a screening of Relativity Media and Bandito Brothers action adventure Act of Valor a couple weeks ago in the movie theater on the Intrepid aircraft carrier in the harbour in Manhattan thanks to a invite from one of the executive producers. Obviously this was the perfect venue to see a film that stars real active duty Navy SEALs. Act of Valor is a powerful and uniquely authentic action film -- real Navy Seals play most of the key parts using real ammo (first time this has been done in the last 100 years in Hollywood) with real military weaponry and equipment. Even the aviators who were involved in the film as well as the personnel in submarines are all real military members and you literally feel the realism.
No need for special effects in Act of Valor when the reality is much better; the action sequences will have you pushing back in your seat like being in the front row of a awesome roller coaster ride. The best scene in the film - when the Seals ascend onto a moving ocean-going yacht and interrogate a drug dealer-terrorist makes you feel like you’re in the scene watching from two feet away -- amazing filmmaking with great intensity enhanced by the fact that the interrogator is an actual SEALs operative.
If you like action films you’ll love Act of Valor because it breaks new ground in filmmaking by virtue of its use of non-actors in key roles. Some critics may say the dramatic scenes lack emotion because more professional actors were not used but this is just not the case. This is the real deal and as such adds an emotional depth and intensity that is impossible to fake on the big screen.
Just ask anyone who attended the special screening on the Intrepid. At the conclusion of the film there was a long standing ovation and then the audience heard from many of the SEALs in person explaining why they participated and acted in the film. These guys are true American heroes and you’ll love watching them in action in Act of Valor a valiant story of mission commitment combat weaponry and most importantly valor and brotherhood. While most movies star actors who merely portray heroes on screen Act of Valor stars actual heroes showing how they lay it on the line for the freedoms that we as civilians enjoy every day. You’re going to enjoy the ride.
UPDATE: Jamie Blackley is on his way to notoriety as a fantasy-adventure fixture. The young actor has a role in the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman, and now is joining the ever fertile world of Greek mythology for the new 300 movie, Battle of Artemesia.
Deadline reports that Blackley will star alongside Sullivan Stapleton as a leading character in Noam Murro's film. Blackley's character will be a sixteen year-old soldier, aspiring to the greatness once embodied by his father, who becomes a military leader in the titular battle.
EARLIER: The long-awaited follow-up to the 2007 sword-and-sandals blockbuster 300 appears at last to be gathering momentum, as Variety reports that Sullivan Stapleton is in final negotiations for the leading role. The Strike Back star had reportedly been mulling over the role in the film, billed as "neither a prequel or [sic] a sequel" by Variety (hence the compromise "spin-off" label), for quite a while but couldn't commit until scheduling issues with his Cinemax series were properly worked out.
The film, which has been unofficially branded The Battle of Artemisia, is slated to begin shooting this summer. Noam Murro (Smart People) is directing from a script by Kurt Johnstad and Zack Snyder.
For a taste of Stapleton's hit series Strike Back, check out one of our exclusive clips:
It is nearly impossible to maintain a sophisticated stance on a movie whose plot description sounds like it was written on Reddit: "So, you take Wyatt Earp. You know Wyatt Earp, right? He was a cowboy. Henry Fonda played him once. Not important. You know Al Capone? Take him, too. Let's have the two of them face off against one another. Cowboys vs. Gangsters. Isn't there another movie like that coming out soon? Who's in that? Harrison Ford? Sounds good! Let's get him!"
So, that's pretty much what's going on right now. Ford will star as Wyatt Earp in Black Hats, a film based on Max Allan Collins'/Patrick Mulcane's (they're the same person) novel, Black Hats: A Novel of Wyatt Earp and Al Capone.
"Let's keep going. Who should write the script? This has got to be badass. What's the most badass movie ever made? 300! Who wrote that? Google says it's Kurt Johnstad. He sounds pretty badass. He's in."
Honestly, if done with the right amount of innovation, I could see this mismatched pairing of genres being an overwhelmingly entertaining and creative account and re-imagining of historical eras, like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, or an odd, nonsensical mashup that doesn't seem to have any purpose at all, like Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey.
Zack Snyder is heading back to Greece, but this time it might be more madness than Sparta. The director has begun work on Xerxes, the sequel (or kind-of-prequel) to 300. Snyder, whose slow-motion and blood-soaked adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 made him a star director, has confirmed that he has closed a deal with Warner Bros to script the project with writing collaborator Kurt Johnstad. Snyder also mentioned that he intends to direct the project, but that he and the studio had not yet made an official agreement.
Xerxes takes place in the ten years proceeding the battle of Thermopylae that constituted 300, exploring the origins of the war between Persia and Greece. The film will be based off a Frank Miller comic of the same name. Miller's comic isn't set to be released until 2011, but the project is apparently together enough for Snyder to start writing a script for it. While Xerxes may be the title character of the film, the story centers on Athenian general Themistocles and his role at the battle of Artemisium.
"'300' gave everyone a chance to fight alongside a super warrior, a chance to fight alongside these Spartan warriors that you could never fight against;” said Snyder “but Themistocles is different, he is us... it's much more about the everyman."
While taking a more realistic, “everyman” approach seems like it would take a lot of the escapist fun out of the franchise, Snyder confirmed that Xerxes would build off 300’s signature (read: decadently bloody) visual style. He also revealed that the film would take the usual “more is more” approach to a sequel, promising dubious improvements such as greater political and philosophical complexity, and vast, epic battles. While bringing greater complexity to a concept that’s basically “300 with boats” is obviously a silly idea, I also hesitate to endorse Snyder’s desire to scale-up the fight scenes, since the individually-focused, easy-to-follow violence of 300 was a breath of fresh air in the jump-cut and crowd-replication heavy action industry. 300 was a really enjoyable action film because it balanced a simple, bare-bones story with some truly extravagant violence. Xerxes seems like an attempt to reverse that formula, and I don’t trust that to work out well. Though I doubt that I need to worry about Snyder taking this too seriously, he did invent a guy with axes for hands in 300.
Source: LA Times
Zach Snyder is finally making progress on his oft-delayed picture, The Last Photograph. Christian Bale has been cast as a lead in the film, and Niels Arden Oplev may have been added as a director.
The Last Photograph, which is based of an original idea (gasp!) from 300 director Snyder, is a drama set in contemporary times that revolves around a photograph which leads two men on a journey through Afghanistan. Odds are that Bale will play one of the men, but details on the plot and his role have been kept at a minimum thus far.
The film is being written by 300 collaborator Kurt Johnstad, and Sergey Bodrov of the epic Mongol was originally signed to direct. Rumor has it, however, that he has been replaced by Oplev, the director behind the stellar The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo adaptation.
Despite all the sudden movement on the project, we probably won’t see The Last Photograph for some time. Bale has an untitled Terrence Malick film lined up, and an inevitable role in Batman 3, while Snyder is still finishing up his Sucker Punch. While it is very early to be making predictions, the fact that it’s not a remake, reimagining, or adaptation alone has me optimistic.
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.