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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Here's something to make us all feel old — today marks the birth of the one and only Sir Paul McCartney, who is now 70 years old. And while the youth of today may be trying to figure out who he is, those of us who have been following this artistic legend's career can appreciate just how much this man has shaped the history of music. And his band The Beatles (you might have heard of them) didn't do so poorly either.
All-in-all, McCartney has experienced a rather extraordinary career throughout his lifetime, so it should come as no surprise that celebrities and reality show contestants of all ages have covered a wide variety of his songs — some good, and some not-so-good. So in honor of this musical great's birthday, here's a look back at seven of the best and worst covers of McCartney's most iconic songs.
Bob Dylan — "Yesterday"
This Beatles' classic has been covered by over 2,200 artists, which is more than any other song in the history of recorded music. But Dylan somehow manages to do the song justice.
Ike & Tina Turner — "Get Back"
Turner uses her vocal, howling chops in the best way possible for this popular hit song, proving that she doesn't have to be rolling on the river to earn a spot on our iTunes list.
Steven Tyler — "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window"
This American Idol judge may act a little strange at times, but he still knows how to properly rock out a song. Tyler performed this tribute to McCartney at the 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors. Now if only his wardrobe could be as good as his singing.
Jack White — "Mother Nature's Son"
Jack White performed an absolutely awesome cover of this song at The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize ceremony in 2010, where McCartney won for Popular Song.
Ray Charles — "Yesterday"
Many people believe Ray Charles performs the best cover of "Yesterday" amid all of the other celebrity talent. But then again, pretty much everything this artist has ever done has been magnificent. You've definitely got the right one, baby!
Jim Sturgess — "All My Loving"
The dreamy Sturgess proves very effective at making the ladies swoon in this 2007 musical drama. This song in particular leaves you especially weak in the knees and gives you a great chance to enjoy the superb lyrics.
Billy Joel — "Back In The USSR"
Come on, this is Billy Joel we're talking about. Of course he's going to be amazing. Granted, nothing can compare to McCartney's original vocals, but this comes in a close second.
Next: While some covers are hot, others are not.The Worst:
Crystal Bowersox (Idol contestant) — "Maybe I'm Amazed"
Though she was definitely a fantastic singer in general, this song was just not the right choice for her, especially since she didn't sing the lyrics correctly. A big reality show no-no if there ever was one.
Katie Stevens (Idol contestant) — "Let It Be"
She's got great vocal moments, but those high pitched screeches just aren't the type of quality you like to hear in a McCartney song.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt — "Hey Jude"
Can anyone get on board with this song rendition?
Jonas Brothers — "Hello, Goodbye"
This poorly redone version of such a classic song is enough to send someone right over the edge on a Monday morning. Hello and Goodbye to this cover!
Alvin and the Chipmunks — "I Saw Her Standing There"
Just let the pitch speak for itself on this one...
Bing Crosby — "Hey Jude"
This guy has such a unique voice and sound that it's hard to associate him with anything besides Christmas music. Are you dreaming of a white Christmas when you listen to this cover?
Siouxsie & The Banshees — "Helter Skelter"
We saved the very worst one for last. The video quality in this one far exceeds that of the vocal quality of the performance.
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Eszterhas sparked a war of words with the actor/director earlier this week (begs09Apr12) over claims Gibson made a series of anti-Semitic and unsavoury remarks during a vacation in Costa Rica - allegations the movie star was quick to deny - and, on Friday, (13Apr12) the Flashdance and Basic Instinct screenwriter broke his silence with an appearance on U.S. breakfast show Today - and confessed his bitter fight with the Braveheart star began after an inappropriate conversation between Gibson and his teenage son.
He said, "The most egregious episode that happened had to do with my 15-year-old son Nick, who was with us in Costa Rica as Mel's guest. And Mel shared with him a pornographic scenario, that I can only call sexual butchery, that he fantasised in terms of (ex-girlfriend) Oksana (Grigorieva).
"To put this kind of imagery into a 15 year old's head, I think is heinous. I think it's vile and I think it's unforgivable... I didn't have anything to do with Mel personally since that incident... And I never saw him, or spoke to him after that."
And the screenwriter admits he has tangible proof of Gibson's violent, inappropriate behaviour.
He continued, "I have a tape that my 15-year-old son made in the middle of a violent charade in Costa Rica... where he said the vilest and most threatening things. Nick got his iPod (to tape it) because he was frightened about what was going to happen.
"There were also witnesses. My wife was there, the house manager was there. The situation in Costa Rica was so bad, that the help said, 'If there are kids, get out of the house and hide,' - because he was so out of control. My son Nick wound (sic) up snatching a butcher knife from the kitchen and sleeping with it under his pillow because he was so frightened."
But Eszterhas isn't sure if he's going to release the video footage, adding, "I don't know what I'm going to do with the videotape... I don't like to be called a liar... that's why I'm here."
The feud between Gibson and the screenwriter began when Eszterhas learned his script for a planned film about Judah Maccabee, a Jew who led a revolt against the Seleucid Empire, had been rejected by bosses at Warner Bros. Gibson is to direct the epic drama.
Eszterhas accused Gibson of announcing The Maccabees project in "an attempt to deflect continuing charges of anti-Semitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career."
Gibson responded with an open letter to the screenwriter, which read, "Contrary to your assertion that I was only developing Maccabees to burnish my tarnished reputation, I have been working on this project for over 10 years and it was publicly announced eight years ago. I absolutely want to make this movie; it’s just that neither Warner Brothers nor I want to make this movie based on your script."
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.