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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WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Set in a seaside English town in the '80s this small heartfelt tale centers on the relationship between Edward a 10-year-old boy whose parents run a retirement home and Clarence an aging magician and recent widower who is one of the new residents. Lonely and curious Edward has a habit of befriending the old folks only to search for their ghosts after they die. When Clarence comes in both learn new life lessons as the older one comes to terms with his past while the younger boy finds reason for optimism as he faces the future.
WHO’S IN IT?
Michael Caine is wonderful in a startling character role in which the 76-year-old movie icon allows himself to look older drawn and beaten in parts of the film. Although the career of the two-time Oscar winner has been full of memorable performances ranging from Alfie in 1966 to The Dark Knight last year it’s this kind of realistic and moving portrayal that has marked the best of his work. and he’s never been better than in this memorable portrait of a forgotten magician who still manages to discover a couple of new tricks late in life. Matching him every step of the way is the engaging Bill Milner (Son of Rambow) who manages to go toe-to-toe with a screen legend without coming off as a too precocious of a child actor. He’s haunting and extremely natural in a pivotal three-dimensional role that never seems forced. Helping matters immensely is a great ensemble of splendid British stars who play the other residents including the great Rosemary Harris Leslie Phillips Sylvia Syms and Peter Vaughan.
Director John Crowley (Boy A Intermission) wisely lets his actors off the leash to create a chemistry that makes the modest story work its own kind of movie magic. Reminiscent in certain ways of the kind of British kitchen-sink dramas popular in the '60s Crowley resists any opportunity to let directorial flash overwhelm this poignant character-driven tale thereby letting it thrive on its own terms.
With such a superlative cast of British-acting royalty in the supporting roles you almost wish there were a few more scenes showcasing these characters in the film’s trim 91-minute running time.
Clarence rallies his talents to put on a magic show for the home’s residents. Caine pulls this off seamlessly and the sequence is pure delight.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
This quaint film won’t lose anything on TV screens and may be hard to find in wide release so take the opportunity to see it any way you can.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Two cops arrive at an abandoned house where they've heard screaming. They find a woman hunched over and her eyes are plucked out. A seven-foot monster Jacob Goodnight (Kane) then hacks one of the officers in half and cuts the other officer's arm off--but not before he shoots the maniac in the head. That officer Frank Williams (Steve Vidler) recuperates and four years later is assigned to a youth detention program. His first job is to escort some delinquents to an abandoned Blackwell Hotel where a little old historian Margaret (Cecilly Polson) needs volunteers to help her tidy up. Instead one by one the young people become part of the eyeball collection of the psycho who was traumatized by an over-religious mother. Aren’t we all? Yes there is acting in this including from the World Wrestling Entertainment bad-boy Kane who could develop a Freddy Krueger-like franchise as this homicidal religious freak. He grunts and huffs but also sobs and shows a conscience at crucial times. And he's scary not laughable which is always a danger in these kind of films. With what little they have to play off of the supporting team is good especially Craig Horner as an ambitious thief who has maps of all the secret corridors in the hotel. Among the delinquents are streetwise Christine (Christina Vidal) an a--hole bully Michael (Luke Pegler) a tattooed beauty Kira (Samantha Noble) and a seductive shoplifter Zoe (Rachael Taylor). Taylor’s Paris Hilton-like persona makes her one of the victims you can't wait to see get it. Some of the others hardly last long enough worth mentioning even though many of them have characters that are surprisingly fleshed-out before they become popped-out eye candy. See No Evil offers plenty of jump moments squirming gross-out scenes and hide-your-eyes shocks with a plot reminiscent of any of the Friday the 13th or Saw movies. Some of the gore is particularly gruesome and if you don't know what an eyeball looks like when it pops out of your head then you'll certainly have an anatomy lesson here. First-time feature director Gregory Dark known for making music videos utilizes those fast-cut edits muted colors and washed-out tones to create the horror. The camera closes in on bugs flies and even dives into the eye socket of a hollowed-out face. It follows a line of booby-traps in the hotel a jiggling arm that's cut off and even into a hole in the psycho-monster's head which is filled with maggots. Dark is never shy about any of it and gore fans won't be disappointed.
January 22, 2004 10:50am EST
The Writers Guild of America, west and East announced nominations for outstanding achievement in writing for the screen, television and radio during the 2003 season.
Nominees in the original category went to independent art-house films, including Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Guljit Bindra for Fox Searchlight's Bend It Like Beckham; Steven Knight for Miramax's Dirty Pretty Things; and Tom McCarthy for Miramax's The Station Agent.
Nominees for the adapted category went mostly high-profile releases, including Anthony Minghella for Miramax's Cold Mountain; Frances Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson for New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; and Gary Ross for Universal's Seabiscuit.
WGA noms are closely tracked as an indicator of Academy Awards sentiment. Guild winners in the original screenplay category have matched Oscar choices in 11 years over the past 21 while the WGA adapted screenplay award has matched with the Oscar winner in 14 years during the same period.
The films eligible for Writers Guild Awards were released in the year 2003 under the jurisdiction of Writers Guild of America, East and west and affiliate guilds in Australia, Canada, French Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and New Zealand.
In television, the nominated scripts were originally broadcast between December 1, 2002, and November 30, 2003.
The winners will be announced Saturday, February 21, 2004, at the 56th Annual Writers Guild Awards ceremonies on both coasts.
The Writers Guild of America, west ceremonies will be held in Los Angeles at the Century Plaza Hotel, and the Writers Guild of America, East ceremonies will be held in New York at The Pierre Hotel.
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, Written by Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges and Guljit Bindra, Fox Searchlight Pictures
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, Written by Steven Knight, Miramax Films
IN AMERICA, Written by Jim Sheridan & Naomi Sheridan & Kirsten Sheridan, Fox Searchlight Pictures
LOST IN TRANSLATION, Written by Sofia Coppola, Focus Features
THE STATION AGENT, Written by Tom McCarthy, Miramax Films
AMERICAN SPLENDOR, Written by Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman, Based on the Comic Book Series by Harvey Pekar and the Novel by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner, HBO Films/Fine Line Features
COLD MOUNTAIN, Screenplay by Anthony Minghella, Based on the Novel by Charles Frazier, Miramax Films
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING, Screenplay by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, Based on the Novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, New Line Cinema
MYSTIC RIVER, Screenplay by Brian Helgeland, Based on the Novel by Dennis Lehane, Warner Bros. Pictures
SEABISCUIT, Screenplay by Gary Ross, Based on the Book by Laura Hillenbrand, Universal Pictures
Episodic Drama --any length--one airing time
"ABOMINATION (Law & Order: SVU), Written by Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters; NBC
"BOUNTY (Law & Order), Written by Michael S. Chernuchin; NBC
"DISASTER RELIEF (The West Wing), Teleplay by Alexa Junge, Story by Alexa Junge & Lauren Schmidt; NBC
"LOSS (Law & Order: SVU), Written by Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters; NBC
"PILOT (The O.C.), Written by Josh Schwartz; Fox
"7:00 P.M. -- 8:00 P.M. (24), Written by Evan Katz; Fox
Episodic Comedy--any length--one airing time
"DAY CARE" (Malcolm in the Middle), Written by Gary Murphy & Neil Thompson; Fox
"MALCOLM FILMS REESE" (Malcolm in the Middle), Written by Dan Kopelman; Fox
"NO SEX, PLEASE, WE'RE SKITTISH" (Frasier), Written by Bob Daily; NBC
"A WOMAN'S RIGHT TO SHOES" (Sex and the City), Written by Jenny Bicks; HBO
Original Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA AS HIMSELF, Written by Larry Gelbart; HBO
Episode 1, "BEYOND THE SKY" and Episode 2, "JACOB AND JESSE" (Taken), Written by Leslie Bohem; USA
CAESAR, Written by Peter Pruce and Craig Warner; TNT
WILDER DAYS, Written by Jeff Stockwell; TNT
Adapted Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
NORMAL, Teleplay by Jane Anderson, Based on the play Looking for Normal by Jane Anderson; HBO
OUT OF THE ASHES, Teleplay by Anne Meredith, Based on the book I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz by Dr. Gisella Perl; Showtime
RUDY: THE RUDY GIULIANI STORY, Written by Stanley Weiser, Based on the book Rudy! by Wayne Barrett; USA
THE STRANGER BESIDE ME, Teleplay by Matthew McDuffie and Matthew Tabak, Based on the book by Ann Rule; USA
Animation--any length--one airing time
"THE DAD WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE" (The Simpsons), Written by Matt Selman; Fox
"MOE BABY BLUES" (The Simpsons), Written by J. Stewart Burns; Fox
MY MOTHER THE CARJACKER" (The Simpsons), Written by Michael Price; Fox
"REBORN TO BE WILD" (King of the Hill), Written by Tony Gama-Lobo & Rebecca May; Fox
"RESCUE JET FUSION" (The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius), Written by Steven Banks; Nickelodeon
"THE STING" (Futurama), Written by Patric M. Verrone; Fox
Comedy/Variety--Music, Awards, Tributes -- Specials -- any length
THE KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, Written by George Stevens, Jr., Sara Lukinson and David Leaf; CBS
THE 75TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS, Written by Hal Kanter, Rita Cash, Buz Kohan, Special Material Written by Steve Martin, Beth Armogida, Dave Barry, Dave Boone, Andy Breckman, Jon Macks, Rita Rudner, Bruce Vilanch; ABC
Comedy/Variety--(including talk) Series
LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN, Written by Mike Sweeney, Chris Albers, Jose Arroyo, 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; NBC
MAD TV, Writing supervised by Scott King, Written by Dick Blasucci, Lauren Dombrowski, Bryan Adams, Bruce McCoy, Michael Hitchcock, Steven Cragg, Chris Cluess, John Crane, Jennifer Joyce, Tami Sagher, David Salzman, Richard Talarico, Jim Wise, Kal Clarke, Sultan Pepper, Bill Kelley, Maiya Williams, Dino Stamatopoulos, Rick Najera, Brooks McBeth, Jason Kordelos, Michael McDonald, Stephnie Weir; FOX
PENN & TELLER: BULLSHIT!, Written by Penn Jillette, Teller, David Wechter, John McLaughlin; Showtime
REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER, Written by Billy Martin, Scott Carter, David Feldman, Brian Jacobsmeyer, Jay Jaroch, Chris Kelly, Bill Maher, Ned Rice, Paul F. Tompkins; HBO
ALL MY CHILDREN, Written by Agnes Nixon, Megan McTavish, Gordon Rayfield, Anna Theresa Cascio, Frederick Johnson, Jeff Beldner, Janet Iacobuzio, Lisa Connor, Addie Walsh, Victor Miller, Mimi Leahey, Bettina F. Bradbury, John PiRoman, Karen Lewis, Amanda Robb, Rebecca Taylor, Christina Covino, David A. Levinson; ABC
ONE LIFE TO LIVE, Written by Josh Griffith, Michael Malone, Shelly Altman, Lorraine Broderick, Richard Backus, Ron Carlivati, Anna Theresa Cascio, David Colson, Leslie Nipkow, Michelle Poteet Lisanti, Becky Cole, James Fryman, Katherine Schock, Ginger Redmon, Daniel Griffin; ABC
"DON'T LOOK BACK" (Out There), Written by Willie Reale and Mark Palmer; PBS
FULL COURT MIRACLE, Written by Joel Silverman and Joel Kauffmann & Donald C. Yost; Disney Channel
I WAS A TEENAGE FAUST, Written by Thom Eberhardt; Showtime
THE MALDONADO MIRACLE, Teleplay by Paul W. Cooper, Based upon the novel "The Maldonado Miracle" by Theodore Taylor; Showtime
Documentary - Current Events
"TRUTH, WAR AND CONSEQUENCES" (Frontline), Written by Martin Smith; PBS
"THE WAR BEHIND CLOSED DOORS" (Frontline), Written by Michael J. Kirk; PBS
Documentary - Other Than Current Events
BECOMING AMERICAN: THE CHINESE EXPERIENCE--BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (PART 2), Written by Thomas Lennon & Mi Ling Tsui and Bill Moyers; PBS
"CYBER WAR!" (Frontline), Written by Michael J. Kirk; PBS
"THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE: THE STRING'S THE THING" (Nova), Written by Joseph McMaster; PBS
"THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE: WELCOME TO THE 11TH DIMENSION" (Nova), Written by Julia Cort & Joseph McMaster, PBS
"THE MURDER OF EMMETT TILL" (The American Experience), Written by Marcia Smith, PBS
"SEABISCUIT" (The American Experience), Written by Michelle Ferrari; PBS
News - Regularly Scheduled, Bulletin or Breaking Report
"PASSING OF MUSIC LEGENDS" (CBS News Sunday Morning), Written by Robert Mank;
"CBS SHOWDOWN WITH SADDAM" (CBS News), Written by John Craig Wilson; CBS
News - Analysis, Feature, or Commentary
"BAPTISM BY FIRE" (60 Minutes), Written by Barbara Dury & Morley Safer; CBS
"WALL STREET" (NOW with Bill Moyers), Written by Michael Winship & Bill Moyers; PBS
AUTISM: SHADES OF GRAY, Written by Julia Kathan; ABC News Radio
AFTERNOON DRIVE, Written by Bill Spadaro; 1010 WINS Radio
WORLD NEWS THIS WEEK, Written by Stuart H. Chamberlain, Jr.; ABC News Radio
News--Analysis, Feature or Commentary
REMEMBERING ED BLISS, Written by Mike Silverstein; ABC News Radio
THE ROAD TO LAUGHTER: A TRIBUTE TO BOB HOPE, Written by Steven Gosset; CBS Radio Network
On-Air Promotion (Radio or Television)
BUFFY/ENTERPRISE, Written by Eric Jacobson; CBS/UPN