300: Rise of an Empire – Green brings the pain!

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMIs it fair to say that Zack Snyder’s film 300 in 2007 was, stylistically, a breath of fresh air? All sculpted six packs and slow-mo violence. It also introduced many of us to Gerard Butler as we’ve never seen him before. However the story by Frank Miller, whilst great in graphic novel form, came across as fairly light in terms of character on screen. Lacking depth was bandied about as a phrase by some critics.

Yet Butler gave a degree of depth to the proud Spartan King Leonidas – to the point that we cared what happened to him and his brave 300. And whilst the film was lambasted for oodles of style over a smattering of substance, it developed a cult following over time. But it was what it was: an unashamed guilty pleasure. A Friday night popcorn movie. Yet… it stuck around. Word spread. A sequel was inevitable.

This time round the story takes place a little before, during and after the events of the first film. It tackles another battle between the Greeks and Persians by focusing on the plight of a different set of Greeks, led by the Butler-esque Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton).300-rise-of-an-empire-official-trailer-2014-hd And, to avoid treading the same action beats, the setting has moved largely from land to sea, with both sides pitting their mighty navy against one another.

We also have a new antagonist in the form of Greek-turned-surrogate-Persian Artemisia (Eva Green); right-hand warrior to the Persian God-King Xerxes. Whilst there’s some other bits of plot to consider, this film isn’t really about story or character, it’s about spectacle. The relatively inexperienced Israeli director Noam Murro helms this one (with Snyder co-producing) and the result is pure concentrated Synder (more Sucker Punch less Watchmen).

So what we get is a series of set battles at sea, where Themistocles and Artemisia face off against each other. Aussie actor Stapleton is solid as the stoic leader of the plucky Greeks but, ultimately, in terms of pure entertainment, we’re here to see Green’s unhinged warrior Artemisia chew up the scenery, which she does in spectacular femme fatale fashion. R2_V10B17_80213_CO3_PULLS_01rl_0017.tiffA perfect fit for the worlds which Frank Miller creates. (We’ll be seeing her again later this year in Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For as the eponymous dame.)

Some have said this sequel offers little in terms of depth of character and that the conveyor belt of battle sequences can seem numbing. I agree in part, but we all know what we’ve signed up for; an unashamed, gory, highly stylised and violent action flick – with some tough female characters to boot. (Not just Green but Lena Headey too.)

As I said earlier, it is what it is.

But it’s not just style. There is story and character to be found if you look, some of it quite compelling. It just tends to take a back seat in favour of macho posturing and fight sequences (of which there are some impressive ones). The quieter moments, as a result, carry weight. Yet they are few and far between. Ones to savour.

Another factor which surprised me was the deft use of 3D. As a sceptic I’m the first to say it adds nothing to the experience, yet here it lent itself well to this sort of tale: all limbs, blood, swords, arrows and spears flying everywhere. Murro wanted us immersed in this ‘bucket ‘o’ blood’ nightmare and, with 3D, he achieved that.

All in all, a decent follow up to the original, with a seductive and deadly standout turn by Green that confirms her status as modern cinema’s de facto femme fatale. Roll on the next 300 film…

Take your ass back to the trailer park – part 2

blue is the warmest colorWith Oscar season almost upon us, there’s a lot of films out now or soon that should have you racing to the cinema. From drama, action and horror to comedies and a compelling biopic, here’s my pick of marvellous movies you need on your radar.

The Monuments Men (Feb, 2014)
Based on a book of the same name, this film has caper written all over it. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Ocean’s Eleven, as Clooney and Damon again take centre stage. This, however, is based on a true story. Essentially it’s ‘art curators assemble!’, as an unlikely band of misfits team up to recover works of art stolen by the Nazis during the war.

Kill Your Darlings
(Dec, 2013)
Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan play Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr respectively; with the film focusing on the birth of the beat generation’s most well known writers: Ginsberg, Karouac and Burroughs. Despite putting in a respectable turn in The Woman in Black, Radcliffe is still – for some out there – trying to establish himself post Potter. From the looks of it he’s gone some way to achieve that. DeHaan, too, continues to establish himself as a growing talent.

(Nov, 2013)
Rival to Wes Anderson’s quirky crown comes in the form of Alexander Payne; the man behind Sideways and The Descendants and a director on the rise. Here he tells the tale – filmed in black and white – of Bruce Dern’s Woody Grant; a man who think he’s won a million dollars and sets off on a road trip to claim his prize. It’s already won a stack of awards and received lavish praise from critics. If you like quirky, human films it’s a must-see.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Dec, 2013)
Actor, producer, singer, rapper… Luther! Stringer Bell! Stacker Pentecost! Is there anything Idris Elba can’t do? Apparently not as he’s now playing Nelson Mandela in this epic portrayal of the great man’s life. The film’s red carpet release coincided, tragically, with his death. In terms of the film, it looks to be a stirring affair but has received mixed reviews.

(Nov, 2013)
Big cajones… that’s what you need if you’re going to remake a Brian De Palma classic. The 1976 original blew people away being universally praised and rightly so. So big cajones, in this case, comes in the form of Chloë Grace Moretz (fast developing as one of Hollywood’s best young female talents), Julianne Moore and director Kimberly Peirce – best known for her award winning debut Boys Don’t Cry (1999). As far as remakes go, it has promise but received mixed reviews. If you’re a fan of the original and/or Moretz, it’s worth checking out.

Her (Jan, 2014)
Here’s a brave move: take one of the most attractive women in Hollywood – one, Scarlett Johansson – and have her play a role where we only get to hear her voice. Brave or genius? Either way, it’s the sort of thing you expect from enigmatic director Spike Jonze. This film sees Joaquin Phoenix’s lonely writer develop a relationship with an operating system voiced by Scarlett. An intriguing idea – although puts me in mind Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, an episode called ‘Be Right Back‘ starring Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson.

The Raid 2: Berandal
(Mar, 2014)
Welsh director Gareth Evans and breakout star Iko Uwais are back with their sequel… Oh yes! The original film had a simple premise (bunch of cops get trapped in a drug lord’s tower block and have to fight their way out) and the sequel immediately picks up events from the first; with Uwais’s Rama going undercover with gangs to bust corrupt cops. Same old, same old you may say – just watch the trailer.

300: Rise of an Empire
(Mar, 2014)
THIS IS A SEQUEL! Sorry, couldn’t resist. Actually it’s a sequel, prequel and a sort of during-quel in some ways. Covering events before, during and after the 2007 original. Obviously we’ve got no Gerard Butler this time round. Filling the gap looks to be a heroine in the shape of the delicious and delectable Eva Green. What with this and Sin City 2, Eva’s star looks to be on the rise next year. A pleasing thing as she’s a mesmerising screen presence.

Blue Is The Warmest Color
(Nov, 2013)
This French romantic drama is the first film to win a Palme d’Or for both the director and lead actresses. Also the first film adapted from a graphic novel to win the award. Essentially it tells the tale of two female students who fall in and out of love. Critics have heaped praise on it with award winning director Pedro Almodovar naming it in his 12 best films of the year.