300: Rise of an Empire Review

300: Rise of an Empire movie posterSynopsis
During Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) land campaign against King Leonidas’ 300 Spartans, Athenian general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) rallies Greek’s city states against Artemisia (Eva Green), commander the massive Persian Navy.

Review
There is no doubt that 300 was a success when came out in 2007. It may not have been a very deep movie, but it’s hyper-realism gave it a unique look. 300: Rise of an Empire is very much the same experience only more violent and sexier than before.

If you enjoyed the airbrush feel of 300 like I did, you will like it here. Rise of an Empire has the same visual style as before. The stylized violence returns as well. Although 300 offered its fair share of blood, it seemed to focus more on the strike that drew the blood, such as the sword slash or spear stab. This movie, however, held nothing back when it came to blood splatter. It reminded me of Dredd where anytime there was blood there was a ton of it.

Where the Spartans fought on land, Themistocles and his Greek army fights on the water. It makes for a different experience and set pieces. The naval battles are pretty impressive. One of the first battles has two Greek ships destroying a Persian ship by sandwiching it between their bows. It looks pretty amazing, particularly with the cinematography, and makes for a good contrast to the combat in 300.

Like it’s predecessor, Rise of an Empire is based off of a book written by Frank Miller. This time it is based off Xerxes, which hasn’t been released yet. It acts as a prequel/side-story to the events depicted in 300. It was easy to determine when the events of 300 occurred because there were brief glimpses or references to the Spartan’s actions. The plot shares many elements from before, too, such as a father-son fighting duo and the leader’s life-long friend. However, it feels like a simple rehash of the relationships in 300, rather than a new, original story.

Eva Green is by far the star of this film. She completely gets into the role of Artemisia. Very similar to Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) she proves that she is more that capable of taking care of herself, both on and off the battlefield. She is also one of the few characters given much back story or deep motivation.

Except for Artemisia, the characters aren’t very memorable. Members of the Greek army were pretty one-dimensional. They tried to make some character relationships, like a father and son, and the leader’s best friend, to expand the characters but it didn’t work as well as it did in 300. Themistocles pales in comparison to Leonidas. Sullivan Stapleton lacks the charisma of Gerard Butler and the character suffers for it.

300: Rise of an Empire is the sequel few really asked for, but somehow manages to hold its own. Visually, it shares the same hyper-realistic style that made 300 so enjoyable, and the water combat served as a nice variation to the Spartan’s land battles. Besides Eva Green’s Artemisia, who Green fully embraces, none of the main characters are very memorable. This film shares many similarities to 300 that made that film entertaining, but it feels too similar to make it really stand out as a new experience.

Rating
3/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Noam Murro – Director
Zack Snyder – Screenplay
Kurt Johnstad – Screenplay
Junkie XL – Composer

Sullivan Stapleton – Themistocles
Eva Green – Artemisia
Lena Headey – Queen Gorgo
Hans Matheson – Aesyklos
Callan Mulvey – Scyllias
David Wenham – Dilios
Rodrigo Santoro – Xerxes
Jack O’Connell – Calisto
Andrew Tiernan – Ephialtes
Igal Naor – King Darius
Andrew Pleavin – Daxos

Advertisements

300 Review

300 movie posterSynopsis
When Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian army threaten Greece, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) wishes to take his Spartan army to face him. After consulting the Ephors at Delphi, they refuse to allow him to declare war. Displeased, Leonidas takes a three hundred of his best Spartan soldiers to stop the invaders at Thermopylae.

Review
I really enjoy movies like 300; simple plot, great action and awesome visuals. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, 300 is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae during the Persian Wars. Know right away that it is not a documentary nor very accurate (read not at all) to the actual battle. But man does it look amazing.

The visual style of the film is up there as one of my favorites. The coloring over the film gives it almost an airbrushed feel, a very similar style to its source material. Most of the movie was shot using blue and green screens, with most of the environment being computer generated. It creates a very surreal look and feel that is exceptional.

Few movies offer the brutality 300 does. The first forty-five minutes or so are spent setting up the Spartans and the battle ahead, but once it starts, it goes all out. But in contrast, the non-action scenes lack something to hold my attention. During these intermittent scenes, I was just itching to get back to the action.  Although I understand it couldn’t be ninety minutes of fighting, the other scenes aren’t as interesting.

Zack Snyder was the best directorial choice for this film. This was only his second film (his first being the Dawn of the Dead remake) as director, but his style fits perfectly. His hyper-realistic style really brings an element to the movie that makes it feel unique.

A strength and a weakness of this movies is the plot. It’s very simple: Leonidas and his men fight Xerxes at the Hot Gates. Along with some politics happening back in Sparta, that’s pretty much all there is to it. This makes way for some breathtaking cinematography and action sequences. However, the action and thin plot doesn’t allow for much characterization.  So if you are looking for some deep character moments, you won’t find them here.

Sometimes it is great to just watch a movie with a simple premise. 300 may not be the most thought provoking movie out there, but what it lacks characterization, or any real story for that matter, it offers spectacular visuals and pure, unfiltered action. Zack Snyder proves that he is a specialist when it comes to working with “hyper-realism.” Visually stunning and unapologetically brutal, 300 is one of my favorite ways to kill an afternoon (pun intended).

Rating
4/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Zack Snyder – Director/Screenplay
Kurt Johnstad – Screenplay
Michael Gordon – Screenplay
Tyler Bates – Composer

Gerard Butler – King Leonidas
Lena Headey – Queen Gorgo
Dominic West – Theron
David Wenham – Dilios
Vincent Regan – Captain
Michael Fassbender – Stelios
Tom Wisdom – Astinos
Andrew Pleavin – Daxos
Andrew Tiernan – Ephialtes
Rodrigo Santoro – Xerxes

The Lego Movie Review

The Lego Movie movie posterSynopsis
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is just an ordinary guy but all that changes when he stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance after following Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) through a mysterious hole. She informs him that he is The Special mentioned in a prophecy and takes him to meet Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), an old wizard. Together they embark on a quest to gather the MasterBuilders to stop Lord Business (Will Farrell) and put an end to his dastardly plan.

Review
The Lego Movie is the movie I have been waiting for ever since I was a kid. One of my biggest fears was that I overhyped this movie for myself after I saw the trailers. Honestly, I can say I have never been more excited for a movie in my life. I mean I was even more excited for this than I was for Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith or Marvel’s The Avengers, and that’s saying a lot. Thankfully, The Lego Movie was everything I hoped it would be and I left the theater very satisfied.

This movie is straight from a child’s imagination. By that I mean everything is made from legos and I mean everything. If there was a puff of smoke, it was legos shaped and moving like smoke. If there was water, it was legos shaped and moving like waves. On top of that there were many characters from different universes interacting together, such as city figures, pirates, the wild west, and DC characters. It reminded me a lot of the opening to Toy Story 3 where there were no rules and anybody could be a part of the story. And there were other objects that were included too, like a laser pointer, nail polish remover or a band-aid. Whenever these items appeared, they were all sized relative to the lego figures. It was very meta.

The voice actors in The Lego Movie knock it out of the park. The core cast of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and Morgan Freeman all do well, but my favorites would have to be Liam Neeson as Bad Cop/Good Cop and Charlie Day as Benny, the 1980-something space guy. I didn’t realize Neeson did both Bad Cop and Good Cop and Day has such an energy that is hard for others to pull off. Will Ferrell really gets into the part of Lord Business. There are a ton of cameos as well, including Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams reprising their roles as C-3PO and Lando Calrissian, Jake Johnson (Barry), Jonah Hill (Green Lantern), Channing Tatum (Superman), Cobie Smulders (Wonder Woman), Shaquille O’Neal (himself), Keegan-Michael Key (Foreman Jim) and several others.

The animation of The Lego Movie is beautiful. Animal Logic, the studio responsible for the CGI, made the pieces look photoreal. The models were so lifelike I was under the impression it was stop motion for the longest time. Characters and locations did incorporated a mix of real lego sets along with the special effects to add in the extra sense of realism.

Normally an animated movie like this has more of a younger audience in mind, but there was more adult humor than I expected. There is plenty here for the younger crowd, such as the characters and action, but several of the characters’ relations and jokes are geared toward the older crowd. I suppose WB understood parents would get dragged to seeing The Lego Movie so they at least made it worth their while. In any case, no matter how old you are there is something here you will enjoy.

Emmet’s journey should be very familiar. It is much like Luke’s from Star Wars or, well, pretty much any protagonist’s that goes on some kind of trek for something. Basically what I’m saying is it has been done over and over before. So at this point, I look more at what happens along the way rather than the journey itself. In a way, the end of Emmet’s quest if fairly predictable. However, there is an unanticipated element to the ending which makes the entire journey worth more than it initially lets on.

I have been waiting my entire childhood for The Lego Movie. It has great voice actors with even better cameos and photoreal animation that had me questioning whether or not it was stop-motion. But its greatest strength is the expansive universe that duplicates the feeling that anything can happen, the same idea that fuels the imagination and what makes legos themselves so enjoyable. Although the journey may be familiar, the destination has some added bonuses that bring out the imaginative side in everyone.

Rating
5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Phil Lord – Director/Story/Screenplay
Christopher Miller – Director/Story/Screenplay
Dan Hageman – Story
Kevin Hageman – Story
Mark Mothersbaugh – Composer

Chris Pratt – Emmet Brickowoski
Elizabeth Banks – Wyldstyle
Morgan Freeman – Vitruvius
Will Arnett – Batman
Will Ferrell – Lord Business/President Business
Liam Neeson – Bad Cop/Good Cop/Pa Cop
Charlie Day – Benny
Alison Brie – Unikitty
Nick Offerman – Metal Beard
David Burrows – Octan Robot

Million Dollar Baby Review

Million Dollar Baby movie posterSynopsis
Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a veteran boxing trainer who has never had a boxer in a title match.  He isn’t fond of training women, either. But when his best friend, Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman), insists on training the persistent Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), Frankie takes her under his wing. Working together, Frankie and Maggie work towards their dreams of a championship, forging an unbreakable bond in the process.

Review
Every once in a while a movie comes along that leaves an impression on you long after the credits have rolled. For me that was Million Dollar Baby. I first saw this more recently, even though it came out way back in 2004. It’s too bad I didn’t see it sooner because I had no idea what I was missing.

Million Dollar Baby is a movie about boxing, but it doesn’t follow the conventions of other boxing movies, or at least the last act doesn’t. This film starts off like similar movies, showing the rise of the boxer, their training, and some of their matches. But something happens that catches you (or at least me) by surprise and really changes the tone of the whole movie. It’s in these final thirty minutes or so that have some of the best character moments in the entire film.

Easily the strongest aspect of this film is how well the characters are fleshed out. Over the course of the movie, we learn a great deal about Frankie, Maggie, and Eddie. And not just their backstories, but who they are as people and the motivations behind their actions. By the end of the Million Dollar Baby, I felt a relationship with the characters that I don’t usually get when watching a movie.

There is not one bad performance in this movie. Eastwood is normally known for more action-oriented roles, but he does phenomenal in this quieter role. He just seems to get better and better as he’s grown older. Freeman is always great in any role he plays and I am a fan of a Freeman voiceover. The biggest surprise was Swank. Granted, I haven’t seen very many of her movies, but after watching this one, I look forward to watching her again. Even the lesser seen supporting cast, like Anthony Mackie and Jay Baruchel were great.

I have mentioned before how much a good score can add to a movie. Usually it’s very big and dramatic, but the score of Million Dollar baby is much more subdued and simple. The score, surprisingly composed by Eastwood, is still dramatic, but in a different fashion. It consists mostly of a single acoustic guitar or piano that is very much in line with the feel of the movie but it is every bit as emotional as the full orchestral scores.

Cinematography isn’t something I normally bring up, but I would have a hard time talking about this movie with discussing about the cinematography. There is a great use of shadows and lighting. During the boxing matches, the camera gets close to the action, but too close that you can’t see much. It’s really great work that I think few movies can compare to.

I missed Million Dollar Baby when it was released in 2004 and when I finally did see it, I regretted not seeing it sooner. The characterization is brilliantly written and it’s easy to become invested in the characters and their struggles. It is hard to pick a stand out performance because every actor was fantastic, even the supporting cast. A simple but fitting score and top notch cinematography enhance the experience even further. If you want a movie that has great acting, excellent characterization, and superb cinematography, then Million Dollar Baby is the movie for you.

Rating
5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Clint Eastwood – Director
Paul Haggis – Screenplay
F.X. Toole – Stories from Rope Burns
Clint Eastwood – Composer

Clint Eastwood – Frankie Dunn
Hilary Swank – Maggie Fitzgerald
Morgan Freeman – Eddie Dupris
Anthony Mackie – Shawrelle Berry
Jay Baruchel – Danger Barch
Brian F. O’Byrne – Father Horvak
Margo Martindale – Earline Fitzgerald
Michael Pena – Omar

Jupiter Ascending Teaser Trailer

Official Synopsis: Jupiter Jones (Kunis) was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people’s houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along—her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.

I am a huge fan of the Wachowskis.  The Matrix trilogy, V for Vendetta (screenplay), and Speed Racer (writers), were enjoyable, so anything they have their hands in, I’m on board.  Mostly I’m interested to see how Mila Kunis does in an action role.  She has been in actions films before, like Max Payne and The Book of Eli, but not in a role requiring many stunts.  Over the years, she has shown herself to be a versatile actress, so I think she will do well.  However, I do hope she gets the chance to show off some of her comedic chops.  If movies like The Avengers have shown anything, it’s that humor can be successfully integrated with explosions.

Jupiter Ascending, written and directed by the Wachowskis and staring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Sean Bean, hits theaters July 25, 2014.

[EDIT 12/12/2013] The release date has been moved ahead by one week to July 18, 2014.

V for Vendetta Review

V for Vendetta move posterSynopsis
In a fascist Great Britain, the freedom fighter known simply as “V” (Hugo Weaving) plans to bring down the oppressive High Chancellor (John Hurt) and return the power to the people. But when Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) unexpectedly gets involved, V must determine if she is an asset, or a liability.

Review
Several years ago, I started an annual tradition of watching V for Vendetta on November 5th. It is based off of a graphic novel of the same name, written by Alan Moore in the 1980s. The graphic novel is amazing (if you haven’t read it, check it out), but the movie updates V for Vendetta‘s themes for a more modern audience, but the central message remains the same. Very rarely do I think movie adaptations are better than their source material. But in this case, V for Vendetta delivers everything the graphic novel does and more.

Action sequences don’t happen very frequently in this movie, but when they do, they are intense. If you liked the action from The Matrix trilogy, the Wachowski brother’s project directly before working this film, then you will enjoy it here as well. The last fight between V and Creedy’s soldiers took a page out of those films. It even has got “bullet time,” this time with knives included!

Despite never seeing his face, Hugo Weaving does fantastic as V. He strongly delivers his lines, particularly on the more serious ones. And his monologue? Perfectly executed. Natalie Portman does quite well as Evey. Some of her best scenes are when she gets kidnapped and her captors interrogate her. To see her transform as her character transform is remarkable.

One of my favorite things about V for Vendetta is its pacing and how the characters are developed throughout the film, particularly V. We aren’t given all his history at once. Instead we are given bits and pieces that are finally brought together in narrated journal entries. Same goes for the rise of the of the High Chancellor. It is an excellent method to not dump all the information at once, but still keep the audience engaged.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into them, but V for Vendetta has several thought provoking ideas that are worth your attention. Some of which include what the relationship between a government and its people should be, and the power of an idea. Definitely what makes this movie one for me is its ability to present its messages in an entertaining way without becoming preachy.

The filmmakers did everything right in V for Vendetta: intense action sequences, good characterization, great story pacing, and it does an outstanding job of getting its message across. This is a very in-depth movie, but also can be viewed just for entertainment. Watching it every year is a tradition I plan on keeping for a long time.

Rating
5/5