Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Review: Sabotage (R – 109 minutes)

As a heads up – this one is going to be a little rant-y at the beginning.  You have been warned. 

I had two major issues with Sabotage, then some minor issues.  The two major issues are the state of action movies in general, and then the role of women in said action movie genre. 

I have always loved action movies.  In the 80s, which was the heyday of the over-the-top silly action movie with an over-the-top larger-than-life action hero, action movies were violent, by the book, and usually had a sense of fun about them – hero is wronged, hero seeks vengeance, and usually goes against the ‘rules’ to do so.  That continued a bit more tongue-in-cheek through the 90s, then in 2002, the Bourne Identity came out, and we had a shift in action movie mentality. 

Gone were the ridiculous one-man-against-the-world mentality and the silly cartoon-gore high body counts.  Suddenly, the action hero was reborn as a gritty, real-world guy who was conflicted about what was happening and what he had to do.  Directors and writers started making action movies more “real”.  The action and fight scenes started being shot super close-up to make the viewer feel as if they were in the fight scenes.  I am sure several people have written dissertations on why this happened and whether or not it had anything to do with 9/11, and the shift in mood in America in general.  Only recently have we seen the simple story and straightforward action movie return.   Taken would be a prime example of this.  They took his daughter; he’s killing anything in his path as he goes to get her back.  I’m pretty sure there was a Charles Bronson movie with a similar plot.  I also feel like the Expendables was a perfect throwback to those terribly wonderful action movies of the 80s. 

It’s always been a little tough to be a female action movies fan, especially in the 80s.  Almost every single one of those movies had at least 1 PTS (pointless tit shot), which is annoying, and never balanced out by a corresponding full frontal male nude shot.  Hey – we women watch these movies too – throw in a PDS for us (pointless dick shot – I should not have had to spell that out for you, you should have guessed what that stood for).  The PDS rarely makes an appearance, and is always outdone by the amounts of PTSs.  In any case - the women in the majority of these movies were useless eye candy at best, and horrifyingly insulting at worst.  Someday I would like Cynthia Rothrock to write a book about her experiences making action movies.  She was one of the only legitimate female action stars during the action movie heyday.   The China O’Brien movies were great (okay, they were terrible, but super entertaining).  My favorite was Honor and Glory, which teamed Rothrock’s no nonsense cop with her sister, a no nonsense reporter.  Both were tough martial artists with no extra explanation for their skill.  They were just tough. 

Pam Grier was always tough in her movies, but you can go into a whole separate discussion with the Blaxplotation era of films.  Jenette Goldstein’s performance in Aliens is exceptional (I have always been a fan of hers – yes, because of the name – but also because she was so badass as Vasquez, in Near Dark, and again as the Foster mother in T2 “Wolfie’s fine honey, Wolfie’s just fine”).   
In 2003 Taratino released Kill Bill and Uma Thurman’s bride was perhaps the most badass female to ever hit the screen.  She woke up after being left for dead and went on a mission; unapologetically vicious and violent in her quest for vengeance.   Incidentally, I love the speech she gives to Vernita Green’s kid after taking out her mother - that kid would be about 20 now, and probably starting to think about chasing down the Bride for some vengeance of her own.  Get on that Tarantino. 

More recently Steven Soderburg created the excellent movie Haywire for real-life MMA star Gina Carano.  The movie was great, and she was great in it (in any scene where she didn’t have to talk).  There was no unnecessary explanation for her being a badass, she simply was.  I hope that this will lead to more action movies like this.  

Rhonda Rousey (another real-life MMA start) is in the upcoming Expendables 3 – surely we can get some more female action stars?  As for the constant statement of “no one wants to see an action movie with a female lead”, I will always call bullshit on that.  Make a good, entertaining movie, and people will watch it, regardless of who the lead is.  Why bring this whole thing up?  Because if action movies in general have moved towards more "gritty" and "real", why have the roles for women in them not become more real and equal?  Some have, Haywire is a great example - but that is the only one I can think of right now.  Why does this pertain to Sabotage?  Because Sabotage is a "gritty" and "real" action movie and because there are two strong female roles in this movie – and while performed well, they are written poorly.  They could have been strong enough to counterbalance all the testosterone in this movie, they end up being more than a little insulting. Warning - below is a red band trailer (cursing, violence, and nudity are present!).

2nd Warning – Spoiler alert – I intend to discuss the entire plot – so if you plan on seeing this movie (don’t bother), don’t read the rest of this until after you have seen it. 

Sabotage opens with a woman getting tortured/raped to death.  Seriously.  They don’t show everything that’s happening to her, but it’s easy to interpret.  It’s via a video that was sent to our hero.  He’s a big time DEA agent, and the cartels have taken his wife and son.   Then the title comes up.  Already I had checked out.  We then head to what seems to be a drug party at one of the cartel’s home bases, with the tagline “8 months later”.  We first are introduced to the character of Lizzie as she does some cocaine and agrees to have unprotected sex with one of the cartel members.  She’s a member of an elite DEA team which is arriving to raid the house.  She takes out the dude she’s with, then meets up with the team, and leads them to a room in which there is one of those pallets of money that drug kingpins always have in their houses.   They begin wrapping some of the money, tying it to a rope to drop it down the plumbing under the toilet (Why does the money room have a toilet?).  They blow up the rest of the money.  Later, they come back to the sewer after the raid to collect their stolen payday, only to find that someone else has already stolen it. 

We then see each member of the team interviewed by the DEA version of internal affairs as the upper-level guys attempt to find out where the money went (if they blew up the rest, how does the DEA know $10 million is missing?).  This serves as character development for us as we get to learn more about each character; Breacher, Grinder, Monster, Neck, Pyro, Sugar, and Tripod – they lost Smoke in the raid.  None of them cave, maintaining that they did not steal the money (which, technically, they didn’t).  After many months of observation, they finally allow Breacher (our hero) to get back in the game since they have found no evidence that he or the team stole the money.  He goes to reassemble the team, and it would appear they have all been hanging out in what used to be their office, drinking, tattooing each other, and talking about how much they would each like to have sex with Lizzie, despite her being married to Monster.  Lizzie is drugged out lunatic and everyone seems to know that, but no one seems concerned.  In any case, Breacher shows up, and they start re-training.  I don’t know how long they were out of commission, but they seemed to have forgotten a lot of their training. 

They go out to a strip club to celebrate their reinstatement, which involves Lizzie bragging about which of the strippers she would do, then taking over the pole, then they all get really drunk, then they knock out the security after Sugar decides he wants to work the pole.  Here’s the problem - these characters are supposed to be the ‘heroes’ of this movie, and they are all so completely despicable, it’s impossible to understand why we are supposed to be on their side.  I had the same issue with the movie Pain and Gain. 
Later that night, Pyro is in his RV, which someone has parked on the train tracks.  He gets obliterated.  In comes a pair of cops, Caroline and Jackson to rule it an accident.  Then, Neck ends up nailed to the ceiling in his house, gutted (not In the British slang version meaning really disappointed – literally gutted with intestines draping down to the floor).  The cops link the deaths, and the squad starts to realize that someone is after them.  Breacher partners up with Caroline to track down Tripod, who quit after the initial money-stealing raid.  In a slick bit of layering, we see what happened to Tripod as they investigate, even though it happened about a week ago.  So that’s three down.  Somewhere along the line, Caroline and Jackson demand assistance from the DEA (who were these guys, who did they piss off?), but they refuse, needing some paperwork filled out.  Breacher brings a file to Caroline’s house as she is swimming naked (what?), and they end up screwing (there goes her credibility as a character maybe you could root for).  

The rest of the high-strung groups panics, and inevitably turn on each other.  They meet up, accuse each other – Lizzie tells Monster she’s been screwing Sugar (what?), and Grinder takes off to confess to Caroline, who of course confides in Breacher.  She and Breacher meet with Grinder, but Lizzie kills him, after having already killed Monster and shoving him in their refrigerator (I bet right about now they are all wishing they had dealt with her drug problems earlier). Eventually Breacher and Caroline chase them down, but Sugar manages to decapitate himself in the car and nearly kill Lizzie in the trunk.  Breacher asks Lizzie why she killed everyone (how did she manage to nail Neck to his ceiling?) – she claims because they stole her money.  Breacher says he stole it, and she realizes he took it to try to track down the men who killed his wife, she says it won’t bring them back and he shoots her.  Caroline gets upset, he tells her to walk away, she turns back to talk to Jackson who has finally shown up (where were you?  Now go pick up Terrance Howard’s head since you were both in The Best Man movies), then turns back around and Breacher is literally gone – as in disappeared.  Then we get an epilogue in which he heads to Mexico, wipes out a bunch of dudes in a bar, kills the guy who killed his wife, and gets mortally wounded in the process.  Yikes.

David Ayers, who also directed End of Watch and Harsh Times, excels at the gritty action movie, and seems to have achieved his goals.  It’s well put together, the actors all did a great job of making me hate every single one of them, and if the goal was gritty and realistic action, he accomplished that too.  So why did I hate it?  The level of gore was insane, and without cause.  The bits that used to be Pyro are strewn all over after the train collision, and the disemboweled Neck nailed to the ceiling was just unnecessary.  Not to mention all the excessively bloody bullet hits.  Sure – it’s shooting for authentic, so they wanted the violence to be authentic, but honestly, it was a bit much.  The cast does a good job with what they are asked to do.
  • Arnold does a good job playing the beaten and weary Breacher.  His focus is getting the killer of his wife, but constantly watching the video they sent of her death doesn’t seem like the right way to go about it.  Hey - how about all those fake tattoos?

  • Sam Worthington plays Monster – and at first is almost unrecognizable.  He’s got a shaved head and strangely braided and beaded goatee, but then his wooden acting shows up again and you realize who it is.  He spends the most time trying to help the cops, and you feel bad for him when Lizzie is really the monster in the relationship.

  • Josh Holloway plays Neck – he’s belligerent and nasty, right up until he gets nailed to the ceiling.  When Caroline first comes over to the house to interview him after Pyro gets smashed, he insists on referring to her as a stripper even after she shows her badge.

  • Joe Manganiello plays Grinder – and looks like an insane member of a biker gang.  Also – the braids – whatever.  Again, he does a good job – it’s just that the character is so terrible, you feel nothing when he finally gets taken out. Also – he continues to badger Caroline about being a stripper when she comes by the house – guys, seriously – she’s a cop, knock it off.

  • Terrance Howard plays Sugar – and if there’s anyone I don’t buy as a member of an elite DEA team, it’s him.  He seems to have the least amount of lines of anyone in the group, and is fairly quiet.  I kept being surprised when he showed up.  Also – he did try to work that stripper pole.

  • Max Martini plays the same character he has worked to perfect in Pyro – hard-edged ex-military types.  He’s usually more quiet, so it was interesting to see him dial it up a notch.  I was a little surprised he could not figure out how to escape that RV once it ended up on the train tracks, but hey – he was really really drunk.

  • Kevin Vance plays Tripod, and you really don’t get to spend any time with him.  As I said – I enjoyed the investigation layered over what happened to him, it was an interesting choice.  He was also in End of Watch – and functioned as the military consultant on this movie and others, so clearly this is a man with real experience in the field, who now helps bring the realism to movies like this.

  • Mireille Enos plays Lizzy – and she does a great job, but I hated the character as written.  Which is probably the point.  Because she is the first character we are introduced to, and the one we get the most character development on, she could be the center of the movie.  She could have been an epic villain, and I suppose in a sense, she was.  Her absolute joy when they find a bunch of liquid meth is really off-putting.  Her complete participation in the partying at the strip club is off-putting, and her introduction of Caroline to the others as a stripper is off-putting.  Everything about her is off-putting, but that is exactly what she was asked to do. I get it; in order to fit in with this group of alpha males and get the job done, she has to out-alpha-male them, and she does end up being the bad guy, so it works – I guess.  But why couldn’t one of the male characters have been the druggie psychopath, and Lizzy just been another member of the team?  As an interesting side note – Malin Akerman was originally cast in this role, then she got pregnant, so Enos got the part.  There’s no way Akerman could have pulled this off.  Of course, based on Enos’s work prior to this (she was most recently Brad Pitt’s wife in World War Z), I would not have guessed she could have pulled it off either, so who knows.

  • Olivia Williams (I spent the whole time trying to figure out where I knew her from – she’s Adelle from Dollhouse) plays Caroline.  She should have been a straightforward character - just a tough cop trying to do her job - after all, it was going to be so tough to get information from this tight-knit group of DEA maniacs – but then when Breacher brings her the file and she ends up in bed with him – only to realize within hours that he did that to make her do the research (“you used me!”  no shit, why did you not see that coming?) I lost respect for the character.  She allows him to play her all the way through the movie.  Again – Williams does a great job, it’s just that I hate the way the character is written.

  • Thank goodness for Harold Perrineau as Jackson – he’s the only good character – and he barely gets any screen time!

Honestly, the movie is well-crafted, it's just a tough watch.  I was kept guessing as to who was taking out members of the team.  I had low expectations, and I was still disappointed.  The run time is only 109 minutes, and it still felt really really long.  If they had turned the drugs, violence, language, and nudity down to a 9 from a 12, I might have liked it better, but then, that wasn’t what they were trying to make.  No one in the theater reacted positively as I was leaving, and so far – it’s made only $5.3 million on a budget of $35 million.  At least Arnold will always have this:

3 out of 10.  Just my personal opinion.  Lost points for opening with the torture.  Lost points for the shit-covered toilet in the beginning.  Lost points for the heroes starting out as thieves.  Lost points for Manganiello’s nostril flaring.  Lost points for Holloway’s nailed moment.  Lost points for Lizzie sticking Monster in a fridge.  Lost points for Caroline being surprised she was being used, and finally gained points for Harold Perrineau.  But then lost points for him having no scenes with Holloway.  Sorry, Lost fans.

Bonus Video 1:  Navy Seals – the 1990 version of a group of military-type alpha males on a mission.  This one was way more fun – and hey! Bill Paxton!

Bonus Video 2:  Predator – the most Alpha-male movie ever – also way more fun – and hey!  Carl Weathers!  Be sure to pair this with Predator 2 so you can go, hey! Bill Paxton! again. 

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Movie Review: Muppets Most Wanted (PG – 107 minutes)

The Muppets were created in 1955 by Jim Henson – you know what they are, I shouldn’t have to explain them.  You probably watched Sesame Street growing up (if you didn’t, you should have) and I you have kids now – chances are they’re watching it too.  You may remember the Muppet Show in the late 70s and early 80s which featured the Muppets doing absurdist variety-sketch comedy with guest stars. 

Over the years, they’ve made many movies:  The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984.  Jim Henson passed away in 1990, and the Muppets slowly built back their legacy.  They had a resurgence of the TV show in the 90s, and then the Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992, Muppet Treasure Island in 1996, and Muppets from Space in 1999. The Great Muppet Caper was always my favorite.

 In 2004, Disney purchased the Muppets, and we got a new movie in 2011, co-written by Jason (and huge Muppet fan) Jason Segel, and directed by James Bobin.  It was fun, featured tons of big-time celebrity cameos, and featured songs (with one nominated for an Oscar) by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret Mackenzie.  Incidentally, James Bobin had also directed many of the Flight of the Conchords episodes. 

This movie is a sequel (you know that because there is a huge song at the beginning entitled, “we’re doing a sequel”) – continuing the story literally where the story from the 2011 movie ends.  Kermit and the gang are thrilled that they saved their theatre, but are unsure what step to take next.  Criminal mastermind Dominic Badguy (it’s pronounced Bad-gee – it’s French) suggests a world tour. 

Unfortunately for them, they do not realize that he is, in fact, a bad guy and has set them up in locations where he wants to rob priceless works of art.  Meanwhile, Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog, escapes from a gulag in Siberia, slaps a mole on Kermit’s face, sends Kermit to the gulag, replaces him with the gang, and works with Dominic to steal the pieces that will lead to them being able to steal the crown jewels in London.  The gang is slow to realize something is amiss, and Kermit is slowly acclimating to gulag life.  Once they rescue him, they set out to clear his name and make things right - oh, and stop Constantine from marrying Piggy.
In terms of actual humans with notable roles in the movie, there are really only three:
  • Ricky Gervais plays Dominic Badguy, and does a great job of being slimy and arrogant.  He’s not bringing anything you haven’t seen him do before – but he’s bringing what he’s great at – and it really works. 

  • Ty Burrell from Modern Family plays the Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon – who has most of his scenes with Sam the Eagle.  He is hilarious, and that French accent had me cracking up.

  • Tina Fey plays Nadya, the gulag showrunner.  She grows really fond of Kermit, and has him produce the annual gulag spring review.  Her Russian accent is equally hilarious.

  • In terms of the Muppets:
    • Steve Whitmire performs:  Kermit, Statler, Beaker, Rizzo the Rat, Link Hogthrob, and the Newsman

    • Eric Jacobson performs:  Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam the Eagle, and Animal

    • Dave Goelz performs:  Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen, Zoot, Beauregard, and Waldorf
    • Bill Barretta performs:  Pepe, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Swedish Chef, and Bobo
    • David Rudman performs:  Scooter, and Janice, and others.
    • Matt Vogel performs: Constantine, Floyd, Sweetums, Pops, Robin, Crazy Harry, and the 80s robot.
  • Then there are the extensive human cameos.  The three in the prison get the most screen time, and they include Ray Liotta (who also cameoed in Muppets in Space), Danny Trejo (who seems to be playing himself) and Mackenzie’s Flight of the Conchords partner Jermaine Clement. 

  • Some (but not all) of the rest of the cameos are:  Tony Bennet, Lady Gaga, Andres Cantor, Hugh Bonneville, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Mackenzie Crook, Celine Dion, Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, Ross Lynch, James McAvoy, Chloe Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Til Schweiger, Russell Tovey, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz, and my favorite cameo of the movie – Tom Hiddleston as Escapo.

The movie was certainly enjoyable, and fun, and the cameos kept me paying attention.  It’s always fun to see people interact with Muppets, you never see them as puppets, they are legitimate characters, and the human actors always interact with them as such.  I do think I wanted a little more from it that it provided.  It was very Kermit-centric – which is not a problem if you are a huge Kermit fan, but if you prefer one of the other Muppets, there’s just not as much of them.  The songs were great, I particularly enjoyed the “I’ll Give It To You” number than Constantine (pretending to be Kermit) sings to Piggy – although it is clearly a Flight of the Conchords number, and you can completely picture Bret and Jermaine singing it.   Overall I liked it, I didn’t love it, and it certainly wasn’t as good as the Lego Movie.

7 out of 10 – certainly entertaining.  Gained points for Constantine attempting to use Kermit’s “Hi-Ho” catchphrase and turning it into “Hi-Lo”.  Lost points for not enough Pepe.  Gained points for not using Rizzo – I am not a Rizzo fan.  Gained points for the badge size battle, Lost points for that tiny car, that will give you claustrophobia – was Ty Burrell really driving that?  Gained points for the line, “Goodnight, Danny Trejo!”

Bonus Video 1:  Try getting this out of your head...

Bonus Video 1:  Flight of the Conchords – just a couple of songs…

Bonus Video 2:  The Star Wars Muppet Show

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews

Friday, March 21, 2014

Movie Review: About Last Night (R – 100 mins)

If there is one genre of movie that you want to be predictable, it’s the Rom-Com.  A good Rom-Com has the meet-cute between the couple, they fall completely head over heels, everything seems great – then there’s trouble, and then there’s some dramatic demonstration of love that brings them back together in the end.  It’s a pretty basic formula, but it works well, so why change it?  What can make your standard Rom-Com stand out is a great cast, great writing, and a small twist here and there.

The original About Last Night was released in 1986 and starred Rob Lowe, Demie Moore, James Belushi, and Elizabeth Perkins.  It was actually based on a David Mamet play.

It was well done, and certainly entertaining enough to be updated.  This new version is directed by Steve Pink, who has also directed several episodes of New Girl, as well as Hot Tub Time Machine (sort of funny!) and Accepted (hilarious!). 

The story is the same, Bernie and Danny are friends who go out often, Danny is attempting to bounce back from ending a relationship with a crazy woman.  Bernie meets Joan, who can match his motor-mouthed craziness, and the two start a passionate affair.  Joan’s friend Debbie comes along and starts a slow-burning relationship with Danny.  Bernie and Joan flair out quickly, but as Danny and Debbie get closer together, Bernie and Joan have to keep encountering each other.  Danny and Debbie move in together, do well – but then encounter a speed bump or two just as Bernie and Joan realize they are meant for each other. 

The movie is fairly fast-paced for a Rom-Com, and is paced out by the seasons in terms of passage of time.  Each character has some growing to do in their own stories, and the cast is really what elevates it.
  • Kevin Hart plays Bernie and is one of my favorite stand-up comedians and he is attacking his movie career with fervor.  He’s great in this – but he’s basically playing Kevin Hart.  In fact, this character is almost exactly the same as his character in Ride Along.  If you’re a Kevin Hart fan, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and in fact, it helps make the movie more enjoyable.  He does show some talent in the more dramatic scenes, and I would not be surprised if much further along in his career we see him do some gritty dramas and get recognized for them.

  • Regina Hall plays Joan and is an exceptionally talented comedienne, and you will probably recognize her from Scary Movie 1 through 4, as well as many other movies and TV shows.  She is hilarious, and is genuinely capable of keeping pace with Kevin Hart’s improvs.  She’s fire-y and funny and the perfect pairing for him.  The relationship between Bernie and Joan would not have worked nearly as well with a different actress.

  • The unbearably handsome Michael Ealy plays Danny (the industrial accident line fit Rob Lowe perfectly, and it also fits Michael Ealy perfectly).  He’s been working very hard for a long time, but lately with the TV show Almost Human (which is fantastic!) and this movie, hopefully he’ll being getting his due.  He has the biggest character arc in the movie, and the most backstory.  He plays Danny as a bit mopey at the beginning, but then really grows into learning what he really wants to do with his life. 

  • Joy Bryant plays the conservative Debbie, and does a great job in this as she slowly falls for Danny, then realizes he might not be in line with what she wants, and then realizing how much she needs him.  I really enjoyed her in Hit and Run in which she played a completely different character, and she’s currently on Parenthood.

  • Christopher McDonald, who has been in everything, but you probably remember best as Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore, plays Casey, Danny’s friend.  This is the most understated role I’ve ever seen him play – he’s usually best in an over-the-top comedy (see the superhero movie spoof – Superhero Movie), but he was really great in this as a struggling bar owner who helps Danny see what he was meant to do.
  • Adam Rodriguez from Magic Mike (and CSI Miami) plays Debbie’s boss (and ex?) Steven.  He’s just enough rich and seductive to make you worry, and to certainly give Danny some hesitation, but he does seem to be a good guy as the story goes on.

  • Paula Patton plays Danny’s crazy ex, Alison.  It’s the role Patton has always excelled at – the crazy super-beautiful chick.  She has one scene, but she’s pretty hilarious in it.  If you want to see her take that role through a whole movie, watch the Queen Latifah/Common Rom-Com, Just Wright.

  • Joe Lo Truglio has a couple of truly hilarious scenes as Danny and Bernie’s boss, Ryan.  He tries to walk the line between friend and boss, and fails epically –but it’s hilarious.
  • Oddly enough, Terrell Owens has one scene as Terrell Owens.  It’s pretty fantastic.

The movie is rated R, for both the language and sex, but really – it’s a well-crafted piece of Rom-Com fluff that’s well worth the watch.  It’s precisely the right length for a movie of this type, and I really enjoyed it.  Check it out – I think you’ll find it really funny!

7 out of 10:  Gained points for Lo Trulio and his loudspeaker, lost points for that dog growing up into a different breed of dog?  Gained points for Hart running wild through every scene, and getting emotional when necessary – lost points for not having outtakes over the credits…seriously, this movie needs outtakes. 

Bonus Video 1:  Just Wright – the movie’s not that great, but it’s charming here and there.

Bonus Video 2:  Think Like A Man – another hilarious movie with both of these stars – rent it before the sequel comes out later this year.

Bonus Video 3: SuperHero Movie – it’s terrible, but funny here and there…

Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews

Monday, March 17, 2014

Movie Review: 300 Rise of an Empire (R – 102 minutes)

The first 300 was an epic translation of the 1998 Frank Miller Graphic novel.  He based some of it loosely on the 1962 movie The 300 Spartans and some of it loosely on pieces of the original ancient Greek legend, which tells the tale of King Leonidas of Sparta, who in 480 BC took 300 of his best soldiers to fend off the incoming Persian invasion led by Prince Xerxes. 

The movie itself was beautifully shot, and there were many sequences that were frame for frame images from the comic, which I read prior to seeing the movie.  This resulted in the movie being exceptionally stylized with a unique and new look and feel.  It’s true to the comic, so, like all Frank Miller works (see Sin City), was very graphically violent and gory.  It was a fairly opened and closed story -  Leonidas leads his men into a bit of a Kobayashi Maru, in which they battle the 8 foot god-king Xerxes and his hordes, including all kinds of nonsense and monsters.  They hold them back for some time – then eventually lose. 

This new movie is directed by Noam Murro, an Iraeli director, as his first big-time movie.  It is produced by Snyder, and uses some of the same technological flashy pieces that the first had. The main issue with that is that when the first one came out, the super-stylized gore and alternation between super slo-mo and fast action was new, and people hadn’t seen it before.  Since then, it has been used and over-used in all kinds of movie and TV shows.  The advantage is that this one changes the scenery, and takes place mostly on the Aegean Sea.

The timeline is a little strange, it is not a prequel or sequel to the original 300 – it takes place at the same time.  The movie opens with Leonidas’s wife Gorgo telling her men about the Battle of Marathon, and the death of the Persian King Darius by the Athenian Greek hero Themistokles.  Darius dies in front of his son Xerxes, and his father, as he is dying, tells him to pull back, saying that “only the gods could defeat the greeks.”  Well, Darius’s creepy as hell naval commander Artemisia tells Xerxes to become a god – thus creating the 8 foot god-king that we are familiar with.  

Themistokles asks all of Greece to lend him what they can in the way of navies, so that he can meet Artemisia’s forces on the sea.  Most city states give what they can, except for Sparta, who feel they are already stretched thin, in dealing with the Persians at the hot gates.  Themistokles uses some ingenious naval tricks and wins a few battles, impressing Artemisia, who brings him on board her ship for some negotiating…and by negotiating, I mean some really rough sex.  

He still refuses to surrender to her and rule at her side, so she kicks him off her boat and sends some explosive ancient navy seals over to his fleet, destroying almost everything.  Themistokles is just about out of ideas, and heads to Athens to try to get more help, learning that the 300 have fallen.  He once again asks Gorgo for help, who refuses one more time, then heads back out to face Artemisia one more time.  We see Gorgo giving the speech she was giving at the beginning, and finally she and the Spartan navy (which seems to be huge, where did they get all those people?) show up to help the Greeks. 

  • Sullivan Stapleton, an Australian actor, plays Themistokles.  He does a fine job, but does not have the charisma of Gerard Butler.  In a way, that works, because Themistokles is a different type of person than Leonidas, but in another way, it doesn’t quite work, because he has to carry this movie.

  • Stapleton’s averageness is all the more obvious because Eva Green as Artemisia steals this movie.  She’s manipulative, evil, and incredibly watchable and charismatic.  She looks like she’s having a blast in this and she makes Artemisia an unapologetic badass.  Fantastic.  Also – the armor she wears at the end has what I would describe as a dragon-y sort of spine to it?  Impressive.

  • Speaking of unapologetic badasses, Lena Headey gets a bit more to do in this movie as Queen Gorgo than she did in the first.  Once she finally decides to help Themistokles, she comes in angry and fully armed.

  • Hans Matheson plays Aesyklos, one of Themistokles’s top men.  He does a good job of attempting to remind Themistokles that they may not have a chance in this, but then supporting him anyway.

  • David Wenham is the other returning character from 300 – which makes sense, since he’s the one who made it out of the first.  He’s very intimidating in his eye patch, but if you want to see him really out of character, re-watch Stephen Sommers’s Van Helsing – he’s pretty hilarious in that.

  • Rodrigo Santoro gets a full couple of scenes not in the Xerxes get-up before Artemisia sends him to wander the desert, and he enters a mystical cave pool, then exits as the god-king that we remember from the first movie.  
Because that’s usually how mystical desert cave pools work, right?  Apparently they hook you up with crazy facial piercings as well.

  • Andrew Tiernan is back as the hunchback Ephialtes – and if there was a character I did not want to see more of, it was that crazy hunchback.  But, props to whoever put together the prosthetic – because it’s impressive.

Overall – it’s short, it’s entertaining, and it looks great in 3D.  Check it out – if you liked the first one, you’ll like this one, but it’s not as good, just because it’s not as new.

6 out of 10.  Gained points for Artemisia and her navy seals.  Lost points for the hunchback.  Gained points for Gorgo finally showing up with the Spartan navy, but lost points for her taking way too long to decide to help.  Gained points for all the fancy naval maneuvering that Themistokles put together, but then lost points for the one scene with insane sea monsters.  This whole movie takes place at sea – why is there only one scene with insane sea monsters?

Bonus Video 1:  Everything wrong with the first 300!

Bonus Video 2: Sin City – the other frame for frame Frank Miller movie - the sequel will be out later this year, so check this out if you haven't already.

Bonus Video 2:  Van Helsing, just because.

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews.