Monthly Archives: July 2012
by Steve Habrat
Among the superhero movie elite is without question director James McTeigue’s politically charged 2006 film V for Vendetta, based off of Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name. Heavily critical of oppressive, war hungry governments who lie to their citizens and control through fear, it is very easy to read V for Vendetta as an attack on the ultra right wing extremists. Even if you do not quite agree with the politics of V for Vendetta, the film still has plenty to offer in the action and suspense department. Larry and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix boys) penned V for Vendetta, so you know you are in for one hell of a thrill ride when the bullets, knives, and fists start flying. Despite the heaping amount of praise I give this film, I do think it does have its fair share of flaws which cause it to stumble during its second act, especially when much of the focus is pulled off of the liberal-minded vigilante V, a monstrous experiment that backfires on all of those who were responsible. The story is so busy and tries to juggle so much at one time that you may find yourself hitting the rewind button out of confusion, at least on your first viewing. Things do clear themselves up a bit after revisiting the film a few times but certain points are still murky. Even so, you have to applaud the film’s reluctance to simplify itself, which is always invigorating in a superhero film.
The year is 2020 and much of the world is ravaged by civil war, disease, unrest, and chaos. Great Britain is under the control of a fascist Norsefire party, who act as a sort of Big Brother type. One evening, British Television Network employee Evey Hammon (Played by Natalie Portman) decides to make a trip to the home of her boss, Gordon Deitrich (Played by Stephen Fry), despite the government curfew that is firmly in place. The streets are partoled by “Fingerman,” a secret police force who takes orders from High Chancellor Adam Sutler (Played by John Hurt). Evey ends up bumping in to several “Fingerman,” who then attempt to rape and beat her but she is saved by a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask. This man, who calls himself V (Played by Hugo Weaving), proceeds to take Evey to a rooftop that overlooks the Old Bailey, which he then proceeds to destroy. The next days, the Norsefire party attempts to cover up this attack but V infiltrates the BTN and takes credit for the attack. He then encourages the citizens of Great Britain to rise up against this tolterian force that oppresses them and join him on November 5th, 2021, outside the Houses of Parliament and watch as he destroys it. Evey ends up bumping into V as he is fleeing the BTN and she narrowly saves his life, but it is all caught on camera. With no other alternative, V takes Evey to his underground hideout where she slowly begins to understand what V is trying to accomplish. She also learns about his horrific past inside a concentration camp called Larkhill, one set up by the Norsefire party. Meanwhile, lead inspector Eric Finch (Played by Stephen Rae) is hot on V trail but he ends up discovering more than he bargained for.
Certainly not the easiest film to briefly sum up due to the fact that there are tons of moving parts that allow the story to keep chugging along, V for Vendetta certainly is a rich and hearty thriller that more than satisfies. The first forty minutes of the film are absolutely glorious and flawless, with plenty of mind-bending action sequences and slow mounting suspense to keep you glued to your seat. The infiltration of the BTN by V seems like something Christopher Nolan would have concocted in one of his Batman films with closed-quarters action that would have been right at home in The Matrix. Then things switch from relentless action into more of a political thriller and character drama. The second half of the film is certainly interesting, especially when we get to hear about the origin of the Norsefire party and how V was molded into a Shakespeare-quoting gentleman who prefers to slay his victims with knives and ideas. It is here that the narrative tries to cram in too much and things begin to get tangled up in its own story. There are so many characters to try to keep track of that the exhaustion carved into lead inspector Finch’s face says it all. Yet when things finally do come together, or at least when we can finally put all the puzzle pieces in place, it does knock you off your feet. In a way, this is a positive because the more times you see V for Vendetta, the more that it chooses to reveal, making it one that you could happily add to your film collection.
Another unusual approach in V for Vendetta is never allowing the audience to get a glimpse of the V’s face. We learn that V was horribly disfigured in a fire and that he also can take quite a bit more punishment than the normal human being, a result of experiments that were conducted on him in Larkhill. V keeps his scarred face hidden behind a Guy Fawkes mask and allows his personality to come alive in eloquent and poetic dialogue that pours from the small slit in the mask’s mouth. He is mildly pretentious in the way he quotes Shakespeare, enjoys high art, and swoons over The Count of Monte Cristo, a film he can quote line by line. His underground lair is walled with books as thick as bricks, shrines to individuals who were deemed “unfit” by the Norsefire party (a lesbian woman who was in a cell next to V while he was in Larkhill), and accented with classical tunes that pour forth from his jukebox of 100 songs, none of which V has ever danced to. Weaving has his work cut out for him in selling V to the audience but he does it with human grace. I enjoy the fact that V is meant to represent all of us and I loved the fact that my imagination ran wild with what he looked like. We only ever get a glimpse of his hands, which are red, swollen, and peeling, grotesque but tragic, even more so when Evey sees them and V quickly covers them up so he doesn’t offend her.
Then we have Portman’s Evey, who has to speak in a faux British accent that does come off as fake from time to time but Portman’s character is caught in so much conflict that you barely notice. She is a powerhouse when she has her hair shaved off in one of the film’s more intense moments. She morphs from a conformed member of the Norsefire society into a cold, steely liberator with eyes that are made of fire, perhaps the same flames that baptized V. Her intimate moments with V, the ones where they speak of their pasts and V’s plot are touching, haunting, and hypnotic. Then we have Rae’s Finch, a loyal Norsefire party member who is beginning to question the party he has dedicated himself to. The more he uncovers, the more he begins to see that V is not the enemy. Another standout is John Hurt as Sutler, who is almost always seen on a giant screen that looms over the closest members of his cabinet. There is so much force in his voice when he snarls at those close to him that he needs to remind the people of Great Britain why they need him. Rounding all the main players is Fry is a closeted homosexual who fears his sexual orientation will have him jailed, but that is the least of his worries, and Tim Pigott-Smith as Peter Creedy, the scowling and slimy head of the “Fingerman.”
V for Vendetta has a shattering moment in the middle of the film when it flashes back to tell the story of Valerie (Played by Imogen Poots and Natasha Wightman), a lesbian who was disowned by her family and ultimately arrested by the government and thrown into Larkhill. The scene is fueled by so much raw emotion, anger, frustration, and ache that it still retains its punch every time you see the film. It is the highlight of the convoluted middle section of V for Vendetta, one that shows the true suffering at the hands of evil individuals who lack the right to judge their neighbor. It also acts as the push behind this liberal minded superhero outing. It is a call for tolerance and acceptance of all walks of life, something the far right refuses to do. Despite the longwinded politics of the middle portion of the film (trust me, it covers it all), the last act ties everything up in grand, fiery fashion, complete with a rousing fireworks display. The end battle scene between V and several members of the “Fingerman” is turned up eleven with slow motion spirals of V flying through the air and cutting down those who have caused him so much pain, V’s rage tied up with fluttering ribbons of blood cutting across the action. Yet it is the idea that together we can accomplish anything that will have you on your feet by the time the credits roll. It is the idea of universal freedom that allows V for Vendetta to stand as one of the true triumphs of the superhero genre.
V for Vendetta is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
I wanted to let all of you know that it was one year ago today that Anti-Film School joined the film blogging world and it has been one incredible year. Thank you to each and every one of you that continues to visit. The site has managed to rack up almost 54,000 views to date and shows now signs of slowing. So, THANK YOU! I can’t say it enough. You are all wonderful.
Here’s to another great year! Cheers!
-Theater Management (Steve)
NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached video/song.
by Steve Habrat
As if Batman & Robin didn’t do enough damage to the Batman name, Warner Bros. and DC Comics then came up with 2004’s Catwoman, a film so bad it left the Batman legacy in ashes. Even though the Dark Knight isn’t anywhere to be found in Catwoman, the fact that this character stems from his universe does enough damage. Directed like a miniseries for MTV and set to music that sounds like it was lifted from a perfume commercial, Catwoman is under the impression that it is a sleek and sexy thrill ride that will drive the ladies wild on girls night out. No matter how many sexy actors and actresses director Pitof (yes, that is the name he goes by) throws into the mix, nothing about the film is sexy. Furthermore, Catwoman attempts to be a lioness roar of female empowerment, one that howls at the thought of aging but declares war on the evil cosmetic companies that promote everlasting youth. Confused yet? With a terrible story and some of the worst dialogue you are likely to hear in a movie, Catwoman tosses the comic book character’s origin story in a box of kitty litter and then proceeds to defecate all over it. It does all of this while wearing the most laughable superhero getup you can think of and battling what has to be the lamest villain ever thought up by Hollywood. Does it make sense why I was ashamed to admit I was a Batman fan for so long?
Catwoman introduces us to Seline Ky… Patience Phillips (Played by Halle Berry), a geeky graphic designer who works for a cosmetics company called Hedare Beauty, which is developing a new skin cream called Beau-Line. Beau-Line is supposed to help preserve youth but the side effects are extremely dangerous. One evening, Patience stumbles into the Hedare laboratory where she overhears her boss, George Hedare (Played by Lambert Wilson), and his wife, Laurel Hedare (Played by Sharon Stone), discussing the horrific side effects. Patience is quickly discovered and George orders his goons to kill her. She tries to escape through a conduit pipe but George’s goons have it sealed and flushed out. Patience’s body washes up on a nearby island where a mysterious cat named Midnight finds her and breathes new life into Patience. Armed with new cat-like abilities and crazy skills with a whip, Patience dons a silly leather outfit and takes to the city rooftops as Catwoman. After she commits a robbery, the persistent Detective Tom Lone (Played by Benjamin Bratt) is on Catwoman’s tail, but the two end up locked in a steamy romance. Catwoman also begins setting her sights on the people who were responsible for trying to kill her and exposing the dirty little secrets of Hedare Beauty while she is at it.
While the first half of Catwoman drones on and on about how much of a plain-Jane Patience is, the second half of the film spits out a unconvincing sex kitten that struts along the rooftops of a CGI city (Gotham City?) like she is working a catwalk. She throws her hips around in an unintentionally hilarious costume that is completely absurd, especially when she begins hoping around in a fight scene. Catwoman herself seems to lack a real motive or direction as she prowls the streets at night. She slinks around robbing jewelry stores and when she gets bored, she slips over to the Hedare laboratory to pick off one of George’s goons. Berry tries desperately to own the role while giving it plenty of sassy attitude that would make all the other actresses that have donned the cat-ears double over in laughter. She never once becomes a true threat to the bad guys here, but that may be because every time a fight breaks out, Berry is replaced with a CGI double that jumps around like Spider-Man. If she isn’t making you groan during a fight scene, her origin most certainly will. What makes it even worse is that Pitof tries to sell this outlandish rebirth angle with a straight face.
Then we have Sharon Stone as Laurel Hedare, an aging beauty queen who is addicted to Beau-Line. This addiction has made her skin as tough as concrete and allowed her to feel no pain (I wish I was making this up). She bitches and moans about how she was once the beautiful face of Hedare and now a younger, prettier model is replacing her. Laurel becomes truly evil due to her husband’s infidelity and she ends up murdering him, something that she frames Catwoman for. While the source of Laurel’s rage is clear, it just comes off as idiotic and evil for the sake of being evil. We then learn that Laurel plans to unleash Beau-Line on the public yet she is angry because younger girls are replacing her. Riiiight. Also in the mix is Benjamin Bratt as Detective Tom Lone, who suspects that Patience is Catwoman. Berry and Bratt have little to no chemistry and each meeting they have just screams scripted. Just wait for the scene when they play basketball together and Berry begins jumping around like, well, Catwoman. It never occurs to Bratt that something is up when she begins pulling off moves like she does! Come on! We also have Lambert Wilson’s smug and arrogant George, who is about as intimidating as a mouse. It is okay if you forget he was ever at this fashion show.
When Catwoman isn’t limping by on its poor excuse for a plot, the film is busy trying to wake us up with one overdone fight scene after another. Pitof was the visual effects supervisor of Alien Resurrection and he just can’t seem to resist piling on needless effects here, all of which look rubbery and done on a laptop. It is even worse when he insists on multiple overhead shots of this unknown metropolis, all of which boast absolutely awful CGI to match the fight scenes. Catwoman is anxious to send a message of female empowerment and assure its female viewers that you are beautiful just the way they are, yet the hero struts around in a bra and leather pants with tons of make-up caked on her face and not an ounce of body fat. I’m starting to think that the screenwriters did think that aspect though too well. No matter how low your expectations are going in to Catwoman, they just simply aren’t low enough. A tissue paper thin origin story mixed with forced girl talk, awful performances, sloppy romance, terrible music, and stuck up villains, Catwoman is perhaps one of the worst comic book movies ever conceived. It is a film with little respect for its source material and for the fans of the source. A real hairball!
Catwoman is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
With 2004’s Hellboy turning out to be a modest success, Guillermo del Toro was allowed to let a myriad of head spinning monsters out of his imagination in 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a bigger, wilder, and groovier monster movie romp than his predecessor. Loaded with tons more ghouls to roam around, The Golden Army is shoulder to shoulder with some of the most exhaustive make-up effects put on film in the past several years. It helps that del Toro shifts from Revolution Studios to Universal Studios, home of the original monster movie, to really make the ultimate tribute to the classic Universal monsters of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. The Golden Army also finds more enthusiastic devotion from Ron Pearlman, who seems like he was chomping at the bit to get covered in red make-up and have two filed down horns slapped on his forehead. Tapping into the reckless ennui that he so wonderfully applied in Hellboy, The Golden Army finds our big red hero dealing with relationship problems, pent up longing to interact with the outside world, fatherhood (!) and that nagging problem of having to save the world. Again. It’s all in a day’s work for Hellboy, the beer sipping, cat loving man-child.
The Golden Army begins with Hellboy’s (Played by Pearlman) relationship with pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Played by Selma Blair) on the rocks. She exclaims that she can no longer stand living in Hellboy’s pigsty and that she needs some space. Hellboy confides in his best buddy Abe Sapien (Played by Doug Jones), the geeky psychic amphibious humanoid who always acts as the voice of reason for Red. To make things worse, Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense Agent Tom Manning (Played by Jeffrey Tambor) is steaming mad at Hellboy for continuing to reveal himself to the public, despite the fact that the B.P.R.D is supposed to be kept a secret. After being called to investigate strange events at an auction house, Hellboy finds the perfect opportunity to reveal himself to the world and make it look like an accident. Hellboy isn’t welcomed into the world with open arms, many people taunting him for his striking appearance but that is the least of Hellboy’s problems. Agent Manning brings in a new authority figure by the name of Johann Krauss (Played by James Dodd and voice by Seth MacFarlane), a figure that wears a containment suit shaped like a human but that holds in pure ectoplasmic energy. Hellboy, Liz, and Abe begin rebelling against Johann but it is soon discovered that a mythical realm has declared war on the humans and that they plan to unleash the Golden Army, an invincible force that would destroy the human race.
Much like Hellboy, The Golden Army runs smoother when del Toro aims his camera at the sheltered trio of crime fighters who long for human interaction. It finds Hellboy staring down fatherhood, but it is hard to see the guy as a papa when he downs six packs of Tecate and stumbles around with Abe as they gripe about girls. The best moment of The Golden Army comes when Abe drunkenly spills his feelings about a girl that the trio is supposed by protecting. You’ll crack up when the duo begins slurring through love songs played at full blast. It is a delight to see the group bring their problems to work, all of them complaining on the job to each other but banding together when the bad monsters come out to play. The Golden Army also deals with the trio trying to fit in with the average citizens of New York City. They are teased on the street about their freakish appearances, something that really irks the testy Hellboy who responds with, “I know I’m ugly!” You’ll feel for the big red ape, especially when Hellboy saves a baby from a giant monstrosity and the mother rips the baby away from Hellboy in horror, something that really pierces the big guy’s heart.
The Golden Army would be nothing without Pearlman, Blair, and Jones, all who get their moment to really push their characters along. Pearlman is an absolute delight as Hellboy and I can honestly say I’d watch twenty Hellboy movies if he were in every one. Watching him try to mature and cater to Liz is hysterical, especially when he finds her toothbrush in a tin of cat food. Pearlman’s enjoyment with the roll is incredibly contagious and we find ourselves having just as much fun as he is. Blair perks up a bit here as Liz, but she is still the goth girl hero in combat boots that we came to adore the first time around. It is good to see her sulking about a troubled relationship and a secret she is desperately trying to hide from Red. Then there is Jones as Abe, who gets a tongue-tying crush of his own—one that he begins to realize will not end happily ever after. Then there is James Dodd and Seth MacFarlane’s Johann, a prickly voice of authority that successfully stands up to the boorish Hellboy. As far as the villains go, Hellboy finds himself battling against the fed up Prince Nuada (Played by Luke Goss) and his timid twin sister Princess Nuala (Played by Anna Walton). The elfish Nuada never really becomes an intimidating force to reckon with, the only catch being that if you harm Nuada, you can also harm Nuala. This puts the group at odds, especially when Abe develops feeling for the gentle Nuala. This is where The Golden Army flat lines, the lack of a truly compelling villain to really curl your toes. Luckily, that is why all those spine-tingling monsters are here!
Being a superhero movie, The Golden Army is filled out with plenty of action and adventure. A showdown in the streets between Hellboy and a giant forest god is beautiful and adrenaline pumping. Another battle between Hellboy and Nuada’s grotesque bodyguard Mr. Wink is also a standout. Del Toro ends his film in a grand, epic fashion by pitting the group against the marching Golden Army, the best fight scene of the entire film. While the film’s plotline may begin to creak and crack under the style that it is trying so desperately to hold up, the style practically superglues and staples your eyes to the screen. It makes you long for more movies from del Toro, ones where he can have all the artistic freedom he wants. Also, if Universal plans on remaking anymore of their classic monster movies, I think it would be wise to hand the project over to this guy. Still, I wish del Toro would have developed the underlying message of nature and man living in harmony a bit more than he does but this is a summer blockbuster and I’m sure there was a push for more eye candy and action. It just so happens that del Toro excels at eye candy as Hellboy II: The Golden Army has some of the tastiest eye candy around. Here’s to more monster movies in del Toro’s future!
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
It’s an royal rumble! Marvel unleashed their A-team on DC’s caped crusader and the battle between who was the best rages on. Personally, I have liked all three of the blockbuster superhero films that have smashed their way into theaters this summer but I’m going to have to go with The Dark Knight Rises being my favorite. What can I say? I’m a Batman fan! Anyways, I hope everyone has loved the Anti-Film School’s July Superhero Takeover. There are a few more reviews on the way in these final days of the month so stay tuned. A review of Hellboy II: The Golden Army will be up tomorrow. In the meanwhile, let us know what you favorite was! Everyone has an opinion.
by Steve Habrat
I wish that audiences paid more attention to visionary director Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 superhero film Hellboy, a funky and gothic monster mash that practically explodes with creativity. Based on Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse comic book of the same name, Hellboy seems like an absurd premise but because del Toro gives his ragtag group of ghouls a human heart, the film becomes a real charmer. Credit should also go to Ron Pearlman’s performance as the big red crime fighter who loves a good cigar, has a hopeless crush on a colleague, weakens at the knees for a Baby Ruth, and just can’t resist a kitten. While many may not be able to wrap their heads around a demonic superhero, Hellboy rewards those who will give him a chance with tons of monster-on-monster brawls, nightmarish critters who prowl the subways of New York City, and plenty of quirky one liners to really allow Hellboy himself to come to life. Oh, and did I mention young love? While Hellboy hasn’t aged particularly well since its release, del Toro keeps things timeless by his use of tons of outstanding make-up and icky puppets that will simultaneously make your skin crawl and give you nightmares. Not bad for a comic book movie.
Hellboy begins during the final days World War II, taking us to a stormy island off the coast of Scotland where a handful of American soldiers and the young Professor Broom (Played by John Hurt) are spying on a small band of Nazi soldiers performing a strange occult ritual that would awaken “The Seven Gods of Chaos”, monstrous creatures that slumber in another dimension. This ritual is being led by Grigori Rasputin (Played by Karel Roden), his mistress, Ilsa (Played by Bridget Hodson), and monitored by the gas-masked Kroenen (Played by Ladislav Beran), Hitler’s top assassin. The American soldiers attack half way through the ritual and stop the Nazi’s before any dangerous creatures get through the portal that has been opened. Rasputin manages to get sucked through the portal and shrapnel kills Kroenen, or so the Americans think, but the world is saved from annihilation. As the soldiers and Professor Broom explore the site, they discover a strange little creature that is all red and has a massive stone hand. Professor Broom determines that the creature means no harm and begins looking after the little fella. The soldiers decide to name the creature “Hellboy” due to his bizarre and demonic appearance. Fast-forward to present day where adult Hellboy (Played by Ron Pearlman) works for a super secret organization called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. With the help of the psychic amphibious humanoid Abe Sapien (Played by Doug Jones), beautiful pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Played by Selma Blair), rookie agent John Meyers (Played by Rupert Evans), and Professor Broom, Hellboy battles bizarre critters that mean to unleash destruction on Earth.
Hellboy wins the audience over instantly with Ron Pearlman’s devoted performance as Hellboy, a towering man-child who files his horns down to fit in with society, something that he never sees yet longs for. He ends up grounded by Professor Broom for sneaking out of the underground facility he calls his home and having a picture snapped of him, which inevitably ends up on the news. Debates rage over the existence of Hellboy on talk shows, all theories debunked by Tom Manning (Played by Jeffery Tambor), a grouchy FBI Director who loathes the big red beast. It is a blast when Hellboy sneaks out on Halloween to meet up with Liz, who has checked herself in to a mental institution after multiple accidents that involve her fiery ability. He steals a six-pack and begs Liz to have a good time but she is reluctant, which deflates the lovable oaf. It is in these little moments that we really find ourselves rooting for Hellboy, even more than we do when he is rumbling with a drooling demonic creature with tentacles slithering out of its head. In fact, his job almost looks like it gets on his nerves and is just a giant inconvenience. Things really get tough for Hellboy when Meyers begins moving in on Liz, a move that drives Hellboy bonkers. This sets a knee-slapping immature rivalry into motion that culminates in Hellboy, who has a chocolate chip cooking dangling from his mouth, tossing stones at Meyers, who is trying the old yawn and stretch trick to put his arm around Liz. Boys will be boys!
While Pearlman steals the show, his supporting players are not too shabby themselves. Blair was born to play the perpetually frowning Liz, who curls inside wool coats with a hat pulled over her jet-black bangs, wearing a withdrawn look on her pretty face. She becomes a gothic heroine to a million girls in black t-shirts and combat boots. And then there is Doug Jones as the slinky Abe Sapien, a soft-spoken and thoughtful sidekick who tries to keep Hellboy in check. He is the cool head to the loose cannon (del Toro symbolically represents that in their skin color, cool blue on Abe and hot head red on Hellboy). Tamobor is hilarious as Tom Manning, who is consistently appalled by the belligerent behavior of his horned employee. John Hurt is marvelous as the gentle father figure who looks over these crazy kids, stepping in when they get a little too wild. Rupert Evans is appropriately fidgety as Hellboy’s rival and it is hysterical to watch Hellboy try to come to terms with this new hotshot member on his team. Then there is Roden’s Rasputin, a typical sunglasses-wearing baddie who is hell-bent on reducing the world to ashes. His evil plot is a bit yawn inducing considering it has been done several times before but his henchmen spice things up. When Hodson’s Ilsa isn’t making your hair stand on end with her glassy-eyed dedication, Beran’s acrobatic assassin Kroenen will. Beran is one of the coolest comic book baddies, sporting one hell of a gas mask and spinning around blades like he came out of the womb doing it.
While the elaborate monsters that del Toro’s FX shop spits out are remarkable works of art, the real draw is the actors who are bound and determined to make Hellboy a keeper. They succeed with flying colors as I preferred the moments where the characters were interacting with one another over the scenes where things are blowing up. Even though they have to ooze sentiment through heaping gobs of spirit gum, Jones and Pearlman manage to pull of the almost impossible and make their character heartwarming. There is plenty of exhilarating action sequences that are a marvel to drink in but Hellboy just misses greatness due to a routine finale that finds Rasputin threatening to unleash giant monsters on New York City. The film also trips over some dated computer effects, which are glaringly out of place when they are piled onto del Toro’s jaw-dropping puppets. The plot of Hellboy is also thinly spread over the course of its two-hour runtime but there is enough adolescent shenanigans and young romance to keep you smiling. Ah, if only fitting in and scoring a date with the girl was as easy as turning a demonic hellhound to ash.
Hellboy is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Severed heads as high art? Welcome to the world of Zack Snyder’s 300, a chiseled slice of masculinity based on the comic series by Frank Miller that enjoys shouting at the top of its lungs over the endless swirl of slaughter at its center. Considered the ultimate “guy movie”, 300 looks like a painting that has sprung to spitting and snarling life as CGI blood splashes across the sea of clanking swords. This carnage is beautiful, this battle a barreling ballet of firm defiance and ferocity but one that we have seen previous times in countless other period epics of this sort, here it just boasts an extra layer of gloss. 300 sells itself on the idea that it is going to rethink that sword-and-sandals epic and to an extent it does, that is if any of what 300 has to offer came as a surprise to the audience. It is hard to believe that Snyder and Warner Bros. would be so eager to show us everything their film had to offer before we have even seen it but that is the sad truth about 300. If you saw the trailer for the movie, you basically saw the best parts of this picture. The only thing you are missing out on is the severed limbs that dance across the screen and a soft-core sex scene that further earns the R-rating for nudity. Let’s be honest here, you are not coming into this film to hear any of these beefcakes deliver their lines. You came to this party for the sex and violence, now get in line.
300 begins with a flashback narrated by Dilios (Played by David Wenham), a Spartan solider, who explains the back-story and training of Leonidas, the man who would become king of Sparta. The back-story details the fierce training that a Spartan child goes through, molding them into hardened warriors hungry for battle and victory. The film then flashes ahead and introduces us to adult Leonidas (Played by Gerard Butler), who is now the valiant king of Sparta. One peaceful day, a Persian messenger rides into Sparta and demands that all of the people of Sparta submit to God-King Xerxes (Played by Rodrigo Santoro). King Leonidas and his wife, Queen Gorgo (Played by Lena Headey), refuse to submit to the God-King and his loyal group of Spartan soldiers kick the messenger and his accompanying soldiers down the biggest well you have ever laid eyes on. Leonidas knows that murdering the messenger has provoked a Persian attack so he seeks out the Ephors, a corrupt group of leprosy-ridden priests who have to give to okay for war. The Ephors refuse to give their blessing to Leonidas and facing annihilation at the hands of the Persians, the brave King rounds up 300 of his bravest and strongest soldiers to meet the Persians at Thermopylae, where the Persians’ numbers will count for nothing against the Spartan’s superior fighting techniques. Meanwhile, Gorgo has to deal with corrupt politicians behind the walls of Sparta.
The ultimate exercise in visual brawn over screenplay brain, 300 gets far despite not having much going on upstairs. It is no secret that many have viewed 300 as a conservative comment on the War on Terror and as you look closer, it is easy to see how history has been used to mirror present day realities. The problem with 300 is that it doesn’t have anything particularly insightful to say about the War on Terror and instead glorifies the art of war, putting more emphasis on the art than the horrors of battle. 300 also seems to exists to feed the masculine egos of all the alpha males who hang on every shriek that erupts from the mouths of the Spartans. Anyone who lacks chest hair practically grows some instantly just by touching the DVD case. And while there is some flexing action to be found, most of the fighting has been already glimpsed in the spirited trailer that almost everyone has seen. There is some fun to be had in the montages of combat but it becomes a bit redundant and meaningless as the Spartans hack their way through one eccentric clan after another. It begins to feel like a video game after a while, complete with boss rounds.
The one thing I have to praise Snyder for is the way that he casts a group of unknown actors and actresses. This allows the characters of 300 to really come to life rather than be overshadowed by a familiar face that is plastered all over the tabloids. Gerard Butler disappears into the role of King Leonidas and now it is hard for me to take him seriously in other roles that he tackles. A blessing and a curse, I’m afraid. Butler does do a pretty good job with the one–dimensional role that Snyder dumps on him. All the role requires is a perfect physique and the ability to yell really loud. Luckily, Butler becomes a teeth-gritting force that does allow affection to bleed through his masculine intensity. Lena Headey is present for eye-candy but she insists on have the strength of twenty Spartan men, which is welcome in this sea of alpha males. Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes is asked to portray the God-King as an ostentatious ruler who is clearly a homosexual. While I understand he is supposed to be the villain here, you can’t help but pick up on negative light shed on his sexuality, which further adds to the conservative reading of the film. The other familiar face is Michael Fassbender as Stelios, an eager warrior who gets the film’s coolest line. Naturally, he is a standout here, which should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with him.
While it may rethink the sword-and-sandals epic visually, 300 doesn’t do much for narrative but you don’t really care. There is plenty here to entertain you for its two hour runtime and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The battle between the masked Immortals and the Spartans is the highlight of the film and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see the superior fighting style of the Spartans (they brag about it enough!). Still, you can’t help but yearn for more flesh and blood authenticity in all the artificiality but what you see is what you get. You will also long for some sort of a surprise but very few will come your way, so don’t hold your breath. Grabbing history by the hair, dousing it in comic book colors, and then doing a bit of lazy rewiring, Snyder takes a step back from the incisive filmmaking and storytelling that he showed us with his spry remake of Dawn of the Dead. With 300, he just can’t seem to shake his obsessive infatuation with the eye candy and that is the ultimate disappointment. Still, you’ll root for these 300 Spartans until the very end even if you know the outcome. So sit back, crack open a PBR, and marvel at the many ways that severed heads can spin through the air.
300 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Imagine if Sin City tried to be funny and refused to take any of its characters seriously. Don’t want to? Yeah, I don’t blame you. Director Frank Miller (Yes, the comic book writer) seems to not be able to shake the visual approach of his 2005 film Sin City (Remember, he co-directed Sin City with Robert Rodriguez) and carries the curious look over to The Spirit, an overly campy and convoluted superhero film based off the comic strip by Will Eisner. Miller so desperately wanted to film a moving comic strip that he pays absolutely no attention to the storyline or the characters and instead obsessively pours over the visual look of his film. The Spirit is a visual knockout, that I can say, but the rest of the film leaves a lot to be desired. The storyline is monotonous and at times almost unintelligible and the hero is so dull that you may find yourself forgetting to root for him. Miller pits this square against the Octopus, a villain that goes through more wardrobe changes in this film than any pop singer at a concert. Stir in a handful of hot babes and you have an over seasoned recipe for disaster.
The Spirit takes us to Central City and introduces us to Denny Colt (Played by Gabriel Macht), an undead police officer who prowls the streets of the city as the Spirit, a masked crime fighter/detective. The Spirit receives a phone call one evening from Detective Sussman (Played by Dan Gerrity) about something strange going on down by an old shipwreck on the outskirts of Central City. The Spirit makes his way to the shipwreck where he bumps in to a femme fatale from his past, Sand Saref (Played by Eva Mendes), who is trying to make off with two mysterious crates. Saref is foiled by the Spirit’s arch nemesis the Octopus (Played by Samuel L. Jackson), a villain in one awful costume after another. After gunning down Sussman and forcing Saref to leave one of the crates behind, the Octopus claims it for himself and calls in his sidekick Silken Floss (Played by Scarlett Johansson) and his army of cloned henchmen (All played by Louis Lombardi). The Spirit confronts the Octopus and the two engage in a massive brawl that ends with the Octopus telling the Spirit that they share a connection. As the Spirit investigates Sand Saref’s reemergence in Central City and his mysterious connection to the Octopus, the Spirit discovers that the Octopus is on a quest for immortality, a quest that could threaten the entire city.
Shallow right from the beginning, Miller never allows us to really get to know Denny Colt, the man behind the fedora and mask. He sprints around rooftops in all black with a fluttering red tie as he explains to us in a voiceover that he is “in love with his city,” she always “provides” for him, and that his “city screams.” As the Spirit, Denny can take quite a bit of punishment because he is, well, a spirit. He spends most of the film outrunning an otherworldly Angel of Death called Lorelei (Played by Jaime King), who coaxes him into the afterlife where he belongs. All of this is supposed to count as character development throughout The Spirit but it is mostly there to lead to one trippy sequence after another. A scene where the Spirit drifts through an afterlife hallucination sure does radiate vision that would have looked marvelous in a comic book but just seems pointless on the big screen. In fact, almost everything in The Spirit is meaningless and silly, almost like Miller just smashed a bunch of images together that he thought would look great. This is even more apparent in the Octopus, who dressed up in one ridiculous costume after another as he paces around plotting how to kill the Spirit. He is just bizarre for the sake of being bizarre, no explanation required.
Then there is the humor and tongue and cheek antics that further make The Spirit the eye-rolling experience that it is. It tries to wink at us even thought it wants you to think that it is really cool. Take things seriously but not too seriously, says Miller! Miller blends together slang from the 1940’s with modern day technology in an effort to really give his universe some pizzazz but you are left wondering why he didn’t just stick to the 40’s all together. The performances by everyone involved seem a bit confused, diffident, or disinterested, no one daring to do the unthinkable and stand out. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been hard considering the lifeless script that Miller provides. The driest is without quest Macht as Denny Colt/The Spirit, who appears to be sleepwalking through the entire film. When he is pitted against Jackson’s Octopus, he practically disappears from the frame but not because Jackson is particularly good, just that he holds the screen better than Macht. Jackson, meanwhile, barks through dialogue like “toilets are always funny” as he smashes the Spirit over the head with a porcelain throne. He is more comical than sinister. The ladies are all there to be sexy, mostly Mendes who gets to shed her clothes in one scene and show off her backside, a scene just to drive fanboys wild. I hate to break it to Miller but this still does nothing to liven things up. Then there is Lombardi as the sea of cloned henchmen who are more irritating than funny like they are supposed to be.
It really became a chore to not nod off while watching The Spirit and I usually never have that problem. This film is like watching glowing white blood dry (trust me, there is glowing white blood in The Spirit). There is nothing in the way of remarkable action, no character worth giving a damn about, and a plot line that was so disjointed and confusing that I couldn’t get swept up in the story. Maybe if you zapped the dialogue out of the film and played a collection of songs over the images, it would make for one hell of a music video (it is just a suggestion). It is obvious that if Miller had a good script, he could make something that would really be a must-see but The Spirit is just not that film. I’d be interested to see if he ever returns to filmmaking but let’s hope he doesn’t write it. Sadly, it feels like Miller ripped off his own material and we are all left wishing that he would have made Sin City 2. Overall, if you insist on watching The Spirit, make sure you down an energy drink, munch on plenty of sugary candy, and maybe even have a pot of coffee on hand. You are going to need it if you are going to get through this dud. I guess the Spirit should have stuck to haunting the pages of comic books.
The Spirit is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Video review of the new Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. This was a tough film to discuss due to content that many may label as spoilers. I really tried to avoid revealing anything that will ruin the experience so please do not judge the video too harshly. Also, my heart goes out to the victims of the shooting in Colorado. It is a shame that someone had to ruin something that was meant to be fun and exciting. My deepest sympathies are with the families of the victims.