Tag Archives: 300: Rise of an Empire

Wednesday Collective — Net Neutrality, There Will Be Clothes, & the Laziest Way to Write Strong Women

ARTICLES OF THE WEEK
Net Neutrality

Corporate Feudalism

Let me preface this by saying I’ve worked as a campaign manager, a PAC fundraiser, a legislative aide, and for a state Democratic party. One phone call to an aide is more effective than 50 signatures on a petition. If you care about any of this, yes – sign petitions. But the biggest difference you can make, the biggest way you can interrupt someone’s day and get stuck in their head and make them bring an issue up to the politician for whom they work – is by calling. Your Senators. Your Representatives. Your Governors.

Petitions take a minute to look at. Form letters can be recognized and filed into a folder you know you’re never going to look at again. A phone call has to be taken by someone, because they never know what the topic’s going to be until they’ve already committed themselves to listen. A petition or form letter may make you feel better, but it has little real effect today. It gives the power to the clicking finger on somebody’s mouse hand. Aides are required to pick up the phone, answer politely, and listen. It puts the power in your voice.

The biggest reason you should be worried about net neutrality is that the Internet isn’t really an owned thing. Anyone can hop on and, with a minimum of trouble and investment, start a website – it’s the ultimate realization of free speech. The net neutrality cases the Supreme Court is sleeping through and legislation Congress is drawing up threaten that.

Essentially, service companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon will be able to double-dip. They’ll charge you for your internet connection, and then turn around and charge websites for their ability to get material to you. What this means to you is that the Internet will start to become prepackaged, like cable TV is. You will be forced into deciding which websites you’d like to pay to access, which plan you’d like to subscribe to, and the open access you have now to every single site on the web will disappear. Small websites and independent ones that can’t pay the service companies will lose their voice.

Service companies will also be able to dictate through bandwidth the political opinions they’d like to support, and will be able to relegate the kinds of independent news sources we most rely upon online to the far corners of accessibility.

I’m not the expert on this. If you haven’t already, learn about net neutrality online. The Washington Post published an infographic that shows how easily Comcast extorted Netflix into paying for a service we (and they) already pay for.

Here’s the ACLU’s rundown of information on net neutrality.

Don’t mistake this with the government’s ill-timed pilot program roll-out of the “Internet Driver’s License,” which would be managed by the government but store your information with subcontracted third parties. I mean, that’s scary, too, the government collecting every log-in and piece of information on you and selling it to third parties, who could then bundle it with other users’ data and sell that to third parties. Nothing like that’s ever gone wrong, has it? But that’s a completely different issue that’s just as scary and threatening, and would only take an extra five seconds to bring up to your Congressperson.

There Will Be Clothes
Maria Bruder

There Will Be Clothes

One reason I push our Bits & Pieces series is to write about the overlooked technical aspects we often gloss over as viewers. Even though we may not select out a piece of set design here or a bit of fight or dance choreography there as conveying a message, these details still burrow into our subconscious.

Clothes on Film is a specialty website that talks about, well, clothes on film. It’s an invaluable resource for costume designers and make-up artists. This There Will Be Blood article is just one of several phenomenal pieces they’ve hosted. Not only can you crash through their archives willy-nilly, you can also peruse their articles by a film’s time period, allowing you to get multiple perspectives on how costume designers find ways to burrow their messages into our subconscious.

The Laziest, Most Offensive Way to Write a Strong Woman
A.E. Larsen

300r Eva Green.tiff

300: 300 Harder is in a tight race with Jack Ryan: Kenneth Branagh Takes a Nap and Brick Mansions (no pun here, I feel bad enough for that movie as is) for worst movie of the year so far. Yes, we’re only four months in, but when the fifth entry in the Paranormal Activity canon can’t even make that list, it means you’ve really had some half-assed films.

300: Shameless Play on Star Wars Titling wasn’t actually a terrible movie. I mean, it was, but it had some neat technical things going for it. Its biggest problem, and its strongest claim to win (lose?) that award at the end of the year, is Artemisia. The Persian general is played by Eva Green, who is the only actor in the whole damn thing who realizes how much camp a movie like 300: Leonidas and Xerxes Escape from Guantanamo Bay really needs. Green (and Lena Headey for all of 2.5 seconds) are the only watchable actors in this.

But the character Green plays is offensive. She’s a strong woman. Well that’s a good start, but why is she strong? Because she was raped as a preteen. Welcome to genre fiction, where men can be strong because they swing Freudian swords around all day, but women can only be strong if they’re sexually taken advantage of. It’s like a trade-off. You can be a weak and virginal female character, but if you want to be strong, you’d better get chained up in the bottom of a Greek ship for years on end while sailors have their way with you. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember Arnold Schwarzenegger being strong in Conan or John McClane being badass in Die Hard because either got raped for years on end as a kid.

A.E. Larsen writes about Artemisia’s historical accuracy, as well as giving his own take on the strong-woman-as-raped-woman issue in a fantastic article that bridges history and social responsibility in filmmaking.

So even though Brick Mansions is the worst-told story of the year, and Jack Ryan: Keira Knightley Can’t Play Every Character in This Scene, Can She? She Can, I Guess is the most boring movie of the year, 300: Screenwriters Please Go F*ck Yourselves is really leading the pack toward the bottom.

The Best Movie You’ll Never See
Sam Adams

Sorceror

At The Dissolve, Sam Adams (he really gets around Wednesday Collective, doesn’t he) interviews director William Friedkin about the best movie you’ve never seen. In fact, catch me in the right mood and I’ll admit that Sorceror, William Friedkin’s adaptation of The Wages of Fear, may be the best movie, period. It has one of the finest endings in cinema. Hell, the whole movie is just one great, big ending. Coming off his success with The Exorcist and The French Connection, Friedkin risked life and limb to shoot an existential, Conradian action movie in the jungle.

Despite being a critical success, it was killed by the release of Star Wars, and Sorceror barely survived. I remember watching a poor VHS copy as a kid, not knowing that most prints had been lost or destroyed over a few short decades. Sorceror was finally remastered and released last month. Watch it, you won’t regret it. And read the interview, though it does contain spoilers.

Adam Sandler as Transgressional Hero
Bilge Ebiri

Adam Sandler test

I don’t know that I agree with this article, but I don’t know that I disagree with it. This is rare. Try it on for size.

The Wily Beast and the Desperate Woman
Hadley Freeman

George Clooney

Freeman tips the double standard in celebrity reporting on its head by comparing media reactions to the engagement of George Clooney to the reactions on the engagement of Jennifer Aniston. He was ‘tamed,’ the wily beast, by one of the world’s most pre-eminent humanitarian lawyers (even though she turned him down twice) while Jennifer Aniston suckered in some poor B-lister I’ve never heard of ‘in the nick of time,’ and he can’t wait to get out of it. You know, all allegedly, because otherwise, writers would get sued. Really, I couldn’t care who’s getting married to whom – I was always rooting for Clooney and Pitt to get it together so they could have an excuse to remake old Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn courtroom comedies – but if you’re going to report on people’s private lives, you may as well be equal opportunity about it.

As Freeman says, “In the world of media, women are tragic and desperate and said, and men are caddish and free. Because the media, apparently, believes that people are like characters in a crap romcom you wouldn’t watch on a 14-hour flight.”

“300: Rise of an Empire” a Colossal Disappointment

300r Eva Green.tiff

The first 300 was, ostensibly, a movie about men in their underwear hacking at each other with swords in slow-motion. Needless to say, the girl I was dating at the time declared it her “new favorite movie ever.” It was also an art movie told through action scenes.

What I remember best from 300 isn’t any particular fight, though. I remember the field in which Sparta’s King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) says his goodbyes to Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) before heading off to battle. As much as that film glorified war, it also glorified a field of wheat in sunrise as the wind carried through it. It made going to battle a bittersweet, complex choice, and it glorified the reasons to stay home just as much. It was the rare action movie from which liberals and conservatives both lifted messages, and that both sides still argue is “theirs.”

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUM

The sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, is not an art movie. It’s an action movie that looks artful because if it didn’t, it couldn’t call itself 300. What it champions is warmongering. There’s not a single scene that shows us what’s at stake. Our Athenian hero Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who dreams of a united Greece, treats Athens like his own private, military dictatorship. You might expect this in itself to be a strong political statement, but nope – it just hurries the plot along faster if the screenwriters don’t require anyone else to speak.

300: Rise of an Empire also makes its villain far more interesting than its hero, but commits the cardinal sin of not realizing this. We cheered for Leonidas in the first film because Butler knew a movie filmed entirely in front of a green screen needed an anchor. He needed to act like the audience was 1,000 feet away, so he had to shout and wink and chew every piece of nonexistent scenery just to match the tone of his CG surroundings. This time around, it’s Eva Green (Casino Royale) who snarls and sneers and stares piercingly through every line of dialogue. She plays the evil Persian general Artemisia as if Darth Vader found the goth section of Katy Perry’s wardrobe.

R4_V10D3_80813_CO3_PULLS_01rl_0045.tif

The film gives Artemisia such a tragic backstory that you’d be a terrible person to root against such a survivor. I tire of boys in genre movies being captured and trained to be gruff and manly and fight as noble gladiators while the narrative equivalent for girls is to be sexually abused. It’s needless, lazy, and offensive. Combine such tragedy with Green acting circles around the rest of the cast and Themistokles’s incessant blandness, and I found myself rooting hard for Artemisia to win the day.

Yes, in the film, Greece represents democracy, Persia represents slavery, and Themistokles can’t sneeze without trumpeting the word “freedom,” but the movie does an awful job of championing any of these ideas or showing them in practice. When Themistokles isn’t outguiling bad guys, he spends all his time trying to get Mel Gibson’s Braveheart monologue right. I stopped counting at the sixth attempt. There’s some fresh air when Sparta’s Queen Gorgo finally gets involved (I’d much rather the movie had followed her into battle), but it’s too little too late.

R5_V10C13_80213_CO3_PULLS_01rl_0045.tif

Some of the art direction is inspired – particularly in the first two battles when the actors are the focus. As more CG is involved, however, the mostly naval battles feel increasingly generic and fast-forwarded. Zack Snyder, who directed the first 300, was smart enough to treat his visual effects in a painterly way. Graphics were to add background and tone, to emphasize the human form or, at most, to create some unspeakable enemy. When there was blood and viscera, it was strangely beautiful, and clarified each move of the fight choreography by extending it into an arc of unreal color. In Noam Murro’s sequel, the effects increasingly take over the battles and play both hero and enemy. Blood gushes everywhere for the shock of it and, like most shocking effects, becomes quickly tiresome.

As for 3D, Murro often washes out his backgrounds with shafts of sunlight or flashes of light in darkness. These are nice effects in 2D, but have the tendency to blur out details and strain viewers’ eyes in 3D. 300: Rise of an Empire is rated R for pretty much everything – bloody violence, sex, nudity, and some language. The first 300 used these things to make a point. It’s hard to forgive its sequel for not bothering to have one.

R3_V10F_72613_CO3_PULLS_01rl_0025

Indie Ruin to Epic Empire: The Films of 2014, #30-21

January is the time of year when studios dump films for which they have no other place and try to get audiences to the Oscar nominees instead. Pretty soon we’ll see the ramp up for this year’s best films. With apologies to Guardians of the Galaxy, because I really can’t get that excited to see a tree and a raccoon save the universe when Marvel still doesn’t think a woman’s capable of doing it, these are the thirty movies I’m most excited to see this year:

A Fantastic Fear of Everything

30. A Fantastic Fear of Everything

February 7 — Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), mostly in his underwear, stars as a children’s author who is afraid of, well, everything, especially his laundromat. He is tormented by a stuffed hedgehog from his own books. If that doesn’t get you interested in finding out what happens next, I don’t know what would. Watch the trailer here.

The Voices

29. The Voices

No date set — I remember my first Ryan Reynolds experience, the very questionable Blade: Trinity, in which he out-Parker Posey-ed Parker Posey herself. Since then, he’s made some bad career moves, so I’m excited he’s getting back to the indie circuit. Here, Reynolds plays a far too happy-go-lucky factory worker, as well as voicing the cat who keeps insisting he give into his urge to murder people, and the dog who insists that’s not such a good idea. Also starring Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick. Directed by Marjane Satrapi, director of the artful, animated memoir Persepolisnaturally.

Publicity stills photography on the set of NBC Universal's movie 'Unbroken'

28. Unbroken

December 25 — Angelina Jolie directs a screenplay by the Coen brothers about Olympian Louis Zamperini, who fought in World War 2 and was taken captive by Japanese forces. Jolie is relatively untested as a director, but she’s smartly and decisively managed her own career and has proven a desire to tell challenging stories.

The Lunchbox

27. The Lunchbox

February 28 — An Indian comedy about an older man and a young housewife who become accidental penpals through Mumbai’s lunchbox delivery system. It stars Irrfan Khan, whose central role in Life of Pi introduced Western audiences to an actor with the rare ability to communicate through the unspoken, quiet spaces between the dialogue. Watch the trailer here.

300 Rise of an Empire

26. 300: Rise of an Empire

March 7 — The sequel nobody asked for looks much better than it has any right to be. Early trailers make it look like the naval battle of Salamis carries much of the synaesthetic sumptuousness of the first 300. While I expect about as much historical accuracy as my foot, Noam Murro is an incredibly intriguing choice at director, and those trailers also pose the battle as a clash led by queens. Lena Headey returns, and Eva Green looks to be chewing every piece of scenery she can lay her hands on. After the brawny manliness of the first 300, it will be nice to see women just as capable at leading their troops into battle. Watch the trailer here.

X Men Days

25. X-Men: Days of Future Past

May 23 — Bryan Singer fuses his modern and Matthew Vaughn’s First Class X-Men franchises together through the magic of time travel. Starring everybody who’s ever been in an X-Men movie, including Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender as the same character, Jennifer Lawrence and Ellen Page as much bigger deals than in their previous entries in the franchise, and throwing Game of Throne’s Peter Dinklage into the mix because…why wouldn’t you? Watch the trailer here.

Under the Skin

24. Under the Skin

April 4 — The director responsible for the uneven Sexy Beast and Birth delivers a movie starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress picking up hitchhikers in Scotland. Wait, what? The trailer looks downright Lynchian, and my favorite David Lynch movies are always the ones he has nothing to do with. Watch the trailer here.

Blue Ruin

23. Blue Ruin

April 25 — A prisoner is released from jail. The homeless man whose life he ruined sets out for revenge. Things quickly devolve into a contest to see which man can hurt the other more. Watch the trailer here.

Jupiter Ascending

22. Jupiter Ascending

July 18 — In the latest Wachowski beat-em-up, the Queen of the Universe targets a lowly Earth girl named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) for assassination. Why? So we can have an action movie. Well, it’s because Mila Kunis has perfect DNA. So, at least it’s scientifically accurate sci-fi. Her DNA threatens the Queen, so the Queen sends her best assassin (Channing Tatum) for Jupiter’s head and he switches sides. So it’s Snow White and the Huntsman, but in space, and by the Wachowskis, so inevitably better. I’m always in the mood for a swashbuckling planetary romance. Certain parts of the trailer feel clunky and cliché and Tatum and Kunis haven’t proven they can carry this big a film, but the Wachowskis have rarely faltered. Success or failure, it will definitely be event cinema. Watch the trailer here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

21. The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 7 — Wes Anderson continues his campaign to film quirky, period characters exclusively at 90-degree angles, this time in a murder mystery set across the precious, snowy climes of Eastern Europe. I loved making dioramas as a kid, so I’m all in. Watch the trailer here.