300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

300 Rise of an EmpireReleased: March 7, 2014. Directed by: Noam Murro. Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey. Runtime: 102 min.

300: Rise of an Empire is a good sequel to Zack Snyder’s 2007 film, 300. There are sequels, prequels, and the odd sort-of meanwhile adventures movie, and this happens to be all three. It’s a prequel because it shows some things that started this war, and at the same time reminding us about it because a lot of people would forget after seven years; a meanwhile adventures because it shows what wars happen on the water while the 300 were fighting; and a direct sequel, following what happens after the mighty 300 fell. They have made quite an influence on this film. This follows the Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Artemisia (Eva Green), merciless commander of the Persian navy.

While the first film followed the Spartan warriors, this film follows the Athenians, who are fighting for freedom – and represent a not-so savage Greek race, but still show their body armourless abs. Like I said, this film is largely a meanwhile adventures that takes place on the open seas, and it’s awesome watching war tactics happen on the water. The action sequences are spectacular, beautifully filmed, and have the same visual style as the first (not nearly as fresh seven years later, mind you) and a whole lot of gore. What else can one expect from the mind of Frank Miller? Who, by the way, is the authour of the graphic novel Xerxes upon which this is based. The film is better in 3D because one can easily tell where 3D is implied if one watches this in 2D. There’s splatters of blood, spears flying, and it just adds another great visual layer to the experience. At one point when blood splatters there’s even a smudge on the camera, where you’ll probably ask “Can someone wipe that off?”

The cinematography’s strong, even if there is a constant fogginess about it in the background, because of the mist on the water, and a mild glare when the sun is out. But it’s not noticeable when the fights are occurring, thankfully; probably because the editing is so impressive, and who would try to focus on the glare of it all when there are limbs and heads flying everywhere? I love the fighting tactics of the Greeks. The action scenes are definitely the best part of the film; and the drama is solid, as well.

There’s one particularly memorable scene where the leaders of each opposing country have a battle of power, deciding who will come out on top, so to speak. Sullivan Stapleton is adequate as a character who isn’t very compelling, but he’s great in combat sequences. I don’t think I’d ever rush out to see a film he’s leading, but he’s pretty good. Green is brilliant as her character, and she makes cruelty look sexy. She is just awesome in and out of battle, and a chilling villain at times, fuelled by vengeance. She wants to avenge her former king Darius (killed by Mistokles a few years prior at the Battle of Marathon), a motivation she shares with Xerxes, and to get back at the Greeks who killed her entire village, so she’s putting all Greeks in one category for that one. A lot of these characters are fuelled by vengeance, particularly Lena Headey’s Queen Gorga. She’s great, too, by the way. Xerxes gets a cool, origins story treatment told at the beginning, which is a real treat. I have a feeling the graphic novel is called  Xerxes because the villains have well-thought out development, but the hero’s development is light. Evidently, this works spectacularly as an action film, but it’s not strong in the ‘developing good protagonists’ department.

But this is an action movie, and that’s why you’re going to see this. We’ve seen some of this action before in the first one, but at least some of it feels fresh. It’s mostly just action on boats instead of land, so no phalanx formations this time around. The storyline isn’t nearly as strong as the first. It’s partly because the main character isn’t entirely compelling in his development, and this just isn’t as engaging as the great David and Goliath story that is the 300 Spartans. If you go in expecting more of the same with some fresh material at least in terms of fight location, this is a good time at the movies.

Score: 75/100

Dark Shadows (2012)

Dark Shadows

Release Date: May 11, 2012

Director: Tim Burton

Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green

Runtime: 113 min

Tagline: Every family has its demons

It’s the year 1752, and Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) and his family had just set sail to America, in search of a greater life. Though, they could not escape the mysterious curse that was placed upon his family. Skip two decades, to where Barnabas is the head of Collinwood Manor, but he makes the mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), a maid who’s really a witch. When Barnabas would not love her in return, she placed a curse upon him to turn into a vampire when he dies, so he will have to live for eternity, knowing that his one true love is dead. Skip two centuries, and Barnabas is just waking up from his dirt nap after being trapped inside of a coffin. He makes his way back to Collinwood Manor, and he offers a little support to his descendants, while Angelique still roams the earth…

Dark Shadows is based on a late 60s to early 70s TV show of the same name. This is also the eighth Tim Burton-Johnny Depp vehicle, and it isn’t very good. The Burton-Depp team has brought us great films like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd; but they have also brought us bad films like the just okay Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the apparently disappointing Alice in Wonderland. Can you figure out which side it belongs on? It belongs on the bad side. If Shadows were to stand on its own two feet, it isn’t impressive or groundbreaking at all, and if it were to stand with the seven other Burton-Depp vehicles, it would just be awful. Burton has been known for his dark material in films and that signature over-the-topness, and this one is certainly over-the-top, but not in a very good way.

It tries to be funny, and fails. It tries to be fantastic, and fails. There are only one or two pretty good jokes, but the majority of them are big misses. There are some scenes that were meant to be action packed, but they felt really quite boring. They were over the top, but not in the great way we want Burton’s flicks to be. It feels more like a newcomer to the directing game who is experimenting with his options.

The whole vampire love story is getting so old, it’s just about been sucked to death (and brought back to life five times) by the Twilight series. It’s certainly better than the Twilight series, but not by a whole lot. There are some pleasant twists thrown at the audience, that some viewers will like, but most may say, “That’s so ridiculous, I should have saw that one coming.” The story is just a bit too uninteresting to carry itself well enough throughout the entire 113 minutes. It was a giant chore to watch. The acting is okay, and really the only interesting characters are Barnabas (Depp), David (Gulliver McGrath) and Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). The cast is certainly attractive, but some of them don’t offer their usual chops to the table (excluding Depp and Moretz, the rest are just average).

Dark Shadows has a pretty uninteresting plot and a vampire premise that has highly been worn out, only a few likeable characters that can be counted on one hand, and a generally boring endeavour from the Burton/Depp union.

40/100