300: Rise Of An Empire Motion Poster Reminds Us Of Trailer

IGN posted a pretty cool looking motion poster for 300: Rise Of An Empire featuring star Sullivan Stapleton as Themistokles. Follow the link to give it a look. Normally a poster like this would make for a good Bullet Point, but this reminded us that there’s a trailer for the film we haven’t shown yet. What better time than now?

The film is a sequel to Zack Snyder’s 2006 adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. It’s said to take place simultaneously with the original film or at least during the ongoing war. Noam Murro (Smart People) signed on to direct this one which Snyder produced.

Here’s the official synopsis from Legendary and Warner Bros.:

Based on Frank Miller’s latest graphic novel Xerxes, and told in the breathtaking visual style of the blockbuster 300, this new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh battlefield—on the sea—as Greek general Themistokles attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war.

300: Rise of an Empire pits Themistokles against the massive invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes, and Artemesia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy.

300: Rise of an Empire also stars Eva Green, Lena Headey and Rodrigo Santoro. It premieres March 7th, 2014.

I Very Much Enjoyed Man Of Steel

man-of-steel-poster I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, getting into Superman comics in the early 90s changed my life. Finding out about the death of the icon lead me into the world of comics sparking my imagination and introducing me to a hobby I still enjoy to this day as well as a career that allows me to spend every day with my daughter while playing reporter, Clark Kent-style. But, that doesn’t mean I love everything related to the character. In fact, I’m pretty much the only person I know who doesn’t like the movie from 1978 starring Christopher Reeve. That’s just not my Superman. My Superman didn’t have quite so much goofiness. As you might expect, I’m also not a fan of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns which suffers from not only a connection to movies I don’t like, but also creative choices that don’t service that character very well. Still, there’s great things in that movie, it’s just not a Superman story.

But, even given my mostly negative reaction to his previous film Sucker Punch, I was hopefully optimistic for Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. I liked what he did with Dawn Of The Dead, 300 and Watchmen, properties that I adore, have no experience with and like respectively. Plus, even though Sucker Punch was a mess, I assumed that Warner Bros. and producer Christopher Nolan would be able to temper Snyder’s whims better than he did on his own with his previous offering. Sucker Punch also looked freaking fantastic and did masterful things with CGI fight scenes that I figured would work their way into Man Of Steel.

So, when it happened that the latest Superman movie was scheduled to debut on Father’s Day weekend and my in-laws were in town, my wife decided to take me to the picture shows to celebrate the most important holiday of them all. Aside from Dark Knight Rises, I can’t remember the last movie I saw a movie in theaters, so this was a nice treat. We got there early and secured pretty good seats which was a wise call on our part because it filled up pretty quickly. I was happy to see people of all ages, even families, pouring in to watch Superman on the big screen.

And it turned out to be a great experience. The crowd mostly followed movie etiquette and also seemed to get engrossed with the film. I also have to commend the Showcase in Newburgh for having some really high quality digital projection. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a movie in theaters that looked as good as this one (outside of IMAX of course). Oh and I really enjoyed the movie itself too, which was a relief.

I’m going to throw up the SPOILER WARNING right here because I knew relatively little going into the movie and enjoyed seeing how it unfolded. So, if you don’t want to know about the flick, stop here. The story winds up covering a lot of ground, starting with Superman’s dad Jor-El trying to convince the Kryptonian council that they need to abandon their planet in order to keep the race going. Having foreseen these planetary problems well in advance Jor-El and his wife Lara decided to have a child by way of natural methods instead of the cloning processes used on the planet for centuries. In order to save their only son, Jor-El and Lara planned to launch him into space where he would land on Earth, a planet of beings physically similar to Kryptonians, but that would grant their child amazing abilities. At the same time, General Zod and his people decide to overthrow the government, but they disagree with Jor-El’s methods and there’s more conflict there. Kal-El winds up getting shot into space, Zod and his people get captured and sentenced to imprisonment in the Phantom Zone and Krypton eventually explodes.

Cut to Earth where an adult Clark Kent travels the world trying to stay anonymous, but usually breaking off to use his fantastic powers to help save people. Lois Lane winds up discovering his true identity while at the same time Zod and his fellow prisoners show up near Earth demanding they turn over Kal-El. Just before that, Clark learned his true identity, got his suit and went on to not only work alongside the U.S. government but also do his best to work with Zod, though that turned out to be less than likely thanks to Zod’s desire to terraform Earth in order to revive the Kryptonian race there. Many fights ensued.

As much as I love Superman and have what I like to call MY era of his adventures (basically post-Crisis to New 52) I enjoyed the changes that Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer made. It makes sense that one of the best reporters around would be able to figure out who Superman really is. That completely shifts the paradigm of the Lois and Clark relationship, but since you’re dealing with a movie instead of something more episodic like comics or TV, I think that’s a fine alteration. I also really enjoyed how human and realistic Superman is. This is a very new, young hero, one who has the ideals of the hero I know and love, but doesn’t know how to do everything all the time. He flies through buildings without checking to see if people are inside, he causes all kinds of damage to the city and, well, he does that thing at the end. An experienced Superman wouldn’t do those things, but one without any kind of real training or experience? That guy would do these things. I appreciate how it all makes sense within the confines of the story.

Of couse, it’s not a perfect film, though few are. I’m not quite sure where I fall on Michael Shannon as Zod. He was a little too “screaming evil bad guy” for my liking. The challenge whenever you’re dealing with a villain, especially one who wants to destroy our world, is making him sympathetic. And, when you really THINK about Zod, he’s sympathetic because he wants to save his people, but he doesn’t ever come across as likable or even levelheaded, so most people just dislike him, write him off as crazy and wait for the fight scenes.

And boy, are there fight scenes in this movie. It is difficult to follow them sometimes because they go by so fast. The camera also moves A LOT in this movie, like they gave the cameraman 19 extra cups of coffee before yelling “Action.” But, at the same time, we’re dealing with ridiculously fast beings instead regular humans. These scenes got a little video game-y at times, but I enjoyed them all the same. I would have liked to have seen more practical effects, but I’m not sure if that’s even possible given the way these crazy fights were mapped out.

I also had a bit of a problem with the in-your-face Jesus comparisons. In addition to being 33 (Jesus’ age when he died) and striking at least one overt on-the-cross pose, Clark also goes to a church where he talks to a priest directly in front of a stain glass window featuring Jesus. It was so on the nose that it made my eyes roll. I’m also not a fan of tying Superman to any one religion, or religion at all really. He might be his own man with his own beliefs, but he’s also supposed to be a hero of the people. You could have just as easily done that scene with him talking to anyone in the entire world. I wish they had gone that way because, as it is, that church scene feels incredibly trite.

I’m also not sure what to do with the fact that the only person in the film to bring up evolution is the most evil Kryptonian in the group: Faora. I can understand Zod’s desire to save his people, but Faora just seems to enjoy fighting and killing. She brings up evolution while talking about how the Kryptonians are going to destroy humanity and that just seemed weird to me. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think there might be a pro-religion, anti-science message in this movie that I do not go in for.

Speaking of Faora, holy crap Antje Traue is a villainous treasure. She looked at every solider shooting at her like that single friend you have looking at your kid when they’re doing something cute and the friend could not be less interesting. It’s amazing. In fact, aside from my on-the-fence-ness when it comes to Shannon, I thought the casting in this movie was delightful. Henry Cavill perfectly captured Superman and Clark Kent. Plus he’s dreamy! Amy Adams nailed Lois Lane, one of the greatest ficitonal characters of all time. She might not look like the version of Lois that lives in my brain, but she matched the actions completely. It’s all good from there, too, with Diane Lane as Ma Kent, Kevin Costner as Pa, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Ayelet Zurer as Lara and, well, literally everyone else in the cast.

Man of Steel PosterWhich is a roundabout way of bringing me to another elements of the film I enjoyed: they didn’t make a big deal about a lot of the Superman comic book elements brought into the film. Kelex is in this thing, you guys! That’s a pretty deep geek reference and yet it’s not distracting if you have no idea who or what that is. It also seemed like they didn’t refer to Metropolis as Metropolis until it was shown on a computer monitor in one of the military war rooms, but I could be wrong on that one. Ma and Pa Kent weren’t actually referred by those titles. They also didn’t try to shove too much of the relatively unimportant Daily Planet staff into the film. Since we’re dealing with a pre-Metropolis Supes here, it makes way more sense that they not be heavily featured in this film. But, it’s still great to see them doing their things and showing what to expect with potential sequels. More Jenny Olsen please!

The more I think about this movie the more I enjoy it. I stayed away from just about anything anyone was saying going in, so I’m not sure what the complaints are. I’d assume the end rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. The slowish pace of setting up yet another superhero origin on film — one that most people probably know the very basics of — also might not have sat well, but I enjoyed the slow burn. What did you guys think?

Halloween Scene: Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead is one of my all time favorite horror movies of all time. I’ll go one further and say it’s one of my favorite movies period. There’s so much greatness in there from drama to horror and really everything in between. It’s a great film. I don’t feel the same way about Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake, but I still like it. I get why fellow fans of the original would dislike this movie which just takes the basic concept of the original–people take shelter in a mall during a zombie apocalypse–and dumped most other things aside from a few other basics (pregnancy, cops in the mall) and made a whole new movie. But, if you just came out with a mall zombie movie, the outcries about it being a Dawn remake would have been deafening. So, I’m okay with it. The basic idea is cool enough that I would be okay with a new remake every few years as long as whoever worked on it moved enough pieces around to make it interesting.

And that’s why I like this remake, the basics might be the same, but the specifics are so different that I get drawn in. Both flicks have female entry points, but the difference between the two movies and characters is pretty huge. Unlike the original we start off in the woman’s house and really get personal with her, even seeing her last love making session with her husband. Then BANG zombie apocalypse is full on. She’s on the run and winds up catching up with other survivors. I like that Snyder kept the idea of a woman getting pregnant in all this mess, but I’m also glad that he transferred that to another character in order to give Sarah Polley’s Ana the opportunity to do lots of other things in the movie like fall for a fellow survivor and really get into the action. Speaking of which, the whole pregnancy thing gets insane in such an amazing and creepy way that I’m still surprised it’s in a pretty big budget studio horror movie. I just shook a bit thinking about it again. Bleh. But in a good way.

Another change I liked about the film is how it opens up a bit. The wide open claustrophobia of the first film is pretty amazing and complex, but there’s also something to be said about these people being proactive and looking to get the heck out of there. The building up of the trucks might be just a little goofy, but it made enough sense and seemed likely, so I was in. And the chainsaw thing is a GREAT idea, though not for a couple of the characters. Snyder seemed to have a good handle on mixing the “have fun with it” mentality with the “this is serious business” one in a way that really hits for me.

So, yeah, I like this movie and I’m glad I picked it up for a buck at a used book store in New Hampshire a month or so back. It’s cool to have different takes on both the zombie genre and a specific story idea like that of the original Dawn Of The Dead. I will say that I’m surprised exactly how much of this movie was borrowed or straight-up swiped for Dead Rising and its sequel–two video games I wished I loved but really wound up disliking. It might seem strange calling this out for a remake of another movie, but it felt at times like whole scenes from the movie were digitized and dropped into those games. Speaking of video games, I actually played Left 4 Dead 2 with my dad on Xbox Live, and I think the intense feeling of that game has helped put me into zombie movies a little bit better. There are scenes that felt exactly like the game with zombies coming on, the character blasting away and trying to push them away without dying. It’s kind of an interesting way that one medium can alter the way you experience another one. Fun stuff.

Friday Fisticuffs: Sucker Punch (2011)

I was pretty jazzed about seeing Sucker Punch. I dig Zack Snyder as a director for the most part, with 300 and Watchmen being part of my DVD collection, plus the kitchen sink feel of the movie with everything from giant mechs and steampunk zombies to gorgeous ladies and guns really made me curious. Aside from the trailers, I tried to avoid pretty much everything said about the movie because I was really curious how it was all going to fit together. I’m not sure how I feel about the finished product. I think it will get compared to Inception because both are action films operating on several levels of reality, but I do not think Sucker Punch holds up nearly as well as Inception. I’m going to take a similar approach to this review as it’s nearly impossible to talk about this movie without getting into spoiler territory. There will be three levels of spoilers in the review: conceptual, story and ending, each will be labeled with caps at the beginning. Dive in as deep as you want.

CONCEPTUAL SPOILERS I went into this flick knowing that most of the wild action was taking place in our heroine Baby Doll’s mind. I’ve got no problem with that and it certainly helps explain the genre cocktail that makes up a good chunk of this movie. As I mentioned, there’s three levels at work in the movie. You’ve got the real world (which is still a pretty stylized, time-lost one, but you get the idea), a world where the inmates of the asylum Baby Doll finds herself in imagining themselves as dancers/prostitutes and the battleground world filled with robots and zombies. The border between CONCEPTUAL and STORY SPOILERS gets a little blurry here, so let’s assume the following is a little bit of both. Baby Doll is locked up in the asylum, Real World world switches to the Dancer World pretty quickly without bouncing back and forth until the end. It’s while in Dancer World that Baby Doll goes inside herself where a guy dubbed Wise Man on IMDb explains five key things she’ll need to get out of there (this also happens to be Battle World). While in her head in what I’ll call Battle World, Baby Doll is doing some apparently amazing dancing in Dancer World. The items she needs are pretty basic and ones we’ve seen in either Real or Dancer world.

STORY SPOILERS In Real World, it’s explained that a shrink played by Carla Gugino uses theater-like tactics to get the inmates to deal with their pasts. So, it might seem like the whole Dancer World  set-up is supposed to be the girls (or maybe just one girl) working through their issues. In Dancer World the scumbag who runs the asylum runs a club and keeps the girls there. Instead of theater therapy, they go through dance class, but they still have to perform chores around the place.

STORY SPOILERS The problem I have with this world jumping is that they don’t seem to be super related to one another. Even when one of the other girls (Sweat Pea, Blondie, Rocket and Blondie) is doing the swiping of the item in Dancer World, Baby tends to take center stage in Battle World. There’s a real lack of correlation between the two worlds that left me feeling flat. I love seeing hot chicks blasting steampunk zombies as much as the next guy, and I think the creativity put into the Battle World set-ups is pretty fantastic (ie, they’re not JUST zombies, but they’re steam-powered Nazi-ish zombies), but another problem is that the movie gets kind of formulaic and patterned, which gets a little boring, even with the kick ass action. They need something, Baby Doll dances in Dancer World, the girls kick ass in Battle World, they get it in Dancer World and they move on. Things get really crazy at the end of the movie, which cuts off the repetition, but I’m still on the fence as to whether the end makes up for it.

ENDING SPOILERS Things get pretty nuts in the last third or so of the movie. Plans fall through, bad things happen and even worse things happen to the girls. I didn’t feel a lot of tension during this part of the movie because I was a little bored by the repetition, but the surprises were still pretty surprising. There’s a very strange flip at the end that tries to make you buy that SUPER SPOILERS the story is really about Sweet Pea. This came out of left field for me and doesn’t really make sense, especially when you consider that Baby Doll is not only our entryway into the world but also the very clear hero of the entire thing. I guess it’s possible that, since we see Sweet Pea on the stage in the Real World that we jump into her brain from here on out, but I’m not convinced. There’s some voiceover stuff in the beginning and end about guardian angels and dragons, but it didn’t land with me. I was impressed with how sad the ending is (voiceover not included). Things do not end well for these girls, which is kind of surprising for a big almost summer action movie. Maybe things will make more sense on a second viewing, but I’m not jumping at the chance to do so.

It’s too bad that the varying realities didn’t really match up and the ending didn’t land with me because, this flick kicks off incredibly well. Snyder introduces us to Baby Doll, shows us how wronged she really was and places her in the asylum all with very little dialog. He keeps the interesting stylistic choices going throughout the movie, from a shot the pans from one side of a bank of mirrors to the other (took me a minute to realize the trickery here and I have no idea how he did it) to the reflective shots of the girls kicking robot ass, everything about this movie screams “feast for the eyes.” The CGI gets a little obvious at times, but those moments were quick enough for me that they didn’t stick in my craw too much. I think this review came off as a little more negative than my actual reaction to the movie, but things aren’t marinating with me well. Why would all the girls think they were dancers? Are their Battle World get-ups supposed to say something about their characters? If so, I’m not seeing them. I was definitely left disappointed by the story, but I’m not completely writing it off. I’m open to interpretations and theories. Anyone got one?

Frank Miller Double Feature: 300 (2006) & Sin City (2005)

300I’ve decided on this, the week of my birthday, that I would spend my days sitting on my ass and writing also watching some of my favorite movies. As it happens, two of my favorite comic book movies of all time come from Frank Miller comics: 300 and Sin City. I saw 300 a few years back in the theaters with Ben and Rickey and our ladies. I walked out feeling like I wanted to punch something, but decided against it. When it came out on DVD I eventually bought it with a few others at Blockbuster, but hadn’t gotten around to watching it again until today.

Man, I still love this movie. I haven’t read the comic it’s based on yet, so I can’t comment on how accurate it is to the comic, but it does have the feel of a Miller comic in both visuals and tones. More to the point, it’s just an awesome, fun movie full of larger-than-life characters who refuse to die (well, up to a point), severe and visually interesting movies and an uplifting ending (again, kinda). Oh, and tons and tons of blood and gore as the Spartans take on all manor of enemies.

Visually, I find the movie stunning. I’m not a huge proponent of  these kinds of digital shoots, but I think director Zack Snyder did something really innovative by creating such a rich visual tone.

300 was one of those interesting movies to see coming up while working at Wizard. There had been some weirdness in the past between the magazine and Miller, but after the success of Sin City things seemed to get patched up. I was working in the research department at the time, so anytime they ran anything having to do with 300, we had to go back to the same batch of images over and over and over again. That’s one of the problems with covering things so far out in advance. Even with an utter overload of 300, I was still excited for the movie and remain excited about watching it again. I still wanted to punch something, but instead I just kept sitting on my couch.

SinCityWhen Sin City came out, I was in college. I don’t think I was more excited for any other movie that year and maybe during my whole college career. I had read a few of the trades and seen a few of Robert Rodriguez’s other movies, but the combination of the two had me crazy excited. I never expected to see a “smaller” comic like this (ie, not a superhero) on the big screen with such high production values, vision and gigantic actors. And it did not disappoint. It didn’t disappoint when I watched it together either and by now I’ve read and own every Sin City trade and have seen most of Rodriguez’s movies.

I know some people don’t like the idea of just bringing a comic book to life, but I’ve got no problem with it as long as it’s done this well. Taking real people and making them look like Miller’s drawings and still not look completely ridiculous is a feat in and of itself. Also, taking some of Miller’s more noir-ish dialogue and spitting it out in real life would sound strange and let’s be honest, not everyone’s good at it. I noticed the male characters seem to do it better than the women, but maybe it’s because it’s harder for women to sound badass.

Anyway, I like how well Rodriguez and Miller told no less than three stories in a fairly tight fashion without rushing any of them. Sure, the movie’s a bit long, but I didn’t find myself getting bored. How can you be bored with badasses like Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke all doing their badass things so well? If there’s one thing that Miller does really well, it’s creating seemingly indomitable characters who don’t take “no” or “die” for an answer unless they’ve decided it’s their time. Heck, I’m still not completely convinced that Marv is dead. Here’s hoping that Rodriguez actually gets around to making Sin City 2 and doesn’t let Miller take the reigns as The Spirit was a shit storm of epic proportions.