Tag Archives: 300

Review – Coriolanus (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4/5

<<guest review by KJF>>

William Shakespeare and the filmed medium have an uneasy relationship. Over the years many film-makers have attempted to bring his plays to the silver screen but not all have been successful, with some versions feeling staid and flat. For all the glories of Laurence Olivier’s trilogy of adaptations, in more recent years there have been Kenneth Branagh’s Love Labour’s Lost (2000) and As You like it (2006), which were both poorly received. Ralph’s Fiennes’ Coriolanus bucks the trend, providing an inventive, violent and gripping take on one of the Bard’s later tragedies.

Coriolanus, blood-soaked, in the heat of battle.

The original play is set in the ancient world, during one of the Roman Republic’s endless wars against a neighbouring tribe. Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List, Harry Potter VII(ii), Wrath of the Titans), is Rome’s greatest general. Having just scored a bloody victory against the rebellious Volscians, he returns to his home city and is given the honorific name ‘Coriolanus’, in recognition of his battle prowess at the Volscian city of Corioles. At Rome the populace are starving due to a grain shortage. He tends to hold the people in contempt, and when his election to the consulship collapses, and he gets exiled, the disgruntled general defects to the Volcians and plots his revenge.

Here the story is updated to a modern Balkan setting which is very effective, recalling the wars in the 1990s following the collapse of Yugoslavia. The battles between Romans and Volscians are fought on bomb blasted streets, strewn with the wrecks of cars and buildings with terrified civilians being caught in the crossfire-scenes so reminiscent of modern urban warfare. The bleak, withered, Balkan landscape is a particularly effective back-drop to the bleakness of Coriolanus’ fate in the latter part of the film.

Fiennes in directing mode with Gerard Butler, playing Tullus Aufidius

All the events of the story are told through the prism of rolling news footage, with newscasters and pundits (naturally) spinning everything. (Even Jon Snow gets a look in!) When the grain protests in Rome are depicted, this allows for some fortuitous contemporary resonance as we cannot but think of the Arab Uprisings, particularly all the protesters massing on Tahrir Square. That all the political debating on show is done in the glare of television cameras instantly broadcasting into countless households feels particularly right. In Republican Rome, many political debates were held in public in the Forum.

Fiennes is following in the grand tradition of both Olivier and Branagh as both actor-director, and this is very much his film. The camera likes to linger on his battle-scarred, shaven, bullet-shaped head, which in the heat of battle gets spattered in blood. One needs no convincing that this is a serious warrior. When faced with dealing the people of Rome he so despises, his icy contempt for them is tangible. Fiennes is supported by a fine cast. Vanessa Redgrave (Mary, Queen of Scots, Letters to Juliet, Song For Marion) as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ formidable mother, is truly magnificent. She is a civilian but her martial bearing and control she exudes over her son is emphasised by the military dress she mostly wears. The seemingly ubiquitous Jessica Chastain (The Help, Take Shelter, Zero Dark Thirty) acquits herself admirably as the other woman in Coriolanus’ life, his doting wife, Virgilia. Gerard Butler (300, P.S. I Love You, London Has Fallen) plays a brooding Tullus Aufidius, the leader of the Volscians and nemesis of Coriolanus. There is, perhaps inescapably a touch of Leonidas about his performance but he very much proves the match and the mirror to the Roman general. The Roman politicos here are a conniving bunch, all decked out in slick, expensive suits and Brian Cox (Troy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dog Fight) brings much style to his portrayal of the loquacious, fawning senator Menenius Agrippa, supporter of Coriolanus’ family.

Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) pleading with Coriolanus not to go back to war.

The faults with the film reflect back to the play itself. Coriolanus is the most unsympathetic of Shakespearean ‘heroes.’ He is no Hamlet or King Lear to draw much pathos. We rarely see behind his front of arrogance and hauteur and his loathing of people power, to what makes him a human being. The play itself can be heavy-going at points, punctuated with very long-winded speeches. Thankfully here, Fiennes in collaboration with his screenwriter, John Logan, has done some merciful pruning, to make everything more palatable.

Thus, Fiennes should be commended for bringing a less popular and less well-known Shakespearean play to a much wider audience. Indeed the vigour and imagination on display makes the film a rewarding and thought-provoking experience.

KJF

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Review – Immortals 3D (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

300 and Conan The Barbarian had much in common. Both were the ultimate guy’s film, with plenty of action, swordplay and spilt blood (and for women, there were hulking men with CGI-enhanced torsos). Immortals follows the same theme, just being an inferior version of the two aforementioned movies.

Theseus (Henry Cavill), all ripped and ready to throw himself into the thick of the action.

Set in Ancient Greece, the Heraklion King of Crete, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler, Iron man 2, The Courier), is hell-bent on destroying the gods, since they failed to answer his prayers to save his family from illness. To do this he needs to unleash the Titans from Mount Tartarus. But he can only set them loose with the Epirus Bow. Yet, the bow is missing and only the gorgeous virgin oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto – Miral, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Black Gold), knows of its location. Thus, King Hyperion marches upon the holy site where she dwells in order to extract the information.

En route, and almost simultaneously, Hyperion’s army pillages a small village where a young peasant, called Theseus (Henry Cavill – Red Riding Hood, The Tudors, Man of Steel) lives with his mother. Theseus has been trained since childhood by an ‘old man’ (John Hurt – Harry Potter I, VII(i) & VII(ii), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, In Love With Alma Cogan), who is really Zeus (Luke Evans – Clash of the Titans, Tamara Drewe, The Hobbit I & II) in human form, for a war that will make him immortal. Before long, only Theseus’s abilities will be the barrier between Hyperion and his awful ambitions.

The storyline is simple and easy to follow. One may not come out with a greater understanding of Ancient Greek societies (other than their belief in polytheism), and at 117 minutes Immortals might be a little long; nevertheless, one is unlikely to become bored during the movie. Like in 300 and Conan, it may not be intellectually stimulating. But there is more than enough fighting and bloodshed to keep viewers occupied, even if the combat and battle tactics appear very similar. (And what is it about this genre and men walking around and going into battle bare-chested?)

The beautiful Phaedra (Freida Pinto), dressed for a dinner-date, tending to Theseus’s wounds. Perhaps if he had worn some body armour, his injuries may have been avoided?

However, there is much that Immortals lacks in comparison to those other two films. First, it lacks the (far from subtle) political connotations of 300, entailing that the film has no hidden message (in fairness, nor does Conan). Second, the dialogue in Immortals might be less crude than in 300 and Conan, but it is more contrived, less amusing and more predictable, which never bodes well. (At least the dialogue in the atrocious Season of the Witch was so terrible it was funny!) Third, Immortals lacks the strong, massive main character that Gerard Butler and Jason Mamoa respectively portrayed, and which is needed in a film like this. Despite a muscular (and painted) six-pack, the relatively-small Henry Cavill gives a pitiful and unconvincing display as the hero, Theseus. This does not augur well for him, considering that his next major role is in the upcoming Superman film, wherein he plays the eponymous man of steel himself.

The rest of the cast, in the main, are no better. Worse, they all take their roles seriously, which exacerbates the poverty of their performances, to the extent of making the supporting cast in 300 look like professional warriors. The exception to this in Immortals is Mickey Rourke, since he takes his role as a joke. Consequently, Rourke comes out with some credit, as he puts across Hyperion’s shallowness character and incalculable cruelty well in equal measure. Although, the price Rourke pays is the risk of Hyperion becoming slightly pantomime, in a similar manner to Rodrigo Santoro as Emperor Xerxes in 300 or Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym in Conan. Not that it matters, since none of these movies can be taken remotely seriously.

King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) pontificating to a defector, before inflciting inhumane cruelty upon him or her. If one looks carefully, one can see the scars over his left eye.

The acting in Immortals may be generally pathetic, but the film has some attributes that are not utterly terrible. The director, Tarsem Singh (The Cell, Mirror, Mirror), has put the movie together smoothly; the music may not be memorable, but it is still fitting for the scenes; and just like with 300 and Conan, one doubts how much of the background sceneries are real in Immortals, but the special effects are quite decent (even if the 3D is virtually non-existent).

On the whole, even those who like the genre may well be disappointed with Immortals. The film may have some worthwhile CGI and combat scenes; nevertheless, one is more likely to go away remembering the weak acting and dialogue. In short, Immortals is just a poor man’s 300 and Conan The Barbarian.

PG’s Tips

Review – Conan the Barbarian (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Zack Snyder’s 300 was the ultimate guy’s film. The movie, essentially, was a two-hour blood bath, as 300 Spartans defended their ancient homeland against a million-strong Persian army during the Battle of Thermopylae (approximately 494 BC). Although devoid of the (inaccurate) historical elements, Conan the Barbarian should be put into the same category of film.

Conan, a beast of a man, relaxed and waiting for his opponent to make the first move, before he slaughtering him.

Conan the Barbarian is loosely based on the novel by Robert E. Howard, and is a remake of the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Set in an alternate world called Hyborea (which looks much like Earth in medieval times), the movie centres round Conan, the eponymous character. As a young boy, Conan (Leo Howard – G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Shorts, Logan) is trained in the ways of the Samarian warrior cult by his father, Corin (Ron Perlman – Tangled, Season of the Witch, The Riot).

But not long into the movie, Corin is killed before his young son by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang – Public Enemies, Avatar, Officer Down), a megalomaniac determined upon conquering all of Hyborea and reviving his dead wife. Khalar Zym will achieve these feats by putting back together all of the lost pieces of the Mask of Acheron. In time, Khalar also realises that he needs to sacrifice the last of the ‘pure blood’ of the sorcerers of Acheron, Tamara (Rachel Nichols – G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Star Trek, The Loop), to unleash the mask’s powers in order to take over the world. The balance of Hyborea rests in the sword-wielding abilities of the fully grown, muscular Conan (Jason Mamoa – Baywatch, Game of Thrones, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), who is hell-bent on punishing those who killed his father.

Despite the strange names, the plot for Conan the Barbarian is not difficult to follow. Its rushed introduction has a Lord of the Rings-like feel to it, while the breaking up of the mask reminds one of Voldemort making Horcruxes of his soul in the Harry Potter series.

The villain, Khalar Zym, played by Stephen Lang, the trigger-happy military commander in Avatar.

Aside from this, the movie flows smoothly, and at just under two hours it is the right length for this type of film. Viewers are unlikely to become bored; after-all, a scene rarely goes by without someone (or a handful of people) being slashed to death by the merciless Conan. Just like in 300, there is no shortage of blood spilt by the heroes or villains. (And just like in 300, it beggars belief that in combat the protagonists do not wear armour and live to tell the tale.)

There is little sophistication in Conan the Barbarian’s storyline. Sometimes the simplicity is even comical. (Since when was child birth as trouble-free as sticking a knife into a womb and pulling out a baby, whilst looking away?) Similarly, the director, Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Pacemaker), does not attempt to make the characters anything but two-dimensional (which is not such a bad thing considering the nature of the film). As a result, the acting is far from memorable, and the dialogue is as risible as it was in the virtual disaster movie Season of the Witch.

The acting and the dialogue, though, were never going to be the most noteworthy aspects of Conan the Barbarian. Rather, the movie’s success was also going to lie in the action scenes and the special effects. In both respects, the film does not let the audience down. All the actors look like they were well drilled in swordplay, while imagination and care were certainly put into the CGI.

Marique (Rose McGowan), the witch-daughter of Khalar Zym, who helps her father find the last of the ‘pure blood’ of the sorcerors of Acheron.

Additionally, the music score is not terrible either. Even if it sounds much like a combined take-off from The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, the music aids many of the scenes. In some instances, it gives the film the complexity that the acting, dialogue and plot sorely lack.

On the whole, Conan the Barbarian is as straightforward as its title. Just like with 300, Conan the Barbarian is very much a guy’s film. For it has a hulk of a main character, plenty of action, blood, and well-designed CGI. Yes, it has many noticeable and laughable defects, but viewers are unlikely to be bothered by them and will not go home disappointed.

PG’s Tips