March 21, 2014

Fly Over: ‘300: Rise of an Empire’, and ‘Brokeback Mountain’


Now in theaters:

‘300: Rise of an Empire’

It’s pretty weird that it took seven years for a sequel to the Greek action film (which I’m pretty sure should be its own genre at this point) “300.” There was a lot surrounding that movie, and in my humble opinion it was a pretty good movie, and that just makes the release of “300: Rise of an Empire” seem like a desperate cash grab instead of a logical cash grab. Does the movie come across that way during the actual viewing? Kind of, but there is credit to be given.
Spanning the time frame before, during and after its predecessor, “300: Rise of an Empire” follows Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), an Athenian general who is set to defend ancient Greece from the invading Persian Empire. Gathering what ships he could from Greece’s various city-states, save Sparta (see “300”), Themistocles faces off against the infamous Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek-born commander of the Persian fleet. What follows is a desperate battle as once again few stand against many.
This is pretty much just a water version of “300.” There were quite a few moments that were directly lifted from the last movie, and while I’m sure they were intentional throw backs it just seemed unoriginal. Unlike “300,” I didn’t really feel like I got to know the Greek soldiers aside from one or two. In fact, a lot of the focus, to me at least, seemed to be on Artemisia and the Persians. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when the villains get a lot of focus, but I honestly started feeling too sorry for them when the fighting started. Also, I just couldn’t get behind the urgency here, and that’s not really my fault because whenever the Athenians fail horribly, it’s treated like it’s no big deal. I really did like the way they wrapped the story around “300,” though, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see a third movie that wrapped around this one like some kind of Greek wrap of fun, historical exaggeration.
Sullivan Stapleton is no Gerard Butler when it comes to acting like a charismatic leader, and during most of his speeches, I found myself literally zoning out. Same could be said for Lena Headey reprising her role as Queen Gorgo, but in her case I blame the script (also, Game of Thrones is starting again soon and I don’t want to be on Cercei Lannister’s bad side …). I’ve also heard nothing but praise regarding Eva Green as Artemisia, and while she wasn’t terrible, I didn’t really buy into her character; the savage part I got, sure, but whenever she acted arrogant I couldn’t help but think, “but you didn’t do anything.” There was nothing really bad in the acting department overall, everyone does OK with what they’re given, but unfortunately they’re just forgettable.
Now the action? That’s the money maker for this movie. I was literally exhilarated during the first action scene, and that was thanks mostly to the more controlled use of slow-motion during the fighting (no, no, they save the epic slow-mo for a couple of guys dropping a rope). During the ship battles I did get a little confused as to who was who with all the rain and destruction going on, but even then they were still some pretty climactic-looking set pieces. And it’s good this movie is so entertaining to watch with its over-the-top violence and visual style, because the script is absolutely horrible. There were a few times when the actors seemed to be stumbling over their awkwardly written lines, and as I said before, I zoned out quite often. But then soon I was back to Artemisia’s bodyguards wreaking havoc with Athenians while ships burn all around them, and I felt better.
Honestly, it probably wouldn’t hurt for people who enjoy crazy, gratuitous action movies to see “300: Rise of an Empire” in theaters. I wouldn’t mind seeing that first fight sequence on the big screen again myself. And please, oh please, can we stop with the critiques that it’s historically inaccurate? Because you see, I thought that weird goat-headed guy in the first one made this pretty clear.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language.

And on Netflix:

‘Brokeback Mountain’

The film takes place in 1963 and is set in Wyoming, where Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are hired to herd Joe Aguirre’s (Randy Quaid) sheep during the summer at Brokeback Mountain. There, Twist and Del Mar are all about business, where Del Mar’s job is to cook and watch over the campsite, while Twist goes out and herds the sheep. At first Del Mar is quiet and rarely talks except to mention what’s for dinner, but with time he begins to feel comfortable enough to open up to Twist about his childhood and family. Then on one particularly cold night, Twist insists Del Mar come inside his tent to sleep when Del Mar’s teeth are chattering.
Once in the tent, Twist makes a move on Del Mar, who is hesitant at first but ultimately responds to Twist’s advances. The morning after, Del Mar tells Twist he’s not gay and that he has a girl back home he’s planning on marrying once the summer is over, but that doesn’t stop the two from developing their unique relationship further. The summer’s herding season quickly passes and the two part ways after getting into a bloody fist fight.
Just like he said, Del Mar marries his fiancée, Alma Beers (Michelle Williams) and ends up having two daughters while Twist moves to Texas to ride bulls for cash. In Texas, Twist meets a cowgirl, Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway), at a rodeo riding competition where the two move quickly, making love the first night of meeting. Soon they are married and have a son together. While at first Twist and Newsome have a relationship full of passion, with time they seem to no longer be in love. Newsome becomes flat, cold and all about the family business while Twist seems not only grumpy, but unhappy. Although Twist married into Newsome’s rich family and has a seemingly perfect life, there’s a void.
In Wyoming, Del Mar and Beers are working hard to make ends meet. Every day is a struggle for them to make sure the bills get paid. Del Mar takes whatever work he can find while Beers gets a job at a local grocery store. Similar to Twist’s marriage, Del Mar and Beers find their marriage is about their two daughters now and aren’t as passionate for fear of having more children they can’t afford.
Four years after their short summer at Brokeback Mountain, Twist sends Del Mar a postcard asking to meet and Del Mar agrees. Del Mar waits for Twist by the window and excitedly gets up when he arrives, gives him a hug and then pushes him toward the apartment out of site from his wife. As they passionately kiss, Beers, who is curious to meet Twist, accidentally witnesses them. Shocked, Beers acts like she didn’t see anything. Once Del Mar introduces Twist to Beers, Del Mar tells Beers they’re going drinking and not to expect him home. The two go to a motel and make up for time lost. Afterward they talk about their wives, kids and their lives. While lying in bed, Twist proposes the idea of making a life with Del Mar at a small ranch, but Del Mar, who is more practical, refuses. Their short time together flies by and over the years the two meet whenever they can to go “fishing.” Though in the beginning their relationship seemed to be based on sex, they fall in love and in one instance Twists says, “Sometimes I miss you so bad, I can hardly stand it.” Though Del Mar typically doesn’t show his emotions, he does when Twist gets angry at him and he breaks down crying saying, “It’s because of you, Jack that I’m like this.”
“Brokeback Mountain” is more than just a “gay cowboy movie;” it delves into what life is like for many gay individuals who try and force themselves to be “straight” in order to be accepted by society.
Ledger was excellent playing Del Mar. He’s versatile in the types of roles he plays. I was also impressed with Gyllenhaal, who I remember in “Bubble Boy.” By far, Hathaway’s performance surprised me the most. She was so right-on playing Newsome, who turns from a vibrant, fun cowgirl into a cold, cranky business woman.
The question is whether Del Mar and Twist end up making a life together or continue living a life of lies. No spoilers here; you’ll just have to watch the movie.
“Brokeback Mountain” is rated R for graphic scenes of sex, nudity, violence, gore, profanity, and alcohol and tobacco use.

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