A brave general Themistokles leads a band of inexperienced Greek warriors against the vast armies of the invading Persian Empire led by the depraved god-king Xerxes and Artemisia, the vengeful female commander of the feared Persian navy. Once again the defendant stand of a small band of warriors helps inspire the emerging Greek nation to stand up against a daunting tide of evil.
Those who perhaps found the original 2006 film 300 too horrifically violent may find the sequel’s commercially motivated move towards more teen friendly cartoonish action a welcome shift. Despite the near constant tide of death and graphic dismemberment, the film shouldn’t bother even squeamish audiences too much. The gushing spurts of CGI blood are so big and obviously fake that they ironically serve to conceal anything genuinely gory or unpleasant. The violence looks and feels more like a video game than the real horrors of ancient war. The film is too preoccupied with looking stylish to ever be genuinely terrifying or emotionally tense.
Eva Green is a captivating redeeming feature; almost single handily keeping this film watchable, despite some of its more obvious failings. Armed with a naturally piercing gaze and a dangerously sly smirk she is a seductively menacing presence. It’s rare and almost unique to find a villainess so genuinely ruthless and imposing on screen. The film even does her character the justice of giving her a credible backstory. In truth the film would almost have been better off focusing exclusively on her character’s story in its own right.
Such is the strength of Eva Green’s screen presence that not even gratuitous nudity or outlandish CGI blood splatters can obscure the quality of her performance. Of course a teenage target audience will almost certainly welcome Eva Green nudity even more than the endless slow motion fight sequences.
Leading man Sullivan Stapleton lacks the brutal macho charisma of Gerard Butler’s iconic portrayal of brave but doomed Sparta King Leonidas. Likewise the film’s supporting cast of Greek warriors feel at times like the poor muscle deprived cousins of the original film’s Spartan heroes. The 2006 original boasted a convincingly rugged cast that included Dominic West and Michael Fassbender. Skins star Jack O’Connell for example is a far less convincing shirtless soldier and sadly feels like a poor man’s substitute for more familiar faces.
The main problem for 300 Rise of an Empire is that it confusingly positions itself as a companion piece to the 2006 film, rather than just a straightforward sequel. The muddled timeline sees the story mostly unfold alongside the plot of the original film and frequently jump to older events to explain its elaborate backstory.
300 was a box office phenomenon which understandably left the studio and perhaps fans eager for more. But as a story it couldn’t have been more self-contained. Few endings are ever more definitive than everyone dying. Rise of an Empire struggles to reimagine the original plot and heavy handily add new characters with fresh excuses for slow motion fighting. Anyone unfamiliar with the first film will be a little bemused by the constant contrived references to what the never seen Leonidas and his 300 men are actually up to. Even the characters that do return, like Lena Headey’s Spartan Queen Gorgo and evil Persian warlord Xerxes, have little screen time or impact.
The Ugly Truth:
300: Rise of An Empire recreates the stylized look of Zack Snyder’s 2006 effort but fails to quite capture its angry macho magic. A superb villainous display from Eva Green rescues the film from being lost at sea. As a sequel the film essentially repeats the successful formula and plot of the original whilst making little changes beyond moving the action sequences onto the sea for a series of similar navel battles.
Overall devoted fans of the original will be pleased to see an unlikely sequel finally come to life, but it won’t win over those who don’t appreciate Zack Snyder’s trademark comicbook visuals.
Official Trailer below:
A world weary US Air Marshal has his transatlantic flight interrupted by a text message from an anonymous source threatening to kill a fellow passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is paid into a designated account.
Transformed by the astonishing box office success of Taken, Liam Neeson has been enjoying a spectacular career reinvention as an action superstar. Armed with a towering 6’4” physical presence, gruff no-nonsense voice and blistering fists of fury the 61 year old Oscar winner has rapidly redefined himself. With Unknown, The Grey and the inevitable Taken sequels Neeson has emerged as one of the most bankable bad guy beating action heroes. Non-Stop continues to exploit that winning formula in a predictable but mostly satisfying fashion.
Neeson’s Non-Stop character makes sure to incorporate all the typical elements of his successful action roles. As usual he’s a troubled father using ruthless skills and uncompromising determination to single handily overcome massive odds to rescue the imperilled. As expected, he’s also routinely betrayed by those around him whilst battling inner demons and faceless adversaries. It may be familiar, but it’s also an entertaining guilty pleasure.
Liam Neeson has a rare gift for delivering dialogue with a combination of unashamed intensity and self-aware irony. As an Oscar winning dramatic actor ‘slumming it’ in genre clichés he takes full advantage of understated comedic tones, following occasionally clunky dialogue with a deadpan stare or a knowing smirk. Regularly punctuating any dangerously quiet moments of audience reflection with a ruthless piece of action also serves him well. They’re well-timed punches to bad guys and boredom.
Non-Stop sets up an interesting premise with its claustrophobic mid-air setting but soon faces a difficult task in maintaining that simmering paranoid tension at boiling point for a feature length story. Inevitably the film quickly finds itself required to resort to increasingly unlikely plot devices to perpetuate the action. It’s ultimately impossible for the film to deliver a resolution which is inventive and original enough to be entirely satisfactory.
Julianne Moore plays ‘female lead’ alongside Neeson, but it’s a purely functional role that fails to inject any convincing emotion or drama. The character feels like a massively missed opportunity, particularly during the film’s lengthy hunt for the criminal mastermind hiding in plain sight amongst the 150 passengers.
Beyond Neeson and Moore the film does also feature a few familiar from the cast of Downton Abbey and House of Cards, but sadly they serve as little more than set dressing. Given two dimensional roles with only minimal unsatisfactory dialogue they do little more than populate the plane. It might be a crowded flight but it’s a crowd lacking in depth, drama or personality.
Ultimately the film could have easily injected more paranoid doubt into audiences’ minds, without being solely reliant on Neeson’s frantic response to anonymous threats and a few lazy plot twists.
The Ugly Truth
Without Liam Neeson Non-Stop would certainly have crashed shortly after take-off, but thanks to his innate charisma and weary workmanship it remains a watchable addition to his growing catalogue of guilty action genre pleasures. A welcome distraction in particular for any fans eagerly waiting for Taken 3.
A good hearted burglar strikes up an unlikely and miraculous romance with a beautiful heiress in New York in 1914, but a demonic gangster and the devil himself are determined to put a stop to their love. However, a hundred years later their love continues to change the world and inspire genuine miracles.
Downtown Abbey star Jessica Brown Findlay has a luminous aristocratic beauty and delicate dramatic delivery that fits perfectly with the role of a terminally ill heiress. The young actress works hard to carry the demanding responsibility of both narrating the film and serving as it’s most ethereal figure. Her charms help soften some of the film’s more awkward and heavy handed dialogue at the very least.
Colin Farrell plays comfortably to type as a roguish orphan thief instantly transformed by the discovery of true love. His handsome face and soft Irish accent go some way to overcoming a questionable haircut and unashamedly fantastical script. He clearly strains to inject actual emotion into an implausible tale burdened with flying cgi horses and religious themed melodramatics.
Russell Crowe also lends a little credibility to far-fetched proceedings by making his demonic gangster Pearly Soames at least effectively menacing. It’s a typically snarling and brutish performance from the bullish Australian actor. Likewise Will Smith proves an unlikely but welcome distraction in a cameo as Lucifer himself.
The film’s most valuable and consistent redeeming feature is actually a memorable musical score from master composer Hans Zimmer. A haunting and elegant soundtrack helps rescue the film from a script that oscillates wildly between randomness and predictability. Giving the film a far more convincing romantic tone and atmosphere than it would otherwise have been capable of. Music is repeatedly the film’s saving grace, pun intended.
Writer Akiva Goldsman has a deeply schizophrenic CV that glitter with great work like a time to kill, a beautiful mind and fringe; but is equally tarnished by being culpable for batman & robin or practical magic. With Winter’s Tale he makes an inauspicious directorial debut, that demonstrates technical ability but lacks a script to match its lush cinematography. In truth the bestselling book which inspires the film fails to transfer its literary magic to screen.
The film struggles often to tread an awkward balance between grounded period drama and outlandish fantasy. Even the characters themselves seem confusingly unaware of just how the film’s more supernatural elements are supposed to integrate into what would have been an otherwise straightforward romantic drama. The film often takes literal and metaphorical leaps into the absurd that ask an awful lot of an audience. Perhaps the original book was able to more delicately integrate the two worlds.
The film has two death scenes which are particularly overplayed and unconvincing. It’s especially unfortunate that the film ironically regards these two embarrassing moments as its most pivotal and profound plot points.
The Ugly Truth:
Winter’s Tale has likeable leads and a wonderful soundtrack, but that can’t entirely disguise a script that fails to be as emotionally profound as it clearly aspires to be.
Check out Red Carpet interviews below from the London Premiere:
A computer game obsessed high-school security guard with dreams of being a real life hero spends a day on the streets with a genuinely tough Atlanta cop, in a bid to prove himself worthy of marrying his sister. The mismatched team bicker their way through an adventure that sees them inadvertently caught up in the plans of a mysterious local crime lord.
Ice Cube has a stern scowl and surly voice that makes playing a perpetually angry inner-city detective easy work. Likewise comedian Kevin Hart makes the most of his tiny body and big grin to play an overly optimistic wimp. It’s comfortable typecasting for both leads that plays to their respective strengths.
The film never makes the mistake of taking itself seriously and is at its best when acknowledging its own ridiculousness. Ice Cube shooting an occasional bemused expression right down the barrel of the camera is actually more genuinely amusing than much of the scripted comedy. Although Hart deserves some credit for enthusiastically getting shot, beaten and otherwise abused in the search for humiliating laughs.
The film also manages to offer a few familiar faces in supporting roles. The presences of people like John Leguizamo and Lawrence Fishburne adds production value, albeit with limited screen time.
Overall Ride Along occasionally hits its stride with slightly better lines and mostly physical comedy. These flashes of entertainment keep the whole ride just about watchable without ever coming close to being memorable.
Ride Along is heavily reliant on a very simple comedic formula. It’s yet another mismatched buddy comedy, offering a typically contrived excuse for throwing two opposites into the same cop car. Producing mixed results at best it rarely stretches itself beyond a comfort zone that offers few original ideas.
Kevin Hart has a significant American fan base, but to a largely uninitiated international audience he will likely prove an acquired taste. You may find yourself quickly sympathising with Ice Cube’s frustration at Hart’s character’s irritating antics. It’s a performance that blatantly mistakes constant noise and physical ineptitude for likeability or underdog charm. In truth only Hart’s diminutive stature prevents his shrill persona from proving entirely unlikeable.
Ice Cube is undoubtedly well practiced at distributing an endless stream of grumpy one-liners while wearing a permanent frown. However it’s a one note performance that felt better suited for his supporting turn in 21 Jump Street than as one of this film’s joint leads.
The Ugly Truth:
Ride Along is an uncomplicated journey that should mostly please its target audience with a mix of silly slapstick and overly familiar genre clichés. It might not be entirely original, but neither is it ever entirely unwatchable. Existing fans of Ice Cube and Hart may find it more enjoyable than most. However, a recently announced sequel will certainly need to find a lot more to offer a wider audience.
Check out our recent interview with Kevin Hart below talking about his stand up movie, Grudge Match and Ride Along:
Monuments Men is inspired by the extraordinary but often forgotten true story of the unlikely team of soldiers who battled on the front lines of WWII to rescue the world’s artistic masterpieces from Nazi theft and the devastation of war. Racing behind enemy lines these passionate museum curators and art lovers turned soldiers raced to preserve 1000 years of culture by protecting mankind’s greatest achievements
Directed by leading man George Clooney, The Monument’s Men boasts an impressive all-star cast that includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett. The well-known ensemble deliver predictably accomplished if understated performances, which keep a contemplative script watchable and compelling. Solid supporting work from Hugh Bonneville and Bob Babalan in particular add some sincere heart and humour to a tale of unexpected heroism.
George Clooney balances writing and directing responsibilities with a typically assured on camera performance. Lending his thoughtful gravel voiced charms to the role of group leader for the impassioned ‘Monuments Men’. Clooney’s directing style continues to reflect the well-considered poise that distinguishes him as an actor and permeates many of his performances, including this one.
Though the film never delves too deeply into the violent chaos of war, it dose inflict poignant loses on its heroes that injects elements of danger and uncertainty, particularly as the film reaches it’s increasingly urgent climax.
Acclaimed composer Alexandre Desplat provides a beautiful soundtrack which is vital in evoking the subtle emotional tone of the film. This music often entirely transforms scenes by providing invaluable depth to the frequent moments of otherwise quiet reflection that frequently punctuates the film.
While the film is neither a hilarious heist flick nor a sweeping war epic, it sits somewhere between those two extremes vaguely in the spirit of The Great Escape or The Dirty Dozen. Taking it’s time to tell a story filled with a perhaps surprising amount of optimism.
The Monuments Men suffers under an inevitable weight of critical expectations given its intriguing subject matter and luminous cast.
Those anticipating a jaunty high spirited comedy caper may find the films methodical pace and often muted tone somewhat unsatisfying. Likewise those hoping for a heart-breaking and emotionally charged account of one of the most devastating periods of human history may find the film perhaps lacks the scale and intensity required.
A calculated marketing campaign pitching the film as Ocean’s 11 goes to war, overstates the film’s credentials as a ‘heist’ movie and outright comedy. It misleads audiences even if the actual film itself may not ultimately disappoint them.
The Ugly Truth:
The Monuments Men might lack the awards grabbing showmanship many critics anticipated but it remains an enjoyable and easily watched wartime adventure, filled with a assured performances from a well assembled A-List cast.
Check out video interviews below with the full cast and author of the book which inspired the film: