Ah, 300, a movie we all remember fondly. A movie full of guys we wanted to be and the girls wanted to be in. A highly stylized action movie that, even today, is still fun to watch and is insanely quotable. It was a fun story, one that sparked many to get in shape and be like King Leonidas and his men of three hundred. Fast forward almost 7 years and we all get the sequel. Wait, what?
There are tons of great stories in Greek history. The Battle of Thermopylae—the battle that 300 is based off—is one of them. The reason this story was told and the reason Frank Miller decided to write it is because it’s a story based on unfathomable odds, made special by some amazing action and stylistic choices by director Zack Snyder—who did not direct this sequel, he just helped write it—and the aforementioned Miller. Let’s not forget charismatic actors like Gerard Butler and Michael Fassbender who graced us with their baddassery. And top it off with the insane art direction, slow-motion scenes and accompanying heavy metal kick-your-face-in music. When most of us left the theater, we had enough testosterone overflowing that we could save a school bus full of kids from a pack of killer bears with chainsaws for arms.
2013 was a great year for film. When so many are decrying the death of cinema, movies like these remind us that there are plenty of ideas and adventures left to explore. This year in particular we were treated to many films that break the traditional mold of Oscar fare. What was once a celebration of old, dry, period set dramas is now recognizing a younger and more diverse group of filmmakers. Here is the list of those films I believe will be honored this year at…
The 86th Annual Academy Awards
(P.S. – I didn’t include the nominees for short films because…well, nobody really cares about the short films.)
Mince a large cut “Titanic”, without the emotional resonance, tenderize a hunk of “Gladiator”, leaving out all that pesky action and visual pizazz, then season liberally with “Conan The Barbarian”, being sure to leave out most of the gore, throw them all together and bake. Ta-da, you have “Pompeii” – a movie that couldn’t be any cheesier if Vesuvius erupted and covered the ill-fated city in cheddar.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, “Pompeii” attempts to build a story of ill-fated, star-crossed lovers amidst catastrophic tragedy in much the same way that James Cameron did with “Titanic”. Sadly, held up to “Titanic” – which does have some shortcomings in hindsight, like many of Cameron’s films – “Pompeii” is about as dramatic as pile of old hotel box springs in the city dump.
Super-buff and perpetually shiny Celt slave Milo (Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones”) catches the eye of the beautiful and privileged Cassia (Emily Browning, “Sucker Punch”) after playing sympathetic horse whisperer to her injured animal and drama ensues. They stare at each other from across the room – or arena, as he’s a ruthless gladiator dripping in blood which, in turn, makes him even shinier and dreamier – while that fun spoiling Roman, Corvus (played by Kiefer Sutherland, testing out a revolving door of accents, and missing only a handlebar mustache to twirl) cuts in on the action. Rounding out the cast of wildly mismatched accents are Jared Harris (“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”), Carrie-Anne Moss (the Matrix trilogy) and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Lost”). Oh, there’s also a giant-ass volcano that’s about to blow.
Hayao Miyazakio is truly one of the greatest animation directors of all time. I still remember watching KiKi’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro as kid for the first time. The stories and characters that he creates captures the audience’s attention and allows them to escape reality for a little while. Some of his recent films are Spirited Away, Ponyo, and Castle in the Sky. The Wind Rises is nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature; this puts him up against Frozen, Despicable Me 2, and The Croods that were also nominated (I really believe Frozen has a lock on the award but it is great to be nominated).
The Wind Rises takes place in the early 1900’s Japan following a young boy named Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The young boy dreams of someday flying airplanes. He is inspired by an Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni (Stanley Tucci). Due to his nearsightedness, he decides to design airplanes after waking from a dream with Caproni. He then sets on his journey to change airplanes in Japan forever.
While Valentine’s Day may mean chocolate, stuffed animals and little trinkets for most couples – others may choose to see one of the many “love story” movies that the studios put out every year. Now we can say, for the most part, that a lot of these movies are pretty run-of-the-mill generic. I wasn’t too thrilled about some of the options available this year, but Winter’s Tale did peak my interest, mainly due to its impressive cast—Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell and a few others I will choose to omit for the sake of the surprise and plot of the movie.
Winter’s Tale does a respectable job at trying to pull you into its romanticized, magical version of New York City. This isn’t like the New York you and I know. No. This is one that’s populated by magic that people are used to. It’s really the only explanation I have for the way people seem NOT to react to flying horses and demon faces. The movie follows an orphan, Peter Lake, played by the always likeable Colin Farrell. Lake’s had a rough life; he never knew his loving parents, he had to steal to survive and he hated hurting people to do so. That last character trait has put him into a risky situation with his former employer and all around evil thug, Pearly Soames, portrayed by the charismatic Russell Crowe.