Tag Archives: 300

300: Rise of an Empire

300-rise-of-an-empire-bannerDespite its competent production, 300: Rise of an Empire is a disgusting and repulsive piece of dreck.

by Callum Petch

I honestly don’t think that anybody involved with the creative side of 300: Rise of an Empire is a bad person.  OK, maybe Frank Miller, but other than this being a very loose telling of his unpublished Xerxes series he has nothing to do with the film in question.  This sign of good faith, admittedly, is because I prefer to try and see the good in most people (I may physically be 19, but my mental age and naivety is a lot lower) and also because I don’t know anybody involved with the creation of 300: Rise of an Empire personally, so I’d feel kinda bad calling them bad people sight unseen.  What I don’t think anybody involved does have, however, is any kind of self-awareness.  Like, none.  At all.  See, if they did have some self-awareness, then they might have realised that the movie they were responsible for making is actually horrifically misogynistic, racist and supportive of doomed offensives.

I’m going to stop for a second here before I get down to business.  This review is not going to talk much about the film in the way that you may typically see films reviewed.  You know: I give a plot summary, point out some good stuff and some bad stuff, praise or trash the acting and wrap up from there.  Purely technical terms, “[x action scene] was pretty exciting, [y actor] was as convincing as a cardboard standee of [y actor]”.  No, that’s not happening here and if that’s what you’re looking for, I am sorry to disappoint you.  Fact of the matter is, how this film is as a constructed product (and that constructed product is “boring meeeeeeeeehhhhh”) is but a distraction from the more problematic undertones that this film seems to unintentionally peddle.  I will eventually talk about the film as you would expect me to, but that’s only if there’s still time.  Take this info how you may and either keep reading or don’t.

OK, into the breach.

The major problem with 300: Rise of an Empire, the problem that left me leaving the cinema feeling dirty for having experienced it, is that it doesn’t think.  It’s so determined to be cool, to be action-y and manly and exciting and violent and “LOOK, THAT GUY’S RIDING A HORSE IN A NAVAL BATTLE THROUGH FIRE!!” that it never seems to just stop and think about what it’s actually doing.  It has noble Greeks facing off against eeeeevilll Persians… where the Greeks are all white or tanned and the Persians are of a foreign persuasion.  It has a badass female character who actually has the most developed backstory of anyone else in the film… and then makes her a villain with The Tragic Backstory (the one tragic backstory that all male writers, without fail, will saddle their Dark Action Women with to justify their behaviour) and a quirk that I can’t talk about because it constitues a spoiler but OH MY GOD.  It has a hero who fights for democracy and knows that Leonidas and the 300 Spartans are doomed for their hubris… except that he’s counting on it failing because it will unite everyone behind their senseless sacrifice and milks that for all its worth.

This is the issue.  On paper, divorced from further context, these sound fine.  Good vs Evil is the basis for most every story, well-developed and badass female characters need to be more of a frequent presence in action movies and having characters recognise that the Spartan march isn’t as romantic a notion as it sounds are all great ways to go.  There’s a lot you can do here.  But, for some utterly bewildering reason, the film keeps making the worst decisions with these ideas simply because it sounds cool.  And at no point did anybody stop anyone else involved and explain to them the wider implications of what their decisions entail.

Take, for example, Themistocles (Strike Back’s Sullivan Stapleton rarely showing the charm and charisma he showed in Strike Back) and his attitudes towards the Spartan march on Hot Gates.  He knows it’s doomed and he knows it’s foolish, as you can tell because every so often he voices his concerns that they’re going to get slaughtered, yet his entire plan revolves around lionising the 300 as martyrs to the cause of Greek democracy, thereby uniting Greece against the Persians.  I take issue with this because this, to me at least, gives off the impression that those involved are supportive of doomed offensives against enemies because of the propaganda material they provide.  Having the lead character very occasionally state his belief that the Spartans’ offensive will fail is not enough of an offset for the scene in which he gets said news and reacts with (thanks to the very limited range of emotions characters display in this film) what one can charitably describe as glee.  I’d like to see Themistocles’ take on The Battle Of The Somme, he’d likely grumble a bit about its doomed-to-failure-ness but then base his entire plan around claiming it to be the greatest piece of tactical mastery the British Forces ever came up with.  Because that’s how you unite the peoples.

Quite honestly, though, that’s nothing compared to the film’s two female characters.  Yes, two.  Admittedly, I’m pretty sure that’s one whole person of the female orientation more than the original 300 provided us with, but it’s still a man-run show, despite Eva Green as Artemesia trying her damndest otherwise.  Despite her ever omniscient narration, Queen Gorgo of Sparta (Lena Headey who I really wish would star in an action flick that knows how to use her for once) is otherwise in the film only three other times and two of those involve her sulking and refusing to help the Greeks.  I’m not saying that she needed to spend the majority of the film fighting alongside the Greeks and slaughtering people left and right; what I am saying is that she needs a character.  Because she doesn’t have one.  She has the Obstructive Bureaucrat archetype and that’s it.

As if to make up for this, Artemesia is easily the most developed character populating Rise of an Empire.  But, yes, said development involves a childhood where [x] happens and then she spends the next several years [y] before being left for dead, found by That One Persian Guy From The Last 300 Who Was Also In (The Much, Much, Much Better) Spartacus: Blood And Sand.  Assuming that those of you reading this are relatively seasoned movie watchers, you should already be able to figure out what x and y are.  But although it left a bad taste in my mouth (because I am so sick of lazy filmmakers always going for [y] when they want to justify their Dark Action Women), it wasn’t derailing the show and especially not Eva Green’s performance, which I can basically equate to a ham and cheese interpretation of Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Of everyone else in this film, she’s the only one who’s having any fun and not just relying on their physical presence to carry them through.

Except then the film frames her insane lust for violence down to not having a good strong man fighting alongside her.  It’s hinted at early on, when she notes that she’s “surrounded by thousands yet I feel so alone” (or words to that effect) about her underlings’ lack of success in bringing down the Greeks.  Then it becomes all but full-blown text when she invites Themistocles to neutral ground, turns into a temptress and…  No, I’m not going to spoil it.  Needless to say, it frames all of their actions afterward, including the final battle, in a much uglier light and culminates in an action that, the very second the inadvertent subtext that the film had amassed up to that point joined up with the action in question in my head, caused me to unintentionally shout out “JESUS H. CHRIST” in the crowded cinema.  I was that disgusted by what I saw.  And my leading to this realisation and outburst wasn’t on purpose, I wasn’t trying to see the action as something awful, my brain had simply applied what the film had inadvertently told me about Artemesia beforehand to that action and the reaction unfolded.  I felt dirty for having witnessed it and, if you too pay attention to the subtext, you will know it when you see it.

Quite honestly, on any other day, the fact that the Greeks black up for the finale would have been the headline, here.  OK, their faces are supposed to be painted like that of a white skeleton on a black back-nope that looks even worse written down.  Not to mention the fact that, again, we have a predominately white cast representing absolute good fighting a predominately non-white cast representing absolute evil.  That was a problem in the first 300, it was a problem in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender and time has not made it any better.  See, the problem with doing cool things without thought is that stuff like this happens.  You get across a tonne of unfortunate implications and enough of them can make the whole film a slowly more repulsive experience that gets harder to tolerate the longer it goes on.

Stepping away from the subtext, now, although, quite frankly, discussing the film removed from it feels pointless.  See, Rise of an Empire, which takes place before and during and after 300 and depicts Themistocles’ attempts to unite Greece against the invading Persian army and navy, is a competently made and forgettable action flick.  If its various bits of inadvertently horrendous subtext weren’t there, this review would not currently be halfway through its third page.  That’s how dispensable this film is.  Excepting Eva Green, nobody turns in a particularly noteworthy performance.  After the first particularly exciting and interesting naval battle, the rest blend into one anonymous amorphous blob.  The hand-to-hand fight scenes are “meeeeh” and the copious CG is clearly going for stylish but too often seems to use that as an excuse for just plain sloppy switches between live-action actors and CG models handling the more exciting moments (pretty much the entire opening battle is done in CG, to an extent that makes me wonder why the actors even bothered coming in that week).  And the signature Zack Snyder “slo-mo-speed-up-super-slo-mo-speed-up-slo-mo-again” visual style that’s perfectly aped by director Noam Murro is still really stupid and nowhere near as cool as it thinks it is.

In other words, it’s an inoffensive product.  A bland, average and dull movie that doesn’t have anything bad happening on the surface or within its individual components.  All of the film’s big, giant, offensive, enjoyment-killing problems come from the inadvertent subtext that it presents with that big, dumb, loud, violent and inoffensive surface.  More forgiving critics or fans of the film will insist you need to “turn off your brain to appreciate it”.  I’m sorry but fuck that.  Firstly because it presents the incorrect notion that fun movies don’t need to be smart (and I wouldn’t even call this one fun, in all honesty, unless “mind-crushing dullness” sounds like your idea of a party) but also because it gives off the idea that it doesn’t matter what kind of horrible ideology and iconography a film can slip by as long as the surface is cool enough, and that is a concept I refuse to abide by.

Words and actions carry unintended meanings and consequences and for every 10 people (most likely men, in all honesty; this is a film made for straight, hormonal and possibly teenaged men) who watch the war room sequence that I started describing earlier with glee, there will be at least 1 other person horrified by what they are seeing because they aren’t distracted by the pretty lights.  They paid attention to the undertones of the film’s cool sequences and they started getting uneasy.  The film shouts “Look at these beefy white men slaughtering all of these evil baddies!  Isn’t this fun?  Pay no attention to their skin colour, if you do you’re thinking way more than we did when we made it!”  “Isn’t this line we gave Eva Green badass?  She’s so strong and powerful and sexy!  Just divorce it from everything else that surrounds it as, in context with what surrounds it, it may be kinda disturbing but who cares BADASS FIGHT SEQUENCE!  COOL COOL COOL!”  but that person is having none of it.  They’re disturbed, offended, worried that the slightly sickening undertones are being played off for fun.  Just another gory, dumb action romp.  You can’t read too much into these things(!)

No.  Fuck that.  The idea that I should let 300: Rise of an Empire off for its accidental racism, misogyny (dear Maker, I will never get that action out of my head, and if you’re dying to know what it is tweet me and I’ll tell you) and whatever-the-word-is-for-attitudes-towards-senseless-sacrifice-that-I-don’t-agree-with because it’s supposed to be a big dumb action film and I shouldn’t read so much into these things is deplorable and I refuse to accept it.  We shouldn’t let films off for being “good enough given the circumstances” or to state that “turning your brain off” will somehow increase your enjoyment for a film.  No, we should just demand better goddamn movies and take films with as disgusting an inadvertent subtext as 300: Rise of an Empire to the same task as we do genuinely racist films like Birth of a Nation.  Being a big, dumb action film should no longer be an acceptable pass-grade excuse for a problematic film such as this one.

When I left 300: Rise of an Empire, I felt like I had set cinema back several years.  Do not.  Spend money. On this.

Callum Petch is outta control but he’s playing a role and he thinks he can go to the eighteenth hole.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Best Films on TV: 24 – 30 June 2013

Site editor James Diamond presents his picks for the best films on terrestrial television this week in increasingly inaccurately titled blog.

300 This is SpartaMonday 24th June – 300 (ITV2, 9pm)

If, like me, you were disappointed by Man of Steel and Zack Snyder’s by-numbers impressions of Christopher Nolan and Terence Malick, then sit back and watch the film that really announced him as an exciting director to watch. Viscerally violent and almost comically homoerotic in equal measure, it’s also fun to spot the now-very-recognisable actors on display here including a young Magneto, a brunette Cersei Lannister, and a particularly shifty McNulty.

Tuesday 25th June – The Outlaw Josey Wales (5USA, 11pm)

Clint Eastwood’s second Western as a director (after 1973’s High Plains Drifter) and although he was clearly still learning the craft at the time, this film owes more than a passing resemblance to Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy. Set before and during the American Civil War, Eastwood also stars as the farmer who joins a Confederate guerrilla unit and pledges to take revenge on the Union soldiers who killed his family.

Wednesday 26th June – The Rock (BBC3, 10pm)

BBC3 continue their screenings of one of the most impressive purple patches in cinematic history, known by historians as the ‘Cage Action Era’. This week it’s The Rock, starring everyone’s favourite bonkers anti-hero, alongside a suitably grumpy and charismatic Sean Connery. For tenuous and barely explained reasons, Ed Harris is the army general who has gone rogue and is holed up in Alcatraz threatening to release chemical weapons across the western seaboard. A stark reminder that Michael Bay used to make quite fun films.

Thursday 27th June – The Blair Witch Project (Horror Channel, 9pm)

For all my usual aversion to the found footage genre, I actually really enjoyed this film on release, and it’s staggering to think of the hype surrounding a film made for less than $10k back at the end of the nineties. Obviously the success of the film lead to over a decade of mostly poor and badly made imitators, but for a few brief moments a horror film shocked the mainstream cinema-going public and moved the goalposts in favour of young film-makers with tiny budgets.

Friday 28th June – The Talented Mr Ripley (More4, 9pm)

I’m sure everyone will have already seen The Running Man (Film4, 11.20pm) and Starship Troopers (BBC1, 11.25pm) more times that I’ve said I don’t get ‘found footage’ films on the Failed Critics podcast. So I am going to recommend this thriller from the late Anthony Minghella, starring Jude Law and Matt Damon. Damon plays the titular Mr Ripley, an underachiever who blags a job to retrieve a millionaire’s son (Law) from his Italian sojourn in the 1950s. The fantastic central performances are matched only by the beauty of the Italian locations, and Minghella’s change in tone midway through the film just about holds together. An art-house ‘guilty pleasure’ in many respects.

Saturday 29th June – Stardust (Film4, 1pm)

This Matthew Vaughn adaptation of a Neil Gaiman book is about as close as this generation has got to its version The Princess Bride. A classic tale of a simple young man drawn into a fantasy world in the 1800s when he retrieves a fallen star, only to discover the star is a young woman (Claire Danes) being pursued by three witches (led by Michelle Pfieffer). Rober DeNiro steals the show as a crossing-dressing pirate, while even Ricky Gervais manages not to grate too much during his cameo.

Sunday 30th June – Dr Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Film4, 11am)

I recently lauded this as my one of my two favourite Stanley Kubrick films on Failed Critics Podcast (along with A Clockwork Orange) and every viewing always seems to make me love it more. Despite Kubrick’s reputation for cold and harsh direction of his actors, he famously said that directing Peter Sellers in this was easy, as all he had to was make sure he always had at least three cameras pointed at him. A fine example of how satire and comedy can sometimes be the most frightening way to confront our worst fears.

Also on television on a brilliant day for film is Groundhog Day (5*, 2.15pm), Fantastic Mr Fox (Channel 4, 4.55pm), and Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (Sky One, 8pm).

A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1982

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1982.

5. Space Adventure Cobra

spaceactioncobra“So, are you taking any bets on how this is going to end?”

Space Adventure Cobra is perhaps the oldest in a line of 80’s/90’s Anime that adorned my Video shelf as a teenager. Being released only a few years after the original Star Wars, it steals from the source material incessantly even beginning with a large Starship flyover, however it is far from a film for all the family.

The story follows Cobra, the most wanted man in the galaxy who is on a voyage to protect a beautiful female bounty-hunter whom is being hunted by the evil ‘Space Mafia Guild’. Cobra himself is the happy go lucky, overly confident macho hero who is very much Han Solo crossed with Mega Man, due to the ability to morph his left arm into a powerful Psycho Cannon.

The aesthetics of the movie certainly complement the era it’s trying to imitate, with vivid colour and a Vengelis-esque soundtrack, it may lack the polished animation that later Manga will trademark yet is still so easy on the eye.

Every Star Wars wannabe needs a bad guy and that comes in the form of the seemingly indestructible ‘Lord Necron’, who resembles more Dr. Doom (of the Marvel Universe) or perhaps even the camped up bling-bling diva that is Emperor Xerxes from ‘300’ more than the Sci-Fi baddie archetype Darth Vader.

The film is a charming love-story, brilliant sci-fi and hypnotic psychedelica all crammed into the right running time for easy viewing. The saga continued in a popular anime comic and has spawned a cult following. If a movie has ever paid a better tongue-in-cheek homage to classic sci-fi then I’d very much like to see it! Cobra provides a bite-sized action adventure that defies its age and leaves a lasting legacy that it is ‘Love’ not good, that will conquer all.

4. Tootsie

TootsieI was a better man with you, as a woman… than I ever was with a woman, as a man. You know what I mean?

The 80’s did two types of movies better than any other decade, action movies and great comedies. Tootsie is a delightful example of taking a ridiculous concept, adding a great ensamble cast and making on screen hilarity ensue. The focus of the film is on Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) an actor who is a notoriously difficult to work with, as he struggles to line up his next big role. He takes matters into the extreme by creating a female counter-part, Dorothy Michaels to enable to find work. However he never banked upon falling in love with the lovely fresh faced Jessica Lange or the number of men who’d fall for his less than classical feminine character!

The cast really makes this movie so watchable. Aside from Lange and Hoffman, you have a typically funny supporting role from the legendary Bill Murray, a creepy TV actor has-been in George Gaynes (better known as Commandant Lassard in Police Academy) and a very early mini role for Geena Davis. Hoffman is quite brilliant as Dorothy, much more so than he is as Michael. His no nonsense approach to his professional and personal life which rendered him so unemployable as a male makes him a prime candidate for a full time soap opera role as powerful leading lady.

This allows him much closer access to Lange’s character who is a single mother being taken advantage of by the show’s creepy producer, she slowly gains a remarkable liking for the mysterious and refreshing hard-nosed approach of Dorothy, wishing she could emulate her. Dorothy begins to spend more time with Lange outside of work and there is a particularly disturbing heart to heart part way through the movie whereby you actually wonder if Lange’s character is falling in love with a transvestite, unbeknownst to her! It’s an awkwardness so convincing that it landed her the Oscar for Best Supporting actress!

It goes without saying that Hoffman really delivers when thrust into extreme roles, such as that he will later take up in Rain Man. This movie really sets a blue print for those that follow in the 90’s such as Mrs. Doubtfire, but even that does not match the innocence and delight of Tootsie, which was 1982’s 2nd highest grossing film behind E.T!

3. First Blood

first-blood-knife-rambo“I could have killed ’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!”

It’s the movie that defined the action hero archetype. Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo, vagrant Vietnam veteran, passing through a sleepy mountain town that simply does not want him spoiling their idyllic scenery. He crosses the path of Teasle (Brian Dennehy), Sherriff of the town who makes it clear on no uncertain terms that he should leave town immediate and escorts him to the town borders. However when Rambo marches back the wrong way, he is taken into custody having committed no crime.

He eventually escapes into the wilderness and begins a one man guerrilla war against the inept local law enforcement. It likely encouraged a generation of youngsters to enter into their local woods planting booby-traps and getting gimped up in camouflage face-paint, or was that just me and my friends?

Unlike later Stallone action romps, the action here is subtle and realistic; it’s a stealth war against meandering nincompoops. It’s also one of the few movies where Stallone talks fairly eloquently, it would seem he perhaps dumbed himself down for many roles he played later.

Whilst the action is clever and satisfying, it poses a greater moral concern to the American viewing public as to how veterans are perceived upon leaving service, particularly those deployed to Vietnam. It demonstrates a common disregard for soldiers who served in a messy war, something that Hollywood was slow to highlight. Later efforts such as Born on The Forth of July picked up the mantle, though it is arguable that that ‘First Blood’ is more mainstream friendly, thus ramming home the undeniable truth to a wider audience.

The Rambo character does for the action-movie genre what Hoover did for Vacuum cleaners. It became the synonymous figure for the unstoppable one-man army genre that dominated the 80’s. It spawned 3 sequels, non of which live up to the original in my opinion, but First Blood was the movie that established Stallone beyond Rocky and saw his career go supernova!

2. Blade Runner

Blade Runner“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

It was a difficult decision in regards to the positioning of my favourite two movies of 1982, both are worthy of the grandest title of them all. I think you’ll approve of my final choice, however there is much time to discuss the grandeur of my number two choice.

I was fortunate to only see Blade Runner for the first time in my twenties, a good 25 years after its release. I feel much of its subtle appeal and nuances would have passed me by at a younger age. Co-produced by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is sci-fi indulged on the most epic of scales. From the monumental soundtrack by Vengelis, to its dark and wet Urban backdrops dashed in Neon lighting creating a Future Noir masterpiece. Blade Runner is easily one of the most visually impressive movies ever created.

The film follows Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is a Blade Runner, a group of specialist police assembled to hunt Replicants, which are near perfect human duplications with enhanced strength and tolerance to pain. He is assigned one last case to hunt down 4 recently escaped Replicants and ‘retire them’ before they cause havoc on the LA populous and ultimately meet their maker.

Ford puts in a great performance as the care-free and seemingly nonchalant Deckard, who shows no sympathy for those he is trying to hunt, or those whom his spiteful tongue might disturb, namely that of the seemingly emotionless Rachel (Sean Young) who is introduced to Deckard as test subject for Replicant interrogation, yet she is unaware that she is even a Replicant.

Lining up for the Replicants is Darryl Hannah and a career defining performance from Rutger Hauer, whose soliloquy as quoted at the beginning of this piece brings together a fitting finale that ties up many of the movies deeper residing themes,  which can be easily lost when distracted purely by the visual brilliance of the film.

A particularly favourite piece of eye-candy during this film is the scene where Deckard shoots one of the escaped Replicants following a chase from a strip club, A a rather stunning young lady is fleeing her would-be assassin wearing nothing but spiked boots and a see-through PVC rainmack.  The moment that she is shot in the back by Deckard as she crashes through several panes of glasses, all of which are illuminated by an abundance of neon is one of my all time favourite scenes for sheer visual impact.

The greatest gift the movie leaves for the viewer is that of an ending open to interpretation, is Deckard a Replicant or a human is ambiguous at best with strong cases for either. Fortunately this is one classic movie whose legacy has not been destroyed with a meaningless sequel meaning you can decipher the evidence and make your own conclusions.

It’s yet another IMDB Top 250 for Harrison Ford who was really at the top of his game during the few years either side of this movie, Blade Runner resides as a Science Fiction hall of famer and one of the best films ever made.

1. Gandhi

Ghandi Ben Kingsley“The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response and we will continue to provoke until they respond or change the law. They are not in control; we are.”

There are few movies that have stirred me as much as watching this movie for the first time. Directed by the mighty Richard Attenborough, the film follows the tribulations of Mohandas Gandhi, an English educated lawyer and Indian immigrate who is assigned to a practice in South Africa and is immediately subjugated to horrendous treatment due to his ethnicity. He leads a minor rebellion against the white British establishment, seeking equal rights for all races in South Africa and becomes a national hero back in India.

Upon returning to his home nation seeking peace and tranquillity he finds the problems of subjugation have not eluded him and the rape of his country’s resources prompt him to become the spearhead for India’s claim for independence from the British empire. This is accomplished using a innovative tactic of ‘peaceful rebellion’ or more accurately referred to as ‘non-cooperation.

Ben Kingsley is brilliantly cast as Gandhi and is entirely convincing in playing the hero of the movie, both in terms of aesthetic suitability and the humility he brings to the screen. It’s very difficult to take your eye off Kingsley during the whole film, it’s almost as if you’re watching the real Gandhi and it is truly a remarkable performance considering he’d done very little outside of TV roles at this point in his career.

It leaves a somewhat nasty taste in the mouth to see Kingsley selling himself short in movies such as 2012’s ‘The Dictator’ playing a somewhat stereotyped and foolish middle-eastern politician, it removes some shine from the legacy he build for himself in the Gandhi role and directly insults the magnitude of his performance. That said he deservedly bagged himself the 1983 Best Actor gong at the Oscars and the movie itself taking a tremendous haul of 7 further Oscars. It really is a heavyweight of a movie and is a must see for fan of history, particularly that of the civil-rights movement or the British Empire

In regards to the latter, it opens up some scar tissue and painful memories of how the British treated their colonial Empire. This is particularly emphasised in the excruciatingly merciless killing at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre where up to a 1000 men, women and children were trapped and shot by the British army during a peaceful protest. The movie closes out with the crushing division of Indian Territory following independence prompting the founding of Pakistan and the eventual assassination of Gandhi himself.

A lifetime of defiance in the name of justice, Gandhi established himself as one of the most important persons of the 20th Century and this movie more than does him worthy and is an incredible addition to the IMDB Top 250 and my best movie of 1982.

Best Films on TV. Week commencing 11th February 2013.

Our #bestfilmsontv list for this week is chosen by our esteemed leader James Diamond. Again. He’s a bit of a control freak. Follow @failedcritics for daily reminders. 

300 This is SpartaMonday 10th February – Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Film 4 at 11.10pm)

I know it’s a little risky (slash unprofessional) picking a film that I haven’t seen, but this methodical Turkish crime thriller comes very highly recommended, and was included in the Sight & Sound Top Ten of 2012. So it must be pretty decent.

Tuesday 11th February – Die Hard (Film 4 at 9pm)

Luckily I’ve no such problems of reaching around in the dark for today’s choice. I’m currently writing this blog while stewing over the news that Die Hard 5 (can we all stop with the ridiculous A Good Day to Die Hard nonsense please?) has been cut by the studio to get a 12a certificate in the UK; despite the fact that our American cousins get the full R-rated shebang. They also get Obama as their president, and breakfast buffet bars in strip-clubs. It’s so unfair! Anyway, watch this and remember when people used to make adult films and didn’t try to market them to 12-year-olds

Wednesday 13th February – The Book of Eli (5* at 9pm)

I have trawled every free-to-air channel for a film to recommend on Wednesday, and for the second time this week I’ve had to resort to a film I’ve still not seen (it’s in a pile of blu-rays I heartlessly snatched for a pittance in a closing down Blockbusters). In a post-apocalyptic future, Denzel Washington travels across a scorched earth protecting a book from falling into the hands of a psychotic Gary Oldman (presumably in Leon-esque overdrive).

Thursday 14th February – Brief Encounter (Film 4 at 3.25pm)

There’s no other choice for Valentine’s Day than David Lean’s wonderful film (from a Noel Coward screenplay) about love, duty, and old-fashioned values. In the same way that It’s a Wonderful Life is the definitive Christmas film despite it’s very dark moments; Brief Encounter is a classic romantic story, without much in the way of sex, kissing, or even holding hands. It’s the story of a doomed and rather mundane not-quite-affair, and it’s really rather heart-breaking.

Friday 15th February – The Last Boy Scout (ITV1 at 10.35pm)

Speaking of It’s a Wonderful Life, you can catch it today at 2.50pm on Film 4 if you’re the type of weirdo who watches Christmas films in February. Otherwise, why not save your pocket money this week and forego the latest sham of a Die Hard film, and watch Bruce Willis as God truly intended. The Last Boy Scout is Tony Scott at his best, and features possibly the only Willis movie cop better than John McClane. Add a script penned by Shane Black and you have genuine (say it like an American, GEN-YOU-WINE) popcorn-eating, eyes-glued-to-the-screen classic.

Saturday 16th February – 300 (TCM at 9pm)

As long as Zak Snyder lives, he will never make a film as unashamedly spectacular, homoerotic, and brilliant as 300. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the Spartans’ heroic stand against Xerxes fortress, it is the film that launched countless memes and resulted in me shouting “Tonight we dine in hell!” at my daughter on more than one occasion. Gerard Butler should just play King Leonidis in every paint-by-numbers rom-com he does in future.

Sunday 17th February – True Lies (Channel 4 at 10.55pm)

The last decent film that James Cameron made was nearly 20 years ago, but what a film. Arnie plays the mild-mannered computer salesman (in as close a performance as Arnold gets to acting), who has to juggle tracking down terrorists who’ve stolen nuclear weapons, while trying to frighten his wife into not having an affair. Explosions and hilarity ensue. True Lies is, and I say this without a hint of sarcasm, as close as James Cameron gets to Alfred Hitchcock.

Judgement time. Sentence: my favourite movie of 2012

Dredd Karl UrbanYes, yes… before I get into the nitty-gritty, it’s not ‘The Best Film of 2012’, certainly at least from a technical standpoint, and it won’t even make a blip on the radar of the Academy. That said, it fared very well in the Failed Critics end of year reviews for 2012, but I felt it was under-represented. As the movie has just had it’s home-release I decided to give it a 2nd time viewing and provide my thoughts to the masses. I am of course talking about Dredd 3D.

Let’s ditch the 3D moniker right away, it’s both pointless and adds little to the splendour of this film. The film is the fan’s realisation of a dream almost condemned to eternal humiliation thanks to the 1995 Stallone dirge. That said, I’m not a comic book fan, I never read the Dredd comics so I owe no loyalty to the franchise so I feel I’m in a position to give this movie a glowing review without being seen to be unfairly pay homage to the legacy of the ink-work.

The movie is based in a non too distant future whereby most of the United States are barron and large Cities are joined together to form Mega Cities. There is little respect for the stature of law or morality in this image of the future and justice in the form of ‘Judges’ is dished out in an equally nonchalant manner. The movie follows a day in the working life of Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) as he takes rookie psychic Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) on a live-assessment of her capabilities as a Judge. The assessment leads them to investigate a triple homicide at a run-down Apartment Tower occupied by the city’s leading drug cartel, lead by the cruel and violent Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).

As you’d expect, either as a comic fan or a casual viewer, the violence is dished out willingly and readily during the movie. That said it somehow manages to do an excellent job of not making it over-kill. The deaths come with somewhat purpose and they have impact, either in the visceral sense or in the development of the story. Karl Urban does an incredible job with such little real-estate in an acting performance to convey emotion and even intimidate with only his chin on show at all times. Yes, fans…. he never removes the helmet!

Thirlby plays an excellent green and naive heroin but develops nicely into a more confident and even sexy character as she is exposed to the real harshness that she has likely been shielded from before joining the Department of Justice. The show stealer goes to Lena Headey as the psychotic Ma-Ma, who is really building a reputation for herself as a powerhouse female lead on the back of her performances in 300 and more recently as the self-serving Queen Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. She takes that quality to an all new form of dementia in Dredd and provides a terrifying crime-boss with zero empathy or consideration for human-life which see expends rather casually and somewhat joyfully.

The action never runs dry in Dredd, the dialogue is economical (as it should be) and delivered with tremendous authority, particularly by Urban. A particular highlight comes during the set-piece where by Dredd & Anderson avoid total annihilation when their floor of the building is subject to heavy Mini-Gun fire, the bad-guys expect zero survivors  including the inhabitants of the apartment block. Ma-Ma waits anxiously as he troops plough through the carnage to find the bodies,   yet we only here 3 short single gun-shots and the silhouette of Dredd emerging to toss a bad-guy from the balcony.

Dredd is pure entertainment. It doesn’t have the greatest depth of story or character development, it doesn’t have the very best acting and it doesn’t even had the best effects (although the Slow-Mo drug scenes are quite pretty). But what it is, is a triumph for adult film making. It’s a care-free 18, it’s a barely financially viable proposition these days. I compare it much to the original Robocop, whereby it features nothing of interest to anyone who does not have an interest in on-screen violence. Perhaps this is also a weakness as it maybe threatens the possibility of a sequel.

However, Dredd for me was the film that I most wanted to discuss immediately after leaving the cinema, more than any other film in 2012. It’s entertainment at the detriment of its commercial potential, sacrificed to deliver a fully adult cinema experience. I think the tide of mass-entertainment is creating a niche for this kind of product. The recent success of highly graphic television such as Game of Thrones suggest that the masses do not only want their episodes of Friends rinsed and repeated several times daily and maybe a little Breaking Bad to satisfy their subliminal criminal urges; they actually want violence, bad taste, cruelty and a fucking good anti-hero.

I hope more studios are brave enough to create more films of this ilk, and that we get the Dredd sequels that this movie and its thoroughly adult audience deserves.