300: Rise Of An Empire
Warner Brothers Pictures
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and pervasive violence
Higher Body-Count Sequel Trumps The Original
The bloody epic 300 (2007) chronicled the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. when a badly outnumbered band of 300 soldiers were sent on a suicide mission to defend Sparta against a horde of over 100,000 Persian invaders. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, that minimalist, monochromatic adventure was shot almost entirely against blue screens on assorted soundstages.
300: Rise Of An Empire is one of those rare sequels which actually improves on an original’s formula. This relatively-expansive, higher body-count affair arrives replete with sweeping seascapes and panoramic mob scenes. It also ups the ante in terms of sensuality, especially by exploiting the visual appeal of Eva Green.
At the point of departure, we find the previous picture’s triumphant King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) plotting to lead the Persian army against forces led by Greek General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). The play-by-play is narrated bySparta’s Queen Gorgo (Headey) who devotes considerable time to a detailed lesson in ancient history to set the table for the wanton slaughter about to ensue.
Among other things, we learn that the commander of the Persian 1,000-ship armada is the warrior goddess Artemisia (Green), a Greek traitor who turned against her own people for good reason. In her youth, she’d been brutally raped and sold into slavery after being forced to witness the murder of her entire family.
The revenge-minded orphan was freed and raised as a warrior by Xerxes’ late father, Darius (Yigal Naor). Today, she has blossomed into a ravishing fighting machine as likely to subdue an adversary with her womanly wiles as with her sword. In perhaps the movie’s most memorable moment, she decapitates a foe before planting a kissing on his skull’s lips.
Such gruesome displays are par for the course, as scene after scene seizes on any excuse for sensuality or stomach-churning depictions of torture and gore. A revisionist tale of female empowerment suggesting the fairer sex was the equal of any man even when engaged in mortal hand-to-hand combat.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, profanity and drug use
Sleuth Franchise Revived Via Faithful Version Of Mystery TV Series
Veronica Mars was a critically-acclaimed TV series which enjoyed a three-year run from 2004 until 2007. Kristen Bell starred in the title role as a smart aleck teen detective who spent most of her free time solving crimes committed in her mythical hometown ofNeptune,California.
Fans of the franchise will be delighted to learn that Kristen and eight other principal cast members have returned for the big screen version of their much-beloved program. Written and directed by the show’s creator, Rob Thomas, this faithful reboot was substantially funded by a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
At the point of departure, we find Veronica happy to be living inNew York City, where she’s preparing for the bar exam, having recently graduated fromColumbiaLawSchool. She’s also now in a long-term relationship with Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell) and expects to be offered a job with a prestigious Manhattan firm.
But fate intervenes when pop singer Bonnie De Ville’s (Andrea Estrella) body is found lying in her bathtub and Veronica’s ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) is the prime suspect. So, she impulsively returns toNeptuneonly to help him find a good attorney, since she’s convinced he’s innocent.
However, her super sleuth instincts soon kick in and it’s not long before, just like old times, she’s uncovering clues with the help of her Private Investigator father (Enrico Colantoni). Her arrival back in town conveniently coincides with her 10th high school reunion where many of her classmates have congregated to catch up and reminisce.
The gathering also proves to be the best place to interrogate persons of interest in the unsolved murder. For, Bonnie had attended Neptune High, and several alums seem to have had a reason to want her silenced. That’s as far as it’s fair to spoil this nostalgic whodunit delicately laced with surprising twists each step of the way.
Though back by popular demand, consider this edition of Veronica Mars compelling enough even to hold the attention of folks unfamiliar with the original TV show.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 108 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening March 14, 2014
Need For Speed (PG-13 for nudity, crude humor, reckless driving and disturbing crashes) High-octane revenge thriller, inspired by the video game of the same name, revolving around a recently-paroled street racer’s (Aaron Paul) attempt to even the score with the wealthy business partner (Dominic Cooper) who’d framed him for manslaughter. With Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton and Scott Mescudi.
The Single Moms Club (PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes) Tyler Perry wrote, directed and co-stars in this tale of female empowerment about a support group created by five, frazzled single moms (Nia Long, Zulay Henao, Amy Smart, Cocoa Brown and Wendi McLendon-Covey) whose kids attend the same private school. Supporting cast includes Terry Crews, Eddie Cibrian and William Levy.
The Anonymous People (Unrated) 12-Step documentary encouraging the 23 million substance abusers inAmerica to think of themselves as in recovery rather than as addicts. With commentary by Kristen Johnston, Laurie Dhue and Patrick Kennedy.
The Art Of The Steal (R for profanity and sexual references) Crime comedy about an art thief/motorcycle daredevil (Kurt Russell) who hatches a plan with the help of his brother (Matt Dillon) to purloin a priceless book. With Jay Baruchel, Katheryn Winnick and Terence Stamp.
Bad Words (R for profanity, crude humor, sexuality and brief nudity) Midlife crisis comedy about a 40-year-old high school dropout (Jason Bateman) who exploits a loophole in the rules to compete in a national spelling bee. With Allison Janney, Kathryn Hahn and Rohan Chand.
Better Living Through Chemistry (Unrated) Crime comedy about a straight-laced pharmacist (Sam Rockwell) whose life unravels when he has an adulterous affair with a seductive customer (Olivia Wilde). Ensemble includes Jane Fonda, Ray Liotta, Ken Howard and Michelle Monaghan.
Dark House (R for violence and profanity) Haunted house horror flick about a young man’s (Luke Kleintank) search for an abandoned mansion that he thought only existed in his imagination after learning his long-lost father’s whereabouts from his institutionalized mother (Lesley-Anne Down). Featuring Tobin Bell, Zack Ward, Anthony Rey Perez and Alex McKenna.
The Den (R for profanity, sexuality, terror, gory violence and graphic nudity) Home alone thriller about a woman (Melanie Papalia) who becomes a masked murderer’s (Brian Bell) next target after witnessing a killing while monitoring a webchat website in her apartment. With Matt Riedy, Adam Shapiro and David Schlachtenhaufen.
Enemy (R for profanity, graphic sexuality and frontal nudity) Stalker thriller about a jaded college professor’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) obsession with a minor movie actor who looks just like him. Co-starring Melanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini and Sarah Gadon.
Ernest & Celestine (PG for scary moments) Oscar-nominated adventure (for Best Animated Feature) about the friendship unexpectedly forged between an orphaned mouse (Mackenzie Foy) and a shy and retiring bear (Forest Whitaker). Voice cast includes Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Nick Offerman and Jeffrey Wright.
Patrick: Evil Awakens (Unrated) Sci-fi thriller about a young nurse (Sharni Vinson) in a psychiatric ward who suddenly finds her every move controlled by a brain dead patient (Jackson Gallagher) after he’s experimented on by a mad scientist (Charles Dance). With Rachel Griffiths, Peta Sergeant and Damon Gameau.
The Right Kind Of Wrong (PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and profanity) Romantic comedy about a hopeless dreamer (Ryan Kwanten) who finally spots his soul mate (Sara Canning) on her wedding day to someone else. Featuring Ryan McPartlin, Will Sasso, Catherine O’Hara, Kristen Hager and Jennifer Baxter.