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288 reviews in total 
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443 out of 806 people found the following review useful:
A sad casualty of what's mistakenly deemed bankable today., 12 June 2009

Yikes. This is definitely not the future my mother warned me about. This future is populated by cute kids, blood-free deaths, supermodels with perfect teeth and goofball terminators that shoot themselves in the foot. It is set in a sun-kissed Michael Bay desert landscape with high-tech military equipment and not the dirty sewers we saw in T1. Either Kyle Reese was laying it on real thick to get in Sarah Connor's pants, or McG et al were simply incapable of delivering the dark, post-apocalyptic future setting that they kept harping on about honoring before release.

This is no doubt a casualty of the scarlet letter that is the PG-13 rating, oft denied by the production while they dropped subtle hints along the way such as toy deals, Pizza Hut endorsements and McG noting how the PG-13 The Dark Knight was "made without compromise". In reality the rating was a fait accompli the moment they green-lit a $200M production. The implications of the rating are not just sacrifices to language, blood & gore or in the inclusion of a sidekick kid to instill the family friend image. It's worse. Now the Transformers audience is a major demographic for TS, and it translates in the light-hearted, gadgety nature of the movie, and obviously in its Harvester design (who deploys mototerminators from its kneecaps).

But quite honestly, massive mythology discrepancies aside, there is simply far too many wrist-slashingly bad/expository lines and heavy-handed metaphors in the script for this to even work as a standalone movie (thanks, Haggis). To its credit, much of the action is kinetically captured in a timely shaky-cam fashion. Lord knows I'm no McG fan (he's a snake-oil salesman) but I feel the major culprit truly is the script which spells everything out for the viewer with voiceovers and facepalm exposition. I'm sorry the writers were not able to give McG, at the very least, the kind of mindless action flick he was surely able to direct in a competent if forgettable manner.

Whereas acting is concerned Christian Bale shows up for 35-40 minutes looking real angry at the world and at being involved in this project, it is in fact Sam Worthington who is a breakout star, and such an effortless tough guy that you can feel the bass reverberate in your body when he throws a punch. Think of how hardass he could be in the right R-rated setting. I'm getting chills just thinking about it. Everything else reeks of an empty cash-in sequel with neither knowledge nor respect for the source material, vaguely "justified" by tagging on "this isn't the future my mother warned me about". No, McG, it most certainly is not.

Whatever. Pages could be spent arriving at the conclusion that this movie is, quite simply, abysmal. I'm giving it a 3 out of 10 based on Yelchin, Worthington and effort on the action side of things.

10 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
The aborted fetus of fantasy adaptations, 29 January 2008

The epic 'Dragonlance' quadrilogy along with its many future derivatives was Tolkien made hip for the teen generation. There was a more liberal leakage into RPG territory and as such was made easier to follow, more fantastical to imagine and let's be honest - far, far funnier than it had any right to be. Unlike Eragon/Stardust/whatever, it wasn't penned by some overenthused 15-year-old Star Wars fanboy, but jointly by two professional authors, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. With hindsight, it may have been a bit of a model kit assembled from greater works of fantasy, but it proceeded so briskly along a great story and without any delusions of grandeur that it was pretty hard not to get locked into the world of Krynn as a teen.

Having said that, the George Strayton (of Xena, *cringe*) penned and Will Meugniot (of... let's not go there) directed adaptation is the most mercilessly underwritten, underbudgeted and blemished film you will see this year. It was largely abandoned by studios to a most deserving fate of no marketing and with a youtube trailer that looked like my early aborted Windows Movie Maker projects. In the same visual vein, I have seen crisper animation in a 1990's Saturday morning cartoon. Toonz Animation India's very nature here of blending principal characters and backgrounds of 2D animation (does this even qualify as animation? Isn't it just... drawing?) with the bad guys -- dragons, draconians, etc -- of clunky 3D proportions meshes horribly where the resultant contrast in technique creates anachronistic and incongruous elements that move at different speeds, and it is just so ugly and flat you wish someone had drowned the poor thing at birth.

Storywise, a barbarian woman named Goldmoon (Lucy Lawless) seeks the help of a fellowship in protecting/escorting her as she carries a blue crystal healing staff awarded by the gods, as their very presence is hedged around by a war that is getting increasingly close to home. There is a marginal, half-hearted faith vs. secularism ploy operating recurringly in a few scenes, but to no discernible end. This is a far less recognisable element in the novel, and here Goldmoon the cleric clumsily comes across more as a bit of a crazed redneck with her "Faith is the answer" pearls of wisdom than the strong, proactive woman she is in the actual story on page. There are dozens more characters that – in a misguided attempt to kick-start the story – are introduced far too early and far too quickly. These are your dutiful fantasy heroes with their assigned quirks: a grumpy dwarf, a self-doubting hero, a beautiful bar-maiden and a mysterious wizard to name a few. The voice-over behind these characters are marred by contemporary American accents that invariably choke on silly exposition or sound downright uninspired as they plod along in the loose collection of sped-up scenes that comprise Strayton's puzzling screenplay.

The latter, I realise, I could spend all day picking apart and singling out elements and characters that did not correspond to my fangirl images of them from the books, but indeed this would be tiresome and I'm sure fans will all have their unique visions of characters that are now completely ridiculous. As an example, 'Tas', the sidekick kender, is in the book a creature more akin to someone like Gollum but here he looks completely human and purposely 'boyish'. So now hilarity stems from his appearance as an effeminate anime amalgamation. To their credit, I suppose, the rest of the characters don't look as 1980's high-haired and glossy as they did on the cover of my trilogy version, and generally the landscape is not too divorced from Weis' and Hickman's evocative descriptions. Although it is far too easy to criticize the outcome of personal preconceived notions like this, even new elements that I did not recognise or recall from the novel were pretty awful.

Lastly, I cannot help but wonder who the audience is here. Fans of the book might give it a watch when recovering from the shock that it is animated (or, "drawn"), but they are invariably going to hate it. Kids are clearly not the target here – ultimately it is a little bit too dark and surprisingly rated the same as LOTR (Ha!). I don't know how exactly the film could have been improved, except in every way, but locking up Weta Digital's Randy Cook, Jim Rygiel, Brian Van't Hul and Christian Rivers in a room for a few months and not letting them out until they have created acceptable draconians could be an idea. Hopefully this film will do to Dragonlance what Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings (1978) did to Tolkien - giving it a Peter Jackson type treatment twenty years later, because this is simply unacceptable. What a fate to befall Dragonlance.

2 out of 10

4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
One of the most malignant cases of blockbuster sequilitis I've come across, 31 May 2007

I suppose this is where I insert a few lines of witty pirate jargon and then proclaim this film the fast-paced, explosive, commercial masterpiece of Disney that we had all hoped for as an end to the Caribbean trilogy! I should also be pooping my pants over Johnny Depp's performance. For certain this is prime fodder–a fangasm–for Deppoholics all over the world and I'm happy the films have found their audience, but for the rest of us – how fun can this type of hubris-infested, over-the-top mess be?

The answer is – well, sporadically fun. As a strong suit the aesthetics are something else: a regal buffet of ships against dramatic landscapes, drenched in absolutely top CGI. There are some vaguely cool lines, and the opening to the film is actually pretty classy. Regrettably, the can of story lines-worms clumsily opened by Dead Man's Chest presents At World's End with a troublesome, chock-full legacy that is bursting at the seems with characters and ideas, all of which Gore Verbinski shuffles into story lines like a Las Vegas croupier. He is not always apt however, and often (read: all the time) five or more different story lines are operating in the same scene, which is simply disorienting.

The cumulative effect is that when four ships align to fight (The Pearl, the Flying Dutchman, The Armada, and Chow Yun Fat's vessel), you have no idea who is on them, why, where they are going, where their allegiances lay or what will happen. The latter is the only good unknown in this case. The bottom line is that the writers (and I use "writers" in the loosest sense possible, more like 4th grade sketchbook dribblers) are so overzealous with At World's End that in the end you are so desensitized to action- and story elements that nothing keeps your attention. So basically it's a lot like Dead Man's Chest except longer, bigger, and more chaotically organized – for 3 butt-numbing hours!

It saddens me, lastly, what a commercial cash cow Johnny Depp has become in POTC. Every frame is milked its worth of Sparrow "goodies" (I've never found him funny, but I understand most viewers do). Not only does he occupy an unrealistically hefty slot of screen time, but his hallucinations following banishment has spawned mini-Jacks running around, often 10-15 at a time, all cracking one-liners and chewing scenery. Part of Sparrow's charm was his unique persona and consequently ability to stand out in a crowd, and with a screen that is awash with his clones, this feature severely wanes.

4 / 10

28 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
The more we know about the monster, the less scary he becomes, 27 April 2007

In the sole Oscar-grabbing horror epic "The Silence of the Lambs" Hannibal Lector was presented to us intelligently and sparsely in fleeting glimpses – covered in masks, behind bars and in the shadow. In "Hannibal Rising", he inhabits every single scene. This is his warped, twisted bildungsroman, his revenge story, and his background history. In short, the only things "Hannibal" shares with "Lambs" is its name.

It is one cash-cow of a name, too. Every frame in the film is milked its worth of Hannibal's evil nature, without much subtlety. Sure, there have clearly been half-hearted attempts to establish the kind of high-brow horror that Lambs achieved, but the film reeks of b-quality and unimaginative grotesqueness. There are only faint, dimmed traces of horror or genuine suspense, often washed away by pedestrian set-ups that make fans of the genre nod with tired recognition. For example, the dialogue feels unforgivably staged. In fact, there is no real exchange between the characters, only plot-propelling lines or rehearsed wisdom that slip through in between the torture games. But what is probably worse is that "Hannibal" never tips over nearly far enough or often enough into enjoyably hammy territory. It has absolutely no self-distance, the kind of spark in the eye of Anthony Hopkins, or any form of a sense of humour.

Onto casting, Gaspard Ulliel is clearly not a bad performer, nor is anyone's acting truly the root of the film's problems. However, Ulliel's gaze isn't the piercing, wise, twisted trademark look of Hopkins as Lector, but rather the sleazy eye of a teenage boy ogling a girl on the street. To add insult to injury, he is confident in a way that is much too cocky for Lector, who should rely on a sort of inherent calm and confidence that is only displayed subtly through his eyes. I will concede that a couple of scenes aptly showcases his acting skills though, such as the mental breakdown scene toward the end of the film. Rhys Ifans, a charming Welshman usually relegated to good-guy characters, gets his freak on in unnecessarily sinister ways. He has "the eyes of an arctic wolf" and throughout the film he shouts, murders, loots, rapes and generally acts badass to instill the 'baddie' image in his character. Which is clearly preaching to the choir given his opening crime – what prompts Lector's revenge. Nevertheless, nothing Ifans does is all bad, and again, acting is never the problem.

The fundamental problem is my titular assessment. It can stand repeating: the more we know about the monster, the less scary he becomes. I would not go as far as to say the story victimizes Hannibal, but here he inhabits the protagonist slot and elicits sympathy of sorts accordingly. Do we root for him? Not exactly. Do we wish he'd get caught? Not really. There are plenty of gray zones in the film -- perhaps intentional, perhaps not -- that have the cumulative effect of not really achieving anything tangible. Toward the end you almost feel a bit 'meh' about the whole story, and the not-hero-but-not-villain slot inhabited by Hannibal causes a stance of indifference toward his action, however outlandish they are.

5.5 out of 10

Sunshine (2007)
362 out of 605 people found the following review useful:
To say there is nothing new under the sun is usually apt in sunny Hollywood, but not this time, 22 April 2007

With a suitably international and diverse cast to simulate the equivalent crew onboard the Icarus II ("Icarus I" didn't fare so well), director Danny Boyle fledges a science fiction that gains momentum at its very first image – and does not halt until the end credits roll. To be perfectly frank, this is one of the most unbearably exciting films for whose entire duration I have ever squirmed in my seat for at the theatre.

On a mission to re-ignite the sun by detonating a bomb ("the size of Manhattan island", Cillian Murphy's physicist nods to American audiences and cause me to suffer horrible flashbacks to Armaggeddon's "it's the size of Texas" assessment) human lives are expendable and rationalized by rank. There are scientists, astronauts and various specialists on Icarus II who are all poised on the brink of sacrificing themselves for the greater good of mankind. Diverse in the sense that there are both men and women, and few characters are 'black or white' (morally, and physically), it does puzzle me that New Zealanders, Aussies and Irishmen have been arbitrarily converted into Americans. The crew is nevertheless highly impressive and professional, with a few minor exceptions for plot-propelling purposes, like when someone does something very stupid.

There is noticeably a tremendous visual sense throughout "Sunshine" with a screen that is awash with sparkling explosions and each frame saturated with bright colours and dimmed contrasts. There is no genre-transcending perhaps, and most probably its visuals are under the mercy of dating effects, but for now this is truly the crème de la crème of science fiction, take my word for it. Even the cinematography within the spaceship alleys and chambers is compelling and sweeps through Icarus II with great tracking shots. Amongst other films, Danny Boyle was inspired by Das Boot and certainly there are traces of the same claustrophobia underpinning the setting, but ultimately he opted for a more habitable environment to make it believable (like humanity would ship off its only hope with a crummy, crowded old vessel).

To justify the occasional bouts of sci-fi clichés, I'd like to firstly point out that it's not like "Sunshine" traffics in stereotypes or resorts to formulaic elements, and secondly that I believe certain clichés have evolved for a reason – they quite clearly stand the test of time. There are within science fiction some staples that are simply necessary to define its genre, such as the dutiful human sacrifices to up the drama, the internal mutinies to instill the uncertainty in the operation, the nightmarish conditions onboard the ship to suck you in, the technical jargon of velocities and shield angles that spits like bullet-fire to give the film a firm scientific footing, and finally the epic music to elevate suspense. "Sunshine" incorporates and melts together all of the aforementioned, but in militantly non-formulaic ways that only add to the experience. As a potent example, there isn't just pedestrian classical tunes recycled from 2001 and filtered through {insert rote Hollywood composer here}'s score – it is puffed full of beautiful piano crescendos that are almost incongruous to the sci-fi vibe, and the cumulative effect is wonderful.

"Sunshine" is sporadically blemished by minor faults, such as when Murphy's Law is being followed a bit too rigorously to up the excitement. Luckily, all of this is washed away or camouflaged when Boyle serves up his next goosebumps-inducing, gasp-eliciting spectacle – be it a horror twist or an impossibly epic action stunt. On the topic of the former, and clearly the chiasma at which "Alien" comparisons have been drawn, there is a magnificently creepy horror/mystery vibe interlacing the story in space. On top of this, Danny Boyle also dabbles in existentialism (a little too much if you ask me), making this into one of the most ambitious sci-fi turns ever made. In this way, maybe "Sunshine" is not primed to collect awards or even serve as meat for mainstream Hollywood, but I think it's safe to crown it the "Alien" of the 21st century.

8 out of 10

7 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Er... well, at least the soundtrack was good, 19 April 2007

The Hitcher captures the unnecessarily sinister and sadistic nature of its titular character, a man on the ultimate quest of robbing someone of their innocence by getting them to experience the same high from killing as he does. There is this rather interesting storyline, and then a generic teen horror Spring Break storyline operating seamlessly throughout the film. Regrettably, the latter almost always takes the front seat in screen time as Sean Bean is presented to us rather sparsely while the dumb college couple inhabit nearly every scene with their fumbling presence.

Of course, as far as casting is concerned, bubbly Sophia Bush in all of her Abercrombie mini-skirt cuteness is prime meat for Hollywood. Sean Bean is something of a rentable bad guy in mainstream film but he typically plays calculating villains or traitors rather than full on psychos as opposed to Rutger Hauer from the original Hitcher who offered onslaughts of getting his freak on. For this reason, Bean is a bit of an unconventional choice for the role of John Ryder. Nevertheless, and in spite of struggling with an American accent, he mostly delivers.

The Hitcher (2007) is a film that greatly prefers climaxes to continuity, and repeatedly sets itself up in impossibly clichéd horror situations to milk every premise its worth of chills and thrills. In under barely 83 minutes, it is far too short to fully explore all that it attempts, be it foreshadowing, Ryder's psychotic torture or the college couple's fear. It feels very rushed as director Dave Meyers frantically seems to tick off each teen slasher cliché off the formula, and in the end we have a poor man's buffet of horror goodies, the kind you'd find in gas stations.

It gets flat-out ridiculous when John Ryder is trying to frame Grace and Jim for his killings and of course they do the wrongest of things to deal with it: start blaming each other, split up in dark alleys, steal guns and just about everything to prompt suspicion from the local police (who, too, do everything wrong to deal with Ryder). The Hitcher never gains momentum (probably because it's too short) and its flat, linear narrative and generic approach to every component of film-making ultimately pave the way for its downfall.

5 out of 10

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
An exhausting exercise in grasping at straws, 11 April 2007

Joel Schumacher is one of the singularly most inconsistent modern day directors, with strongly watchable films such as "A Time to Kill", "Falling Down" and indeed even "The Lost Boys", but with relentlessly poor films that dilute the quality of his resumé. As if putting nipples on the Batman suit wasn't a severe enough offense, this man is guilty of advertising his upcoming films so well that every time I'm there. The Number 23 is such a film -- suspenseful in trailers and content -- but so tremendously, fearsomely, unbearably so-so when it gets down to business and the theatre is dimmed.

What the film is, more than anything, is blatant conspiricists fodder, a masturbatory love letter to those who seek a correlation in everything, and thus find a correlation in everything. The numerology obsession that Jim Carrey's character develops does not actually serve a significant point in the film, and is undoubtedly only present to instill the 'chill-factor' in audiences. It is a crying shame then that this is one of the least impressive features of 'The Number 23', as it's basically 2 very long hours of grasping at straws: "23! That's 2 and 3, and if you divide 2 by 3 you get 0.666! OMG!" It gets old soon: "What?! 14 plus 9? That's 23!" followed by shocked, horrified faces. Everything from buses, dates and names seem to conveniently adhere to this number pattern (oh, and this is Schumacher's 23rd directorial effort, dum dum dum!).

There are two story lines operating seamlessly throughout the film -- there's normal family father Jim Carrey, and then there's the dark detective Jim Carrey as Fingerling in the book that he is reading, called "23". Jim Carrey aptly balances drama, thriller and comedy, weaving all dramatic components into a layered and believable performance, as he usually does. The real pleasant surprise in the film -- and indeed it's only accolade -- owes much to the bold neo-noir edge in the book "23". It's as stylized as Sin City in dark damp urban alleys, although not as compelling.

Apart from the noir storyline, "The Number 23" reeks of b-movie quality and set-ups, like a bad horror movie in which Virginia Madsen actually goes out in the middle of the night to visit an abandoned mental institution with barbed wire and no light, and proceeds to run around the dark corridors looking for clues. Wow, let me just tick off the cliché from the formula. It is unforgivably far-fetched, featuring silly canine symbols to top it all off. Most plottturns and twists are predictable, as should they be to ground the audience, but the final payoff is thankfully not easy to anticipate.


Alpha Dog (2006)
0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Sings notes we have heard before, and often out of tune at that, 7 April 2007

Idyllic family footage melts into a dog-eat-dog teenage criminal underworld in Hollywood, documenting an unfortunate turn of events in the life of Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsh), loosely based on Jesse James, the youngest man to ever grace the list of F.B.I's most wanted. Alpha Dog hedges its story around an unorthodox kidnapping, straying from its template, central characters and indeed point, until it has slotted itself in with the rest of forgettable crime teen romps.

Acting-wise, it is mainly obnoxious teens acting like adults acting like pimps and gangsters, recycling "fuck" in every sentence to instill the authenticity in the way in which things are run. A squeaky-voiced Justin Timberlake incongruously dons tattoos and wife-beaters by the bucketload, while Emile Hirsh gets his Mexican thug on, and Ben Foster shamelessly emulates Edward Norton's performance in American History X, often to surprisingly good ends. You'll know what I'm talking about. Bruce Willis makes an extended cameo, as does Sharon Stone, but blink in the midst of all the teenage party nostalgia (which is bound to happen) and you're likely to miss both appearances. In short, the acting side of the tapestry is nothing to write home about.

Nick Cassavetes makes no genuine attempt to communicate with the audience in Alpha Dog, unlike his earlier film "The Notebook" in which he milked every frame worth its emotional, aesthetic and dramatic appeal. There is plenty of the latter in this film as the testosterone-fuelled teenage gangsters plough through a checklist of almost clichéd scenarios (sex, drugs, drinking, fighting, kidnapping, swearing -- OK, you're criminal, we get it), but these events line up to the cumulative effect of having become routine in Alpha Dog. The script comprises of far too many uninspired, gratuitous "party shots" with no other purpose than to give the audience a feel for the protagonists' lifestyles. For that matter, we are presented with a very documentary-like presentation where Cassavetes just seems to station his camera and record the meanderings of juvenile delinquents.

Having said all of this, rabid fans of the crime genre might still be sporadically entertained, for Alpha Dog features Guy Ritchie undertones -- however pale and marginal -- and there are some quasi-ambitious attempts to insert a "cool MTV" style fit for the X and Y gen, mostly done by mixing and pasting several frames onto one. As another strong suit, its content matter is almost automatically engaging. We love teenagers in trouble -- and we love teenagers having sex, right?

5.5 out of 10

214 out of 243 people found the following review useful:
I'm coming to the conclusion that this is the best biopic I have ever seen, 28 March 2007

It is difficult to overstate the necessary calibre of a woman who was raised in a filthy whorehouse, sung and slept on the street, travelled with the circus, lost her child at 20, went blind for a time, was wrongly accused of murder, struggled with a drug addiction and lost other loved ones by the bucketload in her life, and still got up on stage at the end of her life to sing "Je ne regrette rien". La Môme documents each stage of Edith Piaf's life with creative direction and an intense performance by its lead actress, Martion Cotillard.

Ultimately it is a film that curiously enough does not come down to acting or story so much as it owes everything to its direction by Olivier Dahan. Audiences have been divided thus far on his efforts as they are somewhat unorthodox, but I believe he has truly done something magical with what could have fallen prey to a by-the-numbers biopic approach. In La Môme, the continuity is clipped and fragmentary at several points in the film, with scene 2 melting into scene 1 as opposed to vice versa. The story of Edith seems to fledge itself around two or three story lines simultaneously – her youth, her adulthood and her last days.

Marion Cotillard, a personal favourite of mine, is perfect at each of the aforementioned stages, having met the wonders of realistic make-up but also clearly having connected with the character of Edith Piaf. As a young singer she is fumbling and bird-like, but always with raw intensity behind her performance. As an old lady (although from what I understand she was never truly that old at the time of her death) she has transformed into something else – a kind of loud, hysterical diva who is alternatively self-depreciative and overbearing, her youthful humility having been quenched by years of alcohol abuse and her bird-like body and gait having been crippled by rheumatism. Only once does Cotillard vaguely emerge from her character, and it is toward the end when Edith is sitting on a beach in California giving an interview. The rest of the film she is wholly chameleon-like and indistinguishable from la môme.

Certainly this type of tragicomic drama with all of its poverty-stricken episodes and heart-rending tragedies is primed to elicit an emotional response, but Dahan goes the extra mile in polishing the story for audiences. It truly is a beautiful work of art, coated with sweeping tracking shots á la Paul Thomas Anderson or Martin Scorsese blended with shakycam to capture the fast, fickle pace of the business, endlessly creative intercutting of continuity and breathtaking scenes after another. When Piaf's beautiful hands have been noted, a muted performance is given in which the camera only focuses on her theatrics and hand gestures. Yet the best scene takes place in Piaf's apartment some 2/3s into the film in which she is waiting for her lover Marcel to fly in from Morocco. I shall give no spoilers. The film is momentarily gray and depressing, only to jerk the audience away from the misery and lose itself in a blossom-strewn pictorial style whenever Piaf goes on stage.

La Môme is a one-woman-show in all respects, with Cotillard shamelessly relegating every other cast member to the background with her emotional intensity. But in all fairness supporting characters are not given much screen time in the film, seemingly floating away from the central story eventually, or dying in some tragedy, illustrating the lonely life of its titular singer. La Môme needs to be seen to be believed, for it unexpectedly floors all other musical biopics of recent years – or indeed ever.

9 out of 10

300 (2006)
55 out of 111 people found the following review useful:
The ultimate, raw fanboy-fodder, 21 March 2007

The experience of watching "300" is much like unravelling a candy box of action goodies, glazed in pure testosterone. Certainly fanboys will hungrily lap it up – and although it is neither a very nutritious nor lasting meal, it'll give you a high of cheap thrills and gore galore for a solid and surprisingly swift 2 hours of runtime. I got to see the film at a preview in Paris and the demographic make-up of the theatre was some 98% men, 1.9% their girlfriends – and me.

Storywise, "300" does not throw the net wide: it narrowly zooms in on the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. as led by Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 elite soldiers against 1 million Persians led by Persian God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Much has been sacrificed to pursue this sliced-down-to-the-bare-essentials trajectory, but the story is diluted by the dutiful formula ingredients of father-son relations, talkative politics and amour. These are all pitiful story lines woven together by the core battle – what we really wish to see. However, I will concede that they are highly necessary in the film in providing relief in between the epic attacks.

There is always a crux with primarily visual-driven films, and in "300" this problem is reality. Forget the actual events at Thermopylae – this is trivial to the story the film wishes to tell – the problem is that it lacks authenticity visually and dramatically. Owing to the narrow cleft by the beach in which all of the battle takes place, dramatic scenery is sparse by nature (unlike, for example, LOTR where landscape alone provided visual stimuli). To compensate for this, post-production has gone absolutely overboard with a throbbing CGI-overdose to fit Frank Miller's graphic novel format – even the sky is so über-stylized with sepia-tinted shades and shadowy contrasts that the cumulative effect is special effects gaping, swallowing and ultimately drowning "300". In the end, there is only a tiny shred of reality left, so distant that you need binoculars to make it out, and this is expected to ground the whole spectacle. Needless to say, this proves a wholly impossible task for director Zack Snyder.

When you couple this visual fantasy with antique, readily-molded speech dialogue, there is regrettably even less authenticity left. Everything feels unbelievably staged, from Lena Headley's impossibly rehearsed counsel to her husband to Gerard Butler's rallying tagline cries. It should however be noted that nearly all of the the cast perform well in their respective parts. Headley in fact finds a surprisingly firm footing in a character that is largely at the mercy of an underwritten nature. The damsel in distress? The tough-chick? The aloof queen? A concerned mother? A loving wife? She locates them all and merges them together in the character of Queen Gorgo. Gerard Butler manages to weave together good screams, nice abs, a fair authoritative presence and not much else into a performance. The most huh-eliciting actor's presence is by far David Wenham who may look amazingly good, but provides silly narration that is altogether incongruous to the steaming macho vibe of the rest of the film. Most of the time he sounds like a hobbled little magician, selling trinkets in the bazaar. The rest are something of one-dimensional goons, but the eerie, puzzling performance by Rodrigo Santoro deserves credit, resonating with Lawrence of Arabia undertones but blown so far out of proportion the whole affair becomes a theatric affair.

In spite of the aforementioned problems, "300" basically achieves what it set out to do. It is, in effect, an extended version of its adrenaline-pumping trailer, fit for fanboy worship and art-house cinema mockery. You have to admire the blatantly homo-erotic parade of well-oiled six packs, the dramatic symmetry in the epic battle visuals and the goose-bumps inducing scope of the spectacle. One of my favourite parts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was the massive attack of the oliphants on Gondor, and "300" offers similar but even more OTT extracts with Persian invaders, who bear an eerie resemblance to the south Mordor recruits from the saga.

7.5 out of 10

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