SDCC '14 Cosplay


Sweaty nerds packed into the San Diego Convention Center this weekend for Comic Con International. Truly the happiest place on Earth, there were celebrity meet-and-greets, film panels with geek icons and megastars alike, endless comic book and merchandise dealers, countless artists, and of course - perhaps SDCCs most famous attribute - the cosplayers. If you're not familiar with that term, well, it's basically people in costumes. Specifically, the most awesomely creative and often-homemade costumes you'll find anywhere. Over the course of the weekend, I've seen hundreds of amazing costumes. I've been noticing some sweet genre movie-themed ones, so I figured I'd share them here. 

Get to da choppa!


Don't feed them after midnight...

Photo c/o www.escapistmagazine.com

My Take on the 'Evil Dead' TV Show


By: Heather Seebach

The news out of San Diego International Comic Con is that Sam Raimi has announced his involvement with an Evil Dead television series. His brother Ivan and frequent collaborator Bruce Campbell are also involved. Well, inevitably the reaction largely looks like this:


And so and so forth. "Dead horse" comes up a lot. Basically, this is the same reaction that the Evil Dead "remake" (which wasn't really a remake at all) got when it was announced. Well, until it turned out to be a blood-soaked chunk of awesomeness and everyone shut the fuck up.

Now, the television show announcement is causing the same "outrage." We've been down this road so many times. How exactly is this "beating a dead horse" or "a blatant money-grab" when those same fans are BEGGING for an Evil Dead 4? So making a sequel in a franchise that has been dormant for 20+ years starring a middle-aged B-actor is NOT a money-grab, though? Look, I want a fourth film by Sam and Bruce more than anyone but as a hardcore ED fan, I also look forward to Sam being involved in this series at all! Prior to Fede Alvarez's movie, Raimi had zero interest in Evil Dead anymore. In the two decades that followed Army of Darkness, we got a Kevin Costner baseball movie, Spider-Man, and a shitload of Xena. Yes, thankfully we got Darkman, the occasional Coen collaboration and A Simple Plan, too. Finally, he made Drag Me to Hell and this Raimi fan nearly shit her pants! He was finally showing an interest in horror again, and clearly it rattled something loose inside the man because he came back aboard the Evil Dead train then.

Now, naturally people accuse Sam of being a greedy dickhead just trying to squeeze more money out of the franchise....because he's SO poor from those superhero movies. I can only say I know that's not true from being an avid follower of the man and his work ethic. Obviously, I cannot convince you of that so instead I'll say - who cares? It's business. Even if these are nothing more than money-grabs, they still have the potential to give us fans exactly what we want! Evil Dead 4 would be the ultimate cash-grab but I fucking want it so hard!!! So who am I to judge?

Furthermore, why the sudden outrage over television adaptations? Bates Motel, Fargo, and Hannibal are also adaptations of movies that really never needed a tv remake but they turned out AWESOME! Each one of them had very skeptical fans when they were announced. So have faith, my friends. The fact that Raimi maintains an active interest at all, along with the Bruce Campbell (who usually wants nothing to do with these films) and Ivan Raimi, is amazing! 


The other complaint I am hearing is, what the fuck would this show even be about? Well, I imagine (much like Fargo) it would be in the style of the original movie but not directly related. In fact, seeing as Sam is close friends with the Coen Brothers, I would not be surprised if Fargo was his inspiration for this. I imagine it cannot stay in the cabin. I like to think it would show deadites all over the world and different time periods. Like how Army of Darkness took the story and put it in medieval Europe. I think that could be pretty great, actually!

What say you, primitive screwheads? Are you open-minded to this tv show and what would you like to see in it?


Is that Negan in The Walking Dead Season 5 trailer?!? (COMIC SPOILERS)


***Warning: The following contains spoilers from The Walking Dead comic books and POTENTIAL spoilers for season 5 of the television series***

I was just watching the newly-released The Walking Dead season 5 trailer out of San Diego Comic Con. Firstly, I'm not sure about the plot but it looks wonderfully gritty and bleak! I love that! The show really started to hit its stride in the last few episodes of season 4 and I am desperately hoping they keep that up! The first few minutes of the new trailer hint at some disturbing shit. There was also recent talk that the season 5 premiere might be "too disturbing to air." It made me think, "Man, I really hope they maintain this nastiness for when Negan shows up!"

Well, while watching the trailer, a very quick flash caught my eye:


If you are caught up on the comic books, you know about a very infamous scene between Negan and Glenn (**MAJOR COMIC BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD**):


Of course, Negan isnt bald nor is that guy wearing his signature leather jacket, but it's hard to not be alarmed by the baseball bat and Glenn's circumstances in that screenshot! 

While I don't believe that is ACTUALLY Negan (it's a bit too soon, don't you think?), I DO know that The Walking Dead team likes to rearrange moments from the comic books. For instance, Lizzie and Mika being stand-in's for Billy and Ben, or Hershel losing his leg in lieu of Dale. That list goes on and on. So it's actually very possible that Glenn's fate has been shifted into the hands of someone else.

What say you, Walking Dead fans?

Watch the new trailer for season 5 here:



Blu-ray Review: 'Blue Ruin'


By: Heather Seebach

As genre film fans, we know every trick and cliche of a revenge movie. They are almost always satisfying anyway, even when they color within the lines, but what makes Blue Ruin so special is the way it brilliantly - and subtly - subverts the genre. Add to that director Jeremy Saulnier's talent, an amazing cast, and a fantastic slow-burn revenge tale, and it's no surprise that this indie took home the esteemed FIPRESCI prize at Cannes Film Festival last year. 

Macon Blair stars as Dwight, an Eastern Shore derelict who commits a terrible act of vengeance and must deal with the consequences of his actions in order to protect his estranged family. The basic concept of the film began with the question: What would a regular person do in this situation? Imagine the gritty, bloody revenge films we know and love, but replace the lead bad-ass with a realistically mediocre man. That is our hero, Dwight. He is your average person dealing with his pain in the way he believes is right, even if he does so with frustrating ineptitude sometimes.

I have been a hardcore fan of Saulnier and Blair since I first saw their debut collaboration, Murder Party years ago. That black comedy has since become a staple of my Halloween celebrations, and a favorite film of mine and every friend I force to watch it. Green as they were back then, it was already obvious that Jeremy and Macon were ones to watch. Their sophomore effort is a very different animal, of course. There are touches of that dark humor here but they are appropriately restrained to maintain Blue Ruin's moody atmosphere. Most of the laughs come about from, as Saulnier describes it, "archetypal scenes being interrupted by reality." What would be a bad-ass entrance or showdown for men like Paul Kersey or Jack Carter becomes awkward and terrifying for Dwight. In doing this, the film beautifully walks the thin line between depressingly bleak and absurdly comical.

Saulnier has a strong background in cinematography and acted as his own DP. There are moments of Michael Mann-esque beauty (like a breathtaking Rehoboth Beach boardwalk sequence) but mostly the film is populated with lovely tracking shots in the 'burbs and boonies of Virginia. As for the script, Saulnier has found an ingenious way to tell the kind of revenge tale we genre film fans love but in a more realistic fashion where the characters are genuinely human and the violence never glorified. Dwight and the antagonistic Cleland Family are the broken products of their parents' mistakes, left behind to perpetuate a generational war.


Ruin is an independent film in the truest sense - Saulnier cast his best friend (a relative unknown) in the lead; the crew often doubled as actors; even Jeremy's car, kids, and childhood home play pivotal roles in the movie. This is seemingly a very personal film for the director, as he literally returns home while Dwight does the same. There is a lot of subtext about nostalgia and childhood, which is fitting for a story about the past and about family. There is a hell of a lot of beauty and emotion buried in this gritty little revenge story. You would be doing yourself a great injustice to skip this one - buy it immediately.


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Blue Ruin is available on DVD and Blu-ray from RADiUS-TWC and Anchor Bay Entertainment starting Tuesday, July 22nd. You can also find the film On Demand. If you are a fan of this movie and/or Saulnier/Blair, I highly recommend picking up the Blu-ray release, which includes the doc, "No Regrets: The Making of Blue Ruin." In addition to on-set footage, bloopers, festival footage, storyboards, and audition tapes - all amazing content for any behind-the-scenes doc - the most exciting part for me was there are clips from Saulnier and Blair's early VHS movies! Megacop 2000

The interviews with cast and crew are also great, and surprisingly emotional. Saulnier and Blair recount their struggles to find work post-Murder Party (which BAFFLES me), returning to their day jobs until finally taking a chance on Blue Ruin, only to be shot down before finally breaking through. Their story is an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers. I was nearly brought to tears by their story, followed by genuine waterworks when Jeremy talks about his father's death - it's a beautiful moment but you'd better have tissues at the ready.

The commentary track with Saulnier and Blair is also a great listen for fans of this film. Their humorous and occasionally drunk walk-through of the movie is full of good anecdotes. These guys are so humble and don't even realize know what true talents they are. I had no idea that funding this film was such a struggle but I am thrilled for their much-deserved success now.

The Blu-ray also includes deleted scenes, which are mostly extended scenes plus a very cool sequence where Dwight goes through a spooky funhouse. It also has the camera test which the guys used to recruit investors, cast, and crew. It's a stunning 4-minute piece starring Blair and establishing the tone of the final film. It is set to the beautiful and bleak "I Hope You Die" by Maryland-born band, Wye Oak. It's all very Delmarva which hits home even further with this Baltimore native! This is definitely a must-watch for fans of the movie.

You can pick up a copy and support great indie filmmakers (and Viewer Discretion Advised) using this Amazon link below:



Giveaway: Win 'Ginger Snaps' from Scream Factory!


Scream Factory is releasing fan-favorite and coming-of-age werewolf flick, Ginger Snaps on Blu-ray/DVD combo this Tuesday, July 22nd and I have a copy to give away to one lucky reader! To enter, just leave a comment below by noon EST on Friday, July 25th! At that time I'll pick a winner and notify you!

Here is the run-down on the new release:

Los Angeles, CA – Scream Factory has announced the July 22 Blu-ray release of fan-favorite Ginger Snaps (Collector’s Edition). Bonus features include new interviews with director John Fawcett, writer Karen Walton, actors Emily Perkins and Jesse Moss, producer Steve Hoban, make-up effects artist Paul Jones, composer Mike Shields and editor Brett Sullivan, a new Women in Horror panel discussing Ginger Snaps, an audio commentary with Director John Fawcett, an audio commentary with writer Karen Walton, deleted scenes with optional commentary by John Fawcett and Karen Walton, The Making of Ginger Snaps - Vintage Featurette, Creation of the Beast - Vintage Featurette, Being John Fawcett -Vintage Featurette, cast auditions and rehearsals, theatrical trailers, TV spots, production design artwork photo gallery.

Fifteen-year-old Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins, Insomnia, Juno) and her nearly-sixteen-year-old sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle, Freddy vs. Jason, See No Evil 2) are both best friends and outcasts. Obsessed with dying and bound by a childhood pact to stay together forever, they loathe their mind-numbing existence in the suburbs of Bailey Downs. One night the two girls are heading through the woods when Ginger is savagely attacked by a wild creature.

Ginger’s horrible wounds miraculously heal over, but something is not quite right about her. Ginger is irritable and in denial. But to Brigitte, it is obvious that a terrifying force has taken hold of her sister. She’s convinced that the insatiable craving her sister is experiencing can mean only one thing – Ginger is becoming something unspeakably evil and monstrous.

Also starring Mimi Rogers (Penny Dreadful), Kris Lemche (Final Destination 3) and Jesse Moss (Tucker & Dale vs. Evil), this riveting funfest was directed by John Fawcett (Orphan Black) and written by Karen Walton (Orphan Black).



SPECIAL FEATURES:

·        NEW interviews with director John Fawcett, writer Karen Walton, actors Emily Perkins and Jesse Moss, Producer Steve Hoban, Make-up Effects artist Paul Jones, Composer Mike Shields and Editor Brett Sullivan
·        NEW Women in Horror panel discussing GINGER SNAPS
·        Audio Commentary with Director John Fawcett
·        Audio Commentary with Writer Karen Walton
·        Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by John Fawcett and Karen Walton
·        The Making of GINGER SNAPS - Vintage Featurette
·        Creation of the Beast
·        Being John Fawcett
·        Cast Auditions and Rehearsals
·        Theatrical Trailers
·        TV Spots
·        Production Design Artwork Photo Gallery
2000/Color/108 minutes
Blu-ray: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (X.XX:1)/DTS-HD Master X.X

If you absolutely cannot wait, feel free to pick up a copy using the link below!


Review: 'Under the Skin'


By: Bradley Hadcroft
 
Under the Skin represents Glazer’s sole output during the last 9 years and reaches our screens a full 13 years after his startling debut, Sexy Beast. During its epic decade-long development period, the director had plenty of time to hone his interpretation of Michel Faber’s 2000 Whitbread Award shortlisted novel. This included the jettisoning of Brad Pitt from the cast and a complete revamp of the special effects. One thing is for sure: Glazer has used this time wisely and made exactly the film he wanted to.

The film revolves around an alien visitor played by Scarlett Johansson who travels around Scotland seducing vulnerable men in order to harvest their bodies for reasons that are never made entirely clear. She is periodically pursued and seemingly aided by a man riding a Ducati for reasons that are never made entirely clear.

If the above synopsis seems a little vague then that is because plot - and indeed any sense of cinematic narrative - are not priorities for this simultaneously intriguing and infuriating movie. Nothing is sign-posted or spoon-fed in Under the Skin but instead of the viewer becoming irreparably lost, there is much intellectual nourishment to be found in the satisfying business of unraveling the events on screen. As a natural consequence, vast swathes of the film are open to personal interpretation. Decoding the film proves a rewarding experience as it never slips too far into pretense as to be impenetrable.

The presence of A-list star Johansson (and of course her on-screen nudity) may well be the starting point for many potential viewers. As a result, the film may leave a few befuddled casualties in its non-mainstream wake. However, for once the casting hype is genuinely warranted and it is indeed a fascinating piece of work from the actress.

Glazer is no stranger to eliciting expectation busting performances from his cast. This is after all the man who gave us Ben Kingsley as Don Logan in Sexy Beast, in which the director transformed the man who won an Oscar for his portrayal of peace icon Gandhi into a detestable C-bomb dropping psychopath, garnering him another academy nomination into the bargain.

It’s not just the casting of Johansson that is of interest in Under the Skin. The commitment and attention to detail is commendable as Glazer casts Neurofibromatosis sufferer Adam Pearson rather than opt for special effects, and champion road racer Jeremy McWilliams as the sinister biker. Both bring a palpable realism to their respective roles with Pearson acting as script advisor for his scenes, and McWilliams hurtling down rain-soaked Scottish back roads at breakneck speeds.

Let us get the nudity out of the way, shall we? Yes, Scarlett Johansson bares all but it’s totally in context and in fact solidifies one of the many gender-based subtexts that bristle under the surface of the film. It is also interesting in as much as that it is a relatively brave move from the actress. There is no airbrushing or use of disingenuous camera angles here, and it does stand up as a refreshing and honest depiction of the female body - something mainstream Hollywood lags woefully behind in.



It is in fact the treatment of male nudity that provides the visceral shock value in the film and literally does stand up as the clearest clue that the main theme Glazer is addressing in Under the Skin is one of how men and women perceive each other.

Another pointer to how exact Glazer’s vision was in making the film can be found in the scenes where Johansson is combing the Scottish underbelly for prospective victims. It is imperative she chooses her victims wisely to preserve her anonymity and as such single, lonely men who will be less obviously missed are her priority. Most of the scenes where she is grilling the men through flirtatious means were shot unscripted and on the fly with hidden cameras. The unsuspecting victims being randomly chatted up by a Hollywood film star in a white van. The men were subsequently advised, and almost certainly warned, by Glazer of the possible lengths they would have to go to should they agree to appear in the movie.

This kind of authentic approach is very important to the films dynamic as Glazer attempts to weave the mundane seamlessly with the insane. The picture just simply wouldn't work if either of the science fiction or kitchen sink realism elements dominated - instead he strikes a delicate balance that imbibes the film with a disturbing sense of dread and foreboding.

A singular vision such as Under the Skin can stand or fall on the strength of its cinematography and Daniel Landin’s contribution on this front cannot be underestimated. Clinical and harshly minimalistic at times and expansively jaw-dropping at others, the movie never feels claustrophobic or one-note. Surrealism constantly duels with naturalism and the result never looks anything but gorgeous as Landin transitions between beautiful Scottish landscapes and willfully abstract effects sequences with ease.

The standard of the effects work courtesy of VFX house “One of Us” is incredibly high. Starting with a blank canvass and following the process closely through to completion, the team bring a vision to the table that both shocks and mesmerizes. The team used a mixture of practical and digital to create a simple yet beautifully horrific visualization that stays with the viewer for some time. The fact hat the effects never threaten to drown the overall aesthetic of the experience, and instead compliment the overall tone shows great judgement.


The undoubtedly lush visuals are accompanied by a superb soundtrack with composer Mica Levi at the helm providing a suitably subtle and yet iconic theme that complements the films many standout scenes perfectly. A lot of artistry has gone into blending the visuals and music in the creation of the arresting and disturbing atmosphere of Under the Skin. This combined with an obsessive attention to detail and excessively long development time has led to inevitable comparisons to the work of Stanley Kubrick.

There is no doubting Kubrick’s influence on Glazer - he directed the music video for Blur’s "The Universal" and the opening scene of his latest film alone could lead you to expect a “Kubrickian” homage. It is however far more than that. In terms of comparison I thought it shared far more common ground with Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day and Panos Cosmatos' Beyond the Black Rainbow than any of the great mans work.

Under the Skin is a unique piece of single-minded filmmaking and as such is not for everybody. To some it will be seen as nothing more than a pretentious vanity project. However, horror fans seeking a high-grade cerebral fix will find a great deal to love in this challenging piece of cinema. Glazer's film is destined to be one of the most talked about projects of the year and I for one would be very surprised if it doesn’t become worshipped as a cult classic sooner rather than later.


DVD Review: 'The Raid 2'


By: Heather Seebach

When Gareth Evans' Indonesian ass-kicker The Raid landed on American soil, it was as if millions of action-horny fans simultaneously climaxed all over the Internet. Frankly, I did not share that overwhelming enthusiasm for the film but it had some great moments - the scene behind the walls and the three-way fight come to mind. Still, Evans had proven his chops well enough that I caught The Raid 2 (aka Berandal) in the cinema and ended up much preferring it to the original!

The sequel picks up right where its predecessor left off: Rama (Iko Uwais) has just escaped the gangster-riddled high-rise building but is quickly forced back into harm's way when his family is put in danger. He must go undercover and infiltrate a dangerous crime family. The first step in this task is to befriend the crime boss' son (Arifin Putra). Per usual undercover cop stories, Rama soon gets in over his head while struggling not to blow his cover.

The primary reason The Raid 2 works so well is because unlike the original film, this one spans a variety of set pieces and characters. Via the undercover cop story arc, the viewer spends more time with Rama this round. So too do the villains and heart-of-gold hitman Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog from the first film) also get sufficient time devoted to their roles. If asked, I could not describe a single character from The Raid (aside from Mad Dog) but this sequel boasts a handful of memorable ones. In addition to the core group of warriors, Evans also throws in a few gimmicky characters that would have Quentin Tarantino salivating - namely, "Hammer Girl and "Baseball Bat Man" who steal scenes with ease.

Meanwhile, the fight sequences are bigger, bolder, and bloodier. From a prison yard melee to a nightclub brawl, the battles  - be they one-on-one or group - are damn entertaining! As with the first film, there is some amazing martial arts on display, and no shortage of gore. Evans certainly knows his audience and delivers on what we want! The plot may not be particularly original, and some characters may be paper-thin but those are not the goals of films like these. As for the goal of providing non-stop badassery, The Raid 2 nails that with a bloody hammer! 

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The Raid 2 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The DVD includes director commentary with Gareth Evans; a Q&A with Evans, Iko Uwais, and composer Joe Trapanese; and "The Next Chapter: Shooting the Sequel" featurette wherein the transition between the two films is discussed. The DVD also includes both an English dub and the original language version of the film.

Use the links below to get your DVD or Blu-ray copy now!

DVD:


Blu-ray:

First look at POV actioner, 'Hardcore'


Remember that insanely bad-ass Biting Elbows music video called "Bad Motherfucker" that all your friends were passing around a few years back? The first-person-shooter style one full of over-the-top action and gore? Yeah, this one:

How many times have you seen this screenshot now?

Well, the brains behind that video, Biting Elbows frontman Ilya Naishuller wrote and directed the forthcoming film, Hardcore starring genre favorite Sharlto Copley. An interview with the latter, and on-set footage from the set have surfaced, and it looks like Hardcore will not only keep the POV format but also be full of outrageous ultra-violence! 

Copley describes Hardcore as "the craziest and most different film I have ever been involved with. It's going to be something like a cross between a film, a video game and a roller-coaster ride in a cinema." Follow this link to check out the full video interview, including footage of gore and stunts in action: http://www.kinopoisk.ru/interview/2430469/

Here are a few screencaps of the madness:


Fate just gave us a black gift - SAMURAI COP IS ALIVE!


GUYS! I can barely form words right now. Samurai Cop fans like me have been living under the impression that star Matt Hannon has been dead for years. Nobody has heard from this guy, or knew the circumstances of his alleged death. Then, just a few days ago, this fucking video surfaced out of the blue and MY HEAD EXPLODED:


THIS IS FUCKING INSANE AND AMAZING! His co-star Mark Frazer has been talking on Facebook about Samurai Cop 2 and it sounds like Hannon will be involved, too! HOLY SHITBALLS! On top of that, my braincells are spontaneously combusting because how the fuck does Hannon look better now, at 50 years old, than he did then? Is he the real basis for Benjamin Button? What is happening?!

To learn a little more about Samurai Cop and why it rules, watch my episode of Trainwreck Cinema devoted to the cult classic:


Review: '300: Rise of an Empire'


By: Heather Seebach

Glistening muscles and slow-motion are back in this sequel to Zack Snyder's 2007 action-fantasy, 300. Both films are based on graphic novels by Frank Miller, although "Xerxes", the inspiration for this latest film, is not as of yet published. As the book's name implies, there is a bit of the villain's origin story involved but mostly Rise of an Empire portrays the events concurrent to 300 as the Athenians battle Xerxes' second-in-command on the high seas. 

It is part prequel, part sequel, and mostly simultaneous to the first film. As the Spartans debate whether or not to get involved in the Persian Wars, Athens mounts an offensive-at-sea against Persia, led by General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton). He and his men face off with the vengeful Greek-born woman who leads the Persian Navy, Artemisia (Eva Green). 

Empire may seem like an after-thought sequel but it is actually strongly tied to its predecessor. Zack Snyder is no longer in the director's seat but he co-wrote and co-produced this one. Many of the characters - both alive and dead- from 300 are back, including Xerxes, Queen Gorgo, Dilios, the hunchback Ephialtes, and even that Persian emissary who got kicked down a well! Some of the original Spartans also make cameo appearances (albeit pre-filmed or digitally-created ones) since the events of this movie happen largely at the same time as those of 300


This sequel carries on the visual style of the original film, having been shot entirely against green screens, but it does not look nearly as beautiful this time around. Snyder's go-to director of photography Larry Fong is out, and the cinematography is noticeably lacking.  Granted, there are a few lovely shots that stood out but virtually every shot in 300 was breath-taking. So too does the slow-motion get even more overused this time around. There also seems to be too much emphasis on the 3-D here, which gets pretty annoying. 

Finally, and most disappointing of all, the gore FX are terrible. Obviously, practical gore is not, well, practical for an all-digital film like this, but why does the CG blood look so bad now?! It has partly to do with coloring, lighting, and motion - they are all off - and also how overused the gore is here. 300 was bloody, yes, but it was relatively restrained to sprays of blood, not ridiculous geysers. Usually I am all for more blood on screen, but in Empire, the over-abundance just exposes how weak it looks. Case in point, compare these two screenshots - the first from 300, the second from Rise of an Empire:


This is one of those cases where I am not bothered by the existence of CG blood so much as the quality of that CG blood. There are numerous scenes in ROAE where the gore is groan-worthy. I don't need puddles of it flying at the screen, just give me realistic brutality!

The concept of the sequel is good, at least. Setting it on the high seas was an inspired choice, even if the ocean battles are a bit of a digital cluster-fuck. I also like the decision to set this one during the events of 300 but it sets itself up for failure since there is no way the Athenian battles are going to be as interesting as the Spartans! Everything about these guys is less interesting - their weapons, their helmets, their monologues, even their bodies are less impressive. As for the lead, Themistokles cannot compare to Gerard Butler's Leonidas. I looked forward to Stapleton in the lead, as he was a stand-out in Animal Kingdom, but his character is just boring here. Every time the sequel shows a glimpse of the Spartans, I wished I was watching them instead!

Fortunately, Rise of an Empire has Eva Green. Her ruthless Artemisia, based loosely on Xerxes I's real-life female naval commander, is an entertaining villain. Green's scenery-chewing almost makes up for how boring the film's heroes are. So too does Lena Headey out-shine her male co-stars as Leonidas' queen seeking to avenge her fallen husband. Rise is not exact a feminist-friendly tale but it does boast some powerful, screen-commanding women.


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