Friday, March 21, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

Title: 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

Director:  Noam Murro

Cast:  Eva Green, Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro

Here’s a movie that I had extremely low hopes for…yet ended up loving the hell out of! I love it when that happens. Why was I ready for 300: Rise of an Empire to be a stinker? Well, a couple of factors had diverted my judgment, number one, Zack Snyder was not returning as a director and that to me immediately brought the film down a couple of notches for me because in my eyes, it was Snyder’s stylish visuals that made 300 (2006) such a winner. Number two, I didn’t know who the hell this new director was, when I look him up he’s only directed one other film called Smart People (2008), which I still haven’t seen, so I had nothing telling me that this new guy had what it took to make a decent sequel to 300. I mean, his only theatrical release was a dramatic comedy, what did that have to do with special effects and action? Nothing. To me this new director was simply hired to ape Snyder’s style in order to make a similar looking sequel, to cash in on the success of the original. So yeah, those were the factors that made me judge 300: Rise of the Empire harshly before I’d even laid eyes upon it, something I rarely do. So anyhow, positive reviews and great word of mouth made me give this one a go and boy was I wrong! This movie rocks!

300 Rise of an Empire has a very original concept behind it: it’s not exactly a sequel or a prequel, 300: Rise of an Empire actually happens parallel to 300, so while King Leonidas and his 300 where kicking ass in Thermopylae, this film is happening simultaneously in Athens. I don’t even know what to call a film that happens parallel to another? So anyhow, I thought that was an original concept, so original I don’t even have a word for it! So anyhow, this time around we follow Themistocles as he and his naval fleets go up against Xerxes and his ever growing empire. Will the Spartans decide to help Themistocles go up against Xerxes? Can they put a stop to the despotic leader?

First up, I recommend you pony up the extra dough and go see this one 3-D, it really exploits what 3-D technology has to offer, in other words, the film doesn’t feel like a cheap last minute 3-D conversion;  blood will practically splatter on your face, axes will almost cut your nose!  Trust me, you’ll love it. Of all the preconceived ideas I had about this movie, I was right about one of them: director Noam Murro is trying to deliver a film similar in style to what Zack Snyder and crew created with the first film, and we can’t really blame the director for this because I’m pretty sure that one of the requirements from the studio was to not mess with the formula and give the people more of what they loved from the first film. And 300: Rise of the Empire does just that, it gives us more of what we loved about the first film; stylish visuals, tons of blood and sand, rousing speeches and awesome battle sequences. Funny thing is, I can’t say I didn’t like it. You know how some people complaint about the use of slow motion in these films? I don’t, I freaking loved it! I wanted to take in these beautiful visuals in slow motion, there’s just so much to look at. The film is eye candy, it has a lot to offer to your pupils! Trust me! Best part about the whole thing is that it does feel like Frank Miller’s drawings coming to life. In his comic book work, Frank Miller has always been all about style, and the images on the film reflect that. By the way, if you like this film, you should try and find Frank Miller's Xerxes, a five issue story that's going to be released through Dark Horse Comics. Funny how the movie came out well before the book! Still, I don't think we'll be dissapointed with what Miller is working on. 

This films strengths lie in its visuals, and I’m a sucker for films that have a strong visual sense. I didn’t want to stop looking at the screen, I mean, this is a well constructed film, the people behind it made sure that the viewer wouldn’t be bored for a second, there’s many exciting and visually interesting moments here. You know how most films have this formula where it’s a big explosive opening sequence, then we pull back and slow it down and then something cool in the middle and slow it down and so forth till the end? Well, on this one it’s cool stuff happening all the time! One of the coolest things about the film is how much of it focuses on the battles that were waged at sea, between these huge ships! At times it almost felt like a pirate film in that sense. Honestly? This is the kind of film I like to watch more than once at the theater, I wouldn’t be surprised if I caught myself seeing it one more time in 3-D. Another plus for me was that on top of the awesome visuals, we actually get a decent story. How cool is it that we get to see how Xerxes became Xerxes? Very cool to let us in on that back story.

On the negative side of things Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles is a poor replacement for the awesomeness of Gerard Butler’s Leonidas. Stapleton’s Themistocles, comes off as too soft spoken to be the commander of such a savage army. I’m not saying he does a bad job as Themistocles, I’m just saying that in comparison, Butler’s Leonidas was way more explosive and intense. But everything evens out because we get Eva Green who brings intensity to her Artemisia, she’s a highlight of the film. Last words on 300: Rise of an Empire: it kicks ass, great action, never boring, awesome visuals and another thing, this is without a doubt the bloodiest movie of the year! A film very deserving of it’s R rating, it has blood, decapitations, nudity and violence galore! Frank Miller would be proud! I didn’t know who this new director was, but after seeing 300: Rise of an Empire, I say he’s earned my respect, the film has some visually impressive moments and camera angles, you’ll be blown away, this one was made to be enjoyed in a movie theater, go see it!

Rating: 5 out of 5    


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Frankenstein's Army (2013)

Title: Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

Director: Richard Raaphorst

Cast: Karel Roden, Alexander Mercury, Luke Newberry, Hon Ping Tang, Andrei Zayats, Mark Stevenson

This one slipped through the cracks for me when it was first released, but I decided to give it a go because of all those positive quotes on the dvd case saying such great things about it. And to be honest, for a low budget straight to video release, the movie rocks; and it rocks even more so because normally, Nazi zombie movies just aren’t that good, but this one is, so there you go. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve only seen one really good Nazi zombie movie and that’s Dead Snow (2009), it’s the only one that’s really satisfied me. I mean, yeah, I’ve seen Shock Waves (1977) which had awesome visuals but was incredibly slow at times. And speaking of slow, Oasis of the Zombies (1982) and Zombie Lake (1981) are two Nazi zombie films that I’d rather forget about, they bored me to death! I’d also seen another one that I consider moderately good called Outpost (2008), my only problem with Outpost was that you didn’t get any Nazi zombies till really late in the film, something that Frankenstein’s Army does not suffer from. And speaking of Outpost, it has many similarities with Frankenstein’s Army from the way it was made; shooting in solated locations to the basic premise of having soldiers enter abandoned claustrophobic buildings with re-animated Nazi soldiers. But anyhow, I can safely say that Frankenstein’s Army is one of the best Nazi zombie films out there, read on and find out why.

On Frankenstein’s Army we follow a troupe of Russian soldiers who are on their way towards rescuing these Russian soldiers from the clutches of the evil nazi’s, their orders are to infiltrate this location and rescue them. Along the way they find some weird things, like dead bodies with weird shapes and appendages. The further in they go, the stranger things get! It isn’t long before they uncover a mad scientist conducting grotesque experiments dealing with the reanimation of dead Nazi’s! But the strangeness does not stop there!

Director Richard Raaphorst fooling around with his creations

This film comes to us from director Richard Raaphorst, a director who first started in the filmmaking business through working in the art department on various films, including work as a conceptual/story board artist in films like Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? (1998), Dagon (2001), Faust: Love of the Damned (2000) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), which is a good thing in my book because it means that we have an artist behind the camera, which means we will probably end up with a film that has a strong visual style, which is the case with Frankenstein’s Army, there’s a real effort on the way things look. The film might be low budget, but director Richard Raaphorst makes the most of his locations. You see, Raaphorst knows the one trick that most low budget filmmakers live by: a great location makes your film look good. In an interview for Daily Dead, Raaphorst said that he didn’t know if the film was going to be made until he found that perfect location, once he found it, he was certain the film was going to happen. Frankenstein’s Army was shot in various abandoned buildings, which were made to look like the laboratory of a German mad scientist, the resulting look is very effective.

The film was shot “found footage” style, now, I’m not a hater of documentary style films because to me they are the best way to get us as audiences completely immersed in the film. The found footage style works great on Frankenstein’s Army because there’s many claustrophobic environments and dark corners, you feel as if you are walking down these creepy halls with these Russian soldiers, you feel as if something might jump out at you from the shadows at any given moment. Best part is that the creatures in Frankenstein’s Army are pretty horrific!

Raaphorst is the driving force behind the look of these creatures, which he designed himself. You see, Raaphorst had been dreaming of making this movie for many years now, he’d always been designing these monsters from childhood. The strange creatures that the mad scientist creates are composed of dead nazi soldiers joined with machines, creating a weird breed between zombie and machine, in this way Frankenstein’s Army has some elements of the cyber punk film, that idea of joining flesh with machine. The further the Russians go down the rabbit hole, the crazier the creatures get. Gotta hand it to Raaphorst, the creatures were the highlight of the film! They look like something that Clive Barker might have cooked up if he’d ever made a Nazi zombie flick. I enjoyed Frankensteins Army a lot, the locations were eerie and the monster designs awesome, but I couldn’t get past the idea that the movie should have gone further with its ideas.

I’ve got very few negative things to say about this one, but there’s the idea that these are Russian soldiers that we are following, but for some reason they speak English the whole time, and I’m like, okay, so they speak English with a Russian accent, fine. But then, their Russian accent comes and goes, and some don’t even have a Russian accent no matter how hard they try, so they come off as American actors trying to sound like Russian’s speaking English? And sometimes it just doesn’t work, but whatever, that was a minor hiccup in the film, it didn’t bother me so much. Also, we get to see cool monsters left and right and the film is filled with gruesome moments and vistas, but sadly we don’t get that big finale which the film seems to build up to, you are left wanting more; which in a way is a good thing because I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel! But considering the budget these guys were working with, I think they got away with a decent horror flick, you get the feeling that Raaphorst could have done more if he only had a bigger budget for effects work, but still, the film is pretty cool none the less. Hopefully some producer out there will notice the great work done here and will give Raaphorst and crew a few more millions to play with. So anyhow,  this is one of the best Nazi zombie films out there, I say give it a shot!

Rating: 4 out of 5   

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Behind the Scenes Awesomeness: Ghostbusters Edition

Checking out these behind the scenes pics of the making of the Ghostbusters franchise shows us just how much work went into making fantasy films during the pre-CGI era. I mean, most of the ghosts and creatures we see on these pics below would all be done with computer generated images today. I'm old school, I liked it better when they really put all this work into films. It made them even more special to me. So anyhows, some priceless picks here, like Bill Murray yawning between takes, Vigo sweeping the floor between takes and Dan Aykroyd posing next to Gozer! Fun stuff, also, this post goes in memory of Harod Ramis, the first Ghostbuster to cross to the other side. Ramis not only brought the character of Egon Spengler to life, he was one of the brains behind the creation of the Ghostbusters themselves! He will be sorely missed, R.I.P. Harold Ramis! 


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