Zach Snyder’s 300 is a near-masterpiece that ignores all reasonable aspects of storytelling, such as, say, plot or character development, but nonetheless perfectly achieves what it set out to provide: glossy, highly stylized, mindless entertainment. There´s an art to the artlessness here, and it´s wondrous to behold: everything looks perfect – any flaws appear to have been airbrushed from the landscapes and actors; even the lepers look like they might have stepped out of GQ. Admittedly, not for all tastes; some may find this a nice advertisement but will be left waiting for the actual film.
As the God-King Xerxes’ Persian empire is about invade Greece, Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) attempts to form an army to combat them. When the corrupted ‘elders´ of Sparta deny him, he takes 300 of his best soldiers “for a stroll” to Thermopylae to meet Xerxes’ forces upon arrival. The rest of the film is mostly a lengthy, multi-structured, beautifully choreographed and gloriously violent battle, with occasional scenes back at Sparta as Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to drum up support for her husband´s forces. Butler is a revelation as King Leonidas, creating an unforgettable character – the only memorable one in the movie – that shall remain an icon of perverted heroism. Lack of story or plot results in a focus on cinematography, style, and energy; we also get to savor ridiculously corny and anachronistic one-liners that haven´t been uttered since 80´s Schwarzenegger flicks. Only flaw: overbearing and mostly unnecessary narration, which does little but distract us from the visuals. Otherwise, it´s perfect – the ultimate testosterone-fueled male fantasy. All that´s missing from this exercise in glossy excess is hardcore pornography.
Earnest but conventional documentary on famed architect Frank Gehry, directed by his longtime friend Sydney Pollack. Gehry is the man behind such famous structures as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the ‘Dancing House´ in Prague; Pollack is the director of Tootsie and Out of Africa. The two combine here to provide a respectable, moderately interesting, but strangely incomplete look at the architect and his work. At it´s best during relaxed, friendly conversations between director and his subject, where more is revealed about both from body language and personality than anything in the dialogue. Also revealing are insights into the architectural process, how Gehry and team design from crude drawings to paper models to 3-D computer renderings. Overall, though, it´s far more interesting to listen to Gehry talk about influences from his grandmother or his experiences as a truck driver than the usual talking heads´ praise or criticism of his work. Interviewees include Michael Eisner, Dennis Hopper (who lives in a house designed be Gehry), and artist/director Julian Schnabel (in a bathrobe with a glass of whisky in hand). No insult to this doc, but I would have rather watched a filmed dinner conversation between Gehry and Pollack, which would, perhaps, have been a far more revealing look at both men.
Completely unpleasant remake and an insult to Bob Clark´s 1974 version, which, while no masterpiece, was a tense and disturbing shocker that deserves a lot of credit for influencing the modern slasher film. But after Clark´s original, and John Carpenter´s 1978 Halloween (which was a masterpiece), things began to go downhill as rip-offs, clones, remakes and sequel after sequel were churned out, and now after thirty years of slasher films the genre has been stripped to a skeletal structure and become unbearable. Thirty years of slasher films! Other generations had westerns and musicals but our defining cinematic genre may well be nothing more than maniacs killing women with sharp objects; and each “new” film simply diminishes the impact of the true classics, pictures with violence, yes, but also art, social commentary, disturbing realism. Of course that doesn´t stop studios from making money, and it doesn´t stop director Glen Morgan from assaulting us with this over-the-top, sickening mess full of gratuitous and repellent violence, almost all of it against women. Eight or nine scenes of a psycho gouging out victims´ eyeballs and eating them is fine for most films, but somehow becomes repetitive here. Enough.
ALSO: Febiofest, Prague´s largest movie festival, hits town from 22.3 to 30.3. Click here for my tips and picks for the festival.
TIP: Vratné lahve (showtimes | IMDb), the latest film from Jan Svěrák, is now playing with English subtitles at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům. The film has been extremely well-received by Czech critics and audiences.