Tagged Lena Headey

Relax – 300 is (Mediocre) Historical Fantasy, People!

300. 2006. Directed by Zack Snyder. Screenplay by Michael B. Gordon, Kurt Johnstad, & Snyder.
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew tiernan, Rodrigo Santoro, Giovani Cimmino, Stephen McHattie, Greg Kramer, Alex Ivanovici, & Kelly Craig. Legendary Pictures/Virtual Studios/Atmosphere Pictures/Hollywood Gang/Warner Bros.
Rated 18A. 116 minutes.
Action/Drama/Fantasy

★★★
POSTER Zack Snyder is a director I’m not particularly sold on. I did love how he remade Dawn of the Dead because he kept enough to retain the wonderful legacy of George A. Romero while also throwing his own spin on things. Later, his adaptation of Watchmen was good enough, though to be fair no film adaptation could/would ever make Alan Moore’s words fit properly into the form. Other than these two films, as well as 300, Snyder to me is a second rate filmmaker. He knows how to capture an image, how to make it pop, and how to give his films an impressive atmosphere. But Snyder seems to consistently lack the essence of a visual storyteller. He’s more of a visual mood painter, as opposed to a painter that evokes poetry in his imagery.
I don’t read too much into any of the so-called political analysis critics have heaped onto this film. Sure, you can try. Ultimately when it concerns the Spartans they are a tiny group, tough, though against all the odds stacked high in the favour of their enemies. So how can you try to say they’re representative of a right-wing element, or a superpower? Don’t think so. Also, there’s the fact this is based on Frank Miller’s comic – before Frank got a little Conservative himself – which is itself a historical fantasy, inspired largely by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans. While its basis is in Greek history, the comic and film are meant as part fantasy. Isn’t that obvious? Shame I have to say that. Furthermore, we get solely the Spartan perspective throughout this story. That should speak for itself.
But aside from that 300 is not all it’s been cracked up to be. The look is astounding, even if there’s CGI dripping from most of the frames, the actors do a fine job with their characters. There’s just something missing. Not only that, the look – to me – is not revolutionary as some have claimed, likening it to the groundbreaking work in The Matrix. Honestly the films of Tarsem Singh, particularly The Cell at times, really came to mind. Not everything feels lifted, only a few points where Snyder’s imagery and technique feels similar. Regardless, the constant fixation on an arresting visual style draws us away from the characters, effectively leaving us with CGI and action that never lifts this up past mediocre cinema.Pic1
There’s a wonderful atmosphere and look to 300 that compliments its graphic novel roots. While I do find some of it is definitely similar to Singh (The CellThe Fall), the action sequences are exciting and the visual flair gives them an extra edge. So no, it isn’t as groundbreaking and astonishing as others make it out, but it does look great. I’m not a big lover of CGI. As a huge horror fan, I’m often repelled by the need to use CGI instead of practical makeup effects. Of course there are particular images you just aren’t going to make look proper if you use practical effects – mostly in terms of difficulty and practicality, budgets, et cetera. However, it feels like the intent for 300 was always layer it down in CGI, crunch up the contrast and other visual elements until the look is like a Renaissance painting. Only a Renaissance painting is beautiful not just because of its look, but due to the fact underneath that look there is purpose, reason. Snyder doesn’t achieve any of that extra stuff. Just flash.
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For all its beauty, there are times I don’t like certain scenes. Some of the stuff with the sun rising or setting in the background, shots of the sky, it comes off as gaudy and overwrought instead of well put together in its complexity. In addition, Snyder overuses slow-motion to the point of agony. I get it, we want to slow down and let the eye catch on some blood, gore, and the impressive fighting skills of the Spartans against the massive Persian army. Overboard, Zack. Way overboard. It’s as if every minute (or less) we’re getting a shot slowed to a crawl, until finally it becomes all but ineffective.
Tyler Bates has gone on to do some good composing. He almost killed his career here, using unauthorized pieces of other scores including significant bits from the Shakespearean adaptation Titus. And funny enough, the whole score isn’t that impressive anyways. Since this film Bates has done genuinely nice work, including John Wick and Ti West’s The Sacrament. But a lot of this stuff here is generic. Others have said quite the opposite, that is really amps things up. Certain pieces work. Most of it just doesn’t feel up to par with the epic filmmaking attempts by Snyder. There’s a mixed-mashed sense to a lot of the composing here, which doesn’t end up coming together in the right manner. If Bates had stuck to one style instead of crossing from orchestral pieces into quasi-heavy metal riffs and thumping drum kits, the music would’ve probably complimented the action correctly and in turn intensified a lot of already loaded moments.
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This is a mediocre action film with historical fantasy weaving through its cracks; a 3-star piece of cinema. Zack Snyder tries best he can to elevate 300 into the realm of innovative action where work like The Matrix still reigns supreme. Not all is bad. The film has its moments. Lena Headey and Gerard Butler sell their characters well, their performances both fierce and emotional at the correct times. Outside of them and a couple of the other cast members (Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes is damn solid and also fairly unnerving), nothing is any better than the sum of its parts.
While some will hail this as a great achievement and an awesome bit of cinema post-2000, I’d take a lot of other movies in the past 16 years over this one. 300 is enough to satisfy a bit of hunger for action, a slice of history, some historical fantasy, too. Otherwise it is a run-of-the-mill movie with Snyder’s brash style laid over top. You can still have fun here, just don’t let anybody confuse you, and don’t get confused yourself – there are better movies out there in the same realm. Snyder isn’t some contemporary action genius, even if he keeps being handed massive amounts of money to make his middle of the road films.

The Cave is a Bad, Guilty Pleasure

The Cave. 2005. Directed by Bruce Hunt. Screenplay by Michael Steinberg & Tegan West.
Starring Cole Hauser, Eddie Cibrian, Morris Chestnut, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo, Rick Ravanello, Daniel Dae Kim, Kieran Darcy-Smith, and Marcel Iures. Screen Gems/Cinerenta Medienbeteiligungs KG/Lakeshore Entertainment/City Productions/Cineblue Internationale Filmproduktionsgesellschaft.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
Adventure/Horror/Thriller

★★
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Having recently reviewed Neil Marshall’s fabulously claustrophobic horror The Descent (which actually came out the exact same year this), I also decided on revisiting this guilty pleasure of mine. While I cannot, at all, say The Cave is a good movie, it’s not the worst I’ve seen, it’s – for me – on par with a lot of big budget popcorn flicks. And that was this is, a turn your brain off, have a snack and laugh with someone or even by yourself. Burn one down, throw this on. There are some laughable bits, absolutely. Are there some scary moments? For me, as someone who finds caves creepy, someone whose claustrophobia knows no bounds, and also as a person who loves the water/is terrified of it as well, there are definitely a handful of scenes where I found this movie really played hard on my fears.
The majority of The Cave‘s problem is the screenplay has one hell of an amazing plot and story, yet still this is squandered through bad dialogue, middle of the road acting, and effects which lack any sense of realism to help frighten us viscerally. Mostly, you could call this a creature feature, and though I find the creatures in this horror movie creepy, sort of intimidating at times, once you get more than the mysterious looks at it, hints of its size and power, the magic is lost. Regardless of its flaws – and there are a bunch – I’m still able to throw this on once every now and then, especially if I can’t think of anything else or if I know I want to turn my brain off a while to get some quasi-horror and a dose of action.
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Decades previous to the film’s events, a team of explosives experts are caved in while exploring a stone church built deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) arranges a team of scientists and cave divers to examine the ruins and the massive cave system which exists below the church itself. Two brothers, Jack (Cole Hauser) and Tyler McAllister (Eddie Cibrian), lead everyone into the caverns, travelling over its steep rock walls and its seemingly never ending pools of dark water, mapping territory no one else has ever set foot on.
Or perhaps someone has already.
Deeper and deeper into the cave system, Jack and the crew begin to discover there is in fact someone else who has been down in those caves before. Even worse than that, they never ever left. In fact, they got bigger… they got more vicious… and they adapted to a world underground, without light, in the cold, deep, dark waters.

The opening sequence is a lot of fun. Later, once the diving team are headed into the cave system there’s an excellent callback to the beginning, as we see what happened to those characters who went into the old mountain church, falling through the floor and into the murky depths of what lay below. I won’t ruin it for anyone who’s yet to see it, but I really dig that whole aspect. They could’ve easily done something different and less effective. This was a nice way to introduce the virus aspect of the creatures in the cave, all the while Cole Hauser’s character becomes a living representation of that. Although the screenplay is not solid, there are bits and pieces I do enjoy. Overall, it’s messy. I’m just glad certain sequences were written well enough that the entire film isn’t useless.
Many action moments come off decent, as well as scenes of intense horror. One part at which I always shudder: the crew are in one of the various underground lakes in the cave system, in two groups – Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) is taken by one of the cave’s creatures, at which point Jack McAllister (Hauser) looks under the water only to see the monster disappearing further and further into the deep, dark waters below, fading into black. HONESTLY, this brief moment scared me as much as anything in Jaws, which is saying something because that is one film that always left an indelible mark on my psche (I love the ocean/am terrified by it). But, that being said, it’s only one scene. The rest of the movie is nowhere near up to par with Steven Spielberg’s classic. A few other creepy sequences exist in The Cave, though, nothing as wild and unsettling as this one I’ve mentioned. As far as action goes, I did like some of the rock climbing scenes; they brought intensity, as well as surprise in a few cases. So there’s enough action-adventure at times to keep you glued. Problem is, never enough to make you love the movie, or to get you past its myriad script/overall problems.

Director Bruce Hunt, by all accounts, should’ve done better. Perhaps I expect too much of a man whose career as a Second/Third Unit Director has been fairly impressive: Dark City (director – additional second unit + miniatures & visual effects director), The Matrix (second unit director), The Matrix Reloaded (third unit director: Australia), The Matrix Revolutions (third unit director), as well as Australia (director – splinter unit), and the nice looking but less than stellar Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (second unit director – splinter unit). Sadly, none of his previous work comes to bear on this project. For a man who had a part in the effects of Dark City especially, I expected something more. Nevertheless, many of the special effects here are brutal, and it’s only when the cave monsters are relatively still that they look good. In other scenes where they’re flying around or attacking the diving team, they look terribly cheesy and underdeveloped, patched together with bad CGI. If more practical work could’ve been done, The Cave and its creatures could easily have raised above mediocre to forgettable. Instead, we’re left with not only a poor screenplay, but also too many visuals lacking the proper effectiveness a monster movie must have in order to be successful.
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This is, at best, a 2(out of 5)-star film. The story itself is intriguing enough, as well as the film’s opening sequence and the return to it later in the plot. But an interesting plot does not a proper movie make. The acting isn’t anywhere near what it should be, considering everything else falls so flat. If there were a few better elements the film could’ve passed for half decent. Instead, it is less than mediocre and forgettable. All the same, I still watch it from time to time as a guilty pleasure.

But How Scarily Close to Truth is THE PURGE?

The Purge. 2013. Directed & Written by James DeMonaco.
Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis, Tom Yi, Chris Mulkey, and Tisha French. Blumhouse Productions. Rated 14A. 85 minutes. Horror/Thriller.


★★★★
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Now to start – I have an aunt who is a full-fledged American, I have friends who are American – so when I say things about America, please don’t assume that I’m talking about EVERY SINGLE AMERICAN. I’m not, at all. Many of you who read this are American, and I bet you’re awesome people.
However, American society as a whole has an obsession with violence. Not just violence, gun violence in particular. It’s an epidemic. Anyone who denies that is in denial, in my opinion. It’s an obvious observation; nothing revolutionary about what I’m saying here. Every single day there’s a new story about police killing unarmed black men, every week or two a mass shooting in a public place. Violence is on the news almost endlessly, it seems.
So when people bash on The Purge for not being realistic, sure – it isn’t meant to be a documentary. This is also not science fiction, as the IMDB categorization would have you believe. This is speculative crime fiction in my mind. There are elements of a thriller, obviously, as we’re treated to a snapshot of what American life might be like on nights when a Purge would happen. Also, a few good moments you can say are straight up horror.
It isn’t a perfect movie, but I think that it’s pretty damn good. There’s solid acting in the lead roles, as well as several of the supporting ones. Director & writer James DeMonaco doesn’t rely on any ridiculous CGI to get the job done. What he does rely on is the acting, but also his own script affords opportunities which draw on the fears of everyone watching: what if The Purge was a real event? Yeah, I know in the real world the likelihood of this actually happening is so slim there’s no point in discussing it as a real event (perhaps there is in a more educational perspective than my shitty little blog). However, there doesn’t have to be a perfectly plausible world where this would happen. It’s speculative fiction, it represents a metaphorical space where this could happen because of the far right-wing conservative views that some groups/parties hold in America. I could see some politicians backing a ridiculous policy like The Purge, trying to pass it as an alternative to reducing crime/et cetera; it would never pass, clearly, but is it so hard to believe some nutjob would actually suggest something wild like this? I don’t think so. That alone is enough to justify The Purge as a fun little horror flick.
Regardless, it’s about totalitarianism, the concept of a police state – in every single American state – and how extreme right-wing politics have the ability to rise in the wake of economic collapse.
the-purge-sandin-familyThe American government becomes a totalitarian regime in the early 2010s. After the economy collapses, a police state emerges to combat the effects felt across the nation. Every year, on March 21st an event named “The Purge” occurs where all crime is legal, as well as the fact all emergency services are suspended for 12 hours until 7am on the 22nd. Very few restrictions are involved, mostly pertaining to government officials and Class 4 weapons. Apparently, The Purge is responsible for a drop in both crime and unemployment, bringing the American economy back to a level of unparalleled growth.
In 2022, as The Purge begins, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) heads home after having an excellent day – he sells security systems designed specifically to lock down houses for The Purge (ah ha – commentary!). He and his wife Mary (Lena Headey), plus their two children Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder) are getting prepared to lockdown for the evening. However, things don’t go as planned this year for James and his family. First of all, Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) has snuck himself in to stay overnight; he’s older, which pisses her father off. Unfortunately for Zoey, Henry unknowingly has plans to confront dear ole dad. Even worse, though, is the fact that young Charlie lets in a man off the street (Edwin Hodge) who claims he’s being tracked, saying they’re trying to kill him. With the man inside, James is unprepared for what will come next.
Soon, a group of people come knocking. They’re out for The Purge – to “release the beast” as it’s frequently called – and are lead by a man who unmasks himself (Rhys Wakefield). He rings the doorbell, politely explaining himself, and tells James + family that they’re looking for the man who was let inside. Ultimatums are given, James tries to stand his ground, but eventually those “fine, young, very educated guys & gals” will get in, one way or another. Even if they’ve got to huff and puff and blooooow the house down.
purge5We don’t want to kill our own,” he says. “Please just let us Purge!
There are a lot of things going on in this movie that I think people ignore. Sure, maybe the logistics of everything are not perfect, but whatever. There are a lot of messages in here about the social issues, violence included, which plague America on a daily basis.
Right now, on a day when Officer Dipshit or whatever that piece of garbage’s name is who shot Sam DuBose, is it so hard to look at The Purge and admit it says things which are downright true about America overall?
The line above screams the problems of race which America faces on a day to day norm. Black men are killed by the dozens every year, it seems, worse and worse as the years go by. Here we’ve got a bunch of lily-white American “guys & gals” out having their Purge and who do they choose? That’s right, a black man. Because he’s not one of their own. So they hunt him down and any sympathizers in their way? Release the beast on them, too.
Just like nowadays, people who support the victims are treated like the Sandin family. Clearly not literally, but you catch my drift.
ThePurge4_720What I love, though, is that James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is not an innocent in all this debacle. While his wife and children are indeed innocent bystanders, essentially, James is guilty as anyone. He may as well be out Purging with the rest of those people; even explaining to his son what the night ‘means’ he says that if they felt the need to, he and his wife would Purge because the annual night “saved this country“. So while we feel terror for James, and certainly his family, he’s still culpable partly in the overall societal go-along with The Purge as an event.
Sandin makes money selling systems that are built solely because of The Purge. Now, I don’t mean to say that’s how it started off. I’m sure James probably worked for a security company of some sort and once The Purge was enacted as an official event they probably just up and capitalized on the opportunity to make money. Regardless of the process (I just know there are people who nitpick so let’s get to the fucking nitty gritty then), James and the company he works for are exploiting this, so they’re only going along with the entire totalitarian government which has a deathgrip on American society here in DeMonaco’s film.
I just find that whole angle interesting because there are elements to that part of James – guilt, fear for his family and what he has been a party to as a profiteer of totalitarian policy – which I felt Ethan Hawke really brought out in the character. He’s one solid actor. I love that he’s done some horror/horror-ish stuff as of late, including the not amazing but a lot of creepy fun – Sinister. Brings a bit of credibility to genre pictures when you have good actors; they don’t have to be big time names, but that certainly does not hurt. Here it works with both Hawke, as well as Lena Headey. She gets a break from being a hard ass bitch – Cersei motherfuckin’ Lannister on Game of Thrones – to play a woman who is thrust into a world she never ever wanted, hoping her family can make it through the night. She and Hawke play well together as husband and wife, especially in some incredibly tense moments.
vlcsnap-2013-07-23-02h42m00s62There’s a cold calculation to the character Rhys Wakefield plays, the unmasked Purge vigilante at James Sandin’s door. The way he shoots one of his fellow Purgers who screams “just give us the homeless pig, you fuck!” into the house, I found it perfect. It’s not just sly acting on Wakefield’s part, who does well with his performance. The character shows us how those sort operate – the type who have problems with the homeless, the black, the people of any other colour, yet they act civilized, as if politeness on the level of manners is in some sense a way to validate all their other disgusting behaviour (racism/sexism/you name it). So I think this moment, when he shoots the masked Purger, is a real great bit that works on a couple levels: shock, as well as a brief insight into the polite Purger.
a_bun_ejszakaja_8We get some morality play as well with the conflicted character of James Sandin. Eventually, he has to make a choice, and in the end: is it worse to kill some straight out, or to hand them over to people knowing they will be killed? Isn’t it the same?
Part of that is a total moral/philosophical debate that could really rage on for a while, depending on who’d be doing the debating. Anyways, I think it adds a fun level to the action in the last half hour of The Purge.
Not only that, there’s a great twist in the finale.
AHHHHHH – LADIES & GENTLEMEN, AHHHHHHH – THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING. PLEASE BUCKLE UP: WE WILL BE EXPERIENCING SOME SPOILERS COMING UP FOR A MOMENT OR TWO.
I thought it only added to the commentary of the film that already existed to have the neighbours, who we’d previously seen only briefly at the start of the film, be the ones who want to have the thrill of killing the Sandin family. It’s just bloody and poetic justice, really. In a disturbing sense. I’m glad that things played out in the very end how they did, but still – the neighbours were a good touch.
Because it speaks so well to the idea that we don’t know the people around us, not truly. We never can, no matter how long we spend around them. Sometimes the same goes for people you even live with, but here it does well to show how even the “normal” people around the neighbourhood would indulge in their Purge fantasies, willingly

One of my favourite moments: the masked girl skipping on down the hall, machetes in town swinging at her sides. It is super creepy, I dig it so hard. Only for a moment, long enough to set in. Perfectly executed shot that I thought worked wonders.
the-purge-27In reality, this movie is a 4 out of 5 star horror-thriller, with some speculative social fiction mixed into the pot.
Balls to the folks who say “This would never happen” – okay, well let’s throw out Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm Street, and countless other horror films that are wonderful. Not saying this is on the level of those, which I do consider classics and I don’t care what kind of bullshit people get on with like that it’s typical to like those movies; whatever the fuck ever, man. They’re great stuff and helped the genesis of what horror is now today.
So I had a lot of fun watching The Purge. I also enjoyed the sequel, despite what others seem to think about it on the whole. For me, it’s an interesting concept with both horror and thriller elements. Like I said, it also has some social discussion going on. If people want to ignore that, fine, but it’s there. You can’t shake that fact. I tend to believe there are some good statements here, too. Not just all nonsense and scriptwriting creation – there are things to which we ought to pay attention. But if you want, think it’s trash and that horror movies can never say anything worthwhile.
I’ll take what I can from it, and enjoy a good viewing every now and then – it’s a fun modern horror movie with lots of tense thrills.