Another memorable Pfister/Nolan collab! The cinematography in Inception has Nolan going fully unhinged and the things he manages to capture onscreen are absolutely mental. Compared to most modern blockbusters, there hasn’t been anything quite like Inception in terms of visual style. It’s a terrific display of grandiose spectacle without being overbearing on the senses. With all the insanity going on in Inception, it doesn’t throw us right into the action; instead, the first act takes its time to show us how the dream world works.
One of the best sequences is when Cobb is demonstrating the world of Inception to Ariadne in a sequence that feels very similar to the Matrix when Morpheus explains the world of the Matrix to Neo. While there’s a lot of information being given to the audience, the exposition is never boring and that’s because as Ariadne is navigating through the dreamworld, we’re discovering it with her. Who’s ever going to forget the buildings folding on top of each other because I most certainly won’t! It’s a fun sequence that captures the imagination of Ariadne and the viewer’s.
Nolan’s always been able to capture scale in his action sequences, but when it comes to close quarters combat, he’s been slacking. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I say, “no more” because the hallway fight sequence has got to be one of the most original and exciting set pieces that Nolan’s shot at this point in his career. It wasn’t enough to shoot this sequence in wide camera angles with very few cuts or edits, so Nolan decides to have that sequence set in a rotating hallway! I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt needs to be in more action movies because he’s really good at handling the stunts. The camera captures space and geography so effectively that you never feel lost even when the hallway is always moving. Nolan went the extra mile here and I’m stoked to see his action improve in future films.
To quote a favorite pirate of mine: “I feel…cold.” The criticisms directed at Nolan’s emotionally distant characters have been a complaint for years now and it was never a problem for me until now. I don’t know what was up with me on this rewatch but it was pretty hard for me to get fully invested in what was going on. This isn’t to say that any of the performances are bad because every actor does their part well, but there’s not much to latch onto with these characters. Inception seems to be the start of a new phase in Nolan’s career where the concept takes precedence over story and character.
The one character who actually has any arc is DiCaprio’s Cobb but he’s probably the wrong person to lead this movie. This is probably blasphemous but it needs to be said: Ariadne should have been the main character. As an audience surrogate, it makes more sense to focus on Ariadne and how she navigates through the dreamworld. It’s more exciting to follow a newbie as opposed to following a professional like Cobb who’s had years of offscreen experience to understand this world. Would this have fixed the character issue? Who’s to say, but it feels like a more organic way of introducing the audience to the world of Inception as well as a nice change of pace from Nolan’s usual dead wife story arc.
If The Dark Knight was Nolan’s breakout hit, then Inception officially solidifies Nolan’s status as a mainstream filmmaker. Inception came at the right time just as superhero movies were beginning to make their stamp in pop culture and while original IP is hard to come across these days, Inception managed to go beyond the boundaries of what audiences were expecting with their blockbusters. It’s bold, it’s challenging, and it’s downright confusing at times but to have Inception become so successful speaks to Nolan’s skills as a director and his ability to draw an audience to his films.
Inception takes everything from past Nolan films and refines it into his magnum opus. You have the guilty man trying to reconcile with his past sins, you have suited professionals, and you have the theme of time. With Inception, Nolan says everything he’s been wanting to say and delivers it with a heartfelt conclusion that feels cathartic for himself as well as for Cobb. It may not deliver in terms of character and emotion but in terms of pure visual spectacle, there’s so much energy and innovation in every set piece that you’ll never stop thinking about it even once the credits roll.
Nothing says summer quite like surfing waves and robbing banks with the boys!
Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break is about a quarterback punk called Johnny Utah. He goes undercover as a surf bro under the suspicion that a gang of surfers are responsible for a string of bank heists across Southern Cali.
Point Break is one of my all-time favorite action films. I watch it at the start of every summer to welcome the warm weather, the good vibes, and the senoritas and margaritas. I know, I know, some of you might think it’s far fetched to label Point Break as an all-time favorite. The plot is ridiculous, there’s too much cheese on the pizza, and watching Keanu Reeves act is about as exciting as walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes. These are all valid criticisms, but there has to be something more to this cult classic than simply being a “cheesy fun” action flick. So sit back, grab a meatball sub and make it two because we’re about to tear into the wave that is Point Break!
The cinematography is good. Really good! Just like that ugly girl who you didn’t realize was hot until after high school, Point Break’s cinematography had me giving it a double take. I’d never heard of Donald Peterman but apparently he was the cinematographer for classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas so I gotta give him a fist bump for that one. Point Break’s cinematography is never showy but if you look hard enough, you’re guaranteed to find more than a few inspired moments. For anyone who’s due for a rewatch of Point Break, definitely take a closer look at the cinematography because there are quite a few tricks sprinkled throughout and one of those tricks happens to be a long-take tracking shot.
Before you had Birdman or True Detective playing around with long-take tracking shots, Point Break was that hipster kid who was doing before it was cool. It doesn’t happen during any action sequence, but instead, it happens right at the start of the film when Utah’s getting a tour of the FBI precinct. On Utah’s first day on the job, he’s getting a tour by his commanding officer, Agent Harp and as the camera’s following them around, it’s also capturing the energy, geography, and the overall atmosphere of the precinct. It’s just a typical day at the office for most of these nameless characters but because we’re following Johnny Boy’s first day on the job, it feels like a fish out of water scenario where everything feels claustrophobic and overwhelming. It might seem superfluous to have a long-take during a sequence like this with no action in it, but it’s effective in addressing where Utah is at the start of the film and it informs us that just like the audience, Utah is in a whole new world.
The cinematography is only as good as its editing and the sequences in Point Break flow so well because of how strong its editing is. One of my favorite moments is the sequence between Johnny and Tyler at the shrimp and fries restaurant. At the start of the film, Johnny don’t surf! If he’s going undercover as a surfer, the least he could do is look believable on a surfboard and this is when he sets his sights on Tyler, a native of the California area. Thinking that he’s nothing more than a yuppie poser, Tyler initially refuses. At the start of the sequence, the camera’s constantly cutting back and forth between Johnny and Tyler which indicates that these characters aren’t meeting each other on equal terms.
However, once Johnny starts giving his monologue about his parents, the camera adjusts a little bit as Johnny leans over the register counter to meet Tyler at eye level. At this point, the camera lingers on Johnny long enough before it cuts back to Tyler. The cuts aren’t as constant as they were at the start of the sequence which now indicates that Johnny’s slowly winning Tyler over. Each time the camera cuts back to Tyler’s gorgeous green eyes it further lowers her guard until she finally agrees to being his surfing teacher. These two sequences work not only because of the cinematography and editing but also because of the performances and that takes us to our next point.
Keanu Reeves made a name for himself throughout the 90’s as an action hero. On the surface, he fits the bill: he’s tall, he’s handsome, and he oozes cool. Reeves was unlike any other action star in the past decade because while he wasn’t built like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Reeves had a vulnerability that drew you in. That being said, he’s pretty bland in Point Break, but that’s alright, because the cast surrounding him do a great job in complementing his performance. Let’s talk about the three major characters and what they represent to both Johnny and the overall themes of Point Break.
First to bat is Johnny’s partner Agent Pappas played by Gary Busey. No one but Gary Busey could make such a bizarre character like Pappas so likable. Despite being the laughing stock of the FBI and constantly belittled by his superiors, Pappas is the one who ends up being correct about the Ex-Presidents being surfers. He’s also the one who delivers some of the best quotes in the entire movie. Find a more quotable line than, “UTAH, get me two!” As a buddy duo, Pappas and Utah are great together, but Pappas also represents what Johnny could end up becoming further down the line. Utah starts the film as the fresh-faced hotshot while Pappas is the has-been who’s been chewed up and spit out by the system he works for. Pappas is old enough to see the reward for all his years of service at the FBI but Utah thinks being an agent is the thrill of a lifetime. That is, until he meets Bodhi.
Next up, we have big daddy Bodhi, the real star of Point Break! Our introduction to Bodhi is through Johnny’s eyes and it’s love at first sight. It’s a cool slow-motion shot that would make Zack Snyder cream his pants and it’s also an effective way to establish the mythos that is Bodhisattva. Bodhi is everything that Johnny wants to be: he’s a leader, he’s charismatic, and he’s free from the confines of society. Essentially, Bodhi’s got a case of “stick-it-to-da-man-niosis.” Compare that to Johnny who’s stoic, works for The Man, and is constantly berated and belittled by the very system he works for. Johnny’s interest in Bodhi stems from the fact that he knows he could end up like Pappas unless he breaks free and Bodhi is the guy who shows Johnny what really freedom can be like. On first viewing, Bodhi’s lifestyle is exciting and liberating, but in the end, it’s his recklessness that leads to his undoing as well as the undoing of his crew. Bodhi might not be a slave to society, but he’s a slave to the adrenaline rush and it’s obvious that Kathryn Bigelow isn’t interested in endorsing it, but in deconstructing it. Case in point: Tyler.
I initially thought this was a thankless role, but thematically speaking, Lori Petty’s Tyler is the one who holds this whole film together. She’s the only character who sees past Bodhi’s monologues of enlightenment as merely the ravings of an extremist and she openly calls him out on it. For a majority of the film, Johnny’s too dumb to see how insane Bodhi actually is but Tyler warns him that Bodhi will take Johnny to the edge and she ends up being right the whole time. Kathryn Bigelow uses Tyler as a surrogate to critique the male ego and its desire for danger to prove how masculine it is. In the end, it’s ultimately Tyler who shows Johnny the illusion of Bodhi’s life and the danger it brings.
No action film is complete without, you know, good action and Point Break has a lot of sweet action. We’ve got not one, but TWO skydiving sequences, we’ve got surfing, and we’ve got bank robberies. The scale of the action is breathtaking and the range of the action is vast, but the reason it’s so effective is because it involves characters you actually like. Too many modern action films seem to place scale first and character second, but all the reps for Kathryn Bigelow who gives us the foreplay before thrusting us into the action. There are so many moments in Point Break that are just characters hanging out and vibing with each other and then once the action kicks in, you’re hooked because the character dynamics have already been set up.
One of the most iconic moments in the whole movie is the foot chase between Johnny and Bodhi. It’s iconic for a lot of reasons: it’s well-paced, it’s involved, and the resolution is effective even if it’s a bit silly. The camera does a great job of following both characters as they try to outpace the other and as the camera’s trying to keep up with both characters, there’s a tangible adrenaline rush that leaps off the screen. The chase is effective not only as an action set piece but also in furthering the plot. Since the start of the film, we see how diligent Johnny is to catching the bad guy, but now that it comes down to it, is he really willing to follow through with it? Up until this point, Johnny and Bodhi have been developing a bit of a bromance and now that Johnny has Bodhi at gunpoint, he must ultimately decide between his new friendship or his obligations as an FBI agent. For an action film that people enjoy to mock, there’s quite a bit of layers here.
Speaking of adrenaline rushes, the mounting tension during the house raid sequence is an underrated banger! Confident that they’ve found their suspects, Utah and Pappas organize a raid on the Red Hot Chili Peppers residence. In total, it’s a ten minute sequence, but half of that time is used to set up locations, key players, and Mcguffins. No one but Utah sees that the suspects are armed but before he can convey that information on the walkie talkie, a lawnmower drowns out the message which leaves Pappas in danger. Those first five minutes tell us that we’re in for some trouble and once it starts, it doesn’t let up! It’s a well done action sequence that leads to the ultimate punchline: the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the wrong guys. These are two action set pieces differ wildly from each other but they all deliver the same amount of thrills and dramatic tension.
Point Break is a masterclass in action filmmaking and is a wonderful time capsule for a decade of action films that seem to be all but extinct. The characters are defined, the cinematography has purpose, and the action moves the story forward while always managing to stay exciting and unique. Under lesser hands, this could have been an action film too silly to be taken seriously, but the amount of craft and talent that was put into this film deserves to be rewarded. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s easy to look past them when every other aspect of the film falls into place. Point Break makes its moves in silence and despite never drawing attention to itself, it leaves just enough there for those who truly look for its greatness.
People will be clamoring for strong female characters, but will dismiss films like The Assassin
AT FIRST, I WAS LIKE: To be quite honest, I don’t remember anything that happened when I first saw it. I saw the Blu-Ray at Best Buy and I thought the cover looked cool. I was under the impression that this was going to be a Wuxia film like Crouching Tiger or Hero so I bought the Blu-Ray under that pretense. I start watching it, and the long shots and lack of action had me blacking out. You ever get blackout drunk and wake up the next day on the side of the street with nothing but your underwear wondering how you got there? Well, that’s how I felt watching The Assassin; I got to the ending but I couldn’t tell how we got there. Don’t hold that against me though, I was a young and naive cinephile and a movie like this was just too much for me to appreciate at the time.
BUT NOW, I’M LIKE: It’s been six years since I’ve seen The Assassin and y’know what they say: second time’s a charm! The things I didn’t like the first time became the best parts about The Assassin. Wuxia films are some of the prettiest looking films ever made and The Assassin is no different. There are a lot of striking colors all shot with some terrific cinematography. Speaking of the cinematography, we need to call Berlin because the cinematography took my breath away! It’s full of these long and lingering shots that might turn off some viewers but if you pay attention to what the camera’s actually doing, you’ll get a lot of insight into the characters. While the cinematography was a banger, I was still having a hard time getting into the actual plot of the film. Too many different characters with difficult names made it hard for me to invest. Also, I couldn’t tell who was who because of how similar most of them looked. Maybe it’s just my lack of brain cells but I was confused. At least the visuals helped hold my attention.
IN THE END, I’M JUST LIKE: The Assassin is definitely not for everyone and if you want something with a bit more energy with a dash of well-choreographed action, then you’re gonna have to look somewhere else. If, however, you don’t mind a slower pace, then The Assassin might be the film for you. I really can’t praise the cinematography and editing enough. The opening sequence is shot entirely in black and white and sets up the world, the story, and the characters with little dialogue. All the information you need on Shu Qi’s assassin is given in those opening sequences. This second viewing was a very rewarding experience for me and I’m looking forward to giving this another watch a few years down the line.
A Quiet Place: Part II further supports my stance that children ruin everything.
REPPED: John Krasinski makes for a promising genre director because of his ability to create and hold tension for the right amount of time until it reaches its breaking point; for this reason, Krasinski seems like the obvious successor to Steven Spielberg. For further proof, look no further than the opening prologue for Part II which makes great use of tension by showing the events of the first day of the invasion while also serving as a reintroduction to the world set up in the first film. What’s so effective about that prologue is that we already know how it’s going to play out, but Krasinski and friends assume it’s going to be a normal day at the ballpark. It feels reminiscent to Spielberg’s War of the Worlds where an ordinary day slowly starts to become anything but normal. I like that Krasinski still manages to capture what made the first film so enjoyable while also allowing the world and characters to expand in a way that feels honest and organic to what was set up during the first. We still have Emily Blunt dazzling up the screen, but she’s now more of a side character while Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe are put front and center. Both characters go their separate ways for the sequel and while both have their own separate stories, their narratives ultimately culminate in a final act that drives home the main theme of the film. That final shot is such a powerful ending and makes for a solid crowd pleaser.
NEGGED: It’s not as emotionally gripping as the first film. The characters are still well-written and the performances are still as strong as my right arm, but the first film still feels like it had the stronger premise. Movies like Andy Muschietti’s It do this trope particularly well; if you want good drama, just kill a child during the opening sequence. Part I is about a family dealing with the loss of a child and for all the fun that Part II has, I think it lacks a bit of that drama that was present in the first film. Cillian Murphy’s character had potential to be the one with the most effective story arcs in the film but his backstory happens offscreen. It’s a small grievance but it deserved to be addressed.
FINAL VERDICT: It’s a coming-of-age tale about moving on and carrying on the legacy of your predecessors. A Quiet Place: Part II effectively expands the world that was created in Part I, but the main characters still manage to stay grounded and relatable despite the expansion. Krasinski still has a strong grasp on tension and while the novelty of the first film has worn off, John Krasinski still manages to craft a sequel that’s just as enjoyable as the first even if it wasn’t as dramatically resonant as the first film.
Nolan gives us another character super good at his job, this time, it just happens to be the villain.
REPPED: Calm down, literates, now’s not the time for Ledger praise. That comes later! Instead, I wanted to highlight Wally Pfister’s brilliant cinematography. Wally Pfister and Christopher Nolan are the power couple of the film world; the Brangelina for cinephiles, if you will. With Pfister’s work in The Dark Knight, he effectively conveys the characters’ feelings to the audience while also establishing the mood of each sequence. My favorite sequence is between The Joker and Rachel where he tells the story about his scars. The way the camera circles around both characters perfectly captures Rachel’s feelings of dread and unease. I don’t know about you, but this is probably how I’d feel if a clown came up to me at knifepoint. As I’ve been trekking my way through Nolan’s filmography I’ve learned that he loves push-in shots. I’ve noticed it since Batman Begins but it’s used quite a bit for The Dark Knight. The best push-in shot is definitely during the dinner sequence with Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. As Dent’s giving his “die a hero” monologue, the camera pushes into Bruce and it drives home the idea that Bruce believes that Harvey could be the man to make Gotham great again (MGGA). I also see it as Bruce hoping that Harvey could be Bruce’s way out of his responsibilities as Batman. The creative and purposeful use of camera movement in The Dark Knight makes it one of the most uniquely shot films in the superhero genre.
NEGGED: The only problem with setting Batman in our world is that you risk making Gotham look like a generic Metropolitan city. If there’s one thing Batman Begins does better it’s that it creates a Gotham City that feels tonally consistent with the Gotham City of the comics while walking the line just enough to where it feels like it could exist in our world. I’m not a comic book purist and I never have been so I can understand the choice to depict Gotham City the way it is in The Dark Knight. On this rewatch, it’s obvious that The Dark Knight is a story about Gotham City so why not play up that theme and give Gotham a bit more of a personality? Anyway, it’s a small grievance.
FINAL VERDICT: It’s not fair to call this a good Batman movie or even a good superhero movie. Nolan’s aspirations are larger than simply delivering another solid superhero film. Through his use of score, cinematography, and performance, Nolan ended up making a near-perfect film that just happens to have Batman in it. I think it’s time to talk about the Ledger performance because this is a performance that will transcend the ages. What do you say when everything’s already been said? It’s terrifying, it’s engrossing, and it’s funny. This feels like the performance Ledger was born to play and it will forever be a moment immortalized through time. The Dark Knight is a crime epic set in a world where superheroes exist and taking these larger-than-life icons and placing them in real world situations with real world consequences is what continues to make The Dark Knight ahead of the curve.
REPPED: Morfydd Clark’s performance as Maud is equal parts chilling as it is tragic. The character is a powerful allegory for religious zealotry and the dark paths it can lead you to. It’s uncomfortable watching Maud interact with other people because of how awkward and unaware she is but it also makes for some darkly comedic moments and Clark does a great job of delivering a grounded and sincere performance while also acknowledging how loony and unwell Maud really is. Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle seems like the biggest influence for Maud with her occasional voiceovers and apparent savior complex. The events of Saint Maud are told from the perspective of Maud herself, so the film romanticizes her actions and presents them as an act of God’s will. However, director Rose Glass smartly manages to pull us back to the reality of Maud’s delusions which in turn delivers one of the most chilling endings to a horror movie I’ve ever seen.
NEGGED: The relationship between Maud and Amanda seems like an afterthought during the middle portion of the film. Maud is assigned as Amanda’s caretaker who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and their interactions together are very good because of how different their personalities are. Maud is repressed and devout in her religion whereas Amanda is promiscuous and uninterested in religion or salvation. In a mocking fashion, Amanda calls Maud her “little savior,” unknowingly sparking Maud’s self-imposed crusade to save Amanda’s soul. This is what the film’s first act is about but once we reach the second act, Amanda is never present until the climax which is a strong conclusion for both characters, but it works because of how strong the setup during the first act was.
FINAL VERDICT: The terror of Saint Maud doesn’t come from its jump scares or demonic imagery, but from what it says about guilt and the things we turn to in order to cope with our shame. Of course, Saint Maud isn’t opposed to these horror tropes of jump scares and frightening imagery but they’re strategically used during moments when the characters are at their lowest and when the tension is at its highest. Saint Maud’s use of atmosphere and score is effective in building dread and putting us into the mental state of Maud which is the most important ingredient to making this film work. Ultimately, Saint Maud is a tragic character study of a woman seeking penitence and enlightenment but her journey ultimately leads her down a burning path of destruction.
My girlfriend thought that Drunk Jackman was a different actor.
REPPED: A bit of hyperbole here, but Borden is undoubtedly Bale’s best performance. Bale’s reputation as a method actor is well-documented and while he’s never been a bad actor, the method acting usually seems to overshadow the actual performances he gives. With The Prestige, however, there’s no prosthetics or weight change; this is simply Bale delivering a straightforward performance. In The Prestige, Bale’s Borden is subtle and reserved which is a great contrast to Jackman’s Angier who has a natural charisma and showmanship. On first viewing, you might label this as “Boring Bale,” but upon future viewings, there’s so much going on with this performance that you’d only notice upon a second viewing. Borden can be unlikable in one scene but can be charming and sympathetic in another and Bale never takes it to either extreme. A character as nuanced and complicated as Borden deserves to be in the Nolan Hall of Fame!
NEGGED: What negative can I give to one of my all-time favorite films? I have no idea, but if we want to reach here, I’d say Scarlett Johansson’s performance is lacking. In fact, the two females in the movie (Johansson and Rebecca Hall) are simply props for Bale and Jackman. Of the two, Rebecca Hall is the one who gives the stronger performance. She’s the emotional center for Christian Bale’s character, but she’s nothing more than the longsuffering housewife. It’s consistent with other Nolan films to have weak female leads but Johansson might be the most out of place. Her accent is distracting and she’s propped up to be the object of affection for both protagonists but she walks out of the film without leaving much of an impression.
FINAL VERDICT: The Prestige is a tragedy about the dark side of ambition and obsession. There’s a clear protagonist and antagonist in The Prestige but Bale and Jackman are so obsessed with beating the other that they destroy the lives of those around them and it ultimately leaves you conflicted on whether either one is truly the hero or villain. This is the middle ground where Nolan is starting to play around with higher concepts but unlike his proceeding films, the characters are the draw and not the concept itself. Nolan’s greatest magic trick is revealing his trick from the start, but like Angier, we refuse to accept it because of how simple and obvious it is and once the revelation comes, you’re left just as surprised as Angier with how the trick was in front of you all along. Nolan’s pedigree continues to grow from here on out, but The Prestige still manages to be his ultimate masterpiece.
REPPED: If Dwayne Johnson is Rocky Balboa at the start of Rocky III, then Dave Bautista is Mr. T working his way to the title. Bautista is the thinking man’s meathead and while Army of the Dead might not be the best use of his talents, Bautista still manages to carry this film on his broad ass shoulders. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel something when I saw Bautista’s Scott Ward flipping burgers at some rundown diner. The film’s prologue has Scott saving people during the initial zombie invasion which could have been its own movie but then we come to the present and we see the reward for his heroism and it’s not much. Where you have Dwayne Johnson and his constant need to show how badass he is, Bautista isn’t afraid to show some vulnerability and it’s refreshing to see some range with these physically imposing actors. Of course, this is still a Zack Snyder zombie movie so you’re gonna need the action and Bautista brings it! For all its problems, the one shining moment was seeing Bautista going full berserker and slamming zombies! Army of the Dead’s greatest sin was never having Bautista square off one-on-one with the Alpha Zombie. The fight we end up getting in the film is super lame and I was really hoping for a wrestling match between Ward and the Alpha.
NEGGED: I ABHOR Netflix-produced content because of how digital and lifeless it looks and Army of the Dead has to be one of the biggest offenders of this. I’ve seen The Irishman and despite being a Netflix film, it looks better than Army of the Dead, so what was going on here? Well, it appears as if Zack Snyder was also the cinematographer and it’s apparent that he can’t hold a camera properly. It’s almost unfathomable that this was shot by Zack Snyder because he’s always been a visually stimulating director; say what you want about his other films, but you can’t say he’s ever directed an ugly film, that is, until now. Visually, Army of the Dead seems like his most uninspired work.
FINAL VERDICT: Army of the Dead is about as bloated as I get after eating a bag of French Fries, and I do get very bloated! You’d think that with such a long runtime Snyder would take advantage and fully flesh out his impressive ensemble of characters but for all the talent he managed to bring aboard this project, no one has any real personality. They fall victim to the “Boba Fett Syndrome” where they would make for cool action figures but they have nothing going on underneath the surface. It’s a heist film in title only and lacks any sort of character or tension. From the concept to the characters to its Las Vegas setting, Army of the Dead hardly utilizes any of it to good effect and the result is a film that feels as lifeless as the undead themselves.
Dear 300, thank you for giving us Spartacus and Gerard Butler but please, take back CrossFit.
AT FIRST, I WAS LIKE: 300 is a visual treat! Zack Snyder’s biggest strength is making his heroes larger than life and it’s never been more prevalent than in 300. “We Spartans are descended from Hercules himself,” says Dilios. These Spartans aren’t soldiers, they’re gods and every shot establishes them as such. The makeup and costume design is top notch too. On one side, you have the Spartan uniform which is iconic and very vibrant with their simple red capes, and on the other side, you have Xerxes’ army which has a bunch of wild designs. Xerxes and his messengers are all decked out in bling as opposed to the Immortals who are more monstrous and demonic in their designs. I understand where the controversy in depicting the Persians as they are in the film but it never seemed to bother me. Granted, I was a brain dead teenager at the time so I never picked up on the subtext, but even then, it’s tonally consistent with the rest of the movie. How else would you interpret an army of villainous invaders from a foreign land when the heroes themselves are depicted as gods? 300 is a hyperreal depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae where the protagonists are gods and the antagonists are demons so it seems unfair to place criticism on a choice that seems to have been intentional from the start.
BUT NOW, I’M LIKE: There’s one thing that seems to be consistent with Snyder films, and it’s that he’s thematically inconsistent. ” ‘Goodbye, my love.’ He doesn’t say it. There’s no room for softness. Not in Sparta. No place for weakness. only the hard and strong may call themselves Spartans. Only the hard, only the strong.” This is what Dilios says in voiceover during King Leonidas’ goodbye to his Queen Gorgo as Leonidas and his men prepare to embark for war. This is the overall tone for the entirety of 300 which glorifies the warrior mentality. However, there’s one sequence involving Captain Artemis following the death of his son Astinos that seems to be a critique on this sort of masculinity. “I had lived my entire life without regret until now. It’s not that my son gave up his life for his country. It’s just that I never told him that I loved him the most. That he stood by me with honor. That he was all that was best in me.” This is about the only time Snyder challenges this idea on what being a man is but it’s only ever surface-level and it never has any sort of payoff at the end. I don’t know if I was looking too much into something that was never really there, but during my rewatch, I couldn’t help but feel as if Snyder’s intent was to deconstruct our notions of masculinity but his message is drowned out with all the glamorous shots of war, shields, and rippling abdominals.
IN THE END, I’M JUST LIKE: It’s amazing how culturally relevant this was back in the day. It was the breakout role for Gerard Butler, it influenced shows like Spartacus, and it’s the go-to Halloween costume for every Zyzz wannabe. This is the most iconic dude-bro movie to ever exist and despite how badly it’s aged in terms of its representation of foreigners and its view of masculinity, this still remains an enjoyable viewing experience for me. If there’s one consistency among the inconsistency, it’s that Snyder shoots action in a way very few can. With the exception of the warehouse sequence in Batman v Superman, this is probably the best action Snyder’s ever shot. It’s epic but never overbearing and for $70 million it looks a lot more expensive than that. Every action trope you can expect from a Zack Snyder movie is present in 300, but unlike Man of Steel’s overuse of destruction porn, 300’s action is exciting rather than draining. Rewatching 300 in context of Snyder’s other films, this fits right in with his work. He’s never been one for humanizing his characters, but he knows how to establish his protagonists as icons and larger than life. In turn, it’s difficult to relate to these characters on a personal level but Snyder’s technical mastery is enough to get his audience involved with the story even if it’s only surface level.
You know you’re watching a Taylor Sheridan film when Jon Bernthal appears onscreen.
REPPED: You wanna know who gives the best performance in the film? It’s not Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, or Jon Bernthal. It’s Medina Senghore as Jon Bernthal’s wife, Allison Sawyer. Who would’ve thought the pregnant housewife would be a more interesting protagonist than Angelina Jolie? The marketing had Angelina Jolie all over it and while she does a fine job, this should have been Senghore’s movie. Right from the start, you assume Senghore would be nothing more than a damsel in distress but Sheridan does a great job of subverting that expectation by making her character an actual badass. She’s not written to be an overpowered killing machine, but as a relatable character who’s able to handle herself. In a lot of ways, you could compare this character to action heroes like Sarah Connor and John McClane who are working class average joes placed in outlandish circumstances. I’m putting a lot of stock in Medina Senghore because I think she has potential to grow into a bigger action star.
NEGGED: Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen are so inept at their job that they’d be perfect for a Home Alone film! These are some terribly written antagonists who are outsmarted at every turn. Both are terrific actors and it’s great seeing Nicholas Hoult taking on more sinister roles, but their menace starts to dissipate the further along the movie goes. Aidan Gillen and Ben Mendelsohn need to be in a movie where they play nice guys because all of their recent film roles have them playing the same type of villain! I’m not looking for a Heath Ledger performance in a film like this, but the villain should be formidable enough to challenge the protagonist as well as to keep the audience on edge. They’re thankless roles but Hoult and Gillen do the best with what they’re given, which isn’t very much.
FINAL VERDICT: In a time when superheroes dominate the filmmaking landscape, we still have directors like Taylor Sheridan who are able to make films like Those Who Wish Me Dead which focus on the working class average joe as opposed to the larger than life beefcake that fills our screens today. Those Who Wish Me Dead is uneven and never seems to have a consistent focus on any particular character, but the thrills are there and it’s nice to see Angelina Jolie star in a film like this before she ventures off with Marvel. If you’re in the mood for an old-school action thriller with a breakout performance from Medina Senghore, then you should absolutely give this one a watch.