DVDPurge-300 (Yes! Two blog posts in one day!)

Movie #2: 300, (2007), starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, directed by Zack Snyder

Boy oh boy, where do you start with this spectacle of violence?

The movie comes from the source material of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, and I think that stylizing provides ample punch to the amazing visuals put forth by director Zack Snyder (Batman vs. Superman, Man of Steel, Sucker Punch, The Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead) and company.

I’ve always been drawn to movies, books, and stories that dealt with heroes, underdogs, honor, duty, valor, etc.  There’s something about those ideals that have always spoken to me.  When I found this tidbit about Miller, I totally understood:

When he was a child, Frank Miller saw the Rudolph Maté film The 300 Spartans (1962), with Richard Egan as King Leonidas, and was deeply affected by it. He has explained that the film altered his perception of the ‘Hero’ concept insofar as he came to realize that the hero didn’t always win and that sometimes, to be a hero, one must sacrifice oneself. Ever since he saw the movie, he has been fascinated with Thermopylae.

Thermopylae is where most of our tale is set, in a battle against the Persians, their King Xerxes, and their Immortals.  I mentioned in my 80 Days post that I had always had an interest in history and the Civilization games, so when I first watched 300 in 2007, Xerxes and the Persians were well known to me.  I had been playing Civ since the 3rd version of the game came out in 2001, and was well-aware of this guy…(he looks a tad different in the movie, obviously.  The Persians were lead by Darius I or Cyrus in the next version of the game and then again by Darius I in the latest iteration).

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But yes, even in the Civ games, the Greeks and Persians can participate in a little brouhaha.

However, the level of violence and insanely complex fight choreography is downright incredible.  The sheer amount of technical work, not to mention that countless hours of rehearsal and weapon’s training, is amazing by itself, and the time put in definitely shows on screen.  This movie is a text book when it comes to the fight scenes.

For all the terrific action sequences though, there are slower moments where the narration of actor David Wenham (Faramir from Lord of the Rings) truly carries the storytelling.  In the very beginning, one of my first notes was to find out who the narrator was, because the voiceover work seemed top notch.  Then all of a sudden, we’re hearing that same voice coming from Wenham’s character Dilios.  (While the movie wasn’t recognized by the big award shows, Wenham’s performance was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Film awards, so at least some people enjoyed it as much as I did).

I felt Lena Headey’s turn as Queen Gorgo completely set the tone for her big future role.  (Also nominated in the ASFFHF **I totally made that up**awards for Best Supporting Actress).  It’s plain to me, that this role 100% influenced her casting as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones.  Her best scene is where she delivers her speech to the council, and then comeuppance to Dominic West’s Theron.

One of my favorite images from the movie:

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Couple cool notes:

  • Young Leonidas (not teenage Leonidas that fights the wolf in the above image) is Eli Snyder, son of director Zack.
  • 300 served as feature film debut of one Michael Fassbender as Stelios.  He had only acted in television prior.
  • The quote, “Then we will fight in the shade,” is an actual one from history, spoken by the Spartan warrior Dienekes when warned about the enemies’ arrows. It is also used by Greeks today as emblems on soldier uniforms.

As much as I find myself saying “am I going to watch this again?”, the answer is undoubtedly a resounding “probably”.  🙂  Does that fly in the face of the purpose of purging a DVD collection?  Absolutely.  But, for the visuals and fight scenes, not to mention the fantastic music (especially the early choral chanting), make it a DVD I cannot part with.

Verdict: With four out of five stars, it’s a keep.

Next: 500 Days of Summer (will have to wait for Nicolette on that one!  Quite the genre change there, too.)

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DVDPurge-50/50

Movie #1: 50/50, (2011), starring Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, directed by Jonathan Leavine

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Cancer is one of those universal things that has invaded the lives of so many people both within our own little personal part of the world, but also permeates just about everyone else’s too.  In that way, no one ever goes through this awful, awful disease alone.  Setting out to make what amounts to be a comedic drama, if there is such a thing, is a monumental task when it comes to being done right.

This film does a great job of not skirting over the ugly parts of cancer, in that it put’s front and center the pain not only that people with the disease suffer through, but also so many other people within that person’s social circle.  My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer years ago, had his prostate removed and has been cancer-free ever since thankfully, but absolutely fresh in my mind to this day is the unknown that seeps into your brain when it comes to this disease.  Could this happen?  How bad is it?  Is he going to die?  How do they know?  It’s TERRIBLE.

Trying to visualize being 27-years old and finding out you have cancer is mind-blowing to me, and is something that I can’t really fathom dealing with.  So first and foremost, if you’re reading this, and have dealt with it yourself, I’m in awe of you.

No matter the type, stage, whatever, you are a fucking hero.

I have no clue how I would land on my feet, tell my family, or wrap my brain around basically losing my compass that takes me through life.  It’s an impossible situation.  The only thing I could think of to even remotely come close to what it must feel like would be to be flying a plane alone, at night, and you lose all lights and instruments.  Your engines are still running, you’re still flying, but it’s complete and utter darkness, and you have nothing at that moment to guide you.

Joseph Gordon-Leavitt does a wonderful job showing both the range of ups and downs that go with a diagnosis of this sort, as well as the incredible amount of awkward situations that arise within social interactions with others.  (His performance was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe in 2012)  Whether it’s calling out Anna Kendrick’s Katherine on her “sea otter tap” attempts at establishing a physical connection between therapist and patient, or the fantastic give and take he has throughout the movie with Seth Rogen’s Kevin.

GL and Rogen’s chemistry really does shine for the duration.  Moments like Adam’s breakdown after driving Kevin’s Jeep one-way and kicking him out, or him finally bringing Kevin home and finding the “Dealing with Cancer Together” book in his apartment, but also him chiming in from the kitchen after confronting Bryce Dallas Howard’s Rachael after she cheats on Adam are all fantastically grounding, and humorously real, respectively.  (Her passing on going to chemo with him because of the “energy”?  Fuck that noise!)

Speaking of Rogen though, and this is not quite a knock, but is he the same character in every movie he acts in?  (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad (though I guess he’s a cop in this one, but still, a very similar feeling cop), Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Green Hornet, This Is the End, Neighbors, and The Interview are all films I’ve seen with him starring).  I feel like the only variation of Seth Rogen is his weight at the time.  Thankfully, I find him entertaining regardless.  I’ve yet to see him in Steve Jobs (as Steve Wozniak) and the James Franco directed The Sound and the Fury.  Those would probably be the two more serious turns on his filmography and I’ll have to check them out.

 

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They don’t come much cuter than Anna Kendrick, do they?  (That’s for you Lianna, if you’re reading).

She plays awkward superbly well, and I liked her just as much in this film as I liked her in 2009’s Up in the Air.  (I totally had this movie and that movie swapped in my head chronologically, would’ve bet my house 50/50 came out first).

Overall, I think this movie does a fantastic job of showing a hopeful and lighter-side of cancer while not ignoring the grit and the pain it causes everyone around it.  I think the soundtrack does a great job of matching both the tone and emotion throughout the movie, with a couple personal favorite’s of mine being “To Love Somebody” by the Bee Gees, and “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam.

Couple random tidbits:

  • Adam brings a girl home from a night out…oh hi Jessica Parker Kennedy, aka Max from Black Sails!
  • Will Reiser, writer and executive producer, wrote 50/50 using his experiences both dealing with and seeing others deal with his own cancer diagnosis.

Verdict:  At 4 stars out of 5 for me, it’s a keep.

Next: Zack Snyder’s 300.

You know what they say about best laid plans….

(in case you don’t, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” and holy god, that Neil Leifer photo above is freaking amazing isn’t it?  One of my favorite athletic images ever.)

So my best laid plan was to go through my DVD collection alphabetically, but, sometimes things change when one of your heroes dies.

I remember reading that Muhammad Ali was hospitalized and of course thought, “is this it?”

Turns out it was.

The Greatest is gone.

So, in honor of the monumental life that Ali lived, I’m starting my DVD purge quest with Michael Mann’s Ali (2001).  I’ll revert back to the alphabetical course after that.

In many ways, I think I was drawn to Ali for the same reasons everyone else was.  He was boisterous, funny, charming, talented.  It wasn’t until I was older that I learned more about his life and doings outside of the boxing ring.  The man lived life-like we all should…with kindness, grace, bravery, and perspective.  He fought for what he believed in.

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

Ali was one of those people I’d pick if you asked me the question, “if you could only pick 4 people to have dinner with…”.  (Robin Williams and Johnny Cash would’ve been on that list too)  Not only because he could tell amazing stories, teach life lessons, etc., but because I guarantee you that anyone who came in contact with him was made a better person just by breathing the same air that he did.

His trainer, Angelo Dundee, was quoted saying Ali, despite losing the very prime of his boxing career after having his boxing license revoked for being a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and refusing the draft, never heard him complain about losing those years.  The world never got to see Ali at his finest.

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“Ali had been passing a high-rise building in 1981 when he noticed a commotion; a man was threatening to commit suicide by jumping from the ninth floor.  Ali asked the police officers if he could help and duly coaxed the troubled man down from the ledge.” -Photo: Bettman/Corbis

With that in mind, let’s get to the movie…

If you had to boil down this movie to its simplest idea, I’d say it’s about a man who fights to gain the heavyweight boxing crown, has it taken from him unjustly, and then fights to get it back.

But it’s not that simple, of course.

Michael Mann does a fantastic job in picking a period of time that shows us Ali’s most turbulent years.  (Some of my favorite films are Mann-helmed: Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, Collateral, Public Enemies)  The deaths of the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X basically had most of the country in a state of perpetual despair.  Ali was the light in the midst of that darkness.

Will Smith does an excellent job of portraying Ali, complete with mannerisms, verbal genius, and charm.  His performance lead to a Best Actor Oscar nomination. (The award went to Denzel Washington, for Training Day)  Equally as adept and entertaining is Jon Voight’s turn as Howard Cosell.  The give and take between these two whether demonstrative (Ali grabbing Cosell’s toupee during an interview), to the quiet, (when Cosell calls Ali to tell him he TKO’d the U.S. Government), are masterfully done.  The scene when Cosell is screaming “It is over! It is over!  It is over!” after (spoiler alert) Ali knocks out Foreman is just pure emotion.  Voight’s Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor was well-deserved.  (Jim Broadbent won the award for Iris)

I definitely identify with historical figures and characters that have flaws.  There’s something about the imperfection.  There are times during this film where I found myself feeling stagnant…bored even…mostly, these scenes were the ones where Ali was interacting/courting women.  He was a womanizer, but I felt like those parts of the movie were just awfully slow.

Some of my favorite scenes though are just when Smith is riffing as Ali.  When he’s in his hotel room watching television and learning about termites…”these itsy-bitsy things eatin’ people’s houses down” and “ah man…” when the house actually falls.  When he asks his trainer Angelo Dundee if he think’s that Ali still has the tools to beat Foreman.  “You still have the tools, but they’re different.”

The score is amazing, perfectly capturing the essence for the time-period, the discourse, and the triumph of Ali’s greatness.

Overall, I’d give this movie 4 stars out of 5.  I think it could have done a bit more to show how much of a Titan Ali was to people of all ages, races, ethnicities, financial backgrounds, etc.

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Verdict:  KEEP

For a few more minutes of an excellently narrated and produced goodbye to Ali, check out this HBO Sports tribute:  https://youtu.be/ThJbZR8M9a0