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"300"

Directed by Zack Snyder.
Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon.  Based on the comic book by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Vincent Regan and Dominic West.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  3/7/07

Folks--

My cousin Ron and I spoke a few months ago about "300" because in Ron's estimation, "300" was "guaranteed" to be at least a $9.50 Show since its trailer was so slick...how could it fail?  Blood, guts, glory, and it was based on Frank Miller's comic book, the same guy who came up gold two years ago with "Sin City."

During the massive, two-theater freebie done at the Regal Cinemas downtown at the MCI Center (or is it the Verizon Business Center?  Who gives a shit), the buzz was full-tilt boogie...and, when the lights dimmed, the first round of at least three rounds of random, excitable applause broke out.  I love seeing movies in theaters where everyone is pumped up to see a movie, and in this respect, "300" does not disappoint.  In the distant past--i.e., sometime before cell phones were invented--the King of Sparta, Leonidas (Gerard Butler, heretofore only really known as either the lead character in "The Phantom of the Opera" or the Angelina love interest from the second "Tomb Raider" flick), is informed by a messenger of Persia that those pesky Persians will soon be taking over Greek territory and making Sparta their collective bitch.  Leonidas isn't so down with this, so after killing the messenger and getting the feeling that this act won't go easily unpunished, he assembles 300 of Sparta's best soldiers to face the Persian forces--led by a man-woman-Sagat-from-"Street Fighter" lookalike named Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro)--at the coast of their soon-to-be-at-war country.  Did I mention that the Persian army numbered in the 50,000-strong range?  Yeah, that doesn't matter to Leonidas, who packs up and heads off to fight this group of Persian nasties, who have brought their casual soldiers, their elite soldiers, their horses, their monsters, their magicians, their elephants, their archers, their grenadiers, and their chained 10-feet-tall giants.  A whole lotta people are gonna die before this one is over!

And die, they do.  "300" features the kind of non-stop violence that died off right around 1991 or '92 in the movies, and it is welcomed back here with open arms.  Without much exaggeration I can say that people are dying by sword, dagger, spear and arrow for just about every one of the film's last 100 minutes; after we establish that Leonidas doesn't like people coming into his country to tell him it's not his any more (and that he REALLY enjoys time at home bangin' his wife, played here by Lena Headey with the kind of scowl the role requires) and his 300 soldiers get on the road, battle after battle begins and it only ends when the credits roll.  This worked for me, because the combinations of the killing plus the stunning washed-out visuals, the blood effects and the CGI make for very watchable entertainment.  And, Butler--who doesn't even bother hiding his very un-Greek Scottish/Irish accent throughout the movie--has maybe the best gritted teeth sequences in film history.  You buy his leader character because he looks bad-ass in a mask and because he is shredded in this film; in fact, all of the Spartans look like they are poster children for 24-Hour Fitness and that just helps the film's atmosphere.

Being a minor purist, I didn't like the fact that the movie is 100% shot on soundstages and slapped with blue screen backgrounds incessantly and basically set in slow-motion from start to finish.  Couldn't they have featured just one scene completely in real time with natural sunlight?  Strangely, this didn't affect me when I watched Miller's collaboration with Robert Rodriguez on "Sin City" a couple of years ago; maybe for me, I like my "Braveheart"/"Gladiator"-type films shot outdoors on real fields with really fake, red-paint blood flying around on the set, and it doesn't matter to me if pulpy noir is shot this way.  The visuals are truly cool throughout, but it does take away a little something for guys like me.  You notice this more as the film goes on, and you are not stunned into submission any more late in the movie.

The acting--and by that, I mean the yelling, scowling, posing and dying done by the forces on both sides of the war in "300"--is pitch perfect for the mood; when we go back to Sparta throughout the film to follow how Leonidas's wife will try to convince "The Council" (led by Dominic West, on loan from "The Wire") to give Leonidas reinforcements for this war, I liked that we had a little something to do between bloodshed, and writer/director Zack Snyder is wise to give us a minor change-up in spots throughout.  I was surprised that the soundtrack wasn't a bit more modern; we do get a couple of rock numbers before Persians are sent to their imminent demise, but for the most part, no bad-ass tunes in "300", which might have been a budget decision since most of the film's budget must have been thrown at the visuals.

Overall, "300" looked surefire on paper and it delivers on most fronts.  What Frank Miller material will see the light of day next?  Probably a "Sin City" sequel, but this guy is turning into the hottest shit walking quite quickly!!

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09