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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cesar Chavez - C

Michael Pena as Cesar Chavez
Rated PG-13, 101 minutes

With a worthy, well-acted story, "Cesar Chavez" still fails to connect

You'd be hard pressed to find a more worthy film subject than Mexican-American civil right leader Cesar Chavez, who championed the cause of the migrant worker in California. However, he is deserving of a better effort than the new drama "Cesar Chavez," a well-acted but scattered and unsatisfying tale that barely scratches the surface of Chavez's many accomplishments. The film follows Ch├ívez's (Michael Pena) efforts to organize 50,000 farm workers in California, many of them temporary workers from Mexico  With poor working conditions for the workers, who also suffer from racism and brutality at the hands of the employers and local Californians, Chavez forms a union for the workers to get better wages, at the risk of his own life and health. Directed by actor Diego Luna ("The Terminal") in his English-feature directing debut, "Cesar Chavez" is an uneven, somewhat incoherent look at Chavez's struggles to organize a more perfect union for the migrant workers in California. It goes in too many directions, a little here on family, a little here on the unions, a little on his personal life, though it's not revelatory into any new details into Chavez's life. Pena is an affecting Chavez and he gives a strong performance amongst a talented cast that includes America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich as one of the evil winery owners. "Chavez" is most successful when it's focused in the area of the organization of the unions, though it falters under the flat direction of an inexperienced director such as Luna. "Chavez" has a handful of inspiring moments thanks to Pena's believable performance, but in the end it comes up unsatisfying, lacking power and relevance that could've been better served by a tighter script and a more focused direction. The story of "Cesar Chavez" is a worthy one, but it needs a better film effort than this.

Wes's Grade: C

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sabotage - D

Rated R, 109 minutes

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Someone "Sabotage"-d this tiresome, unoriginal action flick

What a bloody waste. That's what the familiar new Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie "Sabotage" is. A waste of time, talent and resources with a half-decent story that's lost amidst the gratuitous violence and bullets. Schwarzenegger leads an elite DEA task force that takes on the world's deadliest drug cartels. When the team successfully executes a high-stakes raid on a cartel safe house, they think their work is done - until, one-by-one, the team members mysteriously start to be eliminated. As the body count rises, everyone is a suspect. Directed and co-written by David Ayer, the unoriginal "Sabotage" has a great cast and an interesting story that's completely undermined by so much violence, it throws the film off the rails completely early on. As Schwarzenegger's DEA team, it's filled with a gallery of intriguing actors completely wasted in this mess: Josh Holloway, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, all given barely a line or two, not to mention the woefully miscast (though otherwise fine actress) Brit Olivia Williams, trying to exude a Tilda Swinton-vibe that comes off laughable underneath a ridiculous Southern accent that's as sporadic as the film's plot. Arnold has his way of getting the bad guys, and he does here too, which shouldn't be a big surprise, though expect considerable (and largely unnecessary) bloodshed along the way. Ayer has done this type of thing much better (like "End of Watch"), and by amping up the body count here, "Sabotage" undermines itself from being a half-decent film. This won't stop Arnold's fan base from coming out, who could make "Sabotage" a hit (though much of what he's done lately has flopped) but much like Arnold himself, this grows old and tired very quickly. Stay away.

Wes's Grade: D

Noah - B

Russell Crowe as Noah
Rated PG-13, 132 minutes

"Noah" is intriguing, entertaining interpretation

The epic new film "Noah" from acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan") isn't a faithful, literal interpretation of the Biblical story of Noah's ark, but what a sublime, creative interpretation it is, bound to cause plenty of controversy amongst the Evangelical Christian set. Vastly entertaining, highly watchable though flawed and uneven in places, most of it works remarkably well. In a world ravaged by human sin, Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family (Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman and others) and  is given a divine mission: to build an Ark to save creation from the coming flood. Directed and co-written by Aronofsky, the visually enticing, affecting and well-acted "Noah" may be a divisive film with some, but the basic themes of sin, the fall of man and God's mercy ring true. Of course, some (Biblical scholars) may not appreciate some of the liberties that Aronofsky takes with the story, altering some details of the story, not to mention some egregious interpretations (namely with that of the crusty angelic beings The Watchers, which gives it a "Lord of the Rings" feel yet is one of the few things that doesn't work). Still, Crowe is perfectly cast as Noah, and the sublime visuals add some entertainment value, particularly with all the animals, the built-to-scale Ark and the tense, impressive flood scene, which seems much more expansive and epic here than in previous versions. "Noah" isn't perfect; much of Aronofsky's creativity pays off and the expensive film works much better than you might think, though it's a little muddled in its initial chapters and some may be disappointed that the flood, which takes center stage in the trailers, doesn't come until mid-film. "Noah" takes better shape later on, and the themes of mercy, family and forgiveness are relevant. Whether or not you're a believer, you will appreciate this intriguing, highly entertaining version of "Noah," just see it for yourself before you criticize it.

Wes's Grade: B

Friday, March 21, 2014

Stranger by the Lake - C

Unrated, 97 minutes
In French with English subtitles

French psychological thriller "Stranger by the Lake" fails to shock

Pierre Deladonchamps
The new erotic French thriller "Stranger by the Lake" has a unique premise as it strives to be an unconventional erotic murder mystery. It can work well ("Basic Instinct") but usually does not (nearly anything with Madonna), and put the gratuitous, unsatisfying "Stranger by the Lake" in the "Not" category. Frank (Pierre Deladonchamps) spends his summer days crusing for companionship at a popular cruising spot on the shores of a rural French lake. He meets and falls in love with Michel (Christophe Paou), an attractive yet darkly mysterious man. Frank and Michel become the primary suspects in a murder by the lake but they choose to ignore the dangers and instead choose to continue their passionate relationship. Directed and written by Alain Guiraudie, the erotic drama the mediocre "Stranger by the Lake" pushes the buttons alright, but generally the wrong ones. As with many films that fall into this category, it has a striking premise that's undermined by so much gratuitous nudity and sex (in this case full male nudity, and alot of it) that it should be categorized as gay porn than a mainstream French film. What's worse, it really doesn't add to the plot or storyline and director Guidraudie seems more concerned with the shock value than with subtlety, which is unfortunate since the handsome Deladonchamps is a fine actor wasted in this mess of a movie. Some intensity in the last act still doesn't add up to much, and Guiraudie seems to think it's fine that the characters choose love over morality itself. "Stranger by the Lake" had some potential with an unconventional story, but once the pants come off, it falls short. Not worth your time.

Wes's Grade: C

Omar - B

Unrated, 98 minutes
In Arabic with English subtitles

"Omar" is a gripping, tense Palestinian thriller about love and betrayal
Adam Bakri as Omar

Familiar yet engrossing, the new Palestinian drama "Omar" touches on themes we all know about: family, friends, ideals that are all important to us and things we must often choose to accept or give up. Omar (Adam Bakri) is a Palestinian baker who routinely climbs over the separation wall to meet up with his girl Nadja (Leem Lubany). By night, he's also a freedom fighter with his childhood friends Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). Arrested after the killing of an Israeli soldier and tricked into an admission of guilt by association, he agrees to work as an informant. Omar must choose - either be faithful to the cause - or lose everything by betraying. Directed and co-written by Hany Abu-Assad ("Paradise Now"), "Omar" is a captivating, often poignant example of how the Middle East conflict is so distant but is filled with themes we in the West can relate to as well. Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar at this year's Academy Awards, it's also superbly acted by newcomer Bakri in the lead, and his warm chemistry with Nadja is among the film's highlights. Part thriller and part love story, it's really nothing new with other recent films ("Bethlehem") touching on similar themes, though the added love story helps add a little emotion to "Omar's" story. It's also peppered with blood and violence, and that may keep some away from the captivating, touching "Omar," which is one of 2013 best imports.

Wes's Grade: B

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Divergent - C+

Rated PG-13, 143 minutes

Intriguing premise in "Divergent" watered down under its predictability

Shailene Woodley and Theo James
For a movie about non-conformity, the entertainingly bland Young Adult sci-fi "Divergent" tries too hard to fit in. With an intriguing premise, some nice visuals and an attractive cast (including the lovely but underused Kate Winslet in a smallish role), it's ultimately disappointing under a dull, overlong plot. Set in a futuristic world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it's too late. Directed by Neil Burger ("Limitless") and based on the set of popular YA novels by Veronica Roth, "Divergent" has some bland appeal and some enjoyable moments, though ironically, its message of non-conformity is lost in desperately trying to find mass appeal of that same audience. Better than "Twilight" in depth but lacking the intensity of "The Hunger Games," it should still be a big hit with both teens and their parents. Woodley, in a star-making role if there ever was one, nearly single-handedly carries the movie on her back as the girl with a secret, though she lacks chemistry with newcomer James, miscast here as her colleague and love interest; his rote, monotone line readings drag the film down in true Robert Pattinson-Taylor Lautner fashion (in other words, he can't act). The premise from Roth's novels is intriguing and the some of the visuals are first-rate, but it never quite takes shape and seem watered down, and may disappoint fans of Roth's (who is only 25 herself) novels. The bland, unsatisfying "Divergent" has been obviously designed as the next tentpole film once the "The Hunger Games" runs its course, and on that note it will likely be a big hit (it certainly didn't stop the much-worse "Twilight" series). Flat and middling at best, there are better options than this. Drop the kids off and go see "The Grand Budapest Hotel" again.

Wes's Grade: C+

Bad Words - B

Rated R, 88 minutes

Darkly amusing, irreverent "Bad Words" is dirty but charming
Jason Bateman

The facetiously delightful new dark comedy "Bad Words" is the sublime directorial feature debut for Jason Bateman ("Horrible Bosses"). Part revenge flick, part satire and loads of profane fun until it reaches its quaggy final act, "Bad Words" is a strong Rated R because it has plenty of them. Guy Trilby (Bateman), a 40-year-old high school dropout gets his revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win a spelling bee as an adult. Along the way, he befriends a female reporter (Kathryn Hahn) and a young Indian contestant (the wonderful Rohan Chand from "Homeland") who he exposes to the wilder side of life. Irreverent, implausible but chock full of entertaining moments, "Bad Words" is its best when it lets loose and doesn't care what you think, which happens often in the first part of the movie. Bateman (who also co-produced) should be commended for his impressive direction, and even better, choice of a serviceable script by Andrew Dodge and a talented cast that is rounded out by Ben Falcone, Philip Baker Hall and always hilarious Allison Janney, underused here but making the most of an underwritten role. The dark bite of the first two acts seems lost in the softer final act with an ending that seems out-of-place and rewritten to appeal to a wider audience, not to mention anti-climactic given Guy's unique backstory. Still, there are some well-placed, laugh-out-loud moments in "Bad Words" with obvious design to shock that should please those who enjoy the low brow. With a decent script, a charming cast and some enjoyably dirty moments, "Bad Words" is both piquant and convivial, and one of the year's most inimitable new comedies. Worth a look, but leave your spell checker (and your kids) at home.

Wes's Grade: B

Muppets Most Wanted - B-

Rated PG, 113 minutes

Cheerful, silly "Muppets Most Wanted" follows the Muppets overseas

Miss Piggy
It's time to get things started again with the Muppets gang sequel on the heels of the hit 2012 Disney revitalization "The Muppets." The peppy, silly "Muppets Most Wanted" is not the Muppets at their most sensational or inspirational, and while not as good as the 2012 film, it has some genuinely amusing, witty moments. This outing takes the entire Muppets gang on a European tour but mayhem follows them overseas, as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine—the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit—and his dastardly sidekick Dominic "Number Two" Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Directed by James Bobin and co-written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller, who helmed and co-wrote the 2012 film, this one is as energetic and silly as ever, though it's occasionally too busy and stuffed with too much onscreen for kids to grasp at one time. Interestingly, it also covers similar ground as the Muppets 1981 film, "The Great Muppet Caper" though this film is filled with livelier humans and some nice, but unnecessary, musical numbers that seem to drag it out a little. All the gang is back in fine form, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Beaker and Animal, though the humans have fun too. Gervais, Tina Fey and "Modern Family's" Ty Burrell are all a hoot (but no Jason Segel or Amy Adams!), not to mention loads of star-studded cameos of mostly musical stars, ranging from Gaga to Diddy to Celine Dion, as well as Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz doing the waltz and Salma Hayek running with the (Muppet) bulls. It's all amusing (it's especially cute seeing Muppets with legs) in what is essentially a Good Kermit vs. Bad Kermit story yet "Most Wanted" goes on too long for something geared toward the kiddoes, and they might lose interest in the saggy mid-section until it picks up for a funny, well-staged climax. "Muppets Most Wanted" is enjoyable fun and a solid, clean family film, though still not the best Muppets film, which in my opinion is "Muppets Take Manhattan." It also reveals what we've known for years. Give Animal his own movie. Now that would be both sensational and inspirational.

Wes's Grade: B-

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Art of the Steal - C

Rated R, 90 minutes

Dark crime comedy "The Art of the Steal" charming but cliched

Kurt Russell
I'd be a rich man if I could actually name all the crime films about an aged criminal going back in for "one last job." That overused cliche is the premise of the new Canadian heist dramedy "The Art of the Steal." It's dark and peppered with some charming moments yet is so calculated you begin looking around for the obligatory DeNiro or Pacino cameo (fortunately, that doesn't happen). Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell), a third rate semi-reformed art thief and motorcycle daredevil, agrees to get back into the con game with his untrustworthy half-brother, Nicky (Matt Dillon), though he doesn't realize how dangerous the game has become. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Jonathan Sobol, "The Art of the Steal" is a serviceable dark crime comedy burdened by its own cliches of grouchy criminals unable to give up their life of crime. It's not terrible, but terribly predictable; the highlight is the amusing chemistry between Russell and Dillon as well as the deadpan delivery of comic actor Jay Baruchel, who regularly steals scenes from the veteran leads as Crunch's apprentice (his Amish costume is hilarious). Veteran British actor Terence Stamp ("Valkyrie") also pops in for a few brief scenes doing his best Sean Connery impression as yet another aged criminal, but even a stellar actor such as he can't overcome Sobol's unoriginal script and direction, not to mention a lackluster, unsatisfying finale. Some of it's entertaining and filled with a few laughs (thanks to Baruchel), but dark comedic crime films like this have become a dime a dozen, and the forgettable "The Art of the Steal" manages only to take your time.

Wes's Grade: C

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Single Mom's Club - D

Rated PG-13, 111 minutes
Nia Long, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Zulay Henao, Cocoa Brown

Perry churns out another mediocre, derivative movie in "Single Mom's Club"

Single men (myself included) take note: though the dreadfully boring, contrived new Tyler Perry comedy "The Single Mom's Club" is about and geared for single women, you're better off meeting someone at the gym or grocery store. After an incident at their children's school, single mothers (Nia Long, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Zulay Henao, Cocoa Brown) from different walks of life bond and create a support group to discuss their problems and how they can make them better. Directed, written and produced by Perry, the pleasant but scattered "The Single Mom's Club" is his typically bland, mediocre stuff filled with simplistic messages, and while it's more appealing and mainstream than Madea, it still doesn't provide much in the way smart filmmaking (Perry is still very lazy even with basic scene set-up). Featuring a talented, lovely cast of actresses (and also Perry himself, who appears this time thankfully sans Madea garb) and peppered with a few fun moments, simplistic messages (kids - don't smoke, it's bad!) for this type of audience, in typical Perry fashion its unrealistic plotting, broad humor and cardboard characters don't add up to much except for some scattershot laughs. The whole "women good, men bad" theme prevails here, except if your name is Tyler Perry, who once again casts himself as the savior for the down and out woman in the film's most sexist angle. All the actresses, especially Covey (a wonderful comedienne who doesn't belong here) and Long, deserve better than this, though "For Better or Worse" actress Brown walks with most of the best lines and most heartfelt story of the women. Predictable with little genuine insight into the issues presented here, "The Single Mom's Club"  is another mediocre, unoriginal effort from the Perry movie factory.

Wes's Grade: D

Need for Speed - C+

Rated PG-13, 130 minutes

Familiar but fast-paced "Need for Speed" doesn't lack in thrills

Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper
Honestly, movies based on video games runs into tenuous filmmaking even with big name movie stars (The Rock in "Doom" and Mark Wahlberg in "Max Payne") but every so often one comes along that sticks, and the racing thriller "Need for Speed," based on the Electronic Arts (EA) game of the same name is one of those that works. With stock characters and predictable plotting that treads familiar territory, the overlong "Need for Speed" is also thrilling and fun, with its action sequences the clear highlight of the film. After being released from prison for a crime that he didn't commit, street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is set to race cross-country in a highly secretive car race to avenge the death of a close pal. Directed by Scott Waugh ("Act of Valor"), "Need for Speed" is slick, fast-paced and often ridiculous, mindless fun that will fly by quickly. It's too long for its own good and tries too hard to please with its memorable "Fast and Furious"-style antics but also nice that it doesn't rely heavily on CGI, allowing the sweet cars to speak for themselves (the Shelby Mustang featured prominently in most of the film is my favorite). As well, it's good to see "Breaking Bad's" Emmy-winner Paul get his own movie, and while he's an unusual choice for something mainsteam like this, he grounds the film with a little offbeat humor, making for a nice couple with charming breakout star Imogen Poots ("That Awkward Moment") who should be a huge star by year's end, not to mention bad guy Cooper, who should also be a recognizable face thanks to the "Captain America" films. The often preposterous but entertaining "Need for Speed" should please those needing another mindless racing flick, and could give that other racing movie series a run for its money.

Wes's Grade: C+

The Grand Budapest Hotel - A-

Rated R, 100 minutes

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" one of Anderson's grandest, funniest tales
Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori

Part oddball comedy, part murder mystery and part Benny Hill, the hilarious new Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom") film "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is one of his most silly, with winning, funny performances from a large ensemble cast. The movie recounts the adventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) , a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel, and Zero Moustafa (newcomer Tony Revolori), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend as they weave their way through the battle of a priceless painting and family fortune following the mysterious murder of a rich matriarch (Tilda Swinton). Written, directed and produced by Anderson, one of cinema's most unconventional filmmakers, the charmingly witty and odd "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is filled with Anderson's quirky, hip style mixed with zany British humor on a more lavish, colorful palette and extensive cast. Anderson's unique style comes alive here and moves at a fast, fun pace told in quick segments that build on each other, with memorable performances, lovely sets (all filmed in Germany) and a complementary stringy score from Alexander Desplat that shows quite a change for the director who started with the low-budget "Bottle Rocket." Of the unnecessarily large cast, the most memorable include Fiennes, who is at his most witty in the lead, aided with warm chemistry with Revolori, in his debut film, along with Swinton in a tiny but crucial role that finds her unrecognizable under a load of makeup, as well as Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, and Jude Law (not to mention a wickedly funny and near-unrecognizable Harvey Keitel in the film's funniest extended cameo). Anderson's overly ambitious plotting and excessive stunt casting (Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Bob Balaban and Owen Wilson are all essentially unnecessary here) weaken its second act, but there are plenty of silly moments to be had, including the photobombing effect from many of the actors in various scenes (Schwartzman and Norton in particular). It may not have universal appeal, but "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is still Anderson's funniest, most mainstream effort to date and one of 2014's best efforts. Too bad its early-year release date will undermine any award chances later in the year.

Wes's Grade: A-

Veronica Mars - C+

Rated PG-13, 108 minutes

An entertaining rehash, "Veronica Mars" is for die-hard fans of series

Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars
If you enjoyed the CW TV mystery series "Veronica Mars" about an amateur high school sleuth, then you'll probably love the entertaining movie version, a mildly entertaining, witty rehash of the 2004-2007 show. Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), former high school sleuth, has moved to New York City nine years after the series ended. She wishes to distance herself as far from her hometown Neptune as possible, but is forced to return when her old boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is once again accused of murder. Directed, co-written and co-produced by series creator Rob Thomas, the pleasant though unnecessary feature film version "Veronica Mars" is really for die-hard fans of the popular cult series, providing a thin excuse for a reunion of the series cast and to capitalize on Bell's new big screen stardom. The charming Bell is a delight to watch as usual, but the predictable plotting gives her little to do in expanding her character outside of sleuthing. If it feels like a TV movie, it's because it would've been more effective there than it does on the big screen not to mention it has a large following and built-in audience who would've easily come back for a reunion special. Most of the cast from the original series is back, with a few additions, including Jerry O'Connell and Jamie Lee Curtis, but this is really Bell's show, and she ably carries the movie with her quick one-liners. "Veronica Mars" is slight and modestly entertaining, and we can thank a nice Quickstarter funding campaign for this, but it'd be much better to take Veronica Mars back to the small screen where she belongs for a series of periodic TV movies ala Tom Selleck's Jesse Stone or Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher, allowing the now-popular Bell to continue her big screen career. Case closed.

Wes's Grade:  C+

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman - B

Rated PG, 92 minutes

Sherman and Mr. Peabody
The puns are the most fun in colorful "Mr. Peabody and Sherman"

Every dog needs a boy. Yes, you read that right. That's the premise of the amusing dog-boy time traveling animated comedy "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" from Dreamworks Animation and the director of "The Lion King" and loosely based on characters originated from "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show." Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is the smartest being in the world and has adopted a young boy named Sherman (Max Charles). Their time-travel machine, called the WABAC (pronounced wayback), has provided them with some great adventures that threaten the space-time continuum along with their relationship. Silly stuff for sure, but "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" is wacky, colorful fun that should please the kids, though they won't get all the humor. Especially silly is the heavy (maybe even over) use of fun puns that may lose the younger set but the adults in particular will enjoy ("I'm just an old GIZA" and "when in doubt, keep Troy-ing" among them). Mr. Peabody and Sherman is nothing new, either, given they've been around since the 1960s, when their "Peabody's Improbable History" segments were featured on "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show," though this is a worthy update of that old cartoon. Burrell has fun as the nerdy Mr. Peabody, though Allison Janney and animated voice staple Patrick Warburton get some of the better lines as a villainous school counselor and Greek soldier, among many of the talented voices featured in their time travails (yes, that's Mel Brooks briefly as Einstein). Directed by Rob Minkoff of "The Lion King" fame, "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" is energetic, goofy and filled with some solid laughs, even if the premise is a little thin and scattershot, particularly in the meandering second act. The young ones certainly won't get all the puns (they fly by at a rapid rate) but they'll have fun anyway (who doesn't love a talking dog?) and won't even care (at this point) how truly improbable it all really is.

Wes's Grade: B

300: Rise of an Empire - C

Rated R, 103 minutes

Vapid "Rise of an Empire" presents more heavily stylized action
King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro)

"300: Rise of an Empire" is about the ancient war between the Greeks and Persians, though the real battle is style versus substance, with style triumphing mightily over any real depth. A Frank Miller-inspired sequel to the hit 2007 film "300" directed by Zack Snyder (who produces and writes here), that film's gorgeous palette was somewhat new, and by now while it still entertains, it doesn't provide anything fresh. Taking place before, during and after of the events of "300," this film concerns the rise of powerful Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, from the first film), or the "God King," whose desire to rule the world means he must invade and take over Greece, with his evil ally Artemisa (Eva Green) leading the charge. The only problem is, those bare-chested, six-pack ab Greeks, led by Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), won't go down without a fight, leading to an epic battle of power, blood and strategy. Directed by Noam Murro, the trashy and modestly enjoyable "300: Rise of an Empire" is loosely-based on Miller's unpublished graphic novel and is mostly a fictional but often exciting retelling of historical events, I'm sure far more entertaining here than it actually played out. Just as the recent flop "Pompeii" proved, don't expect a straight history lesson here, with an exceeding amount of style filling in the gaps for the scattered, sloppy storytelling and characters. Admittedly, some of it is intriguing and entertaining, with the bloody, fast-paced action sequences the most memorable, but everything in between is largely flat and truly just ridiculous (Santoro in particular looks silly prancing around in chains and a gold speedo). Much like other Miller-inspired material (including the upcoming "Sin City" sequel), there's loads of CGI, special effects, handsome actors and bright red blood that looks so dramatic when splattered everywhere you may forget that Gerard Butler was even involved in the first film. What made "300" so cutting-edge seven years ago now seems so unoriginal, and I see this mildly entertaining but mostly forgettable, empty "Rise of an Empire" being a hit, but nowhere near the level of that first blockbuster film.

Wes's Grade: C