Stunt Granny Presents: We Watch Stuff Podcast #3

April 2015?!?

Yes after a week off to deal with lightning damage Jeremy and Shahid are back. You would expect the guys to catch up on two weeks’ worth of television and movies but why bother? Seriously, the Game of Thrones season finale was this past Sunday. How did the season play out? Were the final two episodes of season four worth the hype? What patriarchal decision didn’t make much sense? Why does HBO insist of being cheap and making only ten episodes of this series anyway? Should HBO finally stop being tightwads and increase the number of episodes? If so, what is the right amount? How can we all survive until next April waiting for season five? Find out by simply clicking the link or downloading the show.

Stunt Granny Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

300-rise-of-an-empireReleased in 2007, 300 was an anomaly. An R-rated sword and sandals action film with starring relative unknowns based upon an obscure graphic novel, Zack Snyder and his iconic style was unleashed upon the world. Striking color schemes, slow motion fighting scenes, goofy scenery chewing speeches, super abs, old fashioned xenophobic savagery – 300 answered the eternal question of what would happen if an 18 year old uber nerd was allowed free reign to make a movie. A retelling of the battle of Thermopylae, in which a small group of Spartan soldiers undertake a heroic sacrifice against an overwhelming Persian army, 300 became a global phenomenon which helped launched the careers of director Zack Snyder, along with Gerard Butler, Lena Headey and Michael Fassbender (yes – he is actually in that movie). Any film that makes close to half a billion dollars worldwide will be mined for a sequel….which would be difficult since nearly all of the principal heroes die in the film.  Yet here we are with 300: Rise of an Empire, the sequel/prequel/interquel

First things first – if you’re a fan of 300, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.  Even though 7 years have passed between the two films, they share the same sweeping, thematic style.  Although not as groundbreaking as the original, Rise of an Empire is a beautiful film, although more muted than the original.  You’ll get plenty of slow motion spear thrusts, jumping sword slices, and every bead of sweat and blood, this time with the benefit of 3D. In fact, unless you engaged in geek research, you would have no idea that Zack Snyder didn’t direct this film, instead only serving as producer.  Instead, Noam Murro takes the helm – but it doesn’t really matter.  Rise of an Empire’s disadvantage is its status as a follow up film, not only being compared to the original, but also shows such as Spartacus.  The action still holds up, but doesn’t have the jaw dropping impact of the original.

Rise of an Empire takes a peculiar approach in regards to its story, serving as almost a visual appendix of the 300 universe.  Ever wonder what caused the Persians to be pissed at Greece, and what the hell the battle of Marathon was about? Any curiosity pertaining to the origin of Xerxes?  How did Sparta handle the aftermath of the death of Leonidas, besides doing crunches and bragging about death?  You’ll find out all of these things during 102 minutes.  Rise of an Empire solves the problem of following the previous film by telling a parallel story, involving the Athenians battling the Persians for freedom, as well as the aftermath of the Battle of Thermoplyae.  Shifting the focus of the stories from the Spartans to the Athenians helps the movie retain a certain freshness.  Instead of asshole brash killing machines, the Athenians are portrayed as noble flawed, yet skilled warriors, fighting for unity and justice of Greece. It’s also a more grounded movie than the original, with less fantastical elements, and a more adult story. As the leader of the Athenian army, Themistocles’ journey of freedom and redemption has more resonance than Leonidas ranting about DEATH AND GLORY while kicking messengers down pits. Personally, it allows for easier support and investment in the story. The movie spends an inordinate amount of time explaining the backstory and desires of the principal characters.  Some may enjoy the added character development, while others will just bide their time into the next set piece.

Anyone who watches genre movies understands that it takes skill to add believability and soul to an often ridiculous setting.  Gerard Butler was the primary reason for 300’s success, and his shadow looms large throughout the film. The movie makes a wise decision in presenting Themistocles as a more human character.  Played by Sullivan Stapleton of Cinemax’s Strike Back, he’s portrayed as a quiet thoughtful warrior wracked by responsibility and guilt, yet resolute in his dream of a united Greece.  My first impression was that he was a bit dull, until I realized that I was comparing him to Leonidas.  In actuality, he serves as the heart of the film, playing a more difficult character.  Lena Headey aka the chick from Game of Thrones reprises her role as Queen Gorgo, basically serving as the narrator of the film.   From her initial haughty arrogance when rebuffing Athens call for help, to bitterness and sadness from her husband’s death, to her eventual resolute fury when seizing revenge, she plays her role effectively. But the star of the movie by far is Eva Green, as Artemesia, naval commander of the Persians and the primary antagonist.  As a Greek who swears vengeance on her own people, I can’t recall the last movie which starred a terrifying, sexy, powerful, psychotic and charismatic female villain.  Every scene is dominated with her presence, almost to the point of her serving as an anti-hero.  Similar to how 300 was the Gerard Butler show, this film is her personal playground.

Watching a violent yet erotic sex scene in 3D in a crowded film is an experience in itself.  If you need one reason to see this movie, then see it for her.  As for the other characters, they serve as bridges from the first film, as well as plot devices to give weight to the primary characters.  I haven’t mentioned Xerxes as a major character, because quite frankly, he doesn’t earn that role.  But there’s nothing wrong with a towering walking Oscar statue prancing around like a prima donna.

I definitely recommend this film.  It’s not without flaws – there’s less humor than the original.  In addition, although it tells a nobler story, it has less weight of consequence due to its status as a prequel/interquel as well as sequel. And it also has a rather infuriating ending.  However, if you like seeing men with 8 packs fighting on burning ships while riding a horse under water, then go see 300: Rise of an Empire.  And seize your damn glory. -Shahid

Stunt Granny Movie Reviews: The Purge and Now You See Me

yeah there are two movies but one has Isla Fisher on the poster. No debate.

Yeah there are two movies but one has Isla Fisher on the poster. No debate.

Story, Setting & Stars – the 3S theory I use to determine if I can enjoy a movie.  If you can get me with at least of one of those factors, then I’m down.  This weekend, 2 disparate movies – “The Purge” & “Now You See Me” – passed the test, in wildly different ways.

Imagine the United States with no crime and a 1% unemployment rate.  Apparently, our “new founding fathers” devised a solution to curb our barbaric and self-destructive tendencies – one night a year, all crime is legal.  Any individual can play grand theft auto on their fellow man for 12 hours with no repercussions (as long as they aren’t Class 10 individuals – there are always advantages for being deemed important, even in the future).  The theory is that this barbaric, cathartic release allows us to remain in a calm nirvana the rest of the year.   Detractors deride the purge as a tool to cleanse society of the poor, uneducated, unwashed undesirable wastrels from society.  Others accept & even embrace the event as a necessary evil to allow the United States to become a utopia.  Ethan Hawke decides to become rich by selling home security systems to protect his wife (Lena Headey) and two children (names unimportant).  Of course something happens to test the family, and mayhem ensues.

Full disclaimer – as a typical suspense/horror movie, “The Purge” is mediocre at best. Besides Ethan Hawke & Lena Headey, nearly every other character serves as a stereotype, place holder or plot device.  One of the main villains (Rhys Wakefield – the blonde, possibly inbred, definitely insufferable jackass in the trailers) is named “Polite Stranger” in the end credits. Do seemingly smart individuals act stupidly in the worst possible moments?  Yep.  Are there eye-rolling twists that suspend disbelief? Yep.  Are there events portrayed in the movie that make no sense?  Of course there is. Did I hear fellow movie goers literally curse due to the hare-brained activity of the majority of the cast? Damn right. Was the movie enjoyable? Surprisingly yes – strictly because of the setting and story.

Maybe it’s because I was blessed to live in DC for nearly 8 years, but this movie reminded me of a funhouse mirror version of Georgetown.  In the movie’s universe, it made sense for the Ethan Hawke to get rich off of the fears of his neighbors by just selling “foolproof” home defense systems.  Of course Lena Headey would have to deal with passive-aggressive jealousy and hatred from her Stepford neighbors who feel exploited by basically funding their lifestyle.  And of course in a society like this, they’d have precocious annoying snot-nosed kids that would eventually place them in harm’s way due to their tolerance and love of their fellow man.  I won’t delve too much into the antagonists of the movies, to avoid spoilers – I will say that they represented the most diabolical, vile individuals known to man….hipsters.  Douchebag Abercrombie & Fitch types with half-assed nihilistic tendencies and quarter-assed Heath Ledger impersonations, they served their two-dimensional role perfectly.  And by role, I mean portraying targets for Ethan Hawke to go Training Day mode on them.   So if you embrace the conceit of the movie, and look through the eyes of the characters, then you will find enjoyment in the Purge.  Just don’t go in expecting a masterpiece in suspense filmmaking, and you’ll be ok.

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Jeremy’s One Paragraph Movie Review: Dredd

Buy two copies.

Buy two copies.

One thing you need to get over before viewing this film is the Lions Gate logo. 90% of the time the movie that follows is total garbage. Much to my surprise this movie falls in the 10% of Lions Gate successes. There is no reason this movie should be half as awesome as it turned out. Sure you need to ignore the incredible similarities to The Raid: Redemption but that movie was completely awesome as well. There really isn’t much to dislike about this flick. The simple structure is laid out just like an arc from the comics. There are concise and deliberate breaks in the story that read as a cliffhanger form issue to issue. It is a nice touch really and wouldn’t mind more comic movies doing the same thing. Yes the plot is a tad thin but the action and the creative use of slow motion/bullet time violence adds a creative touch not seen since the Matrix.  So go out and buy a copy or to on Blu-ray so we get a sequel to this surprisingly fun movie.  -Jeremy

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