Thursday, March 08, 2007

Frank Miller's 300

By Reymundo Salao

300 is a film adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same title which recounts and immortalizes one of the greatest battles in history, the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., in which 300 Spartans, led by its King Leonidas fought against invading Persian King Xerxes and his massive army of one million soldiers.

300’s epic tale has already been renowned, but Frank Miller intended the graphic novel to make this moment history greater, more immortal, and indeed the film does the same as it brings to life the world of how Frank Miller honors the valiance of the Spartans. Grounded on realism, tweaked by a sense of drama and modern action-film sensibilities, and faithful to Miller's ideas. The movie may not necessarily be historically accurate, but definitely faithful to the graphic novel. Miller was first inspired by the Spartans when he saw the film “300 Spartans” as a kid. By the time he gained his royal status in the comicbook industry by revolutionizing and rewriting the reputation of such characters like Batman, Daredevil, and Wolverine with such a mature and dark approach, he went on to do his research on the Spartans, even traveling to Greece itself to recreate the battle that boasted the reputation of the Spartans. Fast forward to the present, he is the executive producer who is now taking the recounts of history and creating an immortal mythology out of it.

The movie has a distinct cinematographic look and feel that takes you into the world of Frank Miller's 300. Everything has an accurate resemblance to the graphic novel, even done more artfully, as if the pages of the graphic novel itself translated into life reality. There are scenes that look like masterful paintings on canvass come to life. So much so that one can only embrace its full-blown beauty when one watches it in the movie theaters (It would certainly be a waste to watch it on a blurry pirated copy). The world of the 300 movie does not try to take you to an actual academically accurate take on this historical battle, no, it takes you into Miller's version of the Battle instead.

The director Zack Snyder employs basically a familiar style to how Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino approached the adaptation of Frank Miller's other creation, "SIN CITY" which is an outright direct interpretation of the source material, right up from the pages of the comic book and unto film, and we're talking scene-by-scene, color-by-color, tone-by-tone, dialogue-by-dialogue. But Snyder enhances the adaptation by adding relevant details that spice up the movie, from fighting sequence details, to additional villains, to complexities and depth of the storyline. Snyder also co-wrote the screenplay of this movie along with Kurt Johnstad, a screenplay that made the story more meaningful and more poetic. The narrative prose the movie has makes it more classic and timeless.

Zack Snyder may not have pioneered a unique style in this movie. He cannot claim his name on pioneering the visual "cinematographic comic book art-on-film" aspect of it and the employment of slow-motion and fast-motion action scenes, but he certainly uses all these styles with his own disciplined and flawlessly masterful use of such styles.

Gerard Butler's performance as Leonidas was suitable for a man who has the gutsy, unnatural courage, yet true to the virtues of love for country and for freedom. The impact of his powerful acting was suitable to portray such a heroic warrior-king. David Wenham, who's gained popularity as Faramir from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, played the role of Dilios, a Spartan warrior and poet by heart, who was also the narrator of this tale. His narration provided a vehicle for such rich prose that this storyline has. Lena Headey's portrayal of Queen Gorgo clearly mirrored Leonidas' courage. While Leonidas fights on the battlefield, Gorgo fights on the arena of politics, a subplot not included in the original graphic novel.

Purists would sometimes complain and argue how comic/graphic novel film adaptations can be so mellowed-down for a generally "pop" crowd, and would tend to deviate from the source material just to conform to popular standards of non-violence and a relatively general patronage. This adaptation of Frank Miller's "300" was not only faithful; it was intensified with a deeper sense of maturity and darkness. It never shied away from the graphic violence of the comics; it even gave the violence gorier detail, making it closer to x-rated violence. Like many war epics, this one is indeed bloody violent. But because of its distinct cinematography, it sometimes blurs the violence into something surreal. Keen observers may, for instance, take note that many of the blood splatter scenes looks as if intentionally looked less realistic and more closer to how the blood splatters in the artworks of the graphic novel from which this movie is based on. This movie is more daring, and that's even an understatement, as it gives a darker storyline in terms of the ones that involve the character of Queen Gorgo, Leonidas' wife. Recaffeinated, a vivid espresso version of the original, this film adaptation is Madness (in a good way), but as the line from the movie goes. "Madness? ...This IS SPARTA!"

There is no conservative inhibitive filtering of the sexual content either, yet it was done in a tasteful artful manner, without the hint of a sense of pornographic malice. There are minor scenes of nudity and sexual content that isn’t in the source material to begin with, but it felt right to include those scenes in a full feature-length film adaptation.

300 has this Nietzsche-ish ubermensch atmosphere, similar to watching movies like “Conan the Barbarian” and “Rambo”. Heroes fearlessly facing insurmountable odds and laughing at it with a confidence that could sometimes be a kind of arrogance, because one is fighting for what is good and honorable. A war epic with a boombastic inspirational strength and bound to be an immortal classic, 300 is looking to become the year’s biggest motion picture event.

The man himself, Frank Miller, on the set of 300

Friday, March 02, 2007


By Reymundo Salao

Set in the Yucat√°n Peninsula (Mexico) before Spanish contact, APOCALYPTO depicts one man's experience during the decline of the ancient Mayan civilization. The story begins when a Yucatan tribe is nightmarishly ravaged by merciless warriors. After the scourge, its people are taken prisoner, and into the Mayan city, they are taken. For what reason? They would soon find out. In a radical twist of fortune, one of the tribesmen named Jaguar Paw escapes captivity and runs for his life into the woods, with bloodthirsty Mayan warriors on his tail.

The film is co-written (the other one is Farhad Safinia) and directed by Mel Gibson. if you are familiar with the directorial works (and even the ones where he was just an actor) of Mel Gibson, you could see some detail trademarks that are familiar. One such detail is the scene where a villain slits the throat of a helpless important character. Such a scene can be seen in Gibson's Braveheart. A similar style of sadistic killing of a character close to the protagonist can be observed in Gibson’s movies where he starred in. Gibson seems to always have a secondary main villain who is designed so that the audiences will really hate him. This is similar to Braveheart and also something he probably picked up from his Mad Max movies. Apocalypto has many elements that connect love, loss, and vindication, all elements he used in a similar manner in Braveheart. His use of scenes of sheer harmony and peace to be disturbed by a stark contrast of violence, as a tool for strong drama, similarly (also) in Braveheart and Passion of the Christ can be noticed.

The scoring, cinematography, and set design magnificently complement each other. It can be noticed that this film was shot in high definition, the colors are vivid, and the motions are lifelike. Each fragment of film can effectively tell of its haunting theme.

This film is very violent and bloody. Audiences must be wary of the adult content of this movie. The scenes of gore are, at many times, graphic. Same can be said about the tone of the climactic parts of the movie, grim and heavy on emotion. It should be noted that the dialogue for this movie is in the Yucatan dialect, as it aims for authenticity in production.

While Apocalypto may be a perfect educational tool for anthropology class, it works great as an action thriller. I thought the movie would be somewhat of a "national geographic" kind of treatment that there would be a danger of it being boring. But I was wrong, Mel Gibson let's us see a portion of Mayan history filled with gripping suspense, thrill and sheer horror. It also contains interesting dialogues including one which has a very environmental tone, and philosophical as well. The movie is partially intended as a political allegory about civilizations in decline. Said Gibson in September of 2006: "The precursors to a civilization that’s going under are the same, time and time again... "This is shown most literally though the opening quote by Will Durant and the last line by one character," a new beginning.

I was glad that this movie is in extended run. Viscerally rich with all aspects of emotion from beauty to utter fear, APOCALYPTO is a movie so stimulating it continuously interests you till the end.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Good Shepherd

THE GOOD SHEPHERD: The Grim Dark Side of Espionage
by Reymundo Salao

Coming from a distinguished family, Edward Wilson began as a member of the Skull and Bones Society at Yale, where future world leaders converge. Brilliant and secretive, his scruples land him at the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's precursor, and actually helps found the Central Intelligence Agency. But his idealism gradually gives way to suspicion, borne by Cold War paranoia. While he becomes a veteran agent, his lack of trust on everyone grows and grows, even as he is willing to put everything on the line--even his family life--for an all-consuming job. Loosely based on real events, it is advertised as telling the untold story of the birth of counter-intelligence in the Central Intelligence Agency.

This espionage drama is directed by legendary actor Robert De Niro (which marks his third directorial work after “A Bronx Tale” and “The Score”) and boasts a surprisingly stellar cast that includes Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, and appearances by Joe Pesci, Michael Gambon, Timothy Hutton, Billy Crudup, and Robert De Niro. THE GOOD SHEPHERD enjoys much praise from critics but because of an apparent lack of marketing, it seems to have failed to create a hype that will draw the attention of audiences.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD is more of espionage drama than action. This is as realistic as it gets. And the spywork here is not your usual cloak & dagger thriller where spies run after each other exchanging silencer-filtered salvos of gunfire. In its place is a very solid human drama of people involved in such an inhuman business of intelligence and counter-intelligence. With that, this movie has been known as the “Godfather” of spy-movies.

As respectable as his acting career, De Niro delivers a remarkable product with this movie which he has directed. This movie proves that De Niro also has a stark talent in directing that is never mediocre or standardized. The flow and consistency of the storyline is smooth, and he also knows how to budget his scenes that involve long timelines. There are numerous scenes that are beautifully edited in order to establish an almost unnoticeable jump of time skips from one scene to another. In other words, a story that could have taken more than three or four hours to tell has been smartly edited to fit in 2 hours and 47 seconds.