Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"300" Or It's Raining Men!

 We who are about to die, salute you: Gerard Butler (center) and his impressive package march off to war.

A fine hello to you and yours, movie lovers.

Today we are going to discuss the Battle of Thermopylae, where a group of plucky Spartan soldiers went toe to toe with the vast forces of Persia's King Xerxes.

But don't worry. This won't be some dry slog through ancient history. Instead of consulting the dusty parchments of the past, we will be consulting Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 which, in turn, became the souped-up, pumped-up, gore-filled (in 3-D!) CGI epic "300" (2007).

This movie has it all: a heavy metal soundtrack; boil covered priests; sniveling, corrupt politicians; a rhino decked out in piercings and chains; misshapen freaks; explicit sex; stylized battle scenes that amount to war porn; a cast of drop-dead gorgeous warriors in bikini briefs so tight you can tell what religion the actors are; and a fat, bald royal executioner with a ring in his nose and lobster claws for hands.

Fat, pierced lobster men! That's why we go to the movies!

Well, that's why I go to the movies...

Anyway, the fun begins with a verbose voice-over where we learn that the city-state of Sparta was a cross between a fascist gated community and the gym class from hell. From the time a Spartan baby boy could crawl, we are told, he was "steeped in violence", taught to fight, starved, beaten and forced to wear skimpy Depends in the middle of winter. One such lad, named Leonidas, is even kicked out into a snow storm and forced to do battle with a CGI wolf-type critter. Needless to say, Leonidas wins the day and eventually becomes King of Sparta.

Magically transformed into the ultra hunky Gerard Butler, King Leo is married to the tough but pretty Lena Headey and has his own son. Then one fateful day an emissary from Persian "god king" Xerxes rides into town. He's an uppity fellow who waves around the skulls of dead kings--even his horse has the nerve to head butt a Spartan citizen minding his own business. The emissary brings the news that Xerxes demands Sparta surrender to Persia. Leonidas, who doesn't take to kindly to outsiders telling him what to do, kicks the messenger into a deep well, which happens to be located in the middle of town.

Not just another pretty face: Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey).

I sneer, therefore I am: corrupt pol Theron (Dominic West).

"I get a kick out of you": King Leonidas gives the Persian emissary a fateful push in the opening scenes of "300".

Later that evening, Leo climbs a steep mountain  to the temple of the Ephors. These jokers are a bunch of corrupt, in-breed, boil-covered priests who must be consulted before any Spartan can go to battle. After hearing Leonidas' plans, the Ephors consult their go-to person on such matters: a doped-up teenager who dances topless and mumbles prophecy. Her verdict? Going to battle with Persia is a bad idea because A) it's almost a full moon and B) it's nearly the festival of Carneia and nobody goes to battle during the festival of Carneia. I mean, the kids have been practicing their Carneia skits for weeks! There will be bake sales! Who will man the dunk tank if the Spartan warriors march on Persia? Jeez!

Disgusted, Leonidas stomps off, not realizing that the corrupt, in-bred, boil-covered priests have been bribed by sniveling, sneering politician Theron (Dominic West) in advance of his visit.

However, a king's gotta do what a king's gotta do. At home with the Mrs., Leonidas explains his plight and then engages in some hot'n'heavy marital nooky with his lady love--which, uh, "firms" up his resolve to battle the Persians. To get around that pesky injunction from the Ephors, Leonidas takes 300 of his best looking, most ripped, total bad ass soldiers and prepares "to march north." Showing her wifely support, the Spartan queen gives hubby her favorite necklace and declares, "Spartan! Come home with your shield--or on it!"

Not just another pretty face: an Ephor bares his fangs.

 The winner of Sparta's annual "So You Think You Can Dance?" competition.

Eventually the Spartans set up camp and prepare to meet their enemy. And what an enemy he is! "God King" Xerxes of Persia (Rodrigo Santoro) is super tall, super ripped and obviously shares Lady Gaga's stylist: shaved to a sheen, he's covered in rings, necklaces, chains and body piercings. His royal garb is a pair of jewel encrusted jockey shorts. When he and Leonidas meet face to face for the first time, Xerxes alights from a massive traveling throne balanced on the backs of hapless slaves. The Persian monarch's arrival is so, well, fabulous, that it makes Liz Taylor's entrance into Rome in 1963's epic (disaster) "Cleopatra" seem positively self-effacing by comparison.

God king Xerxes towers over Leonidas and it's obvious that his voice has been digitally lowered into a demonic-like purr. While Spartan Leonidas is presented as all man, "300" implies that Xerxes is a bit AC/DC, as well as corrupt, cruel and cranky. When Xerxes tries to convince Leo to surrender by tempting him with power and riches and other treats, their exchanges resemble A) the devil trying to tempt Jesus and B) a molester trying to reel in his latest victim.

All together now: Ewwwwwww!

 "I'm huge! Dig me!" God King Xerxes of Persia.

The Spartan king, however, refuses to knuckle under to a fey Persian even Cher would find too outre'. So let the battle commence!

First, the Persians send out a bunch of slave soldiers to battle the Spartans. The Greeks turn them into mince meat. Next, the Persians unleash a crack team of "Immortals" who wear shiny silver face masks and come equipped with their own bald, pug-faced giant. The Immortals are soon toast. After that, the Persians unleash one supremely pissed-off rhino, who proceeds to trample and gore his handlers--yet is stopped by one spear tossed by a Keanu Reeve-ish Spartan. When the rhino doesn't work, the Persians haul out the elephants, who stumble on the narrow roads and tumble into the sea below.

"Clumsy beasts," sneers the narrator.

By this time, god king Xerxes is throwing one hell of a hissy fit. So he digs deep into his arsenal and sends in a bunch of chumps who toss fire bombs at the Spartans. This, too, fails. At his wit's end, Xerxes collars his general, screams "What do I pay you for?!" and turns the sap over to my favorite character in the movie: a big, fat, bald guy with a ring in his nose, pierced man-boobs and lobster claws for hands. Lobster man snips the unfortunate general's head off with one snap and sends it flying balletically into the air.

"My face hurts": a Persian Immortal.

Bombs away! What the stylish assassin is wearing this spring.

Not just another pretty face: the Lobster Man of Persia.

 While all this slow-mo, blood spurting, flesh slicing carnage is going on, director Zack Snyder takes a break and reminds us that other stuff is happening back in Sparta. Leonidas' queen is trying hard to rally more troops to reinforce her hubby's paltry 300 soldiers. In hopes of swaying the Senate, the Mrs. agrees to have sex with nasty Theron. "You won't enjoy this," the slimy politico informs her highness as he attacks her from the rear. But the plucky queen (who's name is Gorgo, although nobody addresses her so) endures this humiliation in the name of king and country.

You go, girl?

Addressing the Senate chamber "as a mother" and reminding the sheet-draped assembly that "freedom isn't free", Queen Gorgo makes a rousing speech to get her hubby the troops he needs to save Sparta. Then nasty ol' Theron flounces in and accuses HRH of being a whore, a liar and a two-faced slut whose elaborately braided tresses are probably a wig. Fit to be tied, and every inch the bad ass her husband is, the Spartan queen grabs a sword and guts Theron with the precision of a ninja surgeon. In doing so, she rips open the evil pol's money pouch, which over flows with Persian coins. Imagine! A politician taking a bribe! The outrage! The Senate rallies to the queen's cause and makes plans for war.

Another subplot involves an unfortunate named Ephialtes (Andrew Tieman). Since only the best looking, most ripped, most physically perfect bad asses can wear the Spartan soldier's bikini briefs, outcast, deformed hunchbacks are doomed to the life of a 4-F. Poor Ephialtes is not only stunted and hunchbacked, he's also got bad skin, ugly teeth and no hair. Yet he yearns to fight with the 300. However, when he begs Leonidas for a chance to join the company, the king says no. Instead, Ephialtes is told he can carry off the dead and pass out water. Hurt and rejected, the outcast scurries off to the Persian camp instead.

Rejected recruit Ephialtes (Andrew Tieman) prepares for revenge.

For a flick that at times resembles a fever dream, a wet dream, a Chippendale's review and a Liberace extravaganza all rolled into one, the scene at god king Xerxes tent is a real corker. Making his way to Xerxes' throne, Ephialtes passes by undulating concubines, pierced-within-an-inch-of-their-lives freaks, people taking bong hits, same sex couples tonguing each other and plenty of folks having kinky sex without benefit of marriage. In other words: just a typical Tuesday at Xerxes crash pad! Seriously, even Larry Flynt would blanch at this display. Yet Ephialtes, obviously denied hugs as a child, signs on and tells the Persians where they can route the Spartans once and for all.

The party's over at Xerxes': Spartan reject Ephialtes makes new friends at the invading Persian's camp.

Of course, you know the brave Spartans are doomed because history tells us so. Yet their noble sacrifice is not in vain. Later on, the Greek city-states will band together and finish off the encroaching Persians at the Battle of Plataea, thus halting Xerxes push to be the boss of everything once and for all. However, this would not have happened if the mighty 300 hadn't kicked some serious Persian fanny to begin with.


That being said, I must report that "300" is one of the nuttiest, bat-shit craziest movies I have ever seen, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

While I can and do admire director Zack Snyder's audaciousness, there are just a few little details that I, as a movie lover and humble film critic, must point out.

Detail #1: "300" is essentially a tale of good vs. evil. However, the Persians in this movie aren't just evil, they are demonic. They torture animals, abuse women, do drugs, partake in kinky sex, exploit and mistreat physically deformed people and worship a suspiciously effeminate "god king" who makes Truman Capote look like Chuck Norris.

Meanwhile, the Spartans, who dispose of sickly babies, force children to endure a punishing regimen of violence and depravity and take counsel from a group of in-bred, debauched, boil-covered priests, are presented as broad shouldered manly men who stand for freedom and justice. 

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that both of these societies appear to be nasty, cruel places?

Furthermore, how come all the "bad" people in this movie are of Middle Eastern descent and/or have dark skin--and the "good" people are clearly "European" and have white skin?

King Xerxes is not amused that his troops are doing so poorly against the Spartan "300".

Detail #2: If the Ephors are a bunch of corrupt, in-bred, horn-dog bozos, why do the Spartans defer to their counsel? Surely Leonidas isn't the only Spartan who knows they are fakes. Why haven't they been exposed for who and what they are?
Detail #3: Look, war is hell. Combat is hell. I realize "300" is a movie, make believe, pretend, not real. But showing combat as if it was some highly stylized Martha Graham-type interpretive dance gets my goat. War is hell, not porn.

Detail #4: OK, this is a toughie. I understand the source material of "300" is a graphic novel and the film never presents itself as an actual depiction of historical fact. A flick and graphic novel like "300" falls into the category of "historical fantasy". Yet the core events depicted in this film were real: Sparta was real, King Xerxes was real and the battles were real.

HOWEVER, Sparta was NOT and NEVER was a DEMOCRACY! Women in Spartan society WERE NOT the EQUALS of their MEN FOLK! And no Spartan WORTH HIS or HER SALT would have a DEEP BOTTOMLESS HOLE in the MIDDLE of the TOWN SQUARE!

Detail #5: After a Keanu Reeve-ish Spartan gets his noggin knocked off by a Persian baddie (riding a horse, no less), his father screams bloody murder. Later on, he tells Leonidas that he regrets not telling his son that he loved him.

Oh, sure.

Having made my points, I will thus conclude that "300" has it all: blood, guts, gore, sex, ripped guys, ugly freaks, rampaging rhinos, dance sequences, boil-covered priests, smoke bombs, Gerard Butler nude and, best of all, a lobster man clearly inspired by the late, great Tor Johnson.

After watching all 116 glorious, over-the-top, pumped-up, bat-shit crazy minutes of Zack Snyder's ode to bad asses in bikini briefs, you may never have to watch another flick again.

But please do! After all, we need to save the movies.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Joel Arnold (1962-2014).

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