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I remember seeing this movie way back when it came out, three years ago this month, in the gloriously huge IMAX screen in King of Prussia.  I was stoked to be seeing it, and the $15 bucks was worth it.  I remembered leaving the film going “This movie was awesome!”

Three years.  Some of that awesome has indeed worn off.

It’s not to say that some of the movie is still in fact awesome.  The action sequences that begin roughly 40-50 minutes into the film are quite fun indeed, filled with overwhelming amounts of CGI bloodiness and Spartan kickassing their way through a Persian army thousands of times its size.  And the kick in the bloody hole in the ground, and every time Leonidas kicks the Persian messenger into the pit I scream “PUNT!”

This is an adolescent’s wet dream come to life in film.

Oh, but if I were an adolescent again, I would ignore everything that made this movie not awesome.

Well, before I get into that, I’m sure everyone knows the graphic novel that inspired the movie.  Written and drawn by Frank Miller (who had Sin City brought to the big screen by Robert Rodriguez, and who directed (quite badly) Will Eisner’s The Spirit), the story is a fictional retelling (fictional because I’m sure not everyone looked the way they did on the Persian side of things) of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans (plus a few thousand more Greeks who sadly didn’t get to fight at all) held off a Persian army numbered anywhere between 70,000 and a million (history can’t make up its mind on the exact number) for two full days before being defeated on the third day.  This inspired the Greeks to take on the Persians and helped win the resulting war.

That aside, the graphic novel captures the feel, in often exaggerated form, of that battle.  There are a few events that lead up to it, the battle itself, the betrayal of Ephialtes, and the last stand of the Spartans.  It was nicely drawn by Miller in a panoramic, wide-screen style that worked quite well for telling the story.  It read quickly too (around ninety pages can be read in roughly twenty-five miuntes).  It was short, sweet, and awesome, with very little in the way of waste (except, for maybe, that illogical hole in the ground).

The movie, faced with the problem of having a movie being far too short, added a subplot involving Queen Gorgo trying to influence the Spartan Senate into sending reinforcements for her husband (and had half the movie filmed in slow motion, but who’s keeping track of that?).  It really doesn’t work at all.  For starters, Leonidas started the war by punting the messenger into that giant hole of his (at least, in this depiction of events).  He climbs a mountain with no road or path to where various ugly looking and corrupt people interpret the Oracle’s message as “Don’t go to war or you’ll offend the gods” (done in English in the graphic novel, of course).  This scene itself, by and large, doesn’t work: how the hell does that evil Senate dude with his evil Persian friend (an especially fat one at that) make it to the top of the pathless mountain?  A secret elevator?  Stereotypical magic carpet (he is Persian after all)?

Speaking of evil Senate dude, he’s right.  He’s completely right in not sending troops to help Leonidas, since, you know, the king provoked a war without the Senate’s backing (see how democracy works kids?).  But, since he’s evil Senate dude, he’s corrupt.  He couldn’t care less about Leonidas, or Sparta for that matter.  He likes his Xerxes-faced gold pieces thank you very much.  This, of course, prevents us from seeing that he in fact is right.  But, oh well, he’s evil Senate dude, who cares?  He’s a bastard!

That really does take away from the movie, because by and large it still is quite impressive at times, mainly in the battle sequences.  Well, the first “single” shot sequence is mind boggling awful, but the second one (with the “I’M WITH YOU!  FOR SPARTA!  TILL THE DEATH!” guy and the Captain’s son) is much better.  And the decision to fight one on one with the Immortals once they collapse the Persian wall doesn’t make sense (especially when they form the phalanx at the end of the scene: couldn’t they have done that to begin with?  Would have saved you a lot more Spartans that way Leonidas (and it would have saved you from that slash in your eye too)).  And the gold encrusted rhino, and those gunpowder mystics… well, they were kinda cool, if they actually worked (um…).

Okay… maybe it’s not as awesome as it really once was.  But, hey, it looks pretty cool (really, it does), and the fight scenes, even if they don’t work in the narrative scheme of things, were still filmed pretty well.  Zak Snyder knows how to shoot a movie.  The decision to replicate the graphic novels visuals was a bold and worthwhile decision (shooting on the green screens before painting in the backgrounds).  Everyone looked to be having fun with the film too, before and after they were slaughtered in new and various ways.

But, well, is the film still any good?  Maybe if I were fifteen again, and had less of a mature brain (well, I was twenty-four, with a somewhat mature but still trying-to-figure-things-out brain).  Now, at twenty-seven, I’ve become overly analytical.  The above is the result of that.

But, hey, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing with these DVDs right?  I own them for a reason, especially ones that, in retrospect, aren’t as good as they first appeared.

That said, I won’t have any problems watching 300 again in the future (after I get through this project).  Maybe then I’ll shut off my brain and excuse the fact that there’s a giant frakking hole in the middle of Sparta.


There are times where I’ll occasionally do a quick write up for a DVD, simply because I wondered why I got the movie in the first place and, subsequently, had no reason to write anything good about a movie.

This, sadly, isn’t one of those times.

I’ll try and be brief.  30 Days of Night is a vampire movie based off the comics of the same name, written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith.  It’s set in Barrow, Alaska, when the sun sets for thirty days, leaving only unending night (hence, the title).  Vampires, knowing of the existence of such a town, come along to feast on the inhabitants remaining in the town before the sun rises again.  A few humans survive and hide from the massacre, but the vampires, not wanting the knowledge of their existence to become common knowledge (and hopeful to feast again in the next year), decide to burn down the town.  The sheriff of the town injects vampire blood into himself, becoming a vampire and defeating the head vampire, sparing the few remaining humans in Barrow.

In terms of vampire movies (recent ones at that), it’s perfectly fine.  It’s better than some (Van Helsing, Blade Trinity, Underworld), but not better than others (Blade II, Let the Right One In).  The real appeal was more towards the vampire fans and to the fans of the comic book series that the movie is based off of.  The most interesting aspect of the film, to me, was whether or not the film captured the mood set by Templesmith’s art.  Templesmith’s art is a strangely satisfying mix of traditional hand drawn figures mixed in with a variety of other multimedia effects.  While not always anatomically correct, the artwork is very expressive and quite readable (compared to, say, Ashley Wood, who really isn’t much of a comic book artist but has some expressive, multimedia effect laden artwork as well).  For the film, the transfer between comic to screen pretty much works: the vampires look very much like Templesmith’s, with multiple amounts of razor teeth, pale skin, and elongated faces.  The color wash in the town as well is largely effective.

All in all, a respectable entry into the vampire movie series with its own unique twist on the genre.

Note: I didn’t add Twilight at all into the aforementioned list of good/bad vampire movies, simply because I haven’t seen it yet.  Whenever I do, I’ll write it up here (and hopefully I can be as objective as possible to it, which looks highly unlikely).

2007 was apparently supposed to be the year of the Western, or at least some form of it.  I remember reading an article back in the fall of that year, highlighting a possible resurgence of Western and Western-themed movies.  Looking at various box office charts that year, there were only two “true” Westerns released that year (the Western being synonymous with the gunslinger, the shanty towns, the wild west showdowns, etc.): 3:10 to Yuma (which I’ll get to shortly), and the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (which, hopefully, I’ll get to in a month or so).  Of Western-themed movies (movies that have a Western setting but are not true Westerns), again, only two: No Country for Old Men (winner of best picture that year), and There Will Be Blood (a best picture nominee from that year).  Of those four, only 3:10 to Yuma originally opened wide.  No Country went into a small wide release in its third weekend before expanding into 2000 theaters by the end of its run, There Will Be Blood didn’t go wide until its fifth weekend, and Assassination never went wide at all (its biggest expansion was into 300 theaters).  In 2008, Appaloosa was the only wide release Western that year, and it did lukewarm business at that.  True Grit, a remake of the John Wayne classic, opens around Christmas time this year, the first true Western since Appaloosa.

As for 3:10 to Yuma, it did pretty decent business for a Western.  Released in September (the week after Labor Day), the movie opened at number one and ended up grossing $53 million by the end of its run.  One can imagine if it got released in a summer month what kind of business it would have done.

This I think is the third time I’ve watched this movie.  I saw it in theaters originally (dragging my poor sister to see it since she is not a Western fan at all) and liked it then.  I watched it again when I bought it on DVD, and I still liked it then.  For this movie retrospective, I watched it a third time.  Now, I truly love this film.

It’s not because of the fact that this movie is great.  It really is, but it’s when you sit down and start thinking about the movie, and the various themes occurring throughout that it really makes you appreciate the story that the filmmakers are trying to tell.  The overall plot is simple enough: Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a rancher trying to make ends meet while preventing a railroad from being built through his land.  Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is an outlaw that robs carriages that transports money.  Wade is captured while in the town of Bisbee, and it’s been decided that he will be taken to the town of Contention, to board the 3:10 to Yuma federal prison train.  Evans goes with the small group, hoping to make enough money to stay on his land and keep the railroad off of it.  They eventually make it to Contention, where a final showdown occurs between Evans (trying to get Wade to the train) and Wade’s group of outlaws.

That by and large is the plot.  Simple enough, but it’s everything else that occurs throughout that adds to the story and makes it something special.  The movie itself is a tale of redemption, more for Evans than anyone else (there was a possibility for Wade, but he remains the same in the end, simply because it’s his nature as an outlaw and overall bad person).  Evans was a Civil War vet who lost his foot during a battle early on in the war, though the reasons remain unknown until the end.  At the conclusion of the war, he takes his family and moves them to Arizona, mainly for his younger son (again, the reason is discovered at the end, though one can take a guess on why, it shouldn’t be too difficult).  He’s terrible as a rancher, and is often pushed around as well.  The movie opens to his barn burning by a group hired by another rancher hoping to push him off his land to make way for the railroad.  He’s a very diplomatic person, often in conflict with the views of his older son, who prefers that he would rather have his father shoot everyone instead of trying to be reasonable.  This leads to the older son trying to imitate Wade, only to find out by the end that Wade truly isn’t a good person.  Only his father is.

As for Evans himself, his decision to go all the way to Contention becomes his redemption: in one of the best scenes from the movie, he silently yet painfully explains to his wife that he can’t stand the looks his sons give him, or the way his wife doesn’t look at him (yes, Bale pulls it off quite well).  It’s there that we know why Evans would  be willing to risk his life for $200: to become a hero in his family’s eyes and to raise them out of the poverty that he had to place them in.

As for Wade, he gets told this when they’re scrambling to make it to the train, which causes him to decide to go all the way to the train for Evans and his son.  The final scene takes away his own personal redemption (especially with what he does in the scene preceding that one), but again, he’s the villain, and a very good one at that.  Wade is the kind of guy who would either retire when he gets old, or dies on his own terms.  Getting captured and facing execution just isn’t his style.

So yes, after the third time, I’ve come to love 3:10 to Yuma.  An excellent movie throughout.


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