Notes from the Back Row 

More Hollywood history


I pissed on Sparta once, in 1993, when our bus full of Pemberton High Western Civilization students on a tour of Greece pulled over for one of its innumerable bathroom stops. Of course, had I actually paid a bit more attention in Western Civ 12 I’d have known that Spartan ground is perhaps the last place you want to desecrate, as exemplified by the ultra-badassness of the Spartans in 300 , the much anticipated, high-testosterone, medieval bloody war epic that opens this Friday.

Frank Miller, the man behind Sin City, wrote the original comic book and based 300 (very loosely) on the 480 BC Battle of Thermopylae — when King Leonidas and 300 Spartan warriors stood their ground for three days in a narrow pass and used their inherent savagery to slow down an army of decadent Persians rumoured to be a million strong, (including mutants and wild animals, of course).

It was a suicide mission, and every warrior knew it, but the Spartans were a battle-cultured people who’d rather die defending their land than suffer under foreign rule. In the end their delay proved a turning point for the rest of Greece to win a naval battle and push the Persians out.

While 300 is lacking on true historical fact (and a few nit–picking critics have quickly pointed this out) director Zach Synder ( Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake) leaves the history for the Discovery channel and instead delivers an orgy of stunning visuals, slow motion decapitations, willowy Oracles, political backstabbing and all-out carnage and gore that reaches video-game levels.

Using lesser known, (but very capable) actors and a CGI background technique similar to Sin City (but colourful), Synder crafts a fanboy film for action lovers, comic readers, and anyone who’s ever been an underdog. Many people are looking at this film as pro-terrorist, or pro-Taliban (rich arrogant prick invades vastly outnumbered opponent) and sure, you can find propaganda if you like, but the subtext is thin and 300 is really just another Dudes-kicking-the-shit-out-of-each-other movie in the vein of Braveheart or Gladiator . Yes the characters and dialogue aren’t all that intellectually engaging (Leonidas speaks only in epic statements) and the focus on chiseled torsos is quite homo-erotic, but that’s war ain’t it? Plus, it’s a killer way to convince your girlfriend to go see a flick about a bunch of people killing each other in slow motion.

The alternative is Breach, a based-on-a-true-story drama about an FBI agent named Robert Hanssen who was a devout Catholic, patriotic red-blooded American who turned out to be a weird pervert who had been selling top-secret government information to the Soviets for most of the Cold War. The excellent Chris Cooper (the crazy Army dad in American Beauty ) plays Hanssen and Ryan Phillippe stars as the young, up-and-comer assigned to sniff him out. The film focuses on the sting operation that eventually exposes him, which is too bad because it might have been more interesting to watch and learn more about what drove Hanssen, who appeared to be a regular Joe Yankee, to over 20 years of betrayal. Not really a thriller (like Zodiac, now playing) Breach is still an interesting enough picture if you’re into political intrigue and the whole “this really happened” fad that continues to sweep Hollywood.

Saving the best for last, the DVD of the week, is Borat — a genius piece of character acting, improvisation, low-brow comedy, and the finest piece of acting Pamela Anderson has ever given. She’s really convincing! The film makes some nice statements about America so just go rent it. Unfortunately the extra features are nothing special, but on the whole Borat is still pant-pissing funny.

At the Village 8 March 9-15: 300; Breach; Wild Hogs; Pan’s Labyrinth; Number 23; Zodiac; Blood Diamond; Ghost Rider; Music and Lyrics.

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