300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

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In the first movie, we were introduced to the epic warriors of Sparta and how they bravely battled against the “thousand nations of the Persian Empire.” Some people will say that the vicious brutality was gratuitous and self-indulgent, glorifying our barbaric inclinations. That’s completely true, but that’s exactly why I enjoyed it so much.

It would not be completely fair to say that 300: Rise of an Empire is a sequel, because it’s not. It’s not fair to call it a prequel either. Instead, what we get is some backstory that briefly illustrates how the “God-King” Xerxes came to be (too brief if you ask me), as well as some of the battles that ensued after the Battle of Thermopylae in the first film. Realistically, the bulk of the action really takes place around the same time, only in a different location.

We get to indulge ourselves in that same kind of highly stylized blood and gore, but in the context of a naval battle. We get a different leader than King Leonidas in Themistocles, who is sadly far less memorable than his Spartan counterpart, but the battle scenes are almost as enjoyable. And it’s great to see a strong female character in Artemisia, the discarded Greek turned Persian military leader that you see above. She’s brutal and it’s great.

Make no mistake. You need to approach Rise of an Empire with the right kind of expectations. While it may not be as original or visceral as the first film, it’s still a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

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Matthew McConaughey has been having quite a year. He was fantastic in True Detective and, based on his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, he has really solidified his place as a serious actor who can go beyond his “alright alright alright” catchphrase.

Primarily taking place in the mid-1980s, Dallas Buyers Club has rough and tumble rodeo cowboy and sometime electrician Ron Woodroof (played by McConaughey) get infected with HIV. Bearing in mind that this was in Texas and HIV/AIDS was still largely associated with homosexual activity, you can see how this could have a tremendously negative effect on Woodroof’s life. Not only does he get ostracized by his peers, but doctors also tell him that he only has 30 days to live. He later discovers some natural remedies that help to control the symptoms, but they are not FDA approved and he has to go to Mexico to get them.

Long story short, Woodroof learns to overcome some of his homophobic tendencies, befriending fellow HIV/AIDS sufferer Rayon (played brilliantly by Jared Leto)… who happens to dress in women’s clothing and epitomizes the “gay” stereotype of the time. It can be gut-wrenching times and it can be painful, but Dallas Buyers Club offers us a stark and honest look into the AIDS epidemic and the struggle of its sufferers to find some relief. Don’t worry; there’s some lighthearted humor thrown in for good measure too.

Frozen (2013)

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Somehow, Frozen has become the highest grossing animated film of all time with over one billion dollars in worldwide revenue. It also won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, so I figured I should check this out.

While it was perfectly fine as an animated film for the kiddies, I still can’t wrap my head around all the hullabaloo surrounding this movie. It doesn’t offer the same kind of profound depth that we saw in movies like Wall-E, but rather Frozen is a musical geared mostly toward younger audiences who like princesses. You get a couple of sisters — one with the ability to freeze everything and turn their land into an eternal winter — and the typical solution of “an act of true love.”

Again, I thought it was fine, but Frozen is ultimately forgettable for me. Even if the strangely suicidal and naive Olaf the Snowman is mildly amusing. Do you want to build a snowman?