Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Missing Limbs and 'Miss Potter'

From what I can tell, "300" is targeted at males who are worried they may be homosexuals. (And from the film's weekend gross, there must be a lot of them!) The film is basically a collection of sexy male torsos to look at while pretending to enjoy nonstop violence and stilted dialogue about manliness, infrequently punctuated with the promise of a tit, just to keep things on the up and up.

Zack Snyder, the director behind the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, attempts to adapt Frank Miller's graphic novel (which I haven't read) with over-processed images and lots of elaborately shot, slow-motion action scenes. The visual design clearly stems from other films that use highly stylized digital worlds, including "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and "Sin City," a much better Miller adaptation.

But those films had a sense of the styles they were reinventing (Saturday morning serials and exploitation noir, respectively). The filters on "300" make the movie look grainy, punch up the contrast and accentuate light so those torsos glare in your eyes, daring you not to look at the supple chests of those sexy soldiers. I guess ancient Greece was gritty. Some of the action scenes are interesting, but that's all there is. (Unless you count the utterly pointless sideplot, which feels like an afterthought when the studio asked if they could add a love story.)

In the ultimate counter-programming move, the sweet "Miss Potter" came out in Salt Lake City this weekend as well. I saw "Miss Potter" way back in December, at the end of the awards-screening season. Since "Children of Men" hadn't screened yet (way to campaign your film, Universal), I'd been treated to the likes of "Dreamgirls," "The Good Shepherd" and "The History Boys," and was beginning to wonder if a good film would ever be made again. "Miss Potter" may not be great, but it's a well-written and well-acted drama that isn't trite, boring and/or ridiculous.

Director Chris Noonan ("Babe") and actress Renée Zellweger lovingly portray the life of Beatrix Potter, the author and illustrator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other hit childrens books from the early 20th Century. Endlessly innocent and perhaps a bit nutty, the independent woman nevertheless managed to forge her own career path while her upper-class parents tried to keep control of their unmarried daughter. The supporting performances by Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson alone make the film worth watching, but there's more going on. "Miss Potter" is an honest character study instead of a standard biopic loaded with clichés. Unfortunately, Ewan McGregor's torso does not make an appearance.

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