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'300': NOT JUST A BATTLE FLICK

March 15, 2007 1:03 am

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Gerard Butler portrays Leonidas, the king of Sparta who, along with an army of 300 soldiers, battles to prevent the large Persian army from invading Greece in 480 B.C. in the epic action-drama '300.' wegrace.jpg.jpg

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300 (R) HHH

STARRING: GERARD BUTLER, LENA HEADEY, DOMINIC WEST

RUNNING TIME: 117 MIN.

Though this is a battle epic few can match, there's a beauty and a noble nature to this film.

It's the kind that comes from total commitment to a cause: here, the notion of a free and unyielding Sparta.

That's delivered in this film through gleaming biceps, rippling abs, thrown spears and arrow-riddled shields, all wrapped up in more testosterone than has ever before been squeezed into a single film.

While some might dismiss this story of 300 brave Spartans holding off hordes of Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. as just another battle flick, most won't.

With Gerard Butler creating a King Leonidas we sympathize with and pull for, each frame of this movie that echoes the tone of "Braveheart" is beautifully shot and artfully staged.

When the Spartan king we've seen formed in the crucible of a warrior's upbringing goes against a horde so large it fills the horizon, it seems a death wish.

But as the film proceeds and the bravery and tactics of the warriors show them to be almost Herculean, it's hard not to pull for them.

Yes, the film is bloody and filled with men being speared, cut, shot with arrows and more.

But unlike modern-day gorefests awash in blood, these battle sequences almost have an animated, comic-book feel. The action often proceeds in slow motion or on a screen where all colors but black and red seem to fade from sight.

From wheat fields to the narrow pass where Leonidas bids his wife goodbye, the screen is alternately ablaze or doused with dark hues where battle rages.

All in all, it's more than you'd expect from any 300 a filmmaker could muster.

Rated R for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity. [RF, RA, M]

AMAZING GRACE (PG) HHH

STARRING: IOAN GRUFFUDD, ALBERT FINNEY, MICHAEL GAMBON, RUFUS SEWELL

RUNNING TIME: 111 MIN.

With a compelling performance by Gruffudd as British abolitionist William Wilberforce, a strong supporting cast and a story rooted in one of history's great struggles, this film delivers on every level.

Lavishly photographed, with enough English pomp and circumstance to make Merchant and Ivory jealous, the film chronicles the battle to end the bloody British slave trade by focusing on the leader of that struggle, Wilberforce.

The film benefits from a strong supporting cast, with Sewell, Fox and a host of others bringing to life the factions that battle over ending an industry that fattened many an English purse.

Especially poignant: Finney playing a pastor who used his torment at having been a slave-ship captain in an earlier life to help him write the hymn "Amazing Grace," a rallying cry for the abolitionists.

While the straightforward telling of the historical struggle creates interest, Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower) takes the film beyond historical curiosity by creating a sometimes flawed, always emotional and personally troubled man who achieved something many called impossible.

All through a simple and heartfelt belief that slavery was a sin that a Christian nation couldn't allow.

With a pace that never sags and a texture that pulls you in, this is a film that leaves you with a grace all its own.

Rated PG for thematic material involving slavery, and some mild language. [RF, RA]

THE ULTIMATE GIFT (PG) HH

STARRING: DREW FULLER, JAMES GARNER, ABIGAIL BRESLIN, BRIAN DENNEHY

RUNNING TIME: 114 MIN.

When Jason Stevens' grandfather dies, he doesn't immediately leave his spoiled relation a huge inheritance.

Instead, he sends him on a quest of sorts, trying to teach him everything from humility to a work ethic and true love of family.

While Fuller doesn't overly impress, the film is able to overcome a somewhat formulaic plot to deliver an emotional message that feels real.

One special bright spot: Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") as a little girl who helps Stevens restore love and caring to his life.

Rated PG for thematic elements, some violence and language. [M]




HOW WE RATE 'EM H Don't waste your time.

HH Nothing special

HHH You'll be sorry if you miss it.

HHHH A must-see




Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.