BIG RELEASE: 300: Rise of an Empire (March 7)
BIG PICTURE: Based on the Frank Miller graphic novel, Xerxes, this hotly anticipated sequel offers another lively reinterpretation of ancient myth and legend. It's Greek tragedy in the age of Xbox, CGI and 3D. Perhaps it's only fitting the film's composer goes by the name Junkie XL (I am not making this up). As for the plot, remember those 300 soldiers that died valiantly? Well, it's time for payback. Depending on whether you're Persian or Greek, this one is either The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. Rise of an Empire depicts a historical naval battle, fought between the Persian empire and an alliance of Greek city states, which happened concurrently with the bloody events of the original film. The Greeks are unified behind Gen. Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton). There is nothing like a fleet of villainous Persians spouting lines like "All of Greece will fall" to bring a disparate country together. This is the kind of movie where the closest thing to small talk is lines like "If death comes for me today, I'll be ready," "Seize your glory" and "You will be a god king." Returning cast members include Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) as the Spartan queen and Rodrigo Santoro as the Persian king. The key newbie is Eva Green (Casino Royale) as Artemisia, a fierce Persian naval commander.
FORECAST: 300 proved a guilty pleasure; the sequel will deliver another feast for the senses. There will be blood. There will be sex. Warships will be rowed. Men will swing swords and run with spears in slow motion. The audience will be overwhelmed with adrenalin -- but then feel guilty for not keeping their New Year's fitness resolutions. If the Herculean bodies on display are any indication, everyone in ancient Greece had a personal trainer.
HONOURABLE MENTION: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson is in a world unto his own. The Texan director has called it a world "five degrees removed from reality." To put that into perspective, it is important to note Narnia is officially 10 degrees removed from reality and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's world is 15 degrees removed. But Anderson's quirks are divisive. Detractors find him obnoxious and pretentious, whereas fans find him inventive and intelligent. I fall into the latter category. Budapest Hotel offers the usual Anderson tropes: colourful, hyper-detailed sets and costuming, a hipster soundtrack, a whimsical setting (in this case fictional European town pre-WW2), a star-studded cast of Anderson regulars (eg. Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson) paired with a must-see addition (eg. Ralph Fiennes). The plot centres on Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori), a lobby boy at the hotel under the tutelage of the hotel's eccentric concierge Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes), who is framed for murder. The hotel setting, with its multitude of guests and caper plot line, should have Anderson fans checking into theatres. That said, I'd love to see a mash-up of this week's releases. Anderson directs 300: The Grand Budapest Hotel, about 300 deadly Spartan soldiers staying at the luxurious hotel on the night before battling 300,000 Persian soldiers. Rest up boys. What could go wrong?
BIG EVENT: Resurrection (ABC, Citytv, March 9, 9 p.m.)
BIG PICTURE: Resurrection offers a refreshing twist on the supernatural. The dead have returned, but they don't want to eat you! Yay! The new drama is like a hybrid of Twin Peaks, Six Feet Under, Highway to Heaven and The Sixth Sense -- only everyone sees dead people. The dead are far more complex than your average flesh-hungry zombie or booty- and blood-starved vamp. Instead of longing for human flesh, they're longing for human connection with the loved ones they left behind. The catch? When the dead return to the town of Acadia, Mo., they look exactly like they did the day they died. Meanwhile, their beloved have aged and moved on. Resurrection begins with story of a drowned, eight-year-old boy named Jacob. A mute Jacob (newcomer Landon Gimenez) is inexplicably found in a field in rural China more than 33 years after his death. Martin (Omar Epps) plays a social worker who returns the boy to his hometown. Jacob could be a clone or a con artist, an angel or a demon. Personally, I hope we find out he's one of the Children of the Corn (fingers crossed). Jason is only the first of the seemingly resurrected.
FORECAST: An intriguing premise, Resurrected is mysterious but life-affirming. You shouldn't expect horror. Epps proved he could hold his own with House's Hugh Laurie; he deserves his turn at the helm. Don't confuse this series with The Returned, a French series that treads similar territory but is much, much darker. That one is also getting an American remake. Soon we'll be seeing dead people on every other channel.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Spun Out (CTV, March 6, 8:30 p.m.; March 7, 8 p.m.). Bates Motel (March 3, A&E, 9 p.m.). Kid in the Hall Dave Foley helms Spun Out, a new Canadian sitcom about a dysfunctional PR agency. As for Bates Motel, it doesn't need any spin. The drama tells the coming-of-age story of everyone's favourite psycho, Norman Bates. Freddie Highmore is delivers a praiseworthy performance, but Vera Farmiga is a revelation as his unpredictable, unstable mother. One of the best dramas you're probably not watching. Catch up on Season 1 and tune in.
BIG RELEASES: March 3, Lea Michele (Louder); March 4, Drive-By Truckers (English Oceans)
BIG PICTURE: The swampy alt-country outfit, Drive-By Truckers, returns with its 12th studio album. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley -- founders and only remaining original members of the band -- share songwriting and lead-vocal duties. Meanwhile, Glee's Lea Michele embraces a solo career. The once buzz-worthy series is headed for its final season, so perhaps the timing is right for Michele's first solo album. Michele enters a crowded female pop landscape of divas and deviants, but Michele has one thing going for her. She can really sing. No lip-synching required on her tour (and probably no twerking either).
FORECAST: Michele may be Louder, but she'll still need some time to find her creative voice. Drive-By Truckers always deliver a fine trip. All aboard.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Sally Seltman (Hey Daydreamer): Formerly recording under the name New Buffalo, this is Seltman's fourth album. She offers organic, imaginative indie pop worthy of a daydream.