TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already?
To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there.
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from.
But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper.
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In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so.
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WENNThe BRIT Awards may no longer be the must-see event it was in the 90s, but it's still by far the British music industry's biggest night. Here's a look at the list of this year's nominees and the acts who should perhaps start preparing their acceptance speeches ready for February 19. British Male Solo ArtistDavid Bowie, Jake Bugg, James Blake, John Newman, Tom OdellConsidering the BRITs' reputation for awarding sales over talent, it's surprising but pleasing to see that both Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams have been snubbed here. The panel may want to justify giving New Boring singer-songwriter Tom Odell the Critics Choice award last year, but there would surely be an outcry if David Bowie didn't get the sentimental vote and pick up his first BRIT in nearly 30 years.Who Will Win: David BowieWho Should Win: David BowieBritish Female Solo ArtistBirdy, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J, Laura Marling, Laura MvulaLaura Marling surprised everyone by pipping Ellie Goulding to this award in 2011 but considering the latter's triumphant twelve months, it's difficult to see her doing the same this year. Just as long as the caterwauling Jessie J doesn’t get her hands on it.Who Will Win: Ellie GouldingWho Should Win: Laura MvulaBritish GroupArctic Monkeys, Bastille, Disclosure, One Direction, RudimentalIt’s encouraging to see the BRITs recognise two of the year's best commercial dance acts in this category, but British Group almost always goes to a guitar band so Arctic Monkeys are almost certain to add to their tally of five.Who Will Win: Arctic MonkeysWho Should Win: DisclosureBritish Breakthrough ActBastille, Disclosure, Laura Mvula, London Grammar, Tom OdellLondon Grammar produced one of the most beautiful albums of last year with If You Wait but as this award is voted for by listeners of Radio 1, it will inevitably go to the act with the biggest fan base. Step forward the unfathomably successful Bastille.Who Will Win: Bastille Who Should Win: London GrammarBritish SingleBastille ("Pompeii"), Calvin Harris ("I Need Your Love"), Disclosure ("White Noise"), Ellie Goulding ("Burn"), John Newman ("Love Me Again"), Naughty Boy ("La La La"), One Direction ("One Way Or Another/Teenage Kicks"), Passenger ("Let Her Go"), Rudimental ("Waiting All Night")Bar Passenger's contrived snoozefest, this isn't a bad list of the best-selling singles of the last year. Again voted for by the public, One Direction will inevitably walk away with the award. But it's a shame that it'll be for their karaoke mash-up of Blondie's "One Way Or Another"/The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" rather than the far superior "Story Of My Life."Who Will Win: One DirectionWho Should Win: Naughty BoyBritish Album of the YearArctic Monkeys (AM), Bastille (Bad Blood), David Bowie (The Next Day), Disclosure (Settle), Rudimental (Home)A welcome departure from the bombastic EDM favoured by the likes of Guetta et al, Disclosure's Settle was the album that 2013 needed. But following the return-to-form of AM, BRITs favorites Arctic Monkeys will probably pick up the second and arguably the most coveted award of the night.Who Will Win: Arctic MonkeysWho Should Win: DisclosureInternational Male Solo ArtistBruno Mars, Drake, Eminem, John Grant, Justin TimberlakePossibly the biggest snub of the awards is the lack of Kanye West, who like his former touring partner Jay-Z, has been entirely ignored in favour of Justin Timberlake's two bloated and self-indulgent comeback albums and Eminem's regressive Marshall Mathers sequel. More encouraging is this year's most leftfield nominee John Grant, but with Bruno Mars set to perform on the night, this category will only go one way.Who Will Win: Bruno MarsWho Should Win: John GrantInternational Female Solo ArtistJanelle Monae, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Lorde, PinkSuggesting the BRITs panel aren't too keen on the whole twerking phenomenon, Miley Cyrus is another major omission here. Lorde might be worth an outside bet but currently the most bankable pop star on the planet, Katy Perry will probably reign supreme.Who Will Win: Katy PerryWho Should Win: Janelle MonaeInternational GroupArcade Fire, Daft Punk, Haim, Kings Of Leon, Macklemore & Ryan LewisIf there was an award for Best International Single, Daft Punk would run away with it. But despite the mixed reaction to their last album, the BRITs are more likely to favour Kings of Leon than any of the more adventurous names on the list.Who Will Win: Kings Of LeonWho Should Win: Haim
Rockers Bastille and dance duo Disclosure will lead the way at the U.K.'s 2014 Brit Awards after landing four nominations apiece. The quartet's Pompeii hit will go head-to-head with Disclosure's White Noise for British Single, while Bastille's Bad Blood debut will compete against the electronic stars' Settle for the British Album of the Year prize.
The two acts will also fight it out for British Group and Best Breakthrough Artist.
David Bowie has landed a nod in the British Male Solo category, alongside James Blake, John Newman, Tom Odell and Jake Bugg, while the British Female Solo category will be a battle between Ellie Goulding, Jessie J, Laura Marling, Birdy and Laura Mvula.
Goulding has also scored a double nomination for British Single with her Calvin Harris collaboration I Need Your Love and solo hit Burn both earning mentions, while contenders for the International categories include Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Lorde, Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, Kings of Leon and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
The winners will be unveiled during a ceremony in London on 19 February (14), when the shortlists for the Brits Global Success Award and the British Music Video title will both be announced.
The full list of nominees is as follows:
British Male Solo:
British Female Solo:
Best Breakthrough Act:
Bastille - Pompeii
Calvin Harris featuring Ellie Goulding - I Need Your Love
Disclosure - White Noise
Ellie Goulding - Burn
John Newman - Love Me Again
Naughty Boy featuring Sam Smith - La La La
Olly Murs - Dear Diary
One Direction - One Way Or Another
Passenger - Let Her Go
Rudimental featuring Ella Eyre - Waiting All Night
British Album of the Year:
Arctic Monkeys - AM
Bastille - Bad Blood
David Bowie - The Next Day
Disclosure - Settle
Rudimental - Home
International Male Solo:
International Female Solo:
Kings of Leon
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
British Producer of the Year:
Flood and Alan Moulder
Brit Critics Choice:
After starting what he thinks is just another day by methodically brushing his teeth the way he always does IRS Agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) gets a visit from an uninvited auditory guest--Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) the author of his life. Little does she know while writing a book about a character named Harold Crick that the real Harold can hear her narrations loud and clear; little does Harold know that her novels don't have happy endings--that is until he hears it in her narration which states that he is to die. Luckily she's in the midst of writer's block so he has some time to find out well how much time he has to live. He immediately consults a literary professor (Dustin Hoffman) who instructs Harold to further pursue a relationship with an anarchistic baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) he is currently auditing in order to learn more about the course the novel will take. The relationship flourishes and he’s happy for the first time in a long time but will art imitate--or end--his life? Ferrell seems to be mimicking the exact path of his direct comedic-superstar predecessor Jim Carrey even down to his first serious-ish role: Carrey’s first dramatic foray was the equally quasi-existential though much better Truman Show. Ferrell has no problem whatsoever making the transition--that’s just what abundant natural talent affords certain actors. But his crossover attempt should’ve been more subtle since audiences have come to expect at least one “streaking” scene per Ferrell film. As Ferrell’s heavily tattooed love interest the ubiquitous Gyllenhaal scores again. Fresh off roles as a stripper single mom (Sherrybaby) and a frantic pregnant 9/11 wife (World Trade Center) she proves that no matter her character’s physical appearance or mindset she can do no wrong. Ditto for Thompson who spends much of the film in pajamas and the throes of writer’s block--the "writer" prototype--much to the dismay of her publisher-appointed assistant played well by Queen Latifah. Rounding out the cast is Hoffman whose professor isn't totally unlike his answer provider in like-minded I Heart Huckabees. His character’s quirky humor is child’s play at this point for the veteran but a select few scenes between him and Ferrell are extremely satisfying. To liken Stranger Than Fiction to a Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Adaptation et al) script/movie is not totally without merit. Fiction captures the “vivid yet distant” essence that is common with Kaufman’s stories and subsequent movies. But whereas Kaufman doesn’t go out of his way to coddle audiences’ minds amidst his often obtuse movies writer Zach Helm and director Marc Forster seem to have audience appreciation (read: box office) on the brain. Helm’s idea is nothing short of genius in a way that’s different from the oft-mentioned screenwriters he’s compared to but somewhere en route he and/or Forster (Finding Neverland) compromised the vision. Because what starts out as a complex intriguing movie turns stale quickly especially given the inexplicable ease with which it transitions from a metaphysical story into a straightforward one. And Forster's tendency in the movie to undercomplicate is just as detrimental as the opposite extreme. The dialogue also falls somewhat flat often neither funny nor off-kilter enough buoyed only slightly by superb cinematography set direction and indie music featuring Spoon (whose frontman Britt Daniel reworked some of their best songs for the movie)--but we’ve come to expect that trifecta from similar movies.