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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While most of the world is out celebrating Halloween and working their way into a serious candy coma, I am sitting here at home on my couch watching the very first round of live performances on The X Factor (or as my friend Dr. Frankenstein would put it — “It’s A-LIVE show!).
So now that we’ve established how super cool I am, let’s break down just how well the Top 16 contestants fared this week under the pressure of a live studio audience and Simon’s fake vampire fangs. (Now that’s spooky.) And hey — fans were also given their first look at the show’s new hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian. And Khloe was actually really good. (Even spookier.)
Find out how your favorites stacked up below:
Paige Thomas (Young Adults – Team Demi Lovato): Kicking off the night was Paige, who decided to sing “What is Love” by Haddaway in keeping with this week’s incredibly vague theme “Made in America.” (???) So I guess everything except the Macarena is fair game. Demi wanted to shave her head to make her look “more adventurous.” She also referred to Paige as being “not the best vocalist,” which – call me crazy – but that doesn’t inspire much confidence in a singing competition, right? Regardless, she received a great deal of praise from the judges, who admired her confidence and edgy look. Britney even said, “I think you’re a true star.” Of course, Paige probably had Britney at the whole head-shaving part.
Arin Ray (Teens — Team Britney Spears): Next up was Arin, who sang “You Keep Me Hanging On” by The Supremes. It wasn’t terrible by any means. In fact, the guy definitely has some great singing potential — however, it felt more like an attempt at a Chris Brown impersonation more so than anything else. He’s trying, but he’s just not quite there yet. Simon felt Britney put too many distractions around him for his first time out (i.e. the sexy set of girl dancers). But overall, he thought Arin possessed a great deal of swag and was very impressed.
David Correy (Over-25 — Team L.A. Reid): David chose to sing, “Your Love is My Love” by Whitney Houston. He has fun with it and really knows how to get interactive with the crowd (though this show’s audience is probably the easiest group of people to get riled up). Personality-wise, we couldn’t really ask for more, but he is somewhat forgettable in the vocals department. Simon called the whole thing a bit “desperate” and felt he needed to tone everything down. Oh Simon, how I’ve missed your snarky ways.
Sister C (Groups — Team Simon Cowel): Sister C — consisting of Carli Rayne Manchaca, Celbi Manchaca and Cirby Ryan Manchaca — performed “Hell on Heels” by Pistol Annies. These girls definitely have a great harmony together and know how to hit all the right notes, but they do have one very big problem: Nobody likes them… or at least that’s how they feel. One of the girls said that they often get portrayed as “mean girls.” Of course, this then led to me trying to figure out which of them was Regina George, which was Gretchen Wieners, and which was Karen Smith. So thanks for that. Meanwhile, L.A. and Demi failed to be impressed and found the performance incredibly stiff. Oh groups — they never fare well in competitions like these. That is so not fetch!
Jennel Garcia (Young Adults — Team Demi Lovato): Jennel chose to sing “Home Sweet Home” by Carrie Underwood and managed to really kill it (in a good way). She nailed all the vocals and completely made the song her own. L.A. said, “You just convinced me that you could win.” But you had to appreciate Simon’s jab at Demi when he said that she’s trying to transform Jennel into a mini version of herself. It’s kinda true though, especially after that makeover.
Diamond White (Teens — Team Britney Spears): Miss Diamond was up next, singing Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” with pretty impressive results. For a 13-year-old, this girl sure knows how to handle some serious pressure and make it look easy. Are anyone else’s middle school years looking ridiculously unimpressive right now? L.A. found the performance a little mechanical at the beginning, but Demi countered saying that she has one of the best voices in the competition.
Vino Alan (Over-25 — L.A. Reid): Vino attempted Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Somebody,” which got off to a pretty rocky start and didn’t really improve much from there. Of course, the judges were all over him for it. Demi said she has a hard time seeing him as a pop star, while Simon took the less-harsh approach (for once) and remarked that the song choice was to blame, not his talents as an artist. His comment to L.A., and I quote: “You completely bleep, bleep, bleeped it up.” I’ll let you fill in the blanks (or rather, the bleeps) for yourself on this one.
Lyric 145 (Groups — Team Simon Cowell): Lyric 145 — made up of Julien Joseph, Jemelle Joseph and Lyric-Bianca Barnes — did a highly entertaining mash-up of Will Smith’s “Boom! Shake the Room” and “Gangnam Style” (seriously, how is this theme “Made in America?”). Anyway, it’s fun and different, but felt more like something I would see performed at a karaoke bar. But the crowd loved it, the judges loved it (except for L.A. but he doesn’t like anything that isn’t part of his own group), so what do I know, I guess.
Next: One act makes the ladies swoon while another makes Mario Lopez blush.Cece Frey (Young Adults — Team Demi Lovato): Demi is all about the makeovers this week. Thinking that Cece gets portrayed as a diva, she decided to change up her look (you know, because outward appearances reflect your inner personality). She ended up singing “Because the Night” by Patti Smith. You can definitely see this girl throwing a great concert: the outfit, the stage presence, all of it was great. However, the judges felt the vocals left little to be desired. Even Demi, her mentor, said she felt she could’ve been stronger vocally. But all-in-all it was a memorable and enjoyable performance.
Tate Stevens (Over-25 — L.A. Reid): Tate selects Craig Morgan’s “Tough” as his song of choice and though I’m not a huge country fan, I was really impressed with him. He’s sweet, he’s talented and just so darn likable — which is something the judges seemed to agree on (for a change). Demi remarked, “You don’t need dancers or a band. You stand on your own.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. This guy is definitely a keeper.
Beatrice Miller (Teens — Team Britney Spears): Beatrice sang Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up,” despite the fact that she openly admitted in the intro package that she didn’t think it was a right fit for her. (I bet crimping her hair wasn’t her idea either, Britney.) Unfortunately, she’s correct. The performance is a little rough, which sucks because I hate to criticize the youngins like that, but it just didn’t suit her very well. However, the judges seemed optimistic, so hopefully she’ll be given another shot to really showcase her talents. Think of the kids, mentors. They gave up trick-or-treating to do this!
Jason Brock: (Over-25 — Team L.A. Reid): Jason decided to get in touch with his inner JLo by singing her recent hit song, “Dance Again.” It… was… brutal. Simon called it “utterly horrendous” and I have to agree with Mr. V-neck on this one. It was a poor song choice and did nothing to highlight his voice. Plus the Vegas showgirls and floor fog were all a little too much for my taste. Of course, L.A. loved it (surprise, surprise). But on a positive note, Jason did manage to make Mario Lopez hilariously uncomfortable by asking if he could pinch his butt. Yay for live shows!
1432 (Groups — Team Simon Cowell): Formerly known as LYLAS and made up of Ally Brooke, Camila Cabello, Normani Hamilton, Dinah Jane Hansen, and Lauren Jauregui, the group decided to sing Taylor Swift’s new hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” It’s always hard for me to know how to feel with songs like this. T-Swift is just so charming and adorable that she can make even the most mediocre songs seem great. But taking her out of the equation sometimes just leaves a mediocre song…like this one, for instance. Demi remarked that they need to come out of their shells a bit more and learn to work better as a group. Of course, they’ve only been together for three weeks, so perhaps they deserve a little leeway…at least for this week.
Willie Jones (Young Adults — Team Demi Lovato): Up next was Willie who sang “Here for the Party” by Gretchen Wilson. At first it seemed like an odd song choice, but he managed to turn it into a really great performance. His charm and deep voice (Bing Cosby anyone?) make him quite the memorable contestant. Britney loved it; Simon thought it was silly — you know, the normal drill. But I hope he sticks around a bit longer. This guy’s got potential.
Carly Rose Sonenclar (Teens — Team Britney Spears): Then came Carly, who sang FloRida’s hit song, “Good Feeling,” to mixed results. There’s no doubt this girl is a powerhouse singer, but she had absolutely no energy during the performance. It was almost like she wasn’t happy to be there, and the judges could sense it. While Demi thought that maybe it just isn’t her time to shine yet, Simon disagreed and thought she just wasn’t connecting to the song because it was the wrong choice for her. He said it would be criminal if she leaves the competition. And coming from Simon, that should definitely mean something.
Emblem3 (Groups — Team Simon Cowell): Closing out the show was Drew Chadwick, Keaton Stromberg, and Wesley Stromberg, who took on Matisyahu’s “One Day.” I can totally see these guys becoming the next hot boy band someday. If you listen closely, you can already hear millions of teen girls squealing in delight. And, man, these guys are good-looking. Demi even admitted that she can’t look at them when they sing for fear of flirting with them (get in line, Demi). Even L.A. had nothing but praise to give them. I have a feeling these guys will be sticking around for a long time. And on behalf of every girl in America, I thank you for that.
That’s all for now, folks, but be sure to tune in Thursday night for the season’s very first live elimination round, where the judges will decide which 8 acts are safe and which 8 acts will need to sing for survival. Either way, by the night’s end, 4 acts will be sent packing. Who will it be? Sound off on your thoughts in the comments below!
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[Photo Credit: Ray Mickshaw/Fox]
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.