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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For this week’s The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence not only transformed herself mentally to play a teenaged survivalist but also physically, in order to accurately portray the masterful hunter and archer that Katniss Everdeen has become. It’s something of a tribute to female roles that are genuinely kickass, physically demanding and heroic, not faux-empowering, exploitative or merely tough-looking. Here are other movies with such qualities from their leading ladies.
Before Michelle Rodriguez became a big star (and a bit of a troublemaker), she broke out in this little indie. With virtually no budget and thus scant room for stunt doubles and nifty effects, Rodriguez was forced to become a real female boxer, and the result was a very credible performance – and countless Best Newcomer-type awards.
Million Dollar Baby
Another boxing movie, another actress who went the extra mile to authenticate her performance and character. Hilary Swank’s training was “two and a half hours of boxing and approximately an hour and a half to two hours lifting weights every day, six days a week.” It showed – and paid off: She won a Best Actress Oscar for the second time in her career.
Though Demi Moore’s performance wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy (it was Razzie-worthy, though: She won Worst Actress in 1997), there’s no denying that her portrayal of the first woman to undergo Navy SEAL training was physically demanding – and that Moore met those demands head-on. And, uh, hair-off!
Uma Thurman was put through the ringer – mentally, emotionally AND physically (how she was not nominated for an Oscar is beyond us) – in Quentin Tarantino’s two-“volume” martial arts/revenge opus, and while Tarantino and master choreographer Yuen Woo-ping deserve a lot of credit for the memorable fight sequences, Thurman was at the center of them all. Which is impressive even if her stunt double was heavily involved.
While we’re on the subject of Tarantino and his borderline fetishism of female empowerment, we must mention Death Proof – in which real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell plays a stuntwoman on the run (along with Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms) from Kurt Russell’s deranged Stuntman Mike. And she, naturally, performs her own stunts, including riding on the hood of a car at breakneck speeds, sans CGI. If that wasn’t physically demanding, then what is?
So … yeah, we cheated a bit. But how could we not include a TV show – really the only one of its kind, save perhaps for series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the original Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels, to a much lesser degree – that features a female lead (Jennifer Garner) performing crazy action sequences on a weekly basis? Well, we couldn’t!
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Be it the original trilogy adaptation, featuring Noomi Rapace, or David Fincher’s recent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Rooney Mara, playing antiheroine Lisbeth Salander is clearly not for the dainty actresses out there – or any actresses afraid of physicality, whether it’s uglifying one’s appearance drastically or filming sexually abusive scenes.
Even if Linda Hamilton didn’t perform all her stunts in the first two Terminator movies – and it’s safe to assume that she didn’t – it is abundantly clear that she put in a ton of time at the gym to not only be ready for said stuntwork, if necessary, but also create a ripped Sarah Connor who doesn’t look silly handling various guns.
Multiple Angelina Jolie Movies
These days, Jolie looks a little, er, fragile to pass as a believable ass-kicking action heroine, but in all of her action movies (including the Tomb Raiders, Wanted, Salt and even Mr. and Mrs. Smith), Jolie has insisted on doing as many of her own stunts as possible. Which for insurance reasons might not translate to that many, but stil, she’s clearly game for physically demanding roles.
One thing that far too many entries of zombie-related media do not seem to get is that walkers aren't the only issue you've got to deal with in a zombie apocalypse. There's also the little pain in the neck that is other people. Luckily, our trusty AMC series The Walking Dead understands this concept.
Season 2 of the phenomenal Robert Kirkman adaptation will take the group, consisting of Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son (Chandler Riggs), Rick's spouse-stealing best friend Shane (Jon Bernthal), the group's mystical patriatch Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), grieving sister Andrea (Laurie Holden), token racist Daryl (Norman Reedus) and spirited pizza boy Glenn (Stephen Yuen) to new levels of in-fighting, distrust and disloyalty. Where the camp was a place of sanctuary last season, it may now present an even greater danger than the zombies themselves.
Or it'll be a close second. They are, after all, zombies. The Walking Dead returns to AMC with a 90-minute premiere on October 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Click the picture to check out the Walking Dead season 2 gallery!
There’s no reason to expect much of a plotline when it comes to a videogame-turned-movie and in that sense DOA: Dead or Alive truly delivers. The journey begins with three women. First we meet Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) who lives in the mountains of Japan. She is told that her brother is gone but is warned that if she leaves to look for him she will become an outcast aka Shinobi. Nonetheless she wards off rows of ninjas and literally jumps off an entire mountain range to escape. Next up is Tina (Jaime Pressly) a female wrestler who’s sick of the superficiality that apparently goes along with her fame. Tina warns her father (Kevin Nash) to stop trying to coerce her back into the game but that’s before a boatful of thugs try to overtake her luxury yacht in the South China Sea. Tina makes quick work of the amateur thieves. Finally there’s girly girl Christie (Holly Valance) a burgling multitasker who can simultaneously throw on a bra and throw down in a fight. What do these three femme fatales have in common? Their skills have earned them an invite to the all-exclusive DOA tournament which crowns the world’s best martial artist. Even a dream-team action trio of say Angelina Jolie (circa the Tomb Raiders) Uma Thurman (circa the Kill Bills) and Ziyi Zhang (circa Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) couldn’t lend credibility to DOA; playing in this movie is simply a losing battle even if they win the whole damn DOA tournament. At least Pressly Aoki and Valance (and Sarah Carter if you count her as the hostess/competitor amongst the lead chicks) look pretty while looking bad. Pressly it should be said probably wouldn’t have even thought of accepting such a role had she known My Name Is Earl would be such a hit. But here she is kicking butt while looking freakishly toned enough to become a gaming-geek goddess. As for her acting Pressly basically replicates her backwoods Earl sensibilities and makes it work as best she can. Aoki (Sin City) continuing her trend of solid acting in mostly terrible movies actually looks the most “videogame ” while Valance (Pledge This!) makes her sultry fighter hot enough to distract from her ho-hum acting. But it’s Eric Roberts--he of approximately half the movies and TV shows made over the last three decades--who adds the occasional funny-bad vibe as DOA’s eventual bad guy. Nobody else could’ve played his role partly because nobody else would’ve wanted to. Oh videogame movies when will you learn that crossovers never work—especially in your “genre?" As sure as Russell Crowe’s 30 Odd Foot of Grunts will never make a blip on the Billboard charts and wrestlers will never be able to act a videogame will never amount to a good movie. At least DOA unapologetically plays out like a videogame: When a fight ends for example a “K.O.” (knockout) appears on the screen. It is one of the more ludicrous moments ever committed to celluloid but it’s director Corey Yuen’s way of staying faithful to the game version as well as his target audience. Having been a longtime choreographer—on everything from Lethal Weapon 4 to Transporter 2 and some non-sequels in between—Yuen has the chops to create a great fight scene but he is clearly not a director. Positively everything outside of the fight sequences is cringe-inducing for its lameness and insignificance. The fact there is even an attempt to build a story—by no less than four writers mind you—around what is a very literal translation of a pure fighting videogame is gratuitous in itself. Besides an hour and a half of mostly fight scenes would’ve been more appreciated by the bleary-eyed gamer audience anyway.