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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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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In keeping with this week's American Film Market theme, following is a rundown of deals and announcements to hit over the past day.
Notably, Wild Bunch has boarded Nick Cassavetes' Yellow, which had previously encountered some financial woes. With a private American equity partner now in place, the film is set to start shooting again in December. Wild Bunch is handling international sales.
In a rather poignant twist, Cassavetes' wife, Heather Wahlquist, stars in the film, which could be described as a sort of lighter version of A Woman Under the Influence -- in which Cassavetes' mother, Gena Rowlands, starred for his father, John Cassavetes.
The cast also includes Sienna Miller, Melanie Griffith, Luke Wilson and Ben Foster.
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions has acquired domestic rights to The River Sorrow, as part of a deal that also saw the company pick up rights for the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, says The Hollywood Reporter.
The Rich Cowan film stars Ray Liotta, Ving Rhames, Christian Slater, Giselle Fraga, Raymond Barry, Sarah Ann Schultz and Melora Walters.
As expected, Chris Rock has beenconfirmed as the lead opposite Julie Delpy in her directorial follow up to 2 Days in Paris. 2 Days in New York is being sold by Rezo Films.
According to Screen, the film now finds Paris heroine Marion in New York with her child and a new guy. Rock plays the new boyfriend, a radio host and journalist whose life will be upended by a two-day visit from Marion's French family.
Also per Screen, WestEnd Films will handle international rights on The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Justin Timberlake is scoring and supervising music for the film, which stars Zach Braff, Jessica Biel and Chloe Moretz.
Bill Purple directs the story of Henry, whose world is turned upside down when his wife is killed in a tragic accident. In an attempt to overcome his grief, Henry befriends a young homeless girl and helps her accomplish her dream of building a raft to cross the Atlantic to find her long-lost father.
Principal photography starts in April 2011.
Christophe Honore is back with a film starring Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Ludivine Sagnier, Louis Garrel, Milos Forman and Paul Schneider. Les Biens-Aimees, which Screen describes as a Jacques Demy-style musical drama, is being sold internationally by Celluloid Dreams.
Lucy Walker's hot doc Countdown to Zero has sold to Paramount Pictures for Japan, says The Hollywood Reporter. The Works International is repping the Lawrence Bender produced film which premiered at Sundance and had a screening in Cannes.
Korea's CJ Entertainment has sold US rights to The Man from Nowhere to Well Go USA, Screen further reports.
IFC Midnight has taken US rights to psychological thriller Choose. SC Films is repping the film internationally. IFC Midnight plans a theatrical release in 2011 for the Marcus Graves genre film Screen says is in the vein of Seven and The Silence of the Lambs.
Magnet Releasing, the genre arm of Magnolia Pictures, has picked up US rights to Thai action movie BKO: Bangkok Knockout, adds THR.
The film is directed by Panna Rittkrai and centers on a group of friends who have to fight for their lives with one of their own is kidnapped.
Finally, Deadline reports that Myriad Pictures has acquired offshore rights to the Vivi Friedman-directed comedy The Family Tree. Pic stars Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Selma Blair, Christina Hendricks, Max Thieriot, Jane Seymour, Rachael Leigh Cook and Bow Wow. Davis plays a restless housewife who bumps her head during an illicit encounter with her next-door neighbor and loses her memory. Myriad is shopping at the AFM. IP Advisors is brokering North American rights.
Source: Hollywood Wiretap