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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
Indie queen Christina Ricci will be working with eclectic director Woody Allen on his next untitled project. As usual, the plot is being kept firmly under wraps, but The Hollywood Reporter notes the film will center around three young adults. Jason Biggs (American Pie) is also on board. Filming is set to start in the spring.
Ricci is hot on the independent film market right now, having starred in this year's Sundance Film Festival darling Pumpkin and Miramax Films' upcoming Prozac Nation. She'll also be seen in HBO's The Laramie Project, which airs Saturday, March 9.
In a trendy Manhattan art gallery, Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman, Art Garfunkel and many other celebrities attended a gala preview Monday of artwork by students, faculty and alumni of the Savannah College of Art and Design. The event was hosted by James Wyeth, son of artist Andrew Wyeth and grandson of N.C.Wyeth.
Country singer Faith Hill is going to the Academy Awards. She'll be performing the song "There You'll Be" from the movie Pearl Harbor, written by Diane Warren. The song has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category, along with other nominated songs from Monsters, Inc., The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Kate & Leopold and Vanilla Sky.
Sean Combs, whose previous aliases revolved around being called "Daddy," finally faced up to the real thing when he reached a custody and financial settlement Tuesday with former model Kimberly Porter, mother of his three-year-old son, Christian. Combs had been a no-show in court nine times over the last year and was threatened with an arrest if he failed to appear Tuesday. He'll be providing child support, health insurance and other necessities for the child.
Pop singer/actress Brandy Norwood, 23, told MTV's Carson Daly on Total Request Live Tuesday the baby she is carrying is a girl. Brandy secretly wed record producer Robert Smith, 22, last summer. The baby is due in July.
Legendary comedian Lucille Ball's childhood home was put on the market via the Internet. The two-story house in Chautauqua County in upstate New York, where Ball lived from the time she was 8 years old to the middle of her high school years, is listed on the Web site eBay for an asking price of $98,500 by real estate broker Bruce Turner. The 112-year-old house had been sitting on the regular market for nearly a year before Turner put it on eBay. So far, the house has yet to be sold.
Dana Delaney of China Beach fame is returning to television. She'll star in a new hospital drama, Presidio Med, for CBS, playing a pediatric doctor. And in other TV casting news, Saturday Night Live alum Cheri Oteri has signed up for the ABC comedy pilot With You in Spirit, about a recent college grad (Reid Scott) who ends up in Spirit, N.M., working as a reporter. Primetime television just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?
Veteran journalist Cokie Roberts has decided to slow things down. In November, she'll be leaving ABC's This Week and co-anchor Sam Donaldson, when her contract expires. She wants to spend more time with her family. Roberts is still in conversations with ABC on what role she will play in the future with the network and will continue reporting for National Public Radio. To further fan the fire, The Hollywood Reporter reported there is speculation that George Stephanopoulos and Claire Shipman will replace Donaldson and Roberts, but ABC network officials have strongly denied the report.
ABC is just on the hot wire lately....As CBS and ABC continue to iron out their bids for talk-show host David Letterman, Ted Koppel defended his 22-year-old ABC news show Nightline, which ABC executives are rumored to be considering bumping in favor of Letterman's higher-rated show. Reuters reported Koppel wrote a op-ed piece and spoke out against the network executives. He wrote, "When Nightline is gone...and should the occasion arrive that our work might again seem relevant to the anonymous executive, it will not then be possible to reconstitute what is so easily destroyed." Letterman, however, has made it clear he will not consider moving to ABC unless the network can assure him that he is not responsible for knocking Koppel off the air.
Punk rocker Adam Ant was released on bail relating to his January arrest after an altercation in a London pub. He was arrested on charges of criminal damage, assault and possession of a firearm or imitation firearm with intention to cause fear of violence. The plea hearing is set for May 1 to decide whether the case will be heard.