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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Stephen King's The Stand needs to be made into a big-budget film. There was a decently made mini-series that included some notable actors. That version was even produced by King himself. However, the television medium doesn't allow the story to explore the haunting parts of King's vision of the end of the world. The mini-series also felt a little bland at times. The film may have lost Ben Affleck to his infamous run as Batman and may end up casting Christian Bale, but here's our fantasy casting for the film series.
Johnny Depp as Randall Flagg
Randall Flagg is charming, attractive, and can seduce people out of their souls. Yet, in the next moment beat them mercilessly to death or make them go mad with just a look. Depp has the good looks and the convincing darkness to portray an agent of the devil. His roles in films like Dark Shadows and Sweeney Todd show he can be dark and twisted while still maintaining his charm, humor, and sex appeal. He also created the definitive anti-hero in Jack Sparrow.
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Cicely Tyson as Mother Abigail
Mother Abigail is a 108-year-old woman, the oldest living human being, and a prophet of God. She becomes a lightning rod for all the good people left in the world to gather together. At 80 years old, Tyson just won a Tony for her role in The Trip to Bountiful. She is an amazing actress and her recent role in The Help has proven that nothing can stop her.
Summit Entertainment via Everett Collection
Emma Stone as Frances Goldsmith
Frannie is pregnant and in her early twenties. As the flu strikes, she questions if she should keep the baby. She’s smart, funny, and attractive enough to get a bit of a love triangle going. Stone is attractive, quirky, and has already seen the apocalypse starring in Zombieland. While most of her films have been comedies, she did show her dramatic muscles in The Help. She also has shown she has the edge to potentially kick ass and it would be great to see her actually do it on screen.
Walt Disney Co via Everett Collection
Matthew McConaughey as Stu Redman
Stu is affectionately known as East Texas. He is one of the first known survivors of the super flu. He plays a major part in the story and the survival of Mother Abigail's followers. When you think of Texas you think of McConaughey. His recent success and Oscar buzz with Dallas Buyer's Club show that the dramatic actor is back along with the comedian we remember from movies like Magic Mike. He has the right level of folksy charm that would encourage a community of survivors to rally behind him.
Millennium Entertainment via Everett Collection
Ryan Gosling as Larry Underwood
Larry Underwood is a sexy rockstar. He spends the bulk of the story with multiple women who want the best for him but sadly he disappoints them. Tons of women in America would love to see Gosling in this role. He has the huge fan following to be believable as a rock star. His role as a ne'er do well stunt driver in Drive and as a lothario in Crazy Stupid Love make him well suited for this role.
FilmDistrict via Everett Collection
Taylor Schilling as Nadine Cross
Nadine Cross is a former school teacher that meets Larry on the road. They connect and bond but she's a virgin and can't be with him. Who is she saving herself for ... who do you think? Randall Flagg. Schilling is huge right now given the success of Orange is the New Black. In the show, she's able to play a virginal innocence while still maintaining a slightly dark and twisted edge. After all, how pure can you be in prison?
Warner Bros. via Everett Collection
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Nick Andros
Nick Andros is a deaf-mute that is introduced to the audience when he is savagely beaten. He becomes a major player in Mother Abigail's society despite being only able to communicate by writing notes. Levitt has the acting chops to breathe life into this challenging role. He has played off-beat characters in films like Hesher and Don John.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
Helen Mirren as Glen Bateman
Glen Bateman is a retired sociology professor that loves painting and Kojack the dog. In the book, Bateman is a man. However, given her success in the Red films, Mirren proves she is part of the boy's club. Also, the book is a little light on female characters so it would be great to have such a dynamic actor as Mirren in such a pivotal role. Bateman helps re-establish society in the post-flu community. Plus, in an alternate life, couldn't you imagine Mirren as a ballsy sociology professor. We can pretend Teaching Mrs. Tingle never happened.
Focus Features via Everett Collection
Jonah Hill as Harold Lauder
Harold Lauder is a chubby, know-it-all teenager with some pretty dark thoughts. Now, Hill isn't that chubby anymore, however he is really stretching into dramas. He also proved in 21 Jump Street that he can play a believable teenager, even if its a grown man playing a grown man pretending to be a teenager. He'd be great as this slightly homicidal genius that becomes obsessed with Frannie.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
John Cho as Lloyd Henreid
Lloyd Henreid is a petty criminal that gets caught in a murder spree right before the flu breaks. Flagg rescues him from prison and makes Lloyd his right-hand man. Given his recent run as a villain in Sleepy Hollow, Cho clearly can play bad. Also, it would be great if the film adaptation could not only break convention by having a male character played by an actress like Mirren but also to have a criminal played by an Asian-American actor. Stereotypes have to be broken somewhere.
New Line Cinema via Everett Collection
Let's get that inevitable comparison of Sigourney Weaver's powerhouse Secretary of State Elaine Barrish in USA's six-part miniseries Political Animals (which premiered last night) to our own powerhouse Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out of the way. Yes, both ran for President and lost the nomination to a younger, more charming candidate; both were former First Ladies whose President husband had notorious extramarital affairs; both are seen as ambitious ball busters; and both can rock a serious power suit.
Still, despite all these obvious nods to Hil, the comparison does a disservice to both women. For just as many similarities as they have, there are stark differences as well (including Weaver's Barrish not having a daughter, but two sons.) But, the biggest difference is that Clinton's story is nowhere near as dull as the one that plays out in Political Animals.
It's a problem that is through no fault of its leading lady. Weaver's ability to work with any kind of material is nothing new. The stunning 62-year-old Oscar-nominated actress, who has been one of Hollywood's most versatile stars for nearly 30 years, only seems to get better with age. But even in Political Animals, which boasts an impressive cast that could carry its own weight if needed (thanks to the likes of James Wolk, Dylan Baker, and fellow Oscar-nominee Ellen Burstyn), Weaver's powerful presence still can't save the mediocre summer soap opera.
When we first meet Elaine Barrish, it's on the night of her concession speech — having lost her bid to the White House to a young, Italian Democrat named Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar) — with her smiling, supportive family by her side. However, it's not until after giving an invigorating, rousing speech in which she vows to American women that she will see a female President in her lifetime, that we really meet them behind closed doors.
And boy, are they one dysfunctional bunch. There's her pair of sons — the gay, drug-addicted, suicidal T.J. (Sebastian Stan), the put-together, politico-in-the-making Douglas (Wolk), and his demure fiance with an eating disorder, Anne (Brittany Ishibashi). There's her boozy, opinionated lightning rod of a mother-in-law (Burstyn) and her husband, former President Bud Hammon (a cartoonish, cigar-chomping Ciaran Hinds.) They all tend to say exactly what's on their mind, often in pay cable-friendly language. Within the first ten minutes, they utilize their place on USA by saying things like "homos," "s**t show," "douche," and "nutsack." So edgy.
Fast forward two years later, a now-divorced Elaine (she promptly asked her husband for a divorce after her concession speech) is down a philandering spouse (who is now dating a busty, vapid television star), but still has plenty of drama in her life. She's got her Pulitzer-winning nemesis Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) as a thorn in her side again when, years after breaking her husband's affair scandal, she inadvertently lets a story about T.J.'s failed suicide go public. (Her own cheating boyfriend/editor, played by Dan Futterman, gives the story to his blogging, cupcake-baking mistress. Oh great, another stunning victory for Internet Girls everywhere.)
Then there's also an ass-grabbing Russian foreign minister ("I will f**k your s**t up," she warns him in his native language) and a hostage situation in Iran with three American journalists to deal with. Still, Barrish manages to handle it all with ass-kicking grace. (If there ever was such a thing to possess, Weaver most certainly does.) By the time she tells a secret service agent in confidence that she's going to run for President again and win, you don't doubt her for one second.
And thankfully, viewers won't have to wait long to find out if that is the case. While Weaver (who might as well make space on her mantle for an Emmy now) makes the whole surprisingly bland thing watchable, the show (which aims for The West Wing, but hits the Dallas target instead) isn't necessarily worthy of her talents. There's no doubt the show will do well, especially as a summer program, considering it has three winning ingredients: graphic sex scenes, oft ludicrous dialogue ("Never call a bitch a bitch. Us bitches hate that"), and it doesn't take up much of your time (six weeks, to be exact.)
Political Animals doesn't quite know what it wants to be, ping-ponging between compelling, girl-power political drama and silly, ineffective family soap opera, but it gets one thing absolutely right: Sigourney Weaver cannot be tamed.
Political Animals airs on Sundays at 10 PM ET on USA.
[Photo credit: USA Network]
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