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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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
When there's mayhem, you can blame the Backstreet Boys. At least for the remainder of their 100-hour tour.
At least 10 fans were injured after the Boys landed in Tokyo's Narita airport Monday when a group swarmed their bus. Now Reuters says that about 45,000 fans rushed to see the band give a 10-minute show on the roof of a hotel in Rio de Janeiro. Fans literally threw themselves in front of the band's bus on the way to the airport.
"It was crazy. You would have thought the president was here or Michael Jackson, not the Backstreet Boys," said group member Howie Dorough after watching the fans spill on to the roads.
The Backstreet Boys are on a whirlwind, 100-hour tour around the world to promote their new album, "Black and Blue," which hits stores today. The band is being touted as the top-selling boy band after sales surpassed 55 million.
EM IS THE BEST: Rapper Eminem has been crowned artist of the year by Spin magazine, Reuters reports. He also took home the single of the year honor for "The Real Slim Shady."
Eminem shook up the music scene this year with the release of his second record "The Marshall Mathers LP." The album was adored by fans and critics but others disapproved for its glorification of homophobia, misogyny and murder. The January issue of Spin magazine hits newsstands Dec. 5.
CHURCH IN COURT: Teenage soprano superstar Charlotte Church spent some time away from the concert stage to be in a London court. The 14-year-old was there to answer questions stemming from a $7 million lawsuit filed against her by her former manager, Jonathan Shalit.
Shalit says that he was fired unexpectedly by Church's mother, Maria, for no real cause. Shalit doesn't want back in. All he wants is a slice of the 10 million-pound fortune he says he helped build while he managed Church.
A lawyer for Church is expected to provide evidence that shows Shalit broke his contract by being verbally abusive to Church.
OZZFEST LAWSUIT: English rocker Ozzy Osbourne is joining forces with his OZZfest 2000 tour mates, only this time it's not to perform onstage but to fight a battle in court.
Osbourne, together with Pantera, Godsmack, Static-X, Methods of Mayhem, Soulfly, Kittie, Disturbed and Slaves on Dope, has filed a $20 million lawsuit against digital music company MCY.com. Osbourne says that he only sold the music company the rights to broadcast his summer OZZfest 2000 show over the Internet.
However, the company later made pay-per-view deals with DirecTV and pay-TV network iN Demand. The concert, one of rock's most successful road shows, has already been broadcast several times on TV.
CHRIS LEDOUX RECOVERING: Country singer and former rodeo cowboy Chris LeDoux is resting at his Kaycee, Wyo., home after undergoing liver transplant surgery. He left the Nebraska Health System's Lied Transplant Center on Monday to spend the holidays with his family, The Associated Press reports.
LeDoux was suffering from sclerosing cholangitis, a disease that blocks the liver's bile ducts, leading to cirrhosis. The cause of the disease is unknown.