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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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
The third season of ABC’s Revenge is officially underway and there’s more hooking up going on than we know what to do with. Just like any good drama, romantic entanglements are a must. But the main character on Revenge – Emily Thorne (played by Emily VanCamp)— wears so many different faces it’s difficult to keep track of her true loves, her faux loves, and the guys she’s using for her own revenge-y purposes. But we’re here to help! Here are some of the love triangles (and quadrangles) that are making season 3 worth the watch.
Emily and Jack/Emily and Aiden/Emily and Daniel:
See what we mean? Emily (AKA Amanda Clarke) started out the season making out with Jack (her childhood love who finally knows her true identity), but remains engaged to Daniel (although she’s still trying to take his entire family down), and in the most recent episode shared a passionate kiss with her ex-boo Aiden. How does she juggle all of it? Well, she doesn’t always do such a great job and jealousies abound in just about every episode. It doesn’t always make for a smooth revenge plan, but it definitely makes for good television. Plus all these guys are pretty hot, so there’s that to enjoy as well.
Jack and Margaux/Jack and Emily:
This season we met Daniel’s old friend Margaux (played by Karine Vanasse), a beautiful French bombshell who runs her own magazine in the Hamptons. After a failed attempt to hook up with Emily’s fiancé Daniel, she ends up pulling Jack out of his shell. Jack has to be the cutest single dad/widower we’ve ever seen and Margaux? Well, she’s French! They make a great couple. but not everyone's into it. Emily’s own jealousy may start to get the best of her, as she still hasn’t resolved her feelings for her childhood sweetheart. And we can expect all of these emotions to complicate her plans to take down high society in the Hamptons.
Nolan and Patrick:
There’s no real love triangle here, but some attention must be paid to Revenge favorite Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) and this season’s hottie newcomer Patrick (Justin Hartley). Nolan’s sexuality has never been clearly labeled and we’ve seen him date women and men throughout the show’s seasons. But the relationship between Patrick is especially complicated because -- like many of the relationships on Revenge -- it’s not quite clear yet whether or not the two are legitimately interested in each other, or using each other for their own personal agendas. Chances are, it’s a little bit of both. Which means we’ll all have to keep tuning in to see how all these little affairs continue to bring on the drama.
The name [in movies] is Bond, James Bond.
Sony's Quantum of Solace posts a better-than-expected debut as the film earns a whopping $70.4 million in 3451 theaters.
With $27 million on Friday (including 12:01 a.m. showings), $26.1 million on Saturday and $17.3 million on Sunday, the film was an unstoppable force at the box-office. The debut was 73 percent higher than that of 2005's Casino Royale ($40.8 million) and was the best ever opening for a Bond film soundly beating 2002's Die Another Day which earned $47 million in its first weekend. A terrific marketing campaign coupled with a movie-going public eager to see the continuation of the story that originated in Casino, made Quantum of Solace a monumental hit both in the U.S. and overseas.
In the number two spot, the animals of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa made their presence known with a very minimal 43 percent second weekend drop as the film added another $36.1 million and bringing its total to $118 million after just 10 days of release.
Another strong hold-over was Universal's Role Models, which has been generating great word-of-mouth, dropping a mere 39 percent in its second weekend. The R-rated comedy has been getting very positive reactions from audiences who appreciate this particular brand of humor.
At number four, Disney's High School Musical 3 continues its dance up the charts as it posts a miniscule fourth weekend drop of 36 percent, as it crosses the $80 million mark.
Finally at number five is Universal's Changeling, which continues to generate Oscar buzz and is transcending the fact that people seem to be looking for escapist entertainment, earned a solid $4.2 million and is now approaching the $30 million mark. The Clint Eastwood directed drama starring Angelina Jolie is going to be a fixture in the Top 10 for the next few weeks as the Oscar race heats up.
Speaking of which, Fox Searchlight's critically acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire debuted in just 10 theatres but had a massive per-theatre average of over $35,000. With Danny Boyle at the helm and major critical raves, this is just the beginning of what promises to be a magical run at the box-office for this small, but immensely important film.
For the film industry as a whole this was another great weekend with box-office up over 50 percent vs. the comparable weekend a year ago and with Disney's Bolt and Summit's Twilight on deck for release this Friday, the momentum should continue and sets the stage for what could be one of the best Holiday movie seasons ever.
THREE-DAY STUDIO ESTIMATES (Source Media by Numbers)
1 NEW! Quantum of Solace (Sony/MGM) - $70.4M; 3451 theaters; $20,400 PTA
2 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Paramount) - $36.1M; 4065 theaters; $8,888 PTA; -43%; $118M cume
3 Role Models (Universal) - $11.7M; 2798 theaters; $4,185 PTA; -39%; $38.1M cume
4 High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney); $5.8M; 3202 theaters; $1,836 PTA; -36%; $84.3M cume
5 Changeling (Universal) - $4.2M; 1896 theaters; $2,240 PTA; -41%; $27.6M cume
6 Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Weinstein Co.) - $3.2M; 2210 theaters; $1,448 PTA; -49%; $26.5M
7 Soul Men (MGM) - $2.4M; 2048 theaters; $1,186 PTA; -55%; $9.4M cume
8 The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) - $2.4M; 1449 theaters; $1,656 PTA; -22% ; $33.6M cume
9 Saw V (Lionsgate) - $1.7M; 2002 theaters; $894 PTA; -56%; $55.4M cume
10 The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle Releasing) - $1.6M; 1587 theaters; $1,039 PTA; -50%; $12.6M