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 challenge to American Horror Story is where do you draw the line between giving sufficient exposition and drawing out a mystery? Oftentimes, the writers leave a character’s origin and motivations for the eleventh episode hour. Like they did last season. The season is nearly over, so do we really need a gratuitous trip down memory lane with America’s least favorite racist Paula Deen Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates)? What is the origin of one of history’s most vile serial murderers? She killed a chicken and developed a case of bloodlust and decided to murder a bunch of slaves. Is that meant to be super racist? It seems so.
Nan (Jamie Brewer) is dead. She was the most interesting potential supreme. It would have made a surprising yet entertaining choice. In the very least, we could have seen her do some more magic first. How a clairvoyant can be so easily killed is beyond me. The group gathers for her funeral in festive black. Who crashes the party? Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe)! She is back from the dead complete with Delphine on a leash. So apparently, Delphine is not just in the flashbacks. She’s back and Bates is giving some Emmy worthy voiceover and character work. It appears Delphine is mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore. So what does she do? Kill the gardener. Guess that’s productive? Meanwhile, Queenie gives Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) a verbal lashing for being unable to protect anyone. She has a point ... Cordelia is the worst headmistress in history. Miss Hannigan from Annie might have been a better choice. We could have had some Hard Knock Witches!
Cordelia seems to be unholy ruler of wilted flowers. She's constantly crying and has no real powers to speak of. But somehow, without even having one lesson, all the other girls can perform wonders left and right. Since her failed pregnancy snake spell, Cordelia hasn’t really exhibited any special effects magic. She does a whole bunch of plant mumbo-jumbo then stabs her own eyes to get her second sight back. Meanwhile, Queenie survived a blessed bullet and reanimated Delphine. Maybe she's a squib.
Meanwhile, the Shady Sisters of Witchtown are as thick as thieves. Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) and Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) are acting as if nothing bad has ever happened between them. Teen murder must really bond you as sisters. They unite to take down the witch hunters. Apparently, Mr. Head Witchhunter (Michael Cristofer) is fully willing to schedule a meet because he wants them to break their financial spell. But what leverage does he even have without money? This whole subplot is a waste of valuable time that could be better spent focused on Diana Ross and the Supremes. The Axeman (Danny Houston) helps kill all the witchhunters.
The Axeman ... why is he even in this story? He is a ghost that was dead for over 50 years but still has an apartment in New Orleans. No one has bothered to explain how he has become reanimated or where his resources have come from. Equally improbable is the sudden reappearance of Spaulding (Dennis O’Hare). He decides to ally himself with Delphine to kill Marie in exchange for a doll. They are able to subdue her and while Delphine is getting ready to go all creepy serial murdery on her Spaulding delights in taking her baby as his living doll.
Meanwhile, Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) tells Zoe and Kyle (Evan Peters) to leave to save their love. Apparently, the threesome is over and Maddison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) is a lot less lovable. Their relationship was feeling very Tate and Violet. There also was a lot of flashbacks to season one. Rather than feeling stylistic they felt a little cheap. The Spaulding baby caper felt like Lily Rabe’s story from Season 1 as well. Maybe we will all be surprised and the new Supreme will be Connie Britton or better yet Zachary Quinto.
Best Lines from the Episode
Madison, you are the worst kind of Hollywood cliché, a bobble-head with crotchless panties. - Myrtle to Madison
Welcome to the revolution, Carrot Top. As the next Supreme, I’m going to drag this coven out of the dark ages. Crotchless panties for everyone. - Madison
Chere, I took down your entire company with about as much effort as it takes for me to mix myself a Rob Roy. - Fiona to the Witchhunters
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.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
This came in just at the nick of time. The Grey has finally rounded out the rest of its cast, giving Liam Neeson (the only star attached to it for some time now) people to work with. Production begins next week, so it really came down to the wire. Joining him is Dallas Roberts, James Badge Dale, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Nonso Anozie, and Joe Anderson. Though some of these names aren't immediately recognizable, I guarantee that you've seen each actor in something (at least). Both Badge Dale and Robert worked on AMC's dearly departed series Rubicon while Anderson was most recently seen in The Crazies. The benefit of filling the film with under-the-radar actors is a budget-conscious decision and also ensures that quite a few of their characters won't make it to the end of the picture.
The Grey follows Neeson as the leader of a group of oil rig workers whose plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness. Freezing cold temperatures in the remote wilderness would be bad enough, but they land right in the middle of a pack of hungry wolves. Uh-oh. Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) will direct the survival tale from a script he wrote with Ian Jaffers (Death Sentence).
Burton wanted this Charlie to be strictly by the book--Roald Dahl's classic children's book that is. We meet Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) a young boy who--despite living in deep poverty with his parents (Helena Bonham Carter and Noah Taylor) and both pair of grandparents--has a very positive outlook on life. His biggest dream is to meet famed chocolatetier Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) and go inside his great chocolate factory a voluminous structure that looms over Charlie's little town. Even though great quantities of chocolate are still being made and shipped all over the world it's shrouded in mystery. No one has either gone in or come out of the factory in 15 years. But that's all about to change. Wonka announces he'll invite five lucky children to his factory--to get "all of its secrets and magic"--by hiding five golden tickets inside his chocolate bars. The ones who find the tickets get to come. And as luck would have it Charlie finds the last golden ticket. Taking his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) along with him Charlie is dazzled by one amazing sight after another Oompa Loompas and all as he tries to warm up to the enigmatic Wonka. The others turn out to be a rotten bunch of gluttonous spoiled competitive know-it-all children whose greedy personalities lead them into all kinds of trouble. That leaves only the sweet Charlie who wins the absolute grandest prize of all: the keys to the factory itself. But will he abandon his family for all that chocolaty fame? Not a chance.
Although Burton and Depp have made three movies together so far--Edward Scissorhands Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow--Burton admits Charlie & the Chocolate Factory was the first time he didn't have to beg the studio execs to let him cast the inscrutable actor. That's because Depp's equally unusual but highly successful Oscar turn as Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean finally changed those Hollywood mucky mucks' minds. Doesn't matter to Depp though; he's going to keep doing what he wants. And it looks like he is having the time of his life playing the infamous Willy Wonka. Rather than infusing the character with a kind wisdom like Gene Wilder did in the original Depp's Wonka is more like the book's version: childish mischievous standoffish and even a tad klutzy. He's a fellow who certainly listens to a different drummer. In other words Depp. The rest of the adults in the movie obviously pale in comparison except perhaps Indian actor Deep Roy who gets to play all the Oompa Loompas. What fun that must have been especially in performing the film's only musical numbers. As far as the kids go Highmore who also starred with Depp in Finding Neverland is quite endearing as Charlie. The rest of the relatively unknown children also do a fine job albeit a bit more snotty and unfazed than the original set. You know kinda like how kids are these days.
Here's the burning question that seems to be applying to many a film these days: why mess with a classic? The 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is certainly an undeniable gem a mixture of Technicolor elaborate sets and music that with the engaging Gene Wilder in the lead leaves a sweet and indelible impression. Is there really a need for another version? Tim Burton thinks so since he didn't really like the original at all. Burton's idea was to make a worthy version of Dahl's darker novel plain and simple. When he signed to make a Charlie redo he even forbade the writer John August who hadn't ever seen Willy Wonka from watching it lest it would cloud his judgment. Burton accomplishes what he set out to do. Charlie captures Dahl's tone succinctly--wildly imaginative slightly off-centered with a moral center but certainly more mean-spirited than 1971 version. And of course in the hands of a technically proficient director Charlie is also a marvel of sights and sounds. Burton spared no expense with his luscious sets multicolored costumes Oompa Loompas and lots and lots of rich creamy chocolate. Yummy. While some may miss Willy Wonka's magical qualities others may feel a need to run to the concession stand and grab some Snow Caps.