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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Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There is a certain level of enjoyment you are guaranteed when signing on for a movie that boasts a cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. And that's the precise level of enjoyment you'll get from The Monuments Men — that bare minimum smirk factor inherent the idea that your favorite stars are getting to play together. In FDR-era army helmets, no less. But what we also get from the film is an aura of smug self-confidence from project captain Clooney, who seems all too ready to take for granted that we're perfectly satisfied peering into his backyard clubhouse.
So assured is the director/co-writer that we're happy to be in on the game that there doesn't seem to be any effort taken to refine the product for the benefit of a viewing audience. An introductory speech from art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) sets up the premise straight away: the Nazis are stealing and destroying all of Europe's paintings and sculptures, and by gum we need to stop them! The concept doesn't complicate from there, save for a batting back and forth of the throughline question about whether the preservation of these pieces is "really worth it." Stokes rallies his own Ocean's Seven on a fine arts rescue mission, instigating an old fashioned go-get-'em-boys montage where we learn everything we need to know about the band mates in question: Damon has a wife, Goodman has gumption, Murray doesn't smile, Bob Balaban is uppity, and Jean Dujardin is French.
The closest thing to a character in The Monuments Men comes in the form of Hugh Bonneville, a recovering alcoholic whose motivation to take on the dangerous mission is planted in a festering desire to absolve himself of a lifetime of f**king up. When we're away from Bonneville, the weight disspears, as does most of the joy. Without identifiable characters, even master funnymen like Goodman, Murray, and Balaban don't have much to offer... especially since the movie's jokes feel like first draft placeholders born on a tired night.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
But wait a minute, is this even supposed to be a comedy? After all, it's about World War II. And no matter what Alexandre Desplat's impossibly merry score would have you believe (coupled with The Lego Movie, this opening weekend might be responsible for more musical jubilance than any other since the days of "Make 'Em Laugh!"), warfare, genocide, and desecration of international culture all make for some pretty heavy material. But The Monuments Men's drama is just as fatigued as its humor, clumsily piecing together a collection of mini missions wherein the stakes, somehow, never seem to jump. We're dragged through military bases, battered towns, and salt mines by Clooney and the gang — occasionally jumping over to France to watch Damon work his least effective magic in years on an uptight Cate Blanchett, who holds the key to the scruffy American's mission but doesn't quite trust him... until, for no apparent reason, she suddenly does. We never feel like any of these people matter, not even to each other, so we never really feel like their adventures do.
The Monuments Men doesn't have much of a challenge ahead of it. Its heroes are movie stars, its bad guys are Nazis, and its message is one that nobody's going to refute: art is important — a maxim it pounds home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, through countless scenes of men staring in awe at the works of Michelangelo and Rembrandt. And in this easy endeavor, Clooney decides to coast. How could it possibly go wrong? Just grab hold of the fellas, toss 'em in the trenches, and let the laughs and danger write themselves. "This is what they came to see," Monuments Men insists. "Just us guys havin' a ball." But we never feel in on the game, and it isn't one that looks like that much fun anyhow.
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Fashion fans have been given the opportunity to purchase glamorous outfits worn by British stars including actress Rachel Weisz and pop star Jessie J as part of a charity fashion sale. Re-sale website Vestiairecollective.com launched the initiative on Thursday (21Nov13) to mark the start of the festive season, with a special section on their website dedicated to the sale of items previously owned and loved by the British celebrities.
Prices start from $150 (£100) and items up for sale include Weisz's hot pink Joseph wool dress, a frock owned by model Daisy Lowe and a crystal-embellished dress worn by Jessie J on tour.
Other well-dressed ladies who have donated to the second annual sale include MTV presenter Laura Whitmore, model Jade Parfitt and designer Jasmine Guinness.
Profits from the sales will be handed to a range of charities selected by the donors including Barnardo's, Doctors Without Borders and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
Vestiaire Collective's U.K. Managing Director Fanny Moizant, says, "We are thrilled that so many leading lights in the fashion world have come out to support our annual charity initiative - this year we expect to raise thousands for charities... We have a treasure trove of fashion gems on the site, and we expect many of these pieces to become valuable collectors' items so we advise fashion hunters to come early."
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.
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Sean 'Diddy' Combs' children are helping the victims of the deadly typhoon which battered the Philippines last week (ends10Nov13) by donating some of their own belongings. More than 10,000 people have died since Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the southeast Asian island, with experts calling it one of the worst natural disasters in modern history.
The devastation has left thousands homeless, so the hip-hop mogul's children, six-year-old twins Jessie James and D'Lila Star, along with their elder brothers Christian, 13, and Justin, 19, have organised their own relief effort by sending essential products to the country.
According to editors at TMZ.com, the kids have filled up boxes with shoes, clothes and blankets in order to ship them off to relief agencies.
British singer Jessie J is auctioning off a pair of her shoes to raise money for charity. The Price Tag hitmaker is reportedly hoping to raise up to $18,000 (£12,000) for a pair of multi-coloured sparkly shoes from fashion store Topshop, which she wore during a show at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England last year (12).
The shoes, which have been signed by the star, will be auctioned along with a signed photo at a charity gala in Hereford, England on Saturday (16Nov13) to support children with cancer.
The event is hosted by the Little Princess Trust, an organisation which provides wigs for young children who lose their hair while battling cancer.
British singer Jessie J overcame her fear of heights to perform a lofty gig in London on Tuesday (12Nov13). The Price Tag hitmaker was joined by fellow singers Conor Maynard and James Arthur to switch on the Christmas lights in the British capital's famous Oxford Street before hitting the stage to perform a small concert on the roof of the Selfridges department store.
The singer later posted a snap on Instagram.com showing herself performing, revealing she faced her fears of heights to perform above the city streets. She writes, "I did it! I performed on a stage really high up! I faced my fear! Thank you so much to everyone who came out and sang with me and made it less scary!"
Actress Jessica Biel is helping her gay friend Lance Bass prepare for his upcoming nuptials. A week after Biel, who is married to Justin Timberlake, and Bass attended the wedding of the boys' 'N SYNC bandmate Chris Kirkpatrick on 2 November (13), the pop star-turned-radio personality has revealed the actress has come up with some great ideas for his big day.
Bass, who proposed to boyfriend Michael Turchin in September (13), says, "We were sitting there talking to Jessie Biel, and she gave us a lot of great pointers. She had some really great ideas.
"One really cool idea she had was that, on the invites - because we love our onesies - send out personalised onesies to all our guests, so that at midnight after the reception it turns into a pajama party. How fun would that be? I think we might be doing that one. That was something we both loved."
The gay star tells Us Weekly he and Turchin are likely to tie the knot next October (14), adding, "We’ve slowly but surely started planning it."
Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are joining forces to be tepidly awkward together once again, but not for the hotly anticipated Adven2reland. The pair will star together in American Ultra, an action comedy directed by Nima Nourizadeh. The film's screenplay was written by Max Landis, the scribe of 2012's super-hero thriller Chronicle.
In the upcoming film, Mike (Eisenberg) is a lazy stoner who lives with his girlfriend Pheobe (Stewart). One night, their lives take an unexpected turn when Mike's past comes back to haunt him, and he becomes the target of a government operation set to wipe him out.
The two stars possessed a nerdy charm and chemistry that made Adventureland an enjoyable indie hit. Hopefully they can transfer that chemistry to this new film which sounds like it has more of a moving plot then a coming of age amusement park dramedy. Ever since Adventureland, the two stars have had divergent career paths —Eisenberg successfully taking on high profile projects like The Social Network and being nominated for awards, while Stewart stormed the box office (and the gossip columns) as Bella Swan, but has had trouble kicking off a new film franchise. After the Twilight explosion ended and Snow White and the Huntsman flopped, Stewart has been seeking shelter in indie projects. While this mini Adventureland reunion could be a satifying dose of 2009 nostalgia, it is missing a key component. Unfortunately, creepy Ryan Reynolds will not be taking part in the new film.
One Direction were the toast of the BBC Radio One Teen Awards in London on Sunday (03Nov13) after picking up two top prizes. The singers - Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik - were named Best British Group and won Best Single for Best Song Ever at the event held at Wembley Arena for fans aged 14 to 17.
Other top winners included British singer Olly Murs, who was named Best Solo Artist, and boyband Union J, who scooped the Breakthrough Award.
The event featured performances from Tinie Tempah, Rizzle Kicks and Jessie J, while Taylor Swift and Little Mix were present to hand out the awards.