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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After Dark Films
It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
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In my recap of last week's season 3 premiere of Louie, I said that the relatively quiet and understated episode, titled "Something is Wrong," was a great starter for newcomers to the series. It showcased all of the elements that make Louie so damn great and different from everything else on television, without shoving them into the deep end that seasoned fans are familiar with. Well, if last week let them wade into the depths of Louie's wonderful weirdness, last night's episode "Telling Jokes/Set Up" not only shoved them into the deep end, but dunked their heads down for a while. (Pun entirely intended.)
Never mind that last night's episode will have one of the most talked-about moments on television this summer (because it most certainly will). Let's just marvel, for another moment, at the sheer brilliance of the split title here. Unlike the dark and delirious season 2 classic "Bummer/Blueberries," "Telling Jokes/Set Up" could have been used for both sides of this perfectly clashing spectrum.
On one end, there's Louie's daughter Jane (an Emmy-worthy Ursula Parker) telling jokes, complete with her own kid-patented brand of a set up ("Who told the gorilla that he couldn't go to the ballet?") while Louie himself uses her joke set up as the set up for one of his own jokes, only to be set up on a date by a fellow joke teller. The magic is in the details, people. When the title of an episode can work on so many levels, the episode itself is pretty much a guaranteed home run.
I always look forward to the scenes involving Louie's daughters Jane and Lily (actress Hadley Delaney.) Not just because both actresses are so talented or because all three have such an effortless rapport or because they tend to bring out the softest side of TV's reigning sad sack king, but because they generate some of the series' best moments. The dinner table scene, which bookended "Telling Jokes/ Set Up," like the daring and off-pitch-perfect serenade of The Who in season 2's subtler "Country Drive," was a lovely slice of life.
I watched that scene multiple times, just to catch every little detail, from the knowing glance between Louie (an especially marvelous turn by Louis C.K.) and Lily after Jane's fantastic non-joke joke to Louie's exasperated conversation with himself after his kids leave the dinner table. And therein lies the real brilliance of Louie: this show could function solely as a family dramedy revolving only around these three at all times, but those moments are so much more satisfying after we've stepped into the stranger world of a solo Louie. The show needs its balance to make the sweet moments sweeter and the strange moments that much stranger. Then again, as Lily would put it, "[If] ya don't get it, you just don't get it."
And, damn, was the strange strange last night. Instead of silly, lighthearted knock-knock jokes at the dinner table, Louie, under the fluorescent bulb of a hot dog joint with Allan Havey, nonchalantly memorialized the passing of a fellow comic. ("That's too bad.") Of course, that was nothing compared to the most awkward dinner on television since The Office, in its heyday, threw its "Dinner Party."
After being invited by Allan to have dinner at his home with him and his wife, Louie (who, as we learned, is still riding that motorcycle even after the accident) is actually being set up with their friend Lori, played by Oscar winner Melissa Leo. While the two mostly sit in uncomfortable silence as their eager married friends let the events unfold before them (or, as Lori would beautifully put it for single people everywhere, "married people just wanna spread their s*** on everyone") they eventually paired off and went to have drinks at the bar.
Things are going great, in the way that only an inadvertent, mutually unwanted date could. They drink, they laugh, they take off, in the way that you do when an unplanned date goes unexpectedly well. After pulling off to the side of the road, Lori (Leo, perhaps at her most fearless) performs fellatio on Louie. Then, in language I couldn't possibly clean up enough to post on this family-friendly website, demands, for equality of women everywhere, that Louie returns the favor. (Let's just say her plea to "consider this" took on a whole different life last night.)
After a disagreement about the terms of this sort of arrangement ("I never left anyone hanging," she argues) Lori gets her way. Yet, even after losing a $1000 bet and his "morals" in a most violent, jarring fashion, Louie, he the avoider of any and all uncomfortable goodbyes, agrees to see her again. Welcome to the deep end of Louie. It's crazier in here than a gorilla at the ballet, but don't even think about getting out.
What did you think of last night's episode of Louie? Was his dinner table scene with his daughters one of your favorite moments from the series, too? Or is that scene with Melissa Leo in the truck too engrained in your mind to think about anything else? Speaking of Leo, should she just make space on her mantle next to her Oscar for a guest star Emmy now? Did anyone else catch this week's genius Obama joke Easter egg? Those have been planted so expertly each week. Share all your thoughts on "Telling Jokes/Set Up" below. (Special shout-out to the commenters from last week's post who informed me about Sweetpro, the talented musical ensemble often used as the show's soundtrack.)
Louie Ep 2
[Photo credit: FX]
Louie Recap: Motorcycles, Ex Wives, and All That Jazz
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What will September bring?
Plenty, say the major TV networks as they begin their weekly series of meetings in New York known as the TV "upfront," hyping their 2001-02 TV schedules to advertisers. As much as 80 percent of next season's ad inventory is bought during this time.
NBC and the WB have announced their lineups, with ABC scheduled to make its presentation Tuesday.
NBC will shake things up a little. It has lessened its sitcom load by scheduling only eight comedy series, including three new sitcoms, the lowest the network has aired in two decades. Gone is the Sunday night movie, an NBC staple since the mid-1970s. It also is banking on its new primetime game show, The Weakest Link, to prosper. The Anne Robinson-hosted quizzer will remain at 8 p.m. Mondays while a second serving will now air at 8 p.m. Sundays.
A new sitcom with much to prove is Inside Schwartz, about a sports fan (Road Trip's Breckin Meyer) whose thoughts are revealed through conversations with sports figures. NBC will air it at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays following Friends, a time slot notorious for such failures as Jesse and The Single Guy. The series comes from the creators of Just Shoot Me and Mad About You. NBC is looking to combat the dent CBS' Survivor put in the famed NBC Thursday Must-See TV schedule, which was once virtually unbeatable with Friends kicking off the night. The rest of Thursday will remain the same with Will & Grace, Just Shoot Me and ER.
NBC also will add three new dramas, changing the schedules on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays while keeping Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays intact.
Mondays will lead off with The Weakest Link, with Third Watch moving to 9 p.m., followed by a new drama series, Crossing Jordan, with Jill Hennessy as a female coroner.
The new sitcom Emeril, to air 8 p.m. Tuesdays, stars the TV chef Emeril Lagasse in a "show-within-a-show" scenario. And in the 9:30 p.m. spot will be the last new sitcom, Scrubs, about hospital interns, from the makers of Spin City.
On Sundays, another extension of the Law & Order franchise, called Law & Order: Criminal Intent, will air at 9 p.m. UC: Undercover, about an elite unit at the U.S. Justice Department, will follow at 10 p.m.
Say goodbye to DAG, which starred Delta Burke and David Alan Grier; The Fighting Fitzgeralds, with Brian Dennehy; and the popular 3rd Rock from the Sun, which is in its final season.
Midseason candidates include a new comedy with Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus; another new sitcom, What Are You Thinking, starring Hank Azaria; and Leap of Faith; from the creators of HBO's Sex in the City.
Losing Buffy the Vampire Slayer to UPN was a major defection for the fledging WB. Now one of its other popular shows, Charmed, also may go through some unexpected changes.
The WB picked up Charmed for a new season, but Shannen Doherty, one of the three witches/sisters who call themselves "the power of three," is leaving the show after three seasons.
"We have had a long and prosperous relationship with Shannen and we didn't want to hold her back from what she wanted to do," Spelling Television, Charmed's producer, released in a statement. "We wish her all the best and much continued success."
"We hope to see her back on the network in the future," the WB added in its statement.
This is not the first time that Doherty has walked away from an Aaron Spelling-produced show. In 1994, Doherty fled Beverly Hills, 90210. Spelling welcomed Doherty back with open arms in 1998 when he cast her in Charmed.
Nan Sumsky, Spelling Television's director of series publicity, said Monday that it was unclear whether Doherty will be replaced. The show's two other costars, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs, will return.
"It would be hard to have a 'power of three' without a third," Sumsky added.
Still, the WB has negotiated multiple-year deals with four of its top-rated series: Dawson's Creek, 7th Heaven, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Felicity. The network also is keeping the Buffy spin-off Angel, but did not renew its option with the sci-fi show Roswell. UPN is now in serious negotiations to pick up Roswell.
New shows to be added to the WB's fall schedule include: Deep in the Heart, a sitcom starring Reba McEntire, and Smallville, a drama about the young Superman mythology. The WB also will launch a "reality wheel" on Sundays, with two new shows, Lost in the USA and No Boundaries.
Popular, Jack and Jill, Grosse Pointe and The Jamie Foxx Show, which recently aired its final episode, will not return.
Possible ABC fall schedule
Looks like ABC is weaning itself off of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire juggernaut, now that the writers strike has been averted. The Regis Philbin-hosted game show will now just air twice weekly come the fall.
The Alphabet Network is adding a variety of new and returning shows, with reality, sitcom and dramas among them. A few new sitcoms are planned, including Bob Patterson, about a motivational speaker, starring Jason Alexander, and a Jim Belushi-led family vehicle. There also will be a new Steven Bochco drama, Philly, starring Kim Delaney, to compliment the return of NYPD Blue. ABC also is relying on its reality programming, bringing back another installment of The Mole and a new show, The Runner. ABC will make its announcement Tuesday.