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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
No Pope Endorsement For Gibson Film
Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, secretary to Pope John Paul II, said Tuesday
the 83-year-old pontiff never endorsed Mel Gibson's The Passion of
Christ saying, "It is as it was," after viewing the film, The Associated
Press reports. Dziwisz, who has served as the Pope's secretary during his 25-year term, confirmed that the John Paul II had indeed seen the controversial
film that depicts the last hours of Jesus' life, but he had made no such
statement that the film is accurate in its
portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus. The Vatican press office has declined
to comment on the Pope's opinion of the film, stating they do not report on
"the private activities of the Pope." Gibson has long defended his film as
being faithful to the Biblical account of the crucifixion. Some Jewish
organizations have raised concerns about the film stirring up anti-Semitic
sentiment due to its portrayal of Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus.
The film opens on Ash Wednesday, February 25th.
Frances McDormand To Head Berlin Jury
Oscar winner Frances McDormand will head the seven-member jury at this
year's Berlin International Film Festival, AP reports. The indie-favorite actress is
currently starring in Something's Gotta Give which will play at the
festival out of competition. McDormand will join
Italian actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi; Ethiopian director Maji-da Abdi;
Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf; Italian director Gabriele Salvatores;
movie theater director Dan Talbot, and German film producer Peter Rommel to
select, among other awards, the winner of the Golden Bear top award. The festival runs February 5-15.
Dan Rather Treated for Skin Cancer
Dan Rather, longtime anchor of the CBS Evening News, said Monday he
had surgery to remove cancerous cells from his nose, AP reports. Rather has
been absent from the nightly newscast for several nights, but reappeared
Monday and spoke about his condition on the air. Basal skin cancer often
develops after years of prolonged skin exposure, but is highly treatable if
detected early. Rather urged viewers to be examined for skin cancer and said
the whole experience was "humbling." A full recovery for the 72-year-old is expected.
Moonves Orders More Survivors
In a less than shocking move, CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves has
renewed the network's contract with Survivor until at least 2005,
according to The Hollywood Reporter. The new deal as well as the
locations of the ninth and tenth editions of the show were hammered out
while Moonves and Survivor creator Mark Burnett rode an escalator in
the hotel where the two are doing press for CBS. In addition to the new
Survivor shows, CBS has also ordered full seasons for freshman shows
Two and a Half Men and Navy NCIS. It was also announced that
CBS' hit CSI will spin off once again with CSI: New York.
Moonves has been criticized for some of his programming choices recently
namely his decision to pull the Reagan miniseries from CBS The
Reagans after the project came under fire. The biopic later aired on
sister pay channel Showtime. The new season of Survivor starring past
winners and popular contestants will begin airing following the Super Bowl
on February 1st.
Nick and Aaron's Mom Arrested
Jane Carter, mother of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and poplet Aaron Carter, was arrested
Tuesday night and charged with battery after breaking into her estranged
husband's home and attacking his new girlfriend, Launch Radio Networks
reports. Ms. Carter allegedly broke into the house, walked into the bedroom
where Robert Carter and his girlfriend Ginger Elrod where sleeping. Ms.
Carter then allegedly pulled Ms. Elrod out of the bed by her hair and
proceeded to beat her with a remote control. Aaron's twin sister Angel was
present during the occurrence and told police she had indeed seen her mother
"physically beating" Ms. Elrod. Jane Carter is already in hot water with
Aaron, who charged that she removed $100,000 from his bank account
without his permission. This disagreement was resolved Sunday. Robert Carter
is now being sued for libel and breach of contract by talent manager Eliot
Weisman, who claims he was cut out of Aaron's career only after he had gotten
them representation at the William Morris Agency. Jane Carter's arraignment
hearing for the battery charge is February 3rd.
Kid's Choice Awards Nominees Named
Preteen pop favorites Bow Wow, Nick Cannon and Justin Timberlake will be at the
mercy of children when the Kid's Choice Awards are handed out for best male
singer April 3rd, AP reports. Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Lopez, Ashanti and
Hilary Duff will compete for best female singer. Best song contenders are
B2K for "Bump, Bump, Bump," Outkast for "Hey Ya," Beyonce for "Crazy in
Love," and "Where is the Love" by Black Eyed Peas.
Role Call: Baldwin To Direct Hoodz
Stephen Baldwin plans to make his directorial debut this summer with a project
based on his own idea, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Baldwin
revealed little about the upcoming project except that it will center around
the attempt by a Mexican-American skateboarder to rally his fellow skater
boys and girls to save their local skate park. Baldwin has a television
series in the works and would probably shoot the project, titled Robbin'
Hoodz, during that show's summer hiatus. Says Baldwin, "Commercially, no
one has accomplished something that truly speaks to the true subculture of