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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We open with… SEX!!! Okay, so I know I’ve mentioned the Toby-Spencer-Fifty Shades connection a few times before, but Spencer’s latest sex dream is basically a scene from the porn novel of the decade. Low-slung jeans? A muscular shirtless male? Black gloves? Choking? E. L. James, what’s up! Spencer wakes up from her little nightmare and remembers that the A key is within reach. Spencer is really into some kinky things and/or she is absolutely terrified of her recent ex — I can’t judge because I live in a glass house. Too bad Toby is secret and evil/”evil.” What I liked most about this scene was that we didn’t get a single line of dialogue before the opening credits kicked in — it’s like the There Will Be Blood of television! Hannah drank everyone’s milkshake!
Emily locks her window. Aria slumps down near the fireplace. Melissa is back in the game as a suspect, due to the new knowledge acquired from Byron (even though she’s still enjoying her glamorous life in Philadelphia or whatever the writer’s room cooked up). A package arrives from Emily from… Nate’s family. Scary lighthouse flashbacks were bound to creep on up. Dead Nate! Nate-not-Nate! Nate was not his real name, but I will always remember him as Nat. (Do not) RIP. The package features old birthday cards Emily sent to Ali (Maya probably found them when she moved into Ali’s old house), along with Ali’s Biology notebook. Biology is fun! Also, Emily’s Mother delivered the package upstairs. Emily’s parents decide to switch off who is actually home without telling anyone of their plans, so the faint look of confusion that always creeps across Emily’s face is kind of understandable. Remember when Emily’s Mother cried in the tomato soup kitchen closet over her daughter’s lesbianism? I loved that scene. LOVED.
Checking in on my favorite Liar, Hannah’s PornStarMom is back! Hooray! Zero explanation, no mention of Grams taking over for a week, but what can I really expect? The money is in the lasagna box. I’ve watched roughly 10 episodes of The Vampire Diaries and I sometimes get weird feelings that Elena and Hannah live in the same home. Hannah is chatting with her boyfriend on the interwebs; PLL loves answering the weekly “why isn’t _______’s boyfriend in this episode” debacle by showing a quick AIM session. Totally convincing. PornStarMom knows every single thing that has been going on with Hanna, even though she has spent the past month in Porn Valley or Guatemala or Paris or Rome or Anywhere But Rosewood. PornStarMom (I’ll never stop call her that, I wish I was sorry) asks Hanna is Caleb “has been tangling with Mona,” and Hannah acts as if she’s never heard the word “tangling” before. Which has to be a lie, because Hannah definitely saw Tangled in theaters. Meddling high school mothers just lead to so much angst. Sigh.
Byron and Aria are best friends again — all of the evil lurking has been completely forgotten/forgiven. Byron reveals that Meredith “has a long history of… issues.” YOU DON’T SAY. Aria wants Meredith to seek treatment in Alaska, which is definitely a smart move. I told myself I would not make a Sarah Palin joke so I won’t. Out and about in Rosewood, Hanna is incorrectly pronouncing “Matterhorn” and Spencer isn’t correcting her. Uh oh. Something is wrong. PLL has kept the audience one step ahead on all of the Toby-Spencer drama, which is interesting. Don’t get me wrong, here. I love knowing more than the three other Liars in the mini-girl cult. It makes things really emotional and injects some necessary dramatic irony. It still feels like an odd structural swap. Spencer decides to skip the daily meeting at the Brew, where Hannah and Aria catch up with Emily. Emily does still seem to work at the coffee shop! Bands to make her dance!
Emily shares Ali’s old biology notebook (“Who cares how a cell divides… it just does.” –Hannah), and it looks like someone was passing secret notes with Ali. And by “secret notes,” I mean that Ali and someone were having a written conversation. Pre-AIM! Ali’s note-passing relationship looks very much like that between LC and Whitney on early seasons of The Hills: Whitney asks a lot of important questions without holding an actual conversation, LC gives a lot of juicy yet vague details about her personal life. This sequence dissolves into the most confusing conversation the Liars have ever attempted – everyone is suddenly a graphology master, such that I think these three could probably crack the Zodiac case if they went back to the original evidence and studied the handwriting. We’re looking at g’s, we’re looking at t’s, Hannah is referencing the way Grams writes. Ali is writing about Toby. Nothing spoken out loud makes sense; it almost feels like this scene was edited down from a 20-minute sequence. No one drinks coffee.
Aria decides to bounce from school to meet up with Ezra and explain Maggie Babygate, especially because Hannah says it’s a smart choice. You CANNOT just leave high school early to go visit your extremely old boyfriend. That is literally against all of the rules of all high schools ever. At my high school, leaving the campus to get Subway for lunch meant getting the same punishment as the kid dealing drugs out of his car in the senior parking lot. I wish I was joking. I might be joking. Hannah later overhears Paige on the phone, and learns that she is the leader of an undercover anti-Mona terrorist splinter cell with Caleb. Hannah is clearly concerned for her boyfriend. PUT A PIN IN THIS HANNA-PAIGE DEVELOPMENT BECAUSE IT BLOSSOMS INTO THE GREATEST PLL SEQUENCE. THE GREATEST.
I feel like Spencer should start abusing prescription meds, or at the very least caffeine pills à la Jessie “I’m So Excited” Spano. Spencer is cracking, and she’s having trouble remembering to condition her hair while in the shower. Spencer is probably crying a lot on the floor of her shower in the fetal position. Anyway, the Handwriting Sleuths uncovered a reference to Ali’s secret lover, “Beach Hottie.” He sounds hot! And intentionally creepy! Emily confronts Spencer in the bathroom about the mention of Toby in the Biology Notebook – Spencer freaks out. Spencer reads the notebook. The featured flashback sets up the Ali vs. Spencer beef, but HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA TOBY IN A DO-RAG becomes the most distracting thing that has ever been featured in a television show. Toby has his shirt hanging open while chilling in his juvie cell and showing off the scar below his right eye – absolutely hilarious. Ali thinks that Toby is sending threatening A letters and confronts him about it. This literally feels like a SNL skit.
After this glamorous flashback, Spencer tells Emily the truth… that she broke up with Toby the night before. Better tell the whole truth soon, Spencer. After this exhausting bathroom get-together, Spencer gets antsy in her study session for The Crucible. Spencer explodes when she reads a text from Aria: “Ezra freaked. He broke up with me. Can you meet me in the park?” Spence sprints out of class, goes toe-to-toe with Aria’s Mother, and screams about how reading about people being betrayed doesn’t help with actually being betrayed by an evil cyber-stalker and maybe-dead ex-best frenemy. Spencer hates school now, which is making me a lot upset. How far we’ve fallen since the beginning rounds of the academic face-off a couple of weeks ago.
#FitzFindsOut — Spencer rolls into the park on her bike, slams it to the group, and begins ripping Ezra a new one. Spencer is saying 994 words a minute, and Ezra clearly has no idea what is happening. Slow down, crazy! The Maggie secret comes out of Spencer’s lips because she can catch up with herself, and everything crumbles. Oops. Spencer realizes that she was set up by A, and races from the park. Ezra is confused. This is hard. Real emotions are hard. Aria, wearing an ugly necklace that was also featured on this week’s Happy Endings, is startled when Ezra shows up in the cafeteria. Don’t these people go to school in Pennsylvania? How is everyone always hanging out in the open-air courtyard? Ezra can’t believe that Aria couldn’t be honest with him: “YOU are the person I am spending my life with. YOU are the person I’m supposed to trust.” I feel like this is the end. I was super invested in Ezria in the middle of Season 2, but now I find them slightly boring. They need something exciting. Maybe Ezra can start going Dexter on the citizens of Philly? Our good friend A texts Aria as soon as Ezra runs off, and Aria catches up quick. SO – how did A suddenly send a text masked as Aria’s number? I feel like A should be doing this all the time and tricking everyone forever and driving all of the Liars to check into mental institutions after they build a time machine in an attempt to travel to a time before cell phones. Hannah would probably try to travel to 1904. Too bad the Liars can’t appear on Fringe anymore.
Up at the police station, Emily’s Mom has been hired to… do something; PLL isn’t always great with occupational details. Detective Wilden is back in town after going on vacation for 19 years; if you’ll recall, Wilden is most notable for sleeping with PornStarMom and being as creepy as a detective can be. He’s also weirdly hot? I miss non-weirdly hot Hot British Doctor. I miss the days of great television detective like Veronica Mars, where detectives could live their lives without being undercover villains. Wilden admits to sharing a connection with Emily because he had to kill someone two weeks out of academy; it would be a nice pep talk if it felt genuine. Wilden is probably trying to sleep with Emily’s Mother — how long before he collects all of the mothers? My guess is Season 12, episode 5.
Emily finds a picture of Ali and CeCe at Cape May in the back of the notebook. CECE!!! CeCe is such a great dame; I still wish she were best friends with Jenna, so that the two of them could join together on a spin-off about besties traveling the country. It would play out like a non-“reality” The Simple Life! I am hoping the PLL showrunners can balance out four episodes in a row without Jenna by featuring four episodes that are solely about Jenna at the end of the season. CeCe explains that there were “so many hotties” at Cape May, so who knows which hottie was Ali’s exclusive hottie? I feel like Ali maybe never had an exclusive hottie, which is actually a little sad. CeCe remembers Ali admitting that she was “late” (the pregnant kind of late) while CeCe just wanted to enjoy a cold beer at a cheesy beach crab shack (I’m a huge fan of cheesy beach crab shacks, hailing from Maryland and all). This is horrifying because Ali was … 14? She certainly looks maximum 14 during this scene. CeCe has really great selective memory because she forgot to bring up that Ali might have been pregnant when she was killed. Yeah, not an issue at all. Whatever. Smart move, CeCe.
Spencer is at home, making a TV dinner in her cool stove. I miss Marie Callendar TV dinners. I used to think they were really expensive when I was little, but maybe they’re really cheap? I should look into this, someone please remind me before I head to the grocery store this week. Aria enters Spencer’s house THROUGH THE BACK DOOR (c’mon, set designers – please give one character a front door entry this season), and the two have an awkward standoff about the Ezra baby reveal. Spencer wields a pair of scissors like she is about to cut herself and/or chop everyone’s hair off, but she doesn’t use them for human violence. How un-Chekov of PLL. Spencer continues to crack into a million little pieces. Aria is a good friend. Spencer is going to have a repair a lot of her friendships soon. Spencer, please put the scissors down and eat your dinner.
Aria and Hannah have a quick phone chat to catch up, but Hannah has to run because she’s following Paige. Hannah loves following people, and this time she follows Paige right into… A LESBIAN BAR. Rosewood has a lesbian bar!!! I am sure it is hidden in the middle of the woods behind a fake rock pile that plays Indigo Girls disguised as bird chirps. This lesbian bar has a lot of lesbians (Emily needs to take herself out and find a new mama), and also features a disco ball and really great wood carving of a bear. Everyone should spend a night out at the Cubbyhole in the West Village if you’re in NY — it’s a great lesbian bar, rivaled only by this Rosewood joint. I once played Kelly Clarkson on the Cubbyhole jukebox and the place basically caught on fire. You’re welcome. THIS, RIGHT HERE, IS THE BEST PLL SCENE. HANNAH IN A LESBIAN BAR. I COULD WATCH A FULL SEASON OF THIS. I couldn’t stop laughing. A punky girl orders a “pink flirtini” in a giant glass, and everyone in this bar is so outrageously butch. I wonder what the casting call looked like for this episode, because I want to frame it on my wall and cherish it till I die. Paige is hanging out with a random girl, and Hannah needs to figure out what Paige is doing.
Back in civilization, Emily and Aria meet up. Emily shares the story about Ali’s potential pregnant death on Ari’s sweet porch. Looks like Emily researched pregnant corpses on WebMD, and now Emily is the master of that medical niche. Aria seems a little skeptical, probably because Aria has been watching a lot of Law & Order while being a boring homebody with her father and knows more than WedMD. Emily heads to the police station to hand over the notebook… where she finds a messy Hannah. Okay. The punky lesbian that bought the drink for Hannah corners our Liar for a dance… until punky lesbian’s punky girlfriend shows up and calls Hannah a “peroxide bitch.” All of these lesbians are exhausting. Hannah was offended (because we all know Hannah), and ended the night with a drink thrown all over her chest. Hot. She was carded after the fight, and then arrested for drinking some gin underage. Again, I’m so happy and I cannot stop laughing. I love Hannah. Hannah is perfect. Hannah in a teenage lesbian bar – I’ve dreamed this dream.
Hannah lies to Emily about her bar intentions, but Hannah doesn’t need to keep hiding her Paige stalking when the two notice a horrifying clue in the station: a picture of Creepy Detective hanging out at Cape May. Could Creepy Detective be Ali’s “Beach Hottie”? Thankfully, PornStarMom rescues Hannah; PornStarMom wonders if Hannah is trying to explore her sexuality, and wonders if the “pink drink” from the bar is “code for something gay.” I’m still laughing! I love PLL! I hope the target audience for this show remotely understands what’s going on! Hannah admits that she was looking for Caleb, but now needs to deal with what’s happening between Paige and this new girl. Interesting.
Spencer has a creepy-text meet-up, where tension builds while Spencer puts on her eye make-up for roughly 45 minutes. Spencer cries, reapplies the make-up, cries, reapplies the make-up, on repeat. Troian is a fantastic actress, as she’s really committing to all of the emotions in her betrayed-by-Toby arc. Spencer meets up with an old and weary bounty hunter/assassin. Spencer hires Boba Fett to find what the A key unlocks, knowing that Toby will eventually lead Boba to the location. Spencer looks great in her red dress, big make-up, messy hair, and sad face. I thought Spencer was turning into a high-end prostitute in the aftermath of Toby, and I’m really glad that she’s not meeting creepy old men in diners for sex. Spencer dramatically rips her picture with Toby in half before handing the image over to Boba, and my heart jumped a little. Bad bitch.
Our episode ends with another couple crumbling: Ezra and Aria. Ezra spoke with Maggie, and understands the choices Aria made… but things clearly aren’t completely okay. Ezra needs space. Aria will have to understand. This couple has seen better days! I hope Ezra still has a lot of his sock drawer cash saved up for his extended stay in the local motel. Ugh, I care about this couple again... While the credits roll, A starts lighting boobleheads of the Liars on fire with a blowtorch. OKAY, A, LET’S TAKE A DEEP BREATH. I’m enjoying the winter side of Season 3 so far, but I hope someone important dies soon and/or I hope this show features a damn flashback that presents a concrete development in the Ali murder. Please please please. That’s all for now – slurp down that pink flirtini or poisoned tea and re-join your Crucible study group.
[Image Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC Family (2)]
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