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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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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It's the biggest night in television. But will it be the most surprising one? Turns out, not quite. Though there were a few shockers during Sunday's 64th annual Emmy Awards — for instance, Homeland's Damian Lewis wins over Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston — ABC's Modern Family was, per usual, the belle of the ball with four Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy series. Other big winners of the evening? Showtime's Homeland — which also picked up four wins, including Outstanding Drama — HBO's Game Change — which won four awards, including Best Miniseries or Movie — and Louis C.K., who won Outstanding Writing for his FX darling Louie and Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special for Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater.
Who else walked home with a gold statue? See the complete winners list below and be sure to check out our Emmys hub for all breaking news, interviews, and features surrounding the 2012 Emmys!
Outstanding Drama Series
Game of Thrones
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Ed O'Neill, Modern Family Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family Ty Burrell, Modern Family Winner: Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live Max Greenfield, New Girl
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
Winner: Louis C.K., Louie
Lena Dunham, Girls
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Michael Schur, Parks and Recreation
Chris McKenna, Community
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
Winner: Steve Levitan, Modern Family
Robert B. Weide, Curb Your Enthusiasm Lena Dunham, Girls Louis C.K., Duckling Jason Winer, Modern Family Jake Kasdan, New Girl
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie Winner: Julie Bowen, Modern Family Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live Sofia Vergara, Modern Family Kathryn Joosten, Desperate Housewives
Outstanding Comedy Series The Big Bang Theory Curb Your Enthusiasm Girls Winner: Modern Family 30 Rock Veep
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Zooey Deschanel, New Girl Lena Dunham, Girls Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie Tina Fey, 30 Rock Winner: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock Don Cheadle, House of Lies Louis C.K., Louie Winner: Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Outstanding Made for TV Movie/Miniseries American Horror Story Winner: Game Change Hatfields & McCoys Hemingway and Gellhorn Luther Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia
Leading Actor in a Made for TV Movie/Miniseries Woody Harrelson, Game Change Clive Owen, Hemingway & Gellhorn Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia Idris Elba, Luther Winner: Kevin Costner, Hatfields & McCoys Bill Paxton, Hatfields & McCoys
Lead Actress in a Made for TV Movie/Miniseries Winner: Julianne Moore, Game Change Connie Britton, American Horror Story Nicole Kidman, Hemingway & Gellhorn Emma Thompson, The Song of Lunch Ashley Judd, Missing Outstanding Reality-Competition Program Winner: The Amazing Race Dancing With the Stars Project Runway So You Think You Can Dance Top Chef The Voice Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program Winner: Tom Bergeron, Dancing With The Stars Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance Phil Keoghan, The Amazing Race Ryan Seacrest, American Idol Betty White, Betty White's Off Their Rockers Outstanding Reality Program Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution MythBusters Antiques Roadshow Shark Tank Winner: Undercover Boss Who Do You Think You Are? Outstanding Nonfiction Series American Masters Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations Inside The Actors Studio The Weight Of The Nation Winner: Frozen Planet
Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series The Colbert Report Winner: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Jimmy Kimmel Live! Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Real Time with Bill Maher Saturday Night Live Outstanding Variety Special Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute To America's Golden Girl Kathy Griffin: Tired Hooker
Winner: The Kennedy Center Honors Mel Brooks And Dick Cavett Together Again Tony Bennett: Duets II (Great Performances)
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Winner: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey Jim Carter, Downton Abbey Jared Harris, Mad Men Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad Winner: Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey Joanna Froggatt, Downton Abbey Christina Hendricks, Mad Men Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie Sarah Paulson, Game Change Frances Conroy, American Horror Story Winner: Jessica Lange, American Horror Story Judy Davis, Page Eight Mare Winningham, Hatfields & McCoys Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Ed Harris, Game Change Denis O'Hare, American Horror Story David Strathairn, Hemingway & Gellhorn Martin Freeman, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia Winner: Tom Berenger, Hatfields & McCoys Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Dot-Marie Jones, Glee Maya Rudolph, Saturday Night Live Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live Elizabeth Banks, 30 Rock Margaret Cho, 30 Rock Winner: Kathy Bates, Two and a Half Men Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Michael J. Fox, Curb Your Enthusiasm Greg Kinnear, Modern Family Bobby Cannavale, Nurse Jackie Winner: Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live Will Arnett, 30 Rock Jon Hamm, 30 Rock Guest Actress in a Drama Series Winner: Martha Plimpton, The Good Wife Loretta Devine, Grey's Anatomy Jean Smart, Harry's Law Julia Ormond, Mad Men Joan Cusack, Shameless Uma Thurman, Smash Guest Actor in a Drama Series Mark Margolis, Breaking Bad Dylan Baker, The Good Wife Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife Winner: Jeremy Davies, Justified Ben Feldman, Mad Men Jason Ritter, Parenthood Outstanding Animated Program American Dad Bob's Burgers Futurama Winner: The Penguins Of Madagascar: The Return Of The Revenge Of Dr. Blowhole The Simpsons Outstanding Children's Program Degrassi Good Luck Charlie iCarly Victorious Winner: Wizards Of Waverly Place
Writing for a Drama Series
Winner: Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff, Homeland
Directing for a Drama Series
Winner: Tim Van Patten, Boardwalk Empire
Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad
Brian Percival, Downton Abbey
Phil Abraham, Mad Men
Michael Cuesta, Homeland
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Winner: Damian Lewis, Homeland
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Winner: Claire Danes, Homeland
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kathy Bates, Harry's Law
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Glenn Close, Damages
Writing for a Variety Special
Winner: Louis C.K., Louis C.K. Live At The Beacon Theatre
Dave Boone, Written by; Paul Greenberg, 65th Annual Tony Awards George Stevens, Jr., Written by; Michael M. Stevens, Written by; Sara Lukinson, Written by; Lewis Friedman, The Kennedy Center Honors
Jon Macks, Written by; Dave Boone, Written by; Carol Leifer, Written by; Tim Carvell, Special Material Written by; Jeff Cesario, Special Material Written by; Billy Crystal, Special Material Written by; Ed Driscoll, Special Material Written by; Billy Martin, Special Material Written by; Ben Schwartz, Special Material Written by; Marc Shaiman, Special Material Written by; Eric Stangel, Special Material Written by; Justin Stangel, Special Material Written by; David Steinberg, Special Material Written by; Mason Steinberg, Special Material Written by; Colleen Werthmann, 84th Annual Academy Awards
Jon Macks, Written by; Steve Ridgeway, Written by; Mason Steinberg, Written by; Brad Lachman, Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute To America's Golden Girl
Directing for a Variety Special
Don Mischer, 84th Annual Academy Awards Louis J. Horvitz, The 54th Annual Grammy Awards Louis C.K, Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre Alan Skog, New York City Ballet George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (Live From Lincoln Center) Winner: Glenn Weiss, 65th Annual Tony Awards
Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special
Winner: Danny Strong, Game Change
Ted Mann, Ronald Parker & Bill
Abi Morgan, The Hour
Neil Cross, Luther
Steven Moffat, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia
Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special
Winner: Jay Roach, Game Change
Philip Kaufman, Hemmingway & Gellhorn
Paul McGuigan, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia
Kevin Reynolds, Hatfields & McCoys
Sam Miller, Luther
[Photo Credit: ABC]
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Steve Buscemi an Emmy or I'll Waste Away with Whiskey
Emmy Idle Threats: Give 'Game of Thrones' Emmy Gold or I'll Give (?) a Crown of Gold
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Lena Dunham an Emmy or Chris O'Dowd Will Yell at You
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.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.