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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Stephen King's The Stand needs to be made into a big-budget film. There was a decently made mini-series that included some notable actors. That version was even produced by King himself. However, the television medium doesn't allow the story to explore the haunting parts of King's vision of the end of the world. The mini-series also felt a little bland at times. The film may have lost Ben Affleck to his infamous run as Batman and may end up casting Christian Bale, but here's our fantasy casting for the film series.
Johnny Depp as Randall Flagg
Randall Flagg is charming, attractive, and can seduce people out of their souls. Yet, in the next moment beat them mercilessly to death or make them go mad with just a look. Depp has the good looks and the convincing darkness to portray an agent of the devil. His roles in films like Dark Shadows and Sweeney Todd show he can be dark and twisted while still maintaining his charm, humor, and sex appeal. He also created the definitive anti-hero in Jack Sparrow.
Walt Disney Co via Everett Collection
Cicely Tyson as Mother Abigail
Mother Abigail is a 108-year-old woman, the oldest living human being, and a prophet of God. She becomes a lightning rod for all the good people left in the world to gather together. At 80 years old, Tyson just won a Tony for her role in The Trip to Bountiful. She is an amazing actress and her recent role in The Help has proven that nothing can stop her.
Summit Entertainment via Everett Collection
Emma Stone as Frances Goldsmith
Frannie is pregnant and in her early twenties. As the flu strikes, she questions if she should keep the baby. She’s smart, funny, and attractive enough to get a bit of a love triangle going. Stone is attractive, quirky, and has already seen the apocalypse starring in Zombieland. While most of her films have been comedies, she did show her dramatic muscles in The Help. She also has shown she has the edge to potentially kick ass and it would be great to see her actually do it on screen.
Walt Disney Co via Everett Collection
Matthew McConaughey as Stu Redman
Stu is affectionately known as East Texas. He is one of the first known survivors of the super flu. He plays a major part in the story and the survival of Mother Abigail's followers. When you think of Texas you think of McConaughey. His recent success and Oscar buzz with Dallas Buyer's Club show that the dramatic actor is back along with the comedian we remember from movies like Magic Mike. He has the right level of folksy charm that would encourage a community of survivors to rally behind him.
Millennium Entertainment via Everett Collection
Ryan Gosling as Larry Underwood
Larry Underwood is a sexy rockstar. He spends the bulk of the story with multiple women who want the best for him but sadly he disappoints them. Tons of women in America would love to see Gosling in this role. He has the huge fan following to be believable as a rock star. His role as a ne'er do well stunt driver in Drive and as a lothario in Crazy Stupid Love make him well suited for this role.
FilmDistrict via Everett Collection
Taylor Schilling as Nadine Cross
Nadine Cross is a former school teacher that meets Larry on the road. They connect and bond but she's a virgin and can't be with him. Who is she saving herself for ... who do you think? Randall Flagg. Schilling is huge right now given the success of Orange is the New Black. In the show, she's able to play a virginal innocence while still maintaining a slightly dark and twisted edge. After all, how pure can you be in prison?
Warner Bros. via Everett Collection
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Nick Andros
Nick Andros is a deaf-mute that is introduced to the audience when he is savagely beaten. He becomes a major player in Mother Abigail's society despite being only able to communicate by writing notes. Levitt has the acting chops to breathe life into this challenging role. He has played off-beat characters in films like Hesher and Don John.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
Helen Mirren as Glen Bateman
Glen Bateman is a retired sociology professor that loves painting and Kojack the dog. In the book, Bateman is a man. However, given her success in the Red films, Mirren proves she is part of the boy's club. Also, the book is a little light on female characters so it would be great to have such a dynamic actor as Mirren in such a pivotal role. Bateman helps re-establish society in the post-flu community. Plus, in an alternate life, couldn't you imagine Mirren as a ballsy sociology professor. We can pretend Teaching Mrs. Tingle never happened.
Focus Features via Everett Collection
Jonah Hill as Harold Lauder
Harold Lauder is a chubby, know-it-all teenager with some pretty dark thoughts. Now, Hill isn't that chubby anymore, however he is really stretching into dramas. He also proved in 21 Jump Street that he can play a believable teenager, even if its a grown man playing a grown man pretending to be a teenager. He'd be great as this slightly homicidal genius that becomes obsessed with Frannie.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
John Cho as Lloyd Henreid
Lloyd Henreid is a petty criminal that gets caught in a murder spree right before the flu breaks. Flagg rescues him from prison and makes Lloyd his right-hand man. Given his recent run as a villain in Sleepy Hollow, Cho clearly can play bad. Also, it would be great if the film adaptation could not only break convention by having a male character played by an actress like Mirren but also to have a criminal played by an Asian-American actor. Stereotypes have to be broken somewhere.
New Line Cinema via Everett Collection
There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Set in 5th century A.D. The Last Legion follows the destiny of the young emperor Romulus Augustus Caesar (Thomas Sangster) the last of the Caesars. A palace coup sees his parents murdered and Odoacer (Peter Mullan) seated on the throne of Rome. With the protection and help of Aurelius (Colin Firth) and his ethnically-diverse band of warriors and with the spiritual guidance of Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley) Romulus gains possession of Julius Caesar’s sword--that’s “Excalibur” to you and me--and seeks to re-establish his kingdom far away in Britannia. But trouble is never far behind represented by Odoacer’s snarling henchman Wulfila (Kevin McKidd) and Ambrosinus’ old nemesis Vortgyn (Harry Van Gorkum) who are closing in--leading to a climactic battle in which good battles evil. Care to wager who wins? It’s hardly a surprise. What is a surprise however is that it took five credited screenwriters to cook up this medieval mélange. That Kingsley and Firth are better than the material isn’t surprising either; both are good actors and the material here simply isn’t. Firth is stalwart handsome and heroic--and that’s all that’s required of him. Kingsley has a few lively moments and the actual identity of his character is yet another non-surprise. Sangster gives a sheepish performance as the displaced boy king. Indian star Aishwarya Rai is alluring as the fearless warrior Mira another of Romulus’ allies who appears to emerge from each battle not only unscathed but with her makeup and hair completely intact. Her chaste romance with Firth isn’t so much predictable as an afterthought. McKidd and Van Gorkum chew the scenery in an effort to enliven the proceedings and Van Gorkum’s metal mask brings to mind the late-‘60s rock ‘n’ roll novelty The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. As Odoacer Mullan has only a few scenes before disappearing from the narrative entirely. John Hannah and Iain Glen drop in briefly to no discernible effect either to the film or to their careers. Doug Lefler a veteran of such small-screen swashbucklers as Hercules and Xena finds himself in familiar territory here. Unfortunately so does the audience. There’s almost nothing to distinguish The Last Legion from any number of medieval melodramas. The good guys are true blue the bad guys are truly vile--and all of it has a weary air. A few nudges of humor seem misplaced amid the clanking swords and flying arrows. In what may well be an effort to broaden the film’s box-office hopes--which won’t spring eternal for very long--some of the grislier scenes appear to have been trimmed. Those expecting a more vicious and visceral adventure may be disappointed by the PG-13 bloodshed on display here.