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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20th Century Fox
Less than a week ago, it seemed almost impossible that Fox would be taking the chance on serializing their X-Men franchise. But the studio's just confirmed, via FirstShowing, that the next film in the series, X-Men: Apocalypse, will not be another self-contained entry but a "direct sequel" to Days of Future Past. They'll even be using the classic Marvel post-credits tease to reveal their next villain.
[For the curious and SPOILER immune: Magneto, as played by Michael Fassbender, will come across the space mutant Apocalypse, who will possess his body and amplify his powers enough to make Magneto the most powerful mutant on Earth.]
Well, Fox, sounds like you put your money where your mouth is going to be in 2016! That promise to be more inspired by Marvel seems to be genuine. Even the inclusion of Apocalypse, an all-powerful villain, is pretty similar to Marvel's Ultron (though the former's space alien is swapped out for the latter's sentient robot).
Well, if you're going for it, Fox, why not copy a few more things?
- Same World, Different Heroes: Why shouldn't the new Fantastic Four take place in the same universe as the X-Men? That X-universe has had seven films to work itself out, and while everything hasn't always landed well, it's survived for 15 years.
- Humor: When dealing The Marvel films, especially the Iron Mans, mix serious subject matter with jokes. The younger X-Men cast is plenty charismatic, so it would help to see some occasional levity to lighten the weight of the apocalypse.
- True Ensemble: As we saw in the trailer, X-Men: Days of Future Past might seem like an ensemble piece, it looks like it will still primarily be driven by Wolverine. But The Avengers honestly gave each member of the group time to shine, and Apocalypse should be the same.
But Marvel isn't perfect, and they've run into a few stumbling blocks along the way. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Boring MacGuffins: When you have to follow an object like the Tesseract through several movies, you end up either confusing those who have no idea what it is, or boring those who have heard an explanation multiple times.
- Gun Shy on Kills: Bringing back Coulson, refusing to get rid of Loki — when characters get popular, Marvel is hesitant to go through with their plans to acknowledge mortality through their deaths.
- Diversity: The X-Men is a wonderfully diverse group of heroes and villains, and the films have reflected that somewhat, but there's still a default to the main white male characters of Wolverine and Magneto. Drawing in other characters (or, in the case of Storm or Mystique, developing their characters so the two Oscar winners who play them have something to do).
OK, I have really been railing on this season of Survivor for being boring, awful, and heavily massaged by the producers. I almost gave up so many times, but I'm glad I didn't. This, people, is why we will never stop watching this show. One episode and everything is turned all topsy-turvey. How did Michael get eliminated? How did Malcolm get Reynold to give him the idol? How are Andrea and Dawn running the whole show? How is Cochran still alive after climbing down a waterfall? How long before Brenda actually says a word? I have no idea, and I couldn't be happier.
Here's what I sort of ascertained from last night's episode. Malcolm thinks he's not only a dreamboat but a strategic genius. He goes to Dawn and tells her, "We're on the bottom of the alliance, we need to get on the top." That is sound thinking. The funny thing is, everyone thinks that Dawn is this stupid, crazy, scatterbrained woman because she's older and she cries a lot, but she is sneakier than a 17-year-old with a gravity bong. First of all she's in control of the game, because everyone thinks they can talk to her. She's bringing all the flipping information back to the core of her alliance which is now Cochran, Special Agent of Annoyance Philip T. Shepherd, and, shockingly, Andrea, who is running the whole thing. They've enlisted Sheri too and those Survivor zombies Brenda and Eric, who just sort of stumble around the island and grunt every once in awhile and look for brains under rocks.
When Dawn told everyone that Malcolm was getting the fans together, stupid Stealth R Us decided that they were going to tell Malcolm that they were splitting their votes between Eddie and Reynold, but they were really going to vote for Malcolm. At this point in the game I thought for sure that Malcolm would win the immunity challenge and save himself and ruin the whole plan, but no. Brenda won. Brenda. Stupid zombie Brenda who, I believe, did not utter one human syllable approaching a word last night, but she can throw a grate in the rising tide the best. That's because she's an undead monster and probably doesn't even need to breathe.
Here's where things got crazy. Dawn and Andrea told Malcolm they were splitting votes between Eddie and Reynold to flush out the idol. Then Dawn told Malcolm that she would go with him if Reynold showed her the immunity idol. She then went back and told everyone he had it. This is Grade A Survivor right here, lying to someone's face, getting information that will give you an advantage, and executing a plan that has almost no way of failing. Malcolm's plan hinged on Dawn flipping, and if she didn't, then he was not going to have the numbers and he'd be toast.
What threw it all off was Andrea's relationship with Eddie. They clearly like each other but have this Romeo and Juliet thing going on where they're trying to work with each other, at least nominally, but also trying to stay true to their alliance. This culiminated in the second best conversation in Survivor history (the first best is still when Eliza told Jason back in the original Fans Vs. Favorites that he wasn't holding a hidden immunity idol, but a "f**king stick with a face drawn on it"). Andrea told him that they were splitting votes but they may not be between him and Reynold, and they have a real target but she can't tell him who. He was telling her that someone may have an idol, but he doesn't know if they do or if they don't. There was lots of stammering and back and forth and lying and working around the fact that neither of them wanted to give up any information but wanted to get as much information as they could. Andrea asked who the target was and, after more hemming and hawing than you trying to explain to your mother whose cigarettes those are that she found in your back pack, he told her that her name came up to be voted out.
BAM! That's all it takes. All it takes it that little bit of doubt, the fear that your name is going to be put down on the paper. This sent Andrea into a crazy tailspin. She then started to cry which, ugh, but then she freaked out and though she was going home and made everyone change the vote to Michael so that she could keep herself in the game. This teaches us a few things. The first is that Andrea is really in control because everyone, including crazy Dawn, told her to relax and that it was going to work out, they just needed to take out Malcolm when they had the chance. Since they all voted for Michael, that means they care more about Andrea than good strategy, which means she is their leader. It also shows us that they are all scared to hell of the idols, and Malcolm still has one that no one knows about. It also teaches us that Andrea doesn't really have what it takes to play Survivor. What she needed to do was stop having an emotional reaction and start counting the numbers and playing out the scenario in her head. If they didn't tip their hat that they were gunning for Malcolm, he would have been out.
But they did. Well, big mouth Phillip, The Informer, did. He talked about flushing out idols and getting rid of people that were unfaithful to them, and that gave Malcolm a clue as to what was going on. When it came time to play an idol, he made one of the most genius moves I've ever seen on this show. He told Reynold that he was safe and that everyone was gunning for him, so he needed to give him the idol. Yes, Malcolm didn't play his idol, he got the only other guy in the game with an idol to give it to him. That is balls. That is brilliant.
It turns out he was wrong — they voted for Michael, and Philip was only talking about what he wanted to happen, not what they were actually going to do. This is even worse because if he had shut up and had Andrea not lost her nerve, they would have sent him packing. Now they're stuck with a master strategist who is excellent at challenges that have nothing to do with balancing a ball between handles. They are screwed.
But look at the game. Malcolm (who I root for because I want to lie my naked body next to his for all of eternity and breathe in the musk of his hair) doesn't have many options. He has Eddie and Reynold. That's it. Despite Reynold's continued pleas to get everyone to "bro down" — a phrase that actually gives me hives — no one seems into it. Malcolm and Co are up against Andrea, Philip, Dawn, Cochran, Sheri, and the zombies Eric and Brenda, who they are leading through the woods on long chains like Michonne does on The Walking Dead. Recruiting the zombies is his only hope. Malcolm was right, he needed to make his big move at 11 when there were still a lot of people on the outs left to rally, and when there was an odd number of players (I have a whole theory about this I've written about before). The problem, is he got played.
Speaking of playing, we're finally starting to see some, and I'm happier with Survivor than I've been in a long time.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
More: 'Survivor' Recap: How to Eat Bugs, Brains, and Duck Embryos'Survivor' Recap: A Recipe for a Boring Season'Survivor' Recap; How a Tribe Switch Up Ruined the Game
The plot for the next film from heralded (and elusive) director Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) is currently unknown. There have been a few vague details and a plenty of set photos revealing the bevy of A-list stars involved, including Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman… and maybe Christian Bale (who is also starring in another Malick film shooting concurrently? It's anyone's guess — that's how close to chest Malick keeps his work.
So when a picture like this crosses the Hollywood.com desks, imaginations run wild. Fassbender and Portman looking gorgeous? In the middle of a field? Trailed by Austin hometown hero Erik Sprague aka The Lizardman?
Here are a few possibilities as to what might be going on:
"Here, we see Terrence Malick’s new stars, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman, playing a pair of ambitious cryptozoologists scanning the American countryside in hopes of spotting the legendary Lizard Man, completely unaware that creature is right there in front of them — one of the perks of being half chameleon."
"Fassbender and Portman are about to shoot the movie's big scene, an emotional explosion that should nab Portman a second Oscar. Fed up with Fassy's character's inability to see or believe in her invisible friend Charlie (Lizardman), Portman loses her cool and in a fit of rage.
"This is either a Malick-induced fever dream or a Stefon night club sequence. It. Has. Everything. Michael Fassbender, the Lizard Man carrying a bookbag, and Natalie Portman not having any of it."
"This You, Me and Dupree reboot hits a boiling point as Portman's character finally gives up on her husband (Fassbender), whose former rock band bass player won't move out of their house."
"Terrence Malick puts a new spin on romantic dramas when the love triangle between Fassbender, Portman, and Lizardman heats up. Portman’s character must choose between the passion she feels for Lizardman, and the normal life she can have with Fassbender’s boring cubicle-dweller. Will she risk it all to have the excitement and love she yearns for, or will she play it safe?"
"I'm sensing Natalie Portman's character is becoming overly concerned about whether or not Lizard Man is being exploited in the latest TLC reality show, filmed by Michael Fassbender"
"Things are finally looking grim for the Malick's road tripping trio, who only have a few hours left before Lizardman's big wedding day."
"In this scene, Portman’s character has lured the Lizardman out of New York with her feminine wiles. But it doesn’t take long before he spots Fassy, the most handsome man in the world who’s just finished making out with Portman’s tiny perfect face, and the Lizardman realizes his beautiful temptress has played him for the fool. He’s just there to carry her heavy backpack."
Now it's your turn: What the heck is happening in this scene? Tell us in the comments!
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: FameFlynet]
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