Pompeii (2014)

PompeiiReleased: February 21, 2014. Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland. Runtime: 105 min.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson steps onto new territory for him with “Pompeii,” after directing a deadly fast car race (“Death Race”), aliens and predators (“AVP: Alien vs. Predator”) and mutated creatures (three of the “Resident Evil” movies). “Pompeii” has been described as a mix between “Gladiator” and “Titanic.” A good marketing statement considering those are both Best Picture winners; and successful at the box office, “Titanic” being wildly successful. It’s easy why people might think of “Gladiator,” because there are indeed gladiator scenes and it follows a gladiator; its “Titanic” connections are because of the class differences between the two lead love interests, and because this is a disaster film. But you know, this really doesn’t have as much Oscar potential as those two films.

Milo – a.k.a. The Kelt (portrayed by Kit Harington) – is a slave-turned-gladiator who comes to Pompeii to entertain the people with a fight to the death. He finds one thing in Pompeii that he was not anticipating; the love of the Princess of Pompeii, Cassia (Emily Browning). Cue the love triangle because corrupt Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) has his eyes set on her hand in marriage. Milo soon enough finds himself in a race-against-time to save Cassia, risking his life as Mount Vesuvius erupts, as Pompeii crumbles around him.

The fact that the relationship between Milo and Cassia is described as true love is funny considering the little they actually talk to each other. Because of that, this feels like a Disney fairy tale romance, but not particularly the charming kind. At least the relationship in “Titanic” is believable because they spend a lot of time together (enabled by the film’s runtime), but the couple here probably share twenty minutes of screen time; an hour or two real time. They’re likeable enough, but their chemistry is only okay because of that. Kit Harington is good in his role, as a slave-turned-gladiator who is the last of his villagers – the Horsemen. When he was young, he witnessed his fellow villagers be killed by Romans. Because of that his motivation is revenge, his love for Cassia, and survival. I can see some action movie star potential in him.

Emily Browning is good as Cassia, too; the pretty Australian portraying an independent woman who is put in an awkward position having to choose between an unhappy life, but good one where she’d get all she wants, with Senator Corvus; or choose a happy life with Milo, even if it doesn’t have guaranteed economic greatness. Love still seemed simpler in 79 A.D., at least the falling in love aspect of things. I mean, they hardly know each other; she’s just amazed by his kindness, and Milo sees a beautiful, independent woman. All just have to question the realism of the fictionalized romance.

Kiefer Sutherland sports a weird British accent that’s unidentifiable and inconsistent (mostly when he projects his voice) but he’s pretty good as the villain. Corvus came to Pompeii with plans of investing in the city of Pompeii, and he just happened to run into Cassia after they met in Rome. Coincidence? I think not. Anyway, Jared Harris and Carie-Anne Moss are patriarch and matriarch of royal family of Pompeii. The cast’s a good ensemble. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (TV’s “Lost”, “The Bourne Identity”) portrays Atticus, a fellow gladiator in the town of Pompeii who is one fight away from freedom. Freedom and survival is his drive, and I think he is the most interesting character out of the bunch. It’s funny, that even in non-prison movies – when a new gladiator (Milo, said to be the best) is on the block, he always gets challenged by big brutes. I find it funny.

The characters are fictionalized because the historical accuracies are based on a first-hand-account by Pliny the Younger. He couldn’t know these characters, and the relationship developments are so tailored for the big screen they couldn’t be true. I’m not saying the characters are bad, I’m just saying that if they didn’t have them, the volcano eruption would just be depicted on the Discovery Channel. People are coming to see this because it’s a disaster film with blockbuster visuals, great production design and sets that are built just so they could get destroyed; woo-hoo! It has one of the unwritten rules of disaster films; if the floor is crumbling, a character has to jump over it in a car (a horse in this case) in slow motion. I don’t think W.S. Anderson could resist doing that.

The gladiator scenes are actually exciting, too, sometimes brief – which I’m a fan of because if it’s a lesser villain against a main character, the audience knows who will win – so it’s nice that those fights don’t get dragged on. The editing during those scenes is good, not too quick and during some fights there are far away shots which I like. The disaster aspect of this is exciting (but it isn’t a fun disaster film like “The Day After Tomorrow” because, keep in mind, this is true) and it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of the eruption by the end of it all; I learn there was an initial eruption on August 24, 79; and then another the next day that was much more powerful, even though in the film it’s depicted as a powerful one erupting, and then a few others eruptions as they try to escape. For the audience, the disaster aspect is about thirty or forty minutes I’d guess; in real time, this lasted about 25 hours.

Another inaccurate portrayal is that it only portrays Pompeii as the only city that’s affected; Herculaneum and Stabiae were also affected by the eruption, but only Pompeii is mentioned. And heck, I don’t even clearly remember the name of the volcano (Vesuvius) being said. The eruption is foreshadowed by the volcano bubbling, and by horses going crazy when earthquakes occur. In all, thirteen thousand people died from the eruption; and it all happened so fast, most citizens were cemented in place (because of the mix of rain and ash, turning them into statues so to speak) in their position until the site was uncovered in 1595, over 1500 years later! Fascinating, right? Anderson depicts this tragedy with accuracy as far as the disaster goes; using blockbuster visuals, a good score, and the great cast lifts a fairly weak surrounding story to good.

Score70/100

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The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games

Release Date: March 23, 2012

Director: Gary Ross

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Runtime: 143 min

Tagline: The World Will Be Watching.

 

I favor the book.

The film is set in an America which, after a war, has been renamed Panem in the future.  As a cruel reminder to the people of Panem for a past rebellion, two representatives from each district, one male and one female, are chosen to for an annual lottery (where no one in the lower districts will want to win) called the Hunger Games. The Games are a fight to the death, where twenty-three of the twenty-four young teens die, with one lone victor. The Hunger Games is an annual propaganda-based reality TV show favourite, for the people of the Capitol at least. This 74th Annual Hunger Games marks history for District 12, as it got its first volunteer, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss took her sister’s place and it was a noble act, indeed. She must use her hunting skills/wilderness experience and sense of direction to stand a fighting chance to survive.

It’s a really interesting film that uses propaganda as a main theme, and just shows how corrupt the government has really gotten. For the young adult audience, it’s a very fresh idea; but I have heard that this film feels like a big rip-off of the Japanese film that was released in 2000, Battle Royale. I haven’t seen that one, so it won’t taint my view of this film at all, so it felt like a fresh experience.

A lot of it feels like just a youth spin of Gladiator (which I still have to find the time to watch), and the film sort of reminded me of an old Roman thing, bread and circus. The bread means food which the emperor would give to the people of Rome, and the circus meant entertainment.

In this case, the President would give food the people, and that’s what going on here, as the tributes have the option to put their name in numerous times in the raffle as a way to get more food (even though they should be getting more food in the first place, as it is revealed in the second book [I don’t think it’s a really large spoiler] that the people of the Capitol drink this fluid that makes them vomit, so they can stuff their faces even more). The entertainment is most obviously the Hunger Games, which is a reality television show put on for the people of the Capitol, which is really a heinous occurrence which would be pretty bad if it happened in this day and age (granted, it does make for a pretty interesting film [or book] idea).

The film really is quite entertaining and an interesting experience and has a really great ensemble, with a few great characters (that the writers actually want you to connect in any way with) and very intense sequences. There’s some really memorable action sequences, but don’t expect a full-throttle action thriller. Expect a nice adventure flick with a great heroine (push over, Bella!) with some solid action sequences, and lots of adventure and a bit of dramatic science fiction futuristic material.

Okay, some stuff I didn’t like about it. The first is a spoiler and the second is pretty spoiler, but expected.

                                        *SORT OF SPOILER ALERT*         

I didn’t feel there was enough bonding time with Rue to be shared here. Not solid enough character development for her, as in the book.

I don’t see why Collins, like Stephenie Meyer, just had to add in a love triangle. It seems to be that it can’t be a young adult phenomenon without it. It’s very expected, so I didn’t really care for it; but at the same time is effective.

*END OF SPOILERS*

Okay guys, it’s pretty safe to read here. Some other stuff I didn’t dig about the film is that some of the material is a little unclear for those audience members who haven’t read the book, and I didn’t like that aspect of it. I would have thought that the loose ends of the background information would have been better connected with the actual author of the book (Suzanne Collins) having a writing credit for the film.

I feel that the film just needed a bit more violence to be better appreciated; readers could easily handle the violence portrayed in the book, so why couldn’t there be a lot more of it in the actual film? Sometimes young adult’s imaginations can be even more violent than what is portrayed on film, so I just didn’t care for it in that aspect. It couldn’t have even gone for a 14A rating? Or like a really strong 14A rating that could have been secured without going too far as to get an 18A rating? I know it’s a young adult audience, but seriously; more than half of the tributes were killed off screen.

In some ways it’s not an incredible adaptation, it isn’t quite on the same great caliber as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings but outshines (or should I say… out-sparkles? I’m calling you out, Edward) Twilight by great lengths.

I guess this film review, that’s turning into a bit of an essay, should reach its conclusion soon.

It’s a film with a great heroine, great performances (by Jennifer Lawrence especially, who I wish the Academy will be so bold to nominate her for Best Actress; which I doubt will happen), great action/adventure sequences, and a story that offers a fresh enough cinematic experience. The film is a bit lengthy (with the Games starting about 65 minutes into the film), but of course there must be some background  information to be shared here, which could have been better-developed at that. For Oscars, I think the film should get Academy recognition (or at least large award recognition) for its Costume Design, Make-Up jobs especially, and its Cinematography, and even maybe a Best Picture nomination.

The film has a dynamite cast with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead spot, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks (nearly recognizable, except for her voice, as Effie), Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Alexander Ludwig (Cato) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove; whom I know as the little psychopath from Orphan).

It’s a film with slow pacing at the beginning but gets great when it heats up, has many entertaining sequences, and could have been a better adaptation, as there’s a lot of room for improvement, but is a great experience for both young adults and even some adults can enjoy; and should be enjoyed by those who are willing to accept it for the quite unique adapted experience it offers.

80/100