Thursday, February 27, 2014

movie review: POMPEII (2014)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *
POMPEII (2014)

Milo (Kit Harington) is a Celtic barbarian, captured as a young child after his village was slaughtered by Roman General Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who was sent to quell a rebellion.

Despite orders being given that all shall be put to the sword Milo survives, only to live the life of a slave in the gladiatorial arena.

Eventually Milo and Corvus (now a Roman Senator) cross paths once more, during that ill fated week in 79 AD when Pompeii was wiped from the Roman World.

To complicate matters, Milo becomes enamored with a local administrator's daughter Cassia (Emily Browning), who has also caught the eye of Corvus.

* * *

It's that time of the year when Hollywood entices us with the first of what they hope will be the big movies of the year.

Such seemed to be Pompeii when the first trailers suggested this was a can't miss film we'd have to see. When I saw my first trailer last fall I did make a mental note to see it when it was finally released.

To make it even more interesting, it would be a part of the ever growing number of films released in 3D. Who can resist a volcano decimating a Roman city when it's done in 3D?

I didn't. But, I should have.

This marked Kit Harington's first headliner performance. He's better known as Jon Snow, in HBO's Game of Thrones.

"The Celt", as Milo is commonly known, seemed like a cross between Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian.

I suppose Milo's life would have been somber; seeing his parents slaughtered before his childhood eyes, and then living life as a slave. But, Harington's delivery seemed tired most of the time.

Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix trilogy, Chocolat, Vegas)  gets second billing. I guess she earned it because of her track record. But, you could have replaced her with any number of stock Hollywood actresses for all the screen time she actually had.

Sadly, even Sutherland's portrayal of Corvus was somewhat laughable. He delivered his lines with one of two speeds. Most of the time he talked with a smugness and strange accent that sounded artificial at best. While, during the few times he shows full blown hatred he's to the point of almost screaming.

Relatively unknown Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sucker Punch) does an adequate job with Cassia. Seemingly innocent at first. But, then more seems to meet the eye as things get complicated between her, Milo and Corvus.

My favorite character was Atticus, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Oz, Lost, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra).

While we don't know Atticus' background, he's obviously a proud man who survived as a gladiator long enough that his next match will earn what he wants most…his freedom. Yet, it's believable when he throws that to the wind when he sees duty, honor and revenge in helping Milo.

I felt more compassion for Atticus than I did for Milo; mostly because of the actors' performances.

The 3D effects were pretty much a waste of the extra $3 the theater charged to rent special glasses. With the exception of a few rocks and boulders flying around, it did absolutely nothing for me, to the point of forgetting the 3D effect was even there.

Sure, the best 3D films are those that don't overdo the effect, throwing it in the viewer's face. But, Pompeii was so underdone.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil series, Event Horizon, AVP: Alien vs. Predator) told CBS that, "Obviously, it's a movie, not a documentary…but the story of Pompeii is so remarkable you don't need to embellish it."

If that's the case why did they? There are some glaring historical inaccuracies. But I can't mention them without spoiling some of the more intense parts of the film.

Perhaps he felt he needed to pad the script, because the film's running time is only 1 hour 39 minutes. Relatively short for a Hollywood epic these days.

It might have been better to devote the time to developing the relationship between Cassia and her parents, and to showing more of the life of a gladiator.

* * *

I really can't recommend this as a can't miss film and it will, no doubt, be forgotten by next year's Oscar nominations.

If you've invested in a big screen TV with super sound system, do yourself a favor and wait for the DVD release.

However, If you must see it in the theater, look for a matinee or some other discount. But, you'd better do it soon. Judging from the size of the crowd on opening weekend it may not be around too long.

RATED: 4.0 out of 10 STARS

* * *

Nearby theaters currently showing Pompeii are the UA Berkeley 7, AMC Bay Street 16 and Century 16 Hilltop.

A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Olympic detox…Part Deux

Well, it's time for my biennial case of withdrawal from watching nearly wall-to-wall Olympic coverage for the last couple of weeks. Last time it was London. This time it's Sochi.

The Winter Olympics have always been my favorite. Don't get me wrong. I can just as easily get lost in the Summer Games. But, it's the Winter Games that I'm especially fond of. Not sure if it's the hockey, the skiing, or just the scenes of clean white snow that seems so pure, especially back growing up as a 10-year-old kid.

Up until 1998, we were pretty much stuck with whatever they were broadcasting on NBC (or CBS and ABC before that). Every Olympiad would add additional hours of coverage. But, it was still only a single channel.

Then, in 2002, coverage expanded exponentially by use of their family of channels; namely adding MSNBC, CSNBC. More channels equaled more coverage. Simple as that.

However, that was yet another proverbial drop in the bucket. As the Internet reached its maturity, they realized they could offer a virtual cornucopia of coverage by streaming events.

I was able to watch the local cable channel on the TV, while streaming something else on my computer. This included some sports not normally covered on broadcast TV.

You could probably count on one hand the amount of hours devoted to curling in 1998. Now, with streaming, you could watch whole matches, and ALL matches if your heart desired it!

Absolute Olympic Nirvana!

But, with NBC's ever expanding coverage came the realization that NBC's coverage could be pretty bad, leaning towards events where Americans had a good chance of taking a medal, and flipping from event to event without regard to continuity. And don't forget the commercials!

Last time around, during the London Olympics, I decided to let technology take its course, and add the BBC's coverage of the London Summer Olympics to my viewing regimen.

Absolute night and day when compared to what NBC offered. Mind you, I still watched NBC. However, my laptop was hooked into the BBC on a daily basis.

It wasn't perfect because if I joined a live event and then scrolled back to the beginning, I'd lose the feed all of a sudden when the live program ended. Then I'd have to wait till the event was cataloged before I could see how it ended.

Still, they were full events, with ALL competitors, and was commercial free! I think I watched every route of archery in 2012.

But, things were a bit complicated this time around because I did away with my television cable package in late 2012.

This meant that I only had access to the local NBC affiliate. This also meant NO hockey coverage from Sochi since they usually aired that on the NBC Sports Channel, a cable only channel.

I think the final insult was that NBC would allow anybody to watch their streaming coverage. However, if you could not prove you were subscribed to a cable or satellite provider, your signal was abruptly cut after 30 minutes, forcing you to log back in again.

With that in mind, I returned to alternate methods to get my Olympic fix. Unfortunately, the VPN I signed up for this time seemed to have problems giving me a quality signal from the BBC.

There were a couple of options to take off to the Great White North, and so I experienced my first Canadian television, other than when I used to watch Hockey Night in Canada with the NHL Network.

While the CBC does have commercials, they don't seem to be as numerous as on American television. Plus, I could stream all events on their website, only I didn't have to directly prove I was Canadian or have a Canadian cable subscription.

For the most part, the announcers were very well informed and could hold a candle to any of their American counterparts. And they knew when to simply shut up and let the pictures do the talking.

I was able to watch the whole Opening Ceremonies, and watch them live.

Not only did NBC not offer the festivities live, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus insulted the intelligence of every American viewer, suggesting "…the colorful ceremonies would not make sense without description."

Mr. Lazarus kindly explain why you couldn't have aired it live with commentators, just like every other event you streamed…including the Closing Ceremonies!!

So this time around I never did watch any NBC coverage. It was all CBC, and even though I had started watching events live, it eventually devolved to all tape delayed as a few days of watching till the wee hours of the morning started wrecking havoc with my sleep cycle.

I will have to admit, there were times I wanted to throttle my computer, especially during any US hockey game coverage.

An American women's game didn't go by without having to hear about the "battling Lamoureux Sisters" or how Jocelyne Lamoureux played with a chip on her shoulder and liked to "mix 'em up." (a reference to the two fights that occurred during pre-Olympic action with Canada).

Then there were Glenn Healy's idiotic remarks, such as that Team Sweden didn't know who they were playing against, when referring to Sydney Crosby. This despite the fact that all but one Swedish player came from NHL teams.

Technologically, signal quality did vary from time to time, especially if I was using my laptop over a wireless connection.

I will readily admit I missed NBC's traditional end of the Olympics highlight reel set to Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Every time I'd watch it I'd well up in tears because of the realization the Games were over and it would be a couple years before they'd be on again. (It even happened watching the YouTube clip linked above and thinking how 1996 seems just like yesterday).

Also missing was all the cultural fluff. By steaming the events it became all about the events, and not the locale. I do enjoy the cultural and historical aspects we're sometimes given, though in moderation.

So now comes the two year wait before the 2016 Summer Games, in Rio de Janeiro. With Rio being only four hours ahead of San Francisco, I'll be bombarded with lots more live coverage during a more sane part of the day. Of course, I'm sure there will be new unforeseen challenges.

I just have 892 days to figure exactly how to accomplish it all!