At the beginning of James Kent’s Testament of Youth the Armistice has been signed and World War I is ending. Though our protagonist, Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) isn’t celebrating. As she makes her way through crowded London streets, she looks beaten down and dazed. By this point, the war has taken everything from her. In real life, Brittain became a Pacifist after experiencing the horrors of The Great War first-hand. Based on her memoir of the same name, Testament of Youth carries a strong anti-war message that Kent handles with subtlety and compassion. He slowly easing into Brittain’s tale, instead of starting with suffering right away. Keeping the focus squarely on Vera and her evolution as a character, he crafts a delicate and understanding biopic worthy of mild celebration. Read More
Directed by Paul WS Anderson
Starring Kit Harrington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Harris, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Carrie-Anne Moss
Action, Adventure, “Drama”
If you’re willing to overlook an awful script, torpid acting and cheeseball direction, Pompeii packs the requisite fireworks and dimwitted gumption to glide through its 100 minute screen time. Told with the panache of an envious porno production assistant, Pompeii is the equivalent of a kid hopped up on candy trying to recount the events of Gladiator but getting a handful of plot points confused with Armageddon. It’s a disaster of wonderful proportion and, quite simply, a blunderous marvel to behold.
Director Paul WS Anderson‘s chutzpah is a blunted sword that he wields like it’s Excalibur, hacking through logic like Theon Greyjoy taking off Sir Rodrick’s head. (If that one went over your head, let’s just say it’s a mess.) There’s nothing necessarily redeeming about the self-serious way the material is approached except the beautiful irony of it all. It’s the perfect storm of narrative retardation unaware of the extent of its disability. At least the poor thing isn’t sentient enough to know it’s severe limitations. Rather than bring it out to pasture though, we’re stuck playing the schoolyard bullies who circle and laugh. At least pointing and mocking here is acceptable.
No one deserves our disapproving derision more than swooning stars Emily Browning and Kit Harrington who make use of their screen time ogling one another; eye fucking like its Jr. Prom all over again. Doe-eyed and bitterly boring, each takes their acting lessons from the book of Stares and Glares 101. Their chemistry is always overshadowed by the mountain in the distance, a spark to the raging conflagrations surrounding them. Their romance, a dog shit hue of puppy love.
Certifiable shame that it is, Harrington can’t survive outside the confines of Game of Thrones, a magical realm where he’s nothing short of awkwardly charming. Armed with a sword and shambling in sandals, Harrington’s Milo is the gladiator’s version of rebel without a cause. “Are you not entertained?” his character plagiarizes, but with the snarky attitude of a hipster teen. No John Snow, we’re not. Stick to your side of the Fire and Ice equation. No matter what ridiculous number of abdomen muscles you’ve packed on, things just work out better when you’re buried in furs and adventuring in a perma-snowstorm.
Browning on the other hand is all kinds of bad news bears. She’s supposed to be brave and rebellious as Cassia but comes off as a little girl playing princess. She’s a vacuum of talent, a worm hole of thespianism, a black thumb for film. Does everything she touches wilt into a bouquet of poison oak or does she just have an agent with a grudge against her? Seriously, the girl hasn’t touched a good project with a ten foot pole and Pompeii is no exception. Seeing her on the receiving end of a half-dozen bitch slaps is as magical as things get.
Dishing out those slaps is Kiefer Sutherland‘s General Corvus, a poorly acted douche of a man who we meet at the top of the story slicin’ and dicin’ through Milo mum’s windpipe who later, quite conveniently, stews a bit of a rapey crush on Cassia. Apparently suffering from a knack of amnesia, Anderson forget to include the bit where Corvus stumbles across the fountain of youth. How else can you explain the fact that Corvus hasn’t aged a day in 17 years? There’s no way the people making this behemoth could have just forgotten a detail like that. RIGHT?!!
Then again, the script does seem like the result of a late night session the writers spent with a bong, a bag of Doritos and a Gladiator DVD. Seriously, there are lengthy scenes airlifted directly from Gladiator. It’s one thing to homage and another entirely to play something off as your own work. Let me give you a particularly face-palming example: During a prominent gladiator showcase, the slavemaster attempts to recreate a Roman massacre from recent past where a slew of barbarians were slaughtered like caged chickens. Milo and friends are primed for the pointy end of a skewering stick, but wait! the enslaved gladiators band together to overcome momentous odds, defying the will of their superiors and winning the goodwill of the people. Sound familiar? I guess at the very least, they’re ripping off some solid stuff.
The only other character of note, Atticus, is also the one we’re left pining for more time with. As a African gladiator brute, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is immensely watchable and the easy star of the show. His is the only character we don’t want swallowed up by a wall of lava, the only one we’re hoping won’t be sworded to death. Spoiler: both happen.
Throughout the affairs, Mr. Anderson doesn’t ever let us forget that there’s a volcano involved and with CG technology what it is now, Mt. Vesuvius is clearly a main character (or at least the one we’re supposed to pay the most attention to). It must feel robbed then that it didn’t even get an IMDB billing. If CG characters were eligible for a share of their awards gold, old ‘Suv’ would be a clear early frontrunner.
Watching the computer generated Mt. Vesuvius blow is destruction porn at its most bukakesque. Gobs of moltenus rock spew from the hot top like a 12-year old Paul WS Anderson discovering his manhood. If this is his take on a pissing contest, he proudly strikes a pose and demeans your fifth grade science experience. Baking soda and vinegar ought to be ashamed.
Writer team Janet Scott Batchler (Batman Forever), Lee Batchler (Batman Forever) and Michael Robert Scott (Sherlock Holmes) are the lack of brains behind Anderson’s unwieldy brawn, the Tonto to his rebooted Lone Ranger, the brain dead Himmler to his logic-genociding Hitler. Theirs is the glory of this spirited romp through seven levels of screenwriting purgatory. “King logos is dead, long live computer graphics!” they collectively chant. Together, they have ushered in a nuclear meltdown of a story, ineffaceably half-witted and boldly dopey.
A hotpot of narrative no-no’s hyped up on its own garishness and blinded by the Hot Pocket consumerism driving the thing, Pompeii is a disaster of a disaster movie in the best of ways. The cart is miles before the horse as this movie is no more than an excuse to see a volcano go boom-boom. Like a toddler experimenting with an Easy Bake Oven, Pompeii is majorly overcooked, a hot mess of epic proportion. But Anderson’s is the rare and wonderful movie that transcends the expression “it’s so bad, it’s good”. It’s literally a masterclass on the topic. One could write a thesis on how Pompeii proves Paul WS Anderson is the new Ed Wood and likely walk away with a honors degree. Simply put, I loved and hated it in equal measure. It was so dumb that I applauded.