Cinema Review: Pompeii

1231429 - Pompeii

DIR: Paul W.S. Anderson • WRI:Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Michael Robert Johnson   PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Don Carmody, Robert Kulzer, Martin Moszkowicz • DOP: Glen MacPherson • ED: Michele Conroy • MUS: Clinton Shorter • DES: Paul D. Austerberry • CAST: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland

As the film opens and the ash begins to fall delicately before our eyes, you can’t help but wonder – are they just picking settings for films that feature snow or snow-like substances so they can slap 3D onto it to convince the lowest-common-denominator audiences that their over-priced 3D ticket was money well-spent? Anyway…

Kit “You know nothing, Jon Snow” Harington is our hero, Milo, a Celt who witnessed the massacre of his people at the hands of the Roman Empire as a child. Hiding in a pile of bodies, Milo manages to escape death until he is caught and sold into slavery where he becomes a fan-favourite at the local gladiatorial games and is thus moved to Pompeii’s much more extravagant games. En route he briefly meets Cassia (Browning), a local aristocrat and all around free-spirit who won’t be shackled by class divisions and etiquette etc. Naturally, it’s love at first site for both of them and we begin a story or romance, intrigue, politics and revenge. Oh and the film cuts to a shot of the rumbling volcano about once every ten minutes or so remind everyone to not worry, act three will absolutely feature explosions.

On the face of it, it’s a fun conceit for a movie; what if Romeo and Juliet happened during the destruction of Pompeii? And also Gladiator was simultaneously happening. Now imagine such a film being made by someone like Paul W.S. Anderson. The mental image of a perfunctory, bland, occasionally schlocky affair that you’re having is pretty much spot on. Speaking of the Gladiator aspect, there is a certain morbid amusement in seeing a film that’s simultaneously trying to rip off both 300 and Game of Thrones but without the age-rating to pull off the almost operatic levels of violence and brutality from either. Never has there been a film with so many bloodless throat-slits and literally gutless eviscerations.

Probably the best that can be said is that the film isn’t as boring as it could have been. It’s got a surprisingly short running time and shambles along at a pretty swift pace. Since the last act of the film has to be nothing but explosions and Michael Bay-lite “phwoar-destruction”, it means the lifelessly generic character arcs get truncated to fit into, and be concluded by, the end of act two. This means there’s a decent ratio of sub-par, but not unentertaining, action scenes to lifeless melodrama sequences. Given that the whole film is marking time until the volcano can explode, neither of these aspects ever get a chance to outstay their welcome and become truly unbearable. It has to be stressed though, the film isn’t strictly speaking bad, just quite bland with the occasional moment of interest/weirdness. To those familiar with the oeuvre of the, ahem, esteemed director Paul W.S. Anderson, “bland with occasional weirdness” describes ninety percent of his previous work but here the weirdness is too few and far between.

The main problem is that for the first time since maybe Event Horizon, Anderson seems to be trying to make an actual movie and not just a thinly veiled excuse to indulge himself in ludicrous adolescent fantasies, mainly starring his wife (see: The Three Musketeers 2011 and the entire Resident Evil series, or the “Check Out My Ridiculously Hot Wife” franchise as some on the internet have affectionately dubbed it.) This may sound like a step forward but Anderson just isn’t a very interesting or note-worthy director (there’s one really nice shot of a tree with bodies hanging from it. That’s it, that’s the best to be said of his directing talents in this film. Well that and the inclusion of JJ Abrams-esque lens-flare in literally one shot of the entire movie, which, given the lack of any artificial light sources existing in this setting, makes so little sense that… you know what, nevermind.) At least with something like the Resident Evil films, especially the last two, the balls-out nonsense of the whole affair tended to reach a crescendo of such awful-schlock that it came right back around to being hugely entertaining again. One can’t help but wonder if he’d included Milla Jovovich in Pompeii, complete with her trademark slow-motion high-kicks, could it have saved this film the way she has the entire Resident Evil series.

Now that’s not to say Pompeii is completely devoid of amusing oddness, just that there’s disappointingly little of it. The most recurrent example however is Kiefer Sutherland, an actor you’d be forgiven for forgetting even existed, as the villainous Roman senator who both murdered our protagonist’s family and is trying to steal his love-interest. He’s completely dreadful, but dreadful in such a specific way that he ends up stealing every scene he’s in due to being so distracting. The best way of describing it is that he appears to be attempting a Jeremy Irons impression the entire way through and failing miserably. It’s an absolute joy to watch. Also amusing is whenever a big scene comes along that involves him shouting and basically turning back into the gruff, action-hero he’s known for playing, his voice just becomes Kiefer Sutherland again. Dreadful, but funny. Aside from that, there’s a couple of moments of attempted macho-ness that are adorably camp, the big pre-volcano final battle in the arena gets close to the levels of enjoyably over-the-top action Anderson has become known for and the film ends on a note of such astoundingly high melodrama that you can’t help leaving the film having a little chuckle.

To the film’s credit, one aspect it did try very hard in was historical accuracy. They apparently spent quite a lot of time mapping the layout of the city correctly and to anyone who knows their classical architecture, there’s a commendable level of attention to detail. With the exception of the costume design, there’s been very little sexing up of the setting to appeal to modern audiences which means the gladiatorial games come complete with all the goofy pageantry. And then the volcano erupts and they break the one rule of making a film about Pompeii, they utterly obliterate it. Never mind that the film is bookended with shots of the ash-preserved victims, they nonetheless leave very little to be preserved in the name of satisfying modern audiences’ demand for disaster porn.

Despite Anderson clearly trying to make a legitimate go of this, it still comes off as cynical and box-checking. The dialogue is stiff and clichéd. Fun actors like Jared Harris and Carrie-Ann Moss are given nothing to do and hardly any screen time until the movie gets bored and drops them. Everyone else’s performances are disinterested and lifeless. And, now this is a bit nit-picky, the sound-design is so weightless, especially in fight scenes. Everything sounds like a canned sound-clip that comes as part of a basic package with the editing software. But yes, once the volcano blows there’s some nice destruction, some delightfully absurd/over-the-top sequences and the CGI is genuinely quite good.

So on the whole what you’ve got is a decent final twenty minutes, a couple of good fights scenes and a mesmerically horrendous Kiefer Sutherland. No, no one is going to remember this film even existed in three months’ time but while it’s there onscreen… It could have been worse.

Richard Drumm

12A (See IFCO for details)
104 mins

Pompeii is released on 2nd May 2014

Pompeii– Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Three Musketeers

All for one... you first

DIR: Paul W.S. Anderson • WRI: Alex Litvak, Andrew Davies • PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Robert Kulzer • ED: Alexander Berner • DOP: Glen MacPherson • DES: Paul D. Austerberry • CAST: Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen, Milla Jovovich, Logan Lerman

Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers is daft. This shouldn’t come as any great revelation however. If you’d encountered any promotional material or even noticed the name Paul W.S. Anderson in the previous sentence, you already knew that. And rest assured there will be a plethora of reviews criticizing it for being too daft, too incoherent and too irreverent toward the classic tale.

But heed not their critiques. If anything, The Three Musketeers, by all accounts, should have been a damn sight dafter! I’m not suggesting Muskehounds, though they couldn’t hurt… Don’t mistake me. This is perhaps the best 110 minutes Anderson has directed in the past 15 years, a powder keg of inventive sets, off-kilter humour, and plentiful B-grade action. That’s no criticism, the swashbuckling is generously shot, clear long takes prevailing and sprinkled with ample invention and stuntwork.

It’s ‘trés bonne’, as the Musketeers would say. If they spoke French. Which they assuredly do not. And that’s without even addressing the utterly preposterous 17th century Zeppelins brawling in the skies above Paris. Which, and this point is worth labouring, is utterly preposterous!

In seeming contradiction with the former paragraphs, you’re still left with the impression Mr Anderson was needlessly restrained. Longer, more plentiful swordfights would benefit everyone, while the set pieces lacked just that dash more bombast. Meanwhile the film’s mirth could have been easily corrected by taking James Cordon and kicking him into the Seine!

Unfortunately the cast seems confused as to the film’s tone. Ray Stevenson (Porthos) and Luke Evans (Aramis) are given precious little to do, besides chop and punch extras while Matthew ‘I can’t believe it’s not Clive Owen’ MacFadyen provides a convincing performances as the jilted Athos in an otherwise intentionally unconvincing role.

The pitch is not helped as Milla Jovovich (Milady… yes, Milady) hams it up in what can only be an intentionally derisive effort, Christoph Waltz plays a cardinal, and is less entertaining than that sounds, and Orlando Bloom, instantaneously forgettable as the Duke of Buckingham, proves why he’s not a bigger star.

But an unsteady tone is easily forgiven when it fluctuates between the comical and the absurd. The Three Musketeers would have improved if left to this chaotic dynamic. However, the presence of Logan Lerman’s D’Artagnan tends to sully the proceedings with mush, spouting tired clichés about ‘being yourself’, ‘making mistakes’ and ‘being in love.’

No one really cares Dogtanian! People parted with hard won cash to watch the clashing of steel against the backdrop of exploding…, well, everything. Why else would you see a Paul W.S. Anderson film?!

Unwanted mush and moderation aside, The Three Musketeers is a more amusing, more exhilarating romp than half the overly-solemn crap released this past summer. And despite what anyone might say regarding narrative, characterisation and pacing, this film features a blimp getting stabbed by a church steeple!

It’s fun. It’s humorous. It’s daft. So why not?

Jack McGlynn

Rated 12A(see IFCO website for details)
The Three Musketeers is released on 12th October 2011

The Three Musketeers – Official Website

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Resident Evil: Afterlife

Resident Evil: Afterlife

DIR/ WRI: Paul W.S. Anderson • PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Don Carmody, Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Robert Kulzer • DOP: Glen MacPherson • ED: Niven Howie • DES: Arvinder Grewal • CAST: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates

Resident Evil: Afterlife is the fourth installment of the hugely successful Resident Evil franchise. Alice loses her superpowers in the beginning when she comes face to face with her arch-nemesis, Albert Wesker, for the first time in the series. After the showdown in Tokyo, Alice searches for any remaining survivors in a world ravaged by the T-Virus. She finds a group of survivors trying to get to the safe haven Arcadia. They have to find a safe way to escape the prison they are hiding in that’s surrounded by the Undead, that all the while are chipping their way through the buildings defenses. Once they reach Arcadia, Alice faces Wesker in a final battle.

This film wastes no time in getting to the action. Zombie attacks, explosions, running and fighting are kept at a steady pace throughout the film. It really feels like you’re watching a videogame, mainly due to Alice’s never ending supply of bullets. The action scenes aren’t overly clever or mind blowing but they looked good and were well staged. The interesting camerawork, 3D and visual effects really made the action scenes exciting. Shots of zombies instantly standing behind someone would have felt like a cheap thrill in most movies, but this one pulled it off well because these zombies aren’t just drooling and staggering about the place, they’re clever, determined, mutated super zombies.

There isn’ta strong plot to this movie at all but there are interesting steady developments to the overall Resident Evil story throughout that will keep your attention. You know that the extra characters are introduced just to be killed, but what’s wrong with that. This film  isn’t concerned with Oscar®-worthy performances, the story or even clever dialogue – just entertainment. This movie delivers everything you expect and want. The ending leaves it open for Alice to continue her battle with the evil Umbrella Corporation in a potential Resident Evil 5, which was good news for me since Afterlife left me wanting some more!

Leah Yeung

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Resident Evil: Afterlife
is released on 10th September 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife Official Website

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Death Race

Deathrace
Deathrace

DIR/WRI: Paul W.S. Anderson • PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Roger Corman, Paula Wagner • DOP: Scott Kevan • ED: Niven Howie • DES: Paul Denham Austerberry • CAST: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane

In the grip of massive depression unemployment is snowballing, the global economic system is in free-fall and the prisons are full to bursting. At breakneck speeds, drug-dealing maniacs toting machine guns make Swiss cheese of each other in high-powered car chases. No, this isn’t Dublin’s M50 on any given Saturday night: welcome to ‘hyper-reality’, welcome to Deathrace.

Jason Statham (The Bank Job, Snatch, Lock Stock…) ‘brings it on’ as lead character Jenson Ames, who – somewhat unoriginally – finds himself as ‘a good man framed for a murder he didn’t commit’, in a remake of the 1975 Roger Corman-produced cult classic Deathrace 2000. The 2008 version lacks the agoraphobic desolation of the original transcontinental races, based as it is in an industrial-style Alcatraz ominously named ‘Terminal Island’. However, Statham pumps up the testosterone to volume twelve as Ames, and bounds onto our screens, full of menacing attitude and rippling biceps. Let’s hope he can save this flick from being a cliché-infused Gubeen cheese-fest. The by now caged Ames is immediately recruited by sexy, sub-zero prison governess Ms Hennessy (Joan Allen). She demands he pose as their star driver Frankenstein (now deceased) in the next three races before a global audience of billions. Oh yes, there’s one more thing… Hennessy delivers a hammer blow: should Ames win by slaughtering all other competitors – his release papers are signed. The other option: being left for roadkill. Ames reaction to the governess is an absolute classic – ‘You wanted a monster, now you’ve got one.’

Ian McShane makes a welcome appearance as ‘Chief’, a kind of prison-fixer crossed with a Pimp My Ride mechanic, either way he’s as dodgy as a Picasso without provenance. I would have liked to have seen his character developed more by English director Paul W.S. Anderson (Shopping, Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil). Anderson’s fast-cut/high-action stuff is perfect for this type of grown up boy-racer movie and his specialization in cinematography that draws the worlds of the silver screen and plug-and-play video games ever closer is highly marketable. So might I predict a version of Deathrace for PS3 and Xbox on the shelves for Christmas?

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