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Film Review: Pompeii

Pompeii takes the best action and what have become Roman-period clichés and mixes them in with a good dose of destruction for good measure.

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I have only ever seen one of the films Paul W.S. Anderson directed before Pompeii, 1997’s Event Horizon. It’s probably his most critically well-received work, but that’s not saying much, and some would regard me as lucky to have missed out on the perceived dross of Mortal KombatAVP: Alien vs. Predator and Resident Evil and its various sequels.

While critically-derided, Anderson’s films still appeal to a certain mainstream audience and often make their money back. While I believe audiences deserve and now look for more in their blockbusters, in the current movie environment you can see why people keep giving Anderson money to make film: his movies aren’t challenging, are easy to market, middle-of-the-road stuff; they’ll make a bit of money and few waves – mindless vanilla. Anderson’s done the same again with Pompeii – it’s not terrible, but it’s not good. In the end the most damming quality is its mediocrity – better to try and fail than just aim for safety.

Pompeii takes the best action and what have become Roman-period clichés and mixes them in with a good dose of destruction for good measure. It’s like a B-Movie version of Gladiator directed by Roland Emmerich. In fact it’s extremely similar to Gladiator for most of its first half – we get a hero (Kit Harington as Milo) whose family is killed, is left for dead and swears revenge. He becomes a slave, then a gladiator (named ‘The Celt’ rather than ‘The Spaniard’), and is taken from the provinces to Italy to be shown off by his new master. Here he befriends a black fellow gladiator, leads men to victory against the odds in an arena battle meant to kill him, and challenges the might of Rome represented by the man who ordered his family’s deaths (in this case Kiefer Sutherland as a former general turned Senator rather than the Emperor himself in Gladiator). Senator Corvos’s plan to kill Milo (who’s loved by the crowd) is however interrupted by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and it becomes a disaster survival movie. Along with these glaring similarities you get a healthy measure of poor, obvious or clichéd scripting – the ‘savage’ with a heart of gold who falls in love with his better, or lines like “you came back for me” and “you killed my family”.

All of this has the effect of making you remember how you enjoyed Gladiator and wished you were watching it instead. It’s very strange that they chose this as the story to tell. Clearly they wanted to make a movie that involved the eruption of Vesuvius, but they could have done anything, made any original or interesting story, but they didn’t, they cobbled something together from other parts. There’s not even any reasoning in the story itself, like the slaves being taken from Londinium to Pompeii to fight for no reason, the town just crowbarred in.

It’s a shame really because there’s talent in the cast that they could have done something with. I’m still undecided on the merits of Kit Harington but he brings a lot of good will with him from Game of Thrones. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje brings heart to his role of fellow gladiator Atticus, but Emily Browning is reduced to a helpless heroine and Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss are completely underused as her parents. They’re given little to work with thanks to a poor, cliché-ridden script. Tropes can be indulged knowingly and a film still feel fresh and exciting, but that’s not the case here. Kiefer Sutherland is the one who’s given too much screen time, the role of villain Corvos one he never convinces in, while struggling with an accent that often makes him sound as if he has a mouth full of marbles.

Anderson’s direction is fine, just by-the-numbers, but the 3D is completely unnecessary, only serving to make the fight sequences harder to see and to allow the occasional flaming ball of rock to fly at the screen. What saves the film just the one star of complete indifference is the ending. It’s certainly not one I would have expected from Anderson and not one you would assume from this type of film. However, it merely makes the rest of the movie’s dull conventionality stand out all the more.

POMPEII
Starring: Kit Harington, Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Harris, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Released by: Icon Films
Runtime: 104 mins

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Film Reviews

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers

Save the world, save the girl?

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Spider-Man

Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.

You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.

The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.

However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes

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Film Review: Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.

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Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.

There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.

Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.

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