FS, Contributing Writer
Neither history nor volcanology matters much to the makers of “Pompeii” (wide release), a silly CGI extravaganza that posits a “Titanic”-inspired romance between a beefy but sensitive young gladiator and a strong-willed girl who’s a member of the Neapolitan aristocracy against the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
There’s also a sneering Roman villain, a senator who wiped out the boy’s entire tribe in Britain years before and now lusts after the girl himself. It’s inevitable that the two suitors will face off in a final swordfight while burning rock, molten lava and flaming ash cascade down around them.
The picture also manages to shoehorn bits and pieces of other movies into its narrative. There’s plenty of “Spartacus” in the gladiatorial material, and the burps and belches of the volcano in its pre-eruption phase play the same role here that the glimpses of the shark’s fin did in the early reels of “Jaws.” A plot thread that shows the gladiator as a master at calming frightened steeds even adds a dash of “The Horse Whisperer” to this weird mix.
But as outlandish as “Pompeii” is, it delivers down the home stretch, offering some impressive special-effects work as debris rains down upon the unfortunate city and a myriad of people die histrionically — not only bad guys who are getting their due, but also heroic figures.
There’s no way you could call the result a remotely good film, but if you’re in the right frame of mind, it can be a giddily enjoyable exercise in wretched excess — so long as you’re willing to leave your brain in the atrium and plunk down the extra bucks for an IMAX 3-D screening. And for UDers who have actually visited the ruins during the Rome semester, it might just be irresistible.
Emile Zola’s “Thérèse Raquin” shocked readers when it appeared in 1867. The story of a wife trapped in a loveless marriage who conspires with a lover to kill her husband represented the sort of material not openly discussed in polite society. The public’s horror was amplified by the tale’s subplot, in which the woman’s mother-in-law struggled against paralysis to reveal what they had done to the world. Of course, guilt weighed heavily on the perpetrators and eventually destroyed their relationship all by itself.
Zola’s narrative no longer carries the emotional punch it once it — indeed, it’s become a virtual staple of crime fiction, especially of the noir variety (just think of “Double Indemnity”).
But Charlie Stratton’s adaptation of it, released under the bland title “In Secret” (wide release), has its virtues, most notably, a grandly overwrought performance by Jessica Lange as Madame Raquin, the incapacitated old woman determined to avenge her son’s murder. The period detail is also nicely realized, and the color-drained cinematography gives the picture an appropriately gloomy atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth Olsen as Thérèse is no more than adequate, giving a wide-eyed, one-note turn that keeps the viewer at a distance. And while Tom Felton is convincingly nerdy as her husband, Oscar Isaac is just airily handsome as her partner in crime.
Ultimately, “In Secret” ends up as a decent but unexceptional Masterpiece Theatre clone.
“3 Days to Kill”
In making a picture with Luc Besson, the French writer-producer behind Liam Neeson’s “Taken” movies, Kevin Costner is apparently attempting a career comeback. But “3 Days to Kill” (wide release) is more likely to doom any chance for his rehabilitation as a leading man. Costner plays an
aging, terminally ill CIA hitman who retires to spend his remaining time reconnecting with his ex-wife and estranged teen daughter in Paris. But he’s dragged back into his old business when a vampish young agent promises him a potentially life-saving drug if he’ll help her to terminate two terrible terrorists called the Albino and the Wolf.
So Costner is forced to juggle his personal and professional duties, and we’re forced to watch. The result is a tonally jagged, emotionally incoherent film that’s part bad action flick, part insipid domestic drama and part ghoulish comedy.
At one point, Costner recites an apologetic line of dialogue: “I’ve done a lot of terrible things.” If so, “3 Days to Kill” proves it.