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POMPEII

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POMPEII

Evilspeak

This cheesy horror-thriller was made in 1981, five years after Brian De Palma's landmark supernatural revenge movie Carrie, but very much in step with that film's template.

The bad news: Instead of a mesmerizing Sissy Spacek in the lead role, we get former Gentle Ben second banana Clint Howard. Frankly, the most terrifying context in which we could ever visualize young Clint Howard is to have him appear at your door to take your daughter to the prom.

Howard plays Stanley Coopersmith, an orphaned cadet at a military academy whom both students and faculty use as an all-purpose scapegoat/whipping boy. It is Stanley who uncovers a secret chamber in the academy's chapel where an exiled 16th-century priest named Father Esteban (Richard Moll) carried out his satanic rites. The enterprising lad figures out how to tap into Esteban's unholy power utilizing a Commodore 64-esque home computer, no small achievement. (You'd think the task of demon revival would at least require a 128-bit operating system.)

The movie's revenge payoff involves a herd of devil pigs. That makes for one of the more unusual gratuitous shower-murder scenes in film history.

The new Blu-ray release from Shout Factory restores some of the gruesome violence excised from the film in 1981 to avoid an X rating. That's difficult to believe, given that most of that violence is done to obviously rubber heads and torsos -- although credit must given to an outstanding warthog puppet. 1-1/2


The Monuments Men

If men and women are willing to die for their country, it follows that some men and women might be willing to die -- or at least put themselves in harm's way -- for the sake of their culture.

From that notion, George Clooney presents an unsung chapter of the Second World War, detailing the heroics of a group of art experts assembled by President Roosevelt to find great works stolen by the Nazis, or to protect art and architecture from the devastation wrought by either side of the conflict.

Clooney directed and co-wrote the screenplay and also stars as Frank Stokes, an American art academic whose concern for important cultural artefacts compelled him to put on a uniform.

In a realm where everybody talks the talk, Stokes assembles some unlikely men willing to walk the walk when it comes to protecting precious art from the voracious grasp of Hitler's minions. (The Artsy Dozen? A Few Good Nerds?) They include Bill Murray as a sardonic New York architect, Bob Balaban as an art expert chafing under the indignity of being ranked "private" and John Goodman as a guy who looks like he might be more at home managing a brewery than scrutinizing a Brueghel. Matt Damon shows up to wring information from a recalcitrant Frenchwoman (Cate Blanchett) who may know the destination of a cache of art purloined from a host of Parisian private collections.

Clooney is obliged to acknowledge that this wasn't entirely an American project and so he also gives us Jean Dujardin as a French enlistee and Hugh Bonneville as a disgraced British aristocrat looking for redemption.

It all carries the promise of a rousing historic adventure. It doesn't quite deliver that, however. The screenplay feels a few drafts short of completion. It is too scattered to get any real momentum to deliver its simplistic message: Art is good. 2-1/2

 

Pompeii

This formulaic romance/gladiator/disaster movie from Brit director Paul W.S. Anderson (of the Resident Evil franchise) is a Gladiator-meets-Titanic contrivance. It's low on substance even as it strives to combine a star-crossed romance, gladiatorial combat and fiery apocalyptic disaster.

Milo (Kit Harington of Game of Thrones) is a Celt who, as a lad, witnessed the death of his tribe at the hands of sadistic, marauding Roman general Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). Years later, he has channelled his rage into gladiatorial skill, which brings him to Pompeii coincident with the homecoming of Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of a senator now returning from a fretful stay in Rome.

In this movie's notion of "meeting cute," Cassia's heart is set aflutter when Milo steps up from a throng of slaves to kill her crippled horse with his bare hands.

Cassia is told to make nice with the lecherous visiting General Corvus, the very reason she left Rome in the first place. Sparks fly between the slave Milo and the winsome Cassia. Deadlier sparks are emanating from Mount Vesuvius, which is ominously rattling the pottery in Pompeii prior to what we know will be a devastating event.

Anderson and his sundry screenwriters employ the volcano as a deus ex machina that doesn't necessarily favour its heroes. For a movie that borrows heavily from past Hollywood films -- an arena battle re-enactment is lifted straight out of Gladiator -- the movie manages to avert a Hollywood ending.

But Anderson is not so nimble when it comes to avoiding sentimentality and bad performances, especially from Sutherland, who delivers Corvus's Black Bart dialogue in an English accent to underline his contempt for all things decent. 2 stars

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2014 C12

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