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“Pompeii”: Lava or Leave It?

February 23, 2014
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Bruce Fretts: Pompeii, Rome… it’s all Greek to me. So I asked my friend, historical (and hysterical) novelist Nancy Bilyeau, to help me review the new ancient epic Pompeii. So, Nancy, was it lava at first sight?
Nancy Bilyeau: This film should have been a Nancy Bilyeau trifecta: Swords and sandals, disaster plot and an actor from my beloved series Game of Thrones. But I am sad to say that this was like a Swords & Sandals Movie for Dummies.
Bruce: I stopped watching Game of Thrones midway through Season 2. Is Kit Harington, who plays the lead role of rebellious slave Milo in Pompeii, still alive on that show? Or was he one of the casualties of the Red Wedding?
DF-08754-1-jpg_211121Nancy: He is alive and ready to defend The Wall, which is on the northern boundary of the Seven Kingdoms. The thing you need to know about the North and the Wall is that is is really really cold. Like New York City this winter. So Kit wore a lot of furs and heavy uniforms. In this film he shows off his six pack abs worthy of the cover of Men’s Health. His character is Jon Snow, always brooding. In this film he kept brooding but he was nearly naked.
Bruce: I could’ve used a little more female flesh, myself. Especially in 3D. I was disappointed that this film was PG-13. I wanted to see naked 3-D boobs like in the new 300 movie.
Nancy:  This film borrowed heavily from Gladiator and Spartacus, and I think it would have benefited from being sexier too. I never thought I’d live to agree with Bruce Fretts that more boobs are needed.
Bruce: Did you see it in 3D?
Nancy: I did. The lava spewed at me and that was faintly cool.
Bruce: It wasn’t worth the extra charge for the 3D because they only really used it once the volcano erupted, which doesn’t happen until nearly 90 minutes into the film. I was bored for most of the time up until then.
156dd98e-ae2d-4b5b-9d35-f3a5c5b16af2_DF_06226xNancy: Kiefer Sutherland didn’t entertain you with his attempt to play a debauched patrician of Rome?
Bruce: He was entertainingly awful. What kind of accent was he attempting? Everyone sounded vaguely English, even the people who were actually English, like Jared Harris, who plays the father of Emily Browning, Harington’s love interest.
Nancy: Jared Harris was the most miscast in a movie full of miscast actors. He is a great bad guy. He should have been beheading people, not negotiating for a building contract.
Bruce: He should’ve played Kiefer’s role. And Kiefer should stick to playing Jack Bauer.
Nancy: Yes. This sort of part simply has to go to a British actor who went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and needs the paycheck to snarl through a big dumb popcorn movie. When Kiefer yelled at Emily Browning, “You bitch!” it was just agony. How about the fact that Kiefer and his sidekick Roman commander can fight hand to hand combat just as ferociously as gladiators half their age?? The baby boomer in me says right on, but … nope.
005db681-c6e0-4660-a4db-aa9ef03b15c7_DF-04813_rBruce: I wanted a different kind of action. The romance between Kit and Emily Browning was way too chaste. They don’t even share a smooch until the very end, when they’re about to be–SPOILER ALERT–engulfed in molten lava. I did laugh when they showed the two of them liplocked for eternity and encased in gray ash. I wanted to yell at the screen, “Kiss my ash!”
Nancy: It was campy fun when they got turned on by each other after Kit snapped a horse’s neck for her. I laughed though I was not supposed to.
Bruce: That was as kinky as it got. It was surprisingly tame for a film by Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson). Usually he casts his wife, Milla Jovovich, in some kind of sexy role, either as a leather-clad zombie killer in the Resident Evil movies or as a villainess with swelling cleavage in his terrible update of Three Musketeers a few years ago. But he couldn’t even find a role for her!
Nancy: Actually I was intrigued when the credits said it was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and for a second I got confused and thought this meant Wes Anderson and that Jason Schwartzman was about to appear in a toga and talk about his day.
Bruce: That would’ve been more entertaining!
30bd05ee-c7b7-4bd8-8fff-116d8965603f_DF_07722_rv2Nancy:  I don’t know if you are aware how much the black gladiator best friend was a ripoff of Woody Strode in Spartacus and Djimon Hounsou in Gladiator. I thought Kit liked being in the prison cell with him a lot better than mooning after Emily Browning. That would have been a more interesting movie too.
Bruce: I hadn’t made that connection, but I did get a kick out of seeing Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje behind bars again all these years after he played Adebisi on one of my favorite HBO shows, Oz. Their bromance was much stronger than his wan courtship of Browning.
Nancy: We’ve come up with two better movies: Jason Schwartzman in the arena or a gay gladiator flick.
Bruce: Aren’t all gladiator flicks by definition gay?
Nancy: Well in reality the rich married women of Rome would pay a lot to have a gladiator brought to their villas on the sly. That is from history.
Bruce: They did allude to that in one scene where a woman paid to inspect Agbaje’s “weapon.” But the actual inspection must’ve ended up on the cutting room floor.
Nancy: Now are you ready to read some Suetonius?
Bruce: Gesundheit!
Nancy: The real Rome was pretty kinky. You’d have loved Messalina, for example. She would show everyone her boobs for sure.
Bruce: (Googling Messalina now). I liked the quote they opened with about how “children were crying, women were screaming and men were shouting” in Pompeii. The same thing happened in the theater where I saw it. Actually there were only three other people in the theater where I saw it. One for each dimension, I guess.
Nancy: It was silent in my theatre except for the older man who slept through 75 percent of it down the aisle from me. He snored and snored.
Bruce: Was it my fellow Cranky Guy Bret Watson?
Nancy:  Bret would have liked the Pliny quote in the beginning, and then rapidly downhill. I think he would have thrown popcorn at Kiefer Sutherland. When he said to Emily, “I will break you and you will stay broken!” it was just sort of embarrassing.
Bruce: I was embarrassed for him throughout his entire performance. I hope he was drunk on the set, because I don’t know how else he could’ve gotten through it. The movie wasn’t even bad enough to be so-bad-it’s good. It was just a snooze. I wish I’d taken a nap like the guy in your theater.
Nancy: He clocked some serious shut-eye. I did see the trailer for the 300 sequel and I saw the campy over-the-top delight you need in sword & sandals flicks.

Bruce: I caught an advance screening because I’m doing a story about it for your magazine DuJour and it delivers. It’s gay as hell and has naked 3D boobs. What more do you need in a movie?
Nancy: Is there at least one pretentious speech delivered in an English accent about Freedom or Sacrifice so I can justify fully my ticket?
Bruce: Oh yeah, Sullivan Stapleton has a great pre-battle speech that will be played at every sporting event from here to eternity.
Nancy: I AM SO THERE!
 
Nancy Bilyeau is the author of two historical novels, The Crown and The Chalice.
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