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MAY 20TH, 2014

POMPEII // Mount Vesuvius is the star of “Pompeii” and it never lets you forget it. Always looming in the background, the history of the volcano is quite exceptional, and allows us to recognize that it is a ticking time bomb in the film, ready to take out the entire city of Pompeii when it finally erupts and encasing the inhabitants of the city as stone-like fixtures for the rest of time. Taking a fictional approach to the tale in “Pompeii”, the volcano’s co-stars include Kit Harrington (“Game Of Thrones”) playing a gladiator opposite Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Lost”) and Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch”) Cassia, a princess looking to avoid marrying the sleazy politician Corvus, played by Kiefer Sutherland (“24”). Jared Harris (“Mad Men”, “Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows”) and Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix”) play her parents. As the drama unfolds in the arena and in the eventual love triangle, the volcano overshadows any and all progressions to the story that take place, with the lore of Pompeii being that no one made it out alive. Of course, the film could take creative license and for that reveal, I will leave you to see the film.

As with most gladiator films, our leading roles seek freedom and eventually ban together in attempt to capture that freedom. When the bomb that is Mount Vesuvius finally goes off, this period piece becomes a disaster film as the entire city looks to find refuge from the ash and magma. Pompeii is one of the most unforgettable events in human history and one that I find most endearing. There is something intimate and awe-inspiring about being able to see these solidified corpses in the same positions that they were in when they died, statues of an era long past. That being said, I held the idea of “Pompeii” in an already high regard that even the missteps transpired by the film landed somewhat effectively for me. On top of that notion, I also find Emily Browning to be an immense talent on screen, delivering unique performances no matter the role. And with this film offering very little star power, she is allowed to make it her own.

Never coming off like one of the director’s previous films, “Pompeii” is a huge step away from Paul W.S. Anderson’s normal fare in the “Resident Evil” franchise. The visual effects are expertly handled, allowing for this otherwise mediocre film to rise above and become something special, especially in a theater setting with impressive sound systems and the grandeur needed to pull off the overbearing volcano. This can likely be attributed to the growing visual effects nature of Anderson’s previous work. As far as disaster films go, “Pompeii” is set apart not only by being a period piece gladiator film but also by containing that volcanic destruction that is not often seen in films, save for “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano”. As cheesy as it could be, the film pulls off the serious nature that it strives for and, again, most of that lands on the young and nubile cast. Definitely not in line to win any awards and not quite reaching the potential that it has on paper, “Pompeii” is still a great way to bring this wonder of an event to the big screen, with an embellished love story to give the film some weight. The biggest opportunity missed by the film-makers was not including the pop song “Pompeii” by Bastille in the end credits.

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GRAND PIANO // Elijah Wood is not a piano playing prodigy. But from the looks of director Eugenio Mira’s new feature film “Grand Piano”, he looks exactly like he has been playing piano his entire life. Basically the premise of “Phone Booth”, which saw Colin Farrell stuck in a phone booth taking orders from a sniper that we never see, but whose presence is felt through his voice on the payphone and his wake of destruction, Mira’s film puts the lead character, Tom Selznick, on an orchestral stage instead of a phone booth, while our mystery man (voiced by John Cusack) remains unseen in one of the box seats, with a powerful gun, barking orders through an earpiece. Tom does not have to answer any questions or take care of a list of deeds, however. All he has to do is play the best concert of his life. One wrong note and he is dead. One false step or cry for help, he and his wife Emma (Kerry Bishé) are both dead.

A few problems lie in store for Tom. First of all, he is just returning to his piano playing days, having taken a break since his mentor passed away and since a highly publicized meltdown on stage. Returning to the spotlight, playing a perfect show even without a gun pointed at his chest would prove to be difficult. Another problem is that the shooter is asking Tom to tackle a piece dubbed “the unplayable piece”, not only difficult but the same piece he played during his meltdown. Elijah Wood plays the role of Tom pitch perfectly, riding the edge between professional and manic as he plays the piano completely convincingly and acts off of nothing but a voice coming from his ear. On the other side of that, John Cusack plays the role the of voice perfectly, bringing a dynamic to the man on the other side of the line that adds tension and suspense with every threat and delivery.

Having attended a Q&A with the director about the film, I can tell you that Eugenio Mira has a talent for film-making. Carefully mapped out to the pieces that would be composed, as to add a lyrical nature to the editing of the film, to decipher or replicate exactly how Mira achieved this film would be impossible. “Grand Piano” is a competent thriller, with a level of heightened production value that carries an otherwise minimal location film into something suspenseful and easy to watch. With a well written screenplay that allows these actors to thrive and enough twists and turns, along with an impressively blindsiding and completely grounded conclusion, this becomes a huge achievement in independent film-making and brings to fruition a work of art that not only reaches a vast audience but delivers on the original concept of its creators. Eugenio Mira may not be a household name as far as directors go, but with the interesting concept of his first feature, “The Birthday” starring Corey Feldman and now “Grand Piano”, he definitely a director to keep an eye on.

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IN SECRET // Sexual repression in the 1860s is not a subject matter often discussed, but in Charlie Stratton’s adaptation of Émile Zola’s scandalous novel “Thérèse Raquin” (1867) titled “In Secret”, this tale is given a shot of rejuvenation thanks to its young and aspiring cast. Elizabeth Olsen is enough reason to view any film these days, with an impressive control over her deliveries and a look that allows her into almost any role. The fact that she has just surfaced as a viable actress (seeing as her sisters were childhood actresses) is astonishing to me and leads me to believe her best performances lie ahead. Playing the title character, Thérèse, whose father drops her off with her aunt Madame Raquin (Academy Award nominated Jessica Lange) at a very young age. As they grow older, the assumption that Thérèse will marry her first cousin, Camille (“Harry Potter” star Tom Felton) grows stronger, but his sickness and general lack of interest in the female sex leaves Thérèse wanting more, a hyper-sexual type that is found masturbating in a field to a shirtless man early on in the film.When they move to the city and meet Camille’s childhood friend, Laurent (“Inside Llewyn Davis” lead Oscar Isaac), Thérèse’s sexuality blossoms, pining for the suave artist whose words alone carry her to the brink of orgasm. As one would expect, an affair transpires, eventually leading to the question of what happens next. Does Thérèse remain in a loveless, sexless marriage with Camille? Or does she run away with Laurent? What transpires is along the lines of a Shakespearean tragedy, with everyone playing the roles perfectly. Olsen and Isaac have great chemistry, even after their characters shift into darker versions of themselves. Felton continues to play an excellent villainous character while Lange plays the overbearing mother with a fervor she was made for. Clad with spot-on period set design and costumes, the setting looks to step out of a Charles Dickens novel, playing rich and dark on-screen. Continuing the sexual presence in period films following recent releases like “Hysteria”, “A Royal Affair”, and “A Dangerous Method”, there is something so satisfying about seeing these otherwise dignified people from the past experience the same emotional and stimulating responses that occur in this day and age, with little to no change apart from the fallout that happens afterward.

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THE MONUMENTS MEN // On the surface, “The Monuments Men” looks like an Oscar-worthy World War II drama. Directed by George Clooney, he has already proven to be a successful director on previous films like “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind”, “The Ides Of March”, and the Academy Award nominated “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Along with an impressive ensemble cast, including himself (Clooney), Matt Damon, John Goodman,  Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Jean Durjardin, the deck was stacked to make this film fall in line with great war dramas like “Saving Private Ryan” and even “Schindler’s List”. Instead, “The Monuments Men” is a bit of a misstep, remaining a mostly forgettable and tonally challenged plod that offers little in terms of a directorial follow-up to Clooney’s previous work. Based on the unique true story of the men assigned to save important works of art and literature from being destroyed by Hitler and the Nazi party during World War II, the narrative, and the interest that comes along with it, basically writes itself. But the creators take no steps further than that general narrative, offering little expansion with zero memorable dialogue and a shell of actual emotion for the characters and their survival. Also, there is a tonal shift throughout the entire film, which was apparent from its marketing, landing somewhere between a heartfelt dramatic period piece and a dark comedy, whereas it should have chosen one tone and ran with it. John Goodman and Bill Murray, mostly known for comedic performances, are huge catalysts in that shift, as their dry humor muddies up the moods while they find themselves in gunfights and high tension sequences, diffusing any suspense that had been built. Although I have not seen “Leatherheads”, the same criticism could be said for the marketing of that film and my feelings towards it, which begs the question whether Clooney brings that tonal shifting dynamic out of his films. Clooney’s foray in this subject matter proves extremely average, offering very little for the audience to latch onto besides the recognizable faces and the unique subject matter. With no breakout performances and a history book reading screenplay, what is delivered lands with a thud. Not a failure by any means, but nothing that will land it any gold statues.

New Releases
3 Days to Kill
About Last Night (2014)
Grand Piano (2013)
In Secret
The Monuments Men
Pompeii
Raze
Right Kind of Wrong 2-denied2-small
Stay (2014) 2-denied2-small
Vampire Academy 2-denied2-small

TV Box Set
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Season One
  • Call the Midwife: Season Three
  • Dalziel and Pascoe: Season Nine
  • Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World
  • Happy Days: Seaosn Five
  • L.A. Law: Season Two
  • The Moneychangers: The Mini-Series
  • Nikita: Season Four
  • Waking the Dead: Season Nine
  • Warehouse 13: Season Five
Special Editions/Other Releases
  • Babes Behind Bars
  • Back in Crime
  • Blackwater
  • Bloodmarsh Kingdom
  • Box of Bigfoot 2: Sasquatch Attack
  • Broken Side Of Time
  • Camp Blood First Slaughter
  • Chainsaw Killer
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Dangerous Men
  • Demon Legacy
  • Embedded
  • End Of The Road
  • The Evangelist
  • Flu (2013)
  • Gang War in Milan
  • Garage Sale Mystery
  • The Great Flood
  • House of Dust
  • Iron Thunder
  • The Jewish Cardinal
  • Kill The Scream Queen
  • Like Someone in Love: Criterion
  • McCanick  2-denied2-small
  • Mischief Night   2-denied2-small
  • The Moneychangers
  • No God, No Master 2-denied2-small
  • The Revengers
  • Rose (2011)
  • Shark Attack Pack
  • Sophia Grace & Rosie’s Royal Adventure
  • SS Camp Collection
  • Vengeance Is A .44 Magnum
  • Viva Max
  • Way of the Wicked
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