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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Movies: 'Pompeii,' '3 Days to Kill' & 'Tim's Vermeer'

Published 4:53 pm, Friday, March 7, 2014

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  • "Pompeii" is a story of gladiators in peril as the legendary eruption of Mount Vesuvius looms. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    "Pompeii" is a story of gladiators in peril as the legendary eruption of Mount Vesuvius looms. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"POMPEII"

Paul W.S. Anderson's sword-and-sandals epic plays like a video game version of a disaster movie, commencing with Pliny the Younger's firsthand account of the A.D. 79 calamity in which his esteemed uncle, soldier/scholar Pliny the Elder, perished in the bay at Stabiae.

Previous to that, however, in northern Britannia, a youngster named Milo watches as his family and entire tribe, the Celtic Horse Peoples, are slaughtered by marauding Roman soldiers under the command of decadent General Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who is determined to extend the reign of Emperor Andronicus. Young Milo is captured and enslaved. Within 15 years, he has become an accomplished Londinium gladiator and is shipped off to Pompeii, near Naples in southern Italy.

That's where muscle-bound Milo (Kit Harrington) catches the eye of a beautiful maiden, Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of an upper-class merchant (Jared Harris) and his noble wife (Carrie-Ann Moss). Not so coincidentally, Cassia has been betrothed to gross, now-Senator Corvus. Meanwhile, the Vinalia festival is underway and the African champion, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), is only one death-match victory away from emancipation.

So those are the stakes: Milo needs to wreak vengeance against Corvus, who must not marry Cassia, and Atticus must earn his freedom.

While the campy beefcake quotient is high, director Paul W.S. Anderson ("Resident Evil," "Mortal Kombat") and screenwriters Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson formulate a cliche-riddled poor boy/rich girl "Titanic"-like scenario, never allowing us forget that Mount Vesuvius looms in the Coliseum's background, ready to bury everyone in bubbling lava.

Visually, the 3D adds little, particularly since it darkens what's already dim, so if you're determined to see this, go for the 2D version.

Insofar as the acting goes, it's one-dimensional. While Harrington may be memorable as part of HBO's "Game of Thrones" ensemble, he lacks singular charisma, along with Australian actress Browning, leaving the scenery-chewing to Sutherland, who relishes every evil moment.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Pompeii" blows an ill-fated 4. With fireballs falling from the sky, it's catastrophic.

"3 DAYS TO KILL"

Filmmaker Luc Besson ("The Professional," "The Transporter") is obviously obsessed with various permutations of the father-daughter relationship. So it's not surprising that Besson co-scripted this action thriller with Adi Hasak, leaving the direction to McG ("Charlie's Angels," "Terminator Salvation"). Problem is: they obviously couldn't decide whether this is an explosive espionage saga or madcap parental mayhem, revolving around balancing work and family. So they commit to neither.

Punctuated by careening car chases and senseless shoot-outs, the convoluted drama commences with rumpled, world-weary Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), a veteran CIA agent, who resigns when he discovers he's dying of brain cancer and attempts to reconnect with his Parisian-based, long-estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), and teenage daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). But a new control agent, vampy ViVi (Amber Heard), is determined to recruit him for one last killing spree, enticing him with an experimental drug that could extend his life.

His target is a nuclear arms dealer with an albino accountant and their associates, doing nefarious business in the City of Light.

And all this takes place during the three-day period when he's supposed to be home with his rebellious daughter whom his wife has left in his care.

Comedic relief comes with the tenuous father/daughter connection. Having been absent for most of her childhood, clueless Ethan buys Zoey a purple bicycle, which she not only rejects but has no idea how to ride. There's a running gag as calls from Zoey's cellphone interrupt each of his interrogations and/or assassinations with her signature ring tone, Icona Pop's song "I Love It (I Don't Care)." And throw in an overtly sentimental subplot involving an immigrant African family squatting in Ethan's decrepit apartment; legally, he's not allowed to evict them during the wintertime.

Following in Liam Neeson's footsteps, still-charismatic Costner ("Field of Dreams," "The Untouchables," "Bull Durham," "The Bodyguard") is a believably bewildered hero, using his deadpan demeanor to farcical advantage.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "3 Days to Kill" is a contrived, forced 5, a two-hour diversion -- at best.

"TIM'S VERMEER"

Fine art and technology combine in this fascinating documentary about how an obsessive amateur was able to re-create an astonishingly precise replica of one of Johannes Vermeer's most famous paintings.

Magicians Penn and Teller introduce their self-made millionaire friend, NewTek computer graphics inventor Tim Jenison, who marvels at how the 17th-century Dutch master Vermeer (1632-1675) was able to paint with a luminous, photographic clarity that rivals photo-realism, long before the modern-day camera was invented. Then -- with no previous training in painting -- Jenison was able to reproduce "The Music Lesson" in 1,825 days. How did he do it?

After reading artist David Hockney's "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters" and studying the mathematical calculations in architect/professor Philip Steadman's "Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces," Jenison decided to explore American photographer Joseph Pennell's controversial 1891 assertion that Vermeer was able to achieve his exceptional effects through projected optical images, using primitive mirrors and lenses.

Directed by non-speaking Teller, Jenison chats amiably with Penn Jillette, while demonstrating how his relentless research unraveled the mystery that has stumped scholars for decades.

After learning to read Dutch, studying Vermeers in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum and visiting the artist's hometown of Delft, Jenison re-creates Vermeer's studio in a San Antonio, Texas, warehouse, complete with window decor, furniture, rugs and costumed models.

To ensure accuracy, Jenison inveigles his way into Buckingham Palace to view the "original" in the queen's private collection; grinds his own pigments, using only ingredients that were available to Vermeer; and spends months hunched over a 29-by-25-inch canvas, squinting through a variety of lenses in the kind of camera obscura that Vermeer must have used. And every detail is duplicated with painstaking precision.

While art history academics debate whether Vermeer "cheated," it becomes obvious that Vermeer was one of the first ingenious artists to combine painting with technology, inventing new techniques.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Tim's Vermeer" is an intriguing 8, delineating an experiment that should appeal to an art-house audience.