Film critic Richard Crouse, social media star Stewart Reynolds, and parent blogger Samantha Kemp-Jackson get Behind the Headlines with host Beverly Thomson. Today they discuss what happens when you leave a hit show and when weathermen attack!
Based on English writer Vera Brittain’s 1933 memoir about her experiences during World War I, “Testament of Youth” is a handsomely presented, if sometimes a bit restrained story of one woman’s voyage into pacifism.
Alicia “Ex Machina” Vikander stars as Brittain, a tenacious young woman who battles against her father’s (Dominic West) wishes and the conventions of the day to take the Oxford University entrance exam. Her schooling is interrupted when WWI breaks out and brother Edward (Taron “Kingsman: The Secret Service” Egerton), her fiancé Roland Leighton (Kit “Game of Thrones “ Harington) and friends Victor (Colin Morgan) and Geoffrey (Jonathan Bailey) are sent to fight at the front lines. With her friends at risk Vera opts to join them, leaving school to enrol as a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Tending to both German and English soldiers in London, Malta and France she learns first hand about personal loss, human suffering and the futility of war.
“Testament of Youth” offers up a different, parallel view to combat, than the usual war film. Told from the point of view of a battle nurse, it is different but no less effecting as a story of female strength. Vikander is the movie’s soul and strength, handing in a performance that is both strong willed and remarkably nimble. When Vera pretends to be the German girlfriend of a dying soldier, the performance transcends the “Downton Abbey” vibe of the production. Moments like these are almost an antidote to the melodrama that masquerades as actual emotion in other scenes. Almost but not quite.
The supporting performances work well enough, although other than Vera the emotional connection necessary for the anti-war message to be truly effective is missing. Large scale shots of dead and dying men in battle and hospitals visualize the sentiment but a real, personal connection with the characters would have been more fitting for a story about a woman so absolutely changed by the war and her experiences.
“Testament of Youth” is based on a true and well-documented story but a dose or three of melodrama—does she really have to get such bad news on her wedding day?—blunts the power of the story.
The spirit of Steve Reeves lives on. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Reeves’ oeuvre, he was Hercules before Kevin Sorbo, a legend of beefcake historical drama movies. His movies were all about bulging muscles, swinging swords and damsels in revealing togas.
Which brings me to the spiritual cousin to the Reeves movies, Pompeii, which adds spewing lava, but not much else to the sword and sandal genre. Physically Jason Statham sound-a-like Kit Harrington is up to the heroic Reeves role but is slowed down by the thick layer of molten cheese covers almost every frame of this film.
Set in the shadow of the gurgling volcano Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii Game of Thrones heartthrob Harrington is the muscle bound Milo. His tribe, including his entire family, was wiped out by the vicious Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) dooming him to a lonely life of servitude under the thumb of Roman masters.
Years later as a gladiator in Pompeii’s coliseum he sees a way to exact revenge and save Cassia (Emily Browning), the most beautiful girl in the lush resort town. As warriors Milo and Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) battle Roman soldiers in the coliseum the volcano erupts, causing havoc.
Will Milo get vengeance and save Cassia before a rolling mountain of lava and ash covers the city?
Harrington, Sutherland and Browning are the above-the-title stars here, but the real scene-stealer is Mount Vesuvius. Unfortunately it takes way too long for the volcano to to blow its top and when it does the special effects aren’t quite as spectacular as you might hope from a CGI extravaganza. As you might expect there are flying lava meteorites, bubbling lava and crumbling buildings, but it’s mostly just a bombastic CGI fest.
On top of that is muddy looking 3D that would make Steve Reeves squint. The film overall is dark as though the whole thing was shot through a cloud of volcanic ash.
I did get a kick out of a prison guard loudly waking up the jailed gladiators by shouting, “Wake up scum!” but by the time the credits started to roll I felt that slave trader Graecus was speaking directly to me when he said, “You dragged me from a perfectly good brothel for this?”