⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for intense battle sequences, brief sexual content.


“Pompeii” has a killer ending. Billowing clouds of ash swallow the ancient Roman town and fireballs rain down from above; whole city blocks slide into the sea and a tsunami tears through the streets, leveling everything in its path. When Mount Vesuvius erupts, the movie is completely absorbing. You just have to sit through more than an hour of derivative plot and tired dialogue to get there.

The similarities between “Gladiator” and “Pompeii” are hard to overstate. A warrior (Kit Harington from “Game of Thrones”) who is enslaved after his family is murdered displays an exceptional talent for killing and falls in love with a woman leagues above his social standing (Emily Browning). But only in “Pompeii” does the protagonist talk to horses.
Stephanie Merry, Washington Post



⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for language.
Theater: Uptown.


Scholars have conjectured that 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer created his unprecedented photorealistic paintings using mirrors and a camera obscura, a sort of room-sized pinhole camera, to capture and copy images of his subjects. The guess is put to the test in “Tim’s Vermeer.” The magician duo Penn Jillette and Teller narrate and direct the documentary, respectively. It’s a project that falls comfortably in their area of expertise, exposing the processes behind seemingly miraculous achievements.

Tim Jenison, a large, bearded Texas video-software engineer of considerable means and abundant free time, decided to check the theory by re-creating one of the old master’s most famous works. “Tim’s Vermeer” follows his experiment, allowing us to look over the shoulder of an untrained artist as he endeavors to create a copycat masterpiece. Consulting with experts, including the English artist David Hockney, he mixed his own paint pigments, cast and ground the glass lenses, and re-created the conservatory scene depicted in Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” in life-size diorama form.

You might think that following this insanely ambitious DIY project would be like watching paint dry. Wrong. It opens up tantalizing issues of dry technique vs. divine talent, as works that appear to be the result of inimitable inspiration prove to be anything but. And then, when Hockney greets Jenison’s completed painting with the sort of polite “good effort” appreciation that he’d extend to any sincere Sunday painter, you have to rethink it all over again.


If You Build It
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated but suitable for all.
Theater: Edina.


Patrick Creadon’s modest 82-minute documentary is a record of good intentions in action. Designer Emily Pilloton and her boyfriend, architect Matt Miller, set out to show how design could revitalize an economically ailing community, Windsor, N.C., which has the poorest, most rural population in the state. They challenged 10 high school juniors to create a new civic structure to give the community a point of civic pride and a much-needed commercial boost.

Their obstacles include lackadaisical students, lost funding, uncooperative weather and relationship strains. There’s also the passive-aggressive opposition of the Bertie County school board, which grudgingly consents to the project as long as Pilloton and Miller draw no salaries.

If you build it, in some cases, they will complain, but Pilloton shrugs, “We’re masochists, a little bit.” By the end of the school year, the exhausted volunteer teachers had inspired some of their class and helped them erect a handsome farmers market pavilion, changing a few minds and touching a few hearts along the way. A small victory, yes, but a real one.