A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 598 – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – October 19th, 2011

When this movie came out in theaters I remember considering going to see it and considering some more and ultimately I just wasn’t excited enough about it to bother making time to go. I heard mixed reviews. Some people said it was pretty good, other people said it was mediocre, and other people said it wasn’t fantastic, but it was better than the third one. And you know, that’s just not the sort of ringing endorsement I need for something I’m not excited for on my own. Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy the Pirates movies. But it’s pretty obvious that the first one was the best and the rest have struggled a bit to compare.

In the end, I played through the movie’s plot in the LEGO video game version before I actually saw the movie. It’s kind of a funny way to do things. I’ve played a bunch of the LEGO games, but before I played them I’d already seen the movies they were based on. If you’ve never played one of the LEGO games, I highly recommend them. The funny thing about them is that they really do a good job of recreating the settings the key plot points take place in, and they use the movies’ plots for the goals of each level. When playing, you can recognize that. Here, it was the other way around. In particular, I was amused to see that the end really did involve the rather complicated means of using the fountain of youth. And to be honest? Most of my interest in this movie came from that game. I just wasn’t really that invested.

Most of the movie is a bit of a blur to me, and I’m pretty confident that it’s not just that I’m writing this well after watching it. Not that it doesn’t have its moments, but it veers far too close to the trying-too-hard line for me to be drawn into it. I remember far more about the third movie and it’s been a lot longer since I last watched that. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood. Maybe it’s that this doesn’t feel like it needs to involve Jack himself in order to happen. After all, he’s not the only one who finds his way to the fountain of youth by the end of the movie. He feels almost incidental here, despite the crucial map everyone needs starting out in his possession.

On the other hand, I do applaud the choice to move on beyond Will and Elizabeth. Not that I’d have minded another two hours of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, but their characters had their arc. It would have been possible to go back to them, but it would have felt forced. Better to leave them and move on to someone new. Angelica, a former lover of Jack’s and a fierce pirate in her own right, was a lot of fun to watch. Penelope Cruz did a very nice job with the character, making her feisty and unpredictable, which I enjoyed quite a bit. I wouldn’t mind seeing her again, to be honest. And I always have liked Barbossa. It’s fun seeing him play the sort of gray area character. Really, that’s one of the things I like about these movies: The pirates are almost always rooting for themselves. Oh, they’ll help someone else if it suits them (and by “suits them” I include blackmail and the like), but if left to their own devices, they are looking out for number one. And that’s pretty consistent even here.

This movie’s plot centers on the search for the legendary fountain of youth. A number of different people want to find it, so it’s a bit of a race to get to it along with the necessary items one needs in order to use it. Said items are a pair of silver chalices and the tear(s) of a mermaid. It’s a bit like a scavenger hunt. Jack ends up roped into it all for a couple of reasons: 1. He has a map. 2. Barbossa’s dropped his name. 3. He ends up hearing that someone using his name has a ship and is putting a crew together. Turns out it’s not him putting the crew together. Surprise! It’s Angelica, and the ship isn’t the Black Pearl, it’s her father’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Angelica’s father is the famed Captain Blackbeard, a pirate with occult powers that let him control every inch of his ship through his own will. Blackbeard’s interested in the fountain because he’s been told he’ll be killed by a one-legged man and he’d like to not be killed at all. The other folks who want the fountain are the British government and the Spanish government. And then it’s a mad dash and the aforementioned scavenger hunt.

I seem to recall some crossing and double crossing and Blackbeard’s kind of a jackass, but his daughter loves him and all. He’s got a missionary on his ship, captured a while back and spared because of Angelica (who had been set to join a convent before meeting Jack). Turns out it’s a good thing they’ve got him, because when they capture a mermaid they totally fall in love and without that she’d never have cried and there wouldn’t have been any magic tears and whoops, there goes the plot. Though to be honest, I found the mermaid storyline far more interesting than anything to do with Jack in this movie.

What this movie does well is to build more of the world it’s set in. I remember being pretty impressed with the ocean-going lore involved in the other movies and this one follows right along. The mermaids are nicely done and I like how that little storyline ends up going. I also like that Blackbeard has actual ships in bottles. These movies have a nicely unreal feel to them, which works for me largely because well, the reality of pirates isn’t nearly as romantic and fun as the fantasy. So taking these bits and pieces of superstition and fantasy and mixing them together is a good way to go. It’s just that what this movie doesn’t do well is engage me in its entirety. Maybe I’m bored with Jack. Maybe the franchise is bored with him. He was a great character to start with and I get that he’s at the center of the series, but I kind of wish he didn’t have to be. Moments like his reaction to Barbossa’s hollow wooden leg just don’t come frequently enough in this movie. I’m not sure where that leaves the franchise, and at least this wasn’t a bad movie, but maybe it’s time to call it a day before a bad movie is what they have to end on.

October 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 542 – The Goonies

The Goonies – August 24th, 2011

We’re on hiatus from Narnia at the moment, since the BBC productions are about three hours long each and while tonight that would work, tomorrow I do not have three hours to spend watching a movie, regardless of how nostalgic it might be. So we’re taking two days off so we can watch the BBC adaptations back to back to back over the weekend. So! We needed to pick a movie tonight. When Andy got home this evening he was a little cranky. Long days do that, and when I have a long day goodness knows I am the queen of cranky. Therefore, when picking a movie I gravitated to comfort movies and this caught my eye. Andy’s suggested it a few times and I’ve always said nah, some other time. And this is why. It is a comfort movie, more for Andy than for myself, and I didn’t want to waste it on a night when we didn’t need something fun and easy to watch. Tonight? We needed fun and we needed easy. So I’m glad we held onto it.

This is one of those movies that every geek within Andy’s generation and my generation should know. It’s a classic, and not just a classic but an underdog classic. Geeks love a story where outcasts win. I remember watching this as a kid and being just slightly too young for it to make the impact on me that it made on my peers. A couple of years later I saw it again and enjoyed it a lot more, but I think because I’d already seen it, it was just never going to make that impression. I can enjoy it and it makes me smile and I’m all for the Goonies as a group, but I can think of other movies that speak to me more and I feel a little frustrated with myself for that.

On the surface it’s an odd movie. Below the surface too, but even up top it’s got its oddities. It’s one of those stories about a nasty rich guy trying to take advantage of or shove out the poor but goodhearted family or families of the hero or heroes. This is not an uncommon plot for a movie, especially a kids’ movie. The money-grubbing adult makes a good villain, especially when they have a stuck-up jackass of a kid for the juvenile heroes of the movie to square off against directly. And so of course we have here Mr. Perkins, who is foreclosing on the houses belonging to the Goonies’ families to expand his country club, and we have his son Troy, who bullies the Goonies themselves and treats his girlfriend (who joins up with the Goonies later) like crap. There’s just a lot here that feels like it could be standard. And then there’s the adventure into a series of caves under the cliffs near the Goonies’ homes, with booby traps, treasure and a family of criminals after them.

The basic plot involves the foreclosure and the Goonies – Mikey, Mouth, Data, Chunk, Brand (Mikey’s older brother) and later Andy and Stef – going off on an adventure to try and make the most of their last weekend together. Sure, they’re going off to search for lost pirate treasure, but I get a very Swallows and Amazons sort of vibe from this adventure. They head out to follow the map more to have an adventure, not because they truly think they’ll find treasure. Sure, treasure would be amazing, but an adventure together with friends is the initial purpose. It’s only when the kids encounter the Fratellis, one of whom is an escaped convict, that things actually get dangerous. Until then it’s more imagination than reality for them. And I love that idea of a typical kids’ adventure turning into something far more real than expected. And I also love that the Goonies rise to the occasion.

Once the Goonies are in the caves, dodging booby traps set by pirate captain One-Eyed Willie, it’s sort of a chase movie. The Fratellis are behind them and the Goonies know it. But they’re also determined. The traps are silly and fun and the movie establishes a lot of the set-up for them early on with Mikey’s house’s Rube Goldberg-esque front gate. And then there’s Chunk, left behind with the Fratellis’ brother, Sloth. Now, Sloth is my one real point of discomfort with this movie. He’s a joke and a hero and a joke because he’s a hero and he’s handled largely positively, but he’s also a caricature of a physically deformed and mentally disabled man and I can’t help but think of the Toxic Avenger when I see him. I’m just not fond of the movie’s use of the character, that’s all.

Outside of that and the stereotype that is Data (and to nitpick – while his inventions might well work in theory, his materials are so flimsy they would never hold up to that sort of use), however, I do love many the characters. One of the things I really love about the movie is that it’s got some really impressively subversive stuff in it, mostly in the form of Mikey’s brother, Brand. He’s clearly a bit of a jock, what with all the working out, and he’s cute, but he doesn’t have his driver’s license and he seems to be regarded as a dork, likely because of a combination of that and the fact that he’s pretty damn smart. He’s not an easily pigeonholed character, and I love that. I love that he’s genuinely concerned about his brother. I love that he hangs out with the Goonies. I love that he’s unabashedly himself, which makes him a Goonie regardless of his age.

Despite its silliness, it’s clearly meant to be an empowering movie, and not just in a ‘they found pirate treasure and saved their homes from foreclosure’ way. It’s meant to say it’s okay to be proud of being unique. It’s okay to be yourself and embrace the things that make you you. It’s okay to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet. I love when Andy gives Troy’s sweater back. I love Mikey’s speech at the bottom of the well. On top of the movie being a fun action and adventure story for kids, it’s also a good story about friendship and individuality and letting your freak flag fly with pride. No, it isn’t the banner I hold over myself, but I get it. And I do enjoy it.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Muppet Treasure Island

November 12, 2010

Muppet Treasure Island

In the years after Jim Henson’s death the Muppet franchise was, if you will forgive the awful pun, somewhat rudderless. This was the second post-Henson Muppet movie, and the second adaptation of a popular book. I’ll admit that at the time I was disappointed that although a new Muppet movie was coming out it was not an original story (we would have to wait for Muppets From Space for that.) I have fond memories of my father reading the book to me when I was a child, but it was never like this. This is, however, a really fun movie. It sounds odd that you could make a lighthearted musical comedy from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of pirates and treasure, but that is exactly what we have here.

There’s a whole lot that this movie has in its favor. It has a whole lot of catchy musical numbers, it retains the playful Muppet spirit throughout (even when depicting some of the less family friendly parts of the story), it has a lot of fantastic performances from the Muppet crew as well as the human guest stars, and it has one thing above all else that raises it up to a higher level of awesome: Tim Curry. There aren’t many people who can class a movie up by being such a ham, but Tim does an amazing job doing just that. His Long John Silver is a broad caricature and he chews so much scenery that it must have given him severe indigestion, but when your co-stars are all made from polystyrene, rubber and felt that kind of performance actually works.

As with several of Muppet movies this movie casts a human in one of the lead roles and surrounds him with Muppets. In this case it is Kevin Bishop as young Jim Hawkins, the boy hero of the tale who is the center of the whole quest to find Captain Flint’s buried treasure. (This trend of casting humans as the leads in Muppet movies puzzles me. They have done the same thing in just about every literary adaptation the Muppets have done from Cinderella to The Wizard of Oz. I don’t tend to watch these movies for the humans, so why do they end up with central roles? I like it better when they’re restricted to supporting roles and cameo appearances.) Many of the people Jim meets on his journey, however, are played by Muppets, and it’s kind of fun to see how the casting has been done. The captain of the Hispaniola for example is played by Kermit the Frog. The whole joke is that it is Kermit playing a role, which means he gets to be Kermit, but he also gets to take part in a swashbuckling adventure.

The strangest bit of casting is that the half-mad marooned hermit Ben Gunn is now played by Miss Piggy, which means that he becomes a she, and that she’s now got some romantic history with Captain Smollett. And with Flint. And with Silver. It is a very odd choice, but one that boldly sets this adaptation far apart from every other one and makes it something of an original work.

This movie also worked to introduce one of my favorite new Muppet performers, Bill Barretta. He’s better known now for Pepe the Prawn, but it was here, as Clueless Morgan, that I first noticed him. I’m not sure what it is – the deft puppeteering, the perfect comic timing… Bill just has that magical ability to steal any scene. Check out his work as Bobo in Muppets from Space too. Hilarious stuff.

Speaking of deft puppeteering, I have a question for anybody in the know who happens to stumble across this review: how on earth did the magicians behind the Muppets do the “Love Led Us Here” number? It features Kermit the Frog (now played by Steve Whitmire) and Miss Piggy (Frank Oz – possibly the last time he performed her in a movie, although IMDB claims that he was in Muppets From Space) dangling upside down while singing. In the close up shots I’d imagine that the performers just lay on a platform of some type and held their hands below them, but in the long shots there’s nowhere for the performers to be. It could be a blue-screen processed shot, but the way that the characters dangle and swing seems too natural for that. At one point Miss Piggy actually begins to spin around, which couldn’t be done if a performer were manipulating her from behind. My suspicion is that they used some kind of remote-control rig for the long shots with servos running the puppets, but how did they get it to look so smooth and natural? It’s a very clever sequence, and one that shows that Brian, directing this film, has inherited his father’s love of experimentation in the name of bringing these puppets to life.

I’d also like to say that it was in this movie that I finally felt Steve nailed his performance of Kermit and captured the spirit of Jim Henson. Maybe it’s that this was the first time since Jim’s death that I had seen Kermit have a proper screaming fit of anger. It’s as though people thought it would be irreverent to let Kermit show any negative emotion, even though some of his funniest moments on Sesame Street and the Muppet Show involved him losing his carefully maintained cool and shouting. (I want my Kermit the FROOOOOG T-shirt!”) It was almost cathartic to see him berating the officers on the ship here for hiring a crew full of terrifying cut-throats.

We put this in tonight because Amanda isn’t feeling well and we needed something light hearted that we both love. And because it had been too long since we last reviewed a Tim Curry movie (almost two weeks!) And because I wanted to watch all the scenes with Clueless Morgan again. And because, hell, it’s just a fun movie to watch.

November 12, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pirates of Penzance (1983)

September 19, 2010

The Prates of Penzance (1983)

As every denizen of the internets knows today, September 19, is annual “talk like a pirate day.” So we were honor-bound to find a Pirate movie to mark the occasion. Since we had already viewed all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies quite early in the project we turned instead to this 1983 movie of a Broadway production of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance. As my wife pointed out before we put the movie in nobody seems to actually speak as a pirate ought to but still it does have pirates of some sort in it.

Naturally I’ve seen this before. Indeed I’ve seen other productions live on stage as well. Gilbert and Sullivan are very much a part of the culture of high-school and college theater. It’s probably a combination of the general charm and fun of the music and the preposterous lyrics, and the fact that they’re in the public domain now so a school doesn’t have to pay anybody to put on a production. Indeed so well known are the tunes in this movie that they have even made their way into such unlikely places as popular video games and such.

This is a very strange production. I mentioned in my review for the movie of the musical version of The Producers that it had very much the feeling of a Broadway production brought to the screen with a larger budget, but this movie is that concept taken in a much more literal manner. It’s as thought they took the stage play and removed the audience. The sets throughout the movie are very clearly sets. They wrap around and can be shot from any angle, but they don’t make any attempt to look real. They are filled with things like man-made water features, cloth flowers and fake plants. It’s as if the action has been transported to another world where everything looks like a stage prop.

The action is staged in an extremely over-the-top way, which would probably have read well from a distant theater seat but which seems almost insane from the intimate point of view of a close up movie camera. I strongly suspect that a great deal of the more slapstick physical humor came directly from the Broadway production. Particularly the antics of the keystone-cop inspired constables. It’s kind of interesting to see how a stage performance looks when it’s not toned down in any way for the big screen.

Amanda will tell you that we bought this movie primarily for Kevin Kline’s performance as the Pirate King, and she’s mostly right. He’s a joy to watch as he leaps and dances about – absolutely commanding the screen and stealing every scene. I pointed out to Amanda as we watched that he was playing the Pirate King as a Toblarone, which you will understand if you have seen the MST3K episode “Escape 2000.” He’s boisterous, bare chested, and full of rambunctious joy at every turn of events.

His is not the only great performance in the movie though. George Rose is wonderful as the upper-class-twit-of-the-year Major General Stanley. Angela Lansbury, who will forever and always be the confused witch from Bedknobs and Broomsticks for me, is fun as Ruth. And the clowning and capering of Tony Azito as the Sergent of the Constables is quite adept and fun to watch as well. I’ve heard some complain about Linda Ronstadt’s performance as Mabel, but I think it’s well enough done, it’s just a fairly shallow part to play with a lot of vocal flourishes that remind me somewhat of Mozart’s Magic Flute. (I would not be surprised if that was part of the inspiration – it seems to me that the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan are full of references to other works.)

Altogether it’s a pleasantly madcap way to spend a couple hours. The musical is full of farce and the movie takes that mood and runs with it. By the time you reach the climax, where the pirates and constables burst in on an amateur performance of the HMS Pinafore you’ve seen more silliness than in most movie musicals. If I have one complaint it’s that many times the lip sync to the singing is not perfect, (perhaps because some of the singing performances are not done by the actors on the screen) but I’m able to suspend my disbelief on so many other levels that this seems like nit-picking. I had fun watching this tonight and will doubtless have fun watching it again sometime in the future. “Arrrr.”

September 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 32 – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – April 1, 2010

Okay, yes, we did an April Fool’s review this morning for a non-existent movie. We do so wish that Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League existed, but as of yet it doesn’t. Alas. So for tonight we picked a movie with a great Buckaroo Banzai reference.

Now, I will start out by saying that Wes Anderson movies are definitely not for everyone. They’ve got a definite style to them. You can spot a Wes Anderson movie from space. It’s rather telling that Wil Wheaton, not knowing that Fantastic Mr. Fox was a Wes Anderson movie, thought it was amazing how much like a Wes Anderson movie it was! Part of it is the visuals. My absolute favorite thing in the movie, aside from the closing credits, is the cross-section set of the ship. I mentioned before that Anderson likes dioramas and still shots and for Life Aquatic they built this huge boat set that’s got a cut away view of every room. It’s used in the beginning, when you get a tour of the ship, but then it’s used several more times to follow people as they move between rooms. Being a former theater techie, I have a bit of a thing for exposed sets, and I’ve mentioned my fondness for breaking the fourth wall. It’s a cute touch.

But then there’s more that makes this a genuine Wes Anderson film, and this is what I think probably makes or breaks his stuff for people. He’s got a sort of stock stable of actors who do the delivery he likes: Deadpan, awkward, awkwardly deadpan, and sometimes awkwardly enthusiastic. And always bizarre. Everyone in a Wes Anderson movie is quirky to a fault, which is the intended point. The quirks, I believe, are meant to be both endearing and repulsive. Sometimes it works, sometimes it falls a little flat and sometimes it’s a little more than I can stand. Usually I like it, but sometimes I’m just not in the mood.

In Life Aquatic the quirky characters are all associated with the quirkiest of them all, Steve Zissou, a marine explorer who’s obviously referencing Cousteau (even as he mentions Cousteau in the movie). He goes on adventures and explores and discovers bizarre animals and sea creatures that don’t really exist. His crew is a rag-tag bunch of folks he’s picked up here and there and when the film opens his latest documentary is a flop and his best friend and co-leader of his team has been eaten by a shark. And so he’s going to find the shark, film the quest for it, and hopefully come out on top. And that would be the movie, except it’s a Wes Anderson movie, so Zissou is played by Bill Murray and he’s an awkward loser who needs to find himself and added into the mix of his mis-matched crew are a pregnant reporter who worshiped him when she was a kid, a bond company stooge there to see how he’s spending his money, a bunch of unpaid interns hoping for college credit and a guy who thinks he’s Steve’s son. And then there’s Steve’s wife, who leaves him to summer in her ex-husband’s villa, and the ex-husband, who happens to be a super well-funded marine scientist who’s also a jackass. He’s played by Jeff Goldblum. Everyone except the bond company guy and the interns have fucked up interpersonal relationships and do the typical Wes Anderson thing.

The bond company guy gets kidnapped and all but one of the interns quit and get incompletes on their transcripts. One intern stays, so he gets to be in the awesome closing credits. Which I’ll get to.

Anyhow, I do enjoy this movie. It takes a little bit to get into it, even after seeing it before. But I do like it. It’s not Anderson’s best (I’d be split between Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox for that) but it’s good. It’s got some great moments between Steve and his supposed son, Ned. It’s got some great moments between Steve and his wife, Eleanor (she’s the brains of Team Zissou). It’s got one scene I love with Eleanor and the reporter, Jane. And it’s got some great performances even aside from Bill Murray and the rest of the main cast. Willem Dafoe’s Klaus, who is thoroughly devoted to Steve and the team, is a ridiculous and awesome character. And then there’s Bud Cort, yes, the guy from Harold and Maud, playing the bond company guy. Totally understated performance, but I love him. And then there’s Jeff Goldblum. To be honest, I wish he’d been on screen a little more.

A word about the soundtrack: The vast majority of it is done by the Team Zissou musician, who sits around with a guitar and sings David Bowie songs in Brazilian Portuguese. It’s rather perfect, in a quirky sort of way, which is to say, as I’ve alluded to, it fits Wes Anderson’s style.

So by the end of the movie things have mostly worked out, but not perfectly, because it’s Wes Anderson and that just wouldn’t fly. But they work out. And we get the closing credits, wherein the members of Team Zissou walk purposefully down the pier, growing in number as they go, until they reach the boat. According to Anderson, it’s a direct reference to Team Banzai at the end of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and they even had Jeff Goldblum there. Not that Steve Zissou is anywhere as awesome as Buckaroo Banzai, but you know what? Eleanor might be, so that’s cool.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

April 1, 2010 (For reals this time)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Man, it’s hard to review this movie.  Mostly because it’s a hard movie for me to watch.  It’s a Wes Anderson film – perhaps the most West Anderson film that Wes Anderson has ever made.  It’s full of neurotic broken people being brutally honest with each other.  It’s full of non-sequiturs and all the characters have baggage of some sort.  But this movie is a little more brutal to its characters than other Wes Anderson films.

Life Aquatic tells the story of a man who’s hit rock bottom.  The hard-drinking, womanizing, Steve Zissou, played with heartfelt vulnerability by Bill Murray,  is a documentarian very heavily modeled on Jaques Cousteau who has fallen on hard times.  His movies are being derided as contrived, fake and poorly made.  His best friend and mentor has been eaten by a shark which nobody believes actually exists because Steve got no footage of it.  His wife (Angelica Huston – brilliant as always) is fed up with his womanizing and probably knows she could do better.  His boat is in disrepair and he has no way to finance his next documentary.  In short, his life is hell and he’s a shadow of his former self.

Then – through the course of the whole movie – things get worse for Steve.  And worse.  He has to deal with violence, pirates and death as his already rock bottom life falls apart all around him.

I find I care for Wes Anderson’s awkward characters.  They never quite fit into the world.  In other movies like Rushmore and the Royal Tenenbaums they eventually find a way to accept that they are different and don’t really fit, but that they can live with that.  And Life Aquatic fits into the same mould, but it’s a much harder edged movie.  Which is why I find it so hard to watch.

Which is tough, since there are so many quirky things in this movie that I love.  I love the Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs.  I love the way they break the fourth wall to introduce Steve’s ship (and come back to it later to follow the descent of all the various characters.  Wes will later use this idea to fantastic effect in Darjeeling Limited.)  I love all the strange aquatic life that inhabits Steve’s world.  (Every species he encounters is something peculiar and magical which doesn’t exist in our mundane world.)

I will say that the payoff at the end of the movie works really well and still affects me the way it did when I first saw it.  And of course the Buckaroo Banzai walk that starts the closing credits is great (and it’s the reason we chose to watch this movie tonight.)  It’s just a hard film to watch.  Too chaotic and lose.  Too rough.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 8 – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

New view for me! I was kind of dreading this at the start, given last night’s blah, but I found myself really enjoying this one. I credit that to the fact that despite the impressive amount of backstabbing and double crossing that goes on, the movie is a far more cohesive piece than the second one was. And believe me, there’s a lot of double crossing. Triple and quadruple crossing too. You practically need a flow chart at points to make sure you know who’s on whose side. Except Jack, who’s on Jack’s side.

Which is easy in this movie, since it seems some producer went “How can we cram more Jack Sparrow into the last movie? I know! He can hallucinate duplicates of himself! We’ll have tons of Jacks! More Jacks means more money!” And then they went and cast Keith Richards as his father and made the point moot.

Anyhow, I’ve definitely got some complaints, like the cultural caricatures that seem to come hand in hand with a period pirate piece and remind me far too much of the Swallows and Amazons book I tell everyone to NOT read (that would be Missee Lee, which is understandable but not forgivable given that the author was a British dude writing in the 1930s). But enough about books. Another complaint would be how two major characters ended their roles in the movie. While I’m not necessarily unhappy with the choice Norrington made at the end, I’m really not thrilled with how perfunctory his exit from the movie was. And for all the fuss made about Calypso and her getting free, she sure vanished in a hurry, didn’t she? Meh.

But there’s a lot more to like. For instance, I like the swordfighting scenes, which were fantastic and didn’t drag on even though they did go for a while. I like Elizabeth. A lot. And I like her character arc and that while she has moments of weakness, they’re no more weak than the moments other characters have. Her comment about having quite enough experience with pirates is a good point for her to make. She’s not some delicate waif, carried along with the crew on a liter. She got hurt and she got dirty and she got into the action. And they didn’t ever take her out of it. I give the movie, and the entire trilogy, enormous credit for that. I also like Will’s almost Methosian levels of duplicity and deceit here. And for those unfamiliar with the character of Methos, I apologize. But given that I’m a Highlander series fan first and foremost, I’ll probably end up referencing him a lot. And all you need to know is that he’s a crafty bastard whose priority is on survival. I’d have pegged Jack as that type more than Will, but Will definitely drifts that way for most of the movie.

What I like most though, is how steeped the movie is in its own folklore and history and the world it’s created on and in the ocean and the lives of its characters. I love the sea. I love it with a passion. I grew up near the ocean and I hate being away from it. So the end-of-an-era mood this movie starts with, and the idea of taming the sea, then releasing its power, the special effects (especially the whirlpool) and the makings-of-a-sea-chanty quality to it make it endearing to me. It makes me want to put on The Jolly Sailor or The Lover’s Return (I’ve copied lyrics below) and go dip my toes in the waves and remember what it was like to sleep at sea.

But that’s a lot more than I’m sure the movie intended.

Tomorrow night we’re celebrating Kathryn Bigelow’s awesome directorial Oscar by watching Strange Days.

Continue reading

March 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

March 8, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

So finally here we are at the end of the trilogy.  This movie takes a while to get going because they spend about the first quarter of the film trying to rescue Han from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.  I mean.. rescue Jack from the clutches of .. being dead.  Really there is a LOT of faffing about before getting to the meat of the movie.  They first need to introduce Chow Yun-Fat (chewing huge amount of scenery) as Sao Feng.. one of the nine Pirate Lords – a group of pirates we’ve never heard of before now who are tied up in a deeper mythology involving Davy Jones and the goddess of the sea – Calypso.  Then they need to find a way to get charts from him that lead to the land beyond the end of the world where lies Davy Jones’ Locker.  Then they need to find Jack (who is even more mad than usual at this point) and then find a way back to the world of the living before they can explore the whole Calypso mythology.

I actually do like this movie once it gets moving.  And it’s because of that mythology.  I love a story that goes deep into the past.  All the betrayals upon betrayals and plot twists upon plot twists are just flotsam on the tide of the true story.  By which I mean: the movie as a whole is a mess.  People stab each other in the backs so frequently that by then end pretty much everybody has betrayed everybody else at least once.  Nobody seems to really know what they’re doing as the movie staggers from plot point to plot point.  But it’s all in service of delivering a rousing conclusion that delivers closure on about every level.

I even forgive the second movie for being, well, a second movie, because it sets up so much of what has to be delivered here.

It just takes so long to get moving.  They could cut the entire first half of the film and it would work just about as well.  And they take the coolest thing from the second movie (the Kraken) and relegate it to an ignoble off-screen death.  I suppose this does a great job of ramming home the dire circumstances of what will become of the world if Beckett and his ilk win the coming confrontation.  But at that point Beckett has already started hanging children just to get the Pirate Lords to show themselves, and his henchmen has caused another ignoble off screen death, so we already know he’s evil incarnate.  You don’t have to kill the Kraken, dammit.  We never even got to see it.. so sad.  Still, it is mostly made up for by all the things in the movie that I do enjoy.

And there are a lot of things to enjoy about this movie.  Like Keith Richards.  Like the climactic final sea battle.  Like the rest of the Pirate Lords (who remind me somewhat of a piratey Evil League of Evil.)  Like that great bit after the credits.  (Remember what I said about leaving before the credits are done folks?)  And like all the very large helpings we get of Jack Sparrow.

I think things come to a quite satisfactory conclusion.. and I hope nobody tries to muck with it by trying to tack on yet another movie.

March 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 7 – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

I think I’m definitely going to be ready for some non-pirate movies when this trilogy is done. Not that I didn’t enjoy yesterday’s, or today’s, and not that I won’t enjoy tomorrow’s. They’re not high art by any means, but there’s a place for mindless pirate antics. I’m just not in the mood today and don’t anticipate being in the mood tomorrow. At least tomorrow’s will be new to me. I’m sort of zoning through Dead Man’s Chest tonight.

The minor baddie in this one starts out immediately far more smack-worthy than Norrington ever did. While that’s good for the plot, I have the intended visceral dislike of such characters. Bureaucratic tyrants wielding power and fucking with people because they’ve been given an excuse to and enjoying every moment of it bring out my vindictive nature. They don’t make the movie enjoyable for me. They make me want them off my screen so I can watch things that won’t piss me off.

Sadly, they’re a common device.

Let’s talk about things I don’t like and things I do like.

On the don’t like column:
The trying-too-hard inclusion of things like “Why is the rum gone?”
Sadistic little prick of an East India Company bureaucrat.
The cannibal tribe stuff.
The disjointed nature of the plot – I’ll talk a little more about this in a moment.

On the do like column:
The undead monkey. (Best line in the movie IMO)
The effects of Davy Jones’ crew.
The kraken.
Elizabeth. Just in general. She is far and away a more awesome character than pretty much everyone else in the film.
Davy Jones himself. Fantastic baddie and special effects.
The three way Norrington/Will/Jack sword fight. But like I said: Me = sword fight sucker.

The movie has a whole lot crammed into it and lacks a lot of the spirit that was in the first one. It just doesn’t ring as true as the first and it’s not as much fun to watch. It’s still fun, in parts, but not as much. And I remember enjoying it in the theater. But I’m just not enjoying it that much tonight. Like I said. Bits and pieces. But as a whole? Meh. There’s the love triangle, Davy Jones, East India Trading Company, Norrington’s downfall, Will and his father, the whole thing with the cannibals, it’s just too much. Where the first movie had a lot of stuff that all fit together smoothly and formed a fantastic plot (Andy likened it to a puzzle and I think he’s right) this one’s more like a couple of puzzles banged together like Patsy Stone was in charge. Seriously, go find the pertinent episode of Absolutely Fabulous.

March 7, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

March 7, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

The question that this movie begs is this: can lightening strike twice?  The first movie is a concept that should never have worked: a summer blockbuster movie based on a Disneyland ride.  But unlike other attempts (does anybody remember Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror?) it was great and did well, thanks to a great script and a great cast.  So if you get the same cast, the same director, and the same screenwriters all together and throw a bucket load of money at them can they duplicate their feat?  How about if you tell them: “go ahead and make two movies this time – let’s make Pirates into an epic trilogy like them Lord of the Rings movies.”

The answer, in my opinion of course, is not quite.

Part of the problem is that this movie naturally suffers from middle movie syndrome.  As with most trilogies the second film must leave things unresolved to lead into the third film and create that epic feel.  But it’s much more than that.  Another part of the problem is that they try to create this love triangle between Jack, Will and Elizabeth.  Which doesn’t work because it’s well established in the first movie that the only person Jack can love is himself.  Indeed the whole notion of Jack Sparrow (Sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow) so unable to make up his mind what he wants that he can’t get the compass to work doesn’t work for me.  He’s a schemer and plotter – who may not ever be honest with any other soul – but he knows what he wants and usually has some underhanded plan to get it.  And part of the problem is that, after all he’s been through in the first movie, Will Turner seems not to have learned a thing, and is perhaps more trusting and naive than ever before.

Most of the problem, however, is that this movie just isn’t fun.  It’s a good movie.  It has spectacular special effects.  Bill Nighy, despite being almost completely obscured by computer graphical magic, steals the show as the tortured soul Davey Jones.  But in spite of the spectacle there just isn’t the joy and the swashbuckling pleasure of the first movie.  The humor comes all from gruesome gags like cages made from former crew mates.  The cannibals who foolishly believe Jack Sparrow to be a god are played with deadly sincerity.  The undead crew of the Flying Dutchman are an awesome lot of creepy monsters, but they’re never fun in the way the zombie pirates of the first movie are.  There is even a big three-way sword fight that goes on long after it’s stopped being entertaining.  (An attempt to top the fantastic duals from the first movie.)

Our heroes are mired in mortal danger from the rain-soaked opening to the betentacled end.  And every innocent bystander they encounter along the way (even the comic relief) ends up dead or worse.

Like I said – it’s a good movie.  Full of spectacle and adventure.  But as a sequel it’s bound to be compared to it’s predecessor.  And how could it live up to that?  It does show some promise in the very last scene as it lays groundwork for At World’s End.

I should probably add my disappointment that the mighty Kraken is never truly revealed.  They build it up through two major ship sinkings and give you a brief glimpse of it underwater.  But in the final encounter you still don’t really get to see it.  And in the third movie.. well that’s for tomorrow.

March 7, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment