Guest Review – Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales (2017)

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Directed By: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Written By: Jeff Nathanson
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 minutes

When I saw the first trailer for the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I nearly sprained my eyeballs from rolling them so hard. While the first movie was enjoyable and still holds up as a fun adventure flick fourteen years later, the series has overstayed its welcome. The second and third were decent, but the fourth made it clear that these movies are pretty much just vehicles for Johnny Depp to ham it up as Jack Sparrow over and over, which I have issues with for a couple reasons. First is the domestic abuse allegations that came to light last year, which completely destroyed his likability for me-and for anyone who comments that Amber Heard is lying or it’s her fault: SAVE IT. While the allegations have changed how I feel about Depp, they’re not what this review is about, but if you insist on going there, I will fight you. Personal feelings aside, Depp’s acting hasn’t impressed me in a long time. His performances have become very one-note, not helped by playing the same character since 2003, which Disney has used as the primary marketing ploy for this movie. Because of this, I worried that they were compensating for an overall weak movie by putting most of the focus on its most popular character. With the fourth movie being so forgettable, my hopes weren’t high for this one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales introduces us to Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of original trilogy hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Henry has been spending most of his life searching for the mythical Trident of Poseidon, which could be the key to rescuing his father from The Flying Dutchman’s curse. Hoping his father’s old friend Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) can help him, Henry teams up with the pirate, along with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a scientist trying to navigate a mysterious map her father left her with when he abandoned her at birth. Along their journey, the three are pursued by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew, who want to prevent Jack from using the Trident to escape their revenge.

This movie’s main problem is that it tries to fit too many individual backstories into two and a half hours, leading to fan-fiction levels of bad, clunky exposition. We have Jack’s history with Captain Salazar, Henry’s lifelong mission to rescue his father, Carina’s mysterious parentage and struggles as a female scientist in the mid-to-late 1700’s, and even previous Pirates villain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) gets a forced backstory shoved into the last half hour. The magical item the characters are searching for is poorly explained; it’s just supposed to “break all curses,” which is incredibly vague. If this had been the start of a new trilogy, the pacing could have been better, but because this is (supposedly) the last film, everything is crammed into one movie, and it’s a mess.

That said, the writing isn’t completely hopeless. There is a surprising amount of genuinely funny dialogue, especially among Jack’s crew. I also enjoy that the main female character’s defining characteristic is her scientific prowess and having to deal with men not taking her knowledge seriously. It’s refreshing having a leading lady who’s more than just the romantic interest; her intellectual expertise is instrumental in reaching their goal.

Regarding the acting, I have mixed feelings. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was…fine. He plays the character the same way he always has, so while he doesn’t bring anything new to the role, at least he’s consistent. The two young leads, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, are decent but not especially memorable, although Kaya shows a little more promise than Brenton. Geoffey Rush is always fun to watch and gives an enjoyable performance here, brief as it is. My favorite, though, is Javier Bardem, who is so good at making anything sound menacing in that deep, gravelly voice. Hearing that he was playing the villain made me a little more excited about seeing this movie, and he did not disappoint.

There are other positive aspects of this film as well. Like its predecessors, Dead Men Tell no Tales is a visually interesting movie. The action is good and the fight choreography is fun, although it gets buried in some of the larger crowd scenes. The character design and CGI for Captain Salazar and his crew is truly spooky; even his ship looks scary. The costumes, hair, and makeup are beautifully detailed. The soundtrack is as epic as ever; although Hans Zimmer isn’t the main composer for this film (his protégé Geoff Zanelli is), his famous theme is prominent throughout the movie, and I will never get tired of hearing it.

Overall, this is a decent adventure movie. The storytelling is poor and some of the acting is underwhelming, but some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s pretty to look at. Good job, Disney. You made a better Pirates movie than the last one (although that bar wasn’t set very high). Now, please, for the love of God, stop.

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Have you seen ‘Pirates 5’? Well, what did you think? 

Weekend Viewing Roundup and The Book Thief review

How’s your weekend everyone? Hope it was a good one. I skipped the cinema this weekend and opted to rewatch Man of Steel as I finally got my Blu-ray last week. I still like it but unfortunately the replayability value of the BD is probably not going to be very high, well for one, the audio conversion quality is pretty terrible as the background sound/music overwhelms the dialog. There are other issues that I might blog about at some point.

But hey, my most-anticipated TV show finally premiered tonight after being delayed a few weeks!!

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I’ve blogged about Almost Human here and since most of you know I’m a big fan of Karl Urban, naturally I’m excited for the FOX sci-fi series. Well, the first pilot was pretty good! Yes it’s a mixture between Robocop and Minority Report, but y’know what, there’s still a fresh spin to it that’ll keep me tuning in. For one, I like the bromance of sort between Urban and his droid partner Michael Ealy known as Dorian. I might do a proper review after second part of pilot airs tomorrow, but for now I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed!

Now here’s my review from my latest screening:

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The Book Thief is based on a novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. Set during the era of Nazi Germany, the protagonist is 11-year-old Liesel Meminger who upon her young brother’s death is adopted by housepainter Hans Hubermann and his wife Rosa. The narrator of the story is Death, who describes the WWII era as being an extremely busy time for it.

Naturally, it takes some time for Liesl to adjust in her new foster home, but Hans’ patience with her slowly wins her over. Starting with the book dropped by the grave digger who buried her brother, Hans teaches Liesl how to read and write. Liesl soon becomes quite a voracious reader in a time where books have become scarce with the Nazi’s penchant for book burning. Time after time, it’s books that become her refuge, it’s a key part in her journey, a link to the past and her future. But then things get complicated when a Jewish man from a family Hans knew well stops by and ask for a refuge as the Nazis are starting to raid the Jews and sending them to concentration camps.

The story of Liesl is definitely worth-telling. I particularly like the point of view from a young girl in one of the world’s darkest hour. Perhaps not exactly as desperate as Anne Frank, but there are certainly dark moments in her life that no child—or adult for that matter—should ever have to experience. For a relative newbie, French-Canadian Sophie Nélisse is pretty good in the lead role, though she’s not as expressive as she could’ve been, something that’d usually come from experience. What sold me about this film is Geoffrey Rush‘ casting as Hans, and to my pleasant surprise, Emily Watson also has a prominent role as Liesl’s foster mom. I especially enjoyed the scenes between Rush and Nélisse, the father/daughter relationship serves as the heart of the film. Rush and Watson certainly elevated Brian Percival‘s direction from being too much like a Saturday Afternoon Special.

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Despite some heart-wrenching moments though, at times the film just feels rather superficial in the way it explores the narrative and characters. Along the way, we’re introduced to a few people who enter Liesl’s life, but the initial build-up between the characters, we’re left wanting more. In regards to Max especially, the Jewish young man hiding under Hans’ basement, there’s barely any character development on him though he seems pretty integral to the plot. There’s also the friendship between Liesl and her schoolmate Rudy (Nico Liersch) that starts off sweet but it just never seems to gain much traction. The heavy melodrama and slow pace also threatens to grind the film to a halt on several occasions, though fortunately it never derailed it entirely.

The cinematography is gorgeous though, I like the look of small town Germany and the Wintry shots. The look isn’t exactly gritty, but a meticulous attention to detail to the costumes and set pieces are lovely to behold. The score is done by the legendary John Williams, which adds to the solemn atmosphere of the film. It’s nowhere as memorable as his gut-wrenching score as Schindler’s List though, but then again, neither is the film. I guess what I’m trying to say is this film could’ve been far more profound, for a lack of a better word. I doubt that this film would reach nearly the same level as the celebrated novel, which won numerous awards and was on The New York Times Best Seller list for over 230 weeks. (per Wiki)

That said, there’s a certain honesty and charm that I find quite pretty stirring and delightful. The message about the power of words, reading and creativity is certainly an admirable one for both children and adults. Despite my quibbles, the film’s heart is in the right place and there’s enough going for it here to warrant a recommendation.

Three and a half stars out of Five
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So what did you see this weekend, folks? Anything good?

Guest Review: Lantana (2001)

Lantana begins with ambient music and a tracking shot of vegetation which eventually come to rest on a woman’s corpse, face down so that we can’t tell who she was. Then we meet the characters whose lives are entangled like the branches of a lantana shrub, a perennial flowering plant that has a tendency to take over and is now considered a weed in many places. There is Leon (Anthony LaPaglia), a cop who is married to Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) and having an affair with Jane (Rachael Blake), who used to be married to Pete (Glenn Robbins); Jane lives next door to Nik (Vince Colosimo) and Paula (Daniela Farinacci), a happily married couple with two young children; Sonja is seeing a psychologist, Valerie, who is married to John, but thinks that her husband is having an affair with one of her (male) patients, Patrick (Peter Phelps).

Do you need a score card yet? The characters’ paths cross occasionally and awkwardly, but nothing really gets snarled up until Valerie goes missing. Leon and his colleague Claudia (Leah Purcell) are put on the case. In the process of the investigation, we see that none of these people really knows or trusts anyone else, and that they all keep secrets.

The film, released in 2001 and directed by Ray Lawrence, is based on the play Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell, The visual composition, soundtrack, and secret-heavy plot all reminded me of David Lynch’s work, visually and thematically, particularly Blue Velvet (angst in a normal-seeming town) and Twin Peaks (woman goes missing, secrets surround her life), though Lantana doesn’t share Lynch’s use of sound.

The script slowly reveals all of the relationships between the characters. It may seem at times as if the narrative has stalled, but in spite of this, the story drew me in until I wanted to see what would happen. It’s definitely an ensemble piece; the acting is uniformly good, and no one performance stood out, not even Geoffrey Rush’s. The story takes place in a suburb of Sydney and while there are some giveaways that it was filmed there, it basically could be anywhere in the English-speaking areas of the world.

While overall it was a compelling mystery, Lantana doesn’t offer much of a positive spin on relationships. Throughout the film, Claudia has been telling Leon about her crush, a man she sees at the Chinese restaurant eating alone, like her. When she finally talks to her crush, it’s difficult to feel much hope for her. It’s the film’s constant emphasis on mistrust and betrayal that becomes heavy-handed and tends towards overkill, and that’s the aspect of this film that earns it 3 stars instead of 4.


If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love to hear what you think. As for the rest of you, are interested in seeing this one?

Poster of the Week: The King’s Speech

I love quad posters. They’re usually more interesting that the typical vertical format and this one is no different. I thought that the first official poster looked terrible, it’s definitely one of those cases when bad posters happens to good movies. This one however, is regal looking version worthy of an Oscar contender!

The historical drama Colin Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helped the King overcome a stammer as he led the country through war. I’ve been wanting to see the movie ever since the trailer came out last month. I was hoping to squeeze this movie in over the Thanksgiving break but it wasn’t playing anywhere near me. Bummer! Everything I’ve been hearing about this movie just fuels my anticipation. It currently stands at 92% on rottentomatoes which seems to be in line with the stellar buzz coming out of film festivals all year. If only this had premiered at TCFF last Fall 😦

Well, has anyone seen this film? If so, what did you think?