June 15, 2011
Action, Adventure, Film
3D, Angels & Demons, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, At World's End, Bill Nighy, Blackbeard, Chicago, Dead Man's Chest, Disney, DVD, Film, film music, Fountain of Youth, Geoffrey Rush, Gore Verbinski, Hans Zimmer, Ian McShane, Inception, Jack Sparrow, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keira Knightley, movies, On Stranger Tides, Orlando Bloom, Penelope Cruz, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, review, Richard Griffiths, Rob Marshall, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Sam Claflin, score, soundtrack, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, The Curse of the Black Pearl
Despite all the claims that “At World’s End” would be the last of Jack Sparrow’s escapades, the promise of booty in these waters was enough to tempt both Disney and super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. After all, despite lukewarm receptions from critics and most movie-goers, the second and and third films in the series earned Disney in the region of a billion dollars each. And so, having dropped Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and director Gore Verbinski, the pirates set sail once more with Bruckheimer promising a style closer to the swashbuckler spirit of the original. Aside from “Chicago” director Rob Marshall, new crew members include heavyweights Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, next to Geoffrey Rush returning as Barbossa and of course, the one and only captain Jack. Far from a face-lift however, the end product reeks of a dead formula and will have eyes rolling with yet-another-pointless-sequel dissatisfaction.
Picking up with a loose end from “At World’s End,” “On Stranger Tides” begins with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) captured and brought before King George (Richard Griffiths whom you may remember from the “Harry Potter” series) in London, charged with assisting expedition to the Fountain of Youth led by the now peg-legged, wig-sporting and privateering Barbossa. Sparrow being Sparrow and the British guards being incompetent as ever, Jack escapes but instead ends up on “The Queen Anne’s Revenge,” the ship of notorious pirate Blackbeard (McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Cruz), who are both after the fountain as well, for different reasons. The fountain, it is said will grant eternal youth to whoever drinks from it. Along the predictable routes of the quest, there’s zombies and mermaids to be fought, Blackbeard’s temper to fear and Depp’s still damn good comedic timing to contend with. Penelope Cruz is without doubt the best addition to the cast; she’s a good counterpart to Depp and the pair would have considerably more chemistry if the plot permitted it. Your ability to tolerate their nonsense will depend largely on whether you found Depp’s Sparrow charming in the first place but together their interplay amounts to all the film can muster in entertainment.
The actual fountain plot feels extremely tired in its entirety. Even though he’s an excellent choice to play Blackbeard, Ian McShane’s role can never top Bill Nighy and with the exception of one clever scene in which six pistols are laid out, there’s no evil to be felt. What drives him, why is he so evil? This is what made Davey Jones and Barbossa so compelling and Blackbeard has nothing to serve up in return. A romantic sub-plot involving newcomers Sam Claflin and French model Astrid Berges-Frisbey as cleric and mermaid respectively is equally devoid of all life, never mind believability. Perhaps worst of all, “On Stranger Tides” never leaves a moment to breathe, it tries to pile action upon action, as long as it’s always loud, with plenty of crash bang, people will be entertained, right? All these points draw inevitably to the main x everyone will mark on the map (enough with the pirate puns already!) as to reason for all this mayhem.
Marshall has his hands full, trying to keep the huge, lumbering ship on course but can never muster enough style to inject a breath of fresh air. But then, the director was never the problem of this series. The blame must be decidedly laid at the door of screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. The pair have become entangled within the mechanisms of a genius idea they once created, their personal fountain of inspiration dried up. While “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” were over-laden with confusing (but nevertheless interesting) storylines, the fourth entry is more straight forward in its quest plot but the dialogue feels tired, the puns lame and what little drama remains serves purely to move characters between action sequences. These set-pieces too simply feel like a rehash, from an early sword fight, suspiciously reminiscent of the workshop fight in “Curse of the Black Pearl,” and event the fountain set has reminiscences of the Isla deMuerta. Where is a three-way sword fight equivalent? Where is an all-powerful villain? Where the indomitable monster? And where, oh where is any sense of adventure and pirating spirit? Whether or not this extra dumbing-down is truly the fault of Elliott and Rossio or if pressure existed from Bruckheimer and Disney we will probably never know, this is an assignment they (or anyone else for that matter) should never have boarded.
One of the most offending aspects of “On Stranger Tides” is the original score by Hans Zimmer. Having provided a grand and epic score for “At World’s End,” the only word suitable to describe this music is disaster. Not only is it mixed at excessively high and headache-inducing levels throughout the film, it is largely a copy-and-paste job from the previous three. The much publicised collaboration with guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela to illustrate the latin flair, amounts a minimal amount of score and is extremely uninteresting. Blackbeard’s theme is what one can freely term “Inception” while the only motif of interest for the mermaids borrows heavily from “Angels & Demons.” Zimmer’s application of themes is entirely nonsensical in its rationale. Why exactly is the theme for Beckett or the love theme for Will and Elizabeth present here is anyone’s guess. To top it off, the album presentation features under 30 minutes of score complemented with several (and all terrible) trance and dance remixes. If you thought the rubbish at the end of the “Dead Man’s Chest” album was bad, think again. Even Zimmer’s most hard-core fans have complained about this product. Run away, run away, run away!
Yes, “On Stranger Tides” is just another pointless sequel. Sadly, even the worst “Pirates” yet sets up another sequel at its end that will probably see another film or being made. The box-office reception (though bulged by 3D prices) would confirm the necessity for this to Disney. But really, it’s time to lament and reach for your “Curse of the Black Pearl” DVD.
Score in Film
Score on Album
What did you make of Captain Jack’s latest adventure? Please do leave a comment if you agree with my review or if you don’t. Also please follow me on Twitter and share the review with your friends. Thanks and all the best!
August 4, 2010
Action, Adventure, Film, Sci-Fi
Batman, Christopher Nolan, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Film, film music, Gotham, Hans Zimmer, Inception, Johnny Marr, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, movies, picture, review, The Dark Knight, The Matrix, The Smiths, Tom Hardy, Wally Pfister, Warner Bros.
In a deliberate ploy, Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan kept his followup to the 2008 phenomenon “The Dark Knight” shrouded in mystery for a very long time. Cast and crew were tight-lipped also, only small fragments of information were let slip: Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime the tagline taunted, sci-fi then, an intense thriller set within the realm of virtual reality, dreams to be more precise, visual effects galore and a stellar cast to take us there. One thing was sure – it was going to be big. That is on both setting and financial scales, the project apparently devouring several hundred million dollars. One could certainly call it a gamble. Could whatever Nolan had dreamt up (pun intended) be another cash cow for the studio as Batman Begins #2 was, could fans be satisfied when not knowing what to expect and, perhaps most importantly could it ever live up to all the hype? To those of you waiting with bated breath let me put it simply: It’s a huge and resounding Yes!
The film’s plot revolves around Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb, a con-man who’s day job consists of stealing ideas from the minds of his victims, but takes up a different task: Inception. That is to plant rather than extract an idea. The stakes are high – should he be successful he may see his two children again, if not he will be trapped forever in “limbo”, a dream-wasteland of the mind. A team is quickly assembled, consisting of his regular co-worker Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the young architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) and others including Tom Hardy and the actual contractor, Ken Watanabe’s Saito. The target of the whole operation (which of course goes horribly wrong at the first corner) is Cillian Murphy, who as a rich business man’s son should (for Saito’s business interests) break up his dead father’s empire. Complicated? Believe me, this synopsis barely scratches the surface.
Yet Nolan manages to keep both film and audience on track with professional ease. Because it’s not like “Inception” is exclusively intellectual. The movie is equally concerned with explosions, gun-fights, fist-fights (in zero-gravity no less, “The Matrix” should watch its back!) and all round action entertainment. It’s a delicate balance but Nolan keeps all the mayhem in check, so it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on all the time. Central to this is clearly the mentally unstable Cobb. Tortured by his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) as well as his children, loosing grasp on what is real and what is not, DiCaprio’s performance is his most mature yet (and that, by now is quite mature) and weighty, most of the movie’s heavier emotional moments resting on his shoulders. That is not to say the rest of the cast are merely sidekicks or serve comic-relief functions: Gordon-Levitt is quietly dangerous, Murphy excellent in crumbling slowly from the inside and, well, there’s something about Ellen Page. Quiet, too, unconventionally attractive and the the film, thankfully, never asks her to portray a love interest.
Best of all are the visuals. Firstly, the constructs of the worlds in dreams, the set pieces as you might say. “Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange” Cobb says. Whether rain-soaked metropolis or mountain peak snow-fortress, these worlds feel real to the viewer. Only like this can it take a van 30 minutes to hit the water after driving off a bridge without our interest waning. The second is Wally Pfister’s sweeping cinematography. Like in Gotham, Pfister’s camera keeps a fantasy world rooted firmly in reality. Combine these with the photo-real CGI and the results are breathtakingly spectacular.
Hans Zimmer who wrote the original score for the film is now officially Nolan’s composer of choice. Let’s not forget that it was Nolan also who convinced Zimmer that a film’s music should meld flawlessly with its sound effects. But, there comes a point in everyone’s life when one is fed up with simplistic writing, endlessly looped string ostinatos and low brass roars. For me, “Inception” is that point. I’m a huge Zimmer fan, don’t get me wrong, I even tolerated the Batmans, but this just goes too far. Any creativity left in Zimmer’s previous work has gone right out the window. Frustratingly, in his own opinion the composer seems to regard these sound-effect landscapes as intelligent constructs and hired Johnny Marr (guitarist of “The Smiths” fame) to prove it. Bottom line: it’s not intelligent, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s overly simplistic, an adequate but nowhere near good effort by Zimmer, in short it’s lazy writing. Doubtlessly I will be criticised for this rant but in my opinion he’s just gone down the wrong road.
Whatever about the music, “Inception” is the blockbuster movie to see this summer. An intelligent sci-fi epic with enough to please most camps of the movie-going species, this is quite simply a compelling 148 minutes. I will say that repeat viewing is advised, your appreciation of the complex plot and powerful performances can only grow. So beyond our wildest expectations Christopher Nolan has done it again! Bring on Superman and Batman 3…
I promise that from now on my reviews will start to come a little faster again – I just need to force myself to write regularly! If you have any comments at all I’d love to hear from you so please leave your thoughts. Also please follow me on Twitter or sign up for the RSS feed above. Until next time I wish you all the best!