Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

There’s only so long you can stare at a screen before something has to appear on it, so I’ll open with what comes to mind then build from there. Scale, widespread. Sets, tangible. length, overt. effects… effective. characters, mixed bag. Overall what we get from director Gore Verbinski’s first “Pirates” film is an effective adventure that struggles to justify it’s length but undeniably tries admirably to do so, in the end being a truly satisfying experience.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was the start of a phenomenon that in all honesty ended in 2007 with the release of the third movie, “Pirates… At World’s End“. Needless to say the films have displayed an uncanny staying power as demonstrated by this year’s release of “Pirates… Dead Men Tell No Tales” but I do feel as though they just sort of blend into the rest of the blockbuster season now as opposed to being legitimate standouts.

I am baffled that it became so huge and carries on 14 years later but looking at this first film I can certainly see why some latched onto it even though I never did myself, and I actually look forward to the next one despite what I’ve heard about the series after this.

The premise is simple for a an adventure tale and that’s absolutely fine. The Black Pearl is a legendary ship with black sails and an undead crew, led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is the drunkard pirate who needs no introduction. I think he must be the only reason why the films are able to continue, and I can see why that is the case. From this first outing he is clearly charismatic in an off-beat accidental sort of way. The way his superhero-esque feats seem to be just a happy coincidence his flailing limbs have given themselves to, is undoubtedly endearing. Especially when backed up by an admittedly stellar score from Klaus Badelt, the movie certainly revolves around him without feeling directly focused on him, which is sort of the problem.

The aforementioned Black Pearl has come into the possession of Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) for mysterious purposes, and Will Turner (Orlando bloom) finds himself reluctantly teaming up with Jack on a mission to find his love, whilst Jack pursues his own personal desires. I understand wholeheartedly why this was needed as, despite inherent charm, I don’t believe that he can carry a film on his own or without people getting in his way. That said, Keira Knightley is dreadful and Orlando Bloom is serviceable at best. Together they are just… trite.

There is no charm to these two, and among an array of unrefined or nonsensical characters (I actually didn’t mind the occasional stooge humour) these two stick out as the biggest weak link in the chain that keeps this entertaining romp together. My biggest misgiving as that they remain for the next two movies in some capacity and I don’t sense that going down well, though I remain optimistic.

Certainly the pacing is impressive, the film takes us from one location to the next at a decent pace whilst the direction retains a flamboyant mix of humour and action. An early sword-fight in a Blacksmith’s uses a good range of choreography and creativity to make the fairly low key sequence, compared to the finale anyway, worth our time. By the end the action feels a little more superfluous and lengthy but by no means did I find my attention to be completely lost. This was helped by effects that remain convincing despite their age, which was probably the biggest surprise for me.

The fact is Pirates provides competent enough storytelling with an original premise and the lure of adventure that just seemed to strike a chord with people. I like it, that’s for sure, I liked it last time I watched it too and I wouldn’t be averse to liking it again despite it being slightly long in the tooth. If you haven’t experienced the escapism provided by this one, it is worth a look.

7/10

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) Review

If “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns” have taught me anything, it is not to sneer at young adult fiction. There is some genuinely sappy and seemingly toe-curling stuff written every day and it is indeed eaten up by teenage girls. Though if John Greene’s novel adaptations are anything to go by, maybe that is a fault on the boys.

“Me and Earl and Dying Girl” is the latest cinematic endeavour from the generation of young adult novelists this time being based upon Jesse Andrew’s book of the same name. Greg (Thomas Mann) is a teen that is well versed in self-loathing to the extent that he feels betrayed when people call him handsome and refuses to refer to his “friend” Earl (RJ Cyler) as such, instead calling him his co-worker. As a teenager, Greg is accustomed to wasting away his days inside and not really making all that much of himself, until his mother (Connie Britton) tells him that a girl — whom he seems to be vaguely aware of — has cancer.

This is where you moan. Even whilst waiting for the film to start, I saw a trailer for another film about a woman dealing with cancer (Missing You Already) that looks rather sickly but it is too early to judge. Of course we have already had the aforementioned “Fault in Our Stars” as well as “My Sister’s Keeper” and countless other movies about people who have to deal with cancer. I suppose it is a cinematic disease, allowing people to appear physically well at first and just causing them to become more gaunt as the story goes on. Visually, the disease is usually fairly unobtrusive to the general appearance of a person despite slowly making them look like drawn out versions of themselves, which works very well on screen if handled well.

What director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon wants you to believe, which is literally told to you via Greg’s omniscient narration (the film begins with him writing the story of what we are seeing having already experienced the events), is that this film is not like those other movies. We are even told what would happen if it were just another one of those teenage love stories, and then shown what will happen because this is not one of those. This is done well as the relationship between the titular Dying Girl, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), and Greg blossoms in a fairly believable fashion and never comes close to love. These two people are just not meant to be and we feel that alongside the feeling that they are fairly good friends when they have been forced to be together.

There is a certain level of breaking the ice to their exchanges, and the film handles her feelings with tact. She isn’t always sad, but she isn’t always happy. Sometimes she laughs, sometimes she’s silent. It gets closer to the actual feelings I imagine someone dying would have which is great to see along with the actual feelings of someone like Greg who counts the days of the relationship he has dubbed the “Doomed Friendship”.

The problem with the film comes from overt attempt to be different to the point of being obtuse. People have commented on the fact that the film feels as if it was directed by Wes Anderson, whereas I would say it feels like it was directed by a pale imitator of Anderson’s work. Gomez-Rejon will often use unconventionally close close-ups, turn the camera on its side in ways that feel arbitrary and meaningless and often interrupts the live-action narrative with a stop-motion metaphor. We are so used to the way films are, their formulas and how they look, without even knowing it. So when something like this comes along and offers to switch all this up for us it can feel quite uncomfortable.

Wes Anderson was born for it and he manages to make it work even when his films might not be that great, the visuals are never the problem. “Me and Earl and the Dying girl” was constantly reminding me that it was a movie and we were watching from behind a camera. Very rarely was there a scene where I didn’t feel like the camera itself was a barrier to the experience instead of a supplement. Yes Alfonso, you can turn your camera upside down, but that doesn’t mean you should.

In many respects the plot feels quite meandering as well especially in the first half of the film. When we are told extensively about Earl and Greg’s history together and how they make movies based upon classic foreign cinema where they turn the name into a pun of the original — “A Sockwork Orange” and “Senior Citizen Kane” come to mind — we are shown a portion of the film that distracts from the plot in order to show us these films and get some cheap laughs out of the audience. When I was creating a group presentation at school, I was told never to create humour out of in jokes. In most films, references are cheaply but effectively layered in and don’t distract from anything. Gomez-Rejon however seems so impressed with his little jokes (where the book may have merely named the films he has the opportunity to show segments of them) that he takes the film to one side so we can all laugh at the references from movies we have all seen right? I got all the references and still found them on their own witty but contrived in their implementation. I can’t imagine how you’ll feel when minutes of the story are given to references you don’t even understand.

The final 15 minutes or so of the film are definitely the strongest, though one particular thing Greg often mentioned did feel like an extremely cheap tactic and unfortunately I’m tittering around the subject to avoid spoilers, but the rest of the film falls into the passable distraction category. An uneven experience, much like the title itself, with some funny moments though many more unfunny ones. Brilliant performances abound with genuine invention in many respects but it did come across as trying far too hard to be different, succeeding in certain areas but quite frankly being dishonest with us in others.

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) Review

I left “The Fast and the Furious” eager for more, which surprised me enough. I now leave “2 Fast 2 Furious”, the sequel to that brainless gem, with remorse and indignation. My wrongdoing was apparently to allow myself to be filled with optimism again which I haven’t done since I saw “Godzilla” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” over a year ago. The indignation spawns from how unfair it is that John Singleton, the director of “Boyz n the Hood” which bought him an Oscar nod for best director and best screenplay, fails so spectacularly at a formula that seems so simple. It is mind numbing to think that a movie so similar to its predecessor could be so much worse. Fast cars I can find anywhere, the job of the Director is to convince me that cars smaller than my hand travelling from one end of my screen to another are really going very, very fast. The cars are fake and so they feel fake and any sense of speed that would be derived from the use of an actual real life vehicle (shock! horror!) is left in the CGI dust.

Paul Walker is the only cast member from “The Fast and the Furious” to return for the sequel, which attempts to alleviate the cumbersome use of “the” before each adjective but instead ends up creating a grossly misleading title. The movie was too lazy to explain the back story sufficiently in the actual film so we are provided a “Turbo Charge Prelude” to fill in the blanks. Which is possibly the laziest way to keep people up to date I have ever seen. You might assume that this prelude explains what happened in the first movie for those who haven’t seen it? No, that would be a good idea. This prelude bridges the gap between each film, despicable.

Either way Walker is back as Brian O’Conner who has been on the run from the FBI after the events in the previous film, and he makes his way in Miami doing street races and making unbelievable amounts of money from it. This of course leads us into the opening race sequence which is near identical in set up to the first race in “The Fast and the Furious”. This time however, the race is drawn out like Guy Fawkes (I guess each car represents the quarters in this analogy) and instead of using practical effects which gave the action sequences in the first film a real kinetic tangibility, we are treated to CGI cartoon cars.

John Singleton’s attempt to blatantly recreate Rob Cohen’s scene from the first film fall absolutely flat. A ramp is created which Paul Walker uses to overtake an opponent by literally flying over him in midair and crashing back down onto the tarmac. Its a shame that the use of cars that are clearly not their is only compounded by Singleton shooting the seconds long “stunt” with more cuts than Regan MacNeil.

After winning the race and earning his pay Walker is found by the FBI and he is given an offer to once again go undercover in exchange for having his record wiped clean. O’Conner reluctantly accepts, on the condition that he can pick his co-driver. The lucky man is Roman Pearce played by Tyrese Gibson (credited as Tyrese) who seems to hate O’Conner for being a cop once and blames him for being sent to jail for three years. This attempt to usher in conflict quickly becomes tired and reduced to occasionally bringing it up with Gibson producing a snarl. Very sinister stuff.

On they go, hand in oily hand, to take down the drug lord Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) and boy I can’t wait to see more racing! The issue still remains, none of the action sequences in “2 Fast” are in anyway exciting. the only inventive thing Singleton does in the entire run time is invent a method of torture in which you place a rat in a bucket face down on someones stomach then you heat the bucket with a blowtorch. The only way the rat can escape is by tunneling down, pretty gruesome stuff and it managed to bring the number of emotions I felt whilst watching the film up to a grand total of two. Distress during the torture scene (which doesn’t come to gratuitous fruition thank goodness) and relief when the credits gracefully roll.

I didn’t expect a plot worth a damn but without enjoyable racing to back it up “2 Fast 2 Furious” becomes an abysmal waste of time with practically nothing to offer other than annoyance whilst watching the dreadful Walker and Gibson exchange the word “Brah” as a replacement for the full stop. My enthusiasm for the series has been dashed violently across the tarmac and I now dread the proceedings.

3/10

The Fast and the Furious (2001) Review

“The Fast and the Furious” is a whirlwind of simplistic virtues. With the release of the seventh movie of the franchise I decided to undertake the task of watching the previous six movies. I am a longtime sufferer of sequel syndrome and refuse to watch a movie without having seen the previous, it’s an incurable affliction. So here I am, starting at first base and just now realising that this analogy will only apply to a quadrilogy, but I digress. As simple as it is, “The Fast and the Furious” is sufficiently stylish and vibrant enough that it becomes easy to appreciate how Rob Cohen brings these elements together. There is nothing new here of course, but these cars go really, really fast.

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Cinderella (2015) Review

I’ve watched the previews; seen the trailers and read the reviews. Many of them say the same thing in their own unique order: ‘I had absolutely no desire to see “Cinderella” when it first came to my attention’. Who can blame them? There’s an inescapable cast iron ball of assumption attached to the ankle of “Cinderella” that can be directly attributed to recent attempts such as like “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”, “Mirror Mirror” and “Alice in Wonderland”. My opinions aside, the general reception of the modern movie adaptation of the classic Disney fairy tale is fairly mute. Then comes “Cinderella”, somewhat unannounced in the years first quarter, to show those movies how its done. Buy your ticket online so that you aren’t dissuaded by the “G” rating, the glitter and — In what will be your most trying test — the little girls dressed in frilly blue dresses that threaten to make you think better of yourself. “Cinderella” is a light but nonetheless enjoyable film that may be somewhat forgettable for playing it safe but is a great deal of fun without a talking rat in sight.

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Cast Away (2000) Review

“Cast Away” is in some ways a pseudo-bottleneck movie, it removes something that would usually be considered crucial to the smooth operation of any movie, characters. Or at least for the most part, before our protagonist washes up on the unnamed island we see him propose to his fiancé whilst furiously trying to rearrange work schedules to be there for her. It is the island though, that is the soul of “Cast Away” and I have huge respect for Robert Zemeckis who has managed to create a lengthy and consistently engaging movie using almost just the dedication to acting demonstrated by Tom Hanks and his heartfelt method of film making.

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Casino (1995) Review

The Mafia is the most interesting crime organisation out there, and Martin Scorsese understands this as well as the Mafia itself all too well. He knows that the inner workings of the Italian crime family is fascinating to those who avidly pursue the knowledge of what goes on under the surface and even more so to those who blissfully ignore its ethereal presence. It is completely inappropriate that I am reminded of the vampire council in “Blade”, but regardless, I am. An organisation that is everywhere but never seen, and have their blood soaked tendrils in everything. The vampire council requires money to get blood, but the Mafia require blood to get money.

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