Sunday, May 28, 2017

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Year: 2017
Directors: Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brendon Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, David Wenham

Plot: Captain Salazar, an old enemy of Jack Sparrow, cursed to be a ghost trapped in the Devil's Triangle for decades, finally breaks free and seeks revenge. To save himself, Jack has to find the Trident Of Poseidon, which gives its wielder the power to control the seas. In order to find it, Jack teams up with Will Turner's son Henry and a female astronomer named Carina.

Review: The POTC films are very similar to the Transformers films. They're both loud, lengthy, expensive, doesn't always make sense and not always smart. But it's pure summer entertainment for these two franchises, and that's how I usually approach them. If anyone ever expects them to do something different, they'll be disappointed.

That being said, Dead Men Tell No Tales (or Salazar's Revenge depending on where you're from) is pretty entertaining as a whole. Just accept the fact that Jack Sparrow is on yet another crazy adventure that involves pirates, mystical artifacts, deadly foes and the British army giving chase and you'll be fine. Jack's nemesis this time is Captain Salazar, a ghost captain who had sworn to destroy pirates until he was lured into the Devil's Triangle by Jack many years ago. Now free, Salazar teams up with a reluctant Barbossa, now the chief pirate of the seas, to find Jack. Jack on the other hand, joins forces with Henry, Will Turner's son and Carina, an astronomer to find the Trident Of Poseidon. While Jack wants to save himself, Henry wants to break his father's curse and bring him home, while Carina wants to honor her long lost father's work.

Nowegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg keep things moving at a quick pace and manage to tell a solid story while making this the shortest Pirates film ever, which is no minor feat. While the film is not as charming as the Curse Of The Black Pearl, it still has a handful of neat moments, such as the chase sequence that seems inspired by the climactic safe dragging sequence from Fast Five, except it's not a safe but an entire building. There's also a well shot action sequence at an execution square, and another that involves ghost sharks (you'll have to see it for yourself). The script by Jeff Nathanson also allows for some dramatic moments involving Barbossa, Carina and an opening sequence with a young Henry and his father, which definitely adds some layers to the movie.

Johnny Depp easily steps back into the role he was born to play and he hasn't lost a step. Some fans may be tired of him already, but not me. The franchise was built on his back and he still is the key player. Geoffrey Rush scores a few key points here as he gives Barbossa a new side to him in a couple of scenes with Carina. Brendon Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are clearly this film's version of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, and though they aren't as memorable as the latter two, they do try hard. Thwaites gives Henry the same enthusiasm that Bloom did for Will, while Scodelario is believable as the girl trying to prove her point when very few people believe her. These two eventual lovebirds don't gel as perfectly as Bloom and Knightley though. Javier Bardem is menacing enough as Salazar, but didn't quite get enough time to really make his character memorable, not in the way Bill Nighy did as Davy Jones. Last but not least, David Wenham's Scarfield is a poor substitute for this film's version of Norrington or Beckett, but it surely isn't Wenham's fault. There are a few cool cameos here, which you would know if you've seen all the trailers, but I won't spoil them for you.

There's a wedding sequence in the second act that just came out of nowhere and was unnecessarily played for laughs, which the film didn't really need and could have been left out. I wished Salazar and his ghost ship had more time to make an impact as well, as it is quite a waste of Bardem's talent here.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with this fifth and possibly final instalment. They ended it in a way that they can still make a sixth film (based on the post credits scene). If you're a fan of these films, there's no reason for you not to go see this. If you're not, this film won't change your mind. For pure entertainment, I'd say it's pretty solid. (7.5/10)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

Year: 2017
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Eric Bana, Annabelle Wallis

Plot: Vortigen kills his own brother Uther using sorcery and seizes the throne of Camelot. Uther's son Arthur, ends up in the hands of prostitutes and is raised in the streets, until one day he discovers his destiny to raise his father's sword and reclaim the throne from his uncle.

Review: Guy Ritchie has a style that for me, only works in certain films. It's a mixed bag; the Sherlock Holmes films were good, but The Man From UNCLE was a failure for me. However, his fast paced, upbeat take on the legend of King Arthur feels quite promising.

As the story goes, Arthur is orphaned at the age of 2 when his uncle Vortigen makes a deal with a trio of syrens and kills Arthur's father Uther, and his mother, and seizes the throne of Camelot. Arthur is raised in a brothel and is trained in street fighting as he grows up. One day, he ends up pulling his father's sword Excalibur out of a stone, thereby making him a threat to Vortigen's power. Vortigen moves to execute him, but Arthur is saved by his father's old allies, and must now train under a female mage to embrace his destiny and how to use Excalibur to overthrow the evil king.

With Guy Ritchie, you can expect a few similar things in all his films: slow motion, quick cuts, flashback/flashforwards etc. This kinetic style actually works in his favor as it makes the film move at a steady pace, thus it is rarely boring. Ritchie also goes to great lengths to show the magic and sorcery aspect of the story, such as giant snakes, eagles and a humongous elephant that tramples everything in its path. There's also the power of Excalibur itself, which was like giving someone the power of the One Ring, and I thought it was cool. I also loved the music score, which has a heavy rock opera feel to it. It's one of the best things about the film. 

Charlie Hunnam hasn't exactly fully matured to become leading man material, but he definitely excels at being an action hero, which he does very well here as Arthur. Astrid Berges-Frisbey, whom I had last seen in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, is much older now, and quite effective as the mage who trains Arthur. Her rather cold exterior makes her perfect for the role. Jude Law is solid as the evil Vortigen, but honestly I felt he wasn't given enough time to really sink into the role. Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen lend their veteran experience as Arthur's backup, but aren't given enough screen time to really stand out. And by now, you must have heard of a certain footballer's cameo, and it's not as bad as everyone thinks.

I do wish that the final fight between Arthur and Vortigen didn't involve a CGI monster. I would have also preferred Merlin to at least make an appearance here, since he is such an important piece of the legend. Ritchie should have also expanded on the story and supporting players a bit more.

Overall, I sort of enjoyed this contemporary take on the King Arthur legend. I hear there are more films planned for this story, but the supposedly lukewarm response at the box office might derail that plan. Anyway, it's an entertaining popcorn movie, bottom line. (7.5/10) 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Alien: Covenant

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo

Plot: After their ship is badly hit by a space anomaly, the crew of a colony ship head for a nearby planet to see if it can sustain life, only to fall into a deadly trap.

Review: Well, color me disappointed. With Ridley Scott continuing his Alien prequel story after the entertaining Prometheus, one would hope Alien: Covenant would be just as good, if not better. To be honest, Covenant is far from a bad film, but it certainly falls short of my expectations.

First, the story. The colony ship Covenant is heading to a distant planet, scheduled to arrive in 7 years. A space anomaly hits them and some casualties occur, including the captain (James Franco in a cameo). First officer Oram, shown clearly to not be ready for leadership, takes charge and orders them to head for a nearby planet that seems to have all it requires to start their new colony. Once they get down there though, shit happens and they realize too late that they've been lured into a trap by a familiar face if you've seen Prometheus.

Here's what's good about Covenant. As usual, from a visual standpoint, Scott scores full marks. Unlike the dark ruins and desert in Prometheus, Scott opts for desolate and quiet forests this time. The location is still scary as heck, which works in his favor. There's also more gore and blood this time around, and yes Alien fans, you will get to see the xenomorphs here. On top of that you will also see new versions of the aliens, which lead to some really gruesome kills.

But compared to Prometheus, Covenant's story is much weaker. While Prometheus is about the search for our creators and discovering weapons of mass destruction, Covenant is about betrayal and a certain character's quest to override his own creator, which is facilitated by the Covenant crew's own carelessness and stupidity. Yeah, I know the Prometheus crew made some dumb decisions in their time, but the Covenant crew were clearly unprepared for traumatic situations and succumb to their own panic really quick.

Secondly, Scott chooses to focus more on this particular character's development than the aliens or the Covenant crew themselves. When you get to the second half of the film, the crew suddenly become fodder for the aliens and their creator, right up to the predictable ending. The ending was what I hated most about this film, because even more so than Prometheus, it was obviously done to set up the next film in the franchise. Thirdly, Scott even tries to execute a space vacuum sequence in the climax, just like the first two Alien films, but the whole process was rather unexciting.

Michael Fassbender does double duty here, playing Walter the android for the Covenant and David from the previous film. Personally I felt he was better as the former. Katherine Waterston is alright as Daniels, who is modeled after Ripley obviously, but doesn't hold a candle to her thanks to the poor writing. Danny McBride does well in a serious role this time as ship pilot Tennessee, and Billy Crudup is solid as Oram. The rest of the crew, including poor Demian Bichir are much too disposable to make an impact.

All I can say is, I expected more than this. I really hope Scott improves on the story for the next one, because Covenant had a lot to live up to and dropped the ball here. For the record, it's still entertaining to a degree. I just wished there was more. (6.5/10)


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