Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Captain Jack Sparrow is back in the fourth film in the series. Usually when you get to number 4 in a series you've already upset the trilogy Gods as you embark on uncharted waters. You could end up with a Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where you take home the biggest box office haul for a Star Trek film, up to that date. Or you could end up with Batman & Robin and totally fucking destroy a franchise, for at least a few years. So how does Pirates 4 stack up, is it a Fat Scotty or nippled breast plate?  The answer is......well, I'm not sure I can say. I'm kind of thinking neither.
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) returns for another adventure, actually, if you were paying attention at the end of the third film you would have heard Jack mention the Fountain of Youth. And that is of course where this little adventure takes us. Some familiar faces are in tow, like Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Keith Richards as Captain Teague, Jack's father. And I think there were a few supporting cast members from previous films, but don't quote me on that. Everyone else is new including the director, Rob Marshall who is replacing Gore Verbinski on this ho-hum quest. The new cast is pretty exceptional though, Ian McShane as Blackbeard, Penelope Cruz as his femme fatale like daughter. There are vicious mermaids and large battles and of course the Fountain of Youth.
So why the lack of joy in this review you might ask, cause with all of this, with the great cast, visuals and mildly interesting plot, what is actually wrong with this movie? Well to put it mildly it's boring through most of it and it just lacks the fun of the previous films. Yes the second and third films were not very good but they were entertaining spectacles. You were in on the ride no matter how bat shit crazy it was. This one, Jack seems almost normal through most of it. He throws us a few weird speeches just to remind us he's Jack Sparrow, but for the most part he just felt like he was just another action hero with a spice of Han Solo. The script was also seriously lacking, it didn't have the wit or the spark of the first one.  It's a real shame to because this cast was pretty impressive. Honestly Barbossa was truly the best part of the flick, he elevated the material for sure, which is why I'm still scratching my head with Johnny Depp, usually he's doing that too but maybe he just wasn't able to break away given that the film is now solely on his shoulders. No wooden Orlando Bloom or hot Keira Knightley to bounce off of. Anyway, if you find yourself scratching your head and looking for a movie to kill some time with, then sure, Stranger Tides wouldn't be a bad choice, but between Thor and Hangover part II, the choice becomes clear. I know this won't deter Disney from making another one, given that the Box Office has been pretty good the last two weeks. But one could hope they'll keep the Pearl in drydock and lets go back to making more original Pirate adventures. I'm sure they can come up with something--Nah, this is Hollywood, they can only do something truly original in the mainstream maybe once or twice every ten years or so, I think that's a law.
Grade: 2 1/2 Buckets

Monday, May 09, 2011


The second film of the Summer is upon us and it looks like it's on it's way to a strong 66 million for Mother's Day weekend. I did try ever so valiantly to take my lady for Mother's Day to see Thor, but she would have none of it. Chris Hemsworth's pecks were not enough to get her to the cineplex, I had to see it by myself late on Friday. But no worries on that score, I've been eagerly anticipating this one as well as Captain America: The First Avenger which comes out July 22nd. Being a fan of comics and Marvel specifically, the hiring of Shakespeare obsessed Kenneth Branagh to direct was a very smart move, and even before I saw any footage, I had a feeling that this was going to hit all the right notes. Once I finally saw the trailers though I was hooked, it looked great and it seemed like they fixed the problem of blending a mythical magical storyline into the hyper-reality of the Marvel Universe. Ever since I saw Chris Hemsworth in his brief but memorable role as Captain Kirk's daddy in Star Trek I was intrigued about this guy that made me believe he was the leading man in a film I absolutely knew he wasn't. I kept saying to my wife, "who the hell is this guy, I want to see what happens when this guy is given his opportunity at the center stage?" Looks like I got my answer, and given the strong showing at the box office it seems to be holding true.
The Norse God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are tasked by their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to guard the 9 Realms of the Universe and keep the peace with their mortal enemy the Frost Giants and their evil King Laufey (voice: Colm Feore), who had attempted to take over the other realms especially Midgard or Earth. But his forces were defeated by Odin and the bad King's power cube was taken away from him so that he may never use it for evil again. Thor, because of his vein and arrogant nature provokes another war with the Frost Giants putting the 9 Realms in danger once more. Odin is of course pissed and banishes his son to Earth and strips him of his Godlike power which resides in his mighty Hammer Mjolnir. Thor and his hammer crash land in New Mexico where he meets a team of researchers (Stellan Skarsgard & Kat Dennings) led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who try to understand how Thor got here. He has to put his vanity and pride away in order to save Earth from his spiteful and manipulative brother, Loki, who now has sights on Odin's throne. Thor will need the help of everyone on Earth and on Asgard, especially his closest confidantes: Volstagg, played by the great Ray Stevenson, who unfortunately gets a little lost in the shuffle of so many characters, Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Josh Dallas) & Sif (Jamie Alexander), who really showed what a bad ass Sif could be on the big screen. Not to mention smoking hot too.
The movie is well put together, honestly, even after seeing it I still don't know how that worked. You have this crazy fantasy world with on top of the bizarre buildings and a Rainbow Bridge for Christ sake, a bunch Gods wearing outfits from the Middle Ages and speaking in Olde English. Then you have modern day New Mexico, where the slightest tweak could make the whole movie unintentionally funny and ruin the whole thing. It's the same problem they worried about before the Avengers was put into action. How do you put Iron Man in the same room with the God of Thunder and have it not be goofy and weird. Chris Hemsworth pretty much put that argument to bed himself in this film. He continued to talk funny for great comic effect but it worked. It didn't feel as out of place as it should have and he fucking sold it man. He kicked S.H.I.E.L.D's ass all over town and as Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) put it made them look like a bunch of Mall rent-a-cops. I as always enjoyed the little Easter Eggs from other Marvel U alumni, see how many you can find. For instance I heard the Infinity Gauntlet was to make an appearance in Odin's vault but I didn't see it. They make references to Bruce Banner, Tony Stark and you get to see a certain purple clad archer make his big movie debut before the Avengers. (Thankfully they didn't have him wear that Purple spandex.) This was a truly great cast and I thought they all complimented each other well. I really liked Idris Elba as Heimdall, I know a lot of people were bitching about a Black man playing a Norse God but you know what it really worked. You needed somebody big and commanding with a sense of nobility in that role and I think he fit the role nicely. It's not a huge role but it's pivotal to the overall story.
Now the only real downside was the 3D, not that it wasn't good, it was, it's just that the 3D makes everything darker and harder to see. Also it just didn't feel like it needed the upgrade. I actually want to see it again in 2D, I have a feeling I'd enjoy it more. Watching Asgard in 3D was absolutely stunning but it just didn't make sense for the rest of the film. My suggestion, if you see the movie you should see it in 2D if you have the choice. Honestly it really isn't worth the extra dough to see it in 3D. But I do recommend you see it. Especially if you enjoyed the other Marvel films like Iron Man or the Hulk, they are really starting to hit their stride.
Grade: 4 Buckets

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Fast Five

If you would have told me a few months ago that I would like the fifth installment of this apparently dead series about car races I would have laughed in your face. But it seems that new life has been pumped into this series of deadwood acting, fast cars, pretty girls and a lifeless plot. What happened what changed, does that mean I need to go back and watch the fourth one? Almost ten years ago I saw the first film the Fast and the Furious, it was pretty fun. I liked Vin Diesel, I thought Paul Walker made Keanu Reeves look Oscar worthy, Jordana Brewster was hot and yeah, those cars moved really fast. The second film wasn't very good and I completely lost any interest in the series. I tried to watch the first ten minutes of Tokyo Drift, and I just couldn't get it through it. So fast-forward to this year, the trailer comes out for Fast Five. I shrug my shoulders, "eh big deal." It didn't seem that interesting to me. The main guys return to steal some money and race some cars, oh and now the Rock is involved. O.K., good for them maybe they'll make a few bucks. Then I start hearing from very reliable people that this is better then you might think. I'm still skeptical. I mean these flicks are almost always bad, and not in the fun way, more like lame. But I was told on good authority that these were actually worth checking out and that it's a solid heist flick. So I said OK, why not, let's see what Toretto and O'Connor have been up to the last few years.
I'm assuming a few months had passed since the fourth film and we start out with a daring mid-day breakout from a prison transport for Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel).  It looks like his old buddy, former cop turned outlaw Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) and Dom's hot sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) are behind the wheels of the escape vehicles, inexplicably there were no injuries and the other prisoners were accounted for except for Toretto. Fast-forward a few months later and Brian and Mia are together and on the run, this time in Brazil, they are apparently out of money and starving. They wind up doing a job to bring in a few bucks but find themselves on the bad side of a notorious drug runner and cop who apparently has the ultimate power in Rio, Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Dom and Brian decide the only way to get this Bad Cop out of their lives is to steal every last dime he has, about 100 million. But in order to do this big Con they have to hire some help; Tej Parker (Ludacris) is there gadgets and tech man, Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) is I think what you might call a Forger, they imply that he can get in and out of any situation with this charisma. Han Lue (Sung Kang) a driver, he was in Tokyo Drift I believe along with Tej. There is an Israeli woman who it is implied that she formally worked for Mossad, Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot), I think she may be a weapons expert but I can't remember what she was there to do specifically. She was gorgeous though and pulled a great lift in the film. To round out the crew you have two goofy locals as the grease men. Rico Santos (Don Omar) and Tego Leo (Tego Calderon) had to do most if not all of the dirty work and you'll know what I mean when you see the movie. To top it all off the crew now has the ultimate warrior bad ass cop from America on their tail and he doesn't give a shit about much except for taking Toretto and his crew down, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). He is assisted by a local honest cop, Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) to take down Torretto, but she gets the hots for the bank robber and finds herself in a pickle.
So yeah, I thought this was a fun flick and I like the direction they are going with the series, it seems a little more streamlined and has become more of a heist movie then a racing movie which suits me just fine. I never got into the illegal drag racing element of the original storyline, so them getting back to fare like Ocean's 11 and the Italian Job was a win win in my book. Now it isn't as clever or smart as those films, kind of a low rent Ocean's 11, but it really is an exciting ride. The script could have used a last polish but I won't nitpick that here, I mean this thing made a boatload of cash over the last few weeks so obviously no one else was bothered by the slightly dull script. Ironically of the cast members this time around the one I found myself rooting for the most and enjoying was Paul Walker, yeah, I said Paul Walker. The guy made of wood and stone for most of his career seemed to be having the most fun with this one and I will admit I felt he had the most heart. Vin on the other hand was stiff as a board and seemed like he was just kind of there. Maybe that's just how his Dom is supposed to be but damn, inject some kind of life into it. It reminded me a bit of his Riddick character from that sequel almost no emotion whatsoever. Where is that guy who was so animated in Saving Private Ryan, the Boiler Room etc.? I also was a little annoyed with the casting of Tyrese Gibson, that guy is just terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Every time he opened his mouth in this movie I think everyone in the theatre collectively groaned.
Anyway, Director Justin Lin did a great job keeping the pace and the action of the flick going and not allowing anything to let up, he just put his foot on the accelerator, with a dose of nitrous, and kept on trucking. At first I thought the Rock was also a little stiff but he grew on me and I really enjoyed his fight scene with Dom, very good idea pitting him against Vin Diesel, I recommend they do a repeat in the sequel I think it will certainly give it a boost. So go and check this out if you're looking for a fast fun popcorn flick that doesn't let up from start to finish. I would see it soon though, there are far better films coming down the pike, and even though it made a boatload of cash to start out the summer I have a feeling it won't be the last.
Grade: 3 Buckets