Mermaids, Zombies, & Blackbeard

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides be the most inconsequential film in the franchise, says I. Honestly, apart from Pirates of the Caribbean being one of Disney’s most profitable franchises, no one was asking for a fourth outing. At World’s End was clearly a conclusion and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were definitely done. Well since Captain Jack Sparrow was always the star of the trilogy, Johnny Depp is the only one held captive by it. Geoffrey Rush and Kevin McNally return too as Captain Barbossa and Gibbs respectively.

Despite a far more reduced scale and thankfully a much lower runtime, On Stranger Tides somehow managed to be the most expensive movie ever made (even after 4 Avengers movies). This is the only installment based on an existing work. The title comes from a 1987 book of the same. The only thing they kept was the real life villain Blackbeard, mermaids, and the search for the Fountain of Youth. The only thing that was alluded to in the previous film. On Stranger Tides focuses entirely on Depp just doing his thing as the beloved Pirate. He’s enlisted by the King of England to find the aforementioned Fountain before the Spanish Navy does.

We also discover that Barbossa is now a straightlaced British Navy officer with one leg. Plus there’s a Jack Sparrow imposter running around who happens to be a former lover of his. Penélope Cruz plays the new female lead as Angelica. A fierce Pirate who happens to be Blackbeard’s daughter. I’m not saying Ian McShane’s Blackbeard isn’t an intimidating antagonist, he’s just a bit underwhelming after Davy Jones. He’s given yet another cursed crew of zombies this time. While he also possesses voodoo dolls (see post-credits scene) and the Queen Anne’s Revenge that he controls with a magic sword. The Black Pearl is also trapped in a bottle along with Jack the monkey.

At this point it feels like ideas are just being thrown together. And I haven’t even gotten to the sexy mermaids that lure men then eat them. In Will and Elizabeth’s absence, less memorable discount versions take their place. As a hunky missionary and a beautiful mermaid that fall in love. Long story short, a mermaid tear, two chalisies, and a victim are needed to complete the Fountain ritual. With plenty of swashbuckling action and witty remarks along the way. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is an unnecessary detour that gives fans exactly what we enjoy. “Savvy.”

4. On Stranger Tides

Captain Jack Sparrow and Angelica voyage

Preceded by: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End & Followed by: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

A Pirates Life for Me

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End be an incomprehensible action packed addition to the franchise, says I. With an unbelievably long 2 hour & 49 minute runtime, At World’s End really should have been the epic conclusion it was trying to be. Instead it’s somehow more complex than Dead Man’s Chest with a slow building story that incorporates endless subplots from a giant ensemble cast. One that I’ll explain to the best of my ability.

It’s quite apparent that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were filmed back-to-back. Davy Jones is still the main villain, but the incredibly dull Lord Beckett takes command after Norrington brought him his heart. Beckett is so evil that he’ll even hang children for piracy (a Disney movie). Geoffrey Rush is back in full swing as a more heroic Captain Barbossa. Along with Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom who are still dragging out Will and Elizabeth’s love story with misunderstandings. Will is still concerned for his father and Elizabeth gradually becomes more of a confidant pirate.

After a trip to Singapore involving Captain Sao Feng, a crew consisting of Captain Barbossa, Gibbs, pristest Tia Dalma, Pintel, Rigatti, Jack the monkey, Will, Elizabeth, and a Chinese crew all plunge their boat over the titular World’s End. It’s there in Davy Jones’ Locker that Johnny Depp officially turns Captain Jack Sparrow into a cartoon character. He sees multiple versions of himself on the Black Pearl as well as thousands of rock crabs. 1 hour and a bizarre series of circumstances later, the crew finally frees Jack after capsizing their boat.

From there the overly complicated plot includes: a Brethren Court of nine pirate lords, Elizabeth becoming a lord then Pirate King, Tia Dalma being both the former lover of Davy Jones and the sea goddess Calypso, and Will gaining control of the Flying Dutchman after stabbing Davy Jones heart. Keith Richards even plays Jack’s father (of which Depp was inspired by). Despite the runtime, the swashbuckling action is a bit scarce. Until the exhilarating climax which pits all the pirates against each other. Where Jack and Davy Jones sword fight on a precarious mast and Barbossa marries Will and Elizabeth in the most badass wedding ever. Although tragic, they do go on to have a post-credits son. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is exciting, but they really should have stopped here. “Savvy.”

3. At World's End

Captain Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones fight on a mast

Preceded by: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest & Followed by: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Yo Ho, Yo Ho

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest be the grandiose sequel the franchise needed, says I. Even if some of their decisions may have been too grand. The unexpected success of The Curse of the Black Pearl inspired Disney to commission 2 sequels shot back-to-back. Dead Man’s Chest is far more complex with an added bit of deep sea mythology not found in the theme park attraction. Although their story was pretty much complete, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley return as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Their dark and stormy wedding is interrupted by the forgettable Lord Beckett. Leader of the East India Trading Company who sentences Will, Elizabeth, and Norrington to death. For their aid in the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Although exaggerated a tiny bit, Johnny Depp is still the best part of any Pirates of the Caribbean movie. This time (along with Gibbs and his crew), Jack seeks to end his debt to Davy Jones. The supernatural Captain of the Flying Dutchman with an octopus beard and crab claw. He and his crew are also cursed with aquatic barnacle encrusted appearances. Through an impressive system of motion capture CGI, Bill Nighy plays what is easily the best villain in the franchise. And not just cause he plays the organ with his tentacles. He’s also a shakespearean style antagonist who cut out his own heart. Which was placed inside the titular chest. This is where things get overly complicated.

Let’s just say, Jack needs his compass, a drunken Norrington wants revenge, Will wants to free his cursed father Bootstrap Bill, Elizabeth becomes a badass pirate, and betrayal is all around. Pintel and Ragetti also return as “good” guys. Along with the undead Jack the Monkey and the prison dog (see post-credit scene). There’s also a love triangle that forms between Elizabeth, Jack, and Will. That ends with a steamy kiss between her and Jack. Despite my growing interest in the franchise, I chose to wait until DVD. I was a bit confused, but the even crazier swashbuckling action made up for it.

There’s the hilarious physics defining cannibal island escape, the awesome three person sword fight on a giant wheel, and Jack’s heroic sacrifice on the Black Pearl against the mythical Kraken. Culminating in a cliffhanger where a voodoo priestess brings Captain Barbossa back to life. Apart from a small sense of over ambition, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was an enjoyable achievement nonetheless. “Savvy.”

2. Dead Man's Chest

Captain Jack Sparrow battles a kraken

Preceded by: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl & Followed by: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Why is the Rum Gone?

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl be the greatest film ever based on a theme park attraction, says I. So looking back on it now, it’s truly hard to believe literally no one had faith in the project. Pirates of the Caribbean was originally based on the Disneyland attraction which opened as far back as 1967. Naturally, Disney was at a point in the 2000’s where they wanted to expand on every property they had their hands on. With The Country Bears released the previous year and The Haunted Mansion released shortly after, Pirates of the Caribbean was almost a guaranteed failure. Not to mention the pirate genre was practically dead in the water.

Yet against all the naysayers, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a massive success that made pirates cool again. Despite that, my history with the franchise is very muddled. Pirates of the Caribbean peaked my curiosity when it was first released, but I only ended up seeing The Curse of the Black Pearl a few years later on DVD. I didn’t fully understand the story, but I knew it was a big deal. After a few rewatches, I can honestly say that the films were a perfect way to reignite everyone’s love of seafaring adventure (with a supernatural twist)…

1. The Curse of the Black Pearl

Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner set sail

The Curse of the Black Pearl incorporates elements of the ride, but this is very much an original story that works. Thanks in no small part to Johnny Depp. Who proved himself to be a certified A-lister by giving us one of Disney’s most iconic live-action characters. Captain Jack Sparrow is a dashing roguish pirate with a love for rum that all the ladies went crazy for. Until they slap him. Depp brings him to life with a unique slurred speech pattern and arm movements. While his appearance stands out with Sparrow’s trademark dreadlocks, goatee, eyeliner, and red bandana. He always carries a compass, sword, and gun. Depp was so fully immersed in the character that most people forget that this earned him his first Best Actor nomination.

At Port Royal during the 1700’s, piracy plagues the seven seas. Elizabeth Swann is a free spirited daughter of a governor whose been in love with blacksmith Will Turner since childhood. Something that’s complicated by a proposal from Royal Navy officer Norrington. Keira Knightley plays her first of many period specific characters. While Orlando Bloom was fresh off his success in The Lord of the Rings. Their fates intertwine with Captain Jack Sparrow after his unforgettable entrance on a sinking ship. He’s known for somehow escaping an island (sea turtles), but his crimes of piracy land him in jail. So Will frees Jack and they team up to rescue Elizabeth when she’s kidnapped by pirates. They recruit faithful first mate Mr. Gibbs and a scurvy crew of bildrates (including pre-fame Zoe Saldana).

The titular curse refers to pieces of Aztec gold treasure that was stolen by Jack’s mutinous crew aboard the Black Pearl. Specifically by a grisled Geoffrey Rush as Captain Hector Barbossa, a sympathetic villain that just wants to feel again. All pirates must respect the code after all. The crew become skeletons in the moonlight and are unable to die. The CGI may be dated, but it’s still a creepy effect. Betrayal is around every corner and the swashbuckling action is just as exciting as a theme park. Made even better with the “He’s a Pirate” theme.

This was actually the first PG-13 movie under the family friendly Disney banner. It makes sense considering the lewdity of pirates, but I’m still surprised at how intense it can get. Not that the film doesn’t have a quirky sense of humor with a handful of comic relief characters. Like Pintel and Ragetti or Jack the monkey. Who also appears in the series first post-credits scene. With its more grown up tone, easy to follow story, and sense of adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was just the blockbuster Disney needed. “Savvy.”

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“You will always remember this as the day that you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow”

Followed by: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Falling Slowly

Once is a love story that comes along only once in a lifetime. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Since my options were limited, I decided to seek out movies made in Ireland. So that lead to me checking out Once. A film I intended to check out at some point in my life. It’s a kind of musical that’s almost exclusively known for one song. “Falling Slowly,” which beat 3 Enchanted songs for the honor of Best Original Song. I remember being pretty shocked about that. Until I actually listened to the song. It has great commercial appeal and I actually learned it long before seeing the movie.

The rest of Once is a romance set in Dublin, Ireland. It has a shoestring budget with very rough camera work. I’m not familiar with them, but only the two leads were well known beforehand. Both the Irish Glen Hansard and Czech Markéta Irglová were singers with barely any acting experience. So everything comes across natural. Which is okay when at least 75% of the movie is singing. The other songs are good, but “Falling Slowly” is the only one I’ll remember.

The nameless struggling musicians meet on a street corner and something clicks between them. They don’t know each other, but they want to. So they help each other reach their goals. Only their blossoming romance never seems to take off. Which is probably the point since they’re both still involved in other relationships. Once is a one of a kind romance with songs to spare.

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“Falling slowly”

Hear No Evil

Hush completes the three senses of horror trilogy. 2010’s horror movies that represent the three wise monkeys. If Bird Box represents “see no evil” and A Quiet Place represents “speak no evil,” then Hush represents “hear no evil.” It was part of a meme that I’m sure had a lot of people scratching their heads. Since not a whole lot of people were familiar with Hush (myself included). It’s not a Netflix original, but that was the only place to check it out.

Hush has the terrifying concept of having a deaf protagonist pursued by a killer she’s unable to hear. Horror director Mike Flanagan builds suspense with a nontraditional home invasion set up. Maddie Young is a deaf mute writer who lives alone at a secluded home with only her cat and two neighbors to keep her company. She can only sign to people she knows through her computer or phone, but she can read lips. All of which either works for or against her when a masked killer carrying a knife and crossbow unexpectedly drops by. With her unable to hear any of the horror.

Although simply credited as “The Man,” the hunter would have been a more accurate description. The mystery is dropped very quickly when he’s revealed to be nothing more than an ordinary guy. Albeit a coward that stalks easy prey. Making him a very realistic killer. Things turn into a game of cat and mouse where Maddie desperately tries to survive any way she can. Until she finally outsmarts him with wit and determination. For a practically silent film with only two characters, Hush terrifies by effectively stimulating the senses.

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Maddie can’t hear the killer behind her

I’m Seeing Double

Gemini Man is Ang Lee’s worst film since Hulk. Special effects heavy action blockbusters just aren’t his thing. Which is a shame considering Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a great balance of action and drama. While the effects in Life of Pi worked with the story instead of against it. Gemini Man was actually in development for over 2 decades. It’s understandable due to the very 90’s feel of the concept. A hitman pursued by his younger clone. I could definitely imagine Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, or Sean Connery doing something like this back in the day. At least I would if they didn’t utilize a current trend Hollywood wants to exploit as much as possible.

Ever since Disney perfected digital de-aging, now every studio wants to do it. Making this Will Smith vs. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Despite just releasing the most successful movie of his career, Will Smith also starred in this box-office bomb. Not that I wasn’t just a little curious to check it out. I was even more hesitant when one of my co-workers said they couldn’t even finish it. The main problem with Gemini Man is Ang Lee’s overreliance on introspective talk heavy very slow building set up. It takes a full 45 minutes for hitman Henry Brogan’s clone to appear. Even though there’s no reason to hide a fact that some people clearly paid to see.

Apart from maybe Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Gemini Man very nearly put me to sleep. Then it nearly gave me a headache with super high frame rate fight scenes that couldn’t look less natural. With unbelievably jerky movements, the clone uses a motorcycle as a weapon and then both fist fight in a skull cave. This is far from the worst Will Smith movie I’ve seen, but Gemini Man is two Will’s too many.

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Henry faces Junior

Graphic Stupidity

Impractical Jokers: The Movie contains scenes of graphic stupidity among four lifelong friends who compete to embarass each other. One thing most people don’t know about me is that I have a secret obsession with prank videos. I’m not brave enough to do them myself, but I do enjoy how people react to being pranked. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. So the hidden camera TV show Impractical Jokers was impractically made for me. I’ve been secretly enjoying almost every episode for over a decade. So when I heard they were making a movie, I knew I needed to check it out no matter how far the theater ended up being.

If you already love the hilariously relatable quartet of Salvatore “Sal” Vulcano, Joseph “Joe” Gatto, Brian “Q” Quinn, and James “Murr” Murray, then this is the movie for you. Now with a surplus of cross-country road trip pranks that they couldn’t do before on the show. Including a mall Santa bit, a broken down car bit, a boat bit, a eulogy bit, and a high profile interview bit. Which is followed by an even bigger punishment that the show simply couldn’t contain.

With their ever increasing popularity, I’m still shocked people continue to not recognize them. But if you are still unaware, Sal is the laugh prone Joker with many fears, Joe is the fearless Joker who will do anything, Q is the nerdy Joker with many hats, and Murr is the ferrety Joker that’s constantly picked on. They’ve lasted so long because they’re genuine friends with natural comedic abilities. That’s why the movie’s acting bits involving Paula Abdul are a bit hit or miss. The Staten Island natives are best when they’re just being themselves. So even though Impractical Jokers: The Movie isn’t the Tenderloins best effort, it’s still enough to laugh along with an audience of fans.

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Murr, Q, Sal, and Joe board an elevator

Cupid’s Day

Before I Fall is one of many movies made featuring a time loop. I swear it’s practically become a genre at this point. But while most of them can be labeled comedies, Before I Fall is much more dramatic. While at the same time utilizing the YA teen subgenre. I was somewhat intrigued since it’s really difficult to go wrong with the time loop gimmick. Even though I didn’t read the book, I very nearly went to see the movie. I didn’t, but luckily another time loop movie was released the same year (Happy Death Day).

Before I Fall centers its time loop on teenager Samantha. On the fictional holiday Cupid’s Day (a possible reference to Groundhog Day), Sam hangs with her popular sort of mean girl best friends and douchey boyfriend. She attends a party and apart from a nasty incident, all seems normal. Until she’s killed in a car crash at precisely 12:39AM. The first loop feels like a dream. Then Sam does whatever she can to avoid dying, but she gives up when there appears to be no way out.

Like most time loop movies, Sam ends up doing whatever she wants to whoever she wants. The dramatic tone makes it feel a lot harsher. So she begins a path of self improvement that addresses whether or not she’s a good person. Zoey Deutch is a natural just like her mother Lea Thompson. Who ironically also played a teenager in a movie about time. Sam repairs her relationships, but this isn’t exactly a happy ending. I get the moral, but it’s more than a little depressing. Before I Fall is an underrated time loop scenario with a not often explored existential tone.

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Sam’s life passes her by

Legend of the Monkey King

The Forbidden Kingdom is an action packed exploration into Chinese legend. Although I can’t say that I knew too much about the story going in. I only knew that my brother really wanted to watch it due to director Rob Minkoff and actress Liu Yifei (live-action Mulan). Which I understood considering this was her only other American production. Even if The Forbidden Kingdom has a strong Chinese influence. It’s based on a popular 16th Century novel titled Journey to the West. Something that has been adapted several times in China.

My main exposure to elements of the story came from a graphic novel title American Born Chinese. It also featured the Monkey King. A light hearted immortal monkey god that resides in Heaven. Along with a powerful golden staff, the Monkey King is also able to produce clones with strands of his hair. When the evil Jade Warlord traps him in stone, it’s up to a wayward band of travelers to return his staff. Despite the prominent Chinese cast, the main character is actually the kid from Sky High.

Jason is just an ordinary fan of cheesy kung fu movies thrust into a fantasy world in ancient China. He’s joined by a drunken half immortal, a lovely pipa playing warrior out for vengeance, and a mysterious silent monk. They teach him martial arts and how to fulfill his prophesied destiny. They battle many great enemies including a witch with deadly hair, but the Jade Warlord is still the biggest threat. The Forbidden Kingdom has many impressive kung fu fights, but Jackie Chan and Jet Li are really the centerpiece. This was their first movie together and their fight doesn’t disappoint. The Forbidden Kingdom is a forgotten if clunky visual spectacle.

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Lu Yan challenges the silent Monk