PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017) Will Hold Your Interest—If You’re Six Years Old

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017).

Ain’t that the truth!

While I still enjoy the Captain Jack Sparrow character played by Johnny Depp, the PIRATES films themselves have become shallow and redundant, with no sense of storytelling whatsoever.  But I get ahead of myself.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017) is really the tale of two new characters.  Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the dashing blacksmith who teamed up with Jack Sparrow in the first three PIRATES movies.  We learn in a pre-credit sequence that Will Turner is forever cursed to spend his days in a watery grave beneath the ocean, but his son Henry is determined to free his dad.  And what self-respecting son wouldn’t naturally try to free his deceased dad from an underwater curse?  This is the sort of thing that happens every day, right?   Anyway, the only way Henry can do this—of course— is with the help of one Captain Jack Sparrow.

To free his dad, Henry needs the Trident of Poseidon, which gives its handler total control of the seas, and the only person who possesses enough gumption to get it, I guess, is Sparrow.

The other main character is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario).  When we first meet her, she’s about to be executed for being a witch, but she’s not a witch.  She’s just smart and enlightened, but being an intelligent woman in those days doesn’t sit too well with the men, and so she’s accused of being a witch.

When  Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his pirate buddies attempt to pull off a bold heist, things don’t go so well, and Sparrow is captured and set to be executed on the same day as Carina Smyth.  But the two escape with the help of Henry Turner, setting in motion the quest for the Trident of Poseidon.

Meanwhile, the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is also searching for the Trident so he and his men can escape their own watery grave and kill Jack Sparrow in the process. And if all this isn’t enough, old nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) also shows up, and he too is interested in the elusive Trident.

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Talk about a story that generates absolutely zero interest.

And that, by far, is my biggest problem with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES.  The screenplay by Jeff Nathanson is pretty much geared for six year-olds. Seriously, unless you’re a young child who loves pirates, I don’t know how you can sit through this movie.  It’s not even appealing to teenagers, let alone adults.  The Trident of Poseidon?  Seriously?  The story here works on the same level as something like PETER PAN, which is fine for a children’s movie, but for a PG-13 pirates adventure?  It just doesn’t cut it.

The humor doesn’t work either. The jokes are watered down and not edgy enough to earn many laughs.

The film plays like a TRANSFORMERS movie under water.  Special effects galore, but no story to be found, which is a shame, because it wastes a character I like a lot, Captain Jack Sparrow.

Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have created a polished looking movie that is as hollow and empty as it is visually striking.  It’s the kind of movie that puts me to sleep, because there’s no story to support it, and no characters to capture my interest.

The action scenes don’t distinguish themselves, except for the early robbery scene, which was a pretty fun sequence, as Sparrow’s pirate buddies literally drag the entire building housing the safe they were robbing through the streets of the town in a rather rousing chase scene.  But other than this the action scenes fall flat.

I like Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, and I have no problem with his performance here.  The problem is with the script, which can’t seem to give him worthwhile lines or things to do. The first PIRATES movie, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:  THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003) was a snappy, rousing, and very creative flick with a story that featured lots of satisfying twists and turns, and at its center was Depp’s Jack Sparrow.  Here, there’s barely a creative spark to be found, and Depp is stuck saying inferior lines and having his screen time reduced in favor of newer younger characters.

Javier Bardem is a fantastic actor, but I found his performance as Captain Salazar grating and difficult to watch.  It didn’t help that the character is as dull as a piece of floating seaweed.

Geoffrey Rush is another superior actor, and he benefits here from having his Captain Barbossa  character introduced in the earlier movies.  Rush actually does have some fine moments here, especially with some revelations about his character later in the movie.

Newcomers Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth pretty much put me to sleep.

Kevin McNally, who has appeared in all five PIRATES movie as Sparrow’s fellow pirate Gibbs, is enjoyable once again here, but like Johnny Depp, he’s contending with an inferior script.

My favorite part of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES was the music, and I’m not talking about the new score to this film by Geoff Zanelli, but the original PIRATES theme written by Klaus Badelt.  That theme was and still is perfect for this series, and whenever it was used in this movie, the film became at least tolerable, but outside of that, there’s nothing worthwhile about this movie.

Check that.  There is one more thing.  Paul McCartney shows up in a cameo as a pirate named Uncle Jack (What?  No Uncle Albert?).  His exchange with Depp’s Jack Sparrow is brief but it’s fun.

The rest of the film is flat-out awful.  Better to walk the plank than to sit through two plus hours of this sea tale.

—END—

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BLACK MASS (2015) Tells Lurid Tale of “Whitey” Bulger

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Movie Review:  BLACK MASS (2015)

By

Michael Arrudablack mass

 

BLACK MASS, the lurid bio pic of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger is as heartless and cold as its subject, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Sure, Johnny Depp is near brilliant as Bulger, and co-star Joel Edgerton might be even better as FBI agent John Connolly, and both men lead a very talented cast, but Bulger’s story is as ugly as his crimes, and the result is a soulless movie that is difficult to like, in spite of its strengths.

For John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), life is about loyalty, and he sees as his ticket to success as an FBI agent reaching out to his childhood friend from his old neighborhood, Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) to form an alliance to work together to take down the Italian mob.  Connolly sees this relationship as his best chance for making it big, while Bulger views it as a business transaction to get the FBI to do his dirty work and take down his enemies for him.

And so faster than you can say “Don Corleone” John Connolly is bringing down members of the Italian mafia while Bulger moves from small time hood to the criminal mastermind of Boston, all while the FBI turns a blind eye towards him because of the information he is providing them.   The feds, led by Agent Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon) constantly ask why they’re shielding Bulger, but each time the questions are raised Connolly comes to Bulger’s defense and sweet talks his superiors into letting the arrangement continue.

It’s not until a new superior Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll) comes onto the scene, arriving in Boston from Philadelphia and decides to make it his business to go after Bulger that the arrangement between Bulger, Connolly, and the FBI unravels.

Johnny Depp is as good as advertised and leads a powerful cast in this effective crime drama.  That being said, “Whitey” Bulger is such a cold-hearted unlikable character that a movie about him is just as unlikable.

Joel Edgerton is every bit as good as Depp as FBI man John Connolly, but Connolly isn’t any more likeable than Bulger.  He’s loyal to his gangster buddy rather than to the FBI, and his arrangement with his childhood friend does more to raise crime in Boston than quash it.

Benedict Cumberbatch is also notable as Bulger’s politician brother Billy Bulger, but he rounds out the triumvirate of unlikable characters.  He’s not any more engaging than his mobster brother.  Three central characters.  Three unlikable souls.

Some stand-outs in smaller roles include David Harbour as Connolly’s willing and spineless partner John Morris.  The scene where “Whitey” torments him over dinner about his willingness to give up a family recipe is one of the better scenes in the movie.  Jesse Plemons makes good as a young man whose loyalty and devotion make him a “Whitey” favorite.  Plemons played a similar role during the final season of BREAKING BAD.

Dakota Johnson makes the most of her brief screen time as “Whitey’s” girlfriend Lindsey Cyr, and the scene where they argue over the fate of their young son is a keeper.  Peter Sarsgaard is effectively paranoid and hyper as the frightened loose cannon Brian Halloran.  W. Earl Brown and Rory Cochrane are memorable as “Whitey’s” loyal henchmen, and Julianne Nicholson is effective as Connolly’s fed up and frightened wife Marianne.  The scene where “Whitey” “visits” her in her bedroom is one of the more menacing moments in the movie.

The screenplay by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, based on books by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, does a nice job showing how coldhearted “Whitey” Bulger was and explaining how his arrangement with John Connolly and the FBI came to pass, but in terms of creating compelling characters, it falls short.  It’s all very stoic and cold.  When the tide turns on John Connolly and he’s facing arrest, I didn’t feel for him at all.

The direction by Scott Cooper captures the feel of 1970s Boston, and it certainly shows the ruthlessness of “Whitey” Bulger, but as an entire package, I found his previous movie OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013) much more compelling.  Its story was better, and its characters were deeper and richer. BLACK MASS has characters I really had no interest in learning more about.

Still, BLACK MASS is a decent movie, worth a trip to the theater. It’s not sugar-coated, and it’s not glorified.  It is what it is:  a lurid tale of a Boston mobster.

What it does better than anything else is give you a seat at the dinner table right next to “Whitey Bulger,” up close and personal.  And that’s simply not a place I want to be at for very long.

—END—

STOCKING STUFFERS 2014: Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

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"I hope you like my gift, Larry.  I picked it out of the graveyard myself."

“I hope you like my gift, Larry. I picked it out of the graveyard myself.”

STOCKING STUFFERS – 2014

Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

By

Michael Arruda

 

Here are a few horror movie goodies that I’d like to find under my Christmas tree this year, in no particular order:

 

-A newly discovered unedited complete version of KING KONG (1933) including the infamous lost “spider in the pit” sequence.  Sorry folks, this still hasn’t been discovered yet and as of right now only exists in our collective imaginations.

 

-For the recently restored unedited version of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) to be made available here in the United States.  This one does exist, but no sign of it in the U.S. yet.  What’s the hold up???

 

-A boxed set of all the Universal monster movies with long lost scenes restored, including Bela Lugosi’s scenes of dialogue as the Frankenstein Monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), Dwight Frye’s extended scenes as Karl in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and the original cut of THE WOLF MAN (1941) where Lon Chaney’s Larry Talbot only becomes a werewolf in his own mind.

 

-A horror movie with Johnny Depp in a serious role instead of the over-the-top goofy roles he’s been taking of late.  It’s as if he’s quit being Depp and instead has adopted the persona of Jack Sparrow from the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and it’s Sparrow making all these recent films like DARK SHADOWS, THE LONE RANGER, and INTO THE WOODS, not Depp.

 

-More horror films with Chloe Grace Moretz.  She was phenomenal in LET ME IN (2010) and pretty darn good in the re-boot of CARRIE (2013) as well.  And the best part?  Chloe Grace Moretz is not a scream queen!  She’s a force to be reckoned with.

 

-Speaking of LET ME IN, how about some more horror movies by director Matt Reeves?  He’s directed two of the best horror movies in the past decade, CLOVERFIELD (2008) and LET ME IN (2010), not to mention the excellent DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014).  He’s one of the most talented genre directors working today.

 

-Speaking of CLOVERFIELD, how about the long awaited sequel which has been rumored for years finally coming out?  That would be nice.

 

-A reversal in the decision to turn the Universal monsters into superheroes.  The powers that be at Universal are making a huge mistake here.  To me, this decision is a concession that these monsters are no longer scary, and that’s simply not true.  All it takes is a good writer, combined with a talented director, and these monsters could be relevant again.  Don’t bother remaking the origin stories- we all know them.  What we need are new tales of these monsters in frightening horror movies which will scare modern audiences to death.  Leave the superheroes to Marvel!

 

-Speaking of Marvel, I’d like to see Robert Downey, Jr. in a horror movie.  Scarlett Johansson too, for that matter.

 

-Speaking of people making horror movies, Woody Allen made his decision to move on from comedies years ago and continues to churn out quality films year after year.  I sure wish he’d channel his keen writing talents and write a horror tale someday.  I think it would be pretty cool.

 

-Lastly, to all my writer friends, I’d like to find a copy of your latest book under my tree so I could read your work throughout the year.  My Christmas wish for all of us is that we have books in print year after year for years to come!

 

Thanks all!

 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy winter!

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

 

 

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: CHLOE GRACE MORETZ Movies

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Chloe Grace Moretz as CARRIE (2013).

YOUR MOVIE LISTS:  Chloe Grace Moretz

 

By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of YOUR MOVIE LISTS, the column where you’ll find lists of odds and ends about movies.  Today we’re looking at films starring Chloe Grace Moretz.

 

Ever since Chloe Grace Moretz burst onto the scene as Hit Girl in KICK- ASS (2010), I’ve been a huge fan, so much so that she’s clearly one of my favorite actresses working today, and what makes this even more amazing is she’s only seventeen years old.  It’s a rare thing for me to be blown away on a consistent basis by an actor that young.

 

Sure, part of what made her so memorable as Hit Girl was the shock factor: here was an eleven year-old girl using language usually reserved for Robert De Niro in a gangster movie and kicking bad guys’ butts with the ferocity of Christian Bale’s Batman.

 

But Moretz didn’t stop there.  She has continued to star in one decent movie after another, and she’s usually the best part of these movies.

 

Here is a partial list of movies featuring Chloe Grace Moretz:

 

HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) – film debut of Chloe Grace Moretz.

 

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005) – plays young Chelsea Lutz in this re-imagining of the 1979 film.

 

KICK-ASS (2010) – the film which pretty much put Moretz on the map.  While Aaron Taylor-Johnson is pretty impressive in the lead role as Kick-Ass, the young teen turned superhero, Chloe Grace Moretz is even better as the eleven year-old Hit Girl, the roughest, toughest pre-teen superhero ever seen in the movies.  Violent and not for everybody, KICK-ASS is one of the more enjoyable off-beat superhero films you’ll ever have the pleasure to come across.

 

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID (2010) – plays Angie Steadman in this very funny movie based on the popular book by Jeff Kinney.

 

LET ME IN (2010) – Moretz is amazing as the vampire Abby—perhaps even more impressive than her performance as Hit Girl— in this Hammer horror film directed by Matt Reeves.  This is one of my favorite horror movies of recent years, and Moretz’ performance is a major reason why.

 

HUGO (2011) – plays Isabelle in a delightful supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s highly entertaining visual tour de force about a young boy name Hugo (Asa Butterfield)  living in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris.  Also starring Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen.

 

DARK SHADOWS (2012) – plays Carolyn Stoddard in this reimagining of the iconic 1960s TV show by director Tim Burton.  A comedic misfire, not even Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, or the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Christopher Lee, and of course Chloe Grace Moretz could save this one, which plays more like THE ADDAMS FAMILY than DARK SHADOWS.

 

KICK-ASS 2 (2013) – While it was nice to see Moretz reprise her Hit Girl role along with Aaron Taylor Johnson’s return as Kick-Ass, this sequel is nowhere near as good as its predecessor.

 

CARRIE ( 2013) – plays the lead role of Carrie in this decent remake of the 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek, both based on the very first novel by Stephen King.  Moretz is good, and Julianne Moore might be better as Carrie’s cruel mom.

 

IF I STAY (2014) – love story where Moretz’ character Mia has to decide via an out-of-body experience after a car crash whether or not she wants to return to the land of the living.

 

THE EQUALIZER (2014) – supporting role as a prostitute in this OK actioner very loosely based on the old TV show from the 1980s starring Edward Woodward.  This one stars Denzel Washington in the lead role.

 

There you have it, a partial list of some notable Chloe Grace Moretz movies. Hope you enjoyed it.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael