The Lone Ranger (Redux)

Tonto and the Lone Ranger were riding across the prairie. Suddenly, Tonto dismounts his horse and puts his ear to the ground.
He looks at the Lone Ranger and says, “Buffalo come.”
“Wow, that’s amazing! How did you figure that out?”
“Face sticky.”

The Lone Ranger (2013) (Redux)

So, whilst my first Scenes of the Year list was well received (thanks, by the way), it raised a few eyebrows. Biggest brow lifter was my inclusion of the universally loathed Lone Ranger alongside more “legitimate” picks like Gravity and Django Unchained. The Lone Ranger was one of 2013’s highest profile flops with reported losses being around the $190 million mark. Fingers have been pointed and various elements blamed. The production history is fascinating though. It went way over budget (apparently due to goddamn werewolves not making that up), was cancelled thanks to Cowboys & Aliens stinking up the box office, only to be resurrected and bomb regardless. Anyway, like the disgusting narcissist that I am, I was re-reading my original review of it and found it to be lacking. I basically used the film as an example of the bloated corporate side of filmmaking that spawned it rather than focusing on the film itself. So, against better judgement, I went out, got myself a copy and rewatched it for the purposes of a more in-depth redux review. Guess what? My opinion has changed somewhat.

“Horse says you are spirit walker: a man who has been to the other side and returned.”

The Lone Ranger starts with a framing device of an old Tonto (Johnny Depp) telling a small boy about his adventures back in the day. We flashback and see the idealistic lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) arriving at the small town of Colby, Texas to visit his Sheriff brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and his wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). To celebrate the new railroad connecting towns like Colby to the rest of the United States and beyond, Mayor Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) brings in notorious cannibalistic outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) to publicly hang him in the town square. Old West tits go up when Cavendish escapes, leaving Tonto and Reid to become unlikely allies and uncover a plot that involves much more than a simple heart-eating psychopath. As I’ve said before, the performances are all decent. Depp’s insistence on playing Tonto as another wacky-as-fuck character is a bit out there, but I think he’s pretty amusing. The film has plenty of actual Native Americans in the wings, so the decision for Depp to go redface is baffling. Still, John Carter proved that not having a big name in your film knackers you straight out of the gate, so it’s understandable, if not exactly politically correct. I think Armie Hammer does a great job too. He’s shackled by the Tonto focused script, but he manages to really sell both sides of Reid.

In my original review, I stated that the film’s cynicism was one of the main things that turned me off about it. That’s still true to a certain extent, but I think it runs deeper than that. The film has little to no love for the source material. I’m nothing approaching a Lone Ranger fan. The radio plays, the TV show and subsequent films were all way before my time and I never saw the Filmation cartoon growing up. I knew just about as much as the standard pop culture osmosis grants, including the little joke at the top of all this. All the famous Lone Ranger hallmarks that I, a Ranger pleb, would expect are in the film but they feel token and concessionary. It’s almost like it’s too cool for school and wants to distance itself from its origins. In fact, this rewatch reminded me of the similarly afflicted Star Trek Into Darkness, which had a script made up of famous “bits” and not much else. The story they went with is not a good Lone Ranger tale, it’s a dark western inexpertly made to fit the property. It certainly doesn’t feel organic. Another film it reminded me of was the apparently ubiquitous Batman Begins. You may scoff at this, but when you take into account the fact that the basic story is a young man returning to his home town to find it full of criminals and corruption and adopting a masked, vigilante persona to take the fight to them, it may not seem that ridiculous. Add in the overall dark tone, the casting of Bat-actors Tom Wilkinson and William Fichtner, along with canned Batman Armie Hammer in the lead role. It even has a train finale that could have very easily contained the line “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you”. One could argue that these are basic story points and coincidences, but I don’t know. Begins has been the cheat sheet that a metric fuckton of films have worked from for about ten years now, to the point where I refuse to believe that any kind of hero origin story hasn’t had Nolan’s name chucked about at least once during scripting. Cynicism does hang over the whole production, so it probably a case of “what’s popular right now and how can we fit it to this?” rather than “how do we make people care about the Lone Ranger again?” My guess is they just had “Pirates of the Caribbean (x Depp) + Batman Begins + HORSE (LOL) + ???? = $$$$$$$” written on the first draft of the script.

Without all the Ranger dressing, the basic story is actually pretty decent. It’s not the whitewashed classic Western “cowboys r awesome” yarn we’re used to seeing. It definitely takes a revisionist view of things. Nobody’s a hero and violence reigns supreme. It’s a more realistic take on how the Old West actually was, rather than how it’s been portrayed for decades. In an odd direction for a PG-13 crowd pleaser, the film plumbs the darker depths often. Examples? Well, in one scene, Reid fires a lucky shot. After bouncing off things in a comedic manner, including Tonto’s “I am Crow” headgear, it hits a suspended plank and takes out two villains. Standard stuff, but respectable enough. However, we then see that instead of just knocking them out or non-specifically killing them, the wood CRUSHED THEIR FUCKING HEADS. I ain’t squeamish, but fucking ow! If a similar scene appeared in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (great flick, by the way), I’d have laughed my little socks off. Here it just jars. There’s a grisly sequence where a Comanche army get mowed down by superior American firepower. There’s also a Tonto flashback later on that’s pretty grim viewing too. Thing is, these scenes would be effective if the film wasn’t trying to have its cake and eat it too. You can’t have Tonto and Ranger larks coupled with a grisly, post-modern take on how the West was actually won. It just doesn’t gel. There are some decent, challenging ideas here, especially considering the blockbuster forum. They just appear in the wrong film.

With all this we come back to the film’s other major problem of tone. The Pirates films had some dark stuff along with the swashbuckling adventure, but it was handled with a lot more care. Pirate stories usually have more than a few elements of the macabre about them anyway. Having scenes of realistic-feeling mass murder appearing in the same film as japes with Silver and a completely left-field decision to have CGI carnivorous rabbits creates a very odd final product. The script is a mess, but it’s a fascinating one. It’s a multi-car pile up, but the vehicles involved are brightly painted and make cartoon sound effects when compressed. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio show no signs of returning to their golden age when their scripting was sharp and witty. From the looks of it,  the third writer Justin Haythe may be the one responsible for grounding the film, steering the script away from some bonkers direction a pair of writers high off their own farts were intent on going. It still feels like a continuation of the duo’s work on the Pirates films, however,  albeit with characters that you’re not utterly fucking sick of. Outside of the fun Tonto/Ranger interplay, there are some real clunky lines of dialogue and a distinct lack of subtlety when it comes to exposition. Had I not observed their decline, I wouldn’t have even dreamt that the writers responsible for Curse of the Black Pearl could have written something as hacktastic as some of this.

This may shock readers and past lovers of mine, but I’m not a machine. I’m a squishy human being who doesn’t work in binary. I very rarely purely hate or love something. My opinions change and evolve as I do. Despite all the nitpicking and grievances above, I’ve come to the realisation that I actually like The Lone Ranger, quite a bit. There is a lot of good in there striving to escape. The Tonto/Ranger bits are fun, the action sequences well executed and memorable (especially the finale) and some of the ideas are great. Yeah, it’s bloated and overlong but unlike something like Desolation of Smaug it still has a strong focus on the main story. Yeah, Helena Bonham Carter’s character is completely pointless and adds fuck all to the story, but she adds some colour to proceedings and has a fun ivory gun leg (that may be my favourite sentence that I’ve ever written). Gore Verbinski is a fantastic director and gets to fill the lens with iconic Western scenes and vistas that are just as impressive as they always have been. He knows how to shoot action properly (still a rarity) and keeps things feeling pacy, even if the film is taking its sweet time to tell a relatively simple story. It’s all too weird and surreal to be completely dismissed. It’s a strange potluck type of film.

“It was a ranger, Butch! A lone ranger!”

I get the feeling that The Lone Ranger may be looked on as “misunderstood” rather than simply terrible in a few years. Let’s not go mental, it’s never going to be a hailed as a classic or anything, but I think people were a little too harsh to judge it (myself included) and it may just find an audience yet. It’s not the mass-made production line sludge that I initially took it for. It’s a hell of a lot more interesting than that. Hollywood doesn’t usually make this sort of film and that could have been one of the reasons it failed. The Lone Ranger is the sort of film that I’ll admit to liking just to see monocles drop at fancy parties. Whereas there’s nothing of any real substance to discuss with hated Hollywood dreck like the Transformers sequels, The Lone Ranger provokes discussion. Even when it’s bad, it’s interestingly bad. That’s why it’s not only getting a decent three star rating but the caveat that it’s a good three stars as well, even edging on four. Haters to the east because I’m all about the west.

The Rocketeer

I’m not the man they think I am at home…

 The Rocketeer (1991)

I’m back, baby! Expect regular burblings from now on. Anyway, do any of you people remember Disney’s The Rocketeer? For me, it became a childhood classic. I’d taped it off the TV and watched the damn thing to the point of knackeration. After seeing it pop up as a limited release on Blu-ray, I jumped at the chance having not seen the film for close to 20 years, eager to see if it still holds up. You know what? It’s still bloody brilliant.

“[donning the Rocketeer helmet] How do I look?”

“Like a hood ornament.”

Set in 1938, The Rocketeer tells the story of stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell). After having their hopes of glory and fortune shattered, Secord and his mentor “Peevy” (Alan Arkin) find a top secret rocket pack prototype by chance and discover it’s been designed and built by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn). Seeing an opportunity to make some much needed money, they hang on to it, keeping it a secret from everybody, including Secord’s actress girlfriend Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly). The pair aren’t the only ones interested in taking to the skies, however, as Hollywood A-Lister Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) has hired the mob to retrieve the rocket for himself. Meanwhile, Secord’s antics earn him the attention of the press, who start printing fevered acticles about this new, exciting and mysterious Rocketeer and it soon becomes the talk of the town. Cue lots of whizz bang action an’ shit.

In a move that John Carter would repeat 20 years later and pay a similar price for, The Rocketeer was controversial for not having a “proper” star in the lead role. Actor Billy Campbell was cast despite being an unknown. As a kid, I never understood why Campbell wasn’t the most famous actor ever. He was a good looking guy with the reluctant hero thing down pat. Looking on with adult eyes, his performance is still a fine one, although he looks distractingly like a mix between Crispin Glover in Back to the Future and Ryan Reynolds. Alan Arkin does well as Peevy, giving us a stock mentor character that crucially doesn’t feel like a stock mentor character. The lovely Jennifer Connelly lovelies stuff up as Jenny Blake. Despite her character veering into standard damsel-in-distress territory at the end, she gives a memorable turn. Star of the show for me is Timothy Dalton as the Errol Flynn-a-like, Neville Sinclair. I love him in this film.  Whereas most actors would look at the script and play the role a bit tongue in cheek, Dalton commits to the role 100% and gives us a proper sleazy bastard to boo and hiss at.

The Rocketeer is a simple story, but it’s done very well. If you’re still struggling to picture what exactly The Rocketeer is all about, think Iron Man set in the Thirties with the pulp adventure tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark thrown in. It’s exactly as fun as that all sounds too. I’m happy to own up to my own bias as me and this film got history, yo. However, I feel The Rocketeer is exactly the sort of blockbuster they just don’t make any more. It has a very strong story focus with careful attention paid to characters. The film is chock full of foreshadowing, thematic links and everything else that makes a film a satisfying watch. Back in the ’90s, it may have been overlooked as simply being a run-of-the-mill functional blockbuster- today it looks like Citizen Goddamn Kane in comparison to most of the high budget dreck spunked into theatres.

The Rocketeer is a fascinating case study as if it had released about 10 years later, it would have fallen in line with the superhero trend and would have done a lot better than it ended up doing. When it came out back in the dizzle, it flopped pretty damn hard, despite a huge marketing push. It did particularly terribly in Britain, barely scraping £1 million over two weeks. Despite mentioning Iron Man, there’s a superhero film that resembles The Rocketeer even more. You heard of a small film called Captain Titfuckin’ America? Yeah. Both are directed by Joe Johnston and both have that lovely period feel to them. One of the things I loved about Captain America was how earnest everything was. Everything’s played straight down the line without a trace of the sort of cynicism and audience second-guessing that poisons modern blockbusters. The same is true with The Rocketeer. It’s a classic Boys’ Own adventure flick.

Despite ILM’s effects work being dated, the action still packs a punch. The flying scenes are fun and the grand finale aboard, in and outside of a huge Zeppelin is brilliant. I like the fact that Secord isn’t a superpowered badass when he straps on the rocket, he’s a squishy, easily hurt human being like the rest of us with an unpredictable combustible machine strapped to his back. It adds a real element of peril to the action sequences. The film’s slightly goofy at times and the lumbering character of Lothar (“Tiny” Ron Taylor) doesn’t really work. It’s a strange cartoony element that is at odds with the rest of the film. Maybe the comic does a better job.

“Prepare yourself for a shock: I’m the Rocketeer.”

“The Rocke-who?”

“Oh, for crying out loud, haven’t you read the paper?!”

“No, I’ve been working all day.”

We don’t have any quality control as kids. We’ll enjoy any old shit when it’s on. A childhood classic that is still enjoyable and watchable years later once you’ve had all your childish innocence and enthusiasm knocked out of you by a harsh, uncaring world is a very rare thing indeed. There’s been talk of a remake/belated sequel to The Rocketeer for a few years now. I’m usually against remakes on principle, but I’d be delighted if Disney announced they were doing something with it. Anyway, seek it out if you can. It’s a blast. (That’s not a rocket pun by the way, I’ve just used up all my brain power and it’s the only word I can think of that aptly describes what it is. I’m doing this extended bit in brackets because I couldn’t just end a review on something that could be interpreted as a shitty pun. Savvy?)

The Lone Ranger

The Tone Ranger

The Lone Ranger (2013)


Much like John Carter before it, the main story about The Lone Ranger is how much money it lost for Disney. It’s a certifiable flop. I wanted to see the film anyway, but the news of it stinking up the box office made me want to see it all the more. Perhaps I have some vulture in me on my mother’s side. I finally got to check it out this evening and I was left with a head full of questions. Not exactly the reaction you want from a popcorn summer movie.

“It was a ranger, riding a white horse. Got some lunatic Indian with him. They’re coming for you.

The Lone Ranger starts off in 1933, where a young boy in Ranger costume visits a fun fair and a Wild West sideshow. In the exhibit, he finds a geriatric Tonto (Johnny Depp) who regales the kid with a story about the famed Lone Ranger and his adventures with him. We flash back to the 1800s where we see an idealistic lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer) return to the small town of Colby. After an ambush that leaves Reid, his brother and his posse dead, John somehow wakes up, leading Tonto to believe he is a “spirit walker”, someone who can’t be killed in battle. The duo team up to take down the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) ,a man with a penchant for eating people’s hearts, and soon discover evil and corruption run a lot deeper than a simple insane cannibal. It’s a fairly decent story, but it needlessly complicated for something that you’d expect to be a classic goodies vs. baddies affair. Johnny Depp plays Tonto like another one of his wacky characters and he’s likeable in the role, although it does teeter on the edge of racial insensitivity. Armie Hammer is also decent as John Reid/The Ranger, but is just another classically good-looking lead with not much going on. I think he’s got some real comic timing, but the script doesn’t really give him enough to work with. The duo of Hammer and Depp works well though and makes up for a lot of the plodding pace. William Fichtner is having all sorts of fun as Butch Cavendish and Helena Bonham Carter shows up because if she’s ever more than a few feet from Johnny Depp at any one time, she’ll explode with the force of a Megaton bomb. Probably.

Cynicism is something that hangs over all aspects of The Lone Ranger. Firstly, it has to be said that nobody has given a fuck about The Lone Ranger for decades. However, aspects of the show are still ingrained in pop culture and as such there is some name recognition and goodwill associated with the property, so they felt it was ripe for a big screen adaptation. It’s scraping the bottom of the barrel. That’s not to say they can’t take it and do something fun with it, it just strikes me as the result of a desperate 3 A.M. “bloodshot eyes and overfull ashtray” type meeting at the House of Mouse. This cynicism bleeds in to the actual product too. Apparently, it’s no longer the done thing to have a simple good vs. bad story. It has to be buried by things like revenge, greed, double-crossing, politics and all that fun stuff that kids definitely understand and seek out. I’d have thought that with something like The Lone Ranger, that would have been a given, but what do I know? Something struck me on the way home. I realised that only a select few of this generation of blockbusters will be remembered for years to come like the big event films from previous decades are. It’s almost as if they’re purposely designed to neatly slide off your brain without leaving any real impression. Maybe that’s why modern parody films suck so much. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing fresh or iconic to latch onto and start having fun with. Just a thought.

Unfortunately, Pirates of the Caribbean hacks Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were brought on for this film and they show no sign of returning to their golden age of Shrek, The Road to El Dorado and Curse of the Black Pearl. You can tell Lone Ranger was written by the same gormless wankers that wrote shit like At World’s End. Lone Ranger actually has a clearer story than any of the Pirates sequels, but it’s weighed down by pointless scenes, crappy jokes and a lack of spark to the dialogue. It’s a bloated mess at times and certainly runs for too long. Helena Bonham Carter’s appearance is completely superfluous and pertains to a whole brothel sequence that didn’t need to be there at all. The main problem though is tone. I keep banging on about tone like people care and many don’t understand what the hell I’m talking about. Thing is, I can point to The Lone Ranger as a handy example from now on. One would assume that the target audience for the film would be families with slightly older kids, the same as the Pirates movies. However, this film keeps flitting between fun, knockabout action to some surprisingly dark shit. You’ve got Cavendish eating people’s hearts and a big war between the Comanches and the army that results in many violent, brutal deaths. It’s really odd. I’ve heard people say it’s too dark for kids, but I remember watching Temple of Doom at a young age and that has all sorts of dark business going on. The difference is that Temple of Doom had a consistent tone. Lone Ranger doesn’t know what the fuck its doing and alternates between the two modes scene to scene, resulting in you feeling disconnected from all the colour and noise happening on screen.

It’s not all bad. There is some fun to be had. As I said, the Depp/Hammer team works and the action can be fun. It’s well directed by Verbinski and has some gorgeous classic Old West vistas to appreciate. Perhaps the film’s saving grace is the climactic train sequence which is scored by Hans Zimmer’s brilliant reorchestrated William Tell Overture. Yeah, it’s manipulative but it elevates things by a huge margin. Even without the score, the scene is bucketloads of fun and features some amazing stunts and classic bits of derring-do. This is exactly the kind of thing I wanted from a Lone Ranger film. I found myself thinking why the whole fucking film couldn’t have been like the finale and it made me a bit sad. I was actually thrilled by the sequence, but it took so goddamn long to get there, it didn’t really feel worth it.

“Never take off the mask.”

So, The Lone Ranger. I enjoyed it in places, but it’s just another convoluted, turgid mess of a film posing as dumb entertainment. I love blockbusters with a passion that sometimes borders on the erotic, but I’m finding myself annoyed and disappointed by the big budget stable more often than not.  I want to have fun whilst watching a film like this, but apparently that’s too much to ask. I was left feeling rather hollow by the whole experience and if I wanted to feel that, I’d stare at my phone for two and a half hours, wondering why the girls aren’t calling. At least that way I’d have saved myself the best part of a tenner.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Redux)

Jack’s back, but does anyone care?

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) (Redux)

Not content with squeezing a bloated trilogy out of the already chafed udder of the Pirates cashcow, the producers moved on with a Jack Sparrow centric adventure a few years after. However, Bloom and Knightley wouldn’t return and Gore Verbinski wouldn’t be parking his arse in one of those comfy looking directors’ chairs. Mahogany and Beech not signing back up was a plus, but Verbinski leaving is a tough one. Dude’s a talented director and would need a fitting replacement. Enter Rob Marshall, director of some music videos and easily forgotten films doomed to gather dust in your Mum’s DVD collection (I mean, when was the last time you heard someone talk about Memoirs of a Geisha?). Having only seen On Stranger Tides once before, I was struck at how flat everything was shot (odd, considering this was the only Pirates flick fiilmed and released in 3D) and how fuckin’ bored I was during it. Anyway, obligatory plot rundown:

“Don’t be a fool, Jackie. The fountain will test you.”

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) travels to London, but upon arriving he hears tell that another Jack Sparrow is looking for a crew to commandeer a ship. Intrigued, Sparrow sets to confront the imposter. He then becomes part of a bigger plan to find the Fountain of Youth and finds himself under the command of legendary feared pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his first mate, daughter and old flame of Jack’s Angelica (Penélope Cruz). The race is on between Blackbeard, the British and Spanish navies to find the mythical fountain. Despite being clumsily set up in the last film, I was looking forward to a quest for the Fountain of Youth. However, it turns out to be a plodding exercise in mediocrity. Depp’s Sparrow can still be entertaining, but the schtick is tired and played out. He needs better lines and characterisation. Penélope Cruz does admirably in the role of Angelica, although the only thing she’s asked to do is play a stereotypical hot-blooded Latina woman. Ian McShane doesn’t really do much as Blackbeard. He’s not at fault though- the script doesn’t have any real interest in the character and he’s just there. Not exactly a baddie for the ages. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) also returns, but he may as well be a different character. Once again, the writing lets him down as he’s a far cry from the character I liked in the previous films.

You may have noticed a few complaints about the script so far and I honestly can’t rag on it hard enough. It was doomed from the start as having Sparrow as the main character doesn’t work. It creates a divide between to the plot-serving emotional journey and the wacky goofball sides of him. As a result, we get a watered down character that has both sides pushed up to maximum in the hopes that you won’t notice and be reminded of the times when the act was charming. Remember when Jack was all bravado and escaped situations with a healthy dose of luck and opportunism? The writers don’t. Now he’s just a cocky knob who is consistently brilliant at everything he tries and must have powers of precognition. Which is much less interesting.  Quite why Elliot and Rossio weren’t shaken loose when they upended the franchise toy chest is beyond me. The one thing I will commend the film on is its stripped down approach. It’s much less convoluted than both of the previous sequels and has a better story focus. The story isn’t particularly great, but it’s there. None of this “getting bogged down in its own mysticism” bullshit to be found here.

The one element I liked was actually something a lot of reviewers singled out as one of the worst things about the film. I liked the little romance between the missionary Philip (Sam Clafin) and the captured mermaid Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). Whilst their little courtship was tacked on purely because these films have to have one,  I found it more convincing than the Turner & Swann saga. He gets renewed faith in his dearest Lord plus he fancies her a bit and she learns that all humans aren’t bastards and she fancies him a bit. They both learn something and get something from the relationship. Makes sense to me. It may be indicative of the film’s problems that I latched on to what must be the C or D story rather than the main supposedly epic quest for the MacGuffin or the Angelica/Sparrow angle.

Even the action’s not particularly good. There’s a bright spot when the crew are attacked by mermaids, but that’s about it. There’s plenty of swordfighting, but we’ve seen all this shit before. The apparent lack of energy or creativity with the camera (Marshall, you scallywag) exacerbates things too. Never will you be more away that you’re watching actors playfight on a set. I just didn’t care about anything and wanted to shut it off in favour of something that tries harder.

“Gentlemen, the fountain is the prize. Mermaid waters, that be our path.”

On Stranger Tides is just as bad as At World’s End, but in different ways. Stranger Tides has a clearer plot and isn’t as indulgent as At World’s End, but the story it went with was dull. At World’s End at least had some creativity here and there whereas On Stranger Tides has an air of a run-of-the-mill Hollywood production line product about it. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s not good either. I’m a great believer in franchises redeeming themselves (the Fast and Furious films) so here’s hoping that 2015’s Pirates 5 has a better crack at the whip. Having said that. a cursory glance at the film’s IMDB page reveals that it’s directed by two fellas I’ve never heard of and that Elliot and Rossio are back on writing duties.  I can already feel the dread starting to build.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Redux)

At my wit’s end,  more like! (pause for laughter) (laughter never comes) (sad now)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) (Redux)

My attention span ain’t what it used to be. Since I’ve owned a smartphone, I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions not paying attention to the film I’ve just put on in lieu of checking Twitter, my texts or even IMDB trivia about the film I’m meant to be watching. Thankfully, I’ve mostly put a stop to this, but I’m not sure I would have survived another viewing of At World’s End without my precious phone. Although it’s hard to get official figures on it, thanks to Hollywood accounting and the like, At World’s End is considered the most expensive film ever made (unadjusted for inflation) at a whopping $300 million. My question is this: why the leaping Christ did they not drive any of that cheddar into improving the writing? Dear Lord, the term “clusterfuck” hardly seems to do it justice. Anyway- getting ahead of myself here.

“I have no sympathy for any of you feculent maggots and no more patience to pretend otherwise. Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness.”

Leading on from Dead Man’s Chest, Will (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), the newly resurrected Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) et al. have to travel to Davy Jones’ Locker to rescue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) because of reasons. Along the way, they encounter Pirate lord Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and have to avoid Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who is now under the command of Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). There’s some other stuff too, but in all honesty, you’ve probably seen the sodding thing multiple times over like I have. I really don’t know where to begin with this. For starters, it’s way too fucking long, clocking in at close to three hours. Secondly, both Bloom and Knightley reach new levels of ligneous guffery. Not sure about Bloom, but Knightley has done actual acting elsewhere, so I don’t know why she’s taking leave of all believable emotions here. Hell, even Depp’s charm is wearing thin by this point. He seems to have been encouraged to amp the wackiness up to Looney Tune levels. There are several Multiplicity-like scenes where multiple Sparrows all try to out-gurn each other and I found it painful to sit through. There’s even a little angel/devil on the shoulders scene. I mean, come on! There are a few saving graces, however. Rush’s Barbossa is still a delight to watch, Bill Nighy continues being fantastic as Davy Jones and Hollander’s quintessentially English tea-drinking baddie is fun and a better villain than the film deserves.  Jack Davenport also merits a mention, but he isn’t really given enough to do to leave any significant mark on the film.

Motivation is one of the essential things when talking about characters. Whether their purposes are for good/evil/whatever, it’s important to make them clear (unless obscuring them is the whole point) in order for an audience to connect with them. I’ve seen At World’s End a bunch of times and I still couldn’t tell you what the shit is going on. Everyone seems to be selling everyone out but not really, except when they are anddearLordmakeitstop. Add in a bunch of mysticism and talk of destiny and you’ve got a fine mess on your hands. It’s hard to get a handle on who’s doing what and why and, more importantly, why you should give a damn. Why they wanted to make everything so damn convoluted in a film that’s meant to appeal to families I don’t know. In any case, it gave me a headache.

Actually, the the family target audience brings me to another point. The tone is all over the place. We open on a mass hanging and it gets worse from there. The opening is especially brutal as a young boy gets the ol’ short drop and a sudden stop. Y’see kids have a habit of instantly relating to other kids on screen. It’s why so many kiddie films are packed with the little buggers. I imagine there were a few worried glances between parents when that scene played out. The whole film has forgotten its fun, swashbuckling origins and replaced it with CGI-tastic epic battles and mugging at the camera. Making weak gags amidst huge battle sequences is not the same as having a consistent light-hearted tone. Then again, consistency in regards to anything is one of this film’s massive failings.

Elizabeth really bugged me in this one. Answer me this: when did she become a warrior woman? There were hints of it in Dead Man’s Chest, but now she’s perfectly capable of standing her ground with experienced swordsmen. I’m a big fan of women kicking arse, but it just doesn’t make any sense, even with the loopy logic of the films. Plus, the whole “pirate king” thing is ludicrous. I almost cringed myself inside out when it came time for Swann to deliver a “rousing” speech to the assembled crews. She sounded more like a bitchy head girl bollocking her dowdy doormat friend for daring to show up to the school dance in the same colour outfit as her.

I will say this though- the effects are genuinely amazing. Whilst they skimped on coherent writers and actors who could act, they certainly didn’t pinch pennies when it came to the visuals. I love Shipwreck Cove- a pirate meeting place made up of dozens of broken and dilapidated ships. The “up is down” twisty-turny bit is jaw-dropping. The climactic Maelstrom sequence is also very well done and the sheer fun spectacle of watching two ships frag the living fuck out of each other in a gigantic swirling whirlpool wins the film some big points. Having said that, it’s really difficult to give a crap about what’s going on. Still a top-notch tech demo though.

Before I end this review I will mention a few little odds and ends I liked, lest you mistake me for the usual kind of internet critic that either loves something unconditionally or hates it with the very core of their being. I’ve got a new favourite fish-person, for one. The moray eel fella who can retract his head inside his body and bites people in the face is bloody awesome. Shame he only gets a few seconds of screen time. I quite like the Keith Richards cameo as Jack’s dad, but I think I like the idea more than the reality. It’s like when they officially made May 4th “Star Wars Day”- it sort of ruins the joke. Barbossa’s constantly interrupted marrying of Will and Elizabeth is also amusing and one of the few genuine laughs I got from the film. I also dig Cutler Beckett’s slow motion walk-whilst-everything-fucking-explodes death, although it’s not quite as good as I remember it. It’s a decent send off to a great baddie though and the final shot of his lifeless body landing and being enveloped by a floating East India Trading Co. flag is pretty damn memorable.

“Nobody move! I’ve dropped me brain.”

So, At World’s End. It’s goddamn boring is what it is. It’s a hypermegaclusterfuck of half-baked ideas, clunky writing and awkward tonal shifts in a shiny wrapper. It’s a shame the sequel apple fell so far from the Curse of the Black Pearl tree. It’s a testament to excess and highlights the very worst of blockbuster filmmaking. I think Sparrow himself said it best: “It is neither proper nor suitable, sir. It is not acceptable, nor adequate. It is, in obvious fact, an abomination.”

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Redux)

Back on track with the LADathon with the second Pirates flick. More on the way.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) (Redux)

With Curse of the Black Pearl becoming a big hit worldwide, sequels were inevitable. Disney opted to film Pirates 2 and 3 back-to-back with Dead Man’s Chest being released in 2006. I’ve seen Dead Man’s Chest many times, but in rewatching it to do this redux, I realised that 1) I couldn’t remember large stretches of it and 2) it wasn’t as bad as I previously thought.

“Jones’ terrible leviathan will find you, and drag the Pearl back to the depths and you along with it!”

Following on from Curse of the Black Pearl, our two lead planks Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) are due to be married, but all is cut short when newly appointed Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) claps them in irons for aiding and abetting Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Sparrow has problems of his own, however, as his debt to the fearsome legendary Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) is due to be paid and if he doesn’t comply, he’ll face the wrath of the massive,  multi-tentacled Kraken, capable of sinking entire fleets of ships. Having my preconceptions when I sat down to review it good an’ proper, I had loaded my shitcannons and was ready to work the film over from the barebones up. Why are these characters doing these things? What’s her motivation? Is his story arc satisfactorily concluded? etc. However, it’s actually a well-constructed film. On a base level, there are very few criticisms that I could find to level at it.  Motivations make sense, the story’s structured strongly and everything that’s set up pays off for the most part. So, why the three stars at the bottom of the page? Well, just because it’s functional doesn’t mean it’s brilliant. It’s way too fucking long at 151 mins and it’s as self-indulgent as mashing caviar on your nipples and ordering several exquisite eunuchs to lick it off. More of that in a minute.

Bloom and Knightley haven’t improved between films. Whilst their wooden “acting” got a free pass last time, it becomes more of a problem this time as both are given more to do. Of the newcomers, I love Tom Hollander’s Beckett who has free reign to be the bastard that Davenport’s Norrington wasn’t allowed to be. Bill Nighy’s octopus-faced Davy Jones is a cracking villain too. The production design on Jones and the crew of the Flying Dutchman, including the ship itself is remarkable. There are all sorts of odd sea creature/man hybrids to goggle at and they’re all fantastically realised. Whilst I like the hammerhead shark fella and the guy who just seems to have an oyster for a head and no discernible mouth, my favourite is the pufferfish lad. We don’t get to see him puff up when he’s stressed or angry though. Missed opportunity. I have to give credit where credit’s due, it’s refreshing that they didn’t try to just rehash Black Pearl and actually went for something a bit different. The merits of where they went with it is debatable, but in the age of a widespread “fuck it, that’ll do” attitude towards sequels, it’s a good thing. The scale and scope is considerably bigger this time round. The effects have been stepped up and at times border on the photo-realistic. The Kraken scenes are my favourites. Just the image of a ship being ensnared by huge tentacles is straight off an old nautical map. It’s great to see it on screen and it’s surprisingly unsettling.

I was racking my brain trying to figure out why this film isn’t as successful as its predecessor. There were things I noticed that didn’t work, such as the dialogue not being nearly as sharp this time round and some real weaksauce gags slipping through the net, but none of them were film killers. It all came to me watching the three-way swordfight between Norrington, Sparrow and Will. Firstly, the film is too convoluted and indulgent for its own good- so much so, that they have Mackenzie Crook’s Ragetti explain each man’s motivation whilst the fight’s going on as a refresher course to Pintel and therefore the audience. If you have to have a character dump exposition all in one go like that, you’re not doing a very good job telling a story. Secondly, and most importantly, I realised I was having fun as I watched the three men fight in and on a rolling waterwheel. Not only that, it seems like a scene that’d be completely at home in the first film. Dead Man’s Chest lacks the consistent sense of fun and swashbuckling adventure that Black Pearl had in abundance.  Much like Jack Sparrow, the film doesn’t know what it wants and flits between all sorts of conflicting things. The tone is erratic throughout and as such you end up not quite knowing how to react to it.

“Life is cruel. Why should the afterlife be any different?”

Dead Man’s Chest isn’t a bad sequel by any means. It moves its characters on, brings in some great villains and takes us to new and exciting places. It just isn’t as enjoyable as it should be. A sense of fun can make up for a hell of a lot, but Dead Man’s Chest has it in fits and starts, coupled with some surprisingly dark shit for a family friendly film (the poor bastard who has his face sucked clean off by the Kraken comes to mind.) It’s entertaining enough, but it gets too bogged down in its own mysticism and taking itself seriously to really cut loose and live a little.

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

I’ve been looking for a personal project for a while. By chance, I happened to replace my knackered Pirates of the Caribbean set and started thinking about Disney’s live action output in the past decade.  Most of it follows the Pirates formula, but it has some interesting anomalies and talking points. Whilst I have reviewed some of them before, I read them back and cringed myself to death, resurrected and decided to do something about it. From today, my focus is going to be 100% Disney as I’m going to be reviewing the Pirates films, the National Treasures, Tron Legacy, John Carter, The Muppets and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. There will be unrelated reviews inbetween however. I couldn’t think of anything clever as an umbrella topic to group them all under, so it’s my Live Action Disney-a-thon (or LADathon for shortsies). It’s also been ten years to the day since this film was released. Think of that. You’re old.

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


I suppose in this climate of making a movie of practically anything with a famous name (Battleship, The Lego Movie, Toilet Duck: The Motion Picture etc) it’s not too much of a stretch, but it still strikes me as odd that somebody (or rather many somebodies) invested heavily in a film based off a clunky theme park ride featuring barely mobile animatronic pirates. Having said that, when it comes to film, I’m a firm believer in the notion that there is no such thing as a bad idea, just bad execution. I believe that Curse of the Black Pearl is proof of that. It’s an unapologetically fun film with plenty of swashbuckling action. But you already know that.

“You didn’t beat me. You ignored the rules of engagement. In a fair fight, I’d kill you.”

“That’s not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it?”

The plot follows lowly blacksmith and swordmaker Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and his secret love for the Governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). After a while, the crew of the legendary and feared Black Pearl, led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) pillage Port Royal and kidnap Elizabeth. It’s up to Will and imprisoned, eccentric pirate and former Black Pearl Captain, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to save her. Rewatching the film, I was struck by just how tight the screenplay is. There are no pointless scenes, everything that is set up pays off at some point and the dialogue hits the balance between functional exposition and playful banter throughout. Yeah, I know. All films of this ilk should have a script like that. The sad fact is the majority of them don’t- the sequels to this very film being prime examples. The script is clever, witty and is just plain satisfying. The duo of Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, previously known best for writing Shrek, the criminally underrated The Road to El Dorado and Disney’s own Aladdin, manage to inject the then stale pirate genre with some much needed fun and adventure.

It’s strange that I still rate this film despite it having two of the most wooden leads in recent memory. Both Knightley and Bloom act like recent lobotomy cases, dialogue dripping from their mouths with barely any inflection or feeling. Whilst most of the jokes are given to Depp, any humour that the script affords Will and Elizabeth is killed stone dead by the delivery. Check out the bit where Sparrow has assembled a ragtag bunch of pirates to chase The Black Pearl. Will says “Well, you’ve proved they’re mad!”. It’s not the best one-liner, granted- but the way Bloom hits the line is like he’s never heard a joke before. Another actor could have sold it better. Same with my most hated line in the whole film: Elizabeth’s “You like pain?… (she strikes a pirate with an oar) try wearing a corset!”. Not only is it a god-awful line, the delivery stinks. Ugh. On the better acting side of things. Depp is obviously the scene-stealer and his performance in Black Pearl has stood the test of time and shitty sequels. The man knows his way around a gag. Often overlooked is Geoffrey Rush who is clearly having a whale of a time as Barbossa. He’s not cartoonishly evil, but he has his moments. He also handles the all-important wit with skill. Similarly, Jack Davenport is a fantastic straight man and is often ignored in favour of Depp’s peacocking by most people.

Above all else, Curse of the Black Pearl is FUN. Remember when blockbusters were fun? It has proper swashbuckling action, great swordfights and special effects that still hold up for the most part. I will always love the moonlight reveal of Barbossa’s literal skeleton crew. The final swordfight between Barbossa and Sparrow as they move through piles of gold and shafts of moonlight is fantastic. I will never tire of Jack and Elizabeth being stranded on an island, leading to the famous “why is the rum gone?” line. There are some fantastic character beats in this bit and it elevates the film significantly.

There are so many things about Black Pearl that I find refreshing. The fact that none of the characters are fucking idiots and capable of independent thought is a major one. For instance, Jack only agrees to help Will after learning his surname and asking some not-so-subtle questions about his father. In most films this’d be presented as a big reveal later on, but not here. Will confronts Sparrow on the way there and we’re done and dusted. I also really like the motivation of Barbossa and his crew. They’re not out-and-out evil. They’re bad people alright, but no worse than Sparrow himself. All they want is their terrible curse to be lifted so they can finally enjoy food, drink and “pleasurable company” again. That sounds downright reasonable to me.

Most refreshing of all is the risk that Disney took with this. It was their first PG-13 film, starring an actor known for cult hits not big blockbusters, based off an intellectual property they had knocking around in the shed and given the full support of Disney’s marketing arm. A mere decade later and the landscape has completely changed. Last year’s John Carter (review coming soon) was a risk, but Disney had no real faith in it, didn’t market it properly and it bombed. This year’s Lone Ranger looks to suffer the same fate, despite them cranking up the obnoxious advertising dial a few notches. As you know, the Pirates gamble paid off and launched an entire franchise that’s not done yet (work is underway on a fifth film). I just like it when studios think outside of the box and are rewarded for it.

“Where’s Elizabeth?”

“She’s safe, just like I promised. She’s all set to marry Norrington, just like she promised. And you get to die for her, just like you promised. So we’re all men of our word really… except for, of course, Elizabeth, who is in fact, a woman.”

It may get unfairly tarred with the same brush as the rest of the series, but Curse of the Black Pearl is a hugely enjoyable film and one of the best examples of being fun for the whole family. It’s bloody brilliant, savvy?