Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review

With the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, I’ve decided to review the film that kicked off this billion dollar series.

The story, full of sword-clashing, swashbuckling pirates, takes place near the Caribbean Sea, in a city called Port Royal. There we meet the charming and absurd pirate named Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp), who is down on his luck with no crew and no ship. Sparrow’s arrival to Port Royal turns out to be most unfortunate, when the city is besieged by a ship of undead pirates. In the process of raiding the city, the pirates kidnap the governor of Port Royal’s daughter, named Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley), who they believe is the key to breaking an ancient curse. It’s now up to a valiant blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) in love with Elizabeth, as well as an incredibly reluctant Jack Sparrow, to rescue her from the cursed pirates.

I believe that Pirates is a great example of how to perfectly craft an action-adventure film. It maintains just the right balance of sword fights and ship battles, while also exploring new and exotic locations. Because of this pleasant balance of features, the audience is never really given time to get disinterested in what’s happening on-screen.

The characters are all memorable and entertaining to watch, especially Johnny Depp’s character of Jack Sparrow. His constant mannerisms resemble that of an eccentric drunk. Sparrow is full of hilariously shrewd comments, and knows just how to get on the nerves of any character. He kind be an idiot at times, but also cunning and resourceful. A great mix of traits for an impeccably written protagonist.

Jack Sparrow is, for good reason, the staple protagonist of Pirates, a very fitting role for Johnny Depp. Even in the most dangerous of situations, Jack Sparrow (as well as our other protagonists) remains humorous and witty. That, I feel, is part of the charm of Pirates of the Caribbean. What could easily be consumed with an extremely dark and gritty story, is kept at a relatively upbeat level. An unfortunate flaw of its many sequels.

I savor every scene in which Jack Sparrow miraculously escapes the British, or even some abandoned island. And I appreciate the attempt of director Gore Verbinski to make an entertaining and worthwhile movie. Making a thrilling film based off a theme park ride is no simple task, and Disney sure delivered.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales finally jumps the shark for this tiresome series.

Taking place some years after On Stranger Tides, a luckless Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is now being pursued by his old nemesis, a ghost pirate named Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). The only thing that may be able to save the life of Sparrow is the legendary Trident of Poseidon, which has the ability to break any curse. Jack must now form an alliance with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of William Turner, as well as a young astronomer named Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), to find this legendary artifact before it’s too late.

The first few scenes of the film gave the impression that I’d be seeing a much better flick than I did. Scenes were shot and paced nicely, and I was pretty interested in what was happening. Unfortunately for the audience, Pirates totally gives up very early on. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment the film jumps the shark and accepts that it’s going to put in zero creative effort. That’s when Gibbs (played by Kevin McNally), and the rest of Jack’s crew, pull an entire building by horseback throughout a city. From here, everything goes downhill fast.

The entire returning cast looked particularly grim and out of it. As if Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush have grown tired of playing these roles. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were also conned into returning for a few moments, and they too looked annoyed to be back. These are no longer the cool, swashbuckling pirates we used to know. Now, they’re clearly just actors antsy to finish this lingering franchise.

On the topic of Jack Sparrow, I feel that the writers for the first time actually wrote him incorrectly. That his personality here is far different from in any other Pirates of the Caribbean movie. In previous films, while Jack could be an idiot at times, he was also conniving and devious. He knew how to double-cross others in clever ways, ways that benefited his own gain. In Dead Men Tell No Tales, he’s just a bumbling buffoon with little charm or spunk. Nothing that made his character memorable or creative in the first few movies was in this flick.

Another aspect that really bothered me about Pirates was the female lead, played by Kaya Scodelario. Instead of actually writing a strong female character, the filmmakers felt it would be better if they just told us how independent, strong, smart, and better she is than everyone else. Resulting in a poorly written character that comes off as arrogant, in constant need of being saved, and as interesting as tree bark. The moral of the story being: Show, don’t tell.

Even the most refreshing character in the film, Captain Armando Salazar (played by Javier Bardem), was the weakest written villain in the whole series. I’m usually a big fan of Bardem, but here is regrettably boring. Just like everyone else in the flick, he kind of just goes through the motions and doesn’t really stand out too much. Apart from his appearance, I can’t remember a single thing about his personality or motivations.

Sadly, the conclusion of the film feels rushed and very unsatisfying. After dragging its feet for two hours, Pirates feels the need to tie all its loose ends with one quick swoop, producing an ending that is sure to leave viewers saying: “That’s it?” Knowing that this may be how we’re left remembering the characters forever, I find Dead Men Tell No Tales to be insulting.

I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone. As a huge fan of the first three Pirates movies, I feel that I’ve more than put up with sloppy and convoluted writing here and there. However, this is the straw that really breaks the camel’s back. Not only did Dead Men Tell No Tales manage to be worse than On Stranger Tides, it ruined the character of Jack Sparrow for me. It’s safe to say that I’ve completely run out of patience for this careless, dead in the water franchise.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Review

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” That is the opening line to one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen. From the moment I first watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was instantly in love with its dark humor and outlandish visuals.

Upon release, critics didn’t quite like Fear and Loathing, and it wasn’t that successful at the box office either. More recently however, the film has attained cult status, with a steadily growing fan base.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on the book by the same name, and stars Johnny Depp as the revered Hunter S. Thompson (who goes under the pseudonym of Raoul Duke). Raoul, along with his Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), are on a trip to Las Vegas to journalistically cover the Mint 400 race. Armed with a suitcase full of higher powered drugs, the entire trip instead becomes one big hallucinogenic drug filled experience.

As far as staying true to the novel, I think Fear and Loathing is among the best adaptations I’ve seen. In fact, a lot of the dialogue in the film is actually taken straight from the book. It’s obvious that a lot of work was put in to give the viewer the same iconic imagery and peculiar sense of humor as the book. One of my favorite scenes in the film (and book) is when Duke first arrives to the hotel, and starts hallucinating that all the guests are actually giant lizards. This scene is full of lifelike puppets and vibrant colors reflecting off Duke’s face, giving the viewer the feeling they too are on a bad drug trip. Overall a brilliant use of freaky images and great lighting technique.

Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson is beyond hilarious and entertaining. I would go so far as to say it is one of his greatest roles to date. All the mannerisms and quirks of Hunter S. Thompson are fantastically mimicked by Depp, giving viewers a very memorable performance. The way he walks around bow legged and mumbles with a cigarette in his mouth cracks me up every time I see it.

The consensus I’ve heard critics is that Fear and Loathing had very little, if anything at all, to say. I would have to strongly disagree with this sentiment. I think Fear and Loathing had a lot of insightful commentary, particularly about the counterculture movement of the 60’s and the growing levels of American consumerism. There is one scene in particular where Duke monologues about the 1960’s, perfectly summing up the counterculture movement better than I’ve ever heard before. He sites how his peace-loving generation seemed like it was winning the cultural fight without ever hurting another person. Yet, somehow everything changed. The hippies lost all the momentum. This “Wave Speech”, as it is most commonly known, is worth watching the film for all on its own.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains one of my favorite films of all time, and for very good reason. The dark sense of humor, commentary on 1960’s counterculture, and peculiar imagery all work to make this a one of a kind film. Plus, the film gave us some of the best Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro performances to date.  I really think Fear and Loathing is a masterpiece of cinema, plain and simple. Hopefully it will continue to get the admiration and recognition it rightfully deserves.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

The most recent film I’ve viewed happens to be Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This is sort of a spinoff series from Harry Potter, both of which take place in the same world where wizards and witches exist. Only this film precedes the timeline of Harry Potter by maybe forty years or so.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Schamander, a wizard traveling to the United States to release some of his magical creatures into the wild. When first arriving to New York, Newt gets himself mixed up with the law and is arrested by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). But after an incident involving an injured non-magical person named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), many of Newts magical creatures are accidentally released into New York City. Armed with an awesome magical suitcase, Newt and his new friends find themselves on an adventure to recover all his lost creatures.

There was one plot device being developed throughout the film that I felt was very interesting. It involved a newspaper owner (Jon Voight) who was helping his son run for Senator of New York. The son running for Senator is killed by an obviously magical force, and the newspaper owner seemed determined to find out what happened. I thought that he would join the growing anti-wizard sentiment growing in New York (which is also introduced in the film) and expose the wizards to the outside world. It felt as though this was coming together to build tension between the wizard world and the non-magic world, which would make sense.

Instead, none of this happens. In the end of the movie, everything dealing with this plot point is resolved immediately in the lamest way possible. Which really makes no sense. Why take all that time to develop this plot if it isn’t going to go anywhere?

There are various other scenes that go nowhere as well, but I won’t go into detail about those.

The mythology and lore of the Wizarding World are my favorite aspects of this film. Everything from all the mythical creatures Newt comes across to the wizard community itself is great. As a fan of the Harry Potter series, I love watching how the magic community operates in a world of non-magic people. Like how the wizards use a semi-secret entrance door to a hotel as access to their main headquarters. Very creative and very cool.

My least favorite aspect of the film is the motives of the villian, which was pretty atrocious. I seriously have no idea what was going on with this guy. Even after watching the movie I could not tell you what this guy was trying to accomplish. It all felt very rushed and not thought out well. I actually had no idea if he was really even the ‘bad guy’ until the very final scene he is in.  This wasn’t even done in a clever reveal of the villian kind of way. I think the audience was supposed to know he was the villian from the get go, but I didn’t pick up on it. I just think the execution of this character was overall pretty poor.

Johnny Depp gives a little surprise performance towards the end of the film. Going in, I had no idea Depp would be in this film. So when I saw him I felt nothing but confusion and a little bit of disappointment. I actually awkwardly laughed out loud when I saw Depp in this movie. I usually enjoy Johnny Depp in films, but I did not like seeing him in this role. I guess I just felt his personality and character type didn’t fit this film well. Anymore it seems like Depp just plays the same eccentric character over and over again.

I know there are supposed to be at least three of these Fantastic Beasts films but I’m not sure how they can manage this. As I said, they already wrapped up what I thought was going to be an ongoing series plot device that would have more to play in future films. That being said, I am positive they will pull something out of their asses for two more sequels.

I would definitely recommend this film to anyone who liked Harry Potter, or those who have a knack for science fiction and fantasy. I personally did not find this movie all that great. At least, not as much as everyone else seems to enjoy it. With Fantastic Beasts being ‘certified fresh’ on Rotten tomatoes and people everywhere hailing it a marvelous film, I can’t help but feel its being a little overblown. As if maybe it’s success is nostalgia based.

The creatures are unique and the Wizarding World lore is as great as ever. But the plot seemed a little messy, character motives were off, some (not all) of the CG was pretty bad, a the film itself was just very underwhelming.

So if you find yourself enjoying Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, more power to you. If your like me and don’t enjoy it all that much, thats fine as well. Go ahead and give it a chance, it’s certainly worth it.

-Zachary Flint

Alice: Through the Looking Glass Review

 

Alice through the Looking Glass managed to feel even more dull, drab, and overall worse than the previous Alice in Wonderland. Even to the point where I cannot remember laughing once throughout the whole film.

The story takes place three years after the events of the first film, as Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is returning from a voyage at sea, only to find out her mother sold her half of the company to that pale guy Sheamus from the first movie. Alice gets upset and somehow makes it back to “Underland”. Only to find out that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is literally dying because nobody believes him that his parents are still alive somewhere.

Right off the bat everything is going wrong for our protagonist. All these problems mixed with the dark tone of the film create a very depressing mood. I hardly smiled while watching the movie. Did nobody in the production of this film stop and think that maybe it was a little too dark? Given the source material of the usually wacky and nonsensical world of Wonderland.

Since the main comedic relief of the previous Alice in Wonderland film is a wet blanket in this film, there are few jokes made. The jokes that were made in Alice through the Looking Glass got very little laughs from the audience. The theater was dead silent the entire runtime and some moviegoers even got up and left before the halfway point.

The creators of Alice through the Looking Glass even managed to make Sacha Baron Cohen as boring and drab as possible. I felt that his dialogue was just as unfunny and lame as the rest of the cast. I guess he was supposed to take the role as comedic relief but his character came off as painful to watch.

The one major plus of this movie is our protagonist Alice herself. More specifically, Mia Wasikowska’s acting. In Alice in Wonderland, I felt she was very drab and showed little to no emotion throughout the entirety of the runtime. In Alice through the Looking Glass she genuinely held my attention more than any other actor or actress in the movie. She showed emotion, and led us a little deeper into the character of Alice.

I know many people, including myself, felt that Time Burton taking a back seat to directing and only producing the film would give a better outcome than his Alice in Wonderland. Maybe it wouldn’t be so dark, the characters as bland, and the general feeling not “style over substance”.

We were all very wrong.

Overall, I was mostly disappointed with Alice through the Looking Glass. Other than some of the visuals and Mia Wasikowska’s performance, I don’t think this film had anything going for it. It’s a real shame that the live action adaptations of Alice in Wonderland didn’t turn out as everyone would have liked. Perhaps in the future, with Disney’s other live action remakes, Alice in Wonderland can have a better fitting movie.

Zachary Flint

 

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS