Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brandon's take on 'Pirates'

NOTE: As you may have noticed, my review for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End did not run in last week’s “GO.” That was not for lack of trying. The truth is, in New York City, where I now live, Disney allowed one screening. One. And lil’ ol’ me didn’t make the cut. That should tell you something about damage control and trying to limit negative press fallout. I would have had this review up sooner but I was back in the Springs over the holiday weekend, enjoying a Rocky Mountain high. So, without further ado…

There’s a lot to be said for knowing one’s place in the world--not aiming too high or sinking too low--but intrinsically understanding one’s station and what’s expected of that station. I am not, thankfully, talking about human beings, but rather films.

There’s nothing wrong with being a popcorn movie so long as you don’t aspire to anything higher. And while popcorn fare may not be fois gras, most of us find popcorn an enjoyable and satisfying snack. There are some films that simply defy the normal critical analysis, that embody the intellectual equivalent of physical horseplay and in so doing are purely and simply enjoyable.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is not such a movie.

If films are made in rapid succession or better yet, simultaneously, their overall quality, whether good or bad, can usually be predicted by the first one out of the gate. The Matrix: Reloaded predicted the continuing mediocrity of The Matrix: Revolutions, whereas the brilliance of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring all but ensured the same sort of radiance throughout the entire trilogy. So it should come as no surprise that, after the staggering disappointment that was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End shouldn’t be far behind.

Ignoring even the slightest expository dialogue to remind viewers where the last Pirates installment left off and why, At World’s End instead launches straight into a plot so muddled and convoluted it is barely worth trying to unravel here. That they began filming without a completed script (no lie) is instantly obvious.

Suffice it to say, our heroes go off to rescue the dead Jack Sparrow, now suffering in Davy Jones’ Locker (which ironically enough, looks remarkably like a bad Terry Gilliam movie); must face the treachery of Davy Jones and Lord Cutler Beckett, now in dark league together; convene all the world’s pirates for one final, epic showdown; set a goddess free, and reunite a pair of estranged lovers. Before it is all over, Elizabeth Swann will take her own stab at Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, her love affair with Will Turner will fold into a bittersweet (and oddly appropriate) dénouement, and Capt. Jack will find himself much as we first met him—marooned and shipless (although, after three films, I was sick enough of him to do the same).

If the script is a cohesive disaster, the special effects are masterful. But then again, what did you think they were spending all of those millions of dollars on, a screenwriter? At World’s End is filled with some utterly transcendent eye candy. Three moments that stick out in my mind are of a pirate’s vessel sailing across perfectly still water that flawlessly reflects the starlight above making it look as if the ship is suspended in space; the Black Pearl set aground in the middle of a vast desert of sand; and the final moments of Lord Beckett as the world shatters into splinters all around him. (The closing credits go on forever, rightly acknowledging hundreds of digital artists. By the way, if you didn’t stay to watch all those names sail by, you missed a final bonus scene tagged onto the very end.)

It’s not so much that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is bad, so much as it is boring. Clocking in at just shy of three hours, the film is laboriously slow going with few substantive action pieces to make the long stretches worthwhile. In forgetting its origins, the third Pirates film, just like the second, also forgets to be fun. This is its greatest sin. We can forgive tedious patches and even muddled plots, but what is unforgivable is when a popcorn movie like this one has indefensible delusions of grandeur.

Perhaps the only thing worse than popcorn pretension is not knowing when to stop. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End does not, itself, know when to end. That it concludes by setting up a possible fourth installment in the franchise is enough to make one question just who are the real pirates and who are the ones being plundered.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

No treasure

I read the mostly lukewarm positive reviews, and yet expected to love the new "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." Critics whine about it being too long at nearly three hours.

I figured that would just be more pirate fun for your money.

Critics are almost always too harsh on summer popcorn movies.

Not this time. They were kind.

I saw the movie with the family on Sunday at Carmike 10 (my favorite theater, with the digital projectors and the $5.50 ticket price). It has great music, costumes, special effects.

You almost don't notice that they're no actual movie there. I admit it had some nice moments. Liked Keith Richards, looking more at home with a bunch of pirates than any of them. Liked the wedding held during a ship battle.

But much of the time, I felt like I was waiting for something to happen... but not in a good way. Not like suspense. More like boredom.

The third Shrek and Spidey were much more fun. This is what the most expensive movie ever made looks like?

After the credits (and the obligatory prologue), I realized my favorite parts were the previews.

Looking forward to "Enchanted," the new Harry Potter, "Transformers," and the new "Die Hard."

The theme this summer, by the way, seems to be cars tumbling through the air.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I remember when I reviewed the original "Shrek," I loved it the way it wedded "traditional children's stories with hip pop culture, and ended up with something old, something new, something borrowed and something green."

I only had one beef:
"For all its laughs and charm, 'Shrek' could have been even better if it had done more with its classic fairy-tale characters. There are funny cameos by Pinocchio, the Three Blind Mice, Snow White and others, but they're all cheap asides. None of them find their way into the main story line."

"Shrek the Third" answers my criticism by throwing Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Captain Hook and scores of other fairy-tale characters together in the main plot, in which Prince Charming schemes to get the villains to take over the kingdom.

Critics have been ho-hum about the movie, harping on the fact that it doesn't feel as fresh as the original.

What were they expecting? Has there ever been a third part in a trilogy that felt fresh?

I went in hoping for the further adventures of Shrek and friends, and that's exactly what I got.

What do you guys think?

(Incidentally, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" reviews are in ... and they're as lackluster as the "Shrek" and "Spider-Man" reviews. Critics aren't liking anything yet this summer... except for "Waitress," which opens at Kimball's Friday. Everybody loves that cute little indie.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Oh, what a web they weave...

"Spider-Man 3"

Loved it.

Sure, the critics found a dozen things wrong with it, and they were right. It was bascially Spidey vs. The Kitchen Sink. Too many villains. Too many love interests. Too many close-ups on Tobey Maguire with a tear in his eye.

But, you know, after I'd read a dozen reviews, I'd lowered my expecations. My sons and I saw it at Carmike 10 and had a ball. That theater is terrific, by the way. Lower ticket prices. Better picture, thanks to those digital projectors.

I'd like to know what you folks thought about the movie.