Archive for May, 2011

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

May 23, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

This Pirates of the Caribbean film really brings it back to the style of the first film.  Yes, it is absurd in that has mermaids, zombies, and voodoo, but it is a stand alone film.  It leaves itself plenty open for sequel, but it doesn’t require one.  If Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz decide not to come back and do another film, it isn’t a big deal, even though Penelope Cruz’s character would make sense in a sequel, she can even be replaced as there are a number of ways that it can go.  This was fun like the first one, a bit absurd, but very strong in terms of a stand alone summer sort of film.  With as bad as the summer films could have been, they have turned out quite nicely thus far.

The story is that of Jack Sparrow trying to make is way to the Fountain of Youth.  Not because he really wants to, all he really wants is The Black Pearl back (yet again), but Angelica (Penelope Cruz), basically kidnaps him to work for her father, Blackbeard, on his ship and to get him to the fountain of youth because it has been prophesied that he will be killed by the one legged man, Barbossa, who managed to escape from the Black Pearl before Blackbeard captured it.  Barbossa knows that Blackbeard is going after this, so he slides himself in with the British government in order to have a ship to go after Blackbeard and the fountain of youth.  At the same time, a Spanish general goes after it as well.  Leading to a three way race to get two silver chalices and a mermaids tear.  Much confusion, betrayal, and randomness happens on the way to the fountain of youth.

The acting is what you expect from a Pirates of the Caribbean film.  Johnny Depp slides back into his role of Captain Jack Sparrow very nicely, and it was kind of refreshing to not have Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley playing opposite him in the lead roles.  Penelope Cruz does a good job of stepping in as a sweet lady who Jack had corrupted and Ian McShane does a good job stepping in as Blackbeard, neither performance is astounding, but they are as good if not better than those of Bloom and Knightley.  Geoffrey Rush comes back as Barbossa, and he really does a very good job as Barbossa.  There are a few other characters that are brought back, but for the most part, there aren’t any other strongly memorable performances.  Keith Richards makes another guest appearance which is okay, but really could have been done without.

In terms of the level of competence in the film making, the direction by Rob Marshall is good, and the screenplay, while having some very absurd elements to it, is strong.  They manage to add in zombies and mermaids very well.  The voodoo aspect gets a bit shaky at a couple of points as Blackbeard is able to control parts of his ship with just his sword, I felt like that was over the top, but the voodoo doll of Jack Sparrow was a nice touch and didn’t seem too strange at all.  The score, by Hans Zimmer, was good as always and was similar to the previous ones which makes all the films have the same feel quite nicely.

Overall this was an entertaining film.  It won’t get a ton of critical love because there isn’t anything all that special about it, but it is a summer film, and it is rare that summer films, like Thor and the Pirates films, get all that much love.  I’d place this as the second best pirates film, and while I did enjoy the second and the third, even with their absurdity (and you have to view them as a single film), this fourth one is much closer to the first than either the second or third were.

Entertainment Grade: A-

Critical Grade: C

Overall Grade: B+

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Thor

May 6, 2011

Thor

This film might be second only to the first Iron Man when it comes to Marvel world films.  It is put together so nicely and precisely the fact that the dialog is hokey at points in time isn’t really noticeable, and the fact that the plot might not be 100% solid is also easy to gloss over.  It simply is a fun action/adventure super hero film that is a blast to watch.  Kenneth Branagh does a great job putting this all down onto the screen.

The story is that of how Thor gets banished from Asgard and the story of his redemption.  Thor is a brash young prince who is more of a warrior than a leader and who can’t see how his father’s, Odin, rule is so strong when he doesn’t show off his force.  When Asgard in infiltrated by ice giants, Thor along with his brother Loki and some of Thor’s closest friends decide to disobey Odin and solve the problems themselves.  Things go wrong and Thor is banished from Asgard to Midgard (Earth) and separated from his hammer, Mjillnar.  Odin enchants that hammer that only someone with the heart of Thor can lift it.  Thor tries, but fails.  It isn’t until he sacrifices himself for the good of others that his hammer returns to him.  When that happens he has to deal with the disarray that has fallen on Asgard under Loki’s rule.

The acting in this film is surprisingly strong.  Chris Hemsworth really fits into the role of Thor and even with some very corny lines, he delivers them in such a way that they are believable, especially in the Earth setting.  There are a few other characters who are really strong, Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings both outshine Natalie Portman as the humans who befriend Thor.  Skarsgard is very good in his role as playing an older wiser professor who is doing research with Portman’s character, and Kat Dennings has some great one-liners that she delivers as Portman’s intern.  Asgard also has some solid characters, Tom Hiddleston oozes with the kind of charm and cunning that Loki should have.  And Anthony Hopkins gives a good performance as Odin.  The whole cast just seems to have gelled together.

Technically Kenneth Branagh has done a good job with this film.  The script is a little bit rough at times with the dialog and the plot doesn’t hold together perfectly, but for the most part it works extremely well, and Branagh has taken the short comings and hid them quite well.  He got a ton out of the talent that he was given for the film and while this film has a lighter feel than some superhero films, most notably the Batman films, it is clear to see many tie ins to other Marvel universe films.  There is a reference to the Hulk, an appearance by Hawkeye, and references to Tony Stark as well.  Visually it is fun as well, Asgard doesn’t completely hold together in terms of CGI, but it has a royal grandeur that one would expect from the home of the Norse Gods, and the town in New Mexico where Thor lands is spot on for the comics.

Overall this was a better film than I was expecting, even with Rotten Tomatoes showing the top critic rating at 80%, I had heard about a few struggles with the dialog and plot and figured I might have issue with that.  But they do a very good job of glossing it over and making it very very fun to watch, which fits very well into the world that was created for Tony Stark.  It is very much worth checking out if you want to see the first giant film of the summer, and this is probably going to be one of the better ones and deservedly so.

Entertainment Grade: A

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: A-