Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Director – Gore Verbenski
Cast – Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce
— followed by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
The first in a wrongly-maligned series, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black is a return to the swash and buckle of the old Errol Flynn movies and the like. There’s more adventure here than one can shake a cutlass at, and characters that will live on for ages I’m sure. In fact, there is word that a fourth movie will join the franchise. Despite claims of beating a dead horse, I can’t wait.
The plot is fairly dark for a Disney movie, and one aimed at kids nonetheless. It features a god’s curse, damned sailors, etc. One sequence is quite frightening in its bizarreness; leading lady Keira Knightley sees the pirates secret, that they are “undead” and that when moonbeams hit them they turn to skeletons. They twirl her around and then launch her in the air on a tattered sail, much like in the old classic Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons. It was a bit too much I found, but all in all it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie.
The acting ranges from good to bloody amazing (all except Orlando Bloom, who is terrible). Johnny Depp’s creation (and it is his, the role originally was a normal dashing hero) of a deranged and just plain loony pirate, Jack Sparrow, is one of the best characters ever made. We have seen nothing like it before. Most of the truly great comedic moments in the movie stem directly from him. To put it simply, without this character the movie would not have been near as big a success, critically or comercially.
That is not to belittle the supporting characters, who for the most part all put in great performances. Jonathan Pryce, Geoffrey Rush, and Jack Davenport all are wonderful, taking their acting cues from again, the old Golden Age pirate movies of Errol Flynn etc. They are both enjoyable and credible, and they certainly raise the quality of the movie.
One on the main criticisms of the movie is that it is a bit long. That is almost true, though personally I found that it held my interest the whole way through.Some may be put off by its comparatively complex plot, but again, I found it refreshing to find a movie with more plot than the usual. I’m getting sick of plot lines that can be summed up in one sentence, aren’t you?
This is a great movie and a very good start to a franchise. The characters will keep you engaged, the action will thrill, and the overall sense of fun and adventure will keep you coming back. Recommended, except to the very young (-8). It gets a bit intense for that age.
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The Ugly Truth REVIEW
Director – Robert Luketic
Cast – Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler
The latest rom-com to be thrown our direction is The Ugly Truth, starring Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl. They are comfortable in their roles; Butler as the misogynist pig is rude but not totally unlikable, and Heigl is believable as a slightly bossy career woman. Those two stars are really what keep this movie going; and that’s good, because without some quality acting this would have been an absolute horror of a movie, instead of an extremely mediocre one. The stars almost seem to think they’re in a different movie, and it’s a pity, because the movie they thought they were in looked a lot cooler than the one they were actually saddled with.
We have seen romantic comedies before, we have also seen this type of plot before; Girl and Guy have opposite personalities and start off hating each other. However, they are forced to team up for whatever reason. They go on a trip. Guy and Girl fall in love. Hell, that was the plot of this years earlier Sandra Bullock romcom, The Proposal. Formula rises its ugly head once more.
And granted, that is a problem with reviewing movies. The average movie goer doesn’t watch as many movies as the average movie reviewer. Thus, they will not necessarily notice when a plot has been done to death. It follows, then, that they will enjoy the movie more than the reviewer.
However, this movie has more problems than its purely formulaic attitude to the whole thing. One sequence in particular (in a hotel) had me bored stiff, because we knew what was going to happen, but the movie was playing it as if there were more than one possible outcome. You know those little lights by the aisles in movie theaters? The ones they turn on during the movie so patrons won’t trip and fall and sue them? During that sequence I found myself counting how many of those lights were between me and the exit door .
There were 34.
This movie is formulaic and utterly predictable. The script doesn’t give a darn what happens or how it happens. The two leads raise the material a tad higher than it was written, and there are a couple good jokes. But despite this, it is still barely a watchable movie. Not recommended unless you love rom-coms or absolutely need a night out. (The latter was my excuse.)
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Director – Joss Whedon
Cast – Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Krumholtz
— follows Firefly (TV Series)
The TV show “Firefly” is the very definition of a science fiction cult classic. It’s fans are at least as enthusiastic as those of the original “Star Trek” series, so when it was cancelled there was quite an uproar in certain circles. Fans fought long and hard to get the networks to renew the series, and while that never happened, Universal decided to finance a movie version of the show. Serenity is the result, and for the most part it lives up to the shows reputation. It certainly features wit, danger, action and intrigue in equal measures as the show. The main characters are all back (though some have a bit less screen time than others, to be sure.)
The only problem with this movie movie is the story. We are not really presented with anything we haven’t seen before in that regard. It does, however, touch on some pretty interesting topics, and I suspect will be good for a couple repeat viewings. There are some excellent action scenes, and one scene in particular (a space battle of sorts) had me thinking back to the epic full scale chaotic space confrontations seen in the Star Wars Saga. It was a great sequence. The actors are obviously at home with each other and their roles, and they play off each other wonderfully. It makes you wish that the show could have continued… but, c’est la vie. On that note, I must say a couple character decisions surprised me, I can’t say much more without going into Spoiler-land, but some characters were dealt in very unexpected ways. That kept the movie somewhat fresh, which is of course, good.
The “bad guy” is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a criminally under-rated actor. His other appearances include the amazing film Children of Men, and the satisfying British rom- com-drama (is that a term?) Love Actually. I can’t wait to see this guy in more projects. Here he ignores the stereotype villian delivery, and goes for an approach more in line with the view that the character is just a guy doing his job. And he happens to be frickin’ good at it.
Serenity is a decent sci-fi film, and one of the better movies made from a TV show. The action is well done, and the trademark wit of Joss Whedon is certainly there. The story, however, doesn’t drag you in as much as it could. The people most likely to appreciate this film are viewers of the “Firefly” TV show. As I have seen the show, I like it. Others may want to familiarize themselves with the show first.
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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix REVIEW
Director – David Yates
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Imelda Staunton, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Mathew Lewis
— follows Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
— followed by Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
The fifth installment of the Harry Potter Series is the first one directed by British TV director David Yates. His previous credits include the original BBC miniseries State of Play, of which the recent Russel Crowe film was based on. He brings his TV sensibility here, and actually treats the characters like fully dimensional people, which is certainly nice.
Not, of course, that there isn’t room for some wonderfully fun performances. Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge is a blast to watch, she is easily one of the easiest people to hate that I have ever seen in a movie. Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast as top baddie Voldermort, and the rest of the cast does well; Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have grown into their roles. The acting all the way round is great, no faults there.
And that is somewhat representative of this movie, it’s good, not great. On the bad side, at times the CGI is unconvincing, for example a scene involving centaurs. Their movements are far too fast, and they sound strange as well. However, as I said, the acting is great. What elevates this movie is the direction of David Yates; he has taken in it in a realistic direction which is a great improvement over *cough* Chris Columbus.
A couple new characters have been added here. One is Luna Lovegood; she is a loopy student who is quite enthralling, and about whom we eventually gain a real affection for. The other is Grawp. He is a Giant, and is Hagrid’s half-brother. I felt very odd in his scenes. He has an ethereal feel to him, like he’s not quite there. This and the centaur scene are the only CGI quibbles I had, the final battle is spectacular, as are the rest of the effects.
A short review, but there isn’t too much to say, really.
This is a good movie, a decent fantasy. David Yates is bringing the franchise to a grimier, more realistic direction, and I can’t wait to see what he does with the remaining movies.
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From Russia With Love REVIEW
Director – Terrence Young
Cast – Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Lotta Lenya
— follows Dr. No
— followed by Goldfinger
Sean Connery’s James Bond returns in the second Bond movie, sequel to 1962`s Dr. No. This time the evil SPECTRE group manipulates both the British (MI6) and Russians (SMERSH), attempting to ignite a third World War. Bond must capture a “Lector” decoding machine, while keeping free of both SMERSH and SPECTRE. The obligatory leading lady is also present of course, in this case a Russian agent played quite well by Daniele Bianchi. Bad guys include SPECTRE agents played by Robert Shaw (who later played “Quint” in Jaws), and Lotta Lenya.
This movie takes Bond in a slightly grittier, more realisitic direction while still keeping the familiar Bond sterotypes and adventure, and overall it works very well. From the very opening sequence we see this more realistic turn; it involves Robert Shaw chasing Bond through a maze, then killing him. Then we see it is not Bond, but a “live target” with a Bond mask, used for practice. Throughout the whole movie we actually fear for Bond, as his opponents are just as good if not better than he is. Robert Shaw is always one step ahead of him, out smarting and out-fighting Bond every step of the way. The only reason Bond wins is usually because of the gadgets supplied him by Q. This brings a human angle to Bond which we aren’t used to seeing, and which Daniel Craig’s Bond movies are starting to bring out more, thankfully.
This Bond is also more about tension than action, and it feels wonderful to have a movie like that. Many movies make the mistake of jumping to “The Good Bits”, i.e. the explosions, fistfights, etc.; but it is much more effective to build up slowly. We will actually be thinking, “Will they fight?”, “What’s going to happen, I feel uneasy.”, etc. And then finally when we do get the “payoff” of a fight or action sequence it is so much more satisfying. In the second half of the movie there are a few examples of this. The fight in the train between Bond and Robert Shaw’s SPECTRE agent builds slowly, and then erupts into a riveting, tense fist-fight that is one of the best put onto film. An interesting point is that during this scene there is no music, another very effective device which brings us closer to the action. A fight with a SPECTRE helicopter afterwards is also a good example. However, there aren’t really that many action set-pieces here. In fact this movie is more a thriller than an action movie. In fact the very first scene after the opening credits is a chess match. That is a perfect example of the direction this Bond takes.
Now this isn’t quite a perfect movie. Robert Shaw does a great job as a villian, combining smarts with an undeniable ability to kill. Lotta Lenya however, well… is not so good. Her accent is over the top, her performance wooden, and her accent awful. The famous Bond theme is, of course, iconic, and a great song; however severral times it is used in the wrong spot. One scene for example, has Bond checking his hotel room for bugs. It could be a pretty suspenseful scene; but with the Bond theme blairing over it it takes that whole dimension away. In fact the whole first half of the movie is a bit slow and uneven, almost not knowing what it’s going for. But it’s not too bad, and the last hour more than makes up for it.
This is one of the better Bond movies; it is fairly tense and holds your attention throughout. However, as a movie itself it isn’t that distinctive, without the character of Bond it would blend in with all the other movies of this sort. Recommended if you like Bond, or want a decent spy film.
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Amadeus: The Director’s Cut REVIEW
Director – Milos Forman
Cast – Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Durridge, Jeffrey Jones
I’ve more or less grown up with the movie Amadeus, a movie centered around Mozart. In fact, I’ve grown up with Mozart’s music as well. I’ve always loved it when I have a chance to introduce the movie to someone else. We watched it in music class in high school, and I recently persuaded my girlfriend to watch it. She was very reluctant to, but eventually I put it in the player, and she loved it. It felt good to watch someone appreciate it as much as I had. This movie really is one in a million, the pacing is just right, the feel of it is perfect, and the music… well, it’s Mozart. The story is one of the best in any movie.
The only possible problem I have with the movie is Tom Hulce’s (Mozart) acting. Don’t get me wrong, I love his take on the character, gigling, impulsive and annoying as heck. However, he just is not a great actor. However, he isn’t that bad, it’s just that he’s with some great talent here. F. Murray Abraham deserves all the credit he can get for his portrayal of Salieri, Mozart’s vengeful rival. He is subtle, angry, creepy, and a blast to watch. He deserved every accolade he could get for that role.
Milos Forman directed this movie; the only other movie of his I have seen is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but I don’t remember it well enough to compare them. He also directed Hair and Man on the Moon.
Also of note in this movie is an appearance of a young Cynthia Nixon, who would go on to star in “Sex and the City” (as the red headed one, Miranda). She plays a young maid who is either scared or intimidated for 90 percent of the film; she plays frightened very well I might add.
Jeffrey Jones is another fine character actor who appears; here he plays Emperor Joseph II, Mozart’s employer and ruler. He is perfectly cast in this role, his little “catch-phrase” of sorts which he has (based on something the Emperor actually said frequently) is hilarious, and Jones uses perfect comic timing with each delivery.
This movie can definitely be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they like classical music. Although, by the end of this movie, I think they will enjoy classical music, and good for them, too. A funny, dramatic, inspiring, and tragic story, recommended to all.
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Gone Baby Gone REVIEW
Director – Ben Affleck
Cast – Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Harris
Gone Baby Gone follows a young detective couple as they try to track down a young kidnapped girl in Boston. The plot is a tad convoluted, but both Ben Affleck’s direction and the editing of the film give us what we need to know.
When we think of Ben Affleck we don’t usually think of a director. We think of an actor, and one whose films have not necessarily been received that well critically. This film is not actually his directing debut as has been hyped, (he has directed two others, but neither found their way to theaters). However, it certainly forces us to re-examine how we see this star. If asked before seeing this movie if he was capable of thoughtful, meaningful, tense cinema, I doubt many would have thought it possible. Yet here we have exactly that.
The script is based of a book by the same author as the critically acclaimed Mystic River, so it should come as no surprise that the story is great. Ben Affleck co-wrote this screenplay, as he did with his Oscar-winning script for Good Will Hunting. It tackles some major issues here. The climax is not, as in most cop thrillers, a shoot out. Instead we get a moral dilemma, and a doozy of one at that. I will not go into details, but suffice it to say that the ending will undoubtedly keep you thinking and debating with others who have seen it. It is truly moving.
The acting is great. Ben’s younger brother Casey (who is fast becoming a name of his own) is pitch perfect casting in the lead role of a spunky yet conflicted detective. Michelle Monaghan is surprisingly effective, and Morgan Freeman continues with his warm mentor thing. But Ed Harris and Amy Ryan really delivers the knock-out performances here. He plays a character who is tough, yet human, with a clear sense of his values. She plays a grieving mother who just happened to be a “white trash” crack addict. All the characters here are wonderfully rounded, with not one of them being a stereotype.
I should mention some of the “action scenes” as well. There is one particular scene where Casey Affleck and Ed Harris raid a house, and some gun play ensues. It is an extremely good scene, compact and tense, with not a shot wasted. It holds interest without going on too long, which some gun fights tend to do.
This is a great crime thriller, one of the best. Some may find it’s language and harsh violence off putting, but it is presented in an extremely realistic way, giving the film weight and honesty. Be prepared afterwards to talk about the tough moral issues it raises. Definitely recommended.
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Top 20 FRANCHISES
After watching the first three Lethal Weapon movies I found myself wondering what the best reviewed franchises of all time have been. I took a look around Rotten Tomatoes, and here is the list. Now granted, a couple of these aren’t quite franchises to be technical, Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy for example. I also left out a film or two in a couple franchises, for example in the Batman franchise I did not include the movies made in the 1940’s, or the craptastic ’60’s version (for obvious reason); and the Clone Wars movie in the Star Wars franchise (because face it, we all want to pretend that never happened.)
So, according to Rotten Tomatoes, here is the list of some of…
TOP 20 FRANCHISES
(according to http://www.rottentomatoes.com)
20. Pirates of the Carribbean Trilogy – 58.7%
19. Ice Age Trilogy – 60%
18. Rocky Series – 61.5%
17. Batman Series – 63.5%
16. The Matrix Trilogy – 65.4%
15. Star Trek Series – 66.2%
14. Die Hard Quadrology – 70.5%
13. James Bond Series – 71%
12. Alien Quadrology – 71.3%
11. Lethal Weapon Quadrology – 71.5%
10. Dirty Harry Series – 73.6%
9. Back to the Future – 76.7%
8. Star Wars Saga – 79.4%
7. Harry Potter Series – 83.8%
6. Indiana Jones – 85.8%
5. Bourne Trilogy – 86%
4. Godfather Trilogy – 88%
3. Evil Dead Trilogy – 91.7%
2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – 94%
1. “Man With No Name” Trilogy – 95.4%
Surprised at some of the numbers? Should some be higher? Lower? Feel free to comment.
Lethal Weapon REVIEW
Director – Richard Donner
Cast – Danny Glover, Mel Gibson, Gary Busey
— followed by Lethal Weapon 2
Lethal Weapon, made in 1987, came along smack dab in the middle of (arguably) the worst years for film yet. It is based on a tried and true formula, for sure, and the plot line is pretty generic even for an action film. Yet as the saying goes, “It’s not where you’re going, it’s how you get there.” Despite the plot, this movie makes itself feel wonderfully fresh. The characters are wonderfully rounded, helped by the acting. Mel Gibson puts in an Oscar-worthy performance (yes, in an action movie), and Danny Glover is wonderful as the film’s anchor. Gary Busey as the villian is not quite as impressive, but he does well enough.
Taking its cue from seemingly every other 80’s action movie, it is set at Christmas. Plot-wise, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover try to track down a group of drug smugglers who killed the daughter of one of Glover’s friends. Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs is, well, nuts. He is almost certainly insane, reminding me in some ways of Heath Ledgers Joker in The Dark Knight. There is one scene where he contemplates suicide that is amazing, quite honestly some of the best acting I have ever seen, action film or not.
The chemistry between the main characters, Martin Riggs and Roger Mutaugh, raised the bar for buddy movies. They really have a perfect relationship; we really believe that the characters would react the way they do, when they do.
The action itself is great as well, we see one thrilling sequence after another. But all the action in the whole world won’t make a good movie. Yet this is a good movie because of how much we feel for the characters. Humour is used very well also, there are many literal laugh out loud moments. Also, the music is very unique in Lethal Weapon, with Eric Clapton’s squealing, lonely guitar piercing through Michael Campton’s simple orchestrations. It really adds a whole new layer to the movie.
This is one of the best action movies ever made. Recommended to pretty much anyone.
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Batman Returns REVIEW
Director – Tim Burton
Cast – Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfieffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken
— follows Batman
— followed by Batman Forever
It is rare that a sequel be better than its predecessor. It has certainly happened before, with The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and, some say, Godfather II. With Batman Returns we have another example.
Now I didn’t really like the previous movie, Batman, but this movie is one of my guilty pleasures. It has a great balance between zaniness and adventure, with great performances by Danny DeVito (The Penguin) and Michelle Pfieffer (Catwoman). Michael Keaton’s Batman takes a back seat to the villains, which works better than I would have thought it would. There is a surprising amount of humor in the movie,with Michelle Pfieffer showing amazing comic timing. Danny DeVito has quite a few jokes as well, although much of it involves sexual wordplay and innuendo. Many parents took offense to this, as Batman Returns was advertised as a family friendly movie; and I must admit I see their point. However, for adults obviously it poses no problem.
The pacing of the movie is great as well, with (thank the powers that be) no Prince music. Those were mainly what I took issue with in the first movie, but here there are no such snags. The movie clips along, taking us along for a thrilling and macabre ride. One shot in particular shows off Tim Burton’s fondness for model work; the camera skims along the snow covered ground at night, passes through the Gotham Zoo gates, and flies around the area, passing sinister ice covered structures before diving into the sewers. With Danny Elfman’s wonderful music accompanying it, that shot alone is worth the price of admission.
This movie is quite good, having a great sense of fun and adventure, but still delving into the bizarre once in a while for some great sequences. The comedy is great also. Batman Returns is without a doubt the best of the pre-Christopher Nolan Batman movies. However, you might want to leave the kids home for this one; many scenes would be quite scary for them, and the sexual references are a bit much for their age.
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