Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions For September


To see how my thinking has progressed, be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, JuneJuly, and August!

 

Best Picture

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Detroit

The Disaster Artist

Dunkirk

The Florida Project

It

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Logan

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missiouri

Wonderstruck

 

Best Director

Sean Baker for The Florida Project

Kathryn Bigelow for Detroit

Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Joe Wright for Darkest Hour

 

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman in Marshall

Willem DaFoe in The Florida Project

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Donald Sutherland in The Leisure Seeker

 

Best Actress

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock

Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Meryl Streep in The Papers

 

Best Supporting Actor

Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes

James Franco in The Disaster Artist

Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

Will Poulter in Detroit

Patrick Stewart in Logan

 

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz in Murder on the Orient Express

Holly Hunter in The Big Sick

Melissa Leo in The Novitiate

Julianne Moore in Wonderstuck

Margot Robbie in Goodbye Christopher Robin

Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions for August!


 

To see how my thinking has progressed, be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, and July!

 

Best Picture

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Detroit

The Disaster Artist

Dunkirk

The Florida Project

Goodbye Christopher Robin

The Greatest Showman

Logan

Wonderstruck

 

Best Director

Sean Baker for The Florida Project

Kathryn Bigelow for Detroit

Michael Gracey for The Greatest Showman

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Joe Wright for Darkest Hour

 

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman in Marshall

Willem DaFoe in The Florida Project

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Donald Sutherland in The Leisure Seeker

 

Best Actress

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock

Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Meryl Streep in The Papers

 

Best Supporting Actor

Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes

James Franco in The Disaster Artist

Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

Will Poulter in Detroit

Patrick Stewart in Logan

 

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz in Murder on the Orient Express

Holly Hunter in The Big Sick

Melissa Leo in The Novitiate

Julianne Moore in Wonderstuck

Margot Robbie in Goodbye Christopher Robin

 

Lisa’s Early Oscar Nominations for July


With each passing month, the Oscar race becomes just a little bit clearer.  We are still a few months away from the true Oscar season but a few contenders have emerged.

My predictions are below.  Previously, my predictions were all based on wishful thinking and instinct.  Well, there’s still a lot of wishful thinking to be found below but, at the same time, the festival season is providing a guide and there are some early reviews that have started to come in.  I’ve never been a 100% correct in my predictions and I doubt this year is going to be any different.  (For one thing, I always predict 10 best picture nominees, even though that’s close to being a mathematical impossibility under the current Academy rules.)

One final note: Some day, the Academy will get over their resistance to Netflix and streaming.  I don’t think that’s going to happen this year, though.  I kept that in mind while considering the chances of such heavily hyped (and, for that matter, less heavily hyped) contenders as Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories.

Anyway, here are my predictions for July!  Be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, and June as well!

Best Picture

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Detroit

The Disaster Artist

Dunkirk

The Florida Project

Goodbye Christopher Robin

The Greatest Showman

Logan

Wonderstruck

Best Director

Sean Baker for The Florida Project

Kathryn Bigelow for Detroit

Michael Gracey for The Greatest Showman

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Joe Wright for Darkest Hour

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman in Marshall

Willem DaFoe in The Florida Project

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Donald Sutherland in The Leisure Seeker

Best Actress

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Kirsten Dunst in Woodshock

Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Meryl Streep in The Papers

Best Supporting Actor

Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes

James Franco in The Disaster Artist

Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

Will Poulter in Detroit

Patrick Stewart in Logan

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz in Murder on the Orient Express

Holly Hunter in The Big Sick

Melissa Leo in The Novitiate

Julianne Moore in Wonderstuck

Margot Robbie in Goodbye Christopher Robin

 

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #16: Zoolander 2 (dir by Ben Stiller)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

zoolander_2_poster

On October 14th, I recorded Zoolander 2 off of Epix.

A sequel to the 2001 cult hit, Zoolander 2 came out earlier this year and got absolutely terrible reviews and quickly vanished from theaters.  Watching the film last night, I could understand why it got such terrible reviews.  Zoolander 2 is not only a terrible movie but it’s also a rather bland one.  Somehow, the blandness is even more offensive than the badness.

Zoolander 2 opens with Justin Bieber getting assassinated and Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) being forced to come out of retirement and discover why pop stars are being targeted.  And, of course, Zoolander can’t do it without the help of Hansel (Owen Wilson)!  Penelope Cruz is in the film as well, playing  Zoolander’s handler and essentially being wasted in a role that could have been played by anyone.

Oh!  And Will Ferrell returns as well.  Ferrell gives a performance that essentially shouts out to the world, “Fuck you, I’m Will Ferrell and no one is going to tell Will Ferrell to tone his shit down!”

Actually, I think everyone in the world is in Zoolander 2.  This is one of those films that is full of cameos from people who probably thought a silly comedy would be good for their image.  For instance, there’s a huge number of journalists who show up playing themselves.  Matt Lauer shows up and I get the feeling that we’re supposed to be happy about that.  There was a reason why people cheered when the sharks ate him in Sharknado 3.

You know who else shows up as himself?  Billy Zane!  And Billy Zane has exactly the right type of attitude for a film like this.  He shows up and he mocks the whole enterprise by giving the Billy Zaniest performance of Billy Zane’s career.  For that matter, Kiefer Sutherland also shows up as himself.  I’m not really sure what Kiefer was doing in the film but he makes sure to deliver all of his lines in that sexy growl of his.  Kiefer knows what we want to hear.

You may notice that I’m not talking about the plot of Zoolander 2.  That’s largely because I couldn’t follow the plot.  This is an incredibly complicated film but it’s not complicated in a funny way.  Instead, it’s complicated in a way that suggests that the film was made up on the spot.  It’s as if the cast said, “We’re all funny!  Just turn on the camera and we’ll make it work!”

The problem with Zoolander 2 is obvious.  The first film pretty much exhausted the comic possibilities of making a spy film about shallow and stupid models.  Don’t get me wrong — the first film did a good job but it’s not like it left any material untapped.  But I would ask you to indulge me as I imagine an alternate reality.

Consider this: Terrence Malick was reportedly a huge fun of Zoolander.

Let’s take just a minute to imagine a world in which Ben Stiller asked Terrence Malick to write and direct Zoolander 2.  And let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Malick agreed!

Just think about it — 4 hours of Zoolander and Hansel staring up at the sky and thinking about nature.  “What is this thing that causes the heart of man to beat?” Zoolander asks.  “Are we nature or has nature become us?” Hansel replies.

That would have been a fun film!

Defending the Counselor


The_Counselor_Poster

(Spoilers Below)

The Counselor was one of the most anticipated films of 2013.  After all, it was based on a screenplay by the Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy and it was directed by Ridley Scott.  Its cast included such stars as Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt.  The film’s two trailers promised a return to the thematic territory that the Coen Brothers explored in their Oscar-winning adaptation of McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men.

And yet, when The Counselor was released in October, the reviews were scathing and audience response was reportedly terrible.  Writing for Salon, film “critic” Andrew O’Hehir suggested that The Counselor was not only the worst film of 2013 but the worst film of all time.

And you know what?

For not the first time, Andrew O’Hehir was wrong.  The Counselor is not the worst film of 2013.  Instead, it’s one of the best.  It’s a film that will be studied long after more acclaimed films have been forgotten.

Why is The Counselor so hated?

It’s not an easy film to love.  In fact, the film is rather brave about alienating its audience and refusing to allow for the crowd-pleasing moments that viewers have come to expect from even the most prestigious of films.

In order to truly defend the Counselor, it’s necessary to know the plot of The Counselor.  Needless to say, everything that follows constitutes a huge spoiler so, if you’re one of those types, feel free to stop reading now.

Brad-Pitt-Michael-Fassbender-Counselor

Okay, still here?  Here’s a condensed version of what happens in The Counselor:

The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is an honest lawyer in El Paso who has never broken the law and is engaged to marry the beautiful and saintly Laura (Penelope Cruz).  For reasons that are never explicitly stated (but, as I’ll explain below, are obvious to anyone who is willing to look for the clues), The Counselor agrees to help his clients Westray (Brad Pitt) and Reiner (Javier Bardem) smuggle a huge shipment of cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico.  However, Reiner’s girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) steals the drugs and frames the Counselor for the theft.  As a result, Reiner ends up getting executed by the Mexican cartel, Westray is beheaded on the streets of London, and the Counselor ends up hiding out in Juarez, Mexico, sobbing as he looks at a DVD copy of a cartel-produced snuff film that features Laura being murdered.  The end.

Yeah, it’s not exactly a happy film.  And yet, it’s a film that sticks with you, a portrait of a shadowy underworld that is fueled solely by greed, paranoia, and masculine posturing.  Ridley Scott makes good use of the South Texas landscape and the talented cast creates a memorable gallery of rouges.

And yet, The Counselor is getting some of the worst reviews of the year.  What’s especially interesting is that the things that so many critic cite as flaws are actually the film’s greatest strengths.

The Counselor

Consider the following common criticisms:

1) The film features some of the most overly articulate drug deals of all time.

This is the most frequent complaint that I’ve come across concerning The Counselor and there is some validity to it.  The Counselor is a very talky film.  The film’s first hour is pretty much made up of The Counselor having three conversations, all about the same thing and all reaching the same conclusion.  Cormac McCarthy’s dialogue is, perhaps not surprisingly, rather portentous and florid.  The Counselor does ask the audience to accept a world where even the head of Mexico’s most powerful cartel is given to going off on long philosophical digressions.  The Counselor is one of those films where nearly every line seems to have a double meaning.

That said, I think that those who attacking the film’s dialogue are missing the point.  This is not meant to be a naturalistic film.  Instead, it’s a heavily stylized B-film that uses its sordid story as a metaphor for dealing with deeper issues of greed, masculinity, and the changing mores of American culture.  Much as every line of dialogue has a deeper meaning, so does every pulpy plot twist.  It takes a while to adjust to McCarthy’s dialogue but, ultimately, that dialogue serves to remind us that the film has a lot more on its mind than just telling the story about a drug deal gone bad.  The combination of overly articulate dialogue with primitive violence and desires encourages us to look under the film’s surface.

2) The film’s plot is predictable.

This may be true but I think that’s actually McCarthy’s point.  From the start of the film, the Counselor is continually warned that things could potentially go very wrong.  Despite these warnings, the Counselor still gets involved in Reiner’s drug and, through a combination of hubris and fate, he loses everything that he loved.

The Counselor’s downfall is not meant to be a surprise.  Instead, McCarthy’s point is that the consequences of our actions are usually obvious but we, as human beings, chose to live in denial about just how little control we actually have over our own fate.

TheCounselor-Diaz-Cheetah-Tat

3) Ridley Scott’s direction is stylish but ultimately empty.

This argument goes that, while Scott manages to capture some gorgeous images of the Texas/Mexico border, those images ultimately don’t add up to much.  The idea goes back to a charge that is frequently leveled against Ridley Scott as a director, that he’s all style and technique with little substance.  (Interestingly enough, this is the same charge that is often made against the Coen Brothers.)

In the past, I’ve been critical of Ridley Scott.  (For proof, check out my reviews of Robin Hood and Gladiator.)  However, that being said, I think that, with The Counselor, Scott does a good job of visually interpreting the concepts at the heart of McCarthy’s script.  My mom was from South Texas and I’ve spent enough time down there to understand just how perfectly Ridley Scott manages to capture the combination of beauty and harshness that one finds along the border between Texas and Mexico.  In Scott’s hands, the emptiness of the Texas landscape serves as a perfect parallel for the emptiness of the lives of the majority of the film’s characters.

Speaking of which…

4) The motivations of the Counselor remain a mystery.

Why does the Counselor get involved in the drug deal in the first place?  Many of the film’s critics have complained that the Counselor’s motivations remains a mystery and therefore make it impossible for audiences to sympathize with the character.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What these critics are failing to realize is that the Counselor’s motives are obvious every time that he appears on-screen.  The audience has to be willing to look for them.  The audience has to be willing to think and that, of course, is asking quite a bit of some viewers.

The-Counselor

While the Counselor hints that his reason for getting involved with the drug deal is so that he can make enough money to provide a good life for Laura, his actual motivations are far more selfish.  One need only see the Counselor in his perfectly pressed suits or in his sleek but sterile home to understand exactly who the Counselor is.  He is a character who has made his living by defending those who break the law but who has never had the courage to actually flaunt the rules himself.   He is a man who lives in a self-constructed prison of ennui and associating with Reiner and Westray gives him a chance to escape from his conventional existence.   He is a character who spends his day profiting from the crimes of others but, because he can go home to his beautiful home and his beautiful fiancee, assumes that he’s somehow detached from the consequences of the actions of his associates.

The Counselor starts the film as an unemotional, blank-faced cipher, a man whose entire identity is based on his job title.  (Indeed, we never learn once learn or hear the character’s actual name.)  The only time that he shows even a hint of human depth or emotion is when he’s with Laura.  He’s a man who, in many ways, is dead on the inside.  It’s only after he gets involved with Reiner and Westray that the Counselor starts to show any signs of life until, by the end of the film, he literally cannot control his emotions.   The Counselor frees himself from his stifling and conventional existence at the cost of everything and everybody that he loves.  In his pursuit of freedom, he simply moves from one self-imposed prison to another.

5) Particularly in its portrayal of Malkina, there is a strong streak of misogyny running through the film.

This is a point that I’ve seen made by several critics and it’s one that bothers me as both a feminist and as a female who happens to love genre films.  Just because a film features a misogynistic character does that therefore make the film itself misogynistic?

The majority of those who claim that The Counselor is anti-female often point to the character of Malkina.  As played by Cameron Diaz, Malkina is a hyper sexual sociopath who manipulates and destroys everyone else in the film.  Even though he’s obsessed with her, Reiner also claims to fear her and he has several conversations with the Counselor in which he cites her as proof that women cannot be trusted.

However, just because Reiner says this, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the film agrees.  In fact, as should be obvious to anyone who is actually willing to pay attention to the film, Reiner is portrayed as being a fool who, ultimately, is just as delusional as the Counselor.  Reiner, Wainstray, and the Counselor all exist in a hyper masculine environment.  For all of their posturing and macho talk, it’s also obvious that none of them are capable of truly dealing with women.  Wainstray can only bring himself to acknowledge them as potential sexual partners while the Counselor both idealizes Laura and uses her happiness as an excuse to pursue his own criminal enterprises.  Reiner, meanwhile, is both attracted to and terrified of Malkina.

the-counselor-ferrari-diaz

In perhaps the film’s most infamous scene, Malkina removes her panties and then grinds against the windshield of a Ferrari while Reiner watches from inside the car.  Some have argued that, with this scene, the filmmakers are equating Malkina’s sexuality with evil.  I, however, would argue that this scene shows that Malkina — alone of all the film’s major characters — understands the fact that all of the men in her life are essentially boys who are either incapable of or unwilling to grow up.  Malkina uses her sexuality not because she’s evil but because she’s intelligent enough to use every weapon at her disposal to make sure that she will be one of the few characters to survive to the movie’s conclusion.  By the end of the film, it’s obvious that Malkina is both the strongest and the most intelligent character in the film.

There’s an interesting scene towards the end of the film in which the Counselor, who is hiding out in Juarez, stumbles across a group of protesters who are holding pictures of young women who have either been killed on or vanished from the streets of Juarez.  Since 1993, over 4000 women have been murdered in Juarez.  The majority of those murders are still unsolved, with many blaming the Spanish tradition of machismo.  The feeling of many is that “good” girls stay home while “bad” girls get jobs in the city and are often  murdered as a result.  And, since the victims shouldn’t have been pursuing a life outside of domestic servitude in the first place, why waste the time trying to win them any sort of justice?  For the past decade, brave activists have put themselves in danger by daring to demand justice for the dead of Juarez.  When the Counselor stumbles across their rally, it’s a brief moment in which the real world and the cinematic landscape come together.

It’s also a scene that serves to remind us that the film’s characters are living in a hyper masculine world, one that embraces the concept of machismo without understanding or caring about the consequences of that destructive  culture.  The Counselor’s horrified reaction to the rally is the reaction of a man who has finally been forced to confront the evil of which he is now a permanent part.

6) The film’s ending is depressing.

Complaining about Cormac McCarthy writing a depressing ending is a bit like getting upset at a cat for purring.  It’s what McCarthy does and anyone with any knowledge of his work has no right to be shocked that the film ends on a note of hopelessness.  Much as with No Country For Old Men, The Counselor ends the only way that it can.  It may not be a happy ending but it is, at least, an honest ending.

The Counselor may not be an easy film to like but it’s definitely a film that deserves better than to be dismissed as the worst of 2013.

Counselor-Bardem2

4 Late Quickies With Lisa Marie: Bully, For Greater Glory, Sound of My Voice, To Rome With Love


While I try to review just about every film I see, there are times when I don’t get to review a film as soon as I would like.  Fortunately, in this age of Netflix, DVDs, and Blu-ray, it’s never too late to review a film!  I saw the following four films earlier this year.  These reviews are a little late but here they are.

1) Bully (directed by Lee Hirsch)

This documentary, which follows and tells the story of several bullied teenagers over the course of one year, has the best of intentions and it’s definitely effective as far as making you dislike bullies and feel sorry for their victims.  That said, did anyone really like bullies before this film was released? 

Bully got a lot of attention when it was released earlier this year and a lot of people (who should have known better) said that the film itself was a solution to the problem of bullying.  I doubt that this film (or anything else, for that matter) will solve the issue of bullying but it is a well-made look at what kids do whenever adults aren’t watching (and, sad to say, sometimes when they are). 

One problem I did have with this film is that it chooses to limit itself to schools in small towns and rural communities, which gives the whole enterprise something of an elitist feel.  Are there no bullies up north? 

2) For Greater Glory (directed by Dean Wright)

For Greater Glory is a dramatization of the bizarrely obscure period of Mexican history known as the Cristero War.  In 1920s, Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles (played in this film by Ruben Blades) started a violent and relentless crackdown on the country’s Catholic faithful.  Churches were burned, priests and nuns were murdered by supporters of the government, and eventually Catholic peasants rose up in violent rebellion.  The Cristero War lasted from 1926 until 1929, eventually ending with a truce that was brokered by the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow (played by Bruce Greenwood).

For Greater Glory set box office records in Mexico but it received some pretty negative reviews from American film critics.  To a certain extent, the negative reviews are not surprising.  The film is long, frequently heavy-handed and melodramatic and it’s also unapologetically pro-Catholic in its storytelling.  (Roger Ebert, who never seems to get tired of apologizing for having been born into a Catholic family, was especially critical of that aspect of the film.) 

With all that in mind, I still enjoyed For Greater Glory.  It’s a well-made and ultimately rather moving film (though I imagine some parts of the film might be a bit confusing if you don’t have at least a little bit of a Catholic background) and it features excellent performances from Andy Garcia and Oscar Isaac as two of the rebel leaders.  In many ways, For Greater Glory feels like a throwback to the epic films of the past and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

3) Sound of My Voice (directed by Zat Batmanglij)

Like last year’s Another Earth, Sound of My Voice is a science fiction film that stars and was co-written by Brit Marling.  The difference between the two is that Another Earth was a pretentious mess while Sound of My Voice is an effectively creepy little film that puts story and atmosphere above trite pronouncements about the state of existence.

Brit Marling plays a mysterious woman who claims to have been sent from the future.  She has a devoted cult of followers who spend their nights sitting on the floor around her, listening to her talk about the horrors waiting for them in the future.  Two journalists go undercover and infiltrate her cult, hoping to expose her as a fraud.  

Sound Of My Voice keeps the viewer guessing as to whether or not Marling is who she says she is and the film’s ending, while not a total surprise, is still effective enough to inspire debate after the end credits roll.  As opposed to Another Earth, Marling gives an actual performance here and is both creepy and sympathetic at the same time.

4) To Rome With Love (directed by Woody Allen)

Woody Allen’s follow-up to Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love tells four separate stories that all take place in Rome.  Despite the fact that the cast features everyone from Alec Baldwin to Roberto Begnini to Penelope Cruz to Ellen Page, the true star of the film is the city of Rome.  I spent the summer after I graduated high school in Italy and this film brought back a lot of good memories.

Unfortunately, the film’s four stories are pretty uneven and the film’s frequent transitions from story to story are pretty awkward.  The worst story features Alec Baldwin meeting his younger self (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and trying to prevent him from falling in love with a neurotic actress (Ellen Page).  The film’s best story is a satiric fable about an ordinary man (played, in an excellent performance, by Roberto Begnini) who wakes up one day to discover that he’s the most famous man in Italy. 

The film doesn’t really work but I still loved to getting to see Rome once again.

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides


This post is going to end with some spoilers, which will have warnings behind it. Just so you know.

Confession: I fell asleep during Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides. It was only for a few minutes during the jungle sequences, but nothing special was happening, so I figured I could get away with it. I can see, though why Gore Verbinski saddled up with Rango instead of this one. As Lisa Marie mentioned via Twitter, she zoned out about 10 minutes in and really only followed it for the awesomeness that is Johnny Depp. He, Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane are the only real reasons to see this, but know that the film is muddled with a bit of lazy writing covered in explosions and chases. This is one Jack Sparrow story you can really wait for on DVD. It’s literally the Pirates of the Caribbean Edition of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.

Every writer goes though a bad time now and then. Even though Paul Haggis won an Oscar for Crash, he was also responsible for Quantum of Solace, which could have been a tighter story than what it was. I have to remind myself that even though Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot gave us a cool character in Captain Jack Sparrow (which was made more concrete through Johnny Depp’s performance), they were also responsible for Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla some years back. It happens. Of course, they could both write me under the table while blindfolded, this I get, and they have my respect.

That said, I didn’t outright hate Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It was a fun popcorn ride in some areas, with as much flair as the Disney / Bruckheimer collaborations can offer, but it also felt like it was a production just made for the money, like The Wolfman. The only ones who seemed to really enjoy themselves here were Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, and to both their credits they carried the film for me. Johnny Depp was great as always (he has moment where he clearly shines), but I get the feeling like he’s almost tired of the character. Again, that’s just my viewpoint here.

What about the Kids?

Well, being a film under the Disney banner, the easiest rule of thumb to use here is this: If you’ve taken your kids to any of the other Pirates movies, this is pretty much more of the same. Granted, people die and there may be a nearly naked mermaid, but it’s done well.  It should be okay for teens and pre-teens, but that’s up to families to decide.

Previously on Pirates, we found Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, great as always) in the possession of the map from At World’s End, who is in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth. Jack finds that there is someone impersonating him who also happens to be looking for the same thing, and seeks out the imposter. This eventually leads him to the dreaded pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) who also seeks the Fountain to block a prophecy that will lead to his death. So, it’s something of a race to see who will get there first. Even his old friend/enemy Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is part of the adventure, but doesn’t quite have the same presence here as he did the other films.

Depp on his own does justice to Sparrow and he still manages to bring some fun to the character.  That’s really not a surprise, but after 3 of these films, I had the feeling that part of his performance was just repetition of what he did before. I imagine him wishing for Verbinski or sighing after every take. Well, every take that didn’t involve Penelope Cruz, I guess.

I felt Penelope’s Angelica really matched well against Depp’s Sparrow, and it opened up a lot of doors for characterization between the two. Depp and Cruz’s scenes together really worked for me and were definitely a highlight as their chemistry is amazing. Between she and McShane – who quite frankly hasn’t had a bad role since Deadwood – really help to carry the movie. Blackbeard’s ruthlessness is clearly conveyed through McShane’s acting and  if there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s to play the villain well. There are also some notable cameos near the start of the film, which was nice to see.

One other major plus is the music. Even though Hans Zimmer uses some of the themes from the other films, he’s had some great help in guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. If you’ve never heard these two before, open up another tab on your browser and look them up online. This post will be waiting for you when you get back.

Done? Good. Didn’t I say they were cool? The duo adds a lot of flavor to the music of the movie, which really does help things (as much as they can).

Rob Marshall’s direction of the film isn’t terrible as some might say. It actually feels a lot like Gore Verbinski’s (to me, anyway), and if you weren’t told who was making the film, there’s a slight possibility you wouldn’t recognize it wasn’t Verbinski. He does capture the action scenes well and truthfully, there was something cool with the lighting in the Sparrow sword fights that occurs early on. I’m under the impression that this is due to the Bruckheimer touch on things.

The writing on this film felt lazy. Here’s what I mean, and the following might be spoilers:

*** Here lie Spoilers, Ladies and Gents, be warned! ***

*** Here lie Spoilers, Ladies and Gents, be warned! ***

*** Here lie Spoilers, Ladies and Gents, be warned! ***

There is a part in the film where Barbossa explains his stake in the chase for the Fountain of Youth. In a few lines, Geoffrey Rush nails it like an old man telling stories by a campfire. The only problem is that you’ve been told what happened in a visual medium. One of the first rules of writing is to show, and not tell. With a budget of over $400 million, I find it shocking that they couldn’t have just taken a few minutes to visually give us that explanation. It’s possible that Rossio and Elliot wanted to avoid reusing some of the same Pirates elements from the earlier films, but sometimes Pirate life does have a few struggles on the water. Why not show how he lost the Black Pearl?

Another example of the writing problem is the quasi-love story between the ship’s cleric (who’s name I can’t even recall) and the mermaid they encounter. It felt forced to me, and I’m convinced that when the Cleric finally tells the Mermaid he wants her to save his life, she pulled him down into deep waters only to feed upon him like those other poor pirate souls. And you know why? Because Marshall and the writers never bothered to show the audience a hint of what became of them. I doubt they cared about them any more than the audience could have. I even stayed after the credits, figuring that the final shot would maybe show me something of their fate, but no. Nothing of the sort.

*** Spoilers are done, you can keep reading now. ***

*** Spoilers are done, you can keep reading now. ***

*** Spoilers are done, you can keep reading now. ***

Oh, and there’s nothing to read after this, because I’m writing like Rossio and Elliot. Feel that sense of emptiness? That gap, like there should be something here? That’s what this Pirates may do to you.