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On Stranger Tides: With A Stranger Guest Blogger

8 Jun

Avast! You Be in Pirate Waters Now Matey

By Henry Gale

I want to preface this review by saying that I loved the first Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. While some complained that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were overly complicated, I enjoyed the tightly woven plots steeped in pirate mythos. The stories of destiny, romance and redemption truly helped to enhance the tale of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, with Jack Sparrow as more of a side character that steals the show. In my opinion it was these side characters that made the first Pirate’s trilogy wonderful. Barbosa’s over-the-top treachery and Geoffrey Rush’s brilliant performance, the ever-loyal Gibbs, the bumbling Ragetti and Pintel, the jilted Davy Jones the vile Cutler Beckett and even Jack the monkey all helped to shape a fantastically gritty ensemble cast.

On Stranger Tide was well done and a fun movie. It was refreshing to see the return of Jack Sparrow along with his usual, mumbling antics. Johnny Depp has become this character, I half expect him to walk around his house with the Sparrow swagger and mannerisms. I wouldn’t blame him, Sparrow is both fun and charismatic and in my opinion one of the most well developed characters in modern movies. He is the ultimate opportunist and acts solely on impulse and personal desire, hence making his magic compass the perfect guide in life.

Having said this, I feel as though On Stranger Tide has made Jack a caricature of himself. As with the 4th Indiana Jones film (Crystal Skull), they have reduced the main character into what you expect to see rather than a developed, complex character. I felt as though Jack was very two-dimensional this time around. His escapes were virtually cliché at this point and I never felt any real sense of danger for our lead character. And perhaps that is the problem: Jack was never designed to be the lead. Elizabeth and Will drove the story of the last film while Jack simply steered that plot into entertaining situations. This film had Jack at the helm for the entire duration. They made the man who isn’t meant to be heroic into the hero. Depp’s performance was perfect as usual, so without revealing too much about the movie it was vexing seeing Sparrow care about something more than his own blind personal ambition.

I think one thing many Pirates fans will walk away saying is that Geoffrey Rush stole the show. The character of Hector Barbosa was once again up to his old tricks but in a whole new get-up. Privateer Barbosa, now pirating under the protection of the British crown, was written as a layered character that demonstrated growth and motive.

I have never been a fan of Penelope Cruz but found her to be an impressive addition to the cast. Her character wasn’t too bad as a female foil for Captain Jack and had real chemistry with Depp. I have a feeling when we get our sequel we learn even more about Angelica’s past with Sparrow.

Ian McShane’s ferocious Blackbeard significantly added to the film. Although his ability to use mystical powers like the Rasputin of the sea is slightly confusing. In past Pirates movies the mystical elements were present but never left unexplained (the crew of the Black Pearl was cursed because of Aztec Gold, Davy Jones was deformed due to crossing Calypso etc). Blackbeard had a crew of zombie-like pirates (from where?), his ship, The Queen Ann’s Revenge could be steered by his sword (how?), he could also “use the force” to control his ships rigging (why?). They never told why Blackbeard, a feared pirate and our stories villain, became this way.

While the Turner/Swann love story was believable and some would argue an overly prominent part of the original trilogy’s plot, the love story between the clergyman (Phillip) and the mermaid (Syrena) was forced. It’s almost like the writers said, “oh wow, we really need to add something for the people hoping to see a straight up love story and who only watched the last three for Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley.” But the truth of the matter is the Sparrow/Angelica story was enough for those who like a good “shipper” tale.

There were certain elements of the story I really did like. The mermaid scene was visually appealing and creative! The Fountain of Youth plot and trek through the jungle was also nicely done. I was also very impressed with the horse and buggy chase scene through the streets of London. Who says you can’t have Ye Olde Michael Bay-like explosions in the 18th century!

One element I did miss was the side characters. We really didn’t have a Ragetti and Pintel for comic relief or even a Mr. Cotton and his parrot, Marty the midget or Weatherby Swann to lighten the mood. This film felt a little too clean to me as well. The last three movies were gritty, dirty and real. This time around the clumsiness that made the first three movies fun was missing and it seemed too polished. We need to feel like the characters are in danger to care about them! Watching the pirate crews get picked off really didn’t have any emotional toll for the audience.

I would rate On Stranger Tides a solid B. Seeing Captain Jack back on the big screen was wonderful don’t get me wrong but it didn’t FEEL like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Readers should note that this film was based on (or as the credits said “suggested by”) a novel by the same title (On Stranger Tide) and perhaps this could explain what was missing. We know there may be two more films on the horizon so I would hope that the plot will become a bit more involved and the characters a little more developed.

PS: ye be warned, those who leave before the last credit rolls will be missin’ somethin’.


Thor: Marvel’s Shakespeare

10 May

How do you bring a Middle English talking Norse God of Thunder to the big screen without upsetting the fan boys, but still making enough money to show that you are a commercially viable company for the long run? You hire Kenneth “call me Hamlet bitch” Branagh.

Those are quotations and really more air-quotes than anything else. But even without the seemingly appropriate nickname Branagh brings a complete range of film making to the table. He’s a classically trained actor/director who not only brought some of Shakespeare’s most notable works to the big screen, but was also in Wild Wild West.

For the basement dwelling nerdfolk Branagh can bring a complex understanding of Thor as a Marvel character and the Norse mythology that inspired him. For everyone else, Branagh understands how to bridge the gap between nerdspeak and the big-guns, big-boobs, big-special effects world of studio made blockbusters.

What we are talking about is Thor, played with a steady confidence by little-known Australian actor Chris Hemsworth. At its core Thor is a story of sibling rivalry and self realization,but on the incredible stage of Asgard and the ethereal plane.

See I’ve already lost you with all rainbow bridge talk. But wait we’ve got Natalie Portman, come on back. That’s right you can still be entertained by the Norse God of Thunder and Mjolnir, his hammer.

I’m loosing you again, wait we’ve got Anthony Hopkins as Odin the King of Asgard. He may not look good with his shirt off, but this guy brings gravitas and credibility to the world Branagh is building.

To stir the plot we’ve got Tom Hiddleston brilliantly as Loki, the mischievous brother of Thor whose mysterious past provides the entirety of the story really. But we’re not going to get into that.

Still not buying it? Ok, we’ve also got plenty of action sequences, sexual tension and guys with their shirts off for the ladies. Not to mention good special effects and a decent amount of comedy.

But the real key to success for Thor is its ability to get you into the world.If you don’t buy the premise, you’ll never get into the characters and spend $11 to see the midnight show of the Avengers.

Sure you can just let it be, and just throw a wink to the camera and say, “buy into this, it’ll be fun.”  But the average person doesn’t like to be told to come along, they like to be led along. The nudge-nudge-wink-wink approach gets you mediocre box office numbers and a life-time of reruns on FX.

But that doesn’t mean you have to explain every last detail,  I call this the “Midi-Chlorian Conundrum” or the “Lucas’ Ruination Effect”.  This is the tendency on the part of filmmakers to make you believe completely, rather than just provide a degree of plausible deny-ability.

I don’t need to know every detail about how Thor’s Hammer is actually the iPad-T1000, just give me something to anchor my understanding. Branagh and the writers at Marvel bridged this gap with a brilliantly simple line of dialogue that has been in every trailer, including the one below.  But I won’t spoil it. Otherwise I’d have to put up stupid flashing lights to tell everyone I was ruining the movie.

It’s a classic Hollywood blockbuster that delivers all the right things. It’s a fun and funny popcorn flick. But to Marvel it is the cornerstone of their world. If you can enjoy this journey down the rabbit hole, then Marvel’s Nerd-A-Motive can steam into the future on the backs of this cash cow and so many others.

Now let me state at this point I’ve used the word “nerd”, and it’s many conjugations,  several times so I think I should say at this point that I ( and I know this is hard for many of my loyal readers to believe) am an Uber-Nerd. Minus the parents basement.

So I use the word not only out of love, but out of ownership…Nerd it’s the other N word.

I wanted to add something at the end there. Just like Marvel always does in their movies to tease you. HINT. HINT. COUGH. STAY AFTER THE CREDITS. COUGH.

Arthur: Everyone is funnier with a British Accent

4 Apr

British people are hilarious when they use complex sentence structure and big words while being silly. That is how they conquered half the world. Who would feel threatened by a group of people who can’t operate without drinking hot flavored water (tea) and use proper diction. The Indians (dots and feathers) probably thought they were getting quality education and a snack when the mayflower showed up.

Not that this has anything to do with the film, though basically you can see this movie being sold to a studio. Filmmakers: We would like Russell Brand to be himself with hot chicks, Richy Rich toys and Helen Mirren.  Studio: Add a formulaic happy ending and you’ve got yourself a picture.

Not that I really know how that conversation went, though I’m sure the words Russell Brand, Helen Mirren and Richy Rich were probably involved. Regardless of how Arthur got made it is hilarious from start to climax. Then there is the wildly predicable and annoyingly comprehensive conclusion. But I’ll let you form your own conclusions about the conclusion.

Because this is a film worth seeing, even if you previously haven’t enjoyed the comedy of Russell Brand. While the character of Arthur is almost tailor made for Brand’s farce-like brand of comedy, no pun intended, and his British-ness makes it a lay up, he still knocked it out of the park. Or the cricket circle, pitch…whatever it is they have in Harry Potter land.

Helen Mirren, as the doting nanny Hobson, has an unexpected chemistry with Brand that either indicates her skills as a thespian (it means actor according to Wikipedia and my thesaurus..I mean, crap) or the Oscar winner actually formed a bond with the former BBC and XFM castaway.  Either way, Arthur is a laugh a minute comedy that is probably worth $8 of the $11 you’ll pay to see it.

Battle LA: Black Hawk Down with Aliens

11 Mar

What we have here is movie cross-pollination: the director/writer/studio bee landed on the Independence Day flower and took the plot, then moved on to Black Hawk Down and took the gritty, urban combat point of view and finally landed on District 9 to take the aliens. From all movie-making pollen we get a lot of good little bits that just don’t add up to make a stronger movie.

Battle: Los Angeles is the alien invasion story told through the window of war cliche’s and combat unit melodramas. But without anything to really hang its hat on to make it unique or really good, except the quality reputation of Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight & Thank You for Smoking).

Eckhart portrays Staff Sgt. Mike Nantz, a veteran Marine who embodies the war movie cliche and lays emotional weight to the many twists and turns of a largely unfocused story.

In no way can Eckhart been blamed for any of this film’s mediocrities; I would be willing to bet the farm that Columbia Pictures and Relativity Media backed up the gravy train caboose and made it fiscally irresponsible to not do the movie. You can’t blame a guy for wanting a pay day.

And Eckhart delivers some quality to the film, but there was no amount of acting craft that could put a shine on this combination of overused war cliche’s and bad one-liners.  But from the perspective of the popcorn buying, bathtub of soda drinking, movie goer it delivers the summer blockbuster experience a little early.

Just without any of the quality banter of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, or the stirring speeches of President/Fighter Jet Pilot Bill Pulman. Or the grit and harsh combat realism of Eric Bana’s Delta Operative in the Somali wild west; although the end of Battle: Los Angeles is a straight rip off  of Black Hawk Down.

And now you don’t have to see the movie! Oh wait, I should have written spoiler alert up there…my bad.

If you are in Battle: Los Angeles for the plot though  you were going to lose regardless. Movies like this aren’t really about the plot, because it’s hollywood and therefore incredibly predictable. This is a movie that should be about what is cool and entertaining.

And its got the cool alien thing of District 9, I’ll give Battle: Los Angeles the cool factor, although I would say it is more a variation of already seen cool. It’s not a new cool, more like a previously seen cool. It’s stolen cool.

And that really is the problem. You can’t just take different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and make a whole new puzzle. It just doesn’t work that way. But through all that semi-stolen plot, feel and style the one thing that really takes away from the entertainment  of this movie is its length. (That is what she said)

No seriously folks, this movie feels like Gettysburg (261 minutes of goodness) and it is less than 2 hours long. It’s like studios can’t make big budget action movies without tying in every plot variation for fear of alienating (no pun intended) a section of the movie going population.

Just stick to something and actually explore it. I mean it would be interesting to have a gritty, realistic telling of the Independence Day story. You’ve got a whole genre of war films to steal from on that level, why do you have to jump around steal from others?

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

9 Dec

It’s all about Jesus! But it’s fun anyway.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the 3rd of a possible 7 film installments of C.S. Lewis’ classic kid’s christian allegory, and it really isn’t all that christian. At least by comparison. The first installment, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, might as well be retitled the gospel according to Clive (Clive Staples Lewis…I’ll take useless trivia for $500 Alex).

The Christian subtext really doesn’t come through until the end of  Voyage when Aslan aka Jesus/God, voiced by Liam Neeson, makes some determinations about who is allowed to return to Narnia. It’s all very obviously a discussion about life and death and the importance of belief, chiefly illustrated by the newest character- Eustice.

The annoyingly precocious and scientific Eustace,played very strongly by Will Poulter, enters the Narnia scene as a non-believer in the fantasies of Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley).  Eustance is pulled into Narnia with his cousins’ who are called back to rescue the enslaved from an evil green mist by searching for lost lords magical swords.

Make no mistake this is a fantasy movie that has all the dragons and talking animals you’d want. Primarily Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg who replaced Eddie Izzard) the gallant mouse who is all heart.

It’s a kid’s movie through and through, but that really is no excuse for some of the lame dialogue. The special effects are fandamntastic and the acting is strong, it’s just certainly film making aspects are noticeably weak. Although, I don’t think that will prevent the film from raking in some serious holiday family time cash. It’s still fun and entertaining for the whole family. And now that everybody has seen Harry Potter and the search for more money Part 1, families will be wells setup for a family trip back to the movies.

This is a  30 out of 50, on Pale Thunders new SPF scale of goodness. Strong enough for adults with kids, but you’ll get burned just as a sci-fi/fantasy fan looking for Chronicles to become the next Lord of the Rings.

The Fighter: Wahlberg wants a statue

1 Dec

A soft spoken, hard working, hometown boxer overcomes his brother/trainer’s drug addiction and overbearing family to bring redemption to all those involved. That is the story of The Fighter, and it is no wonder that this movie was Mark Wahlberg’s passion project for the better part of half a decade.

Not only is the film the true story of comeback kid Micky Ward, it is set in Wahlberg’s home state of Massachusetts. With Amy Adams as Charlene, the hometown heroine with a sharp tongue and high hopes for Micky. And with cult movie star Christian “I am acting here” Bale, as the crack addicting brother, you’ve got a recipe to get yourself an oscar nomination.

A fact which will most likely lead critics to write a string of mediocre to negative reviews comparing The Fighter to Stallone’s passion project about a redemptive pugilist, Rocky.  And to be fair it is not a totally ridiculous parallel as both films are primarily about small town guys who find success through brutality and violence, but we love them because they’ve got the heart to persevere.

These stories are classically American, we love the underdog. It has been in our cultural DNA since we opened a big can of whoop ass on the British at Yorktown, after the original training montage at Valley Forge. I can just see George Washington taking a victory lap with Apollo Creed screaming “Martha!”

Anyway, The Fighter is a good movie that doesn’t deserve to be compared to Oscar winners until it has had it’s own crack at award season. Especially, given the strong performances of both Amy Adams and Christian Bale. While Adam’s did not have a ton to do in the film outside of be attractive, she does have some hilarious scenes with the trashy sisters of Wahlberg who are the best image of Lowell townies.

Bale, on the other hand, is very strong as the cracked out, former pride of Lowell boxer, older half-brother and mentor Dickie Eklund. Eklund’s claim to fame was knocking down boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, a fact much debated in the film. Unfortunately, Wahlberg really doesn’t really show you anything that he hasn’t before despite the strong performances around him.

The real power of The Fighter is how effectively it draws you into the true story. The climatic scenes of Micky’s title shot bout are dramatic on their own, but there is the added element of not really knowing which way the fight is going to go…unless you know Ward’s story. Which I won’t ruin for those of you who haven’t heard of him, and honestly it makes the film better if you don’t.

I would say this is a film worth seeing in the theaters, for the avid movie goer. But for those of you who are luke warm, their is no harm in waiting for the DVD release. A solid 45 out of 50, on Pale Thunders new SPF scale of goodness.

Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show: I as always am Blog

30 Nov

The title there isn’t funny at all. Well at least if you don’t watch/listen to Kevin Pollack’s chat show. But even then it really isn’t that funny.

Right so as a blogger I am not so much into the recommendations. I mean I do reviews. From time to time I will take a pass at political commentary and perhaps, hopefully, make the three of you reading laugh. But today we are going to change that.

Not the laughing part, that is probably going to stay the same. I will officially make the first official recommendation and it is not a brand or level of sunscreen, even though everything above 30 is total bull.

Kevin Pollack’s Chat Show is a must listen/watch for those of you who enjoy the entertainment arts, and the hollywood land buzi-nass.  It’s basically Inside the Actors Studio, but without the pandering narcissism of James “Tea man” Lipton.

It is a casual conversation with interesting people that makes you think, “hey this is unscripted goodness and isn’t trying to sell me something.” I am looking at you network television. Stop selling me things, I am not buying. Except whatever that baby is selling, that shit is hilarious. If only I could remember the product.

Anyway, Kevin Pollack’s Chat Show is like sitting in on a private conversion between a famous person and Kevin Pollack. Sorry KP, you know you’re my boy. Well actually you don’t because I was born in Delaware and you were in the Usual Suspects. But you are my boy.

Seeing actors, comedians, people of note and Kevin Pollack in their normal state is demystifying in a very cool way. It’s like Neil Patrick Harris or Jason Alexander is just a guy hanging out, nothing horribly special. Just a guy who was able to do some really cool things talking about them.

But more than that you get a really different understanding of the nuts and bolts of the movie/tv making business. I think most people don’t understand why actors do bad movies, but when you hear so many talented actors talk about how hard it is to work, you really start to form a different opinion of the performing arts career choices.

Although, their is also significant discussion of how the TV show, movie, theater process works. For entertainment junkies like this pale kid that’s amazing. I’m never going to see the play that John Slattery (Mad Men) did with Nathan Lane (the Birdcage), but hearing about it is almost better.

Besides all that Chat Show does some cool things with social media to get the audience involved: tweet 5 -where a twitter gets to ask 5, either-or questions to the guest. Also, each episode includes “The Larry King Game,” in which guests perform a bad impression of Larry King exposing a personal secret  and then going to the phones siting a funny sounding city name.

It’s a 2 hour live show that is refreshingly unedited and moderately scripted, it’s genuine…which is not really a word that one can normally use when referring to hollywood.

All the episodes are on iTunes, I recommend subscribing to the video podcast and then picking the guests you are most interested in.

Below are a sample of a few Larry King games, enjoy!