Stranger Things Have Happened

I hate frivolity. I despise escapist “fun.” I loathe corporate-supplied nothingness. And I abhor CG movies in which anything can and does happen and no rules apply and people fly through the air like winged squirrels and everything is meaningless eye syrup. I agree somewhat that Rob Marshall‘s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which I caught this morning, is a little more like the first one and therefore more tolerable, etc. But I mostly hated the first one, you see.

Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz

So how did I get through the damn thing (i.e., all two hours and 17 minutes ‘ worth)? Through selective concentration on aspects I found appealing.

(1) The incessantly rich, razzle-dazzle composition of the photography. Everything you see in each and every shot has been lit within an inch of its life, finessed to a fare-thee-well, sprayed and misted and gone over with a fine tooth comb. No visual element has been left to chance or under-utilized. The problem, of course, is that it’s all in the service of cancerous swill.

(2) I realized early on that in the realm of fountain-of-youth action-adventures, this inch-deep hodgepodge makes Steven Spielberg‘s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade look like a masterwork, an art film, a movie with a near-soul, an Alexander Korda 1940s classic.

(3) The verdant and altogether splendorful Hawaiian locations (Kaua’i, Oahu).

(4) Some of the 3D shots are appealing, but mostly the 3D element is just okay. None of it staggers. Honestly? I could’ve rolled with a flat version.

(5) The only 100% sincere performance is given by Sam Claflin, playing a missionary (Sam Claflin). The mermaid he falls in love with (played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is pseudo-topless in much of the film, which is to say impressionistically. She’s carefully covered in old-style ’50s fashion, like Maureen O’Hara‘s big scene in Lady Godiva. Why would a Disney film include a topless mermaid in the first place? What’s the point?

(6) I spent a lot of time thinking about all the hundreds of millions that have been pointlessly spent making these films and even more pointlessly earned in theatres worldwide, and about what Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer made (and will earn back-end) on this one, and what they paid Penelope Cruz and how much Geoffrey Rush pulls down, etc. And what kind of food was served on the set and where everyone stayed when they shot in Hawaii, England and Puerto Rico. What kind of per diems did they receive?

(7) Ian McShane‘s performance as Edward “Blackbeard” teach is an eye-level, steady-as-she-goes, only slightly japey turn. I relaxed somewhat when he was on-screen. McShane seems to actually sink into the role to some degree; he’s goofing along with everyone else, of course, but in a somewhat restrained, steely-McShane sort of way.

(8) The CG evocations of old London are nicely done. I just wish the camera could’ve held still for four or five seconds so I could’ve absorbed a bit more detail.

(9) The absense of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley isn’t a problem. At all.

  • Ray DeRousse

    You go into films like this with no expectations, and it’s still impossible to get into them. There’s no story to tell, no arc to explore, just more money in the accounts of already-rich people.

    Instead of wasting the money to see this, wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to stare at a spinning pinwheel for two hours? It’s the same effect – colors, movement, distraction for the eyes.

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    So so so generous.

    I thought this was fucking abysmal. Rob Marshall isn’t half the talent at action set pieces that Verbinski was, so what feels like a weightless, amusing cartoon in the Verbinski films plays like a fucking DEATH MARCH in Marshall’s hands. Every bit of slapstick tomfoolery was edited a half-second too long, and the cumulative effect is just tedious as hell.

    Depp also fit in the previous films, his shtick blending in with the atmosphere. Here, the movie stops DEAD in it’s tracks so he can do another Jack Sparrow wordplay riff. It’s EMBARRASSING, because this isn’t a character in this movie, just a series of affectations.

    Terrible experience.

  • Mr. Palmer

    Guys, relax. This is Wells doing his “when in Cannes” review of a blockbuster. Did we all forget his Indy 4 review where he admired Ford’s work and then slammed it after he left. By the time this opens stateside, he’ll be back to hating on it.

  • Sams

    So its a bad movie but it has some gorgeous shots of Hawaii — better than what Nat Geo or Discovery can give. That’s almost worth the price of a matinee.

  • berkguru

    looks like an abomination. love depp in 30% of his movies and want to punch him in the face in 70%.

  • actionman

    people getting PISSED over a FUCKING PIRATE FILM! Gotta love the HE community…!

  • Chase Kahn

    Shit, two hours and 17 minutes is basically a short in the context of this series. Jeff, did you forget (or even know) that At World’s End was 169 minutes?

  • Chase Kahn

    But Pete Hammond calls it the “perfect summer movie”…

  • Max Cherry

    How can anyone trust the opinion of someone who despises escapist fun? Talk about a soulless, heartless, joyless Mr. Potter/Grinch/Scrooge pitiable wretch.

  • Max Cherry

    That’s not to say the Pirates movie isn’t a horrid shipwreck of a film.

  • Rashad

    This kind of sounds like an endorsement.

  • nbxzero

    Of the reviews posted online to date, 27 were positive and only five negative. So obviously the majority of the critics are liking it.

  • Jonathan Spuij

    People are giving it a pass, not really liking it. That’s the vibe I’m getting, and the mermaids were the highlight of the film.

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    The mermaids are topless girls with fins and vampire teeth. OH HOW FAR THE IMAGINATION EXTENDS IN THE MIND OF VISIONARY ROB MARSHALL.

  • Buk94

    I’m sure this movie is terrible. I’ve only seen the first one and have no plans to catch up on the series.

    But any movie critic that says “I hate frivolity. I despise escapist “fun.” is in the wrong business.

    Film snobs are the worst kinds of people.

  • Deathtongue_Groupie

    I love the oh-so-classic Wellsian cognitive dissonance of this: in Cannes at THE premiere film event for discerning film fans, in the midst of apparently one of the better programs, summer popcorn hater Jeff nevertheless “forces” himself to attend because he sees that the majority of Cannes postings so far have single digit comments.

  • reverent and free

    I need to get around to seeing A High Wind in Jamaica on DVD. The only time I saw it was on pan and scanned AMC. It’s the only realistic pirate movie I’ve ever seen, with one of Tony Quinn’s best performances.

  • K. Bowen

    You’re not sure about the point of topless mermaids?

  • taikwan

    escapist fun…….other than “Birth of a Nation”, isn’t that what got the gig going?

  • Jericho Cane

    Topless mermaids in a DISNEY FILM is the issue here, Bowen. Is this franchise supposed to be for the whole family or is Bruckheimer intending to see how far he can go within PG-13 parameters?

  • actionlover

    Sort of a self-sustaining creature.

    I can’t imagine too many people coming out of having seen this movie and not liking it.

    Because it’s good? No.

    Because the kind of person who is going to pay 14 bucks to see Pirates of the Fucking Caribbean 4 in Sensorroung 3D is the kind of person who’s going to think it’s “awesome!”

    There’s that.

  • Phatang!

    “But any movie critic that says “I hate frivolity. I despise escapist “fun.” is in the wrong business.”

    Or, another way of looking at it: critics shouldn’t review movies like this one at all. What’s the point? Even the most “populist” (or whatever) movie reviewers have zero influence over the audiences for PIRATES and FAST FIVE and the zillion others like it. WHY expend all the collective energy?

    I know, people EXPECT IT, so it needs to be done, and if people stopped doing things just because they served absolutely no purpose then we’d all be going through red lights when there weren’t any other cars on the road.

  • Buk94

    “Because the kind of person who is going to pay 14 bucks to see Pirates of the Fucking Caribbean 4 in Sensorroung 3D is the kind of person who’s going to think it’s “awesome!””

    Same goes for people that get boners at the mere mention of David Lynch or, yes, Malick. Fanboys just the same.

  • Rev. Slappy

    The Little Mermaid had a bottomless mermaid for a fairly lengthy part of its running time and that got a G rating.

  • actionlover

    Uh, no.

    Not even close.

    With Lynch or Malick, you may not always get something great, (you may even get something not good), but at LEAST it will be something a little bit more thoughtful, personal, ambitious and interesting than the cynical, brain-dead, pasted-together-by-committee, patronizing, corporate product shit pile that is a “Pirates” sequel. (or it’s ilk)

  • Buk94

    I didn’t say the films were the same. I said that the (predictable) responses by the fan boys are the same.

  • didio

    @ gFresh, Ye Orlando Bloom did all the previous movies, though I don’t mind him not being in the next one:D


  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    LOL at the idea that the number of “Pirates” fanboys is equal to the number of Terence Malick “fanboys.” Hollywood-Elswhere: where straw men come to roost.

  • Rashad

    There’s nothing “cynical” about the Pirates movies, nor is it just about the action. People actually like the stories and the character of Jack. Movies don’t make a billion or close to it, on action alone.

  • Baron Munchausen-by-Proxy

    LOL at Gabe’s reading comprehension: no where at all is the assertion made that the “numbers” of the described fans are equal at all. Only that the phenomenon of fandom/expectations itself is equivalent. Gabe, your own straw-man is composed of air.

    [Wells himself granted us an example this morning: Friend: "So how sucky is the Malick going to be, do you think?" Me: "It might not be what some want, but it can't suck -- it's Malick.

    And I acknowledge this as a Malick fanboy myself, which Actionlover can't seem to diagnose in his own flip and misperceptive answer above.]

    Rashad: wrong again. “Cynical” is a quite-appropriate and fair word to describe a film which was conceived and created as one cog in a mechanism to rehabilitate and create a synergistic back-story for aging theme-park rides which a board-member-appointed corporate task-force deemed had to be refurbished and modernized for technological and safety reasons.

    When the plan for a series of films is generated by the parks & attractions division of a corporation as part-and-parcel of a business and marketing plan, its safe to call the exercise “cynical”, among other words with far worse connotations. Even if one, surprisingly, enjoys such a resulting film on its own merits.

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