Film review POTC5 SR/DMTNT

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If you weren’t able to work it out from the title (or the image above) this is a review for Pirates of the Caribbean 5, otherwise known as Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, also known as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead men tell no tales. The reason for two equally forgettable subtitles is currently unknown but could possibly be connected to trademarks or cultural connotations. Whatever the reason it’s no less annoying when you search for a film online and face a barrage of confusion with titles.

The latter title seems like typical POTC and is about intriguing as a freshly warm present from a pet puppy. Dead men and walking corpses are not exactly original in this franchise and Dead Men Tell No Tales could practically have been the title of any of them. Salazar’s Revenge at the very least is a title you could hear and just about recall the plot (what there is of it) even if you’d struggle to differentiate this film from the rest of the series in a couple of film’s time. But then that’s not really the point with POTC. As with much longer running film series James Bond, this is a winning money-making formula where originality and memorability don’t matter on a film by film basis but meeting the expectations of the genre and the direction of the series as a whole wins fans. Even fans of James Bond films would struggle to match a plot with a title but they remember lines, they remember iconic characters and they remember weapons and gadgets.

POTC5 is a curious beast. It’s a bit of a jumble of other elements from previous films and in my opinion it is littered with many great moments and fantastic scenes that don’t join up to make a good movie. It’s difficult to explain why this is because so much of it is very enjoyable, the special effects are good, the moments that are supposed to be tense are tense and some of it is very very funny. It’s also very silly and nonsensical but then you don’t watch these films if you don’t like Johnny Depp goofing about and guffawing whilst his character experiences ever more bizarre danger. If you expect thought-provoking, high-quality comedy drama then you are going to be disappointed. To enjoy this film you must switch off and lighten up, sometimes a bit of escapism is ok…. although I would argue if you have to switch off your whole brain just to enjoy a film, it has failed completely.

POTC5 may not be completely switch off and don’t resuscitate for two hours but it is pretty close. As with other films in the series the character motivations never quite add up, the laws of the universe change constantly for the convenience of the plot and the story is completely stupid but the makers’ intention is clearly to provide beginning to end excitement in the form of comedy, outlandish stunts or dramatic story-telling. The trouble is that it misses this target. There are some genuinely boring moments because the film struggles to keep that pace for over two hours. There are even a few wtf moments that come out of nowhere and contribute nothing to the film. This would be one of the biggest issues with this addition and others in the series; the lack of bin feed littering the editing room floor, those editors should have been up to their knees in the absolute guff filmed if not for a few stars who would be a little displeased.

But there are some good things going for this film. I found much of it very funny and if you ignore the factual inaccuracies very entertaining. There is even some strong acting talent with Javier Bardem receiving most of the praise from other critics. Depp is undoubtedly a good actor but he spends the whole film doing his usual OTT silly camp pirate impression, which you either love or you hate. I think this is one of the better films in the series but I’m not going to remember watching it in a year from now. If you fancy a trip to the cinema and you have money to burn for the inflated ticket price you could do worse than watch this and get exactly what you expect. Or you could stay at home and stick something on the TV or Netflix.

Alien covenant: A new low for Alien

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Oh dear Ridley, what have you done? I’m a huge fan of Alien (1979) but this film was not just a huge disappointment but painfully bad even without comparison to the original film, even in the wake of the half-arsed Prometheus (2012). And yet I can see why some fans of Alien have loved this film. Billed as a return to Scotts vision of the franchise, closer in tone and style to the first outing of the Xenomorph, almost a reboot of yet another classic, it is understandable that some fans will eat this up. But I am here to explain (with spoilers) why this film is a new low for the Alien franchise.

The first Alien was more horror than sci-fi but with subsequent films in the franchise, the mantra that “in space no one can hear you scream” was sadly forgotten and the tone shifted. Covenant is a welcome return to deep-space horror but sadly in emulating horror it lacks all originality and relies on the tropes of the past. This feels like a standard haunted house affair with some impressive jumpy moments but a lot lacking in between. As with many typical horror films, the characters here are stupid enough to get themselves in ridiculously dangerous situations, the villains are implausibly indestructible, the heroes predictably die in the order that we are supposed to care about them and the whole plot is completely nonsensical.

Of course, with horror the plot is secondary to the atmosphere and feelings of dread but its really hard to care about the characters here or share that feeling of horror. Firstly, it’s obvious that as a prequel, all the crew must die and the alien species must be spread from this planet, so there is no anticipation or tension and I found all the twists blindingly obvious. Whenever you don’t see a character die onscreen but their death is important to the plot it becomes evident that they will return to affect the plot later. It takes a long time to get to the genuinely scary moments and the build up fails to get us to care about the characters. The fact that all the crew are made up of couples seems pointless when one member of the couple dies before we get to know them as a couple and there is a limit to how many times we can relate to a grieving partner whose name we barely remember. As crew they are utterly useless given that the ship can pilot itself and a robot can do their job better whilst they spend most of the journey asleep. They go on to fail their duty to the colonists in so many ways and show no signs of even basic scientific knowledge. They head to a planet with no idea of the atmosphere or ecology and seem barely surprised that there is Earth-like plant life but no animal life. The idea of infection or foreign bodies is completely ‘alien’ to them and the reaction to unexplained deaths for all the crew is to get them back on board the ship with thousands of people. This crew deserves to die.

All in all, this film is practically a remake of Alien but nowhere near as good. The retroactive rewrite of Alien and its sequels is more annoying and confusing rather than the satisfying retroactive plotting of Rogue One to the Star Wars franchise. The ideas of humanity, religion and creation, which dominate the prequel series aren’t as thought-provoking as the filmmakers think and they become clunky cliches that weigh down the plot and get in the way of the action. They don’t explain David’s actions or any of the crew’s motivation. Michael Fassbender may be excellent in this but I still struggle to understand his character even as a great villain.

Ultimately this series is an origin story that didn’t need telling and takes more away from the franchise than it adds. I would sooner see it written out of canon than the AVP additions but then Prometheus wasn’t supposed to be a direct prequel. All that now seems to be out the window and a new prequel-sequel is apparently on the way to join the films up. In surely what amounts to nothing more than a sickening alien-milking (ew) the franchise is being dragged down to its lowest level ever.

Short views of the 90s

A review in ten words or less… a selection from the 1990s

Wild Wild West (1999)
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Hilarious steampunk living in shadow of men in black

Terminator 2: Judgement day (1991)
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The last great Terminator has best one-liners

Home Alone (1990)
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Brutally funny family fun doesn’t need annual repeat

Jurassic Park (1993)
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All credit to Spielberg, hasn’t lost any magic decades later

Jumanji (1995)
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Thrilling, funny and genuinely scary – as a child

The Nutty Professor (1996)
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Barely tolerable Eddie Murphy

Starship Troopers (1997)
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Excellent military sci-fi you need to see

Bicentennial man (1999) (2000 in the UK)
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Exploration of humanity becomes dull story over 200 years

Reservoir dogs (1992)
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Brilliantly written film gives birth to monster called Tarantino

Lion – film review

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I accept that many people think this film is brilliant and deserved to win best picture at the oscars. It was recommended to me by a friend although I didn’t particularly fancy it. So I will admit that I’m not the best person to review it and that my opinion here is just that. However, I’m not a big fan of this film.

I’m not really a fan of true stories sexed up by the film industry just to play on emotional heart strings. Whilst cinema can bring worthy untold stories into general public knowledge just as Hidden Figures highlights a little known moment in black history and aerospace history, I’m not convinced the story of Lion is as sensational as everyone suggests. There is a brief caption at the end of the film detailing how many children sleep rough in India but I don’t see the film raising much profile for lost and homeless children (hopefully some of the $113 million taken at the box office will go to the cause) because the focus of the story seems to be how one child got lost on a train, adopted in Australia and miraculously found his home two decades later. That’s the story that everyone is shocked by, not that there are millions of Indian children living on the streets and millions living and working in poverty.

For me this story is the perfect three minute Google Earth ad (it actually was an ad for Google maps) but it isn’t a feature length film, which is why the film needs to be split into two stories. The better half of the film, the section retelling Saroo’s childhood experiences and his days living alone on the streets, has been rewritten for cinema and extended to transform an opening chapter into an opening half. The second half has Dev Patel moping about, being a moody student, not doing anything particularly interesting, until one day he happens to hit a breakthrough on Google Earth. There is a little bit of sentimentality about his adopted mother and most people would be moved by the reunion at the end of the film but I don’t really see the appeal in making an audience cry if there’s no deeper meaning or thought-provoking power.

If you haven’t seen this film and think I’ve just given you a spoiler, trust me I haven’t. It would be difficult to give spoilers for this film because there isn’t really a plot beyond the concept of the film. If you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen the film. Apart from some good acting from the young protagonist in the first half, there isn’t much else going for this film unless you like a weepy, slow-moving drama. Clearly, I don’t.

Short views 2016

A review in ten words or less… Here’s a few from last year…

Deepwater Horizon
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Dramatic exploitation of real event stretches reality

Arrival
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Intelligent well-acted film overlooked at the oscars

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
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Implausible but magical, silly but fun, charming and bumbling

Inferno
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Mystery thriller struggles to excite with plot twist

The Legend of Tarzan
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Wasted opportunity with acting talent

Star Trek Beyond
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Hard to take seriously, hard to dislike

The Girl on the Train
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Should have stuck at novel

Allied
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Promising spy-flick underwhelms, wins fancy dress

Finding Dory
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Silly sequel forgets to make sense

The insider: 1999 retro review

This is my second retro review, one of a series of posts which will review films that were released years ago, possibly just a few years old or possibly decades. I will most likely be reviewing them because I have just seen them on television for the first time, in which case they will be new to me and possibly very old to you, but whether my viewing is a first-time watch or a revisit of an old classic, my review will place the film in a modern context, assess how the film has aged and possibly draw comparisons with more recent offerings.

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The Insider received almost universal praise from critics in 1999 and was nominated for many awards including oscars for best picture, best director, actor and cinematography. But I’m afraid I would describe it as passable entertainment at best and therefore condemn it as being neither good nor bad enough to watch and not really interesting enough to be worthy of any busy persons life.

So to be fair, the acting is good all round and Russell Crowe probably deserved his nomination, although Pacino really bulldozes his way into the leading actor position. The film tells the interesting story of Jeffery Wigand who appeared on the news programme ’60 minutes’ in the mid-90s to reveal secrets of the tobacco industry despite the legal efforts of his former employers, and indeed the film makes the story interesting. But I challenge anyone who saw the film in 1999 to recall anything about it a decade or two later.

It’s a long film with some reasonable tension and a few nicely moody scenes but it’s really relying on plot and acting, which as far as I’m concerned may as well be a play. Context may also be an issue here as this film came out in the fairly recent aftermath of the real events that inspired it. I’m sure that the revelation of the tobacco industry actively making their cigarettes even more addictive was genuinely shocking in the 1990s but 20 years later we’ve come to expect far worse from big tobacco and other big business. The Insider is supposedly telling the story of Wigand but even then more interest was paid to the journalist Bergman and his fallout with CNN, in other words the cover up by the media gave the story more legs, which certainly is still relevant in today’s climate.

Recommended post: Based on true events

As interesting as the story might have been at that time, the film offers very little impact watching in 2017 and I would struggle to remember any details this time next week. The film is obviously a big criticism of the tobacco companies, smoking in general, the integrity of big media companies and the corrupt system of that time, but it’s nowhere near as thought-provoking as Thank you for Smoking, which was released six years later, a film I can highly recommend and will always remember.

Left behind. 2014 Retro review

This is my first retro review, a start to a series of posts which will review films that were released years ago, possibly just a few years old or possibly decades. I will most likely be reviewing them because I have just seen them on television for the first time, in which case they will be new to me and possibly very old to you, but I will try and and offer a fresh perspective as well as guidance for those who may watch in future.

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And we start with a stinker from 2014, as Nicholas Cage films tend to be these days, one that you could say is an easy target and has no shortage of bad reviews already out there. With a score of 3.1/10 on imdb and just 2% approval rating on rotten tomatoes, it is obvious that Left behind (2014) is bad and I should have watched the other channel but you may say I’m a glutton for punishment, my philosophy is terrible films make you appreciate the best, and also to be a great filmmaker you must learn from the mistakes of others.

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But I didn’t just watch this turkey to be inspired by its failures, I was genuinely intrigued by its mythology inspired premise, the harrowing scenario of half the world’s population disappearing, an exploration of what it would be like to be left behind. I thought it would be at the least interesting, and even if the writers were committed to a personal view point on the Christian mythology, they could still offer a frightening and thought-provoking take on what it would be like to be left in this world after the rapture. For if you’re an evangelical Christian, the fear of being left behind must be greater than if you didn’t believe, the understanding of what it meant to be refused into heaven would surely be greater, so there are no better writers than those who believe in the rapture to convey the terrifying consequences of being abandoned by God and left without hope.

So it is actually a stunning achievement that this film manages to relay hardly any horror or suspense. The thought that I should repent for my own sins was never going to enter my mind in this film that is essentially about regret. The majority opinion is that this film is Christian propaganda for belief in the rapture, which for reasons explained above would not necessarily make this film uninteresting, but I’m not so sure the film is as committed to the mythology as much as the writers of film and novel. You see the film has to make us identify with its main characters or else how can we feel their suffering, how can we remain interested after the rapture has taken place, and yet these characters are also sinners and we need to understand why they have been left. The film falls drastically short of providing enough backstory and complex characterisation to allow the audience to either judge the characters, feel sorry for their predicament or care about their future. For me, the film holds back on judging the sinfulness or justifying the rapture. It offers several lousy reasons for being left behind, everything from gambling to following the wrong religion, and at one point questions why a loving God would divide loving families, and yet the whole film seems to have very little opinion on anything.

I think that the film is trying to be thought-provoking rather than preaching but it becomes much more of the latter very early on. In the opening of the film, one of the main characters asks why God would send natural disasters only to save some people and let others die and this is never truly answered although this very understandable reasoning of doubting God’s existence is the only reason given for at least one character not being invited to heaven. The film never has anyone question how unfair God is, hardly anyone seems to regret their life choices and even though there are people of faith and people who are kind also left behind, there’s no more sympathy towards them than other characters. Essentially the film is like a really boring weather warning telling you what will happen but not how to feel about it.

I watched the film all the way to the end, which means even with the slow pace and lack of tension, it wasn’t unbearable so if you have time for bad movies give it a go, but I’ll warn you the ending is particularly flat, setting up a sequel that will probably never see the light of day. Try not to mind the gaping plot holes and silly logic, this is a film that comes from taking the bible literally after all. I questioned why all children are presumed innocent when the bible says that you are born with sin and not all children are baptised. I question why after the rapture everyone left behind immediately starts looting and chaos so quickly escalates when so very few modern Christians take the bible literally and it would be hard to argue that everyone left would even be the worst of mankind. And seeing as this film fails to raise or answer many interesting questions, it falls down to the viewer to really try hard to think about the consequence and pitfalls of this Christian myth.