Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Released: May 2017

Director/s: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 129 Minutes

Distributor: Disney

Genre: Action/Adventure

Johnny Depp: Captain Jack Sparrow
Javier Bardem: Captain Salazar
Brenton Thwaites: Henry Turner
Geoffrey Rush: Captain Barbossa
Kaya Scodelario: Carina Smyth
Kevin McNally: Gibbs
David Wenham: Scarfield

Over the decades we’ve seen a lot of pirate movies come and go.  We’ve had great ones like Treasure Island and bad ones like Cutthroat Island.  14 years ago, Disney entered the waters upon which pirates have sailed.  2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was a smash hit with audiences world-wide.  Based on the ride of the same name, the film featured an all-star cast which included Johnny Depp as the intrepid, yet drunk, Captain Jack Sparrow.  While not necessarily an original film by an stretch, it was extremely well-made with interesting characters and a story that you could sink your teeth into.  It also featured some of the most spectacular action sequences at the time.  Curse of the Black Pearl remains one of my favorite movies of all time.  It was so successful that it became a trilogy at one point, continuing with Dead Man’s Chest and concluding with At World’s End.  While those two films were not as good, they were still very entertaining and visually spectacular.  Sadly, On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in the series, proved that the franchise was on a downward spiral.  So, how does Dead Men Tell No Tales fare?

As the film opens, we see a young Henry Turner tie himself to a net full of rocks and hurls himself from a rowboat.  He sinks all the way to the Flying Dutchman, where his father, Will Turner, has remained for over a decade.  It seems that Will Turner has been cursed to sail the seas as the captain of the Dutchman, while young Henry seeks to find a way to break that curse.  9 years later, Henry Turner is a sailor on a British ship that is trailing a pirate ship when they come across a mysterious cave.  After the ship accidentally enters the cave, they awaken a ghostly crew of former pirate hunters led by Captain Salazar.  Turner is left alive as he is to tell Jack Sparrow that Salazar is coming for him.  Right off the bat, there are already a number of problems with the story.  For one, the last we saw of Will Turner was in At World’s End, when he became the captain of the Flying Dutchman.  When he became the captain of the ship, the physical issues with the crew disappeared as the ship had found a purpose again.  That purpose being to ferry souls to the other side.  So, Will Turner was not deformed as he was doing his job.  So, why was he deformed here?  There’s a lot of inconsistencies like that here and there that really stand out.  Also, is it really difficult to have a Pirates of the Caribbean film without the supernatural?  As bad as Cutthroat Island was, it was a simply treasure hunt and heist movie.  Sadly, Dead Men is simply another yarn to try and keep poor Jack Sparrow out of trouble.

The writing is one of the biggest issues I have with this movie.  As I said before, there’s a lot of inconsistencies that just don’t make any sense.  For example:  Sparrow’s compass?  Apparently that thing has feelings and will get you into trouble if you betray it by giving it away.  Here’s the problem, though.  Jack gave it away a number of times over the past several movies, so what changed?  It’s never explained.  Also, for a guy that constantly says that “dead men tell no tales,” Salazar just doesn’t seem to shut up.  There’s a lot of stuff here that just seems really half-baked.  It’s like the directors never even saw the previous films.  It seems to me that the people behind Pirates of the Caribbean are running out of ideas.  The dialogue isn’t even as sharp or witty as the previous movies.

Let’s talk about the acting.  It’s widely known that Johnny Depp is a huge fan of his character, Jack Sparrow.  It’s evident that he’s having a lot of fun.  It’s usually fun to watch him, but with Pirates 5, he comes across as annoying.  It’s not a good thing when the lead character of your movie is one of its weakest points.  He was never this irritating in On Stranger Tides.  I don’t necessarily think that it’s a fault of Depp’s, but the way the character is written in this movie makes him very unlikable.  Brenton Thwaites is fine as Henry, while Kaya Scodelario is fantastic as Carina.  Geoffrey Rush is always fun to watch as Barbossa.  But it’s far more entertaining when he was going up against Jack Sparrow.  Javier Bardem is always amazing in whatever he does.  He’s always made a great villain.  While his character is not very well written, Bardem sells it, through and through.  The rest of the cast is fine.  David Wenham plays a secondary villain of British commander Scarfield.

If you’re coming to Pirates 5 for the action…well….it’s not that impressive.  The first three movies had amazing action that included incredible fight choreography which was entwined with visual effects.  It worked very well with a sense of humor.  Here?  The action is…bland.  There is nothing here that people will remember after a day or two.  The first film had that awesome final battle with Barbossa and Sparrow, which was nothing short of epic.  Dead Man’s Chest had Norrington, Will Turner and Sparrow fighting inside a water wheel for the Dead Man’s Chest.  At World’s End had a truly climactic battle scene with the Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl in the middle of giant whirlpool.  That was fucking awesome.  Pirates 5 has nothing like that whatsoever.  That being said, the action here isn’t awful, as it offers plenty of explosions and some pretty terrific CGI.  That’s generally about it, though.

Here’s the funny thing:  I knew going in that Pirates 5 was not necessarily going to be that good, and for the most part, I was entertained.  It’s not going to win awards or break records, but it is dumb sea-faring fun.  At just a hair over two hours long, the film doesn’t overstay its welcome.  So, that’s a good thing.  I have to be honest here.  This movie was still a mess and when you stack it up against the first four, it’s nowhere near as good.  It seems like it may be time for the whole Pirates of the Caribbean franchise to be laid to rest.  It’s obvious the series has run out of steam.  So…what is my recommendation?  It’s hard to say, with a movie like this.  On the one hand, you have another movie about pirates, which is always a good thing, but on the other, it’s nowhere near as good as other movies that feature pirates.  This is also not Johnny Depp’s best work as Captain Jack Sparrow.  I’m sorry, he’s one of the weaker spots of the film.  If you can catch it a local sticky-shoe theater, then by all means, check it out.  For everybody else, though, wait until DVD/Blu-Ray.

Final Score: 7/10.

Alien: Covenant

Released: May 2017

Director: Ridley Scott

Rated R

Run Time: 122 Minutes

Distributor: Fox Studios

Genre: Science Fiction/Horror

Michael Fassbender: Walter/David
Katherine Waterston: Daniels
Billy Crudup: Oram
Danny McBride: Tennessee
Demian Bichir: Lope

The problem with prequels is that you often know the outcome of that particular story.  Trying to surprise an audience with a prequel is often a tricky business, because of what’s supposed to happen in the story.  It’s a problem that you really can’t avoid, unless you’re willing to change the sequel’s story, and that never ends well.  Star Wars is a prime example.  Everybody knew that Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader, so seeing Anakin turn in the Prequel Trilogy came as no surprise to ANYONE.  Movies like The Hobbit and The Scorpion King are other examples of prequels.  A prequel isn’t necessarily a bad thing if handled properly.  It can give you more of an insight into a particular world, and explore why things happen the way they happened.  It has to be done right, however, or the audience won’t be as engaged in the story or the characters.  So, we come to Alien: Covenant, a prequel to Ridley Scott’s original film.  Is it the prequel that we deserved or hoped for?  The short answer is no, and I’m going to explain why.

Alien: Covenant follows the crew of the colony ship, the Covenant as it is on a 10-year journey to a planet suitable for colonization.  En route, they are hit by an electrical storm, which causes the main crew to wake up and assess the damage.  They intercept an undecipherable message which leads them to a nearby planet, which is also capable of sustaining human life.  After landing and having issues with the local “plant” life, they come across what seems to be the planet’s lone occupant.  This occupant is none other than the android, David from the Prometheus which disappeared 10 years before.  You know, I thought Prometheus was a damn good movie.  It wasn’t what I expected, but I thought it was better than most people gave it credit for.  So, when Ridley Scott was going to do a sequel that was going to be an actual Alien movie, I was genuinely excited.  Sadly, the wait really wasn’t worth it.  For those expecting an Alien movie, I gotta tell ya, it’s more Prometheus than Alien.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an Alien movie, but there are so many issues here that I’m not entirely sure where to begin.  The story is somewhat interesting, but damn if it isn’t predictable.  Again, that’s the nature of a prequel, but I expected more surprises than what I actually got.  I’m not happy about it.  I’m not going to go into spoiler territory, so don’t worry about that.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way.  The visuals are simply stunning.  Like Prometheus before it, Alien: Covenant is beautifully filmed with some absolutely gorgeous scenery.  The set designs are out of this world.  They really spared no expense in delivering the scale of the film.  The Engineer city is absolutely marvelous.  The ship designs are wonderful.  Michael Fassbender returns as David, but also plays a second android, Walter.  The scenes when Walter and David are on screen together, ironically enough, are some of the best character moments in the film.  Danny McBride is one of the biggest surprises of the film, as he gets to really flex his dramatic chops, and he does a really good job.  The creature designs are also very interesting.  The neomorphs are particularly nasty.  You have one that exploded from someone’s back, and another from someone’s mouth.  This movie definitely has carnage, and the gore factor is high.  The infamous xenomorph that made the Alien movies what they are, also makes a return, and it tears some shit up.  The music by Jed Kurzel is pretty damned good.  It utilizes some music from Jerry Goldsmith’s score from the original film as well as music cues from Prometheus.  The CGI is also surprisingly very good.

I guess it’s time to get into the bad stuff, isn’t it?  Aside from Michael Fassbender and Danny McBride, all the other characters are pretty much disposable.  There’s not one among them that is even remotely likable.  The first two Alien movies were fantastic, because we got to know and like the crew.  We cared about what happened to these characters, so when they died it was shocking.  With Alien: Covenant, we don’t get that.  When the shit hits the fan, the women are freaking out to the point of silliness.  The men are mostly a bumbling bunch of idiots.  Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, but she’s hardly compelling.  She’s no Ellen Ripley or even Elizabeth Shaw.  Those were two very strong female characters.  I don’t really blame Waterston for the way her character turned out, because the writing in this movie is generally not very good.  You really shouldn’t be rooting for characters to die in a movie like this, but most of them are irritating and mostly a waste of space.  Also, I saw the ending to the movie come a mile a way.  Again, this is not necessarily a problem that the movie could have avoided, but it could’ve been handled so much better than this.

To say that Ridley Scott dropped the ball on this one is a massive understatement.  There’s a lot about this movie that I did like, but there was just way too much that felt wrong.  Visually, it’s a stunning film, with top-notch performances from McBride and Fassbender.  It also has some pretty gory action in it, but the overall structure of the film and the almost total lack of xenomorph action brings this movie down much lower than it should be.  I left the movie theater disappointed.  20 years since the last legitimate Alien film, and this is the best they can do?  Now, Ridley Scott is reportedly going to be starting production on the film’s sequel, which is supposed to be entitled Alien: Awakening.  He’s supposed to start shooting the film sometime next year.  I really like Scott as a director, but I think he really needs to hand the reigns over to someone else.  Neill Blomkamp, who directed District 9, was in talks to direct an Alien film which would ignore the events of the third and fourth movies and focus on Ripley, Newt and Hicks.  Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn were both reportedly excited about the idea.  A lot of people of were.  But since Scott took back control of the franchise, that other movie is dead in the water, by all accounts.  Well, I can only hope that Awakening can actually deliver on the promise that was made by Covenant.  Ultimately, I don’t hate the movie.  I did enjoy it, but it was a pretty big letdown.  It’s still better than Alien Resurrection, though.  I’ll give it that.

Final Score: 7.5/10


Released: June 2012

Director: Ridley Scott

Rated R

Run Time: 124 Minutes

Distributor: Fox Studios

Genre: Science Fiction

Noomi Rapace: Elizabeth Shaw
Logan Marshall-Green: Charlie
Michael Fassbender: David
Charlize Theron: Meredith Vickers
Guy Pearce: Peter Weyland
Idris Elba: Janek
Sean Harris: Fifield
Rafe Spall: Millburn

When Alien debuted in 1979, it not only launched the career of Sigourney Weaver as an actress, but it also put Ridley Scott’s name on the map as a legitimate director.  It took a while for him to find his groove.  The film that he did right after Alien was Blade Runner.  While that film bombed at the box office, it wound developing a strong cult following.  It actually ended up being one of the best science fiction and detective stories ever made.  Even at his worst, Ridley Scott’s films are still entertaining.  However, Scott would not return to the science fiction genre until 2012 with Prometheus.

Prometheus opens as two scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a cave with paintings on the wall in Scotland.  One of these paintings features a giant pointing to the stars.  It seems that this was not the only cave painting to feature this image.  2 years later, a scientific research vessel, Prometheus, arrives at a planet in a distant solar system.  After waking from hypersleep, the crew of the Prometheus land on the planet to discover a mysterious structure.  After breaching the structure, the crew discovers a secret that could destroy mankind.  The initial drafts of the script for Prometheus actually had the film being a direct prequel to Alien.  However, Ridley Scott and the higher-ups at Fox Studios decided that may not be the best idea, so they retooled the script into what would become the film that we got.  It’s not unheard of.  Scripts often change a lot before they’re finalized, and sometimes the final draft is vastly different than the initial draft.  That’s part of the process.  Always has been, always will be.  The problem is, is that people were led to believe that we were getting another film in the Alien universe, but Prometheus wound up being a very different beast than what we expected.  While the film is definitely set in the same universe, it’s not an Alien movie, per se.  Like everyone else, I wanted a prequel to Alien.  That being said, I was actually pleasantly surprised at the film we got.  It was definitely different.

Before I get into the things that I loved about the film, I want to talk about the stuff that went wrong.  This is a film that has an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know what genre it wants to belong to.  Is it a science-fiction adventure or is it a horror/monster movie?  This clash is present throughout the entire experience and it’s hard to gauge what kind of audience would enjoy this movie.  The reaction to the film was split right down the middle.  People either loved the film, or they hated it.  While the performances were mostly strong across the board, and I while get into that later, special mention has to be made for Charlize Theron as Vickers being the worst performance in the film.  I’m not necessarily blaming Theron for this, however.  The character comes across as your typical corporate sleaze-bag that you see in movies like this: Skeptical and business-minded scumbags.  Theron’s performance is….off.  I like the actress, she’s a great actress, but this was not one of her best roles.  The last problem is also the film’s greatest strength:  The connection to Alien.  The connection is a huge problem, because people had expectations of what the movie was going to be.  Some of the connections were blatantly obvious:  The Weyland Corporation, the derelict space ship, and some of the murals in the main structure were pretty obvious.  Considering the kind of movie that Prometheus is, all that could have been cut out, and the film probably would have been better for it.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.  Holy shit, this movie is beautiful.  The cinematography is second-to-none.  The opening credits of the film feature some really spectacular scenery.  The visual effects are some of the finest I’ve seen in years.  The set designs and the character designs are absolutely phenomenal.  This is also where the connection to Alien is a good thing.  The design of the alien ship is exactly the same as it was in the original Alien.  The Space Jockey that we got a glimpse of in the original film comes to life here as an Engineer.  The Engineers, according to Dr. Shaw are a race of super-intelligent alien beings that created mankind.  It was a very interesting concept that worked fairly well.  With the exception of Charlize Theron, the acting is actually pretty good all across the board.  The real standouts here are Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender.  These two actors put everything into their respective roles.  Noomi Rapace has some scenes that look really painful, and the amount of physicality that she has to display is exceptional.  Fassbender is equally interesting as the android David.  While the character was programmed a certain way, you can’t help but notice that there is something sinister going on with David.  Idris Elba is always fun to watch, especially as Janek, the ship’s pilot.  The music by Marc Streitenfeld has a very unique quality to it that makes it both epic and intense.

At the end of the day, Prometheus is a pretty divisive movie.  As I said before, when it was released, reactions were split down the middle.  I fell on the side of the people who loved the film, but I definitely understand why some people didn’t.  This was not necessarily a film that people were expecting.  The concept of the film changed so much before production began, it felt like there was going to be serious problems behind the scenes.  The film didn’t do well enough to really warrant another film in the same universe, but now we have Alien: Covenant coming out tomorrow as of this writing, and it seems like it’s going to be the prequel that people were wanting Prometheus to be.  There IS still some life left in the Alien universe, and hopefully Covenant will keep it going.  The Alien franchise is in my top three favorite film franchises.  Prometheus was an interesting experiment that didn’t always pan out, but I honestly loved it.  The visuals, the music and the performances of Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender help elevate a film that could have been a pretty dour experience.  I enjoyed it and I definitely recommend it.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Preview: Blade Runner 2049

When Ridley Scott released Alien back in 1979, the world opened up for him as far as opportunities went.  The movie he directed after Alien was Blade Runner in 1982.  Blade Runner, which was based on the book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick, followed Rick Deckard.  Rick Deckard was a cop that specialized in hunting down and eliminating rogue androids.  The group that he was tasked with eliminating was lead by Roy Batty, a combat android who wanted to live more than 5 years, which was the average life span of an android in Blade Runner.  Blade Runner apparently was a very difficult movie to shoot with a lot of problems with production and studio interference.  The film bombed when it was released.  The critics and a number of audiences hated it, lamenting the fact that the trailers made the movie look like an action movie.  It wasn’t an action movie.  It was a futuristic detective movie.  Over the past 30+ years, the film has developed more than a cult following, finding new life on home video.  5 different versions of the film have been released so far, with the “Final Cut” being the definitive version.  What made the movie work for me was a number of things:  The cast which included names like Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young and Darryl Hannah.  The visual style of the film was absolutely unique and gave us a dark glimpse of the future of 2019.  Not only that, the music by Vangelis was something out of this world.

A few years back, Ridley Scott had announced that he had a number of movies planned over the next several years, which included a new Alien movie and a new Blade Runner film.  With Alien Covenant coming out in a week and a half as of this post, Blade Runner 2049 is set to be released this October.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for the new Alien film, but its Blade Runner 2049 that has my interest.  For one, Harrison Ford is returning as Deckard in some capacity.  Ryan Gosling is going to playing a new cop who is looking for Deckard.  The actual premise of the film is as of yet, unknown for the most part.  What really excites me most about the film is that it’s being directed by Denis Villeneuve, the guy who gave us Prisoners and Arrival.  I loved both of those movies, so I’m anxious to see what he can do with Blade Runner.  Like the first movie, I’m hoping that the action will take a back seat to the main story.  That’s what made the original movie work so well.  Well, that and the cast.  I think this movie’s going to be a blast.  I can’t wait.