Tag Archives: Johnny Depp

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Movie Review

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is back in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. He finds himself on a reluctant quest to find the Trident of Poseidon. His journey is complicated by his nemesis Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) and the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).

Release Date: May 26, 2017
Writer: Jeff Nathanson
Director: Joachim Ranning, Espen Sandberg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario

Full Disclosure: I have only seen the first two Pirate movies. I am unaware the events up to Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales suffers from too many plots and subplots. The movie really doesn’t take off until the plots find convergence in the second half of the film. Let’s go over the plots. First, Pirates opens on a young Henry Turner (Lewis McGowen) as he summons the cursed Flying Dutchman. This is the ship that is crewed by his cursed father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Henry dedicated his future to finding the Trident of Poseidon, believing that this Trident that controls the seas can release his father from his curse.

Then there is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who is accused of being a witch by the local townsfolk. Carina is not a witch, but a self-taught astronomer. She was abandoned as a child by her father leaving only a journal with a star chart to the Trident of Poseidon. As an astronomer, she is a woman of science and does not believe in ghosts and curses. She is also attractive and the same age as Henry Turner.

Jump ahead nine years and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) jumps from ship to ship to find clues and a crew to take him to the Trident of Poseidon. While on a British Naval ship, the ship is overtaken by the ghostly shark-like ship helmed by the legendary Captain Salazar.

Captain Salazar was once a captain in the Spanish Navy. His goal in life was to destroy all pirates. He defeated them all, except one. That’s right–Captain Jack Sparrow. Let me just say that Disney has been using CGI to bring a youthful version of their aging stars to life—Michael Douglas, Robert Downey, Jr., Kurt Rusell, Carrie Fisher and now Johnny Depp. The technology walks that fine line of cool and creepy. Back to Salazar, his ghostly goal in life is kill pirates and kill Captain Jack.

More subplots? Yes, Captain Barbosa has a treasure to find thanks to a mystical compass. Captain Jack on the other hand really has not a subplot, Ugh, too much going on. Fortunately, all the subplots and their exposition happen in the front half of the movie. It does feel labored but it’s survivable.

Where Pirates shines is the second half. There’s a lot of action. The battle between naval, pirate and ghost ships are well animated and easy to follow. Disney also does swashbuckling action as good as any studio can. It seems that pirates are actually interesting when they do pirate things.

There is one reveal in the film, that I can’t say anything about, snuck up on me. This final subplot pulled me into the story of two characters, I thought would not connect until it happened.

The main problem that Pirates of the Caribbean suffers from is its own mythology. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter had the luxury of a prolific author, who built the world and its mythology. Thought went into this mythology over the length of its run. The mythology was honed, refined and reflected human nature, so readers could relate to it.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a theme park ride. I don’t believe Walt Disney ever had the world of the pirate in mind when creating the ride. He just wanted to tell a simple story. Finally, when the first Pirate movie came out, it was the first film to be based on Disney rides. My guess is that they just wanted the first film to be successful. The studio was not thinking it would be a five (maybe six) film series, so the world of Pirates is now created on the fly as new films are needed.

Why is this important? Audiences just don’t have an emotional connection to the pirate world, like they do with The Hobbit or Harry Potter. We have no stake in the life path of Captain Jack Sparrow. This reduces the whole series into one action film after the other.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is light fare. It has amazing action sequences but suffers because there just is not enough time to develop any existing or new characters properly.

Black Mass – Movie Review

Inspired by the true story of James “Whitey” Bulger, Black Mass is a modern day mob story proving that real life is not always as exciting as fiction.

Release Date: September 18, 2015
Writer: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton

Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) is one of many mob bosses in 1970’s Boston. When a childhood friend, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) returns to his hometown of Boston, he brokers an alliance with Whitey and the FBI. Whitey would give up intelligence on the Italian mob in Boston, and the FBI would turn a blind eye to Whitey’s activities as long as it didn’t include drugs and murder.

Black Mass follows two paths: Bulger’s and Agent Connolly. With a deal in place, Bulger gains a higher level of confidence and power. This power turns for the worse, when his son becomes brain dead from meningitis, and his girlfriend, Lindsey (Dakota Johnson) wants to pull the plug. Bulger becomes more power hungry and more merciless.

The real story of Black Mass is that of Agent John Connolly. Assigned to his hometown of Boston, Connolly is interested in justice. But justice soon conflicts with loyalty because, as kids, Bulger protected Connolly. The FBI deal was brokered out of Connolly’s loyalty to Bulger. Connolly’s loyalty to Bulger soon becomes more important than even his job.

The main problem with Black Mass is that it is just not that interesting. Sometimes real life is not as exciting on screen as an over-the-top fictional story. There is a line that filmmakers walk between telling a true story using the actual facts and stretching the truth to make the story engaging. Black Mass serves only to document the events surround Bulger and the FBI.

We see themes that are not new to the mob genre. The most obvious is Bulger’s personal corruption from the vast amounts of power he’s given. Bulger also becomes paranoid and kills anyone who can possibly end his comfortable life of crime.

Johnny Depp is a good actor, but as Whitey Bulger it is more about the make-up and character affectation than about creating a unique character. The supporting actors also do an excellent job portraying their real life characters. One riveting moment is Bulger confronting John Connolly’s wife, Marianne (Julianne Nicholson), who chooses not to join the corrupt Bulger at a Bar-B-Que at her home. It is the tension of this moment when Bulger accuses Marianne of being rude to not only her guest but to the mobster Bulger.

At best, Black Mass is a fine docu-drama of Whitey Bulger and how he manipulated the FBI. Void of anything original or big moments, Black Mass will be just another mob movie.

Disney’s Into the Woods – Movie Review

Based on the 1987 critically acclaimed Broadway musical, Into The Woods is a mashup story of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel. The movie, though, focuses on the story of the Baker and his Wife. The couple has no children. Thanks to the neighboring Witch (Meryl Streep), the Baker learns he cannot have children because of a curse placed on his father for stealing from the Witch’s garden.

Like the stage play, Into The Woods is about wishes. All of the characters have a wish and must complete a mission of sorts in order to receive his wish. But as with life, once we attain our wish, it’s not really what we hoped for. There are also consequences to the choices we make in attaining those dishes too.

Into the Woods 02The Baker and his Wife wish to have the curse reversed and must bring to the witch, Red Riding Hood’s cape, Rapunzel’s hair, Cinderella’s shoe and Jack’s cow. They are not the only ones with wishes. Red Riding Hood wishes to stray from the path and explore the world, but the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) stands in her way. Jack wishes to get this cow back and steals from the Giants in the sky to earn money to get him/her back. Cinderella wishes to escape the torture of her Stepmother (Christine Baranski) and Stepsisters (Lucy Punch and Tammy Blanchard) and sees marrying the Prince (Chris Pine) as her escape.

As mentioned below, the movie is based on the musical by American composer Stephen Sondheim and playwright James Lapine. Both played pivotal roles in adapting the play to film. It helps that Rob Marshall is directing the movie. In his Oscar-award winning film, Chicago, Marshall proved that he can perfectly adapt a complicated musical to film and he does an admirable job with Into The Woods.

Into The Woods has all the necessary elements for a musical. The opening number, “Act One Prologue,” has a catchy melody, introduces all the characters and sets the movie in the right directions. As the story progresses, each member of the cast has their own song or monolog. As with any Sondheim musical, the songs are poignant, but at times feel like word puzzles. You really have to pay attention to every word in order to appreciate the brilliance of the song.

Which brings us to the cast, the best musical cast to come along to a movie in a long time. Every role was cast perfectly…almost.  James Corden and Emily Blunt is perfect at the Baker and his Wife. They feel like a real couple and they sing well. James Corden comes across likable and shows his dramatic chops when faced with the reality of parenthood. Into The Woods is a great introduction for him to American audiences when he takes over the Late Late Show.

It’s easy to see Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. She’s beautiful, alluring and a fantastic singer. She kills the song “On the Steps of the Palace.” Chris Pine knows how to play and sing smug. Tracy Ullman is a delight as Jack’s mother.

Unlike the Broadway musical, the roles of Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) were played by age-appropriate actors. On Broadway, it’s actors in their twenties and in the movie they choose actors in their early teens. They had great voices and act well, they just could not bring the required acting necessary for their individual soliloquy songs.

As a movie, Into The Woods is a good movie but many of the long monologgy songs can be lost in translations. It’s hard to have a clear perspective on the movie itself if you are a big fan of the play. Hard core fans will like the movie but feel that some the brilliant is lost. The devices employed in the stage production don’t often translate well one stage. When the witch belts out the song, “Last Midnight.” It leaves a powerful impact because it’s sung on a stage and the audience sits hundreds of feet from the actress. In the movie, the shots are tight on Meryl Streep, who sings it and she is not required to sing it with the power needed and therefore loses its intensity.

Very few musicals have been effectively translated to the big screen. West Side Story and Chicago are the only two to come to mind. Into The Woods had everything it needs to succeed on the screen including heavy involvement from the original creators, the high budgets and production values of the Walt Disney Company, a cast that can actually sing and do justice to the songs and a director who knows the differences between movie and stage. Unfortunately, maybe Into The Woods is just not meant for the big screen.