Two new movies are reviewed today. Immediately after the following review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a review Once in a Lifetime, a new documentary about the New York Cosmos soccer team from the 1970s. Click here to go directly to that review.
Blah blah blah, Deppity blah blah. Kraken, kaboom, blah blah blah.
In the end, that is essentially the use this review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest will serve for most anybody. If you liked the first movie, odds are that nothing I might say would convince you not to see this continuation. If you didn't like the first one it is hard for me to imagine you'll be interested in subjecting yourself to it all over again.
Since you went through the trouble of clicking the link to this review, though, I'll go ahead with it.
I'm convinced that a part of the success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl back in 2003 was the benefit of low expectations. The movie was the second "theme park ride movie" in quick succession and the first (The Country Bears) didn't offer any hope that it would be more than a tacky ploy to squeeze a few dollars out of corporate synergy. Except that somehow the juvenile formula of a Jerry Bruckheimer production combined with competent action direction from Gore Verbinsky, a genius character interpretation from Johnny Depp, and some mysterious alchemical formula that defies all efforts at reverse engineering produced a summer-time romp that surpassed all expectations.
Just as a movie can benefit from low expectations they can also suffer from high expectations, and expectations don't come much higher than those weighing down Dead Man's Chest. Other than The Godfather: Part II, it is hard to think of a film trilogy that didn't experience a drop-off for the second episode.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a film with many flaws. But for the most part they are flaws that were all present in the first film. The story is somewhat disjointed and wanders around quite a bit. It is too long and could easily chop out 20-30 minutes without seriously compromising things. Outside of Jack Sparrow... sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow and the villain (Davy Jones replacing Captain Barbossa this time around), none of the other characters are all that interesting. The focus tilts away from characterization and heavily towards punchlines and action set pieces.
If these things kept you from enjoying Curse of the Black Pearl, there is little hope that you'll find yourself enjoying Dead Man's Chest. In its style and methods, it is just more of the same. For everybody else the question will be whether it grows tiresome a second time around (with the knowledge that there'll be a third go next summer). For me the answer is definitely "not yet."
Combine an initial appearance by Jack Sparrow that is almost too "swishy" (literally, that is not a euphemism for gay) and that things start too slowly in the first 15 minutes, and there was a strong worry that letdown was imminent. A head of steam quickly builds once all the characters had been set on their way and sustains everything to the end of the film.
The fantasy trilogy template requires that the first film bring together a ragtag group of people, who will then be sent on separate missions in the second chapter before coming back together in the final conclusion. So far, it appears that the template will hold.
This time around Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is busy trying to find a way to get out of an agreement he made with the legendary Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). In return for 13 years as captain of the Black Pearl, Sparrow agreed to spend 100 years working as part of Jones's ghastly crew. Over time such crewmembers meld with the sea around them (explaining Davy Jones's squid-like head) so it is esay to see why Sparrow isn't eager to fulfill his half of the bargain.
Simultaneously, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley) find themselves arrested and condemned to death on their wedding day. They are charged for helping Sparrow escape in the first movie and an unscrupulous agent of the East Indies Trading Company offers them reprieve if they can find Sparrow and return with his compass.
Of course, all the strands end up being intertwined with many opportunities for adventure, swordfighting, and sight gags. The characters split up and rejoin in various combinations letting each play off the other. Though adequate, these combinations and recombinations show Orlando Bloom to be the weakest of the ensemble unless he is using a sword. In every case he is overshadowed by the other person on the screen. He is still perfectly adequate for the earnest young man that is Will Turner but it further calls into question (as Elizabethtown and Kingdom of Heaven already have) whether Bloom has that aura necessary to be a Hollywood leading man.
As you'd expect, the movie seems to have hardly a frame that wasn't augmented in some way with computers and they are almost uniformly magnificant with equal attention being paid to the character in the center of the screen, secondary characters in the background (particularly when on Davy Jones's ship), and the fanciful backdrops in many scenes.
The centerpiece of computer effects, though, is the squid-encased head of Davy Jones. The voice and body movements are provided by the great Bill Nighy (who for several years now has quite literally been stealing every scene he's in) but the head is all computers and after the initial amazement you quickly accept it an stop thinking "wow, that's good computer work." Davy Jones should rightfully go alongside Gollum from the Lord of the Ring movies and last year's King Kong as great accomplishments in live-action character animation.
The other new character that exists entirely as CGI is the giant kraken (after the movie, join the debate on whether it is pronounced "crack-en" or "cray-ken") under the command of Davy Jones and capable of taking a ship to the bottom of the sea in one quick strokethough fortunately for the movie, whenever there is someone important on board it seems to take its time. Despite the fact that it provides a nice nostalgic nod to Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (a cameo for one of Kirk Douglas's grandchildren would have been a nice nod) it is perhaps overambitious and by its third appearance you're ready for it to move on and star in its own series of straight-to-video B-movies so that it can be ignored.
The same sense of ambition crept into the screenplay as well. The first movie was just a summertime confection. The characters were what they were and didn't need to grow or change. This time around the screenwriters were aware that it is part of something larger and tried to infuse character growth and conflict into things. Wisely they kept it limited to the Will and Elizabeth characters, mostly leaving Jack Sparrow alone. Unfortunately, the effort is limited to the final act and seems like a late addition even if it does give the ending a darkness that is unexpected.
Parents should be warned of that darker element in this movie. One acquaintance likened the change in tone to that between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back or Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Temple of Doom. I think mentioning those is overstating the case, director Gore Verbinski does skirt the edge of his PG-13 rating. If your child was old enough to handle the first movie they'll probably now be old enough to handle the second. If you aren't sure though, this is probably a very good candidate for pre-screening. There aren't any drugs, sex, or swearing, but there is death aplenty. Dozens of people are killed through the movie (though none graphically so on screen) and many scenes are simply grotesque (in a Gothic way). If nothing else, watch the first five minutes, which includes the extreme mistreatment of both a bird and a corpse; if you don't have a problem with that, the rest of the movie will likely be acceptable.
Really, though, it comes down to whether you like these characters or not. If you didn't like it the first time, don't try it again; you'll just annoy your friends with your masochistic contrarianism. However, if you do see it and still don't like it, you must promise to skip next year's third installment.
Oh, one final thing. You'll have probably heard that there is a reward through sticking around until the end of the credits. This is true. However, it is a stupid joke that you probably already thought of earlier in the movie and has none of the important (so far as I can tell) of the similar post-credit bit in X-Men 3. Since the movie has so many CGI companies involved, each of which simply runs their company phone book across the screen, the credits will last almost 10 minutes. Unless you watch credits anyway, I'd recommend just skipping this little surprise. If you want, e-mail me and I'll tell you what it was.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a Walt Disney Pictures release
Wide theatrical release July 7.
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightley, Bill Nighy
Running time: 150 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images
Alex's rating: 8 out of 10
Based on the timing for releasing Once in a Lifetime you just know there are a lot of people at Miramax Pictures who are thoroughly disappointed in the US soccer team's performance at the ongoing World Cup tournament. Entering the tournament, the American team was ranked eighth in the world and surely the schedulers were hoping that by opening the movie on July 7, two days for the World Cup final, America would either be basking in the glow of advancing late into the tournament or absolutely enamored with the game because the team had made it all the way to the final game.
It was not to be, though, as the American team failed to even score one goal in the opening round (we technically had another one, but it was scored for us by the opposing team) and limped home somewhat embarrassed. It is amazing enough that we had a team that could even dream of doing well but it still means that only the true soccer fans are still paying attention to the game and none of them are starry-eyed at the prospects of a reblooming of soccer in the United States.
© Miramax Pictures.
Once in a Lifetime is the story of the New York Cosmos and a brief period in the late 1970s when a soccer team in the United States was popular enough to sell out Giants Stadium (more than 70,000 people). The North America Soccer League folded completely in 1985 and has pretty much slipped from the popular consciousness in the two decades since. Most people would be hard pressed to name one team from the current professional soccer league in the United States let alone from a league that peaked 30 years ago.
That league is a has-been that almost never was, but through an unlikely series of events one team in the league came to be owned by Warner Entertainment, then one of the largest communications companies in the country. As is appropriate for a New York City professional sports team the owners quickly decided to try and buy victory. So they somehow (millions of dollars) convinced the most famous soccer player in the world, Pelé, to come out of retirement and play for three years. Then they brought in one of Italy's most famous players (Giorgio Chinaglia) and then one of Germany's (Franz Beckenbauer). The names brought them press and victories which brought them fans and sell out crowds.
The story being told is interesting, especially since unlike other explosions of soccer in the United States it wasn't tied to a flukish victory on the international scene. Soccer interest spiked in the 1950s after the U.S. unexpectedly defeated England and then after unexpected success at the 1994 World Cup and 1996 Olympics Major League Soccer was able to launch itself and has recently celebrated its 10th mostly anonymous season. Unfortunately the filmmakers overcommit on the significance of it all. They promise to tie the flash-in-the-pan popularity to the societal malaise and excess of New York City in the late '70s (invoking both Son of Sam and Studio 54) but never quite accomplish this other than some stock video and newspaper montages.
They also indicate a solid line between the North America Soccer League and the current state of soccer in the United States. Surely such a line exists and you'd think it an easy case to make but the film leaves it for the last five minutes and simply declares it rather than demonstrating it.
© Miramax Pictures.
The participants in the story are never brought together to interact but rather argue with each other through interviews in which they were apparently told what others had said. This provides some amusing moments but also feels contrived. There is a big hole in the middle of it since Pelé never appears (and it is amusingly implied this is because they wouldn't pay for his time) and yet plays such a vital role in the story and the arguments.
In the end it felt like a decent PBS documentary. It is certainly worth seeing if you have any interest at all in soccer and its history. The basic thrust carries with it the nostalgic impossibility of being told that David Cassidy was once a huge star but it doesn't really bring enough to the experience that I can recommend dropping any real money to see it.
Once in a Lifetime is a Miramax Pictures release
Limited theatrical release July 7
Directed by Paul Crowder and John Dower
Written by John Dower and Mark Monroe
Running Time: 97 minutes
Rated PG-13 for language and some nudity
Alex's rating: 5 out of 10
(Send an email to Alex Stroup)
Alex Stroup works in Web functional design and married his way into this Disney thing. He currently focuses on movie reviews for Disney theatrical releases and other family-friendly films.