Monthly Archives: May 2011

Review – Pirates of the Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides 3D (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

When it comes to a fourth movie in a franchise, a sceptic might wonder if it is merely an easy excuse to rake in money, ahead of taking a risk and dreaming up something innovative. Other fourth instalments, such as Die Hard 4 and Fast 4 (not to mention Fast 5), have lacked creativity in favour of the familiar themes and characters that audiences have come to love. The same can be said for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Despite director Rob Marshall’s (Memories of a Geisha, Nine, Chicago) attempts to spice up the Pirates of the Caribbean series, On Stranger Tides illustrates that it might have been better just to have ended the series after the third instalment, At World’s End.

Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the reformed pirate, dressed admirably as a respectable Royal Navy Officer.

On Stranger Tides is based on the book by Tim Powers and centres once again on Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, The Tourist), as the droll pirate with warped logic and a twisted moral complexion. This time around, he is out to find the Fountain of Youth. The Spanish and the English are also in a race to find this place, and only Sparrow knows the way. (Although, whether Sparrow has actually been to the Fountain of Youth is, of course, a little dubious, due to his canny nature.)

But to enter the fountain requires certain things that will not be simple to acquire. Plus, the feared and ruthless pirate, Blackbeard (Ian McShane – Kung Fu Panda, Coraline, The Golden Compass), is also hell-bent on reaching the fountain in order to preserve his life for many more years.

The plot is filled with twists and deceptions that have become a predictable feature of the series. The storyline is at times ridiculous; yet, one accepts it knowing that he/she has not gone to watch a serious or realistic film.

One of the new characters in the series, the feared pirate, Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

However, the most disappointing aspect of On Stranger Tides is the script. It hampers the film and, primarily, sells the two main stars short. Whilst Johnny Depp gives another fine performance as Captain Sparrow, he lacks his trademark wittiness and oddities. Even his outrageous stunts no longer appear so outrageous anymore. Maybe we are too used to ‘witty Jack’ and expect too much from him. In fairness, it is almost impossible to light up the scene all the time with a brilliant comeback line. Nevertheless, the script for this movie is a far cry from that of Part I, The Curse of the Black Pearl, which had some fantastic lines.

Just as Depp has been let down, so too has Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, The Tailor of Panama, The King’s Speech). Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, who has now seemingly given up the life of a pirate for that of a respectable English naval officer. Barbossa’s character is a pale shadow of the one who entertained us so magnificently in the first three films. This is a real shame, as his rivalry with Sparrow in the past has made for terrific entertainment.

Captain Sparrow taking the beautiful Angelica to the Fountain of Youth via a river in the jungle.

Despite being conspicuously absent from this film, the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are certainly not missed. Their performances in the series deteriorated with each movie. Alas, their replacements, Blackbeard and Angelica (Penélope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Sahara, Nine), are hardly much better. McShane does not perform badly, even though Blackbeard’s character does not have the depth to be the ‘next Davie Jones’ (played by Bill Nighy in parts II, Dead Man’s Chest, & III in the series); whilst the sexy Cruz offers so much and delivers agonisingly little.

The special effects at least give the film a semi-redemptive feature. With the exception of one or two instances, they are pretty decent throughout the movie. Again though, they look hardly any different from scenes in the other films in the franchise, so viewers are unlikely to give producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, Black Hawk Down, National Treasure) much credit. The 3D is virtually non-existent too.

Over-all, On Stranger Tides continues the worsening trend of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and of over-extended franchises in general. The fourth instalment appears tired and out of ideas, to the extent that not even Captain Sparrow can make us enjoy, or think much of the film. But hey, fans of the series will flock to cinemas worldwide in great numbers to see their favourite characters again, enabling those involved in the movie to make a fortune once more. And fans will probably do the same again when the fifth part comes out in a few years time.

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Review – Thor 3D (12a) [2011]

Star Rating 3.5/5

Another superhero movie? Haven’t we seen it all before? In fairness, one probably has seen a great deal of what Thor has to offer; especially if one is interested in this genre. Nevertheless, despite being a predominantly male-orientated film, Thor is an enjoyable movie with some awesome special effects.

Thor, left, standing behind his father, King Odin, and alongside his brother, Loki as they approach their enemies..

Thor is about (surprise, surprise) a young man called Thor (Chris Hemsworth – Star Trek, Red Dawn, The Avengers Assemble). He is a ferocious, unnaturally powerful warrior and heir to the throne of Asgard. Yet, Thor is arrogant and cruel. After disobeying his father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins – Hannibal series, Mission Impossible II, Fracture), he is stripped of his powers and his hammer (the source of his powers); and banished from Asgard.

He wakes up to find himself in the desert of New Mexico, America, to be surrounded by a scientist called Jane (Natalie Portman – Black SwanStar Wars IIII, Lawless), plus her assistants Darcy (Kat Dennings – The 40 Year Old Virgin, The House Bunny, Lives of the Saints) and Erik (Stellan Skarsgard – Pirates of the Caribbean II & III, Angels and Demons, The Avengers Assemble). Thor is determined to do whatever it takes to regain his god-like powers and return to Asgard. Meanwhile in Asgard, in Thor’s absence, a traitor increases his influence over the ailing Odin and his court. This will set Asgard to war, again, against the frost-people of Jotenheim.

Despite being about fictional realms, the plot for Thor is easy to follow. The director, Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Frankenstein, Valkyrie), has structured the film well so that each scene flows nicely after the other and the pace of the film is just right. As a result, Thor is a very entertaining movie. Undoubtedly, the action scenes in the film are the highlight as they are superb and will leave viewers wanting more.

The movie may lack the goriness of Watchmen (not to mention the political connotations of that film); yet, Thor makes up for it in special effects. Regardless of whether they are accompanying the action scenes or are merely backgrounds for the fictional sceneries of the different worlds, the special effects throughout are fantastic. In some ways, they are so good they almost rival those in Avatar. It is a shame that Asgard is explored less than Pandora because some of the sceneries in Thor have the same ‘wow’ factor; particularly during the credits at the end. The 3D assists and makes the effects a little more spell-binding; however, on the whole, Thor is another example of a 2D film that has been converted, post-production, into 3D.

Thor promising Jane that he will return to Earth to see her.

Unlike the action scenes and the special effects, the acting in Thor is quite average. Chris Hemsworth performs adequately as the main character. But, as Thor, he is not given the depth of personality to make himself stand out in the same way as Christian Bale does as Batman. This results in him coming across as quite immature and superficial.

It is a shame that less attention is given to Thor’s younger brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston – Conspiracy, Midnight In Paris, The Avengers Assemble), as it could have made for interesting viewing. But, alas, we are deprived of this. Instead, we have the standard ‘lesser’ brother who wants to emulate his older, more decorated sibling. The other characters, for better or worse, are not given much time on screen. Again, they all have little by way of depth and do not add much to the film. (Yes, even the gorgeous Natalie Portman.)

Ultimately, Thor may initially have the feel of ‘yet-another-superhero-movie.’ It may not have the violence of Watchmen or the deep characters of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, or the political nuances of those films. Nevertheless, Thor is a fun film with plenty of action and some awe-inspiring sci-fi-style special effects.

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Review – Rio 3D (U) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

In recent times, there have been some exceptional animated films; the pick of the bunch being Toy Story 3. Kung-Fu Panda and Coraline have their merits for humour and horror, respectively; however, they lack the je ne sais quoi of Toy Story 3. For similar reasons, Rio falls short, despite being enjoyable and cute.

Blu and Linda showing that they are the best of friends

Rio is about a blue McCaw called Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network, Zombieland, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), a shy and dorky bird that can’t fly. At a young age, Blu is taken from his home in the Amazon and finds himself randomly in Minnesota. There, he is looked after by a young girl Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann – The Cable Guy, 17 Again, Knocked Up). Fifteen years later, Tulio (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro – 300, Che I & II, I Love You Philip Morris), a scientist, finds Linda and tells her that Blu is the last of his species. There is only one other blue McCaw and she is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thus, the only way to save the species is by taking Blu to Rio.

Once in Rio, Blu is put into a cage with the beautiful, but feisty Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway – The Devil Wears Prada, Love And Other Drugs, One Day). Yet, dark forces in the underworld of Rio desire these birds for profit. Not long after Blu and Jewel are caged up, they are stolen by smugglers; much to the consternations of Linda and Tulio. Blu and Jewel are determined to get out of captivity: the latter to fly freely through the Amazon; the former to find Linda. It will not be easy and being chained together makes matters harder for them.

There is nothing especially original about Rio’s plot. It moves at the right pace so as to keep its viewers interested, but it gets a bit naff towards the end. Nevertheless, there are many sweet and funny moments in the film; especially, the singing and rapping by Pedro (Will.i.am. – Madagascar 2, Knight And Day, Freedom Writers) and Nico (Jamie Foxx – Collateral, Law Abiding Citizen, Miami Vice). Anne Hathaway also has a surprisingly powerful voice. But, on the whole, Rio is not as funny as the hilarious Kung-Fu Panda (and perhaps Kung-Fu Panda 2, which is released later this year).

Blu and Jewel being shown the way by another bird who is willing to help them.  Alas, the director and script-writer, Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age I, II, III), has ensured that Rio is not a satire. This could have given the film a sophisticated edge. Additionally, the characters are very two-dimensional: Blu somehow looks and acts just as geeky as Jesse Eisenberg did in The Social Network; whilst Jewel acts throughout like a spoilt princess with no claim to royalty.

On another note, the graphics are fine for what the movie is; although, the 3D effects add little to the film. Indeed, Rio is not Avatar in the sense that, like Legend Of The Guardians and Alice In Wonderland, it was not made to be, primarily, a 3D movie.

All in all, Rio is a movie for children. It is cute and will put smiles on the faces of those who watch it. However, if one thinks that it’s going to be the next Toy Story 3 then disappointment will follow.

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