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“Pirates of the Caribbean on Stranger Tides”: A Lackluster Impression of a Jack Sparrow Movie

jacksparrowBy Chauncey Telese

Hello and sorry about not getting this up after the midnight show but I got home at like four in the morning and had to be up early so I couldn’t tap into my inner honey badger to pull off a review. Plus my mind has been so fried lately with school I didn’t really have a coherent thought (less so then usual anyway) so I figured as a service to you guys, I’d stew it over for a few hours before I offer you my take on why “Pirates 4” failed to live up to my expectations, but also why it doesn’t necessarily deserve to be beheaded by Ned Stark.

Besides the world ends at 3 pm on Saturday so I figured I deserve one last review before that huge earthquake devours us whole y’know? Before that though I figured I should do my normal hits on the week that was especially because this was my last big week of network TV (“Glee” and “Modern Family” end next week) before I’m almost without stuff to watch this summer (at least until the end of June when “True Blood” comes back). So let’s get to it.


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The Governator managed to torpedo his movie comeback before it got started and basically became the foreign-born equivalent of John Edwards (sort of how people are calling Dirk the German Larry Bird, except to be fair to Arnold, Edwards’s scandal was much sleazier) and yet at the same time, made me marvel at how in the TMZ era where Tiger hits a tree in the wee hours of Black Friday and eight hours later his career implodes, to Arnold keeping a huge scandal under lock and key especially since he served two terms as Governor after the indiscretion occurred.

The other thing that made me smile a little was how Bill O’Reilly tried to argue that the internet is ruining the lives of potential politicians because their mistakes will be made public. While yeah, that’s kind of true it’s not like the internet is forcing people to cheat on their wives, get DUI’s, and get into other sorts of shenanigans either. The only difference between when people like Kennedy and DiMaggio were doing those kind of things that, if they happened today, would’ve been ginormous deals, but since they happened in the “Mad Men” era those things were easier to conceal then in the 24 hour news cycle world we live in now. In fact, O’Reilly’s theory on the internet and his subsequent debate with Karl Rove made me actually utter the sentence “Karl Rove is right on this one.”

Back to Arnold, I knew something was bound to happen with him eventually and am shocked that a guy as savvy as he is and as privy to as many cautionary tales as he is found himself in this spot. As a guy, Arnold is in my guy hero hall of fame and unless there are women named Sarah Connor buried under his home he doesn’t lose that spot but he kind of fell a couple of notches on this one.

“Parks and Recreation” just finished the most impressive 30 episode run of any comedy in a long time, if not ever. They’ve come a long way since mediocre Season One and after last night’s epic Li’l Sebastian funeral, the visit to the Fourth Floor, Tom leaving for 720 entertainment, the return of Tammy I, and just the last 10 minutes of the finale, it is safe to say that this is the best comedy on TV and will win the Emmy this year.

This show is an example of how to utilize everyone’s talents both behind and in front of the camera and am glad NBC stuck with it (ditto “Community”). “Raising Hope” by the way finished their freshman year and they are my favorite underrated show right now, hopefully the good times continue during season two. Ed Helms did a good job on “SNL” and took part in the live action version of “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” with Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon as ACE and Gary, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carrell (who do the actual voices) as the villains. That was one of my favorite TV Funhouse segments ever and can’t wait for Timberlake hosting the season finale today (despite the fact that Lady Gaga is the musical guest and is guaranteed to be in at least two sketches).

Jennifer Love Hewitt is replacing Mariska Hargitay on SVU (though Hargitay will stick around on the show) which I’m torn on. On one hand, she is talented enough to make it work, but the thing that has made SVU survive when so many other “Law & Order” shows have died is that Benson and Stable were more then just a plain detective team, they were partners and friends, so I think they’re playing with fire. Also, Cuddy is leaving “House” and while it is kind of a bummer they needed to do something for the last season but she should’ve signed on for one more year just to finish the show out.

“The Dark Knight Rises” began filming in England this week and judging by the first pictures of Tom Hardy as Bane, there is no way the world ends tomorrow because if there is someone up there, they can’t deny humanity what will truly be a transcendent Batman movie.

Lastly, R.I.P. Macho Man Randy Savage, as a childhood wrestling dork, it was sad to hear of Macho Man’s untimely death. He helped make the WWF popular by being one of the most flamboyant guys in the ring and second to Hulk Hogan knew how to work the crown with his “Oooooh Yeah” which was eventually used by Duff Man. He will be missed and I hope his WWF and WCW matches are somewhere on YouTube.

Okay, on to “Pirates 4,” a movie that got beat down by die-hard Sparrow fans and movie critics in general like they were the New Orleans PD on “Treme.”  I was worried because the words “pay check movie,” “lazy,” “half-hearted” and other less then savory adjectives were thrown around. It seemed a tad harsh, but when there is that much of a consensus, the signs definitely are there. After seeing this (by the way, great crowd last night, lots of pirate outfits) I can see the complaints but didn’t want this movie to get eaten up by the Krakken or have Calypso suck the movie into a whirlpool and have it spend eternity working on the Flying Dutchman.

I felt that this installment of Pirates forgot the one fundamental rule of action/adventure movies and that is you always show and only tell when you have to. They also forgot what made the first movie as amazing as it was. If you said back in 2003 that a movie based on a Disney ride starring Johnny Depp who couldn’t open a movie to save his life, Kiera Knightly who no one in the US has heard of but gained stardom for “Bend it Like Beckham,” Orlando Bloom who had two “Lord of the Rings” under his belt and had the third one come out later that year, and was about pirates which hadn’t been successful since probably “Muppet Treasure Island,” was going to be a smash, you’d be a liar.

Yet it was the third highest-grossing movie of 2003 beating out “X-Men 2” and both Matrix sequels, in fact the only two movies that beat it were the third “Lord of the Rings” and “Finding Nemo.” After Pirates hit it big, Johnny Depp would finally reap the benefits of playing every off-beat character he could find and had three Oscar nominations (his first for Sparrow) and couldn’t make a movie fail if he tried (see “Alice in Wonderland”). He had a Tom Hanks-like decade of mega hits and critical acclaim (technically, he’s still experiencing it), and all because the first movie fired on all cylinders.

The dialogue was witty, the characters all had clear goals, and it was fun and entertaining. The sequels were awesome at times but they forgot to make us care about the story. They introduced Davy Jones, who was an incredible villain but sadly had his origins sort of overlooked, Sparrow never had a goal except not to get eaten by the Krakken, and they shoehorned in Will and Elizabeth when they really shouldn’t have come back. The fourth film was supposed to rectify that because they dropped Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly, added Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane as Blackbeard. Tragically though, the biggest problems of the sequels weren’t solved and instead, made sort of worse.

The fourth film follows Sparrow as he escapes the gallows in London and tries to find a ship in order to resume his quest to find the Fountain of Youth. After meeting with his dad (welcome back, Keith Richards) he runs into Angelica (Cruz) who along with being a former flame of Sparrow’s, is the daughter of Blackbeard (McShane) and they too are trying to find the fountain.

Meanwhile Barbossa (Rush) is now an admiral for the British and he too is after the fountain but really after Blackbeard because, in a battle that we never see, he loses his leg and ultimately the Black Pearl to Blackbeard. That is basically the story and in a way it’s fine that they tried to make it simple; the problem is that they tack on subplots that don’t go anywhere and ignore the ideas that could’ve made it a stronger movie.

For instance, instead of ramping up Barbossa’s quest for revenge, it’s sort of on the back burner, they don’t really go into Angelica’s relationship with Blackbeard and why they care about each other, then they sort of squander the chemistry between Depp and Cruz because both characters never really care about each other but pretend to.

Gibbs is back, but they miss his appeal in that he is the guy who just knows every sea legend ever and just have him there to maintain continuity, also the Spanish navy sort of rolls in intermittently when they don’t need to.

Their biggest mistake to me though was trying to bring back the “Little Mermaid” sentiment by having newcomer Sam Clafin (a K-Mart Orlando Bloom) play a kidnapped missionary who for some reason falls for the mermaid that Blackbeard captures in order to activate the fountain. They didn’t need to do it and it totally derails the movie because we don’t really know who the hell the mermaid is but we sort of feel bad that she was captured. The ending also leads to nowhere and almost feels like they are trying to set up for a fifth movie which makes the fourth suffer.

It’s not all bad however, as I said Cruz and Depp do have chemistry and if it wasn’t for the fact that we never really believe that they care for each other it would’ve been more fun. Also, the introduction of the mermaids is awesome as they make the mermaids badass and creepy. Blackbeard is a fantastic villain and has a really cool ship that can shoot fire and his sword can control the ship, he also has zombie henchmen (though they didn’t do the zombies justice) and the ships he conquers end up living in a bottle.

The thing is that all of these positives are undercut at every moment because, like the two prior movies, Sparrow doesn’t really need to be here but he is because he is the lifeblood of the franchise. He doesn’t work with a love interest because his entire appeal is by being unpredictable and comically manipulative. This could’ve been a return to form but no one seems capable of executing and one of the big problems is that director Rob Marshall (of “Chicago” and “Memoirs of a Geisha”) was a terrible choice to do an action movie because he doesn’t have one on his resume.

Disney really dropped the ball with this pick because Marshall doesn’t know what to really do with the characters (though to be fair, the writers no longer seem invested in the characters either and just know what the audience wants and give them a half-assed rendition of it) and hasn’t figured out how to stage an action scene.

I left the movie slightly entertained but once it sunk in, it feels like a missed opportunity, which to me is the worst thing you can do with any movie. It’s like the sports equivalent to watching an athlete do amazing things on the court but you can always tell that he leaves something behind (Karl Malone, Dwight Howard, etc).

Oh well, maybe the fifth (and sixth) will be better, but I’m not holding my breath. Thank you for reading and stay tuned because assuming the world doesn’t end I will be back with HBO’s “Too Big to Fail,” I finally see “Everything Must Go” and “The Beaver” also, I get drunk and wake up in Bangkok with “The Hangover Part II” and experience pandemonium with “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Busy week I know but hey that’s Memorial Day right? Anyway, as always you can see these and other fine films at your local Edwards.

AND ALSO HAPPY 22ND BIRTHDAY TO