Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Dir: Gore Verbinski
In theatres July, 2006

Verbinski’s much anticipated sequel to the Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) falls, as many sequels do, a little short of it’s predecessor. All the players from the first film are back for another go at adventure on the high sea. This time Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) sets out to try and save his love Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) from execution. In order to do so, he must find Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and get something from him that will in theory set them all free. That is the basic thread of the film, though there are several other plot lines that are at times a little confusing and difficult to follow.

The most important thing to remember going into the film is that it is not a complete film in of itself. It is merely the first half of the second and third films. Much like the Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001 – 2003) trilogy, the films are meant to be seen as one piece and not two separate films. So, it doesn’t end it merely pauses as we wait a year for the second half. I am sure that Verbinski didn’t know for certain that sequels would come of his first film, but seeing it in this way almost separates the films into two separate instances.

The release strategy is not the only thing that separates Dead Man’s Chest from Curse of the Black Pearl. Even though the principle characters and actors are all the same, they seem to have taken on new characteristics as they further their development. The sense of distrust and lack of honesty only really hinted at in the first film, runs rampant in the second. Relationships are called into question and in the end, the audience is left slightly confused.

It is also important to know that it is really only the first part of two because the setup to get the action rolling takes up most of the film. Verbinski takes his time getting the characters where they need to be and the luxury of a 150 minute run time means that he can explore multiple story lines that would not normally be allowed in a shorter film. The third, and hopefully final, film of the series will determine whether or not he is successful.

Dead Man’s Chest also introduces a whole new villain in Davy Jones (Bill Nightly) to which Jack owes a great debt, and a set of supernatural pirates to crew his damned ship. Unlike the Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) crew, his is more believable to be of the sea and the effects used in their creation were spectacular.

Dead Man’s Chest is not without it’s flaws, but still worth seeing. Any fan of the first film will most likely enjoy the second film and will wait with baited breath for the second half of the journey already started.

Ultraviolet (2006)

Dir: Kurt Wimmer

Like a film student shopping with his parent’s American Express credit card, Kurt Wimmer manages to pack in more useless effects in ninety minutes than I ever thought possible. The script is nearly incomprehensible not only in story line, but in spoken dialogue. Not since, well never, have I ever felt more pain for the actors forced to speak the dialogue that was written for them on the page.

At moments the film obviously cuts to entire animated sequences that really should have made up the entire film. Like George Lucas, I don’t know why Wimmer bothered to use any real actors. The characters were so digitally altered that he should have just animated the entire thing and called it good.

Whatever attempt to bring some sort of message to the film was lost in a sea of effects and disorienting camera. We have no sense of where we are or what we are doing. There are so many film techniques in this film it is almost as though Wimmer was working from a checklist that a freshman film school teacher had given him. I have no doubt that on his desk sits a copy of the bane of cinema Syd Field’s Screenwriting (as he wrote the screenplay as well as directed) the book that I attribute to single handedly destroying Hollywood cinema.

Typically I can bring something positive out of every film that I see. Either it touches some part of me that enjoys some guilty pleasure or I can file it into the category of simple entertainment. With Ultraviolet this is simply just not possible; I can’t enjoy the experience when a filmmaker is so clearly insulting my intelligence for ninety minutes straight.

The only positive thing to come out of this film is a 90% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a $10 million loss at the box office. Every existing print, DVD and VHS of this film should be destroyed lest it be the only thing that survives the Armageddon providing some future archeologist the basis for judging our civilization.

Don’t believe me? Don’t Just take my word for it….

"Ultraviolet wants desperately to be a provocative, high-concept action thriller. It is apparently trying to say something about fear and terrorism, paranoia and racism. But it looks more like a shampoo commercial." -- Christie Lemire, A.P.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Dir: Robert Altman
In Theatres Now

After over thirty years on the air, the Midwestern radio program “A Prairie Home Companion” is being taken off the air by a larger corporation that no longer sees the need for a program of its old values.

This is Robert Altman’s best film in a long time. He captures the heart and soul of an entire generation through the lives of the characters on stage. Altman choreographs a cast including powerhouses like: Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline and Garrison Keillor as the big screen answer to his radio self, between beautiful images and sound design that only the master could create.

A Prairie Home Companion exists in that space where past, present and future collide with life and death and where people sing. It is a wonderful celebration of Americana and the past that made this nation great, a past that we are often all to eager to sweep under the carpet and declare dead in the face of progress. It is a film about death and the remembrance of those who have passed and what happens to what they leave behind. The radio show is dying but so are those in it, and their stories their lives will have to live on with those who will come next, but the question is, will they remember.

Leaving this film makes you want to do two things: write a check to NPR to make sure that future generations will be able to enjoy the real show for decades to come and seize each moment in life as your last, not just to live but to be alive. There is a difference.

As Guy Noir reminds us in the last shot “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Dir: David Frankel
Currently in Theatres

Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) has applied to be an assistant to the notorious Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) the head of a major fashion magazine. She hasn’t lived in New York long enough to shake her North Western college years and is desperately looking for work. She knows little about fashion and nothing about the magazine or the woman she has applied to work for and yet she is still willing to do the work that needs to be done in the hopes that after a year with Miranda, she can position herself in line to get the job she really wants, to be a journalist.

On the surface, the film is about the choices and sacrifices we make in the pursuit of our dreams and how much we can change in the process. There is no doubt that by the end of the film Andy has changed from the beginning of the film; whether she has changed for the better or has sacrificed too much of her life is debatable, but she has changed. Below the surface, though not far, it is a film about the fashion industry and the roles it plays in the larger society.

The film doesn’t deviate much from a textbook Hollywood film but it does maintain some grounding in reality, largely due to the performance of Meryl Streep. Through her we see the absolute venom that is Miranda; a woman who isn’t cruel because she thinks of it but just is. Miranda’s nature is to be a demanding woman who expects everything from everyone and wouldn’t think of anything less. The cast is quite well rounded by Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt and Adrian Grenier who plays Andy’s boyfriend that feels left behind from the new Andy.

The Devil Wears Prada is a smart comedy that manages to stay on this side of campy while still providing a host of takeaway lines. It stays away from being too preachy about the fashion industry, something that it could have easily done and definitely entertains.