REVIEW: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

CAST

Johnny Depp (Into The Woods)
Penelope Cruz (Grimsby)
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)
Ian McShane (Hercules)
Kevin McNally (Valkyrie)
Sam Clafin (The Quiet Ones)
Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (I Origins)
Keith Richards (The Simpsons)
Stephen Graham (Gangs of New York)
Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter)
Judi Dench (Skyfall)
Gemma Ward (The Great Gatsby)
Luke Roberts (Reign)

After a failed attempt to rescue his first mate, Joshamee Gibbs in London, Captain Jack Sparrow is brought before King George II. The king wants Jack to guide an expedition to the Fountain of Youth before King Ferdinand and the Spanish Navy can locate it. Jack’s old nemesis, Captain Hector Barbossa, now a privateer in service to the British Navy after losing his leg and ship, the Black Pearl, which he says was sunk, is heading the expedition. Jack refuses the offer and escapes. He meets up with his father, Captain Teague, who warns Jack about the Fountain’s rituals. Jack learns someone is impersonating him to recruit a crew to find the Fountain. The impostor is Angelica, Jack’s former lover, and the daughter of the ruthless pirate Blackbeard, who practices voodoo magic and wields the mythical “Sword of Triton” that controls his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. While Jack is shanghaied aboard Blackbeard’s ship, Gibbs escapes execution by memorizing and destroying Jack’s map showing the Fountain’s location, forcing Barbossa to take him along.

Meanwhile, after a failed mutiny aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack is forced to guide the crew to the Fountain. Blackbeard seeks the Fountain’s power to circumvent his predestined fatal encounter with a “one-legged man”, who happened to be Barbossa. Jack must find two silver chalices aboard Juan Ponce de León’s missing flagship, the Santiago. The Fountain’s water must simultaneously be drunk by two people from the chalices. Drinking from one chalice containing a mermaid’s tear will extend life; the second person dies, their remaining years of life transferred to the other drinker. Jack also discovers that the Black Pearl was captured and shrunk before being added to Blackbeard’s collection of other shrunken ships in bottles.

The Queen Anne’s Revenge heads for Whitecap Bay to find and harvest mermaid tears. A mermaid named Syrena is caught, but Philip Swift, a captive missionary, falls in love with her. Reaching Ponce de León’s ship on an uncharted island, Angelica and Blackbeard coerce Jack into retrieving both chalices. Jack locates the grounded, decaying vessel, only to find Barbossa there. Both claim that the Spanish have taken the chalices, after it was nowhere to be found on the vessel.

Jack and Barbossa team up to sneak into the Spanish camp and steal the chalices. Barbossa reveals he only wants revenge against Blackbeard for attacking the Black Pearl, and his leg being amputated. Jack and Barbossa escape with the chalices. Meanwhile, Syrena, reciprocating Philip’s love, is tricked into shedding a tear. Blackbeard collects it, leaving her to die while Philip is forced to go with them. Jack returns with the chalices and bargains with Blackbeard for Angelica’s safety, Jack’s confiscated magical compass, and Gibbs’ release. In return, Jack vows to give Blackbeard the chalices and lead him to the Fountain; Blackbeard agrees, and Gibbs is set free with the compass.

At the Fountain, Blackbeard’s crew are confronted by Barbossa and his men and they battle while Barbossa and Blackbeard fight. The Spanish suddenly arrive, intending to destroy the Fountain, believing its power an abomination against God. When Barbossa stabs Blackbeard with a poisoned sword, Angelica pulls it out but is cut and poisoned. Barbossa obtains Blackbeard’s magic sword and gains control of the Queen Anne’s Revenge and her crew. Philip is mortally wounded, but he returns to free Syrena. She retrieves the missing chalices and gives them to Jack, telling him not to waste her tear. Syrena goes back to the dying Philip. She says she can save him if he asks her to. When he asks for her forgiveness, she takes him underwater.skeletyi-v-shkafuWith Blackbeard and Angelica both nearing death, Jack wants Angelica to drink from the chalice containing the tear. Instead, Blackbeard drinks it, asking his daughter to sacrifice herself. Angelica agrees and drinks from the second chalice. Anticipating that the self-serving Blackbeard would sacrifice his daughter, Jack lied about which chalice contained the tear to save Angelica’s life and Blackbeard’s soul. Angelica’s wounds are healed as the Fountain fatally consumes Blackbeard’s body. Although Angelica claimed she loves Jack, he distrusts her intentions and strands her on a cay. Now wielding Blackbeard’s magical sword, Barbossa captains the Queen Anne’s Revenge and returns to piracy.  Jack finds Gibbs, who had used the compass to locate the Revenge. He reclaimed the shrunken Black Pearl and the other conquered ships in bottles, carrying them in a gunny sack. The two leave, hoping to revert the Black Pearl to its original size. In a post-credits scene, a voodoo doll of Jack crafted by Blackbeard washes ashore and is found by grinning Angelica.On Stranger Tides is not a perfect film, but as an installment to a decent enough franchise it is a more than worthy one. I’m pretty sure if you’re looking for a good time going into it, you will have fun.

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REVIEW: MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

CAST

Eva Green (Sin City 2)
Asa Butterfield (Hugo)
Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan)
Judi Dench (Skyfall)
Rupert Everett (Shrek 2)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Chris O’Dowd (St. Vincent)
Terence Stamp (Big Eyes)
Ella Purnell (Kick-Ass 2)
Finlay MacMillan (Waterloo Road)
Lauren McCrostie (The Falling)
Kim Dickens (Hollow Man)

For years Abe Portman (Terence Stamp) tells stories to his Floridian grandson Jake (Asa Butterfield) about his childhood battling monsters and spending World War II living at “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” at Cairnholm, Wales. The home’s children and their headmistress, Miss Alma Peregrine (Eva Green), possess paranormal abilities and are known as “Peculiars”. After 16-year-old Jake receives a phone call from his grandfather, he goes to his house with his drugstore supervisor Shelly (O-Lan Jones) and finds his grandfather with his eyes missing. Abe tells Jake to go to “the Cairnholm loop of September 3, 1943”, and that the “bird” will tell him everything. Abe then dies mysteriously. As Shelly joins Jake with her gun, he sees one of the monsters from Abe’s stories appear behind her. But when he tells her to shoot behind, the monster disappears.
Convinced by his psychiatrist, Dr. Golan (Allison Janney) and by a letter from Miss Peregrine to Abe that he finds in one of his birthday presents from Abe, Jake and his father Frank (Chris O’Dowd) travel to Cairnholm, where Jake finds that the children’s home was destroyed during a Luftwaffe raid on “September 3, 1943”. At the house, Jake is startled when some of the Peculiar children, surprisingly, come out to greet him. They are sent by Miss Peregrine after she (in “bird” form) saw Jake and Frank arrive on the island. They take him through a cave and he finds himself in 1943, when their house was still intact. Miss Peregrine greets him and explains that she belongs to a class of female Peculiars named “Ymbrynes”, who can transform into birds (in Miss Peregrine’s case, a peregrine falcon) and manipulate time. To avoid persecution for being Peculiars, she and her children hide from the outside world in a time loop she created, set to September 3, 1943, meaning that they all live the same day over and over again and in the meantime, avoid aging. Time loops can only be entered by Peculiars.
Jake is introduced to the rest of the children, including aerokinetic Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), to whom he is attracted (like she was to his grandfather before). He also learns about “Hollowgasts” (or “Hollows”) – the monsters from Abe’s stories that are invisible to everyone. However, Jake learns he himself is a Peculiar; like his grandfather, he has the ability to see the Hollows. Hollows are Peculiars who were transformed by a failed experiment that used an Ymbryne’s powers to became immortals, killing the Ymbryne in the process. Led by shapeshifter Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), they hunt Peculiars to consume their eyeballs. When enough eyes are consumed, the Hollows transform into milky-white eyed visible Peculiars known as “Wights”.
A wounded Ymbryne avocet named Miss Avocet (Judi Dench), comes and reveals (also in another letter from Abe to Miss Peregrine) that Barron raided her January 2016 time loop at Blackpool, England, killed her children, and is trying to repeat his failed experiment by using more Ymbrynes. Worried, Miss Peregrine decides to move out with her children and Miss Avocet. While back in 2016, Jake realizes earlier that a Hollow might be nearby and goes back to the cave to warn his friends. He is followed by another visitor on the island, ornithologist John Lamont (Rupert Everett) who is revealed to be Mr. Barron. Barron had tried to find out about Miss Peregrine’s loop from Abe, but his Hollow companion, Mr. Malthus (whose past self is in the island) killed Abe before he could. Barron then posed as Dr. Golan, encouraging him to go to the island so Jake could guide him to the loop. Using Jake as a hostage at the children’s home, Barron forces Miss Peregrine to come with him to Blackpool in her bird form and leave Jake, her children, and Miss Avocet for their own safety.
Malthus arrives and kills Miss Avocet, but Jake and the children escape just as the Luftwaffe raid destroys the house and kills Malthus. Without Miss Peregrine to reset it, the loop closes, leaving them permanently in 1943. They travel on a sunken ocean liner to the Blackpool loop and use their abilities to fight Barron’s Hollow and Wight minions and rescue Miss Peregrine and other captive Ymbrynes. As a last resort, Barron poses as Jake to confuse the children. When the last Hollow arrives, Jake, who can see the monster, is able to avoid him. The Hollow kills Barron and Jake kills the Hollow.
Jake says goodbye to the children and returns to the present world in Florida, relating his adventures to Abe, who is alive and well: Malthus’ death in 1943 erased himself and his murder of Abe from the future (2016). Abe gives Jake a map of time loops, allowing Jake (for months in his own time) to reunite with his friends and Emma. The two kiss as Miss Peregrine (in her peregrine form) follows them and all of her children in their own ship, looking for another time loop.Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a delightful original adventure directed by Tim Burton. The fantasy iis highly entertaining with lovely characters.

REVIEW: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE

CAST

Joseph Fiennes (Flashforward)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron man)
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)
Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins)
Martin Clunes (Doc Martin)
Simon Callow (Amadeus)
Judi Dench (Skyfall)
Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)
Colin Firth (Love Actually)
Mark Williams (Harry Potter)
Ben Affleck (Batman V Superman)
Rupert Everett (Shrek 2)

In 1593 London, William Shakespeare is a sometime player in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and poor playwright for Philip Henslowe, owner of The Rose Theatre. Shakespeare is working on a new comedy, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. Suffering from writer’s block, he has barely begun the play, but starts auditioning players. Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who has seen Shakespeare’s plays at court, disguises herself as “Thomas Kent” to audition, then runs away. Shakespeare pursues Kent to Viola’s house and leaves a note with the nurse, asking Thomas Kent to begin rehearsals at the Rose. He sneaks into the house with the minstrels playing that night at the ball, where her parents are arranging her betrothal to Lord Wessex, an impoverished aristocrat. While dancing with Viola, Shakespeare is struck speechless, and after being forcibly ejected by Wessex, uses Thomas Kent as a go-between to woo her. Wessex also asks Will’s name, to which he replies that he is Christopher Marlowe.When he discovers her true identity, they begin a secret affair. Inspired by her, Shakespeare writes quickly, with help from his friend and rival playwright Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe, completely transforming the play into what will become Romeo and Juliet. Then, Viola is summoned to court to receive approval for her proposed marriage to Lord Wessex. Shakespeare accompanies her, disguised as her female cousin. There, he persuades Wessex to wager £50 that a play can capture the true nature of love, the exact amount Shakespeare requires to buy a share in the Chamberlain’s Men. Queen Elizabeth I declares that she will judge the matter when the occasion arises.

When Richard Burbage, owner of the Curtain, finds out that Shakespeare has cheated him out of both money and the play, he goes to the Rose Theatre with his Curtain Theatre Company and starts a brawl. The Rose Theatre company drives Burbage and his company out and then celebrate at the local pub.

Viola is appalled when she learns Shakespeare is married, albeit separated from his wife, and she realises she cannot escape her duty to marry Wessex. Will discovers that Marlowe is dead, and thinks he is to blame. Lord Wessex suspects an affair between Shakespeare and his bride-to-be. Because Wessex thinks that Will is Kit Marlowe, he approves of Kit’s death, and tells Viola the news. It is later learned that Marlowe had been killed in an accident. Viola finds out that Will is still alive, and declares her love for him.

When Edmund Tilney, the Master of the Revels, is informed there is a woman player at The Rose, he closes the theatre for breaking the ban on women. Viola’s identity is exposed, leaving them without a stage or lead actor, until Richard Burbage offers them his theatre. Shakespeare takes the role of Romeo, with a boy actor as Juliet. Following her wedding, Viola learns that the play will be performed that day, and runs away to the Curtain. Planning to watch with the crowd, Viola overhears that the boy playing Juliet cannot perform, and offers to replace him. While she plays Juliet to Shakespeare’s Romeo, the audience is enthralled, despite the tragic ending, until Master Tilney arrives to arrest everyone for indecency due to Viola’s presence.

But the Queen is in attendance and restrains Tilney, instead asserting that Kent’s resemblance to a woman is, indeed, remarkable. However, even a queen is powerless to end a lawful marriage, and she orders Kent to “fetch” Viola because she must sail with Wessex to the Colony of Virginia. The Queen also tells Wessex, who followed Viola to the theatre, that Romeo and Juliet has won the bet for Shakespeare, and has Kent deliver his £50 with instructions to write something “a little more cheerful next time, for Twelfth Night”.

Viola and Shakespeare say their goodbyes, and he vows to immortalise her, as he imagines the beginnings of Twelfth Night, imagining her as a castaway disguised as a man after a voyage to a strange land.

Stoppard certainly knows what he’s about: The plot is delightful and the references elegant, clever parodies if you spot them or inconspicuous parts of the plot if you don’t. And the references are on all levels: to Shakespeares plays, his unknown life and the many theories that have been made about it, and his writer and actor collegues Will’s muse is Violet, played wonderfully by Gwyneth Paltrow, who shows off in this film her finest acting to date and credibly pulls off the tricky task of being both an object of poetic inspiration and a genuine, down-to-earth human being.

REVIEW: NINE

CAST

Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot)
Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises)
Penelope Cruz (Blow)
Judi Dench (Spectre)
Fergie (Poseidon)
Kate Hudson (Gossip)
Nicole Kidman (The Others)
Sophia Loren (Pret-A-Porter)

Guido Contini is a gifted Italian filmmaker who, at the age of fifty, has developed writer’s block and urges all the women in his life, alive and dead, to help him with it – his mind wanders to his unfinished set, where dozens of dancers and the film’s leading ladies appear – first Claudia Jenssen, his leading lady; then his wife Luisa; his mistress Carla; his costume designer and confidant Lilli; his beloved Mamma; Stephanie, an American fashion journalist from Vogue; and finally Saraghina, a prostitute from his childhood; (“Overture Delle Donne”). It is 1965, and at the famous Cinecittà movie studios, in Rome, ‘everyone has questions for Signor Contini.’
At a press conference at the Hotel Excelsior on the Via Veneto, he’s charming and colourful, avoiding any clear answer on his new movie – his ninth with producer, Dante, – tentatively entitled Italia. Here he meets Stephanie, a Vogue fashion journalist, with whom he begins a flirtation. Escaping the biting probes of the reporters, he creates an elaborate fantasy, which becomes (“Guido’s Song”) where he explains that he wishes he were young and energetic once again, since his talent was better then.

He escapes the press conference, the reporters and his producer and arrives at the Bellavista Spa Hotel. While being examined by the doctor, he receives a call from Carla, his mistress (“A Call from the Vatican”). She describes her desire for him, as he excitedly listens on the other end. She arrives at the spa, expecting to share his suite, but is upset to find that she’s staying in a shabby pensione by the train station. Meanwhile, Guido learns that a Cardinal is also staying at his hotel and tells the cardinal’s assistant to arrange a meeting.

However, Dante soon arrives at the spa and escorts Contini to a banquet hall where the entire production team is assembled to help him prepare for his film. He sees Lilli, his costume designer, and begs for inspiration, while criticizing the costume she’s in the middle of making as not being something an Italian woman would wear. She reminds him of Luisa’s birthday the previous day and disagrees, saying that it reminds her of Folies Bergère, a Parisian music hall that featured showgirls, where she ‘learnt her art’ (“Folies Bergères”).

The Cardinal agrees to meet him and advises him to lead a more moral life and look to his youth for inspiration. Guido’s thoughts lead him to remembering Saraghina, a prostitute whom he and his friends paid to teach them the art of love and sex (“Be Italian”). Young Guido is caught by his school teachers/priests and whipped by his principal. He awakens on top of Carla, in a fit of anxiety and abruptly leaves to meet his production team for dinner. She wants to come, but he vehemently refuses, reminding her that they don’t want to hurt either of their spouses.

At dinner, he’s happily surprised to see Luisa, who has come at Lilli’s request. He embraces her and wishes her a happy birthday, promising that when she returns home, the house will be filled with flowers. She sits, and the young priest from earlier, who recognizes her as one of Guido’s earlier actresses, joins the table. In song, Luisa explains how she’s become a different woman to be Guido’s wife, abandoning her acting career to be at his side (“My Husband Makes Movies”). She then notices Carla entering the restaurant and leaves immediately, saying she feels tired. Guido doesn’t understand why and follows her, asking what’s happened. She ignores him and when he returns to the restaurant and sees Carla, he finally understands. He demands that Carla go back to the pensione, and she leaves, heartbroken.

When Guido goes to the suite to try to smooth things over, Luisa refuses to listen. He goes to the lobby and meets Stephanie, who has tracked him down. Guido and Stephanie continue to flirt, and she describes her love for his movies and how fashionable he makes everything seem (“Cinema Italiano”). She leaves her room key in his pocket. While in her room, watching her undress, he realizes how much he cares for his wife and leaves. He returns to the suite and promises that he’s done with cheating. Luisa embraces him, but he’s called away to help Carla, who’s overdosed on pills. The doctor comments how reckless and immoral Guido is, which Guido doesn’t contest. He stays with Carla until her husband arrives. He returns to the hotel to find that Luisa has left and the crew has returned to Rome to begin filming.

His mother returns to him to advise him to repair his life (“Guarda La Luna”). He calls Luisa from the studio to beg her to come to the screen testing that evening. She hangs up without response. He arrives at the set to film shots of Claudia in her costumes. She does a few takes, but leaves, saying she’ll return when she reads the script. Guido agrees that that’s fair and drives her away. They’re followed by paparazzi, but he manages to lose them. Claudia realizes that there is no script and they take a walk. She asks him what he wants the film to be about and his description closely resembles his own ordeal: a man lost and in love with so many women. When they stop to rest, she tells him that she loves him but he is unable to love her (“Unusual Way”). Claudia tells him he doesn’t see the real her, only the movie star he has created for the masses. She leaves.

He returns to review screen tests of new actresses and keeps looking to the back to see if Luisa has arrived. He’s relieved when she finally does. She watches and is heartbroken to see him say something in a clip to an actress that he’d said to her when they first met. When everyone leaves, she explains to him that he’s reminded her that she’s not special, just another link in the chain and leaves him (“Take It All”). He finally comes to terms with his mental block (“I Can’t Make This Movie”), realizing that he’s lost everything: his wife, his muse, his talent, and has nothing to make the movie. He apologizes to the staff that there was never a movie, just an idea, and has the set destroyed before leaving Rome.

Two years later, Guido is in a café in Anguillara looking at an advertisement for a play starring Luisa. He waits outside the theatre that night, and watches her leave with a man. He walks with Lilli a few days later and tries to find more information about her. Lilli tells him that she’s not going be to be the middle-man for them, implying that Luisa asks for him as well. She asks if he will ever make a movie again. He says that he won’t because he wouldn’t know what to make, except a movie about a man trying to win back his wife. Lilli says that that’s a good start and the costumes won’t be too bad either.

Guido returns to his element, passionate about a story once more. As he speaks with his actors about the scene, his nine-year-old self (Giuseppe Spitaleri) gathers the cast of Guido’s life together. As Guido takes his place in the director’s chair, the cast of Guido’s life assemble on the scaffolding behind him, culminating with the arrival of his mother and nine-year-old Guido running to sit on the older Guido’s lap (“Finale”). Luisa arrives without being seen and watches in that background, happy to see Guido back to his old self. She smiles as he is raised on a crane and calls, “Action!”Unusual story structure, creative direction, cinematography and editing, interesting characters and great performances from a top flight cast produced a compelling, convincing movie.

REVIEW: THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK

CAST

Vin Diesel (XXX)
Colm Feore (Thor)
Thandie Newton (Crash)
Judi Dench (Skyfall)
Karl Urban (Dredd)
Alexa Davalos (Clash of The Titans)
Linus Roache (Batman Begins)
Keith David (The Cape)
Nick Chinlund (Training Day)
Mark Gibbon (Robin Hood Beyond Sherwood)
Terry Chen (Bates Motel)
Christina Cox (Stargate SG.1)
Peter Williams (Catwoman)
Christopher Heyerdahl (Sanctuary)

The film opens years after the first film, once again introducing us to Riddick (Vin Diesel), who is once again on the run from bounty hunters. After escaping from his latest pursuers, he finds his way back to Inam (Keith David), who – with an air elemental (Judi Dench) – convince Riddick that he is the only one that can save their planet (and others) from the Necromongers, a race of war-happy individuals who are laying waste to one planet after another and claiming them as their own, assimilating whoever accepts and destroying who doesn’t. Lead by the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), they are seeking out the utopian Underverse.

Riddick is there as the planet is assaulted, but isn’t able to do much, as he’s quickly outnumbered and outgunned. However, when he’s captured by the Necromongers, he figures a way to escape in the middle of a process that scans his thoughts. He then flies off to the prison planet Crematoria to seek out Jack, a girl from the original, who now goes by Kyra (Alexa Davalos). Once the two meet up again, they have to escape from Crematoria, which manages a toasty 700 degrees in the daylight. Meanwhile, Lady Vaako (Thandie Newton) and Lord Vaako (Karl Urban) are dispatched to persue Riddick, as the Lord Marshal has other plans for him.

While flawed, Riddick is certainly ambitious. The production design is nothing short of spectacular, and the visual style is an explosion of what the first film offered – I especially liked the opening, where Riddick seems to be running across the tops of a maze that stretches out to the horizon. Costume design is superb, while the film’s visual effects are not seamless, but still very strong. Overall, the creation of this universe”the film exists in is first-rate.

Chronicles of Riddick offers some pretty good performances. Few growl out one-liners better than Diesel; while there’s not a lot of depth to the performance, it’s an interesting character that I don’t think any other actor would be as right for as Diesel is. Supporting performances by Newton, Dench, Fiore and others are also enjoyable. Overall, the film is a fine attempt to take the character into an epic that operates on a much grander scale than the first film.