Friday, May 20, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011, Rob Marshall)

I’m almost tempted not to bother writing a review for this, seeing as how the Pirates franchise has practically come to defined the expression “critic-proof.” Morever, it scarcely matters whether the audience likes these movies anymore, considering that the promise of Johnny Depp doing his Captain Jack thing puts asses in seats no matter how much the people attach to those asses complain about the movies after the fact. So let’s bring the discussion to Depp himself, whose creative well seems to be running dry, at least as far as the character is concerned. Oh sure, he does his usual thing, pulling faces, stumbling and slurring his way through the dialogue, but morphing into a man of action when backed into a corner. While his performance in the first (and best) Pirates was a subversive gem, practically de-pantsing the big-budget blockbuster that surrounded him, the sequels didn’t quite know what to do with him anymore. So big a hit was the first Pirates that the filmmakers became convinced that audiences legitimately cared about the adventures of Will and Elizabeth and the trade wars in which they had become ensnared, when in actuality they just wanted more Captain Jack. Unlike previous entries, On Stranger Tides makes Captain Jack the sole protagonist, and unfortunately Depp’s pirate shtick has become so well-worn that it’s no fun anymore.

It doesn’t help that, despite the presence of new director Marshall, Tides is just as bloated and enamored of eye candy as the last two Verbinski films. No longer is the Pirates team interested in making a silly, audience-pleasing swashbuckler- now they feel the need to churn out spectacles, separating opening-weekend crowds from $100 million or so of their money on opening weekend on their way to impressing shoppers with their eye-popping images on the latest HDTVs and Blu-Ray players on display at Best Buy. Because of this, Captain Jack more often than not feels out of place in his own movie. This wouldn’t be so damaging if the character still felt fresh- Depp’s a charismatic enough performer that when he brings his A game, he can win over the audience no matter how bad the movie. But because the movie as a whole is so second-rate, Depp is mostly a distraction, slowing down the action (which is mostly forgettable) so he can do his thing.

This isn’t to say that On Stranger Tides is without its pleasures. After all, Penelope Cruz looks mighty foxy in her pirate outfits. But the only performer who really conveys joy of performance is Geoffrey Rush, as the wizened old sea dog Barbossa. True, he hams it up just as much as Depp- even more, perhaps- but while Depp is mostly riffing by this point, Rush grounds his performance in the reality of this world, acting as slimy and gruff as the story will allow, and no more. He’s so good in this that I actually began to imagine a Pirates movie about Barbossa without Captain Jack getting in the way. Geoffrey Rush with a peg leg might not sell as many tickets as Johnny Depp in eyeliner, but the resulting movie would probably be a lot more fun.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ratings for 2011 releases

Here’s a list of Muriel-eligible releases I’ve seen so far in 2011. If it seems like I’m lenient with my ratings, reflect that my time is at a premium and I try to hand-pick the movies I really want to see while waiting to watch the ones about which I’m less enthusiastic until they hit Netflix. That is, of course, unless it’s something the Offspring wants to see, in which case they generally take precedence over anything else, for good (Rango) or ill (The Green Hornet).

Anyway, the ratings:

10 ratings
Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

9 ratings
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
Terri (Azazel Jacobs)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

8 ratings
Cold Weather (Aaron Katz)
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki)
House of Tolerance / Pleasures (Bertrand Bonello)
Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)
Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz)
Rango (Gore Verbinski)
Tabloid (Errol Morris)
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)

7 ratings
13 Assassins (Takashi Miike)
The Arbor (Clio Barnard)
Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)
Beginners (Mike Mills)
City of Life and Death (Lu Chuan)
Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
Heartbeats (Xavier Dolan)
The Interrupters (Steve James)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell)
Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois)
Potiche (Francois Ozon)
Project Nim (James Marsh)
Le quattro volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
Rapt (Lucas Belvaux)
Silent Souls (Aleksei Fedorchenko)
Submarine (Richard Ayoade)
The Time That Remains (Elia Suleiman)
Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean)
Warrior (Gavin O’Connor)
Weekend (Andrew Haigh)

6 ratings
50/50 (Jonathan Levine)
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Steven Spielberg)
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rapaport)
A Better Life (Chris Weitz)
Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston)
Cars 2 (John Lasseter)
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog)
The Debt (John Madden)
The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
The Guard (John Michael McDonagh)
Hanna (Joe Wright)
Incendies (Denis Villeneuve)
Leap Year (Michael Rowe)
Margin Call (J.C. Chandor)
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán)
Putty Hill (Matt Porterfield)
Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman)
Senna (Asif Kapadia)
Shame (Steve McQueen)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie)
Super 8 (JJ Abrams)
The Trip (Michael Winterbottom)
The Way Back (Peter Weir)
Win Win (Tom McCarthy)
Winnie the Pooh (Steve Anderson and Don Hall)

5 ratings
Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)
Carnage (Roman Polanski)
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
Dolphin Tale (Charles Martin Smith)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (David Yates)
The Housemaid (Im Sang-soo)
The Ides of March (George Clooney)
Insidious (James Wan)
Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga)
Kaboom (Gregg Araki)
Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson)
My Week With Marilyn (Simon Curtis)
Rio (Carlos Saldanha)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)
Thor (Kenneth Branagh)

4 ratings
Film: Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard)
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rob Marshall)
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (Robert Rodriguez)
The Three Musketeers: Someone Forgot to Put a Colon in the Title (Paul “Not Thomas” Anderson)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Michael Bay)
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Bill Condon)

3 ratings
The Green Hornet (Michel Gondry)
Happy Feet Two (George Miller)

2 ratings

1 ratings

0 ratings

Did not finish due to lack of interest:
Aurora (Cristi Puiu)
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (John Requa and Glen Ficarra)
The Future (Miranda July)
I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee Woon)
Rubber (Quentin Dupieux)
Special Treatment (Jeanne Labrune)

Well, obviously I didn’t see everything I wanted to before the Muriels deadline. So it goes. However, I’d still like to catch up with some movies I missed even if it’s just for my own edification. Here’s what I’d still be interested in seeing sooner or later, in rough order of preference:

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Martin Scorsese) [1]
Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog) [1] {now at Gateway, 10 Apr on DVD}
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky) [1]

My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa) [2] {6 Mar on DVD}
Pina (Wim Wenders) [2] {now @ Gateway}
The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar) [2] {6 Mar on DVD}

Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) [3]
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Jose Padilha) [3] {now on DVD}
The Mill and the Cross (Lech Majewski) [3] {now on DVD and streaming}
The Muppets (James Bobin) [3] {20 Mar on DVD}
Rampart (Owen Moverman) [3] {15 May on DVD}
Shit Year (Cam Archer) [3]
Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine) [3] {3 Apr on DVD}
War Horse (Steven Spielberg) [3] {3 Apr on DVD}
Young Adult (Jason Reitman) [3] {13 Mar on DVD}

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010, Werner Herzog)

Suppose someone told you that Werner Herzog made a documentary about the cave containing the world’s oldest prehistoric paintings. If you haven’t seen this, try to imagine the finished product. Chances are you’ll be pretty close to what Herzog actually churned out. In the case of many of Herzog’s more esoteric docs, there’s the feeling that he chose the subjects primarily because he wanted to experience them firsthand, but few of them have felt more like home videos from the world’s most exclusive working vacation than this one. Naturally, the stuff in the caves is the film’s highlight- for once, the 3-D actually works in the film’s favor, the extra dimension providing depth and texture to both the paintings and the caverns as a whole, and Herzog’s government mandated use of handheld lanterns enhance the beauty of the underground shots in a way more traditional lighting otherwise could not. Unfortunately, Herzog unwisely underscores these majestic shots with an portentous score that overwhelms the visuals- a particularly egregious misstep coming so soon after a scientist beseeches the other visitors to listen to and appreciate the silence of the cave.

Likewise, the stuff above ground is largely from the standard Herzog playbook, such as a cavalcade of esoteric interview subjects encouraged by the director to show off their idiosyncrasies, including an experimental archaeologist who dresses in reindeer pelts and the master perfumer literally trying to sniff out another undiscovered cave. All in all, there are precious few surprises in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, although the out-of-left-field postscript that closes the movie almost compensates. Still, if the idea of seeing immaculately preserved cave paintings from thirty millennia ago holds any interest for you, then walk, don’t run, because considering how few people actually get the chance to visit the Chauvet caves, this will probably be your only chance to check them out. So even if Cave is a disappointing film, it’s an important one nonetheless.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Potiche (2010, Francois Ozon)

Was beginning to worry that Ozon might not have another romp like 8 Women in him, but his reunion with Catherine Deneuve has pulled him out of his rut of self-seriousness. Deneuve, partly due to her status as an icon of France (not just French cinema either), is eternally underappreciated as a film actor, but she makes it look so damn easy that Ozon can go wild with the kitsch and seventies-throwback style without spinning the film off into the stratosphere. He also surrounds her with a fine supporting cast- Karin Viard is clearly the MVP, practically thrumming with personal energy as the devoted secretary and mistress of Deneuve’s husband who flowers under Deneuve’s guidance, but Gerard Depardieu also has a lot of fun as the local politico who carries a torch for Deneuve after all these years, and I’ve become highly impressed at Jeremie Renier’s ability to switch gears from the hardscrabble of world of the Dardennes to the sort of boyish charmer he plays here. Potiche is light as a feather and largely lacking in the rich subtext that shot through 8 Women if one bothered to look, although allegedly the film’s final reel, in which Deneuve runs for political office, was inspired by the 2007 presidential race. But even for those with little knowledge of French politics (including yours truly), Potiche is a more than worthy film, and one that left me with a goofy grin on my face from beginning to end.

Rating: 8 out of 10.