Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

The Curse of the Black Pearl was an incredible experience for me when I was a little girl – it was awe-inspiring, frightening at times and unlike anything I’d seen in film before (I was 9 and still am terrified by the sea). Never before had pirates been attempted so ambitiously and brilliantly, with a strong story combining myth and legend, and some fantastic protagonists. Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales as it’s known to the rest of the world) slots exactly in the middle of the five films for me. It’s not the worst, but not nearly the best.

A crew of deadly ghost sailors, led by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle and hunt their old nemesis Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Jack is down-on-his-luck, and his only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, known to break all curses of the sea. To find it, he must forge an uneasy alliance with brilliant astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) and headstrong young man Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who needs the Trident to free his father from his curse.

salazar3

Casting aside how good or bad they may be, what I love about all of these movies is that they all intertwine actual maritime myth and legend; Cortez’s gold, Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman, Blackbeard etc. I am yet to know whether Salazar himself is actually based on a Spanish myth, but either way, Javier Bardem really holds some scenes together here. But he is known for playing brilliant bad guys (No Country for Old Men and Skyfall).

The problem with Salazar’s Revenge is that it’s formula is getting repetitive: a villain is trapped in a cursed form because of the actions of Jack Sparrow, the villain seeks his revenge, two young adventurers aid Jack to find a mystical object of the sea and all are followed by the constantly angry East India Trading Company who chase them around the oceans (lead by the snarling David Wenham, who’s character really isn’t necessary at all). Another problem is that Jack is sometimes completely redundant in a scene, as it becomes more about Carina and Henry and their personal reasons why they need the Trident. Henry’s reason resonates with us more, especially if you’ve followed all of the Pirates movies.

salazar7

It has some great stand-out moments though, namely Jack’s hilarious narrow escapes from the  guillotine, when his crew attempt to rob a bank, meeting Jack’s Uncle (a genuinely funny Paul McCartney) and Salazar’s flashback to encountering a young Jack Sparrow. At times, bits of the action sequences are impressive. But, it’s a bit of a CGI fest as the plot lunges back and forth between stock characters and action sequences, with not one bloody sword fight! Mythology and exposition, too, is rarely explained and inconsistent (the Trident? Jack’s compass being able to free an entire cursed army from their cave? How Barbosa obtained that ruby? I could go on…)

The appearance of older and original characters though do make some impact, but that enough doesn’t make Salazar’s Revenge great. Also, what bothers me is that apparently there are MORE Pirates’ films to come – how?! The ending reaches a state of equilibrium, and there is nothing else that can be exhausted: no curses, myths, legends or characters we’ve followed for five films. I don’t see how it can evolve but, like the Disney ride these films are based on, we’ll just have to wait to ride it again.

 

Advertisements

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Marvel are now deep into phase 3 of their cinematic universe, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the first of three being released this year. The other two are Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok, both of which look epic! A few years back, I declared the first Guardians of the Galaxy as my favourite Marvel film, and it still is (tied with Civil War). Vol. 2 wasn’t as slick as the first, but it sure was still a fun-filled ride packed with the same level of action, charm and comedy we’re used to from Star Lord and the gang.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his fellow Guardians are hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), high priestess of the Sovereign, to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket (Bradley Cooper) has stolen some of the items they were meant to guard, the Sovereign search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the mystery of Peter’s parentage is revealed.

guardians4

Guardians Vol. 2, for the most part, focused on Peter, his “unorthodox” heritage and his father, Ego (played by Kurt Russell). During these bonding times on Ego’s planet, although beautiful and colourful, the pacing was a little slow and the “plot” got a bit lost on me. It never gave me a chance to really engage or care about Ego and Peter’s relationship, but at least Ego’s planet was an incredible sight to behold. And, at least, the audience and Guardians with him were introduced to Mantis (the brilliant Pom Klementieff).

Left behind are Rocket and Groot (Vin Diesel), who team up with Yandu (Michael Rooker) and this is where the fun begins. As always, Rocket shines and was given some of the best lines from interpreting Baby Groot (who was the most adorable yet hilarious thing). Casual and everyday dialogue between characters is Guardians’ strongest feature and I’m glad they’ve kept this formula for the sequel.

Marvel take care of their characters well, taking the appropriate time to develop important ones. This time, the misunderstood daughter-of-Thanos got a turn and we saw Nebula (Karen Gillan) come into her own. Something that excited me, also, was gaining an insight into Yandu and the Ravagers. Yandu is a fascinating character, with the oddest ability, and his scenes were truly quite touching. My only gripe with Guardians 2 was that Sylvester Stallone as Starhawk could’ve been in it more, but, an after credit scene hints this isn’t the last we’ll see of him.

Speaking of after credit scenes, you need to wait out for five. Yep, five! A couple may seem redundant, but all hint to near and distant future plans in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of which confirms Marvel fans suspicions surrounding hero Adam Warlock…

guardians1

As always, the music was spot on (‘The Chain’ is one my favourite songs and I’m currently listening to ‘Wham Bam’ as I’m writing this). Introducing older 20th Century music into a modern film that brings in a young audience is something I always champion.

Wacky, weird and wonderful, the Guardians of the Galaxy still remain my favourite heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, they are made up of talking trees and enhanced raccoons etc, but as the “odd ones out” in the whole galaxy, they are the closest I’ll come to being able to relate to a superhero.

Jawbone (2017)

The sports drama is one that is consistently impressive as a sub-genre, particularly more recently with films like Foxcatcher (2015), Rush (2013), Moneyball (2011) and The Blind Side (2009). New British boxing film Jawbone certainly conforms to the sports drama sub-genre and, thankfully, continues this rule: sport dramas make impressive cinema.

Jawbone follows former youth boxing champion Jimmy McCabe, who hits rock bottom, so returns to his childhood boxing club. Set in grimy, urban South London, Jawbone is not short of violence and alcoholism. But it somehow doesn’t fall into the stereotypical urban “gritty and grey” drama; it’s a lot more subtle than that. It’s hard-hitting, powerful and explores themes of the working class, the struggle for survival and it’s focus on an older boxer (not rather dissimilar to Rocky).

jawbone1

The action is never boring, as director Thomas Napper delves into Jimmy’s life (played by Johnny Harris, who also wrote the screenplay). Napper and Harris have set out to tell a matter-of-fact story of a man who loses everything and tries to get his life back on track by looking in the wrong places. They do this simply and effectively. And, although the cast is all men, it was hard not to connect with Jimmy and engage in his story.

All of Jawbone‘s performances are incredibly strong. Johnny Harris is impressive as protagonist Jimmy McCabe. Harris strikes the right balance of determined and vulnerable, as if he is still that young teenage boxer who’s lost his way, and was utterly compelling. Ray Winstone as gym-owner Bill was a pleasure to watch also, as the angel on Jimmy’s shoulder. He had a graceful, lovable air about him, yet is harsh but fair: “if I find booze in here, you’re out.” The only real smiles we see from Jimmy is when he’s with Bill, and their scenes are genuinely heart-felt.

Michael Smiley as corner-man Eddie brings candor to the boxing gym and also delivers some my favourite lines: “he’s just a bully, surrounded by other bullies. I want you to break his heart.” And if Winstone’s Bill is the angel, the devil on Jimmy’s shoulder is the temptation to fight unlicensed for large amounts of money, and that temptation comes from Ian McShane as Joe. He’s brief but memorable, and still has one of the best voices in film today.

jawbone5

The boxing fighting and training sections are gripping drama. Forget “Gonna Fly Now”, Jawbone has it’s own unique soundtrack driving it forward, composed by legend Paul Weller. The fight footage is skilled and brilliant watching. There is movement as the camera sways with Jimmy; he’s not as in shape as his undefeated beast of an opponent, but will fight all the same. It’s here when you suddenly root for him, and slowly Eddie does too. Eddie’s growth from passive corner-man to supportive friend during the fight is truly moving. Jimmy finally has someone believe in him, which is, perhaps, all he ever needed.

Jimmy, Bill and Eddie’s stories are sometimes admirable ones, but we must also admire the men in real-life who put the time and energy into sports clubs like these. South East London is a place renowned for gang culture, and there are so many communities who use sport and, more specifically, boxing to pull boys off the streets, to nurture them so not be tempted to walk the wrong path.

Jawbone reminds us that even the hardest of men can be broken by life. It’s painfully frank and, at times, heart-breaking: Jawbone is definitely one I’d watch again.

Jawbone‘s premiere is screening at selected UK cinemas on 8th May. It’s official release is 12th May. Check out the trailer here: