Friday, July 14, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest / ***1/2 (2006)

Captain Jack Sparrow is an insatiable human being, cutthroat and ragged, with such a calculated and intricate magnetism that even those who openly detest his existence can’t help but be fascinated by him. By the standards of movie pirates, he is also like few of his kind: an elusive buccaneer who still manages to connect with a conscience on occasion. Most others are prepared to slit countless throats and betray any advisor possible in the pursuit of riches galore, but Sparrow knows when to be sympathetic, when to abandon fool-hearted ideas, and when to except defeat, even if only because he lacks the guts to be a dedicated example of his kind. There is, furthermore, little trouble in an audience routing for him; despite all the shady dealings he may or may not be a part of on the open seas, we know there is usually an ulterior motive cleverly hidden beneath. Example: an early scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” in which Jack is confronted by Davy Jones, captain of the legendary Flying Dutchman, and told that he must collect 100 souls in order to save his own life. The audience knows he has no intention of carrying out such a plan, although that does not prevent him from initially agreeing to the bargain (or making the effort to come up with the cost). Never trust a pirate to keep a promise, they say, but also never assume that he won’t have a few cards hidden up his sleeve, either.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Superman Returns / **1/2 (2006)

If the great triumph of superheroes on the big screen owes its comprehensive success to any one specific person or thing, that distinction belongs solely to the moment in which Christopher Reeve tears open his shirt and exposes a giant red “S” in the middle of his chest. That split second of footage, a mere morsel it seems amongst a slew of great scenes and sequences in the original “Superman” film, characterizes the essence of the conflicted superhuman crime-fighter almost instinctively: the costume is not just some random impulse intended for casual dress-up, it comes attached with all kinds of responsibility. An entire city, and therefore an entire population, trusts him to keep peace, fight crime, uphold justice and look out for every individual’s best interest. He is a god amongst diverse believers, a public that stands in the shadow of a world so littered in turmoil that wildly fantastical heroes are the only hope they have. And yet no matter how many beasts or brutes he may tame, no matter how many sinister plots he may thwart, no one consciously seems to realize that the person wearing the costume is, too, a living and feeling human being at the core. To successfully adopt the identity that he does, his personal identity must remain secret to all around him, which thus restricts his ability to maintain a decent personal life. It is a hard job for a guy who seems to sociable and friendly to his peers, but it is unwavering nonetheless.

Poseidon / ** (2006)

“The ocean has been the cradle of rebirth.” So announces a character aboard the cruise ship Poseidon, mere minutes before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. A guy who obviously never took into consideration the fact that Earth’s oceans have a nasty habit of claiming human lives as easily as an elephant goes through peanuts, you would think basic history knowledge (or even movie-going experience) would have given him the insight to rethink that proclamation – “The Perfect Storm,” about a crew of fishermen who are swallowed by the ocean during a tropical storm, and “Titanic,” telling of a catastrophic loss of life at the hands of human error on the open seas, are two prime recent examples of just how easily a simple thing like water can quickly become an object of chaos. No, his rhetoric is that of a man who is either too optimistic or too foolish to comprehend the oncoming contradiction of his statement. This is a man who never bothered to watch Ronald Neame’s “The Poseidon Adventure” before boarding.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Tristan and Isolde / ** (2006)

“Tristan & Isolde” is more a curious experiment than a full-fledged cinematic romance, a movie in which all necessities are captured in two hours of ambitious celluloid, except for one critical anchoring piece: a heart. The pain of characters like these is not that they sacrifice so much to be together, but the fact that they do so without ever being able to grasp the true feeling of the situation. Credible acting and a solid sense of style accommodate the final result only so far: slowly but surely, director Dean Georgaris’ medieval fable of love lost and found cripples our patience just as easily as he cripples the emotional walls around his hero and heroine. Foolish, ill-fated lovers they may be, but Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet they are not.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe / ***1/2 (2005)

Stories about kids have been known to get away with just about anything, perhaps because, unlike real life, literature isn’t bogged down by grave world events like child kidnappings or mysterious disappearances. On the printed page, their lives unfold as well as they deserve, without unnecessary tragedy but full of the kind of curiosity that gives their adventures the suggestion of fearsome danger. Admittedly, some of us who go into stories like these with preconceived perceptions of the harshness of reality might find some things a bit too hard to swallow. The kids in the Narnia chronicles are a particularly worrisome bunch, not so much for their own na├»ve inquisitiveness but for their basic nature to jump the gun and trust things that for any normal kid would seem a little too colorful and unreal to believe in. Of course, all of this is never much of a forethought when we are kids ourselves, but as adults it would be foolish to deny that our eyebrows do not raise a little at the mere notion of something like a little girl being eager to go home “for tea” with a half-human stranger she meets by a lamppost.