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More like yo-ho-NO, amirite?
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (yes, the fourth one exists) promises a return to the roots of this beloved franchise of scurvy dogs and misplaced rum. Critics are even claimng it will remind us why we love "these movies". I can only think of one Pirates film that I like particularly much, the first one, but if you can't get enough of Johnny Depp mugging and doing a funny voice, then fine. Just try to ignore the fact that your favorite clumsy charmer Captain Jack Sparrow is apparently in an in-canon sex trafficker now.
It is true that Dead Men Tell No Tales (known as Salazar's Revenge in countries that deem death too spooky) was made as a call-back to the one that started it all but I don't know how much consolation that is. One would think that it had been better to let Gore Verbinski come back and do his thing as opposed to having Disney executives try to replicate his vision to make money. But then again, Verbinski's latest contributions include The Lone Ranger and that Shutter Island rip-off so I can merely speculate.
We discover that, after the events of At World's End, former blacksmith and current barnacles-ridden first rank of The Flying Dutchman, Will Turner (40-year-old Orlando Bloom) fathered a child in the form of Henry (27-year-old Brenton Thwaites; you do the math), who now works for the British Royal Navy. One day, said navy is lured by pirates into what I assume is the Bermuda Triangle, disturbing the haunted shipwreck of Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), who promptly materializes alongside his undead followers. Killing nearly everyone on the navy vessel, Salazar lets only Henry live so that he can return home, to announce to Jack Sparrow that doom awaits him. Always good to let your enemies know that you're after them.
Returning home, Henry is sentenced to prison under allegations of mutiny, but is freed by another accused felon, an astronomer named Carina (Kaya Scodelario), sentenced for her blasphemous exploration of science. Eventually the two unite with Jack and his men, as Carina reveals that she knows the way to the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact that can release Will Turner from the curse of The Flying Dutchman and also maybe, just maybe, restore his relationship with Henry. That's about as much sense as I can make of what I saw in the order I saw it.
Meanwhile, Salazar escapes his enchanted prison and encounters Captain Barbossa (played again by a great Geoffrey Rush), whom he forces to help him find Jack Sparrow, so that he may exact his revenge properly. There are more characters; Kevin McNally once again plays First Mate Gibbs, Golshifteh Farahani portrays a sea witch, and David Wenham provides a secondary villain in the form of Henry's superior at the Royal Navy. Keira Knightley reappears briefly and, get this, Paul McCartney cameos as Jack's paternal uncle. They have the courtesy not to bloat it further with magical crabs and Davy Jones nonsense but a post-credit sequence tells me we haven't seen the last of Squidbeard.
I understand that reviewing a film like this is futile. It's been a while since people saw Jack Sparrow on the big screen and since he was the first man-crush a lot of people (my age) had, it makes sense that my Snapchat feed of post-ironic Chicken Run memes is frequently interrupted by nigh tearful messages like "On Sunday, I will see you again" written over an image of the movie ticket. Evidently, there is still treasure to be found, so it hardly matters if the rest of us are tired of the in-your-face 3D or cacophonic action that occurs along the way.
Another emotional aspect for many is the notion that this is the last film; a final return to the waters they've become so attached to. I mentioned money earlier. I don't think the post-credit scene is the only clue that this is far from being the end.
Dead Men Tell No Tales isn't without its redeeming features. Some of the new designs are deliciously nightmarish, the music is as fun as it's always been, the de-aged Johnny Depp we see in one scene was less jarring than he could have been, and most of the shots that would otherwise have been done by crane or helicopter were apparently done by drone. I for one never noticed and wasn't distracted, so good on you. Now knock it off.
Displeasing, unwatchable, ugly, basically it's quite fun
Kuso is one of the most displeasing and unwatchable films of recent times and this was precisely the whole point. It is directed and scored by Flying Lotus (plus some aptly used Aphex Twin and Akira Yamaoka), features David Firth of 'Salad Fingers' fame as well as some deranged animation of said Flash artist (Firth and FlyLo have worked together in the past and not just when they appeared on the same radio station in GTA V) and also, Hannibal Buress, George Clinton and (unsurprisingly) Tim Heidecker are in it. Already there's a lot to unpack but we're just getting started.
The film is a series of sketches which Simon Abrams of rogerebert.com describes as "a variety show from another planet". Alas, he also calls it "too proudly low-brow to be considered art gallery material" and there may be something to it. I am usually a connoisseur of anti-art and the grotesque, but a very unique talent is required to make something wonderful out of something intentionally revolting and/or bad. Had Kuso been less aggressive towards the audience and more concerned with exploring its own unspeakable universe, I'm convinced I would have liked it even more. Yes, I said "even more".
The segments we see are only connected insofar as they all feature the malformed American humans who have survived an apocalyptic disaster. Even as I knew this detail before seeing it, I still couldn't make much sense of the things I was seeing. They also don't happen one at a time, like in an anthology, but are rather spliced together with the occasional break for in-universe TV clips, surreal cartoons (many of these bits are where Firth comes in, and are usually the funnier parts of the film) and equally strange news reports on the disaster. There is also some confusion as to what's taking place within the film's "real" world and which bits are a story-within-a-story. One of the segments appears as a video game in another one, for example.
We meet all sorts of fascinating beings, most of whom look like they should just be put out of their misery. There is a black couple performing scarcely arousing sexual acts on one another, a mentally broken Asian woman who loses her "baby" behind fallen rubble as the voice of God (Firth again, I think) guides her through horrific portals and strange shapes, there is the small man with bowel issues who attends a private school in the woods where he also discovers a distinctly anus-looking creature (I dare not reveal how these two bond), there is the eccentric abortion doctor (Clinton) who will surely cure your fear of boobs, and also there's the female rapper who shares a crib with two inter-dimensional stoner lifeforms (Hannibal Buress and Donnell Rawlings). Because of course she does.
It's been noted that this film draws inspiration from all sorts of similarly grotesque and surreal works, including but not limited to Naked Lunch (consider the frequent use of insects and/or creatures that resemble human orifices), Crispin Glover's It trilogy, and the works of Cronenberg, Giger, and Jodorowsky in general (all three have a fascination with either straight-up body horror or just deformities in general). Beyond all that, there's a sense that this is approximately what a feature film adaptation of The Eric André Show would look like (particularly the scenes with Busdriver). Make what you will of that.
I ultimately enjoyed watching Kuso. I loved the music, I found most of the effects and animations as interesting as they were beautifully unpleasant, and I liked a lot of the designs. All of this stuff had potential; it's just that, perhaps, it wasn't in quite the right hands and could have benefited from not being incoherent on purpose. I don't know how much sense this statement makes but it feels like Kuso should have been a film that serves to invite and engulf those who wish to see something this disturbing, and not stick it to those who don't.
It's a shame, since my favorite films are normally those that do things no other films dare to do, as is often the case with Kuso. But it does often play like a less funny and in some ways less horrifying Eric André Show or Steve Brule, and it does go too over-the-top for its own good (certain bits are effectively scary until yet another cartoon sound effect is played, which works as a jarring tonal inconsistency as opposed to an amusing defiance of conventions). Let me put it this way: just because no-one else has filmed a scene where a man rubs his semen in the mutated face of his lover before kissing her in an extreme close-up or a scene where FlyLo hallucinates his way through a breast-dimension, doesn't mean someone had to.
FlyLo boasts that "only 20 people" walked out during its initial screening at Sundance in January. At the time of this writing, it is available on Shudder and on home video discs. Do what you must.
The Fall (2006)
Mastery of photography, color, scenery, editing, and imagination
Tarsem Singh's The Fall is mastery of photography, color, scenery, editing, and imagination the likes of which you have never seen, and most likely will not see again after the fact. It is a story told by a broken stuntman of American silent films, as envisioned by a nine-year-old Romanian girl who shares the same hospital. The result is, and I do not hand this designation out like candy these days, unique.
The stuntman is Roy Walker (Lee Pace) and in addition to his inability to work due to crippling himself during a dangerous bridge-jumping stunt (the "fall" of the title), he has lost his girlfriend and is more or less prepared to die. However, he makes the acquaintance of an orphaned patient named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), and tells her a brief story of Alexander the Great, whom her name reminds him of. Should she return the next day, he says he will tell another story.
That story is of The Masked Bandit and his allies, who venture through just about every picturesque and strange-looking location on Planet Earth to find the evil Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone), who has wronged them all in some way. Some of them are simply stereotypical products of far-off lands, like Luigi (Robin Smith), an Italian with explosives to spare, and a character known simply as The Indian (Jeetu Verma). Others are historical figures, such as liberated slave Ota Benga (Marcus Wesley) and Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), complete with a pet monkey who assists him (and is named Wallce, after the scientist whom Darwin is rumored to have stolen ideas from). Last but not least is The Mystic (Julian Bleach), who exits a burning tree on an otherwise empty shorline to give our heroes bewildering clues.
You're out of luck if you try to think too much about logic and logistics in this story. I could not tell you how our heroes summon elephants to free them from a small island or how to make sense of the montage where the heroes jump from Paris to Spain to India to Tibet to wherever else. I'm not supposed to. Besides, you will find that the characters ask similar questions.
As the girl imagines the tale, eventually including herself as a character, we notice parallels between the fairy tale and the world she lives in, as well as her comprehension of the words used. "The Indian" is envisioned as the Indian man who works in the garden and whose "wigwam", as Roy calls it, is an oriental palace. The beautiful Sister Evelyn, meanwhile, manifests in the form of a similarly named nurse at the hospital, played by Justine Waddell; Luigi is a one-legged Hollywood actor who visits Roy, and the historical figures don't much resemble their actual real-life counterparts. There's more but you get the idea.
The Fall was shot on location in 28 countries, IMDb tells me, over a period of four years, and virtually none of what we see is via the use of computer-generated effects or green-screen backgrounds. Every piece of unthinkable scenery, all the remarkable structures (including the vast labyrinth of stairways and the ancient village where some of the buildings are painted blue), every masterful costume; whether it was hand-made for the film or a strange but stunning place on our home planet, what we see is completely real. 100% of it, insists Tarsem.
The only thing I suspect is a digital effect (unless it is stop-motion, which is also utilized in a brilliantly animated nightmare sequence that really stands out) is the moving scarification tattoo that moves across The Mystic's skin in one scene. I don't know how else it could have been done. There are VFX artists listed in the credits so at the very least, someone deserves praise for making the digital effects completely unnoticeable (give or take a moving tattoo).
The imagery is complemented perfectly by Krishna Levy's music and Colin Watkinson's impeccable camera work, as well as certain editing tricks I am yet to fathom. Of the directing and acting I cannot say enough. The screenplay, I learn, is based in part on a 1981 Bulgarian film called Yo Ho Ho; I assume it's the part with The Masked Bandit.
At the heart of it all is a warm and believable chemistry between Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru, the latter of whom went through production unaware that Pace wasn't crippled in real life as well (how fitting). In some ways, Roy is inadvertently cruel to Alexandria, taking advantage of her childlike innocence and curiosity to make her bring him morphine. However, the two found each other at the right time, and I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler, but this fairy tale ends on a brighter note.
No matter. The journey there is a once-in-a-lifetime feast for the eyes and an imaginative exercise in using the medium to its fullest - even as the real star of the show is something as close to reality as our own pretty little world. It is not escapism from reality so much as it inspires you to explore the more beautiful parts of it. If there's anything bad about the movie it's the implication that Buster Keaton did not perform his own stunts.
Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)
Over-crowded, dumbed down and uninspired. The franchise needs to end.
There is a scene at the very end of the first Ice Age film that shows a creature known as Scrat emerging from a block of ice thousands of years after the events of the film. I'm going to assume something similar happened to the rest of the cast; that they were frozen in time throughout the entire ice age, explaining their presence in the worsening sequels which are all set in a time when Sid, Diego and Manfred would logically be long dead.
Even if this explanation was canon I would still question the existence of these sequels in general. Ice Age was a lovely film, but was it really so fantastic that it warranted another installment, let alone three? Apparently, because the next chapter, Continental Drift is now playing in theaters.
As per tradition, little Scrat's storyline is what gets the film started. Still he tries to protect his little acorn from improbable mishaps and disasters which in one way or the other affects the main plot. In this one he sets in motion the Pangea break-up through what's easily his most over-the-top prologue to date! The main plot focuses, as usual, on woolly mammoth Manfred (Ray Romano), sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) and saber-tooth Diego (Denis Leary) as well as Manfred's wife Ellie (Queen Latifah), opossum twins Eddie & Crash (Seann William Scott, Josh Peck) plus a newcomer, Manfred and Ellie's daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer). The plot itself, the family is separated during a quake that just so happens to be the start of the forming of the continents, brought on by you-know-who.
Manfred, Sid and Diego are separated from the others and eventually end up in the clutches of a pirate crew, lead by prehistoric monkey Gutt (Peter Dinklage), sailing the seas on a floating iceberg. They eventually escape however, bringing along another saber-tooth named Shira (Jennifer Lopez). A romance subplot between her and Diego is inevitable but sort of pointless. Another extra member of Manfred's crew is Sid's senile granny named, well, Granny (Wanda Sykes). You know all those family members Sid mentioned in the first film but we never saw? Well, in this film we do. Sort of.
It provides lots of pirate-related adventure, spliced together with more slapstick from Scrat, a pointless Madagascar 2-esque love triangle between Peaches, another mammoth (Aubrey Drake Graham) and a damn mole (Josh Gad) and some comic relief bits involving Crash and Eddie, two of the more pointless characters, whom I honestly wish the third or even second film would've just killed off.
Watching all this slapstick, all these jokes and all this 3D action, I longed for the first Ice Age film and its subtle moments built entirely on silence and atmosphere. After all these sequels, how many people actually remember that the first installment was so genuinely powerful? That film had Sid as the only comic relief type character. At the time of Continental Drift, it feels like every other character is a comic relief, but especially the blissfully clumsy Sid and the idiotic brothers O'Possum. No, there's no crazy-ass Simon Pegg-weasel this time. Ergo no fun!
The saving grace of Ice Age 4, like in all the sequels, is the lovable Scrat, even if his first scene in the film is almost a little too over- the-top and insane even for him. But he remains a lovely character who is granted the more inventive slapstick comedy, which is made all the better from the lack of obnoxious dialogue. Everything else in the film is loud, full of pop culture references and scattered with celebrity voices, which proves how dumbed down and "kiddified" the franchise has become. I guess I also enjoyed some of the action, the bad guy and this one pirate voiced by Nick Frost, but that's about it.
Ice Age 4 – Continental Drift is irritating, over-crowded and unnecessary. Way too many characters, pointlessly many plot lines, needlessly exaggerated slapstick scenes, an uninspired story, only the occasional funny scene and a rushed pacing brought on by the combination of a short runtime and an enormous cast of characters. If you're a die- hard fan of these films you'll probably like this one okay, in which case I must also admire your patience.
Apparently one of the side characters was voiced by Nicki Minaj, which makes me appreciate the fact that I saw a half-assed Swedish dub a whole lot more.
Salad Fingers (2004)
Twisted and sick, yet beautiful and bewildering.
Salad Fingers, a singularly disturbing Flash cartoon by David Firth is a unique experience. A series of bizarre animations that are mere random messes to those who are simply too lazy to think hard, but beautiful and bewildering to those who wish to interpret and analyze them and those who appreciate art.
Salad Fingers is set around a lonely, mentally disturbed mutant who resides in a wasteland with only his finger puppets and his imagination as company. We hear that the world around him perished during a great war. He sees and does strange things that often end him up in surreal and frightening situations.
As we follow him through his nightmarish experiences, we grow to like him and care about him, despite his sickening habits and hobbies. It is hard not to feel sorry for him when he breaks down and feels miserable and alone.
Salad Fingers is truly a one-of-a-kind Flash series. No other series I can think of has been this surreal, strange or beautiful. Many have tried to mimic it, yes, but that has not always ended well.