Chaney Blogathon: By the Sun’s Rays (1914)

Note: You can view the film in its entirety below, as I do discuss the plot liberally feel free to view it prior to reading.

In order to be able to participate in another wonderful blogathon hosted by Movie Silently and the Last Drive-In, I volunteered to discuss By the Sun’s Rays. This is an 11-minute short film from 1914 released in Universal’s infancy that features Lon Chaney as a villain.

The reason this was a preferable selection for me is because I didn’t manage to squeeze in a Chaney title during my last theme 61 Days of Halloween (though I wanted to) and my current theme Thankful for World Cinema features films produced abroad. Therefore, the fact that this was presented as an option allowed me to buck my theme slightly to discuss it and I’m glad I could.

Here’s a fairly succinct synopsis of the film from an IMDb user:

Frank Lawler, a clerk for a mining company, colludes with a bandit gang about the timing of gold shipments with a mirror signal system and has designs on Doris Davis, the daughter of the local branch manager. The company’s main office dispatches their top detective John Murdock, who goes undercover to expose the scheme and rescue the Doris from the unwanted advances of the dastardly Lawler.

Chaney plays Lawler, and there are a few interesting things about the film. First, the appropriately florid description of the nature of Chaney’s character may paint the picture in a reader’s mind of a dastardly, handlebar-mustache twirling lothario if they’ve not seen the film. What’s refreshing, and what makes the film work in my estimation, is the fact that Lawler’s villainy, thanks to Chaney’s portrayal, is fairly subdued. In the segment of the film where Dora (Agnes Vernon) is distracting him from his intended rounds with her feminine wiles you can, even in a fairly wide shot, read the inner-monologue of Chaney’s struggle. It’s not over-the-top but is present and convincing enough that you understand the struggle he faces.

Similarly he lurks in the background in a few frames eavesdropping and plotting, awaiting his moment. To take his reactions and manifestations of character too far would render the film far too comedic for its intended western/action tone. Therefore, even here nearly one hundred years ago a few acting styles removed from what is considered modern and acceptable practice you have here similar truths about applicable acting styles for genres.

It has also been noted that this is Chaney’s earliest extant film and that is of significance too as it is the earliest indicator, in a small dose, of his ability, and is valuable and worth examining from that perspective as well. Enjoy!

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Short Film Saturday: The Phantom Empire, Chapters 7-9

The Phantom Empire may be the most unique movie serial ever created. I was told of its existence by my favorite film professor in college and I was fortunate enough to have found it on VHS shortly thereafter. After having viewed it I was glad to have given it to him. Now I have since reacquired it on DVD. It stars Gene Autry in his usual singing cowboy persona, but there’s also science fiction mixed in and quite a few other things along the way.

Through Poverty Row April I will likely watch a composite version of this film, but I am glad to be able to present to you the serial version of the the film thanks to The Internet Archive. To view please visit the links below.

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

March to Disney: Zokkomon and Disney World Cinema

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

Disney has two fairly recently initiated and under-exploited and under-publicized home video lines. I may write about them both here today, but the focus of this piece is Disney World Cinema rather than Disney Generations Collection.

Disney World Cinema, as the title implies, makes available in the US Disney-Produced titles from overseas. The selections so far a mainly original content, and not as diverse as they could be.

For example, I was once linked to a clip of a visually stunning film produced by Russia’s Disney Channel, but understanding 0.001% of the Russian language I couldn’t watch all of it. The point being there is plenty of content out there this line could make available. Out of the initial wave of releases I selected one and finally gave it a whirl for this theme.

One of the examples in this line is a High School Musical set in China. Now Foreign versions of movies or TV shows, that are remakes as opposed to subtitled or dubbed are not new. In fact, in the early days of sound, scripts used to be translated and re-shot on the cheap after an A-List feature was done. Paramount was a prime example using everything identical to the American version for Spanish features.

The film I saw comes from India and is entitled Zokkomon. Now, while simplified, there is a more indigenous approach to the film in terms of the fairly apparent themes it tackles with minimal didacticism. The feel of the film is a hybrid between a DCOM and a big budget Bollywood musical, which also includes elements of tentpole action films towards the end. Yes, there are story-commenting, fairly random musical numbers that border on non-diegitic inasmuch as a narrator/singer is introduced, but it still remains a fairly hybrid product.

While even at a relatively short 105 minutes there are a few flashback montages too many and a spare song or two, but it’s not so bloated that it weighs down the entire project. There are some universally recognizable, and identifiable fairy tale tropes updated to make this perhaps one of the more obvious titles to try this series out on. The principal cast is fairly good as a whole, namely Majari Phandis, Tinnu Anand with the standout being the young lead Darsheel Safary.

Disney has their Channel and distribution arms the world over, there are likely more markets where titles can be found for this line. Perhaps merging this concept with the also under-ultilized and under-publicized Disney Generations Collection, a disc-on-demand concept similar to Warner Archive in conception, if not in practice, is the way to go for these films, such that there’s less monetary commitment to pressing copies, thus making a larger library available. In a similar vein, a DisneyNature feature, Wings of Life, that was originally only released in France will soon hit US home video for the first time. This will be its only release here, in lieu of a theatrical run, but in time for Earth Day.

Zokkomon served as a good introduction, that had I seen it as soon as it was available may have been in the running for some BAM Awards, I may look into the other selections and you should check them out and see if any titles appeal to you.

Review- Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman is such an odd case. Based on the way it handles the oft told legend it has a lot of promise, however, this film has a weird handling of its two titular characters inasmuch as it seems to run from them both. At the start, yes, it is the hunstman (Chris Hemsworth) who is doing the voice over for the necessary backstory segment that kicks the narrative off, but there are a few unfortunate things about it: first, this is one of the higher points of the film and it’s a brisk, but not rushed beginning portion. Second, after this part the Huntsman is lost for a while until the queen commissions him to retrieve an escaped Snow White. Which brings us to the young princess, her dialogue is sparse throughout, her involvement until her escape is minimal and she drifts into the background more than any would-be protagonist in recent memory.

Is it just sloppy plotting and writing or is the fact that the film wanted Kristen Stewart involved for box office appeal, but didn’t want to hitch their wagon to her alone? She has a moment here and a moment there, but the big military speech falls short of what it should be and her physicality issues persist. No actress on the face of the earth has a mouth so persistently agape for no discernible reason as she does and few emote so little facially, at least in the roles I’ve seen. I’m not going to avoid seeing something merely due to her presence, but I have yet to see this other side of her that her staunch supporters keep citing.

However, as I said, the film is rarely about either of its two named characters, at times this is a good thing and at other moments it’s a failing. Charlize Theron is broad in her role as the evil queen as if she just fell out of an old Hollywood melodrama. I think that’s something most of us can agree on. I, for one, absolutely love her performance and find nary a misstep in it. At the very least someone, is bringing energy and commitment to this film, and more often than not I found her scenes rather chilling.

Much of the conversation has been about the performances thus far because there is little else holding this precarious piece of work up. The pace of the film is decent up until about the midpoint when the dwarfs are introduced and then the film gets a bit unfocused, lost and extraneous. The narrative does pick up again eventually but never recovers from this unfortunate area. This section also introduces the odd production choice of having average size actors be the faces of the dwarfs. I’m really not sure why it’s deemed necessary, and it is a distraction.

The cinematography, scoring and production design of the film were all really quality components that could’ve truly elevated this film to its potential had the narrative it was supporting been up to snuff. The beginning of the tale works best because it’s in storybook mode and frames the queen as much more of a power-hungry madwoman than say, Disney did. The stepmother queen in either tale is motivated, it’s just that this film explains the motivation a bit more. Where it develops her plot and psychology it works, but little else is substantial here at all, which is not the case of the animated version, or even some others for that matter. Where it sets up Snow White’s initial struggle it works, but it loses her along the way, as it not only fills in blanks but colors outside the lines, so to speak, and adds running time and trivially valuable sub-plotting with the love triangle that evolves. The richness it builds is soon watered down by excess.

Snow White and the Huntsman
starts with a few clear objectives but then becomes occluded and can no longer see the forest for the trees and like many travelers in this imaginary world gets lost in a dark forest, and all hopes of its being a quality piece of work perish.

5/10

Review- The Raid: Redemption

Iko Uwais in The Raid: Redemption (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Raid is quite an amazing story in the cinematic world. It was one of those movies that came off the festival circuit and as it was starting its limited release and receiving press screenings, it started to blow up my twitter feed. I didn’t want to know too much about it, even though I gleaned that plot-wise there wasn’t much to know. Yet, I knew how the movie was being touted and I was very much looking forward to it. However, I thought I’d have to ferret it out, then suddenly word of mouth caught on the film and its per screen average was ridiculous and it went wide for a weekend, hence I got to see it. An Indonesian action film, subtitles and all receiving a wide release. Wonders never cease.

One thing this film does very well, and something that I think is a bit overlooked in filmmaking at times, is the set-up. The set-up can be one of the better and more enjoyable parts of a film. It’s the hook and what ties you into the story. The set-up here doesn’t re-invent the wheel but it’s quick and it gets you going without belaboring things. There are a few more layers that will be introduced along the way but you have enough to start with.

Although, there are quite a few players, frantic action and kinetic camerawork, the narrative is kept straightforward such that I always know who’s who and what the stakes are. Whereas in some Japanese period films the players can be a bit muddled when combined with an involved narrative, here everything is crystal clear yet there are developments introduced slowly throughout. It really goes to show you that action films, more often than not are better off KISSing you (Keep It Simple, Stupid). I’m not typically a fan of the genre, but can appreciate it when it’s really well done and I came away enamored with this film.

Aside from simply being able to identify the characters they do get built to an extent and in-between the fighting you learn things and can even find points of identification. I will grant those moments are sparse but they’re also not wasted in the least, every single one is maximized. Another key is that everything serves to add context, and raise stakes for the fights. A fight by itself is just a fight. If the audience is not invested in the combatants, who care how cool it looks? This film excels on both levels.

With all that being said, the fight choreography is absolutely breathtaking at times. The lulls in between fights are where the quality of the film truly hinge but the battles are the visceral component that will pound your pulse or put you to sleep and I’ll admit, while it’s not all about being cool, I said “Oh, that is so cool!” to myself quite a number of times.

Yet, there’s always balance in this film. Those scenes that are few and far between where stakes get raised, plot moves forward and character is built are also well acted. You don’t necessary hang your hat on the acting in an action film but when you get a good turn on top of everything else it’s like the cherry on top, this film has quite a few.

This review will remain spoiler-free, however, I will say I love the way the story concludes itself. It truly is a great little button that has to be earned and absolutely is.

Some people have been asking things like “So do I really have to see The Raid?” I say this rarely but the answer is quite simply; “Yes!”

10/10

Review- Wrath of the Titans

Sam Worthington in Wrath of the Titans (Warner Bros.)

The first film in this newly reborn series was passable, but barely. There was a rote nature to it that held it back from being all it could have been. While this film doesn’t maximize the full potential of Greek mythology, it does implement its gods and demigods in a much more enjoyable fashion than the prior installment did. What minor stumbles occurred in this installment were more just missteps than an over-aching approach that was slightly off, so the end result is very enjoyable.

To start with the elements that are slightly off: one of my pet peeves that makes suspension of disbelief rather difficult in many films, (and it is truly a question of accents more so than performance) is the unwritten cinematic tradition in the US has stated that British accents substitute for foreign tongue when the film is shot entirely in English. The first installment adhered to said rule, so it was fine. Here it is sketchy. Sam Worthington is speaking with a full-on Australian accent. While I applauded the decision in the Narnia series that took Caspian from sounding Castilian to using his natural voice, it’s more forgivable in a fantasy, and at least in the Narnia series there was a conscious attempt to make the Telmarines sound like they were from another country in a fantastical realm, hence the affectation. Here there’s no basis in logic for the switched accent.

Yet, despite that distraction, the performances are good. Worthington is slightly more engaging than before; Fiennes and Neeson are allowed to strut their stuff more than they were. Meanwhile, Rosamund Pike adds a much needed tough-girl factor and John Bell, as Helius Perseus’ son, gives an effective performance which acts as Perseus’ catalyst in part.

The beginning of this film means well by establishing that Perseus has had it with the gods and their games and he should be reticent, however, the stakes introduced are far too high for him to ignore. We end up knowing he’ll resist but concede to the quest so the first act is rather bereft of tension. To the film’s credit, tension does come eventually but this beginning holds it back, and despite all the past experiences he has seems uncharacteristic.

Once the obligatory resistance is overcome the story really kicks into high gear and becomes very entertaining indeed. There is an ease with which the story flows in this installment that was not quite as present previously.

Similarly, and this is crucial, several different mythical elements are introduced in this film, and barring the occasional bit of expositional dialogue, they are folded into the mix much better. This more seamless blending of mythological tropes makes the story far more engaging and enjoyable than the predecessor.

I can’t speak for the 3D as I did not see it as such, however, the effects work is definitely an upgrade and when you consider the fact that much bigger creatures, both in stature and importance, are tackled than this is also a very welcome change.

The score of the film also does its part to churn the film along while adding the necessary tension to the mix.

The new incarnation of Greek Myth films has not yet been perfected but this most certainly is a step in the right direction and very much worth checking out.

8/10

Review- Safe House

Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington in Safe House (Universal)

Safe House is a film that in many ways is your standard spy-caper. I will give it credit by saying that it does try to do some different things to slightly alter the equation, however, it is ultimately the bits that are the same old song and dance that really get in this film’s way and trip it up.

To start out with the more positive notes, the film is very watchable and there’s a decent amount of tension due to the kinetic editing style. The beginning of the film is quite creative in as much as the cuts come quickly, but also break chronology such that you are investing in a situation, and getting information later. Eventually, the lackluster nature of the information betrays this artistry to an extent but this facet of the film did its utmost to elevate the piece as a whole.

The editing style was in part a necessity. The cinematography didn’t feature the worst abuses of hand-held camerawork I’ve seen, but the camera is hyperactive in this piece and it can be a turn off to those prone to motion sickness or are aesthetically averse to such things. For the most part it works, but there are points within it where I wish it would relax and the quick edits really salvaged many shots making them more watchable than they otherwise should’ve been.

The script develops a decent story in most respects. The setup and ultimate plot of the antagonist are intriguing enough. The problems come into the storytelling when elements that are overly-trite or too frequently done are brought into the mix in terms of dialogue and certain character’s attitudes. As with any tale of this nature suspension is of disbelief is necessary because there will be moments of absurdity. There are good elements to the scripting but definite issues that overshadow the positives to an extent.

The performances to an extent are also a mixed bag. In the positive column are Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Washington has thankfully taken to some quieter, more intelligent and less bombastic parts recently as opposed to things like Training Day, where I don’t find him nearly as interesting. He plays this character intelligently, but also gets to layer him. Reynolds has played action before but he also plays in a romance plot here and in very dramatic confrontations with many characters in this film and does equally well in all of them. It’s likely a performance of his that will be overlooked, though it should not be.

As for the problematic performances: One, sadly, is Brendan Gleeson’s, it’s not him in his top form. I’m unsure as to whether the character was supposed to have a slightly faded Irish brogue or if his American dialect was just off in this part, but it influenced the end result regardless. Another is Vera Farmiga and some of the issue is her character. There’s nothing to her. She’s a plot device. She believes what will likely be the official version of the story is really what’s happening, other than that there’s no characterization to her. I’ve liked Farmiga in some works quite a bit and been a bit too hard on other times, so I think when she’s stuck with a character of this ilk she really has a tough go of it.

Lastly, there are some surprising and pleasant twists but one of the biggest ones occurs in the third act and it’s terribly transparent from the start of the scene based on the entire execution, and the scene is far too long and it really detracts from what should be a pivotal moment.

Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on seeing Safe House, I saw it to have a dine-in movie experience. However, I will say that while I didn’t like it it was better than I thought it would be so you may see it differently than I did.

5/10

Review- Contraband

Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster in Contraband (Universal)

In the first incarnation of the Best Foreign Film Awards for the BAMs one of the winners was The Sea, a film from Iceland. While I try to keep tabs on former winners it does get harder as the years go on and the new winners accumulate. Combine that with the fact that Baltasar Kormákur, the director of the aforementioned film, continued to work in Iceland, a country that doesn’t always achieve international recognition and distribution, one could see how I lost track of him but that one film with its sharp direction, palpable drama and believable performances stayed with me. So when I saw his name on the opening credits of Contraband, which is itself an American remake of an Icelandic film, I was perhaps a little more hopeful than I otherwise would’ve been and I was not disappointed.

Contraband indeed does take a lot of familiar elements: an ex-con turned legit doing “one last job” (until the potential sequel) to protect his family because his brother-in-law got in over his head. The set-up is one we’ve seen but the film language and interpretation is a bit more artistic than one might expect. The precise relationship of the characters does not reveal itself right away, concepts that might be unknown to the audience are introduced then explained later, certain continuity is assumed therefore less-than-essential elements might be omitted and bother completists. It is this kind of telling that is almost required of a story that otherwise doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation.

One of the places wherein this film really does excel is in the portrayal of its villain both in the scripting of the film and in his interpretation. Briggs is not only ruthless and reckless but very well realized by Giovanni Ribisi. In this modern era there seem to be fewer black-and-white characters than before and a lot of navigating in the gray areas of humanity, which can be fine but it’s a lot more nebulous and difficult to get through it. Therefore to have a character who has no obvious redeeming qualities or seemingly no complexity is practically verboten but a good actor relishes this challenge. It can allow the actor to do a lot of work on the character’s story that could lead to his mannerisms and so on. I’m not saying Ribisi is method, I can’t confirm or deny but that what I am saying is a character so seemingly simple free of being judged can be a liberating experience and allow an actor to bring more than expected to a part. One way or another Ribisi goes above and beyond here and is a big reason this film works.

It seems every so often some way or somehow I’m reminded that Mark Wahlberg started in music and I do need to be reminded. Not only am I now accustomed to seeing him as an actor but have liked quite a few things he’s done. I think the key is creating a screen persona. He has one and usually he finds himself in films not too different than this and he also helps makes this film happen. Some action films need to work to have you believe the star fits in the milieu or builds up the world of the character and then the character but Wahlberg due to his persona and the types of characters he plays naturally fits therefore the film’s world and character can be discovered simultaneously. He always makes his characters identifiable and likable in spite of their flaws.

The supporting cast highlighted by Kate Beckinsale as the knowing yet vulnerable and worried wife, then there’s Ben Foster who’s very nuanced and Caleb Landry Jones who seems to be carving out his own niche as the engaging yet troubled youth.

Two other things that are a boon to this film are: it has a very good twist that propels it to a dramatic conclusion and it depicts an interesting and oft unexplored world of smuggling on ocean faring vessels. The conclusion gets quite dramatic and actually does leave you wondering how things will work out in the end.

The end did make me wonder how things turn out in the Icelandic version, however, that didn’t really adversely affect this film. What did was in the Panamanian episode there’s really the only pacing issue of the film and our leads are forced into a situation where they become passive observers, which makes that section quite tedious. That and a few other willful suspensions of disbelief are all that hold it back.

Despite its second act stumbles Contraband is a slightly elevated genre film with some good surprises in store and a nicely appointed denouement that should be a crowd pleaser.

7/10

Review- X-Men: First Class

Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Lucas Till in X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox/Marvel)

I believe, when grading or reviewing a film, that taking a film for what it is and not comparing it something its not or not trying to be is of paramount importance. Thus, I will look at films from not just a genre perspective but also within the confines of subgenre and in some cases franchise. This clearly applies to X-Men: First Class.

It’s an action film, it’s a superhero film but moreover it’s a film in the X-Men series. I will state in the interest of full disclosure that I am a fan of the X-Men and it’s mainly through other interpretations be they the TV series I was hooked on as a kid or the films that came later.

I will here echo sentiments uttered quite astutely by my friend Joey Esposito because they are true and have bearing on any interpretation of this film. Those thoughts being that the connection many can feel to the X-Men are usually for either of two reasons: first, the mutants all feel outcast and most people at one point feel like outsiders, some more poignantly or persistently than others- this instantly adds to the appeal of the characters. However, perhaps the most intriguing dynamic in this universe is the dichotomy between Xavier and Magneto who have two diametrically opposite views on how to deal with this struggle and better yet anyone can see the logic in both approaches.

While I liked the previous installments in varying degrees, save for Wolverine, these truths and this philosophy was always hinted at and alluded to but never became central to the narrative. The films were engaging, flashy and fun, in short good entertainment that lacked that little something extra that made it necessary or desirable to revisit the film two or three times or more.

I have already seen X-Men: First Class twice because it not only gets everything I was talking about but delivers on it in spades. Never are you left wondering as the geriatric lady of infamy in the 80s advertising campaign said: “Where’s the beef?” Instantly the characters of this tale are built we see the circumstances that set Magneto on his course, likewise with Charles Xavier.

The films opening scenes are absolutely hypnotic and quickly establish suspense. The drama of the situation aided by Kevin Bacon who gives a wonderful and memorable turn in his first villainous role in some time confronts a Young Karl, played with utmost brilliance by Bill Milner, a young actor I’ve long contended is the best of his age group and he keeps proving me right. He is pushed and traumatized beyond his breaking point and it crystallizes his view of humanity. Meanwhile, Charles (Laurence Belcher) also gets a perfect introduction, not without its own bit of suspense, and we see him exhibit his nurturing, befriending nature.

Very quickly, dramatically and effectively the film establishes its characters before it really sets the story in motion, It’s a gripping start and I responded emotionally immediately which is rare. Like a few of the X-Men films it has memorable scenes with its lead characters in younger incarnations such as Cayden Boyd as Young Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand or Troye Sivan as Young Logan in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. What this film does is deliver on the promise that those early scenes show, in fact, there is a string of absolutely outstanding scenes that kick-off this film in tremendous style and the scenes end perfectly, carry great tension and importance are numerous in this film.

The success of this film hinges greatly on the strength of its script and it is simply put outstanding. The dialogue most of the time is sharp and concise and even though it wanders into typical superhero banter on occasion it is always purposeful and almost never wasted. Furthermore it communicates the philosophies of its characters, which needs to hit home, very well.

The characters are also made more interesting by the fact that they too have things at stake aside from the stakes of the plot. Not to knock that either. It’s hard to up the ante more than this film does but we’re not just seeing a spectacle because the characters are personally invested in their mission with different motives and that just makes it work that much better.

A few cast members were already singled out but a few more deserve mention. What wasn’t discussed in Kevin Bacon’s bit prior is that he, like a few other actors, was asked to speak a few lines in languages which are not his own and it just makes the experience that much more real and immediate. Having English as a substitute for foreign languages in a film is a slippery slope and I’m loving that people are trending towards using the foreign idioms themselves.

Clearly a lot of the kudos acting-wise need to go to Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, who play the two principal characters. They are the ones that intrigue us most and who bear most of the burden and knock it out of the park. While this role isn’t a showcase of her considerable talent as Winter’s Bone did Jennifer Lawrence does very well playing Mystique and each of the initial assemblage of mutants played by Nicholas Hoult, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoë Kravitz and Lucas Till each have their moments to contribute.

The bottom line is that this is the best cinematic representation of who the X-Men to date are and why they are loved. The story is engaging and exciting but equal in intrigue are the characters. Add to that brilliant handling of how Xavier and Magneto whom are initially friends but just can’t see eye-to-eye philosophically and you have an absolutely dynamite film.

10/10

Review- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp and Ian McShane in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Disney)

The Pirates of the Caribbean series has, in my estimation, run the gamut from being rather enjoyable to creating the worst film of a given year. What has been consistent, and you may even go so far as to say pervasive, in the series is that there has never been one that was the fullest possible realization of the narrative presented. Even in the enjoyable ones there have been very blatant issues holding it back. While being one of the better ones this installment is no different.

The beginning of the film, ironically when set on dry land, is quite entertaining. Full of action, humor and even a bit of intrigue. The former being in the guise of who is assuming Sparrow’s identity. It keeps a lot of this enjoyable energy throughout but its grasp on it becomes slippery as the film progresses.

One minor element, which I thought would be (and was thankful it was not) a point of elaboration, was the zombies. They were just sort of there, which is rare for zombies and I was thankful that it’s an affectation and not a distraction.

Speaking of affectations we come to Johnny Depp, who perhaps has more affectations in this character than in any other. Depending on the plot this character has been very hit or miss. The enjoyability of Jack Sparrow walks a tightrope in the sauntering, off-balance way Depp himself walks as Sparrow. Sometimes the narrative supports his goofiness and others it loses it edge and plummets: here it’s funny.

As a matter of fact a lot of the film is funny. The humor keeps this film ticking even through some of its major problems, which will be dealt with shortly. There is enough peppered in to keep it interesting for even the spectator most inclined to be disinterested.

There are many characters in the film and that does become a bit of a problem as a simple tale gets convoluted with a bit too much intrigue. The constant need the film feels to keep tabs on all them (at least for a time) makes it drag despite the comedic efforts of some.

This is just one of the factors that lead to the running time to balloon and the pace to suffer. The other being the romantic subplot which really comes from Philip (Sam Clafin), the abducted cleric who doesn’t serve a purpose other than to involve himself in this romance with the mermaid (Astrid-Berges-Frisbey) and inflate the running time. The relationship between Sparrow and Angelica (Penélope Cruz) is more love/hate or antagonistic than a proper love story and their fate is predictable after a certain point.

Oh, yeah the 3D. Um, don’t bother. Had I not seen it abroad for an absurdly cheaper price than I could watch it here I would’ve been peeved about paying 3D prices for that; rather ineffectual.

Overall, I did enjoy the film despite dreading it going in. So it gets a pass.

6/10