Movie Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”

Starring
Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham
Director
Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” fails to get the 14-year-old series back on track. While it is an improvement over the previous sequel, “On Stranger Tides,” directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg succumb to many of the same problems found in that film. For starters, the character of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is no longer the charming antihero he once was – straddling the line between good and evil – but rather a drunken pirate who wanders aimlessly through set pieces.

Unlike Gore Verbinski’s massive sequels, the action sequences aren’t enough to cut it here. They’re surprisingly infrequent over the course of Sparrow’s search for the legendary Trident of Poseidon. Although screenwriter Jeff Nathanson attempts to return the franchise to the simplicity of the first movie, it lacks the same energy, and that’s a problem that begins and ends with Jack Sparrow, a character who had something driving him in the 2003 original. He used to have a personal motivation and real conflicts, but now he just drinks a lot, keeps making the same old jokes and finds his way out of sticky situations just as you’d expect him to. He’s lost his unpredictability.

This time he’s on the run from Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a performance and visual effect that’s never quite convincing. In his younger years, Jack Sparrow helped turn the pirate killer and his crew into ghosts, and now that Salazar has escaped the Devil’s Triangle where he was imprisoned, he goes hunting for the man who not only damned him but is the only one who can save him. Nobody knows where Sparrow is, including Will Turner’s son Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and an astronomer accused of witchcraft named Carina (Kaya Scodelario). Sadly, Henry and Carina aren’t particularly lively additions to the cast, as they pale in comparison to the colorful supporting characters this series once featured, such as Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush). Sparrow’s old foe is still present and has a strong payoff here, but it’s not enough to bring much heart and soul to the movie.

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Blu Tuesday: Logan and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Logan”

Despite being the most popular character in the X-Men franchise, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine hasn’t had much luck when it comes to his solo outings. Though director James Mangold made half of a good film with “The Wolverine,” his second bite of the apple is a much-improved genre flick that finally gives the character his due. “Logan” may be a slower, more character-driven comic book movie, but it’s incredibly gritty and violent as well, easily earning its R rating with a handful of claw-slicing action sequences peppered throughout. While “Logan” certainly isn’t without its flaws (from the underwhelming villains to the overlong runtime), there’s enough great stuff here, including strong performances from Jackman and Patrick Stewart, to succeed both as a refreshing deviation from the typical superhero formula and a fitting end to Jackman’s remarkable 17-year run as Wolverine.

Extras include an audio commentary by director/co-writer James Mangold, a six-part making-of featurette, deleted scenes and a black-and-white version of the film titled “Logan: Noir.” FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Alien: Covenant”

Starring
Katherine Waterson, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo
Director
Ridley Scott

Fans of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” can rest easy, because the director’s latest addition to the franchise contains much of the same bite of his classic 1979 film. “Alien: Covenant” is a vicious and thoughtful, albeit unwieldy and sometimes frustrating, piece of science fiction that provides Scott with an epic canvas on which to paint his terrifying vision, all while continuing the ideas that were first introduced in “Prometheus” and the rest of the series.

Set 11 years after the events of “Prometheus” and 17 years before the original “Alien,” the story follows the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship with thousands aboard waiting to wake up to their new home. On the way to the ship’s destination, first mate turned captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) receives a transmission from an unknown planet. Despite protests from crew member Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterson), Oram decides to take a trip to the nearby planet to see if it’s habitable. Unfortunately, it just so happens to be home to some deadly Xenomorphs ready to rip through Oram’s crew, which consists of Covenant pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), his wife Maggie (Amy Seimetz), Sergeant Lope (Demián Bichir), Karine Oram (Carmen Ejogo) and dutiful android Walter (Michael Fassbender). Along the way, Walter meets a familiar face when he crosses paths with David (Fassbender), the curious android with a god-sized ego from “Prometheus.”

Co-writers John Logan and Dante Harper’s screenplay answers more questions about the expanded universe than its predecessor, for better or worse. Intially, the movie provides answers to questions that aren’t of much interest, most notably regarding the Xenomorphs. “Alien: Covenant” doesn’t demystify the horrifying creatures, but what it does tell us about them can sometimes comes across as redundant in the bigger picture.

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Blu Tuesday: Return of Xander Cage and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“xXx: Return of Xander Cage”

Vin Diesel famously never made a sequel to 2002’s “xXx” because he didn’t believe in them, but that was before he became the go-to franchise guy with the “Fast and Furious” series, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and, to a lesser extent, the Riddick saga. However, it seems unlikely that “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” will reboot the stagnant franchise as intended, despite its blatant attempts to mimic the “Fast and Furious” films. Though it boasts the same over-the-top energy and its own multicultural cast, the movie comes off as nothing more than a second-rate rip-off with some truly ridiculous action sequences. It’s not a complete waste of time thanks to the involvement of Donnie Yen and Ruby Rose, but for a film that borders on so-bad-it’s-good territory for most of its runtime, “Return of Xander Cage” comes up short.

Extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes on Vin Diesel’s return, the supporting cast, location shooting and stunts, as well as a gag reel. FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Movie Review: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Starring
Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen, Eric Bana, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Neil Maskell
Director
Guy Ritchie

Director Guy Ritchie has had a fair amount of success breathing new life into old properties (“Sherlock Holmes,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), but when it was announced that he would be helming an adaptation of the King Arthur legend, something about the pairing seemed off, and it’s a feeling that permeates throughout “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Ritchie’s unique filmmaking style is constantly pushing back against the more traditional elements of a summer tentpole movie, and while that may have worked to good effect in the aforementioned projects, there’s a more noticeable divide here that prevents the film from having a clear identity. “Legend of the Sword” has plenty of great moments, but the sum of those parts is disappointingly mediocre.

The film opens in grand fashion as King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) defends Camelot from an army of giant elephants under the control of the evil sorcerer Mordred (Rob Knighton). Upon his victory, however, Uther is betrayed by his younger brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who murders the king and steals his crown, but not before Uther’s young son Arthur manages to escape down the river. Forced to survive on the tough streets of Londinium, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up to become a small-time criminal who operates out of the very brothel where he was raised.

Meanwhile, Vortigern has become increasingly concerned that Uther’s true heir will return one day to reclaim the throne, so he’s begun rounding up all the men of a certain age and challenged them to pull the magical sword Excalibur, which can only be wielded by a descendant of the Pendragon bloodline, from its resting place. When Arthur actually succeeds, thus revealing himself as the prophesized Born King, Vortigern swiftly orders his execution. Fortunately, Arthur is rescued by a small group of resistance fighters, including Uther’s most trusted knight Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and a mysterious disciple of Merlin (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), who encourage him to accept his destiny and put an end to his uncle’s tyrannical rule.

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