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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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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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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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Movie Review: “Snatched”

Starring
Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Tom Bateman, Ike Barinholtz, Christopher Meloni
Director
Jonathan Levine

“Snatched” is very light on its feet. Even at 90 minutes, director Jonathan Levine’s comedy can wear thin, but it’s not without some kind-hearted laughs. Plus, as mother and daughter, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn are able to keep the comedy afloat even when it struggles to find momentum.

Emily (Schumer) is a little dissatisfied with her life. After losing her job and getting dumped by her boyfriend, all she has to look forward to is a vacation for two in Ecuador that she was meant to take with her ex. After a funny and relatable exchange with her mother Linda (Hawn) over her single relationship status on Facebook, Emily pays her a visit, which Linda thinks she only does when she wants something. They both love each other but have grown distant since Emily left home. After all her friends turn down the trip, however, Emily asks her mom to come along. Linda is happy to stay at the resort and read her book while her daughter parties with James (Tom Bateman), who she met at a bar earlier that day, but when James takes Linda and Emily out for an adventure, the mother and daughter get kidnapped. They manage to escape, but trouble continues to chase them throughout the jungle.

The film begins with a misleading text that makes us assume Emily and Linda are about to go on an insane adventure, but it never gets as crazy or as funny as one would hope with Schumer and Hawn on the run from criminals. In fact, the R-rated comedy often plays it safe, sometimes feeling more like a PG-13 film, although Emily and her mom’s South American adventure goes to some genuine places.

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Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki
Director
James Gunn

It’s hard to believe that most people had never even heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy prior to 2014, because in the three years since the release of the first movie, they’ve become some of the most popular characters in the entire MCU. While there was certainly an immense amount of pressure on returning director James Gunn to create a worthy follow-up, you wouldn’t know it from the self-assured confidence that the film exudes. Admittedly, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” isn’t as fresh as its predecessor, but it’s almost as much as fun, and that’s to the credit of Gunn and his excellent cast, who have once again delivered an offbeat, action-packed space opera (with yet another killer soundtrack) that doesn’t skimp on humor or heart.

After saving the universe from Kree fanatic Ronan the Accuser, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians have parlayed their newfound fame into a lucrative career as mercenaries. But when they’re hired by a race of pretentious, gold-skinned beings called the Sovereign to kill an interdimensional beast in exchange for Gamora’s captured half-sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), the Guardians manage to piss off their employers by stealing some of the valuable batteries they were charged with protecting. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Guardians are rescued at the last minute by an ancient celestial entity called Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. Though Peter is thrilled to finally meet his dad and learn more about his secret heritage, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is suspicious of Ego’s true motives. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is recruited by the Sovereign’s High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) to track down and apprehend the Guardians for punishment, leading to a mutiny among his crew when he refuses to turn them over.

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