Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End


Pirates 3

In keeping with my new pirate-themed masthead, I finally get around to reviewing Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End. Not that I should really bother, since you’ve probably long ago gone and seen it. Like the two films before it Pirates 3 has had its all-important opening weekend, raked in the cash, and once again Hollywood has successfully wrapped its greedy fingers around the throat of a once evocative and fascinating theme and shaken furiously until all trace of juice has been squeezed from it. Everybody’s sick to death of pirates–pirate films, pirate books, pirate toys, pirate fast food cross-promotions … and now pirates are doomed to join dinosaurs, Star Trek, mummies and Aliens in limbo until someone years down the track with some real creativity can resurrect the genre a la Batman Begins. Next! I hear it’s going to be more of the same in Arabia with Prince of Persia.

Of course they could have gone out with a bang and made a decent film, but At World’s End sure doesn’t cut the mustard. It feels as tired and messy as the actors in it look. Orlando Bloom continues to go for the crown of Most Forgettable On-Screen Hero by further honing his astonishing lack of charisma. Johnny Depp puts his Keith Richard-schtick on auto-pilot (and Keith Richard proves how much more amusing the caricature is than the man himself). Geoffrey Rush hams it up OK despite having nothing interesting to actually do. The only person really working hard for their pay cheque is Keira Knightly, who refuses to admit that everyone’s lost the plot and, no doubt charged with the energy of youth, does inject some life into the tired proceedings.

After watching a few ‘Making Of’ specials on DVD I can understand why they’re all so tired. After filming the last two back-to-back, enduring a couple of hurricanes and organising crews of several hundred million people, the overweening impression that comes across on the screen is that everyone wants to get this over with and go home. There are some truly bad scenes, and long sequences of padding where everyone stands around in clumps on board one ship or another and tries to look interested while someone works their way through another twenty chewy mouthfuls of exposition. No, we don’t understand what’s going on either folks! In a desperate attempt to mythologize the whole trilogy, Gore Verbinski and his writers lose sight of the reason the first–and to a lesser extend the second– films were enjoyable; they were fun! Not only has it all become grim and tedious and way too complex by this third film, but those opportunities created by the mythology are criminally wasted. Davy Jones himself looks rushed to screen–it’s now quite easy to see that he’s computer-generated, unlike last time–and is completely emasculated as a character. All film long we lead up to the reveal of Calypso and her relationship to DJ, and when we finally get there, any glimmer of pathos is swallowed up in a wave of computer-generated gumpf. The character of Jack Sparrow loses all his charisma by pretty much disclosing that he has in fact, a serious multiple personality disorder. I can hear the studio execs now–“everyone loves Jack Sparrow, let’s put ten of him on the screen at the same time!” At least Verbinski avoids the obvious happy ending, but the alternative is unsatisfying and leaves you with more questions than answers.

Once again, the blame lies with the script; and at the speed all concerned were expected to work by the studios, I’m not surprised. The lack of soul in At World’s End is the inevitable consquence of working creatives like galley slaves and rushing a film to the cinema in order to squeeze every last possible cent out of the public.

Truly this is a disappointing film. I went into the theatre expecting rip-roaring adventure, actor chemistry and several shiploads of pirate fun. I came out feeling like I’d been hit over the head with a dead salmon wrapped in a wet blanket for three hours.

One and a half wooden eyes out of five.

New Masthead. Geddit?


Ships–pirates–masts! Brilliant!
A revamp to the masthead to brighten up the front page a little. Bought a great Dover clip book/CD-ROM of pirate imagery and this wonderful illustration by Howard Pyle (1853-1911), an American illustrator, just cried out to introduce my site–“So the Treasure Was Divided”, 1905, Harper’s Monthly.

Yeah, I know the quote is from Ben Hur. Somehow it all works for me.

Film Review: Spiderman 3


Spiderman 3Sam Raimi is a genius director.

Not your deep, philosophical, meaning of life-and-death genius director, but a director who understands fun film-making. This hit me in some subliminal way back when I first saw Evil Dead 2 and realised he was scaring me and making me laugh at the same time. And it struck me again as Spidey and the Green Goblin and a giant Sandman and Venom and Mary-Jane jump and fall and punch and scream all over the screen in the climactic scene of Spiderman 3. Here’s a director who understands comics, and how they were (and are, I hope–even Venom is too contemporary for me) full not only of action, but humour, pathos, fear, love, hope … the whole shootin’ match.

Like the best of comics, Raimi packs it all in for Spiderman 3, and like the genius director and writer he is, he juggles it all with consummate skill. He has only 140 minutes to give us Venom, the Sandman, the new Green Goblin, not to mention relationship problems, competition at work, struggles with the nature of power … yes, it’s busy, but I think those who have criticised the film for too many storylines miss the way it all comes together, and how skilled Raimi is at giving us so much with so little. The Sandman background scenes, for example, are short but wonderfully economic, giving us just enough to really empathise with the character.

And besides, it’s all fun! Everything here is entertaining, even the slightly over-the-top ‘bad’ Peter Parker dance routine. It all works because Raimi has style and a wonderful visual inventiveness, and he isn’t afraid to enjoy himself and take the audience along for the ride. Like being on a rollercoaster, you just have to give yourself up to the experience.

It’s what comics were all about before they became too deep and meaningful. And the icing on the cake is the way the three films are nicely wrapped up as a trilogy. Nice one Raimi. I can hardly wait to see Spiderman 3 again. Now, all we need is a few more sarcastic wisecracks by Spidey when he’s fighting, and we’ll be spot on.

Four alien meteorites out of five.

Film Review: 300

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There’s little doubt that the original trailer for this film was one of the most exciting in recent memory. The totally original graphic look, the spectacular slo-mo, amazing cgi, pumping soundtrack–it all combined to get the blood racing. Unfortunately however, if you extend the trailer to a movie of 117min, what you get is one long film clip that ultimately makes you feel like you’ve binged on too many sickly sweet lollies, and leaves you desperately hankering for a film of substance.

Back in high school one of my favourite stories was the battle of Thermopylae and the Persian Wars, and I lovingly memorised ever fact and ever date from the period. I’d love to impress you with all that information now, but of course virtually none of it remains in my head. And 300 is certainly not the place to go to be reminded of the facts. It takes the basic story of 300 Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae against the Persian army (here shown in insanely exaggerated scale worthy of Herodotus) and pretty much turns it into a two-hour slug fest. It sure must have been easy to adapt this film for the inevitable video game.

Some of the battle scenes have a balletic beauty, but as is often the case with these cgi extravaganzas, with the dial turned up to ’11’ all the time there’s no opportunity for light and shade, contrast, impact … even the loudest noise can lose its impact if it never stops. In a desperate attempt to sustain the volume, we get scenes of totally unnecessary brutality and garishness–the giant bondage mutant exceutioner, the lesbian dancing girls with bad skin (“decadent Emperor’s court–do we have lesbians?–check!”), the lovingly extended decapitation scene. The only point of contrast, a political subplot involving King Leonidas’s wife back in Sparta, feels like an afterthought.

What I really missed was a good script. Surely this kind of epic subject material cries out for equally epic language; speeches you can really get your teeth into, Henry V-style rousing stuff. Instead we greet endless variations of bland ‘here we stand!’ sentiment, actors throwing as much spittle into their shouts as possible to prove they’re being passionate. David Wenham, a strange choice for narrator considering his distinctive accent, annoyingly telegraphs every move in his voiceover as we see it. (“Leonidas was very angry”–yes, we can see he’s angry!) Considering the fact that the entire film was done on a bluescreen soundstage, the actors are perhaps to be commended for their performances, but it’s all too po-faced and mock serious (in true Frank Miller style).

I’m usually a cry baby when it comes to the heroic sacrifice theme, but I was left dry-eyed and unaffected by this film. Yes, it is spectacular (especially when seen in brain-melting IMAX format, as I did), occasionally beautiful, sometimes exciting. But it suffers terribly from having a completely hollow core, pasted over with flashy cgi and casual brutality. Please, give us some heart with our guts.

Two and a half piercings out of five.

Corporate Ipsum Dashboard Widget

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Corporate Ipsum Dashboard Widget: I often get text almost as bad as this from clients.

Film review: Sunshine



You know, I was going to write a review, but my friend anaglyph over at Tetherd Cow just beat me to it.

Casebook of Ghosts


Casebook of Ghosts

Back when I was a little tacker of twelve or thirteen and used to hang out in the school library—which got me labelled a ‘poofta’ by the footy guys until I started going out with the girl everyone agreed was ‘the best looking girl in school’—I would often borrow a particular book which, before I discovered girls, was better—‘the best book in the library’.

It had a particularly lurid cover featuring a malevolent green-eyed cat (later I’d remember it as a bat), and in its pages lurked stories of ghost-hunters and apparitions, severed hands and glowing eyes, floating heads and white ladies, with titles like ‘The House of the Bloody Cat’, ‘From the Cellar It Came’ and ‘The Eyeless Woman’. These grisly, ghostly tales were prefaced by atmospheric black-and-white illustrations, which like most illustrations around this time in my life, I found it easy to get completely immersed in, and which seemed to swirl with darkness, terror and the shadowy shapes that lurk at the edge of the candlelight.

They don’t write stories like those anymore. Now the stories are all horror, and vie with each other to be the most violent and repellent. The tales in this book were simple yet terrifying and seemed firmly rooted in reality—a very English reality and history, which to an Australian twelve year old was almost as mysterious and exciting as the ghosts.

Well, almost thirty years have passed since then, but for some reason the memory of this book retained its magic. Over the years I looked for it in secondhand bookshops and on the internet, but since I never knew the title, it seemed impossible to track down. I even once rang my old school library, but no book of that description existed anymore (I wonder, did it fall apart after so many years of being pored over by small boys with overactive imaginations, or did someone love it as much as I and finally take it home secretly in their schoolbag?)

Then, last week, I thought I’d try again at the source, and rang my old school with my strange request. Of course the book wasn’t there, but the librarian took down my vague description and to my surprise rang me back the next day to tell me the name of a book she had found on the library book database that might be the one. Armed with this information, it was easy to track down a picture of the cover on the internet.

Such is the power of memory that when I saw the cover a shiver went through my whole body and my eyes started with tears. Here at last was the book I had been trying to find for several decades! Immediately I ordered a near-mint first edition copy from a bookseller in Essex, England—and today it arrived.

Published in 1969, this personal classic gathers together a number of stories by Elliott O’Donnell, a noted ghost-hunter, pulp novel writer, lecturer and broadcaster who lived from 1872-1965. A quick search on the internet reveals that he wrote quite a few of books in this vein. The book comes from what seems to have been a golden age of ghost stories, the late 60s to mid 70s, just before the modern horror story took off. From my basic research it seems there were quite a few books published around that time featuring so-called ‘true’ ghost stories, either collections of local lore, or actual experiences of the writer.

Whether O’Donnell really did see the apparitions he claims he did in his Casebook is unimportant, though I like to think he did. The real magic in this book is how it brings back so vividly that twelve year old imagination, when there was no thought of questioning the veracity of the tales, only a complete acceptance that such things could and did happen out there in the wide world (and mostly in England, it seemed). A world full of echoing ancestral mansions, hidden galleries, midnight footsteps on grand staircases, frightening unseen presences, wide ancient cellars with bricked-up rooms—all those things that sent the most wonderful thrills of fear down my back.
Now, finally, I’m off to curl up on a couch with the best book in the library, to read my ghostly tales by candlelight …

Mini Film Reviews

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Work and other distractions has made me a little slack on the blog front of late. But rather than have the experiences drift into oblivion, some tiny potted reviews of recent films I have seen follow:

Hot Fuzz A lot of fun from the boys who made Shaun of the Dead, complete with action-movie cliches galore; endless jumpy editing and over-the-top sound effects. And the de rigeur early Peter Jackson-style violence. Not a bad plot either! Four montages out of five.

Notes on a Scandal Wonderful to see Blanchett and Dench crackle together on screen. The young Andrew Simpson isn’t bad either. An excellent film only spoiled by a lazy ending. Only Bill Nighy doesn’t feel right, but perhaps that’s because he’s been doing so much comedy lately. Four art classes out of five.

The Illusionist Slightly made-for-TV looking nineteenth-century magician tale. Fails to deliver anywhere near as much atmosphere and interest as the similarly-themed The Prestige. Edward Norton lacks charisma, Paul Giamatti is unconvincing and Jessica Biel is just plain wrong. The celebrated twist in the tale reminds me of the kind of lame stuff M. Night Shyamalan haas been churning out lately. Two rabbits out of five.




This place needs a little cheering up! Click the image above to see the lovely detail in a larger copy. I can’t find out who the artist is, but nice work whoever you are.

Update: The artist is Francois Launet, and he has a whole site chockers with wonderful Cthulhoid goings-on here.

Anti-DVD Piracy Parody

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Brilliant, and exactly correct. If there’s one thing that drives me insane it’s these damn anti-piracy ads on DVDs.

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