Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Stephen Graham, Gemma Ward, Judi Dench, Kevin McNally, Richard Griffiths, Keith Richards

Director: Rob Marshall

Writer(s): Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski

Original Score: Hans Zimmer

Running Time: 137 Mins.

For those of you who had bid farewell to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise…more fool you, for as much of a critical dud the third film (and to a lesser extent the second) was it was still that years biggest money-maker and a producer wouldn’t let a little thing like a critical slating get in his way. So it transpires that here we have the fourth installment of said franchise, many presumed the chance was being taken to strip away the clogged up and mess of a narrative that plagued parts 2 and 3, meaning less characters, more of the interesting characters and a more streamlined stand-alone plot that allowed for some great action set pieces, enjoyable characters and some macabre humour. All this was expected especially in the face of the film sourcing it’s plot from a novel, On Stranger Tides, concerning the hunt for the fabled Fountain of Youth (mentioned at the close of part 3).

So the pieces were in place, fat was trimmed from the cast including Knightley and Bloom, while Depp himself promised a return to the heyday of Curse of the Black Pearl, mermaids and zombies were added to the mix and most excitingly Ian McShane was cast as Blackbeard, the pirate all pirates fear. Shame then that all of this is squandered in the face of a film that had promised so much and delivers very little. The main issue here is scripting, Elliott and Rossio return using Tim Powers novel as a starting point, however what could have been a thrilling race to the fountain of youth is given the flabbiest treatment possible, three parties race to the fountain, the spanish who could quite easily have been dropped altogether, the king’s men led by a turn-coat Barbossa and Blackbeard who, it has been prophesised will die in two weeks by a man with a peg-leg (also Barbossa). Add to this the fact that the fountain can’t simply be drunk from, the competitors must retrieve a mermaid’s tear (!!!) and two chalices.

If this sounds convoluted, it is, though that’s not the problem, the problem is the apparent need to have so many characters, so many scenarios, so many relationships that none are afforded the time to grow. Some ideas are great, others awful, I’ll start with the good (out of good-will for the franchise). Blackbeard, a great character, fantastic introduction, and a perfect coup of casting in McShane, thing is he is totally wasted after the introduction, there’s the idea he may be into voodoo and has zombie crew members but none of it rivals Davy Jones or the cursed crew of the Pearl, it is here that budget cuts become apparent. In trying to up the fantasy element stakes film by film the best we have here is a ship controlled by its captain’s sword, a neat trick and used well once but from then on it is never used again, dropped in favour of yet another plot strand and yet more half-baked ideas.

Another sub-plot (if you can even class it as such) is that of the missionary and the mermaid, again a strand that could have been spun out into many interesting directions but is once more squandered in a handful of scenes, we learn little of each character and the character development is nigh on non-existent, not because of the actors but once again with the script that rushes to jump into the next mim-scenario adding nothing but more muddied waters to the overall plot-thrust. Speaking of mermaids, they provide the one standout action scene, re-imagined as devilish creatures  they ambush Blackbeard’s crew at his behest and are truly menacing, something which makes a love story with one all the more improbable and complex…but this film isn’t concerned by that!

So the action scenes are plentiful as ever and romp along at a pace that helps ease the overlong running time (again), Barbossa is good fun and hams it up as well as ever while Depp steps out of the shadows as something of a hero, a nice little twist in the tail, I for one think he is in his stride with the character though many bemoan he is phoning it in I simply cannot see it, as for Cruz she wasn’t nearly as irritating as expected, though is also given little to do bar act as a love interest. While I’m talking about shadows it would seem an appropriate time to mention how the fact that 80% of the film happens at night or in a very dark place makes watching it in 3D incomprehensible, despite belong shot utilising 3D cameras there really is no call for it when all you’re going to do it poke a sword out of the screen every so often, new director Rob Marshall (of Chicago and Nine fame) brings little flair to proceedings and clearly hasn’t the panache to imagine a world in 3D as James Cameron et al. do.

So while it lacks Gore Verbinski more macabre leanings, this would seem to be the least of the franchises issues, a real jolt is needed if the audiences are expected to continue flocking in their droves. For the little goodwill I have for watching the same mess of events re-enacted while adding yet another fantastical and pointless element is running thinner by the film, yes there will likely be worse films this summer and no it’s not a total disaster (that would make it easy to write off), and at times it shows a great deal of promise but as was suggested last time they really do need to trim the fat!

VERDICT

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides had the potential to be a streamlined, fun adventure that recaptured the spirit of the franchise at its best. Sadly it flounders amidst a mess of plotting that bungles something that really should have been idiot proof, the magic is there but only in the briefest of flashes with anything good being frittered away as soon as it’s introduced in favour of the next half-baked idea.

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Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe

Original Score: Various artists

Running Time: 96 Mins.

Fancy a trip to Spain, specifically the Catalan area? Want to take in the sights and meet some crazy locals (or Penelope Cruz to be more specific)? Well sod the flights there, simply take a trip to the local flea-pit and see Woody Allen’s latest study of love and relationships in Vicky Cristina Barcelona

As any self-respecting movie buff knows Allen has been off the boil lately churning out as he does a film (or more) per year, they have been lacklustre for quite some time now, to say the least, with last year’s Cassandra’s Dream possibly one of bis worst and the Hugh Jackman starrer Scoop yet to even see a release in the UK. So it comes as something of a surprise to find Vicky Cristina Barcelona is emminantly watchable through the pairing of the Spanish locale and a clutch of warm, if a little chricature-ish, performances.

London was the setting for Allen’s previous trio and it appeared not too fit his ‘style’, here he seems much more at ease with the Barcelona and the surrounding region providing the effortless romantic backdrop, nothing like some Catalonian architecture and museums to give your film a bit of romantic class. Being as it is a film by the ubiquitous Allen all is not straightforward in love, this isn’t He’s Just Not That Into You (thank god!) and the happy endings are never really all that happy. Think more along the lines of philandering care free Spaniard (Bardem) meets girls (Hall and Johansson), wants an orgy, has psychotic ex (Cruz), has a three way relationship etc. etc. 

And the film continues along these lines, though amidst all the relationship chaos you are more likley to be soaking up the Spanish vistas, because it’s really is hard not too be swept up in the aura of ‘love’ and romance which Allen has managed to captured in Spain through his direction. His script on the other hand isn’t quite as immersive, and though the cast are very good (Bardem in particular being likeable yet wanting to have everyone in his bed, whether it be alone of together) the material they have to spout is so pretentious you fee totally uncultured to be in their presence.

All the requisite ‘cultural’ bases are covered and everyone here is an academic, a painter, a photographer a poet….you get the idea, and that’s not too say it doesn’t fit, simply it takes away from any compassion you may have for everyone and I hate to say it but Penelope Cruz whom I often find nigh on unwatchable is the force that comes in to shake the storyup and give the ponderous proceedings some of the zingy characterisation Allen was famed for in his heyday.

However hanging over the whole film is quite possibly the most unusual use of narration, it is by none of the characters and feels totally out of sync with all the intimate relationship issues occuring onscreen, meaning that not only is it jarring but it fuels the feeling of the film being a, admittedly rather gorgeous, travelogue as opposed to a story about ‘real’ people. Were it not SO imposing I could have overlooked it but in this case it comes across as a lazy narrative ploy simply telling us things that really we could have worked out for ourselves,  “She had become engaged to Doug because he was decent and successful and understood the beauty of commitment” (about Vicky), shocker that, I’m sure we would never have worked that one out Woody!

VERDICT

Woody Allen takes us on an enjoyable jaunt through Spain, recapturing some of his long lost wit along the way and earning Cruz an Oscar for it! By no means is this a return to form for the veteran director, the bizzaire voice-over sees to that, but it’s a much more interesting study of love than Johansson’s last ‘rom-com’, then again that is to damn Vicky Cristina Barcelona with faint praise! 

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The trailer for the new Bruckheimer guinea pig-venture, G-Force, is now online. While the pictures that arrived a few days ago looked cute, I’m now worried that we have Beverly Hills Chihuahua II on our hands as a group of highly intelligent, trained rodents fight evil.

There’s a solid voice cast – including Sam Rockwell, Penelope Cruz, Nicolas Cage and Tracy Morgan – alongside some of the best comic talent (Will Arnett? Zack Galifianakis? What the hell are truly funny people doing in this?*) but the footage has a distinctly trying-too-hard feel about it and the poor Cats and Dogs springs to mind.

Still, I figure the kids’ll (big and little) lap it up. And any film that lets Nicolas Cage go nuts playing a weird mole has my vote.