Pirate Johnny reveals full depth
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Having cut a forlorn and deflated figure opposite Angelina Jolie in last year's mega misfire, The Tourist, Johnny Depp shows signs of having rediscovered his moviemaking mojo in the latest instalment of the wildly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. With the likes of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom having walked a similar plank to the one that saw director Gore Verbinski jumping ship, the contributions of franchise newbies Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Oscar-winning director of Chicago Rob Marshall turn out to be worth an extra tot of grog all round.
The main action kicks off in a spectacularly realised ye olde London town where the rumoured discovery of the Fountain of Youth has minds exercised -- it's the pre-Botox era remember. Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) has the map that leads to the fabled fountain. But not for long.
Faster than you can say man over-bored, sorry overboard, the action has switched to the high seas where Jack is a reluctant seafarer on a ship captained by arch-baddie Blackbeard (McShane). Avoiding an imminent appointment with the Grim Reaper is Blackbeard's motivation for finding the aforementioned fountain. Cue first-to-the- fountain scenario that sees a comic cameo from Keith Richards, an attack by super sexy mermaids and more sword fights that you can shake a scimitar at. Naturally, no timber is left unshivered.
Marshall deserves plaudits for the manner in which he has restored the fortunes of a franchise that had started to flatline. It's still mind mulch of course, but good-quality, family-friendly mind mulch and an improvement on the extended exercises in tedium that were the previous two instalments.
Starsky and Hutch are big girls' blouses. Jason Statham is a cop now, Det Insp Brant, a man with more prejudices than the average KKK member. Brandishing his fightin' Irish roots, he smokes, drinks, woos wimmin and thumps people, he can't work a computer and isn't into home furnishings.
In the hunt for the Blitz, (Aiden Gillen channelling Johnny Rotten via Travis Bickle) Brant is paired with Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), a decorated and immaculately turned out gay cop who finds Brant's open homophobia refreshing in comparison to the abuse he's taken from other colleagues.
Most of the film is tongue in cheek, though every now and again the tongue gets bitten and a few moments miss their mark, becoming farce instead of comedy. There is also very little suspense and the addition of the token (black) woman subplot just doesn't work. Although clearly designed to show Grant as the tart with a heart, like Brant's own blackout/burnout issues, it just feels stuck on and tonally weird.
Although I'd argue, in biased fashion, that 44-year- old Statham is a little young to be playing such a dinosaur, he gets all the best lines and he and Gillen steal the show. Most of the time Barry Weiss/the Blitz is semi ridiculous, so when he goes in for kill he is all the more scary. Based as it is on a series of books by Ken Bruen, there's a good enough chance we'll see Statham as Brent again.
Blitz is violent, brutish, smartassed and good fun. You could do a whole lot worse on a Friday night.
Take Me Home Tonight
THE problem with so many nostalgia-driven throwbacks to the Eighties is that they often leave you wishing you could er... throw them back there. The good news to report about kitschy comedy, Take Me Home Tonight is that it proves to be an exception.
With a story involving a twentysomething lovable loser who's still carrying a torch for the high-school hottie who stole his heart, it's clear that director Michael Dowse's feature isn't going to win any awards for originality. A kick-ass ensemble cast, however, together with a script that's more hit than miss ensures that it fulfils most of the criteria required of good-quality, disposable fun.
That '70s Show stalwart Topher Grace stars as Matt Franklin, a video store worker who still dreams of what might have been with Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer), the object of his enduring high-school crush. Though Matt has the brains (he's a graduate from a prestigious college) his life has become a monument to underachievement.
So when their paths cross in the mall, a bout of status anxiety sees him dispense with his name tag in the hope of impressing the bodacious Tori with a fake corporate identity. It bags him an invitation to an end-of-summer blowout taking place later that night at which all that was awful about the Eighties is dissected in the pursuit of laughs. Imagine a thinking person's Porky's and you've pretty much put yourself in the picture in terms of what transpires.
Guillermo Del Toro takes a production credit on this thriller but fans of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth visionary should suspend their excitement. The man in charge is 36-year-old Catalonian Guillem Morales, who writes and directs an over-eager and muddled horror-thriller.
Every such film needs its theme; in this case it's loss of vision. So, on a stormy night in a basement in suburban Spain, a young blind woman is hanging herself and shouting at someone. She turns out to be the twin sister of Julia (Belen Rueda) who suffers from the same degenerative disease that turned said sister blind.
We already know foul play is involved but have to wait for Julia and husband Isaac (Lluis Homar) to cotton on to the fact. When they do, they come across all sorts of cliched characters in their search for the killer -- the creepy father and daughter next door, the old dear who likes cats and other scary blind women with milky eyes and robust olfactory nerves.
Julia's sight is rapidly diminishing which adds to her anxiety and ours, resulting in one or two effective chase scenes. But then, as if he's realised his film's shortcomings thus far, Morales decides to kill off Isaac, let Julia enjoy an absurd follow-up romance and get close-up shots of nurses walking in tight skirts, all while our psychopath remains at large.
Rueda and Homar do what they can amid overcooked sequences and a meandering second hour. Morales puts us through much for a climax that is neither unsettling nor surprising enough to puncture the nerves.
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