Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Like a lot of Jerry Bruckheimer films, all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies feel bloated and overlong. In their enthusiasm to create huge, unprecedented action spectacles, the "movie events of the year," The Bruck and director Gore Verbinski concoct these bladder-pounding sensual assaults. I was tired of swashbuckling by about the halfway point of the first Pirates movie, and though I feel that it's the best of the series, the second film essentially is two hours of set-up with no payoff.

But with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the series completely forgets itself. It's difficult, after watching this 2 hour and 45 minute Nonsense Juggernaut, to remember anything that made the first two films enjoyable. Let me put it to you this way...This is a film designed primarily for children, but you'd need a quantum physicist, a Literature professor and a tax attorney to completely follow all of the story's twists and revelations.

So, okay, it's an effects-heavy summer adventure-comedy. Just enjoy it and stop trying to follow the dense, involved machinations of the plot. But this is exactly the problem...that's all this entry has to offer.

The entire film builds up to one immense action sequence, a naval battle between an international Pirate Army and the entire fleet of the East India Trading Company. (All three films have established the tension between the fanciful, mythological world of the pirates and the encroaching corporatism of the Real World, but this one doesn't really develop this theme significantly). This scene is pretty great, definitely on a par with the best action sequences in the whole franchise, though I'd still say the Kraken attack from Dead Man's Chest is the overall best.

Everything that comes before this battle is, essentially, pointless and unnecessary. The first half hour or so of At World's End is excruciatingly dull and nigh on incomprehensible, starting off a movie that's supposed to be a fun, goofy romp on exactly the wrong foot.

As the film opens, the motley crew from the last movie have traveled to the Exotic East looking for a map to Davey Jones' Locker, the Purgatory-ish empty world to which Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has been banished. There's a long long long long scene in "The Locker", which looks a lot like the plain-white inside of The Matrix, in which Jack Sparrow goes insane and plays around with some CG crabs. This scene is actually painful. Nothing happens, it's not funny, it's not imaginative. I kind of wanted to leave; this just feels like they aren't trying. All of this new film's comedy just falls totally flat. The Sparrow character, which once felt like such a daring and unexpected take on the material, now comes off like a rough assemblage of quirks and affectations. And once Jack starts having visions in which tiny Jack Sparrows hang in his dreadlocks and whisper in his ear, it becomes entirely clear that Depp and Verbinski don't know where to take the character.

Once Jack n' Company return to the Real World, things pick up slightly, but not so much. It's just so plot-heavy and dense, with about 7 different quests going on at once and every character possessing conflicting motives and constantly jumping sides. There are some situations in the film that I think could be fairly described as quadruple crosses. Of course, establishing these complicated relationships requires a lot of new characters and a lot of dialogue, which is just overkill for a movie that's about ghost pirates. Chow Yun-Fat is introduced as pirate Sao Feng, and he looks great in the part, but doesn't get to do anything even remotely pirate-y. He just talks a lot (a lot!) about Calypso and the importance of the caucus of the Pirate Lords and his distaste for Jack Sparrow.

So Sao Feng, Jack, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, the Millionaire and his Wife and the rest try to assemble the the team of Pirate Lords (I think they have another name but don't remember or care to look it up) in the adorably-named Shipwreck Cove in order to release the goddess Calypso, who had been imprisoned in human form. This, we're told, is the only way to defeat the East India Trading Company, which wants to wipe out pirate-dom and control the seas.

And all of this sets up the climactic battle, which as I've said, works swimmingly. But it takes so long to get there, I was almost too worn out to fully enjoy the film's one compelling sequence. (As I said about the second film, I really do think the mutant crew of the Flying Dutchman ranks among the greatest CG creations of all time. A new character with the head of an eel was one of the few bright spots of this third edition.) A lot of time during the film's midsection is just wasted. We spend so much time setting up Calypso, the details of her imprisonment and her connection with Davey Jones, and then she completely disappears from the story. After the massive ordeal to assemble all these Pirate Lords, they wind up entirely sidelined from the final conflict. Even the much-discussed cameo from Keith Richards is a disappointment, a great idea upon which the movie fails to capitalize.

The Pirates series started with a great conceit. All the fun of a pirate movie but without the unpleasant raping/pillaging dynamic that might offset the Disney family-fun quotient. Just replace all the actual piracy with supernatural quests for immortality! Brilliant! But the idea's worn thin. A baroque and quite frankly uninteresting mythology and backstory overwhelms the wacky seafaring shenanigans and swordplay, and the whole movie feels like a complete slog.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

San-Genius Malakar

Go watch this video. Then tell me Sanjaya Malakar isn't the greatest entertainer of our times.

You know it's true. Who are you going to put up against him. Tom Hanks? What, is he gonna do one of his patented half-assed accents or drop a couple dozen lb's? I still say the best period of that guy's whole career, the High Tom Hanks Period as I like to call it, was pre-Big, when he would co-star with John Candy and make films about idiots fixing houses or idiots joining the Peace Corps or idiots teaching dogs how to be cops. Oh, and idiots dressing up like ladies and rooming with Peter Scolari.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

That's My Girl, Asshole!

Someone's been going into Craig's List "Missed Connections" threads and posting "That's my girl, asshole!" and then blogging the results. Boing Boing linked to it, and now I'm linking to them, thus filling up the dump truck that will drive through the Internet's toobz and keep this entire cybersystem running, as is my understanding...

A sample from the blog:

At the Hotdog Eating Contest??? - m4w - 24
Reply to:
Date: 2006-07-06, 11:30AM EDT

Lost in the steamy, pushy crowd, trying to get a good view, but couldn't, because the stage was set up terribly, as if to only cater to the TV stations shooting the event.

You: short, reddish/brown shortish hair, a white tanktop, shorts... with two other guys (buyfriend(s)?)

Email me and lets talk if its you. I know this is a long shot, but you were REALLY cute.

Re: At the Hotdog Eating Contest??? - m4w - 24

That was my girlfriend, you asshole.
Re: Re: At the Hotdog Eating Contest??? - m4w - 24

suuuuuuure it was. tell me what sort of facial piercing(s) she has then...?

Most of them are like this. They write "that was my girlfriend, asshole" or some variation on that, and then the original poster wants to get all "Criminal Intent" and try to crack the case of the alleged random boyfriend.

" say that the girl I have been trying to hit on, via Craiglist, is actually your girlfriend...But Forensics insists your just some anonymous person on the Internet...Answer me this...What song was she listening to on her iPod when I pretended to bump into her in a futile attempt to sniff her hair?"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mistaken for Strangers

New video from The National off their upcoming album "The Boxer."

I think these guys are coming to LA soon. Have to look into tickets for that...

Great Moments in Conservative Humor

The day Jerry Falwell died, I wrote up a tossed-off little satirical post about how God was punishing him being a sinner. "The wages of sin is death," and all that. I ended up not publishing it because, while scanning around the Net for juicy Falwell quotes about the wages of sin, I found that several other bloggers had already had the same idea.

It was, after all, kind of an obvious joke. Falwell seized on every opportunity to use tragedy or death to make his case for a theocratic America, so it's only natural to point out the silliness of this line of reasoning when the tables are turned and the man himself dies.

That's what makes Bill O'Reilly's shocked and appalled response to Amanda Marcotte so difficult to believe. Can he be so out of touch with reality that he doesn't understand the Pandagon post in question? Jerry Falwell never once held back in mocking the dead or politicizing tragedy. He's the guy that went on TV while the World Trade Center was still smoldering and blamed feminists for terrorism! Why does he then deserve kid gloves when it's his turn to go?

Bill's headline - "Disrespecting the Dead" - could just have easily served as the title of Falwell's autobiography. This was his exact M.O.; wait until Americans were all paying attention to some big story, and then use it to make the case for the evangelical perspective. It's almost a form of homage to turn it around and use it back on him.

But worse yet, Dennis Miller's then appears on "The Factor" to concur with O'Reilly's take on the story. Now, okay, Bill O'Reilly is a half-wit, maybe he couldn't fire the proper neurons in order to comprehend Marcotte's rather simple joke. But Dennis Miller was a successful comedian for years. There's no way he didn't get it. He's just become a desperate wannabe demagogue. Think about that...a guy who once had a lucrative film, television and publishing career is now making a desperate bid to be a second-tier Sean Hannity. That's a considerable fall in just a few short years...I guess it all started with getting fired from "Monday Night Football."

Let's look at the quote that has Bill so upset:

"The gates of hell swing open and Satan welcomes his beloved son. Jerry Falwell's dead. Guess god [sic] liked the ACLU better after all."

Bill throws in that "[sic]" to point out how shocking and horrible it is that Amanda refused to capitalize the "G" in god, a silly complaint. If Marcotte doesn't believe in the Judeo-Christian "God," or even if she does believe but doesn't think the existence of a deity requires fiddling with conventional rules of grammar and written language, she is under no legal mandate to capitalize her G's. Is Bill's audience really so sensitive that a non-believers failure to capitalize their lord will actually matter? I'm afraid so...

Anyway, it's clear that Amanda's joking here. That's exactly the kind of thing Falwell would say, get it? The overheated language, the casual certainty about God's and Satan's motives, the invocation of the ACLU...This is parody.

Bill feels that it "symbolizes the hateful far left in America." Symbolizes? How so? Can one woman's humorous statement on her blog - a blog that gets a good amount of traffic, but is hardly the keystone of some large political movement - really "stand" for an entire large cutout of the American political spectrum? Of course not. What a stupid thing to say. This is just how Amanda Marcotte feels, which probably reflects how a reasonable cross-section of the small, self-contained liberal feminist blogging community feels (though I'm not sure, even, about that).

Bill goes even further to say that "this group deserves no respect." I guess he's saying that it's not worth listening to people on the left (though why he'd devote a segment of his nationally-broadcast television to say so is curious). But this kind of language has some deep implications..."No respect." Don't all of our fellow citizens deserve some measure of respect? Isn't that really the definition of a society?

Miller finds Marcotte's remark "reprehensible." Seriously...You know who else is totally out of line? This guy:

But...but...Jerry Falwell was still alive when Miller insulted him! So no harm, no foul!