Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

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Aka Pirates of the Caribbean:  Dead Men Tell No Tales. Thanks to the Australian government’s tax incentives, that Pirates-shaped gap in my life has finally been plugged with a new instalment in the delayed series. I love these films, and all pirate films, and have had to sate myself with the genius Black Sails in the interim (I have one series to go, so no spoilers please! I’m still not over Charles Vane’s execution!). This is number 5 in the franchise and it operates as a kind of unofficial reboot because it has been (gasp) 14 long years since the first film, Curse of the Black Pearl, was released. And it’s aptly returned to this for most of the bones in terms of story, character and structure, even if this has way more shaggy-dogness about it in an untidy set of plot mechanics. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann vows to find Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to right the wrong on his father who’s abiding in a watery limbo on the Flying Dutchman. He knows that the Trident of Poseidon will break the curse. Death meanwhile lurks on the high seas in the form of Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew who cannot set foot on dry land – also condemned and cursed by Sparrow’s antics. An astronomer Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario) is being executed as a witch in St Martin where a bank is being opened – and this is where Captain Jack makes his spectacular reappearance with his unruly and disgruntled crew led by Kevin McNally, with their awful ship in dry dock where they’re all broke. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is summoned by Henry to help out and he is ironically reunited with a daughter who doesn’t know the provenance of the map she seeks … Colourful, silly, not entirely logical and definitely rehashing plot points from the earlier films particularly the first one, this is handled pretty well by Norwegian directing duo Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg working from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, with a story by Nathanson and Terry Rossio.  The young lovers story gets a run-through, the Barbossa plot gets a very fitting conclusion, there’s a fascinating flashback (I want one to give me skin like that in real life) and there are homages here and there to make you smile – the zombie sharks being a reference to the original summer blockbuster granddaddy of them all, the ghost crew a nod to the original’s skeleton crew, Depp taking his Robert Newton/Keith impersonation to new heights of pantomime, a great Paul McCartney cameo and a bank robbery like no other. Some of the lines could have done with a rewrite – especially the jokes which are heavy on the misogyny; and there’s no real mad surrealism which has graced previous episodes (is there anything as wild as the hallucination of the ship on dry land and the multiple Jacks?!). While most of the legendary tropes are present bar a real Brit villain the last action sequence is so darned complex I genuinely forgot what it was about. But it’s full of fun and wild adventure and I for one love this series even if number 4 fell far short of expectations. Thwaites and Scodelario make a pretty useful couple to base the next set of films, kicking some new plotlines into touch. What do you want – live action Space Mountain?! Hoist the mainbrace! Wahey me hearties! More!

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Happy 70th Birthday Steven Spielberg!

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We sometimes forget the people who are always there and Steven Spielberg has always been in my life, like a comfort blanket. His command of the visual language complements an extraordinary understanding of the centre of things, the emotionality, the source of humour and compassion, thrills and action. His films have made me swoon and gasp in awe, laugh hysterically, gaze in wonder and shiver in fear. He uses new technology and collaborates with great practitioners in filmmaking crafts. He creates worlds and leads us there, by the hand, and sometimes educates us. He produces films and inspires and mentors other writers and directors and has given the world the great John Williams scores and the summer blockbuster. He is at the heart of pop culture and for Generation X he is simply our guy:  Jaws, CE3K, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET:  The Extra-Terrestrial. His sensibility may have altered somewhat as he has aged, but the audience is always crucial to his thinking:  good stories, well told and beautifully made. He is a master of all genres, pretty much and those he hasn’t directed he’s produced. Spielberg was born 18 December 1946 and we are fortunate to have him. Long may he reign.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

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Johann Wyss’ book was a big part of my childhood and when I went to the Disney theme parks I loved seeing the treehouse – I’m old fashioned, dontcha know and it was a toss-up between that and Alice’s tea cups as to what was my favourite thing. Napoleon’s on the warpath so it’s time for the Robinsons to depart Europe for Guinea – but their ship is wrecked, chased by pirates onto rocks and the crew have abandoned them to their fate. So they set up home on an uninhabited island, experiencing crazy adventures with wild animals, fighting off the returning pirates and generally making themselves very handy indeed. Then another ship is run aground …  Mom and Dad are played by Dorothy Maguire and John Mills, the kids are James Macarthur, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran,  cute as a button, as always. And you might recognise Turk the Great Dane,  (future) star of The Ugly Dachshund. Supreme action adventure beautifully shot in Widescreen and Panavision by Harry Waxman, with a rousing score by William Alwyn, adapted by Lowell Hawley and directed by Ken Annakin. The real treehouse in Tobago remained until it was destroyed by Hurricane Flora in 1963.

 

Swallows and Amazons (2016)

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Children and pirates and spies, oh my! I was dreading this when I read that Arthur Ransome’s real life inter-war intelligence activity was going to be integrated into the classic story of children messing about in boats on holiday in the Lake District. Yet it works a treat, commencing with a train sequence that’s not quite worthy of Hitchcock, when rude Rafe Spall intrudes on the Walker children while escaping the attentions of Andrew Scott and his Russian Friend;  he shows up on a houseboat when the adventurous children are desperately trying to persuade mother Kelly Macdonald to allow them sail to what they proudly christen Walker Island, where they encounter rival sailor girls and much, much more besides. This works up a head of steam and treats family tensions, sibling spats and pirate – and real – spying with due seriousness. Ransome hated the 1962 BBC version;  I grew up with the 1974 adaptation. Writer Andrea Gibb and director Phillippa Lowthorpe do a quietly impressive job. Quite charming.

Peter Pan (1953)

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Watching the abortion of a film called Pan necessitated my return to the real thing – Disney’s magical, charming interpretation of JM Barrie which lit up my childhood. It was the first book I asked my parents to buy for me. It was the second feature animation I saw in the days when the studio was re-releasing the classics before they reactivated their animation division properly. The first I saw was Snow White and in point of fact Disney intended that this be his second feature but it took  him years to obtain the rights and WW2 intervened. London 1900. Practical Papa Darling banishes Nana the dog nursemaid to the yard and Wendy to her own bedroom – it’s time for everyone to grow up. Peter flies into the house at night looking for his shadow, which Wendy tries to stitch to his shoes. He teaches her and her younger brothers John and Michael to fly and they follow him and pixie Tinker Bell to Neverland and have encounters with the pirate Captain Hook who wants revenge for having his hand cut off. Tinker Bell is jealous of Wendy and gets the Lost Boys to shoot her down and Peter banishes her. John and Michael and the Lost Boys set off to find the Indians on the island but they are captured because they believe they kidnapped Tiger Lily, the chief’s daughter … Everything concludes in some marvellous scenes on the pirate ship walking the plank, a ticking crocodile pursuing Hook and his crew, and order restored. Sheer timeless wonder made by the fabled Nine Old Men at Disney with songs by Sammy Cahn. You’ll believe You Can Fly.

Pan (2015)

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There are those films that should have been put out of their misery before they were permitted to become part of ours. And this is one of them. Because what the world really needed was a Peter Pan origins story. Not.  This is ghastly in so many ways it only needs a couple of examples to explain:  the Lost Boys singing Smells Like Teen Spirit. Rooney Mara is Tinker Bell. Written by Jason Fuchs. Directed by Joe Wright. Wrong.Wrong.Wrong.

Happy 100th Birthday Olivia de Havilland!

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“Walking through life with you, ma’am, has been a very gracious thing.” Errol Flynn’s final onscreen lines to Ms de Havilland in They Died With Their Boots On. Two-time Academy Award winner, rebel, survivor, lady and the better half of one of the most glorious screen couples. She is part of our classical Hollywood dream and we are all the better for sharing it. Thank you and Happy Birthday!

The Black Swan (1942)

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Twentieth Century-Fox knew how to make good plotty films and this rip-roaring swashbuckler is at the top of the entertainment heap. Adapted by Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller (they both wrote Scarface, Miller wrote The Sea Hawk) from Rafael Sabatini’s novel, shot by Leon Shamroy in glorious Technicolor, scored by Alfred Newman and directed by the always reliable Henry King, what more could you want? Oh, there’s Tyrone Power as Jamie Boy, supporter of privateer Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) who’s just taken the King’s shilling and wants to clean up the Spanish Main and Maureen O’Hara as Lady Margaret, daughter of the Governor he usurps. They’re after Leech (George Sanders, splendid as a brigand in a ginger wig) who’s done a deal with Lady Margaret’s fiance to divest the Prince Consort of a pile of gold and taken off in the titular galleon. Thomas Mitchell provides comic relief and you must sit back and relish the witty banter between the mismatched lovers as Jamie Boy kidnaps the lustrous lady to lure Leech into a trap. Oh my! How wonderful is this!

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

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Galleon? Check. Skull and crossbones? Check. Velvet loons? Check. Someone shouting ‘Avast’? Check. Swashbuckling? Check and check and check!!! This is one of the supreme entertainments of the studio era. Burt Lancaster is the piratical Captain Vallo operating in the Caribbean in the late 18th century. He and his men capture a frigate belonging to the king that’s carrying Baron Gruda to the island of Cobra to crush a rebellion led by El Libre. Gruda suggests they exchange the leader for a reward.  The crew say this isn’t pirate business so Vallo and his mute henchman (Nick Cravat) are sold out. The deal with Libre’s fellow rebel Pablo Murphy (Noel Purcell) falls asunder. Vallo has a gruff approach to romance with Libre’s daughter Consuela (Eva Bartok) – “What we have for each other we just have to get over!” When Professor Prudence (James Hayter) gets working on his scientific experiments to take back the island things get seriously funny. This is elegant, energetic, exuberant entertainment. It is a film for all ages, for the ages. Working from a first screenplay by blacklistee Waldo Salt, Roland Kibbee fashioned an amazing, tongue in cheek action adventure with oodles of quips to spare. Christopher Lee, who has a supporting role with the Brits (boo hiss!) said of the turn of events in his memoir,

The script started life as serious, nay solemn, but Robert Siodmak, the director, with all the sure touch of real tension behind him in The Killers andThe Spiral Staircase, took stock of the material in forty-eight hours and turned it into a comedy. It was like a Boy’s Own Paper adventure, except that Eva Bartok was in it.

— Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome[4]