Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides * * * *
Cert 12A, 136mins
Avast, me hearties! After a gap of four years, Captain Jack Sparrow is back hoisting the Jolly Roger and splicing the mainbrace.
Or whatever it is that pirates do.
I have to admit to being a little worried about the franchise being resurrected, after a disappointing and fiendishly confusing third film.
But it seems there really is life in the old sea dog yet, because the fourth film, On Stranger Tides, is a vast improvement.
At World’s End sagged badly with its flabby 168-minute run time, but this one is half-an-hour shorter and I never felt it drag.
It’s made by Rob Marshall rather than usual Pirates director Gore Verbinski, but he showed in Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha that he knows how to make things look spectacular – and he continues to do so here, using locations from London to Hawaii.
He is not the only new recruit, as we’ve said goodbye to Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. But I don’t miss them at all.
In their place come new young hunk Sam Claflin, feisty Penelope Cruz and rather brilliant Ian McShane, who manages to out-pirate Geoffrey Rush.
The story is pleasingly straightforward, a basic race to find the mythical Fountain of Youth.
The Spanish are quick off the mark, followed by Barbossa (Rush), who’s leading an expedition for King George II (Richard Griffiths).
But Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) ends up aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship of fearsome pirate Blackbeard (McShane) and his first mate Angelica (Cruz), who just happens to be Jack’s old flame.
Throw in a prophecy and some gorgeous, but vicious mermaids, plus some exciting chases and sword fights, and there’s plenty to enjoy.
Stephen Graham joins as sailor Scrum and it’s good to see Brummie actor Kevin McNally return as Gibbs – but I don’t think Keith Richards, as Jack’s father, should give up the day job quite yet. Dame Judi Dench even pops up, very briefly, in an amusing cameo.
Depp makes the most of the choice lines he has to deliver, though the script could be a little funnier.
This is a good, entertaining romp and one that’s worth forking out to see in 3D, or even on the huge screen of Birmingham’s IMAX cinema.
If you sit through the credits, listening to Hans Zimmer’s superb Spanish-flavoured score, you’ll be rewarded with a bonus scene which clearly implies more to come. If this standard is maintained, I can’t wait to walk the plank for a fifth time. RL
Blitz * *
Cert 18, 97mins
Jason Statham’s latest character is a policeman called Det Sgt Tom Brant.
But that’s the end of the surprises because, like so many of his other film roles, Tom is a gruff, no-nonsense man’s man who beats people up and gets away with it.
He also drinks like a fish, sleeps badly and yet can still run as fast as Usain Bolt.
Meanwhile, Aiden Gillen is a mentally unstable loner called Barry Weiss (aka The Blitz) who is taking his revenge on the police by murdering officers in turn.
Based on another novel by London Boulevard author Ken Bruen, Paddy Considine’s openly gay copper DS Porter Nash is brought in above Brant to lead the investigation.
Will Brant lead Nash to dark places he hasn’t been before, will Nash soften the hard man or will they become a team even if they are not exactly joined at the hips? While the film recognises pressure and camaraderie, the plot is stretched like an under-sized string vest over a bulging six pack.
Little-known director Elliott Lester (Love Is The Drug) makes this violently unpleasant in a bid to mask the lack of logic and the fact that David Morrissey is playing an ill-conceived tabloid reporter character called Harold Dunlop. One scene is also an unfortunate reminder of PC David Rathban’s fate at the hands of gunman Raoul Moat in July last year. GY
Julia's Eyes (Los Ojos De Julia) * * * *
Cert 15, 117mins
Delivered by the producers of seminal Spanish horror The Orphanage, this is another very good horror film that’s far more focused than most Hollywood genre entries these days.
Julia (Belen Rueda) senses that her twin sister Sara is in trouble and finds her sibling has been hanged.
Refusing to believe it was suicide, she tries to investigate the truth herself – even though she, too, is at risk of losing her own sight from the same degenerative condition Sara suffered. Director Guillem Morales increases our knowledge of Julia’s peril with inverse proportion to the quality of her eyesight. Quite how enjoyable/terrifying you find this will depend on your ability to stomach some rather unpleasant scenes involving eyes.
But it’s fair to say that until Morales stretches credulity too far at the end, this is a well-constructed, ably-directed, tautly-delivered journey towards seemingly inevitable blindness which will play with your own senses until the hairs on the back of your neck duly stand up. GY
Outside the Law (Hors-la-Loi) * * * *
Cert 15, 133mins
This controversial story about the Algerian struggle for independence after the Second World War is director Rachid Bouchareb’s follow up to Days of Glory (2006), in which Algerians who had never set foot on French soil were prepared to unite and die for the cause against the Nazis.
It ended up cleverly showing how old people become marginalised by societies which forget their contribution and even led to France finally paying pensions.
In Outside the Law, younger Algerians are fighting for their country’s independence.
Moving from Algeria in 1925 through to 1950s Indochina and into early 60s Paris, the action revolves around three brothers searching for a future after losing their family home.
Messaoud joins the French army in Indochina, Saïd tries to become a boxing promoter in Paris and Abdelkader rises to lead the Algerian independence movement in France.
Their mother dreams of having them all back with her; the authorities go rogue to try to stop them.
Shot on an epic scale and again offering a visual and thematic nod to Saving Private Ryan, Outside the Law earned Bouchareb his second Oscar nomination for best foreign film earlier this year.
Part Western, part Godfather and with topical reflections of French colonialism meeting contemporary struggles for freedom in north Africa head-on, this is a thought-provoking film despite its over-ambitious nature. When coupled with our current protestations about the violent repression of demonstrators in north Africa, this dramatisation of one aspect of European history is compelling filmmaking which will be appreciated by anyone with an interest in violent struggles for independence.
It’s at the MAC in Cannon Hill Park for a week from May 20. GY
Meek's Cutoff * *
Cert PG 102mins
Set in Oregon in 1845, three couples and their wagons are heading west in the hope of a better life.
They are guided by Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), who’s full of tales of derring-do like fights with grizzly bears, but isn’t entirely sure of the right course to take. Though he protests: “We’re not lost, we’re just finding out way.”
The wide vistas and huge skies of the untamed American West are beautifully shot, and there’s a great cast including Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson, Paul Dano and Will Patton. But they’re just not given anything to do. We watch them trudge for miles, growing tired of listening to the squeaky wheel of a wagon.
Dialogue is minimal, even when they finally have something to debate – what to do with a native American Indian they capture.
Meek is all for killing him, but they think he’s their best hope to lead them to a fresh water supply. Then comes an uneventful, disappointing ending, leaving you wondering why you bothered. RL