Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

You’re still with me? Good. I was afraid I’d lost you all after the complicated plot twists of the last film.  Those paths of prose are windy indeed and one is liable to get lost if one isn’t careful. Fortunately, they leave out a few little breadcrumbs of coherency so you can follow along in the right direction. At any rate, we’re back for another swashbuckling adventure in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. No, the world doesn’t end. It’s not a movie about any sort of apocalypse. It’s about voyaging to the ends of the world in search of truth, justice. . .oh, who am I kidding? Where’s the rum?

At the end of the last movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) had received a kiss of death and a one way ticket to Davy Jones’ Locker through a dubiously consensual act of vore, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) had made a promise he intended to keep, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) was filled with guilt over her part in Jack’s death, Norrington (Jack Davenport) betrayed them all, and Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) brought Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) back from the dead so they could rescue Jack. Yeah. It’s complicated. This seems to be a trend with these films.

In any event, the plot is more complex and more convoluted this time around. Everyone wants something. For Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), it’s complete control of the waves and, by extension, the world. This runs against everything that pirates and their ilk stand for: life, happiness, and freedom.  This calls for gathering all of the nine Pirate Lords together in order to have a violent staff meeting to decide where to go from here. Fortunately, this side-trip into piratical diplomacy ends up introducing us to Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and Jack Sparrow’s father, Captain Teague (Keith Richards).

There are more magical elements,  a goddess imprisoned in a fleshy body, and at least one unfortunate death by deep-throated tentacle. There are sea battles and inspirational speeches. There’s a quick wedding, a sudden death, and fulfilled destinies. Sure, it gets a little bit crazy, but that’s what I signed on for when I went to see it.

In writing these reviews, I’ve realized that I’m in the minority as I am one of the few in my circle who actually enjoyed these movies. Sure, they’re on a sliding scale of quality. The best was the first, the second was just a stepping stone to get us to the third. Still, though, I love them anyway. They’re not Oscar-worthy, but they’re fun for an afternoon of popcorn and laughter on the high seas.

One last note, though, before you go. Just remember: Calypso, the sea goddess, doesn't have a raging case of crabs - she is a raging case of crabs. Food for thought.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

When a film studio and a movie love each other very much (and by love, we mean the movie makes a huge wad of cash for the studio so it’s more like the love between a prostitute and a pimp, but I digress), they get together and make what we call a franchise. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a resounding success. So much so that Disney signed on to make more of them. They had a fun challenge: making a trilogy out of thin air. This is where things get interesting.

The second film is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. The chest in question: actually a box. The dead man? I guess that’s connected to the mythology about where dead sailors, pirates, and seamen (get your minds out of the gutter) go. Davy Jones’ Locker (which should not be confused with the lockers that nerds get shoved into at school).

We start the film with a typical Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) entrance and find out that he’s in search of a unique key that opens a special chest. After a quick verbal tango with his skeptical crew, the movie continues and we find out from a surprisingly not dead Bootstrap Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgård) that our rum-soaked pirate made a deal to be Captain of the Black Pearl. His time as captain is up and the one who holds his debt is coming to collect.

Jack’s first thought? “Run away!”

Pirate.

Meanwhile, back on the island, Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth’s (Keira Knightley) wedding has been interrupted by men with guns. Both bride and groom are under arrest for assisting in the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow. Their jailer, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), offers Will a deal: get Jack’s compass and free himself and his ladylove. Of course he takes the deal and goes off on that madcap quest. After a futile escape attempt, Elizabeth ends up taking off after him in order to ensure their freedom.

With me so far? That’s great. I’d explain the rest of the movie, but it gets complicated. To make it easy on you, I’ll just say that as long as you keep the character’s end goals in mind, you’ll be able to keep up. I will warn you that there are tentacles, cannibals, eunuch jokes, ridiculous sword fights, more tentacles (not in a hentai way), and some awesome scene chewing. Captain Tentacle-Face himself, Davy Jones, is played by the ever awesome Bill Nighy. They also introduce the enigmatic, creepy-hot Tia Dalma as played by possible-future-Bond-Girl Naomie Harris.

It may not be as great a movie as the first, but I still love watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. As long as I’m entertained, it’s all good. Your nautical mileage may vary.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Picture this: You’re a Disney movie executive sitting behind your huge desk, just trying to finish up the last couple of meetings for the day before tee time and some guy comes in. He pitches you an idea about doing a movie based off of one of the many Disney park rides. Think about the bump in attendance that the parks would get as a result of the movie’s success! It sounds brilliant and unprecedented! Why not give it a shot? It’d at least get the guy to go away.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how we got the made-for-TV classic Disney’s Tower of Terror. It starred Steve Guttenburg and Kirsten Dunst. No, you probably didn’t see it. You should be glad you didn’t. I did.

Fortunately, it was forgettable stepping stones like that which bring us past the other ride-to-movie crap Disney did (Mission to MarsThe Country Bears, and The Haunted Mansion) and straight to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. To be honest, The Haunted Mansion was released a few months after Pirates, but we’re not going to talk about that movie. It’s better that way.

The prologue happens. There’s a little Elizabeth, a gruff sailor (Kevin McNally), little girl’s dad (Jonathan Pryce), and Captain Stick-Up-His-Ass Norrington (Jack Davenport). They encounter a burned ship and little Will Turner with a mysterious coin around his neck. The girl promises to take care of the boy and then promptly steals his coin once he passes out. Apparently, taking care of someone involves the theft of their valuables. Good to know!

Theoretically, the main plot of the movie is centered around the romance between the prologue's girl and the boy. Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), is now a lovely young lady and daughter of the island’s governor and Will (Orlando Bloom), is now an enterprising young man who’s apprenticed to a drunken blacksmith. Sure, it’s a cute story. Boy from the wrong side of the tracks in love with a rich girl who’s also got newly-promoted Commodore Stick-Up-His-Ass Norrington chasing her tail.

In reality, though, it’s all about the two scene-stealing pirates: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his former mutinous first mate Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). After his grand entrance, the audience finds out that Jack is currently shipless and looking for a replacement. Barbossa, on the other hand, has Jack’s former ship and a nasty case of semi-undead from coming into contact with cursed gold and loose women.

Remember that coin Elizabeth stole? Yep. It was cursed. The coin gets rubbed the wrong way and summons the pirates to bring on the plot. There’s swash to be buckled, ships to be acquired, curses to break, and adventure to be had. Though not a work of cinematic greatness, it’s a great deal of fun to watch. For the record, this movie spawned the new pirate renaissance and inspired the swagger of many a would-be pirate captain. It may also be the reason why the rum is gone.

Conan the Destroyer

Coming of age is hard, no matter which day and age you live in. Being a princess destined to go on a magical quest to awaken a sleeping god for your aunt can't possibly make it any easier. Princess Jehnna (Olivia D'Abo) finds herself in such a difficult situation in Richard Fleischer's Conan the Destroyer, the fun (but not as awesome) sequel to Conan the Barbarian. Joined by legendary swashbuckler, Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his buddies: wizard Akiro (Mako) and thief Malak(Tracey Walter), Jehnna and her mighty manservant  Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain) embark on a quest to find a magic crystal that only the virginal princess can touch.

On their way, they encounter brigands, cultists, a shape-changing wizard, and warrior-woman Zula (Grace Jones). Zula joins the band as a female mentor figure for Jehnna, giving the budding young woman advice about how to catch her man. The princess has cast her eye on the stoic and mighty Conan. Little does she know that Conan is only on the trip because her aunt had promised to give the barbarian the one thing he wants most in the world: his beloved Valeria back from the dead (because necrophilia and cremation do not mix). Talk about a major bummer and set-back for love-struck Jehnna! It also totally doesn't help that Bombaata is mostly on-board to keep Jehnna from getting jiggy with anyone, especially Conan. He's her own personal, walking chastity belt and a total killjoy (possibly because he might have a thing for her himself, it's kind of unclear).

Getting to self-actualization is a two-step process for Jehnna. First, she has to get kidnapped by some skeezy old wizard in a castle across a lake in order to acquire a magic jewel. The ensuing Conan vs. Wizard battle in a room of mirrors is kind of neat, but also a bit reminiscent of this battle from the original "Star Trek" (at least to me). They have to use the jewel to get the horn from the mouth of a dead lizard thing (totally not any sort of sexual imagery there).

They get the jewel (and the totally-not-a-penis) horn for the dreaming god, Dagoth. Jehnna gets to confront her own growing desires and comes into her own (after nearly being sacrificed by her god-hungry aunt). Everyone gets what they want most. Except for Conan. That, however, is a tale for another time. Or so the narrator tells us. Again. Sigh.

The thing about Conan the Destroyer is that, while fun, it doesn't nearly reach the epic levels that its predecessor scaled. There are moments of charm and giggles, but it just feels like its missing some vital element. Still, it's way better than some recent fantasy films that shall not be named.

Conan The Barbarian

Once upon a time, one of the most hardcore metal bands ever was touring the ancient world: Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and the Snake Cult. Their devoted fans clung to their message like gospel, willing to throw their lives and material goods away to worship at the altar of the two opposing snakes over a black sun. Like any good metal band, they were terribly misunderstood by the families of their fans and small villages across the world. One such village was home to the titular hero of John Milius' epic tale of magic and mayhem, Conan the Barbarian.

The film begins as Conan's father gives him a quick lesson about religion and the "riddle of steel," a question Conan is charged to answer by the time he dies and is on his way to meet Crom, their god. Little did they know that their village was a stop for the greatest metal band of their time. Doom, the band, and their groupies rampage through the village in a riot of epic, bloody proportions, causing the deaths of everyone, including Conan's sword-making dad and smoking-hot mom. Then, the band departs as quickly as it arrived, leaving the kids to be sold to slavers.

Understandably, Conan grows to hate Doom and his band. Now grown and trained in the martial arts, bigger, beefier Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) embarks on a trip to bring down the band that ruined his life. He is joined by a wizard (Mako), a thief (Gerry Lopez), and a hot chick (Sandahl Bergman). They're bankrolled by King Osric (Max Von Sydow) who wants them to bring his daughter back from Doom's cult of personality before she's tempted to do something wacky like kill him. This is not a fear completely out of left field as playing Doom's songs backwards does seem to incite violence, patricide, and orgies (they're a metal band, what do you expect?). It's a fact.  In any event, Conan and his team rise to the task and their journey becomes a legend that the narrator promises to finish. Later.

For the rest of the movie, the audience gets to sit through some bloody and wonderful action sequences put to the timeless music of Basil Poledouris. (Trivia note: the score for this film, oddly enough, is one of the favorites among industry insiders. Just fyi.) By the time you get to Thulsa Doom's answer to Woodstock, you've been through some death, resurrection, more death, and some big effin' snakes. Still, you'd happily keep watching for hours and hours more just to continue enjoying what is best in life (something involving death and lamentation, see the musical).

Conan the Barbarian was and remains one of the best fantasy action films ever, teaching us valuable lessons about the power of cults and steel.

Wraith, The

If you are frequenting this website, there is a strong possibility that you have seen The Crow (1994)Brandon Lee’s final picture about one man raining supernatural vengeance upon those that so thoroughly wronged himself and his girlfriend.  The Crow takes itself very seriously almost to the point of turning into an emo-filled parade.  However, if you’re less of a Hot Topic person and more of a Dick’s Sporting Goods guy, you may want to watch Mike Marvin’s The Wraith, the story of Charlie Sheen raining supernatural vengeance upon those that wronged him…..with car racing.

Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes) and his gang of “road pirates” (an actual term used in the film) stalk the highways of Arizona, strong-arming unwilling muscle car drivers into racing for pink slips and then chopping up the cars to sell the parts on the black market.  The gang comes across as The New Kids on the Block equivalent of black marketeering.  There is the leader (Packard), the preppy one Minty, the nerdy one (Rughead played by the one, the only Clint Howard), the gay one (Oggie), the redneck one (Gutterboy), and the so-addicted-to-drugs-he-snorts-transmission-fluid one (Skank).  Their hideout/garage looks like the modern version of The Monkees’ old house adorned with neon and even sporting a pinball machine!

Packard’s frustrated.  Sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid) is giving his gang a hard time just because of all the violence and destruction they cause.  The woman he loves (Sherilynn Fenn) will not put out no matter how many people he bludgeons to prove his undying love to her.  And now, this kid on a motorcycle (Charlie Sheen) has ridden into town to steal his thunder.  What’s a road pirate to do?

What does this have to do with Charlie Sheen wreaking his supernatural vengeance?  Well, not a lot which is why the narrative is so confusing.  Charlie Sheen is in the film for maybe 15 minutes all told and his scenes involve either him spouting philosophical nonsense that would even make Kwai Chang Caine grimace or taking Sherilynn Fenn’s bathing suit off.   For all intents and purposes, Packard is the main character of the story of a ghost coming back from the dead to get revenge on Packard.  Now, this would not be a downside if this were an extended episode of Tales from the Crypt.  However, in an 80s movie that plays out more like Better Off Dead (1985) with race cars, it gets a little confusing as to for whom the audience is meant to root.

These are all the questions that will bother you if you can make it past the fact the plot is there only to service a 90 minute car commercial.  And what fancy cars they are!  The titular Wraith drives a one of a kind “Turbo Interceptor,” which comes across as the most interesting character in the film.  Which, for the NASCAR crowd, will show that Mike Marvin was not a bad filmmaker, but was actually ahead of his time.

Thor

It should come as little shock to anyone who visits this site that the staff here are nerdlings (not to be confused with zerglings) to the nth degree. As such, it surprises one even less that several of us are not only avid comic book readers, but more specifically fans of the Marvel comics version of Thor, Norse God of Thunder. We've sat through two Hulks (one terrible, one kinda fun), two Iron Man films (both good, first one better), and a lot of trailers; but finally, ladies and gentlemen...It's Hammer Time!

I had to say it at least once. I won't do it again. Promise.

The picture starts off following a team of storm chasing astrophysicists headed by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, who at the age of 29 is finally looking over the age of 18), the film, and the team, quickly run into Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Quite literally. With a car. Not the most auspicious introduction, certainly. Quickly, however, the story rewinds back a few hundred years to develop the backstory of Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) defense of the nine realms (of which Earth is one) against the threat of the Frost Giants. The narration continues on about how it will be his future heir's duty, either Thor or his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to hold the line. It's here where we're reminded yet again that Hopkins is a member of that elite cadre of actors of whom we wouldn't mind listening to a reading of the Sears catalogue.

As time passes, Thor is chosen as heir to the throne, (much to the consternation of Loki) though he is still brash and headstrong. Eventually he leads an ill-fated expedition into the heart of the Frost Giant kingdom, kicking ass and taking names like any storm god should, but threatening the tenuous truce that has lasted the last few centuries. Odin gets ticked, and rightfully so, booting Thor from Asgard to Midgard (Earth for those less up on their Viking nomenclature). It's here where the film turns into more of a romantic comedy, but still maintains its charm, providing a timely break from all the Magic talk and immortals. It's these elements that help cement what is essentially a high fantasy film into a relatable reality, which is a key quality for a superhero flick.

Speaking of which, as this is being integrated into the grand "Marvel Avengers film plan", there are a lot of references to the Hulk and Iron Man films, as well as a nod to the Captain America picture slated for later this year. All of this is done with much the same style and technique that the original comics did years ago, and never bogs down the film. Indeed, when a giant armored weapon of godly distruction is sent to New Mexico and the first response by a government agent is "Is this another one of Stark's?" only to be followed by "Who knows? He never tells me anything." is a nice light touch, keeping the film universe alive.

All told, Thor is a rollicking good adventure flick. It takes just the right amount of time to develop its characters enough so that when the requisite effects-laden battles begin, you actually care about the results even though you know exactly what they'll be. Additionally, the film is fun enough that when it comes home on Blu-Ray or DVD, you can still have a blast with a superhero-themed Cavalcade crew.

Tron: Legacy

Disney’s 1982 cult phenom TRON addressed a very important question for its time: what was man’s place in the growing world of computers? Nearly thirty years later, TRON: Legacy had a very different question to answer: How do you make a sequel relevant when a chunk of the movie-watching audience wasn’t even alive (this reviewer included) when the first one came out? The answer, apparently, was very simple:

Make it pretty and add a healthy dose of daddy issues and existential angst.

During the prologue, Sam Flynn(Garrett Hedlund) lost his father. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), hero of the first TRON, didn’t die. He just never came home after leaving one night to work at the Arcade. This, of course, leaves our hero with a substantial chip on his shoulder. His resentment over his father’s abandonment manifests in leading a mediocre life while engaging in yearly pranks against the company in which he’d inherited a major stake. A mysterious page sent to substitute-father-figure Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) kicks off Sam’s journey into the digital wonderland known as The Grid.

The Grid is a darker place now, ruled by fascist CLU (Jeff Bridges again) with an assist from mouthpiece Jarvis (a disturbingly bald James Frain) and enforcer Rinzler (Anis Cheurfa). It’s not all bad, though, as most of the vinyl-clad inhabitants look like they belong in Lady Gaga music videos. After getting a bit over his head, Sam’s rescued by the awesomely adorable Quorra (Olivia Wilde).  She takes him to the Fortress of Zen where The Flynn abides.

The Flynn explains a great number of things while setting up the background for CLU’s daddy issues and subsequent rise to power. The movie stalls a bit there, stumbling over the weight of its philosophical questions,but soon ramps up again for the inevitable showdowns. Highlights of the final act of the film include a delightful run-in with Castor (Michael Sheen), nightclub owner and Ziggy Stardust-wannabe, and a cameo by the film’s composers-the  electronica duo Daft Punk.

Visually stunning, TRON: Legacy was gorgeous in theaters and fantastic on Blu-ray. For those who tend to overthink these things, it serves as a great conversational topic at parties (Holocaust metaphor vs. Milton’sParadise Lost). Otherwise, it’s just a lot of fun, true to the original while bringing in a more modern, self-centered sensibility.

Freddy Vs. Jason

A transcript from a recent Cavalcade of Schlock editorial meeting:

Micah P: Tom, I’ve read your review for Freddy vs. Jason.

Tom: Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about it.  I think I nailed it.

Micah P.:

All you wrote was “Greatest Movie Ever.”  500 times.

Tom: I know!  Hook me up!  <Raises hand for high five>

Micah P.: <Stares blankly.  Walks away.>

And now, a “real article” explaining the glory that is Freddy vs. Jason since Higgins will not let me back in the Cavalcade of Schlock building.

To understand: in August 2003, I was sitting in a packed movie theater on a Friday night.  It had been twelve years since Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) and ten years since Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993).  The lights dimmed.  The New Line Cinema logo appeared on the screen and the familiar piano theme from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) filled the speakers followed quickly by Friday the 13th’s trademark “Ch Ch Ch Ha Ha Ha.”  From a crowd of fans that did not care about whether Neo would free the humans or if Middle Earth was going to burn the ground came a wave of applause and cheering erupted and did not stop for the next 97 gore filled minutes!

Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has been stuck in Hell since the events of the aforementioned Final Nightmare.  Krueger hatches a plan to reawaken the now officially unkillable Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) and have him kill teenagers on Elm Street in order to inspire fear in a new generation and regain his own powers.  Jason proceeds to do just that.  However, he will not stop killing, going so far as to kill teenagers that Freddy was going to kill himself.  And, thus, a battle royale begins between the two horror icons for the privilege of killing the unsuspecting teenagers in the Ohio/New Jersey area.

Director Ronny Yu and writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift did not have the easiest task putting these two characters together in one film.  The production history on the film alone could fill up three articles.  While both characters started as straight slashers, Freddy’s films took a different, more effects heavy direction in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987) when director Chuck Russell started to take more advantage of the possibilities in attacking a person in one’s dreams.  In addition, the victims in Freddy’s films have traditionally been marginally more intelligent than Jason’s.  Elm Street kids tend to pick up on the fact that they are being picked off more quickly even if they do not know how or why.  Crystal Lake campers tend to have two disadvantages: inebriation and Jason’s brutal efficiency.  Jason usually kills 90% of the film’s victims in a 24 hour period before anyone knows what’s going on.  As a result, FvJ plays more like a NoES film with Jason guest starring.  However, this is balanced by Jason having the majority of the kills and having those kills be quintessentially Jason.

There is an impressive amount of gore and creativity in this film.  Both Freddy and Jason’s style of murder are given equal spotlight.  “Crafts-matic Adjustable Death” is a particular favorite.  But this is all prologue to the titular fight and what a fight it is.  Yu and company do not cheat the audience.  We came to see Freddy fight Jason and what a fight we got to see!  I have timed it, it lasts a solid half hour.  The fight is equal parts WWE and Looney Tunes and never stops being fun.

There is so much Jason and Freddy violence that not even the deplorable acting by our teenage cannon fodder, excuse me, I mean, “victims” cannot even get annoying.  But, they do try their damnedest.  Jason Ritter, in particular, makes Keanu Reeves look like Laurence Olivier.  Overall, this is a silly movie that is equal parts 80s slasher and Abbott and Costello monster film.  FvJ is a great send off for two slashers that have given us so much joy.

Red Sonja

Some fantasy films are just entertaining yarns, but some try to teach the viewer something. Most of them are about self-reliance and finding the hero within ourselves. Richard Fleischer's Red Sonja, however, is about defeating the gay agenda. Yes. It's about the rainbow menace that stalks our dreams and inhabits our nightmares.

The prologue finds our titular heroine (Brigitte Nielson) sprawled on the ground. A disembodied voice fills the audience in. Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman) came upon Sonja at her parents' homestead and decided that the redhead was quite the catch and made a pass at her. Like any good heterosexual heroine, Sonja refuses her advances. Pissed about being rejected, Gedren orders the slaughter of Sonja's parents and tells her men to have a little fun with the uppity girl. The disembodied voice tells our heroine to dust herself off and gain her revenge. Fueled by righteous rage, she becomes a mighty swordfighter and cunning warrior.

Meanwhile, a group of scantily-clad priestesses are trying to seal away a magical glowy orb for the good of humanity. Their efforts are foiled by Gedren and her army who swoop in to steal the orb. One priestess escapes: a redhead who is rescued by totally-not-Conan Prince Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger). They find her sister, Sonja, and the priestess tells her the news before promptly dying. Now, there are potentially world-ending consequences should Gedren continue with her fashion-forward gay reign of terror.

Sonja, a man-hater, decides to go alone on her quest, but is soon accompanied by Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes Jr.) of Hablok, his manservant, Falkon (Paul Smith), and, finally, Kalidor. The journey puts Sonja in touch with her softer side, showing that she's totally feminine and straight despite her warrior ways. By the end of the silly (yet fun) film, Sonja finds that revenge is sweet.

And a good swordfight makes excellent foreplay.