The best way to go into Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is to think of it as the first film in a brand new franchise; a franchise in which mermaids love men zombies won’t eat you and a Fountain of Youth exists but all laws of logic reasoning and competent storytelling don’t. Although screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were smart enough to sever the narrative ties to the first two sequels in their franchise’s fourth outing the latest swashbuckling adventure in the series shares most of the same faults its predecessors faced.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) steps in for Gore Verbinski in On Stranger Tides but you’ll be hard-pressed to find his contributions to the already-flashy film that finds our hero Capt. Jack Sparrow (the inimitable Johnny Depp) on the hunt for the fore mentioned fountain. Of course he’s not the only one looking for eternal life: also in tow are nameless stereotypical Spaniards the English crown headed by a reformed Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard a ruthless pirate who looks and sounds a lot like Ian McShane. Their paths cross on numerous occasions as the story scrambles across the map culminating in a splashy battle in a magical meadow where Ponce de Leon’s greatest discovery lies.
Less a cohesive story and more a collection of individual set pieces linked together by nonsensical dialogue and supernatural occurrences the film isn’t all that hard to follow if you don’t strain yourself doing so. The sequence of events collide so conveniently for the characters you can’t help but call the screenplay anything but the result of complacency while the film itself sails so swiftly from point to point it’s actually a waste of time to dwell on plot holes and motives. Disrupting its momentum (which is one of the few things the film has going for it) is an unwatchable romance between Sam Claflin’s missionary Philip and Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) one of a handful of murderous mermaids who do battle with Blackbeard’s crew. Their bland courtship will have you begging for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to return to the high seas and that’s saying something.
The all-female fish people are one of a few additions to the Pirates world but their effect on the film is negligible outside of being the impetus for the coolest action sequence in the picture and perhaps the most unnerving of the series. The others include Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s busty daughter Angelica and Stephen Graham as shipmate Scrum. The former feels out of place among the cartoony happenings but provides much needed sass while the latter fills in for Kevin McNally’s Gibbs for much of the film and is a pleasure to watch for some hammy comedic moments.
As always however this is Depp’s show and he continues to put a smile on my face with his charisma and theatrical presence. Even though he’s operating on autopilot throughout you can’t help but marvel at his energy and enthusiastic output as he literally fuels the fun in the film. The same can be said of Rush who’s given a meatier and more significant arc this time around. He trades quips with Depp as if they were a golden-age comedy duo and they remain the most appealing attraction in the franchise. Though he brings an undeniable sense of danger to the picture I was sadly underwhelmed by McShane’s Blackbeard a character with such a domineering reputation and imposing look he should’ve been stealing scenes left and right. Instead I felt he phoned his performance in though that could’ve been the result of Marshall’s indirection.
No better than the genre-bending original but a slight improvement over Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End On Stranger Tides suffers centrally from lack of a commanding captain. Marshall’s role is relegated to merely on-set facilitator or perhaps liaison between legions of talented craftspeople that make the movie look so good. Whatever vision he had for this venture if he had a unique take at all is chewed up and spit out by the engines of the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster factory rendering the film as mechanical as the ride from which it is based.
Well, two episodes into season five, Vince’s (Adrian Grenier) career has pretty much hit its lowest point; he’s worse off now than when he was doing those Mentos commercials!
I mean, it's pretty safe to assume he’ll ascend once again in the coming episodes, but Vinnie’s currently in "movie jail," as Ari (Jeremy Piven) puts it--and frankly, it’s nice to see Entourage’s impervious golden boy step aside, however briefly, and make room for others to shine.
And with the way this season is going so far, it seems like Eric’s (Kevin Connolly) career, not Vince’s, might be the one Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) should latch onto.
Eric appears to be on the cusp of signing the two screenwriters (guest stars Lukas Haas and Giovanni Ribisi, who are superb and will be back) behind the script that is of great interest to him and Vince and of zero interest to Ari.
This would bring E’s client roster up to four and certainly help boost the legitimacy of his talent-management co. But I digress to speculate about future episodes.
This one was mostly about Vince stuck in the unfamiliar territory of not getting what he wants--be it the onetime virginal singer Justine Chapin (Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester), who naturally winds up with Vince by episode’s end, or the movie role.
Ari breaks the latter news to Vince in a rare moment of sheer honesty, telling him that Medellin was awful and he was awful in it and that essentially there’s not yet a reason to believe that he can act. Ouch.
And just when you thought your hatred for Ari had peaked, he redeems himself with a human side!
But Vince, even more uncharacteristically, tells Ari that he’s ready to play "the game" and sell himself to skeptical studios and producers--whatever it takes. Good for him, but he’s got some serious selling to do.
Things are actually worse for Drama (Kevin Dillon), who after a fit of paranoia-dialing his French girlfriend Jacqueline to see if she’s out cheating on him, is promptly dumped. Ouch again--just one big ouch for the Chase brothers in this one!
Cameo-wise, Entourage exec producer/chief inspiration Mark Wahlberg had a solid two-minuter, while Tony Bennett probably should’ve stuck to singing in his scene.
More than a year has passed since the last Entourage episode (thanks, writers’ strike!), but in season five (premiering Sept. 7 at 10/9c on HBO) it feels like the boys never left. Which is a testament to Doug Ellin and Co.’s sorely underappreciated writing, because a lot has changed and, in fact, some of the boys have left.
Last we saw Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier), he was poised to become the toast of the Cannes Film Festival before his movie Medellin flopped miserably. Season five opens with film critic Richard Roeper simultaneously recapping Vince's Cannes demise and voicing his disgust with Medellin--which, by the way, was relegated to a straight-to-DVD release. Ouch!
Ever since, Vince has been in self-imposed exile on a Mexican beach inhabited by supermodel-ish servants who attend to his every need--a few of which aren’t sexual. He has also grown an I-don’t-give-a-f*** beard that’s reflective of his six months of inactivity.
Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), being the caring and loyal mooch, er, friend he is, has tagged along to watch after Vince--and pounce on any of his female leftovers.
Meanwhile, back in L.A., Vince is never far from the minds of his other entourage members, who have more or less gotten on with their lives since the Medellin debacle.
Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) is still the oldest cast member on his Edward Burns-created TV show, still vain as is humanly possible, and still dating Jacqueline, the Frenchwoman with whom he was caught frolicking on the beach in Cannes. They’re trying to make their intercontinental relationship work via Webcam, which is both difficult and hilarious for obvious reasons.
Then there's Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Ari (Jeremy Piven), who, despite their continued hatred for one another, have almost become interchangeable. Yes, sadly, E is a genuine “suit” nowadays with a fledgling talent-management company (and even a receptionist!) whose non-Vince client roster consists of one person: a rising actor named Charlie, played by Shad Moss, aka Bow Wow, aka Lil Bow Wow.
Early in the episode, Eric and Ari come across a script for Danger Beach, which they both agree is atrociously titled but would be perfect for Vinnie’s proverbial comeback movie. But there’s one problem: Vince is in full-on stubborn mode. (OK, two problems: That beard makes him unemployable!)
So E and Ari private-jet down to Mexico to persuade Vince to consider the movie, and Vince’s reluctance to accept the deal is mirrored by the movie industry's reluctance to accept him post-Medellin.
Thus season five exists in heretofore uncharted territory, whereby Vince is genuinely at the top of Tinsletown’s s**t list (or at the bottom of its in-demand list).
The themes of redemption and vulnerability are such a welcome change from one of constant invincibility--or more aptly put, inVince-ibility.
And while it’s a safe bet that Vince will at some point this season rise again to A-list status (that’s a guess, not a spoiler), it’s nice to see that he is, at least for now, not immune to the hot-cold dynamic that is Hollywood. Indeed, this might be Entourage’s peak in terms of realism.
Elsewhere, everyone’s favorite aspects of the show are still in place--including but not limited to Ari’s vulgar one-liners hurled at his beleaguered assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee), and the bevy of cameos and guest stars.
The latter is in full swing in the second episode, during which Tony Bennett and (Entourage exec producer) Mark Wahlberg have cameos, Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) and Carla Gugino reprise their roles, and Giovanni Ribisi and Lukas Haas become the latest guest stars.