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.
Author Stephanie Meyer unleashed a phenomenon with her Twilight novels a teen vampire romance that has spurned a teen cult following. The good news is the movie is surprisingly just as potent -- a spellbinding terribly romantic hypnotic and entertaining film. At its heart are the elements that make any teen drama work; in this case it’s forbidden love. It starts with 16 year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who relocates from her sunny Phoenix to the cold gray foreboding atmosphere of Forks Washington to live with her father. At her new high school she meets the incredibly attractive but mysterious Cullen clan including the allusive Edward (Robert Pattinson) who immediately intrigues her. What she doesn’t know yet is that Edward and his “family” are a group of vegetarian vampires who drink only animal blood and must live in the terminally cloudy region of Northwest. Edward tries to drive a determined Bella away by revealing his true identity but soon realizes she is the girl of his dreams. But as the two begin their complicated romance things get dicey when another group of um meat-lovin’ vampires target Bella. Teen Beat should clear their covers for a new group of stars sure to become huge with the female teen set -- and probably their mothers as well. Exuding a brooding reserve and air of mystery the follicley-endowed Robert Pattinson is reminiscent of James Dean and completely believable as a conflicted bloodsucker who becomes dangerously attracted to a mere mortal. His Edward’s unpredictable nature becomes irresistible for the attractive Kristen Stewart’s Bella as she grows closer to him despite his attempts to keep her at arm’s length. Not since Baby yearned for Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing has there been such an effective pairing for the acne-challenged set. Pattinson and Stewart simmer with teen angst and desire and could be the next big thing -- especially if there are more Twilight sequels to follow. The Cullen clan led by foster parents Peter Facinelli and Elizabeth Reaser is perfectly cast with a good looking bunch of vampiric thesps including newcomers Ashley Green Kellan Lutz Jackson Rathbone and Nikki Reed. Red-headed Rachelle LeFevre as bad vamp Victoria is ideal along with Cam Gigandet and Edi Gathegi as the guys in her group of nomadic vampires. Director Catherine Hardwicke has certainly shown she understands the ever-changing moods of youth with her previous efforts (Thirteen Lords of Dogtown). But those flicks were just warm-ups for what she taps into with Twilight. She creates a wonderful creepy kind of muted dark and cloudy society with imposing camera angles and aching teen lust from her bright red-lipped hormonally charged leads. And thankfully she leaves the fangs on the cutting room floor. These vampires are actually relatable and Hardwick takes what could have been an awful juvenile programmer and lifts it into a different league creating not only a movie that should cross over beyond it’s target demo but one that makes us genuinely excited for the inevitable sequels.
Everything appears to be status quo between humans and mutants. There’s a president who is sympathetic towards mutants Prof. Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school is thriving and Magneto (Ian McKellen) is quiet--for the moment. But when a “cure” for mutancy is discovered which would give those with the mutant gene the choice to give up their powers and become human Magneto sees red. Cure mutants? Dem’s fightin’ words. With a few more allies on his side--including the resurrected Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who now calls herself the Phoenix and has unlimited powers--Magneto prepares to trigger the war to end all wars while the X-Men--lead by the stalwart Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and milquetoasty Storm (Halle Berry)--try to stop him. I seriously doubt this is really their Last Stand. All the usual suspects are back. Stewart is once again sufficiently wise as Xavier while McKellen’s Magneto continues to be one of the cooler comic-book villains. It’s amusing to watch him calmly mangle cars or dislodge the Golden Gate bridge with a gleam in his eye. Janssen also seems to relish playing dual roles--the tormented Grey and her evil alter ego Phoenix who is one scary broad. Unfortunately Jackman doesn’t have as much to chew on in Last Stand as he did in X2 and Berry is once again only good for drumming up fog. But the new mutants are kind of fun: Ellen Page (so deadly in Hard Candy) plays sweet this time as Kitty Pryde who can “phase” through solid material; Vinnie Jones (Snatch) is boisterous as the aptly named Juggernaut; Kelsey Grammer is diplomatic as the highly intelligent--and very blue--Dr. Hank McCoy aka Beast; and Dania Ramirez (Fat Albert) as the blink-of-an-eye quick Callisto gets to kick Storm’s ass. Cool cat fight. How dare director Bryan Singer leave his X-Men to go direct another superhero movie even if it is Superman Returns. If Wolverine had anything to say about he might have ripped Singer a new one. You really do feel Singer’s absence in The Last Stand. All of the director’s tormented pathos towards his mutant comrades and their struggles to live in the human world are not as prevalent in this third installment. Instead we’ve got happy-go-lucky director Brett Ratner of Rush Hour fame who turns The Last Stand into one giant id--big explosive and campy. Of course to his credit Ratner is pretty good at delivering a rousing albeit superficial action movie. It’s just not as gripping as X2. But listen the spirit of the comic is already built in from the previous installments so in essence we already know these characters pretty well. Do we really need more angst?
December 01, 2003 5:34am EST
The Haunted Mansion and Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat dominated the Thanksgiving box office with Eddie Murphy's Disneyland attraction flick placing first for the five day holiday period and Mike Myers' wacky feline topping the three day chart.
The Haunted Mansion enjoyed the biggest five day (Wed.-Sun.) slice of box office pie with $35 million* versus The Cat in the Hat's $34 million take. For three days (Fri.- Sun.), The Cat in the Hat led with $25.5 million versus The Haunted Mansion $25.3 million.
Of the four new wide releases vying for the North American box office, The Haunted Mansion was the only one to crack the Top Five, with last week's topper The Cat in the Hat giving it a run for its money, despite taking a critical beating.
"[Family films] are sometimes put up against a much more critical standard than they should be," Disney head of distribution, Chuck Viane, told The Associated Press Sunday. "You have people who want everything to be so artistic. That's not what family movies are about. They're about enjoyment and laughter and having fun."
Family entertainment was certainly the thing to beat this weekend. The holiday comedy Elf remained in third place in its third week of release, taking in a not-so-elfish $31.8 million. Elf's weekend take was enough to push it by the $100 million mark, making it the 24th release of the year to do so. This ties 2002's record of 24 films.
Gothika, meanwhile, came in fourth with $18.2 million, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World rounded out the Top Five with $17.5 million.
Thanksgiving's three other wide theatrical openings were turkeys compared to Mansion--Bad Santa brought in only $16.8 million, The Missing made $16.5 million and Timeline took $12.6 million. The films came in sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
Key films grossed $209.5 million for five days, up about 8.6 percent from last Thanksgiving (Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2002) when key films did $192.9 million. The year 2000 still holds the overall Thanksgiving record with $232.16 million for the Top 12's five-day period, but if this week's estimates hold, this year's five-day posts will be the second all-time best.
THE TOP TEN
(NOTE: Today's films are ranked according to their estimates for the FIVE-DAY Thanksgiving holiday period from Wednesday through Sunday. Percentage variations do not apply because the previous weekend was a normal three-day weekend. Estimates for the three-day period from Friday through Sunday are indicated parenthetically.)
Buena Vista's PG rated horror comedy The Haunted Mansion led the five-day box office in its opening week with an ESTIMATED $35 million at 3,122 theaters, with a strong $8,104 per theater average. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $25.3 million.)
In the film, a real estate agent moves his family into a mansion located on a remote bayou with the hopes of refurbishing it and making the deal of a lifetime--until he unearths the house's history and finds that his wife has unexpected connections to its haunted past.
Directed by David Berenbaum, it stars Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason and Jennifer Tilly.
Universal Pictures' PG rated Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, last week's box office champ, followed in close second in its second week with an ESTIMATED $34 million at 3,467 theaters (+3 theaters, $7,130 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $25.5 million.)
Directed by Bo Welch, it stars Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Kelly Preston, Alec Baldwin and Sean Hayes.
New Line Cinema's PG rated holiday comedy Elf remained in third place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $31.8 million at 3,202 theaters (-179 theaters; $6,925 per theater). Its cume is approximately $130.1 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $22.1 million.)
Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen.
Warner Bros.' R rated horror thriller Gothika fell two notches to fourth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $18.2 million at 2,382 theaters (unchanged; $5,336 per theater). Its cume is approximately 41.1 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.7 million.)
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, it stars Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Penelope Cruz and Bernard Hill.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated naval epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World dropped one place to round out the Top Five in its third week with an ESTIMATED $17.5 million at 2,703 theaters (-398 theaters; $4,698 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.4 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.7 million.)
Directed by Peter Weir, it stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Miramax Films' R rated holiday comedy Bad Santa kicked off rather politely in sixth place with an ESTIMATED $16.8 million at 2,005 theaters ($6,227 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.4 million.)
In the film, two conmen disguised as Santa and his elf go on a road trip to rob malls during the holiday season.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Tony Cox and John Ritter.
Sony Pictures' R rates Western The Missing debuted in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $16.5 million at 2,765 theaters ($4,245 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $11.7 million.)
In the film, a young medicine woman raising her two daughters in an isolated area of New Mexico in the 1880s must reunite with her estranged father when one of her children is abducted.
Directed by Ron Howard, it stars Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Jenna Boyd and Eric Schweig.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated thriller Timeline opened in eighth place with an ESTIMATED $12.6 million at 2,787 theaters ($3,041 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $8.4 million.)
In the film, based on Michael Crichton's 1999 bestseller, a group of archeologists travel to and get trapped in 14th-century France.
Directed by Richard Donner, it stars Paul Walker, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly and Frances O'Connor.
Universal Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Love Actually dropped four positions to ninth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $11.2 million in 1,714 theaters (+24 theaters; $4,597 per theater). Its cume is approximately $43.2 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $7.8 million.)
Directed and written by Richard Curtis, it stars Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley and Bill Nighy.
Buena Vista's G rated animated film Brother Bear slipped three spots to No. 10 in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $6.4 million in 2,034 theaters (-851; $2,409 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77.7 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $4.9 million.)
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker, it features the voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, D.B. Sweeney and Michael Clarke Duncan.
As the major studios begin generating their pre-Academy Award buzz, several Oscar-bait films debuted this weekend in limited release.
Fox Searchlight's PG-13 rated drama In America debuted in 11 theaters with an ESTIMATED $257,853 ($18,430 per theater average. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $202,729.)
Directed by Jim Sheridan, it stars Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Djimon Hounsou, Sarah Bolger and Emma Bolger.
Lions Gate's R rated black comedy The Cooler opened in 11 theaters with an ESTIMATED $173,000 ($11,909 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $131,000.)
Dirceted by Wayne Kramer, it stars William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Maria Elana Bello.
Sony Picture Classics' PG-13 rated animated feature Triplets of Belleville (Les Triplette de Belleville) opened in six theaters with $150,371 ($19,106 per theater). Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $114,636.)
Directed by Sylvain Chomet, it features the voices of Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas and Michèle Caucheteux.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in an ESTIMATED $209.5 million for the five day Thanksgiving holiday period, up about 8.6 percent from last year's five day Thanksgiving weekend when they totaled $195.9 million. Comparisons to last weekend of this year are not valid because last weekend was a normal three-day weekend.