The Devil Rides Out

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A thrilling and very creepy film from Hammer Horror, The Devil Rides Out stands as one of their finest films. It’s the whole atmosphere and compelling story, aided by a pacy running time, The Devil Rides Out is a must see. 

It’s the 1920’s in the English countryside and the cultured, well-respected Duc De Richleau(Christopher Lee) has become concerned about a friend. This friend is the young and often irresponsible Simon Aron(Patrick Mower) ; De Richleau knew his father and since that friend’s death he has looked out for Simon along with fellow chum Red Van Ryn(Leon Greene). The concern regarding comes from Simon seemingly cutting contact off with those closest and disappearing for long periods of time. Aided by loyal best friend Rex, the two men soon unearth that the reckless has fallen in with a secretive society of devil worshippers who wish to baptise him once more as a follower of darkness. The sect is headed by the powerful and dangerously charismatic Mocata (Charles Gray), who is known to be ruthless and extremely gifted in getting people . After knocking Simon out and whisking him away, De Richleau and Rex must contend with the knowledge that they are marked for something dark by the evil Mocata  . They also help rescue a female follower Tanith( Niké Arrighi )who hasn’t been initiated into the bit is struggling with the pull of it. He shelters both Simon and Tanith with his niece Marie( Sarah Lawson) and her husband Richard(Paul Eddington) , who live in a large house in the country. Protecting the potential victims isn’t going to be a cakewalk for as the wicked Mocata can use mind control and hypnosis to make unsuspecting victims do his bidding.  Now De Richleau must fight to save Simon and from the clutches of Mocata , who has set his sights on the rest of De Richleau’s family in a cruel blow that will require a lot of faith to overcome. Let battle between good and evil commence in entertainingly spooky fashion. 

Terence Fisher adopts a restrained, low key approach here that allows for the story to become front and centre, while moving it along at an acceptable pace of mounting chills and unnerving mystery. That doesn’t mean that is without set pieces, it simply means that they are done in a way that isn’t too razzmatazz and more slithering menace. The scene of Mocata intensely putting Marie under hypnosis is gloriously creepy and stands out as a piece of dark filmmaking as the psychology of the situation and overall ambience is cranked up higher in a battle of wills. The other big standout is the protection circle scene where the group have to face off against the dark forces that don’t let up. It knows how to up the ante excellently in the best possible way. Hammer was known for its villains in the guise of Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, but the fact that the main enemy in The Devil Rides Out is actually people who believe in a dark purpose makes a very unnerving prospect. Supernatural events occur throughout in the form of dark sorcery and satanism but the battle between good and evil feels more rooted in some semblance of reality while still retaining the magic of Hammer that you’d expect. The lack of bloodshed is also a stroke of genius; it allows us to focus more on the story than just parts that are possibly grisly. As mentioned earlier, the approach of a bit more subtlety adds immensely to the atmosphere of the piece as it unfolds deliberately but in a manner that is very fascinating. The film also has a dazzling colour scheme within in that highlights the richness of red and purple, plus there’s some great camerawork that employs intense close ups of eyes to startling by effect. A few special effects don’t measure up to modern eyes, but the main focus of the spooky story is the true crux of things that outweighs niggle. The score by James Bernard( himself a Hammer Horror regular) is one of great tension and action, which is exactly what you’d want in a film like this. 

Christopher Lee heads a very good cast in a role that is a change of pace for him; the hero. But Lee quickly displays how adept he is at surprising us with a passionate turn as a knowledgable man fighting to save a friend with a sense of great dignity to his core. Lee acquits himself well with force and gravity it must be said and provides the centre of this film. Charles Gray is his counterpart and he relishes being very evil throughout. For Gray, it’s all in the eyes as he uses them to such creepy effect as the character he plays manipulates those around him unsettling skill. Even before we’ve seen Mocata, we get an impression of the man and Charles Gray plays to that spectacularly. loyal friend who is supremely tested by the ordeal and along the way develops romantic feelings for the beautiful Tanith. And speaking of Tanith, she is played with the right amount of sex appeal by the enticing Niké Arrighi. There’s something a little otherworldly quality to her and it’s utilised nicely in The Devil Rides Out. Patrick Mower has the role of the reckless and foolhardy man caught in something he is starting to regret. The part isn’t the biggest stretch for the actor, but he puts in a very good performance nonetheless. Really standing out from the moment she’s introduced is the role of Marie, played by Sarah Lawson. She starts out as seemingly immensely vulnerable, but Lawson shows that the character is actually more switched on and important than people think. In fact, later becomes quite integral to the plot and a lot of this is down to Sarah Lawson. Paul Eddington rounds out the cast as the sceptic among everyone who soon comes to believe in the darkness about to surface.

A creepy and very enthralling Hammer Horror, The Devil Rides Out stands at least in my book as one of their finest. This owes much to a great cast, somewhat low key approach and feeling of elevating tension.

Crawl

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A simple premise of two people against a vicious pack of creatures, locked in a fight for survival, Crawl does what it says on the tin and is all the better for that. Well acted and suspenseful, it’s a decent little horror flick.

In Florida, Haley(Kaya Scodelario) is an aspiring young swimmer, who nevertheless feels like a letdown as she hasn’t had much success. A lot of this stems from her father Dave(Barry Pepper), who coached her and pushed her very hard as a child. Haley has never felt good enough and is not dealing with her parents divorce very well. While she is estranged from him, she still gets a call from her out of town sister who is worried. Dave hasn’t responded to any of her calls, even though Florida has been warned of an approaching Category 5 Hurricane. Haley decides to check in on her father, despite the warnings of others and the harrowing weather conditions. When she arrives at his place, she can’t find him at first. With the guidance of his dog Sugar, Haley discovers her father in the crawl space, where he lies injured from a vicious bite that has broken his leg. While attempting to move her incapacitated father, Haley is menaced by an alligator that forces her to find what she can of safety in the crawl space. When her father comes around, Haley must work with him in an attempt to escape. It becomes apparent that there is more than just one alligator with them, as they got through via the storm drain . Trapped in the house that is beginning to flood and being terrorised by the vicious predators that are patient but can spring out at any minute , it’ll take all of Haley and Dave’s strength to make it out of this. But with flooding becoming more rapid, hopes of help dashed when looters meet a violent end and the alligators gaining momentum, surviving this hellish ordeal is not going to be so easy for Haley and David.

Alexandre Aja is well known for his films in the horror genre and Crawl fits in nicely with his capabilities. It’s not going for revolutionary horror, but Aja constructs immense suspense throughout, with the dual threats of catastrophic weather and killer alligators proving both a terrifying prospect for the main characters . Setting the film in predominately one location, mainly the crawl space and flooded interior of a house, was a very deft move that lends something claustrophobic to Crawl. Sometimes a simple premise can be successful through entertaining execution. Crawl certainly does that with some added bite, from the direction of Aja and an unexpectedly effective script. It has moments that do make you scratch your head and suspend your sense of logic,  but is largely a tense exercise in thrilling horror that is purely there to give you a thrill. The bleak visual style conveys the terror of a hurricane and the damage, added to with a slimy green and moody blue in the crawl space moments that are mightily impressive. Point of view shots crank up the feeling of dread as Haley has to make her way through the crawl space in hope of escaping and saving her father. The effects for the alligators are rather good too, never becoming overly reliant on obvious CGI to create these brutal creatures that feast with ferocious glee, particularly on a group of unsuspecting looters nearby. The running time of just under an hour and a half benefits Crawl as it leaves no space for any excesses or superfluous ideas. It’s a lean, mean horror that boasts good suspense and scenes of bloody terror. Added in is the underlying drama of family that thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome; rather it allows for something grounded to emerge between who are more alike than they’d care to admit. The fact that Crawl isn’t traversing anything newfangled doesn’t matter because it proves intense and is done with a level of style. A score laden with pervading doom and bubbling atmosphere lends itself well to Crawl; soaking events in a dark and menacing sphere of growing panic, while also putting forth music that has an unusual emotional depth to it for a horror flick.

In what is essentially a two hander , save for other fleeting characters who are mainly there to be food for the alligators, Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper give it their best as the fractured daughter and father. Kaya Scodelario is especially good at navigating a character who isn’t the easiest to warm to at first but who earns our sympathy as she refuses to give up in the horrific situation she finds herself stuck in. Scodelario exhibits a troubled and spiky demeanour that’s tempered by ingenuity and depth that you don’t expect. is required to be both emotional and immensely physical, which she roses to with great energy . Barry Pepper is also a reliable presence as an injured, cranky man who is nevertheless someone who when out to the test, can rise above it. Pepper plays the part greatly, showing a man desperate to survive and eventually reconcile with the daughter from whom he is estranged. The characters aren’t given the biggest arcs ever, but what we have proves good enough as we watch their relationship starting to heal amid the carnage before them.

Entertaining, thrilling and filled with tension, Crawl is a suspenseful horror movie that takes advantage of a limited setting and good cast to craft an exhilarating film with snap.

Happy Birthday Keira Knightley

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Today the delightful Keira Knightley turns 36. It feels like she has been on our screens forever, having broke onto the scene at a young age. Since then, she has become a popular star in blockbusters, period pieces and independent movies. I’ve always enjoyed watching Knightley on screen and I just know she has many more decades of cinema work to give us. So Happy Birthday to this beautiful and gifted actress. Plus she was my first cinematic crush.

Kidnap

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An intense but often ridiculous thriller about a mother attempting to get her son back after he is taken, Kidnap at least has Halle Berry doing her best with what she’s given and some good action

Karla Dyson(Halle Berry) is a hard-working single mother who makes ends meet by working as a waitress in a New Orleans diner. She deeply cares for her young son Frankie( Sage Correa) , but is currently going through a custody battle with her soon to be ex husband. One day after finishing a shift, she takes Frankie to the park. After taking a call from solicitors speaking about her estranged husband wanting custody, she can’t find Frankie anywhere. Scared out of her mind, she begins frantically searching for him. Then she sees a man and woman( Lew Temple and Chris McGinn)bundling her son into their car. She attempts to stop the car but falls and loses her phone. With adrenaline kicking in as well as panic, Karla jumps in her Minivan and tails the kidnappers across the highway. Without access to a phone, Karla attempts to get the attention of people passing by, but this doesn’t register much so she’s seemingly in a desperate chase on her own. After an altercation with the kidnappers who try to mislead her and them switching cars, Karla attempts to get some help from authorities that she finally passes. But when this takes too long and seems fruitless, she gets back in her minivan and vows to get her son back, no matter how long or how desperate her search could be. Because Karla’s not giving up on her mission and nothing is going to stand in her way as the determination and fire within her starts to rise.

Director Luis Prieto starts well enough with brief exposition before going headlong into the action, which is done rather effectively. It all just falls apart afterwards as it tries to be and surely knows that it can’t be that, stranding Kidnap as not exactly stellar work from Luis Prieto. There are some intense sequences to be found in Kidnap amid the often boneheaded events happening(such as Karla causing just as much destruction as she can in her chase to find her son and the fact that we have no real mystery of who the kidnappers are). The short running time at least makes things move along quickly and a little tension can be gleaned in fast moving sequences of pursuit that have something to praise. It’s the execution that renders quite a lot of Kidnap to be incomprehensible and laughable. The camerawork and visuals try to be arty but it comes off as headache inducing and jarring. I’m all for quick cuts and some polish, but not when it happens all the time and at the expense of my eyes. Kidnap is definitely a B-movie/exploitation movie on the road with the attempted gloss of a higher effort. It could have been a trashy little schlock fest of the guilty pleasure kind, but it can’t even sustain or manage that as it aims for status of an unreachable kind. The music score is all over the place which seems in keeping with the diminishing results of the movie.

The main thing that Kidnap has going for it is Halle Berry. She turns in a committed turn with force and verve . The character she plays makes some bad decisions, but Berry makes the part still have its moments of greatness as she plays both the terror and the sheer will to continue of the part. Berry previously starred in another film about a kidnapping , The Call, which while nothing brand spanking new, was miles better than this. Still Halle Berry throws herself into the part and at least remains watchable as a crusading mother discovering her inner fury and maternal strength. It’s not her finest work, but her star quality and acting chops sure elevate a pretty lacklustre movie. It’s just sad to see someone of her talent in such a bad movie but at least she represent some of the glue that holds it precariously together. Lew Temple and Chris McGinn don’t fare especially well as the kidnappers, primarily because they don’t have anything to work with. There’s no sense of depth, or suspense with either because the characterisation is so lazy. Sage Correa plays the kidnapped son and is mainly required to be scared, which he does as effectively as he can. 

Preposterous and as it may be as a thriller, Kidnap has Halle Berry at the centre that counts for something and makes Kidnap watchable.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

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The concluding part to the original trilogy of fantasy/adventure films( though two other sequels would inevitably follow), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is rousing but at times a very mixed bag. It’s very fun and has sublime action, it just gets a tad sidetracked with wrapping up many plot points. Still, it boasts quite an entertaining spectacle from Disney and I love it for that and how epic it feels.

The very existence of pirates is under attack from the evil and power mad Lord Cutler Beckett( Tom Hollander) . He has begun executing anyone associated with piracy, in the hope it’ll bring out the prominent members of pirate world out into full view for him. As his power grows, mainly due to him having control over the fearsome Davy Jones( Bill Nighy) after coming into possession of his cut out heart, pirates must form unlikely alliances to survive. In Singapore, Elizabeth Swann(Keira Knightley), the resurrected Barbossa(Geoffrey Rush) , Will Turner(Orlando Bloom), Tia Dalma(Naomie Harris) and others loyal to Jack Sparrow(Johnny Depp), arrive to meet with the famed yet shifty pirate lord named Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat). He possesses a navigational chart to the Locker, but being a crafty pirate he isn’t just going to give it over that easily. After their meeting is ambushed by The East India Trading Company and Navy, Sao Feng sends his crew along with the rescue group for Jack as he is prone to going with whoever benefits him and going whichever way the wind blows. The group need Jack in order to have someone who is part of the Pirate Brethren and can make a decision regarding the next course of action against Beckett and the fleet he owns. Each has a motive for wanting Jack’s return, particularly Elizabeth who feels guilty for her part in his imprisonment and Will who has plans that are personal to him . Will saw Elizabeth kissing Jack before his demise and didn’t understand that is was her distracting him. This is put a wedge between the lovebirds that both hope to overcome. Along the way, backstabbing occurs as loyalties shift and people attempt to survive the oncoming fight for their very lives. Journeying from Singapore to literally off the edge of the world, the real tag crew finally find Jack in Davy Jones Locker.  After much tribulation in an attempt to return to the normal world , now with a reluctant Jack, things seem to be on an even keel . But it’s not going to be plain sailing for them all, far from it. Elizabeth discovers her father Governor Swann( Jonathan Pryce) was murdered by and this ignites more action inside of her, we witness how she’s more than happy to go against the grain now and take charge in fierce fashion when it gets personal. Will wants to rescue his cursed father Bootstrap Bill(Stellan Skarsgård) from damned life on the Flying Dutchman . The only catch is that he must stab the heart but then become the captain of the vessel. This would mean he would be parted from his beloved Elizabeth and only every ten years for one day would he be allowed to see her is still mourning the goddess Calypso, who he loved and when she didn’t return to him, he became the monster he is at present . We learn that Calypso was bound to human form and that form is the ever enigmatic Tia Dalma , who has an axe to grind with the Brethren . Will has to align himself with the slimy Beckett to enable some of his plan to work while Elizabeth ends up with more responsibility than ever. Upon reaching where they need to be , opinions are raised about the future. It’s up to the to fight back against its enemies and though many present have differing motives and ideals, uneasy but needed unions are made as the time for fighting grows closer. Soon battle lines are drawn and it’s a battle that no one is going to forget.

Gore Verbinski still knows how to create a swashbuckler and succeeds in the stakes of action, adventure and fantasy. He has the right gusto to keep things spinning, even if the multitude of plot points is a chore. From doing my research, I saw that At World’s End was filmed back to back with its predecessor and you get the feeling more effort was lavished on Dead Man’s Chest than here . Which isn’t to say that the film is bad, it just can lack focus with all the varying strands it has to contend with and exposition runs heavily throughout. In the last two movies, I have mentioned the run times being a bit long. But here it really does feel overlong and sometimes needs an injection of something to get it going. It’s not hard to feel a bit confused with all the subterfuge at play and the plot points that need tying up getting drawn out. These areas tie the movie up in knots that derail some of the good that it has to offer. Mercifully, when the action and spectacle hit in At World’s Enf, they knock it out of the park in powerful fashion. The last hour or so is an onslaught of breathless action between ships in a stormy sea as the final battle takes place in grandiose style, following a rallying speech from the now fully fledged pirate Elizabeth . Water soaks, sails break and swords clash as the fight for freedom. And it’s pretty spectacularly mounted and executing from near every angle. It’s what the audience has been waiting for and it doesn’t disappoint. Earlier standout moments include the rousing rendition of a call to arms from those about to be put to death, the trippy purgatory of Davy Jones Locker , the rag tag crew slipping a boat over to escape the land of the dead and an extended battle in Singapore on wooden bridges over waterways. And that’s not forgetting the visual front of sweeping camerawork that captures many a cinematic moment, like the as two faction walk towards the other with equal intensity in their eyes that feels like a tribute to an old Western in the best possible way. The sets are gorgeously rendered and we have Hans Zimmer on music duties once more; crafting a suitably epic score that continues to build as the action explodes.

Johnny Depp headlines this end to the original trilogy with usual blend of outrageous comedy styling and moments of occasional seriousness. Jack is wily and up to his usual tricks but we see that he can loyal in his own roundabout way. Knockabout humour and action go hand in hand for Depp in his finely energetic performance that once more makes it mark as memorable. Orlando Bloom has come a longboard way  from the start and it’s great to see him play the ruthless and cunning yet still charming Will. Gone are the overly saintly antics of the first chapters of the character, and we have Bloom playing Will as someone who engages in piracy with efficiency and verve but still has shreds of integrity and selflessness to him. Keira Knightley impresses once more as Elizabeth becomes a fully fledged pirate once she realises that she has nothing left to lose following the murder of her father . She’s vengeful, spirited and knows how to cut anyone down with either words or sword. Knightley is a winner once more in how she’s portrayed Elizabeth throughout the trilogy; her emergence from well brought up lady to skilled, respected pirate is one hell of a journey thanks to the delightful young actress. And who else could look so fetching in pirate garb and command such deep respect from those around her like Knightley? Say what you will about some of the plotting in the trilogy, but the development of Will and Elizabeth has been a shining factor and hugely positive in the course of the three movies. Geoffrey Rush is back and as wickedly entertaining as ever, playing Barbossa with a glint in his eyes and spitting out amusing one liners whenever the occasion calls for it. Stellan Skarsgård, who I’ve aways found to be a really underrated actor, wrings out the sadness from his part of doomed father and damned man. There’s something in his eyes that just really evokes a feeling of pity. Nighy makes for both a terrifying prospect and a tormented man, ably supporting Naomie Harris as the enigmatic long lost love. Once we become privy to the knowledge of the history between these two, their story takes on more pathos that is thankfully a good plot thread that interests. Tom Hollander continues to grease it up as the skippering Beckett, a little man with big ideas who is quite the loathsome cockroach that many characters wish to kill. A wasted opportunity comes in the form of Chow Yun-Fat. He’s a commanding actor and has an elegance to him, but its not put to good enough use here which is most unfortunate. More successful is the stalwart Kevin McNally as the noble friend to all and the one who is the most approachable amid all the larger than life characters. They aren’t the favourite characters of everyone, Pintel and Ragetti(Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook) that is, and but their buffoonery and blunders of quite entertaining when I see them. Some of it wears thin but they are clearly having a blast. Jack Davenport appears again as the Commodore who switches loyalties, and he successfully plays someone who grows a spine a little too late. Jonathan Pryce is sadly sidelined for his part, though the unexpected death of his character certainly sets in motion something within Elizabeth. Watch out for the much publicised cameo by Keith Richards as Jack’s pirate father( with added tongue in cheek humour as Depp based the part he plays on Richards himself)

So if it goes on too long and feels just a bit too convoluted, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End can at least be praised for its acting, action and pure sense of escapism. After all, it’s a fun filled time for most of it that can prove worthy of your patience and viewership. And it caps off the trilogy in style so I can’t begrudge it that.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

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The sequel to the highly successful first film, Pirates of the Caribbean ups the ante and continues on a darker but still entertaining path. My heart may belong to The Curse of the Black Pearl because of nostalgia, but this Disney swashbuckler is definitely a very close second with glorious set pieces and pure escapism galore.

Jack Sparrow(Johnny Depp) is on the run from the Navy after his escape in the last movie. But the Navy is the least of his worries when he is given an ominous piece of news by Bootstrap Bill(Stellan Skarsgård), who is Will Turner’s damned father. Jack owes a debt to the infamous Davy Jones(Bill Nighy); the chilling captain of the Flying Dutchman who has a lot of mystical forces on his side. If he doesn’t pay his debt and become a member of the doomed crew, he’ll be dragged to Davy Jones Locker by the beast known as the Kraken. Meanwhile, lovebirds Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner are set to marry buy on the blessed day, their nuptials are interrupted by the East India Trading Company and they are arrested for helping Jack escape. A warrant is also issued for Commodore Norrington( Jack Davenport), though he is now far from the Navy and a very different person now. The East India Trading Company is headed by the arrogant and conniving Lord Cutler Beckett(Tom Hollander) . This contemptible  weasel tries to strike a deal with Will. If Will can retrieve the magic compass that Jack owns that points to what the use desires, Beckett will pardon him and Elizabeth. The compass would lead to the whereabouts of the Dead Man’s Chest; the heart of Davy Jones that if anyone owns can rule the sea and make others fall under command. Along the way, Will meets his father and after bonding attempts to save him from eternal damnation. Elizabeth is freed by her father(Jonathan Pryce) and she begins to join the hunt for the Dead Man’s Chest after striking something of a bargain with for information on the whereabouts of her man and what he’s seeking. This is also so she can be reunited with her beloved Will and insure his safety. But this time, something begins to creep up on Elizabeth. A frisson with Jack leads to complex emotions becoming known, which troubles Elizabeth. In between loyalties shifting, an islands of cannibals that captures the main crew at one point, an encounter with swamp dwelling clairvoyant Tia Dalma(Naomie Harris)and meeting with the fearsome Jones, it’s going to be anything but plain sailing for the characters. Soon everyone has their sights on the Dead Man’s Chest for their own personal reasons. Just who will emerge with it?

Gore Verbinski is directing again with great flair for skullduggery and action of the highest order . He isn’t afraid to raise the seriousness as well, while still retaining some of the knockabout charm the audience knows and loves. Dead Man’s Chest feels darker than it’s predecessor The stakes are higher here and it shows in feelings of being epic. There’s quite a bit of brutality and darkness in this film(particularly some of the opening shots of prisoners and their fates), but nothing too grisly as it knows just went to push things and when to leave it up to the viewer’s imagination. As I’ve mentioned, is my favourite of the series, yet Dead Man’s Chest is a very enjoyable sequel with plenty to thrill an audience and that’s why I do hold it in high regard. The length of the film is a smidgeon too long but the sheer amount of action and adventure more than makes up for the long running time. The action set pieces come thick and fast, especially in the last half of Dead Man’s Chest. Of particular note is the extended fight for the eponymous chest as all manner of people get their hands on it and lose it in elaborate fashion, Combining humour with breathless action when we see Jack, Will and on a severed wheel from water mill duelling for their lives as it careens through jungle , it’s one hell of a ride on my book. The visuals are of high quality too, crafting many a fine moment of magic. Particularly deserving of the praise is the computer generated design of Davy Jones, who is an amalgamation of sea creatures, most notably having a squid face of innumerable tentacles. The effects make him come to life in very creepy fashion and seem so real, as if he could leap out of the screen in full villainous form. Hans Zimmer takes over score duties and builds on the already impressive atmosphere and then sum. His score thunders along with an epic sweep that pulls you in and is more than a match for the stunning visuals on show.

A game cast is on hand to flesh out this fantasy adventure. Johnny Depp is at head of it as the one and only Jack Sparrow. Depp embodies the sneaky and shifting loyalties of someone used to playing the game. Sparrow is a flawed character as he’s more than happy to sell his friends down the river with a cheeky grin on his face, but Depp evinces the hidden decency that catches up with him. Only Depp can play Jack Sparrow this way and make it truly work, which is one of the highest compliments I can give him. Orlando Bloom is definitely stepping it up as Will, finally throwing off the shackles of being a holier than thou hero. He’s definitely still got some honour, but it’s fun to see him embrace pirate instinct and action, feeling more dynamic than ever before. Keira Knightley excels once more as the ever evolving Elizabeth, who really shows off her flinty and cunning side on this adventure. Knightley, clearly relishing the chance to partake in more action,  possesses the right balance of determination and confusion when her romantic inclinations begin to go in a way she never imagined. The whole triangle is played out excellently as both have things Elizabeth wants, adding further fuel to the fire in the process. A combination of great animation effects and a fine actor in the form of Bill Nighy craft a ruthless character in Davey Jones. Created via motion capture and then with the computer generated design overplayed onto the face of Nighy, Jones is a chilling villain with Bill Nighy lending a great deal of presence and impact to it. The effects are very convincing and worthy of praise but it’s the inhabiting of the part that makes it so impressive on the part of Bill Nighy. His distinctive eyes are noticeable through the CGI and the voice he adopts has a real spine-tingling quality; while a certain pathos and glimmers of someone who isn’t all that bad emerges from this. We are also introduced to the mysterious voodoo priestess Tia Dalma, who provides much in the way of intrigue surrounding her knowledge of Davy Jones. Naomie Harris plays the part with an enigmatic grace and knowing playfulness that is most intriguing as the part is a peach. Jack Davenport reappears as the now dissolute and fallen from grace Commodore, who ruined his image and promise by chasing Sparrow. Stellan Skarsgård makes for a welcome addition to the party as the tragic Bootstrap Bill. Hidden behind layers of crustacean make up, his melancholy delivery is surprisingly touching in the long run. Villainy of the human kind is found within Tom Hollander and his portrayal of a ruthless chairman for the East India Trading Company. Constantly belittling others and acting superior, you really start to despise the character. Which in my book shows how good an actor Hollander is to elicit such strong feelings. Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook provide more knockabout humour as the idiotic pirate duo never far from a scrape, while the stalwart abilities of Kevin McNally are on show as the ever faithful Gibbs. Jonathan Pryce, though only in a supporting part, works his talents to make sure that his character isn’t merely throwaway.  

With plenty of action, darkness and an upping of stakes, Dead Man’s Chest makes for a compelling sequel of fantasy and adventure on the high seas.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

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A swashbuckling fantasy adventure inspired by of all things a famous ride at Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is rousing, high spirited fun full of action and derring do. I’m sure many were doubtful about a film based on a theme park and how it would go were very surprised by how effective and throughly entertaining it turned out to be.

It’s the 18th Century in the Caribbean and in Port Royal, things are about to get very interesting. The arrival of the infamous Jack Sparrow( Johnny Depp), he of the keen wits, outrageous antics and swagger, is picked up on by the admiralty after he arrives in port minus a ship. Meanwhile, the beautiful Elizabeth Swann( Keira Knightley) is being prepped for marriage to the newly promoted strait-laced Commodore Norrington(Jack Davenport). But this is not as simple as it seems as Elizabeth is chafing at society and there is someone else who carries a flame for her. That someone is dashing blacksmith Will Turner( Orlando Bloom), who admires her from afar but doesn’t act on it because of how rigid society is. Elizabeth helped rescue Will as a boy when he was found floating in the sea when she was making the journey to Port Royal as a little girl. She took the necklace that was around his neck as it identified him as being related to pirates. Years later she has the necklace and is still intrigued by pirates. However society and her protective father Governor Swann( Jonathan Pryce)have subdued these ideas of a life on the high seas. The gold piece soon brings danger to Port Royal when a menacing ship by the name of The Black Pearl attacks. The vicious pirates aboard kidnap Elizabeth, though through her pirate knowledge she manages to stay alive. She is taken to the cursed ship and here she meets the wily Captain Barbossa( Geoffrey Rush) and she gives a false name(Will’s last name) that intrigues the crew. Barbossa is in search of  the last piece of gold from a cursed treasure chest, which currently hangs around the neck of Elizabeth. The curse renders anyone who touches it to become one of the living dead, which Barbossa and his crew are. Only by the spilling of blood from one of pirate lineage can break the curse, which the crew mistakenly believe is Elizabeth. Though Commodore Norrington wants to go about things in the proper way befitting his training, the determined Will has other plans to get Elizabeth back. Will can’t stand pirates, as he is unaware of his own historical link with the sea faring scoundrels, but decides to implore Jack Sparrow for help. Springing Jack from jail and still distrustful, he begins to work with the rapscallion that is Jack. After all, The Black Pearl was Jack’s ship before Barbossa proposed a mutiny against him, thus leaving the crafty cursed pirate as captain. Elizabeth emerges as a stronger person along the way, with much in the way of being resourceful and surviving among buccaneers. Jack Sparrow and Will still have a bit of animosity but work some of it out in their quest to rescue Will’s beloved from the hands of Barbossa . Jack always has something up his sleeve that allows for many turns and twists in what is an epic journey. Much adventure, double crossing and events across the high seas follow for the characters in this adventure.

Gore Verbinski fashions a rollicking adventure yarn with a flair for humour and a really good time of excitement for almost everyone. He clearly knows what he’s doing and provides us with a film that is thoroughly sweeping and action packed. There’s something delightfully old fashioned about The Curse of the Black Pearl, which is mixed with a contemporary and irreverent sense of humour. The two aspects melding make the film very appealing to a pretty wide audience with old school feeling of swashbuckling and off the wall humour and modern cinema techniques proving rather good bedfellows. Pirates become fun and the genre of the swashbuckler is resurrected in style. As I said earlier, I’m sure many expected The Curse of the Black pearl to fail because of its origins. These naysayers were obviously thrown for a loop when it turned out to be a rip-roaring fantasy adventure that both critics, audiences and this reviewer loved. You’d have to be Scrooge to not find something to tickle your funny bone or make you feel swept along on a great voyage in The Curse of the Black Pearl. Set pieces and action are what allows the film to flow on a well tuned ocean of entertainment and swordplay. The effects are rather excellent too, especially when it comes to the undead crew. They are rendered gloriously creepy in the moonlight and make many a good sequence, particularly the first reveal of them to a startled Elizabeth. One little flaw is that the film is a bit overlong and could have used some trimming. Though you can forgive it as the ride is a fantastically enjoyable and enthralling voyage into a time of swashbuckling action and spectacle. The score from Klaus Badelt is a splendid accompaniment to the events on screen, while mixed with a slightly jaunty air that permeates through with brio.

One of the biggest things that stands out in The Curse of the Black Pearl is obviously the cast, headed by a wonderfully creative and attention grabbing Johnny Depp. Portraying the flamboyant and witty Jack Sparrow who always seems to be able to get out of a scrape, Depp is obviously having a ball putting all manner of eccentric traits into the part with superb comic timing and suitable panache. From the drunken walk, ability to confuse those in his way with riddle like language and a daring glint in his eye, Jack Sparrow comes alive thanks to the reliable and unique talents of Johnny Depp. He’s the definitive scene stealer in this adventure and make no mistake about it. The Curse of the Black Pearl would not be the same without him. Then we have Orlando Bloom as the main hero of the piece. Bloom, while not being the finest actor around, has the right physicality and noble presence to compensate for some niggles in his range. Plus he makes for an attractive partner for Keira Knightley as the two characters begin to find themselves acting on their feelings after keeping them under wraps. It’s Keira Knightley, who was rocketed to stardom with her performance here, that really goes through the biggest journey over the course of the movie. Knightley moves from well-mannered but curious lady of upper society/damsel in distress to a strong fighter and smart player of the pirate game. While being a striking presence and mature in demeanour with a tall figure, alert eyes and enviable cheekbones, it’s the spirited energy of a woman not wanting to be apart of a stifling status quo that Keira Knightley brings which sells the part of Elizabeth successfully here. On stellar form as well is the reliable Geoffrey Rush, who is delightfully tongue in cheek yet bristling with a creepy menace. His scenes with Depp are delightful as sworn enemies sparring with both swords and wits. Jack Davenport nails the duty bound honour of a man married to his job and enjoying being the bus, but not quite succeeding on the romance department. Jonathan Pryce has the right elder statesman presence as Elizabeth’s elderly father whose biggest concern is the fate of his daughter in all of this. Kevin McNally embodies the person with the most sense of loyalty, first mate Gibbs. He’s both a hoot and a source of calm among all the chaos around him. The devious pairing of Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook as two of the cursed pirates by the names of Pintel and Ragetti, who are prone to all sorts of trouble is also a source of humour, particularly Ragetti. He has an eye that never seems to stay in place and is found often popping out at the most inappropriate times, causing much in the way of slapstick that both actors play too. 

Rip-roaring, gloriously riotous and a whole barrel of delightful action, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the definition of a fun time at the movies. For adventure and thrills, look no further.

Boogeyman

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A supernatural horror that has some promise, The Boogeyman sadly dies a quick death in terms of watchability and any form of effectiveness as it goes on. A truly missed opportunity hampered by lazy writing, plotting and overall sense of being.

As a child, Tim was terrified of a Boogeyman he believed lived in his closet. This was heightened one night when his father came to comfort his son from what he believed was a nightmare. His father was snatched by an unseen force and never seen again, traumatising young Tim.  Memories of that night are dismissed by others who believe that he was just trying to process his father leaving him and vanishing from his family. Now grown up( and portrayed by Barry Watson), the scars of that night have never left him. He doesn’t have doors on cupboards, keeps lights on even when sleeping and has a dozen locks for his front door. He’s in a relationship with Jessica(Tory Mussett) but there is a hesitancy on his part to further things, which doesn’t bode well with Jessica. Around this time, he receives news that his troubled mother (Lucy Lawless) has passed away. Now without either parents and lots of questions regarding his childhood incident, he contacts his childhood psychiatrist. She suggests staying in his old house to purge the demons that have tormented him. He reluctantly does this and along the way reconnects with childhood friend Kate(Emily Deschanel), who is concerned by his emotional state . Tim knows that he will have to face his fears and confront his demons once he steps back into the house from his childhood. At first nothing happens, but soon enough creepy events besiege the house.  But just what demons will Tim have to fight , literal or imaginary?

Stephen Kay tries to be edgy with a dizzying visual style of quick zoom shots and wind machines a plenty, but it’s ultimately rendered hollow and without a sense of substance. A lacklustre script does the movie no favours whatsoever, resulting in what can only be called a mess. As aforementioned, Boogeyman does have some moments that suggest it could get better. The opening specifically is very creepy and seems auspicious, before delivering sub par work from that moment on. As the film goes on and the jarring editing and sloppy effects take hold, Boogeyman falls apart spectacularly and it’s rendered just dull. Boogeyman is the definition of a film with a seemingly decent set up only to be completely blown apart by awful execution. I can live with a movie being predictable but shoddiness and laziness is another bag. The supposed mystery at the centre is anything but enigmatic as it’s obvious whether the eponymous spectre is real or not. The music is also very obvious and leaves nothing to the imagination, which is a shame as it’s done by Joseph LoDuca, who has done great work on many a film and tv series.

Barry Watson gets the haunted look of someone clearly dealing with a deep sense of trauma but he isn’t particularly given much to work with. Watson himself resembles Timothy Olyphant but sadly doesn’t really show off near enough star presence to make him memorable. Emily Deschanel doesn’t stand out either, despite being a good actress. The problem once again lies with the script that seems to just place her in the story and not really given much depth or reasoning. There’s a small role for Lucy Lawless, but it’s practically a nothing part thats insubstantial. It’s a shame to waste the talents of Lawless in such a thankless and blink and you’ll miss it part. Skye McCole Bartusiak and Tory Mussett are also hampered by underwritten roles that lead to nowhere.

So my advice is to avoid Boogeyman, unless you’re a fan of horror that isn’t really that scary and doesn’t add up in the slightest. It’s best to set your sights on watching some effective horror instead of this piece of drivel.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

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As the sequel to the gargantuan blockbuster and game changer Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park has big footsteps to follow. And while it’s impossible to compare to the classic that was the first movie as the magic has worn off quite a bit, The Lost World still has moments of awe and thrills to keep you entertained in this adventure.

Following the events of the first film, survivor and chaos theorist Dr Ian Malcolm( Jeff Goldblum) has been written off as a lunatic after he spoke about the devastation and horror of the botched attempt at opening the park. Interestingly, the sarcastic Ian is summoned by the billionaire John Hammond(Richard Attenborough) , the man behind the original park. It transpires that there was a second island where the dinosaurs where bred by the InGen company, that was abandoned following a hurricane. The species of prehistoric creatures where set into the wild and have been living there ever since, despite originally being programmed to not live long due to a build in deficiency. There are no cages or fences on this island so the genetically modified dinosaurs roam free. Hammond is in a pickle as the company he owns is under scrutiny and his leadership is being undermined by his own nephew Peter Ludlow(Arliss Howard), a most weaselly and greedy upstart who has a flagrant disregard for the feelings of others  . After a young girl was savaged by some dinosaurs on the island after her family docked there , an investigation was launched into the area . Hammond wants Ian to travel to the island and with a crew document the creatures in order to rally some public support and stop the evil takeover planned by .  For wishes to make money off the dinosaurs on the island. After discovering that his girlfriend, the impulsive palaeontologist Dr Sarah Harding( Julianne Moore) is on the island, he decides to go even though he isn’t thrilled with the idea. Joining him are the photographer and part time environmentalist Nick Van Owen(Vince Vaughn) and equipment specialist and engineer Eddie Carr(Richard Schiff) . Once they meet up with the promising Sarah, they discover that Ian’s estranged daughter Kelly( Vanessa Lee Chester) hid away in the travel so she could tag along. This doesn’t bode well for Ian who is often at loggerheads with Kelly as they argue over how much he is away from any parental responsibility. Such disagreements are put on hold however once Ian realises that they aren’t the only humans on the island. Around this time another team soon follow with the hunter Roland Tembo(Pete Postlethwaite) at the helm and with a desire to capture a Tyrannosaurus. He is alongside the slimy Ludlow, whose plan is then revealed as one that involves taking the remaining dinosaurs and creating something of a zoo in San Diego.  Attempts by Malcolm and his group to help the dinosaurs are thwarted and with the other group with mercenary intent in mind, it inadvertently causes chaos as the prehistoric beasts begin a vicious attack against the humans. Now it’s another fight for survival against the creatures, from T-Rex to velociraptors. Everyone on the island is at risk as the rival groups have to band together in an escalating battle to make it out alive.

The shadow of Jurassic Park is still over this movie( I mean how could it not be?) and the movie somewhat stumbles as it reaches for impossible heights. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that The Lost World is rather underrated and I’ve began to reassess it. Admittedly it’s still flawed and doesn’t quite have that snap of its influential largely down to a long winded plot and how it moves a bit slower than it should, but it doesn’t mean that the film isn’t at least thrilling and watchable in large stretches once the action kicks into high gear. The Lost World has always been the entry of the series that I’ve been in two different mindsets on and I still am in both. It just seems that now I view it with a more positive outlook than before while still seeing that it’s definitely not as magical as it could be. Steven Spielberg is once again on directing duties and shows his immense skill in many a set piece.  The Lost World feels quite a bit darker and there is more than a bit of grisly savagery that’s surprising yet jaw dropping( watch out for a ripped apart death scene, onslaught on a hunter who soon regrets his treatment of the Compys.) And not forgetting the intelligent and stealthy raptors sneaking up on people in the long grass in a sensational sequence and a waterfall stained with blood after the giant T-Rex has snacked on a terrified victim. This is backed up by some moody cinematography set mainly at night and impressive camerawork that puts us at the heart of adventure.

Spielberg displays a fantastic knack for entertaining an audience and making sure that no nail is left not bitten. Case in point is the scene in which the two big T-Rex come looking for their infant. Although Sarah helped nurse it following its brutal treatment, the dinosaurs don’t take to anyone messing with their offspring. Attacking the trailer that houses, it leaves the terrified trio on a precipice quite literally as the trailer is forced halfway off a cliff. Sarah falls inside the trailer and her plunge is stopped by a sheet of glass. The only thing is that once she comes around the glass begins to splinter slowly underneath her. It’s heart-stopping stuff as she attempts to remain still and not allow the glass to break any quicker, which would result in her death. You’re seriously holding your breath as the scene plays out and it’s the main set piece of that sticks in my memory from The Lost World. Other sequences like the attempted capture of dinosaurs by the evil company that resemble a wild safari are stunningly action packed, but the glass scene is where it’s at for me as I’m a sucker for suspense. When it comes to the effects, the film does deliver the goods. And though some of the novelty and magic has worn off , it’s a thrill to see many return as well as some newer ones. There’s the diminutive but vicious Compys, that stun prey before devouring it, huge Stegosaurus that Sarah photographs and it’s a thrill to see the velociraptors back and as cunning as ever. The effects are still of a high standard and further enhance the adventure aspect of this sequel. John Williams aids events with a thundering score, with a heavy percussive feel that fits the jungle setting and the rising tension with rattling drums. The music bristles with excitement and menace, both things that Williams truly excels at providing us with.

While the characters aren’t quite as compelling as before and are sometimes rendered as not the sharpest in terms of brains, the handsomely assembled cast still does very good acting with what they have to work with. Jeff Goldblum, who is always a fun actor to watch, plays the sarcasm and cynicism extremely well. Goldblum balances both humour and a feeling of seen it all weariness that suits the film down to the ground. Julianne Moore, who many readers will know is one of my favourite actresses, has some great moments as the main female in the film . Her character isn’t exactly written with much in the way of depth, but the always talented Moore imbues her with wits, impulsive curiosity, terror and fun that’s nice to watch. Vince Vaughn has a sense of action and humour to him as an activist not afraid of a fight. Pete Postlethwaite is one of the big standouts here, essaying the role of game hunter who is seemingly singled minded but has his own set of scruples that make him more complex. The part could have just been one dimensional but the gifted Postlethwaite infuses it with a certain level of depth, gravitas and experience. Arliss Howard is a slithering presence as the nasty Peter Ludlow; a smug, self satisfied man with no compassion or sense of decency in his body. Howard plays this villain for all its worth, backed up by the scene-stealing Peter Stormare as a vicious hunter who is bad to the bone. Vanessa Lee Chester is saddled with the typical role of kid in danger and isn’t required for much else. She even gets the films most eye-rolling moment that just feels so out of place. Richard Schiff is nicely understated as a courageous member of the team who puts his life on the line. Richard Attenborough, though appearing briefly, is still effective at showing how John Hammond has changed from eccentric billionaire with grand ideas to a man making amends for what he’s done. As previously mentioned, the characters can come off as holier than thou but most of the acting rises above that.

So it’s not rivalling it’s predecessor on the epic front and it isn’t a masterpiece, but The Lost World: Jurassic Park has grown on me a bit. I can accept it’s flaws in the development department, as there are quite a lot of moments that do stand out in this sequel that treads familiar ground. Though it does this it still knows how to push many of the right exciting buttons for the audience and keep you entertained.

Ghost Ship

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A derivative horror movie that never quite reaches the greatness of its startling opening, Ghost Ship still has some good moments. Overall it’s a rather routine affair that isn’t exactly going to go down as a horror classic.

The film begins with a salvage crew retrieving a substantial amount of money following another successful operation. The crew consists of much experienced Captain Sean Murphy ( Gabriel Byrne) , tough talking Epps( Julianna Margulies), second in command Greer(Isaiah Washington) , pair of jokers Dodge and Munder( Ron Eldard and Karl Urban). This is rounded out by mechanic Santos( Alex Dimitriades) . After their latest success, a man by the name of Jack Ferriman( Desmond Harrington)inquires about their skills and wants them to help him with something. Being a guy who works with the weather department, Jack has seen a ship floating and seemingly abandoned in Bering Sea . As it’s in an area that’s classed as international waters, whoever finds something valuable there owns it. This intrigues the crew, though they don’t realise that this trip will be something very chilling for everyone involved. Using their salvage tugboat, the group that’s headed by Sean and joined by the mysterious Jack, head into the Bering Sea on what they think is just going to be another standard operation that they’ve carried out time and time again . Soon enough after sailing through stormy and extremely treacherous conditions, they come across the Antonio Graza, a large Italian liner that was declared missing in 1962 and hasn’t been seen since. Once boarding the creepy ship that catered once to the rich and powerful of the world, all manner of strange and supernatural events happen. Epps swears that she sees a little girl who swiftly vanishes following a near fatal fall through unsafe flooring by Munder, dead bodies are found in a flooded compartment and doors seem to lock by themselves. Discovering a multitude of boxes filled with gold bars, the team think they’ve got it made, but a malevolent force has other ideas. Tragedy strikes when they return to the tugboat, resulting in a fatality and the vessel being severely damaged when an invisible, mysterious force causes most of it to blow up . With the tugboat now out of action, the group must go back on the in hopes of getting it started again. The ghostly atmosphere and events from the past is not going to make it easy for any of those remaining as a haunting begins to occur with gruesome intent on its mind.

Steve Beck as director manages some moments of tension and scares but parson the pun, is all at sea when it comes to the nitty gritty of events. As a result, Ghost Ship never rises above being merely watchable. Now the main area to praise is the opening sequence which also sadly provides the big highlight for Ghost Ship. We begin back with misleading titles that look romantic and sweeping in the grand Old Hollywood tradition . Drinks are flowing and the party is in motion, just before carnage strikes. A thin wire cord is tightened by an unseen person then set free across the dance floor. It manages to leave all the passengers bisected in immensely graphic fashion because of how taut and quick it is. The only one spared is a terrified and lonely little girl named Katie(Emily Browning) , who because of her petite stature avoided being brutally butchered. The scene is pretty horrifying and the use of practical effects and camerawork truly makes it one that stays with you. It’s such a shame that after such a promising opening and hints of greatness, Ghost Ship retreats down the seen it all before route. Still some of the ambience works on the ship, especially from a visual standpoint. Unfortunately mostly everything ends up hamstrung by stupid decisions from characters and some questionable moments that really make it seem very amateurish. Take for instance when we learn a bit more about the ship; this is told from the perspective of Katie, who initially survived and is now something of a haunted presence. What should be intense sequences of dread and startling revelation are drowned out by a modern cross between rock and some kind of ambient dance that just does not fit at all. It baffles me as to why the people behind the film decided to go down this avenue, also peppering events with no real sense of logic to glean.

The cast for the most part are pretty decent in what is a misstep of a movie. Gabriel Byrne bristles with intensity and a sense of leadership, complimented well by his authoritative voice and internal struggle that threatens to burst out. The big standout of Ghost Ship is Julianna Margulies, who brings a tough attitude and feeling of grounded emotion to the part. Margulies makes Epps the most resourceful character as well as the one who is explored the most throughout. It helps that she’s the most rational person as well, making it easy for her to stand out even when at the mercy of unfocused material. Desmond Harrington has a certain enigmatic quality that makes you wonder if his character is letting more on than he is. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast predominately isn’t that great. Isaiah Washington is pretty ineffective as the second in command who seems to spout various parts of exposition and attempts at knowing, while falling foul of the cliches inherent in the genre. Ron Eldard and Karl Urban are left with thankless roles as the alleged comic relief with the same also going for Alex Dimitriades. Thankfully a young Emily Browning is rather impactful as the young guide through the ship; her haunted visage and habit of appearing then vanishing greatly benefitting a threadbare story.

So with a cracking opening and decent cast, Ghost Ship has two things in its arsenal. Sadly, there’s little else to really get excited about here. Anyone who watches will see what I mean.