Review: Pirates of the Carribean- Salazer’s Revenge (2017)

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

At this point, the Pirates of the Carribean franchise has become the cinematic equivalent of a drunken man stumbling to a vague destination using the most inane route possible. As the series has worn on, its beating heart has resided in the various vignettes and narrative excursions that have pervaded the series like scurvy. The fifth picture entitled Salazer’s Revenge (the US got the far superior Dead Men Tell No Tales) proves to be the most semi-comprehensible, the series has gotten since The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Crucially, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg understand the appeal of Johnny Depp as a silent comic actor and construct set pieces that accentuate this facet of the famous movie star. A scene early in the picture depicts an amusing heist where a collapsing house drags a minuscule bank vault with treasure, and Depp’s bemused facial expressions call to mind the bewildered silent comic stylings of Buster Keaton. And a prolonged comic interlude involving Sparrow escaping from a guillotine and subsequently fighting while retaining parts of it imbue the character with a rejuvenated physical comedic wit.

At the same time, the film reinforces more elegantly than any other instalment the pervading theme of heroes rarely living up their lionised status. A sequence involving the young Sparrow jostling with a pre-supernatural Captain Salazer (played by Javier Bardem with a mockable Spaniard inspired Schwarzenegger accent.) shows the character at his boldest and most valiant, which juxtaposes with his current self who does not command the same respect he once did, as the character is mocked by members of his crew as well as the younger generation.

Moreover, Carina Smyth (played with earnest gusto by Kaya Scodelario) represents the franchise at its most self-reflexive as her character comments upon the time she exists in and the dubious backstabbing machinations that have plagued the series. Unfortunately, the rest of the proceedings prove to be an overwrought and bombastic mess that varies between being an expensive remake of Carry on Cruising and generic hyperkinetic blockbuster fare.

Though a few of the dynamic aerial shots and tango inspired horror sequences (in one scene Salazer establishes that whenever he taps his foot one of his men dispatches of their hosts’ crew with lighting efficiency.) prove to be a welcome tonic to the televisual drudgery and mechanical direction of the last movie. (On Stranger Tides)

Any hopes of this being the last Pirates movie is marred by the stupefying implications of the central McGuffin. (In this film, the object of conquest is the Trident of Poseidon. It enables its user to break all curses and make people seem like they are on an endless waterslide, which is amusingly demonstrated during one scene in the climatic battle sequence.) The coffin has not been so much laid down than given tiny holes for a continued fragile life.

Review: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

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Between its sordid soap opera antics and wholesome small town sensibility; Twin Peaks felt like a sprawling Jungian collective unconscious of Americana that was always shifting to understand its heritage and legacy. In one of the most interesting and eccentric storylines of the series, Benjamin Horne (played with smarmy effervescence by Richard Beymer) regresses to a warped mindset where he believes he is the Confederate General Robert E. Lee who is valiantly leading the South in a victorious campaign against the Union. Faced with this alarming behaviour, his psychiatrist advises the local tycoon’s family and friends to stage a faux surrender of the Northern forces to quicken the recovery of a man who has lapsed into depression after losing his business and livelihood.

The plot felt like a truthful cathartic acknowledgement of America’s historical racial tendencies and the attempt to make amends for this clear sub-conscious declaration, which Horne undertakes in the second half of season two. 

In the cinematic prequel, Fire Walk With Me, which chronicles the last week of Laura Palmer, (the young woman’s murder was the central mystery of the first half of the series) director David Lynch replaces the revered cheery quirkiness of the show with a powerfully sobering and bleakly tragic picture.

Throughout his oeuvre, the acclaimed auteur has showcased the deterministic desires and forces that have shaped his characters’ predicaments. In Blue Velvet, Jeffrey Beaumont’s youthful yearning of new experiences fuels his actions. In Eraserhead, a man in the sky pulls a lever resulting in Harry Spencer’s sudden responsibility of fatherhood. In Fire Walk With Me, Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) death is a foreboding inevitably. In the series, the film’s subtitle functioned as a potent poem that evoked the surrealism and supernatural antagonist of the series. In the film, it’s a stark statement of Laura’s demons and illicit lifestyle, which will eventually catch up with her and result in death.

Moreover, Lynch’s fascination with 1950s Hollywood shines in the film as Laura Palmer’s descent into drugs, revelry and fever-laden mood swings feel like the director is channelling the devastating youthful deaths of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Sheryl Lee’s performance as the young woman is powerfully operatic and heartbreaking in its scope. Like Monroe, Palmer presents a pristine public persona that carries within it the perceived ideals of flawless desirability. Lee conveys this with a casual and effortless ease with her physicality, facial expressions and vocal inclinations that can vary between erotic and innocent. However, the actress’ most striking moments are in her scenes with Donna. (Moira Kelly) The standout being an intimate moment where her best friend asks, “Do you think if you were falling in space that you would slow down after a while or go faster and faster?”

With Lee’s face in full frame, the actress delivers her lines as though she is witnessing herself in a dream state, forever striving to cover up a deep-seated pain she masks. Her response varies from contemplation, exhilaration and bitter resentment as the scene encapsulates Laura’s character; a highly attuned young woman whose metaphysical hankering, charitable acts and illegal nocturnal activities cannot save her from a grim truth.

The bitter pill is that Laura’s father under the guise of Bob (the primary mystical villain of the series) has been sexually assaulting her from an early age. Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) represents the fifties ideal of a father whose strong, stern and warm paternal outpouring keep the nuclear family unit together. And Wise’s performance turns these seemingly innocent expressions of fatherly love into malevolent acts of irony. But it’s the conflicted moments of shame and sexual longing that make Wise sublime. In one scene where a series of pressuring external events cause the middle-aged man to crack and sombrely reminisce, Wise’s expressions simultaneously carry the weight of guilt and nefarious intent.

Fire Walk With Me’s staggering masterstroke comes from Lynch’s subversion of the central location in Twin Peaks. No longer does the idealistic and painterly small town with its inviting diners, quaint lumber mills and awe-inspiring lush greeny feel like a safe and embracing place. Instead, it feels harsh, cold and secluded. Lynch’s sound design of natural and mundane sounds such as the bird song and crickets chirping combine to create an unfeeling portrait of nature that watches humanity with an unsentimental eye. Even Laura’s house becomes a source of dizzying horror as low angles shots of the outside and interior fan covered ceiling make the place seem imposing. Additionally, the free-roaming camera evokes the feeling of an entity who is watching Laura’s steps as it lurks through the upstairs area with swift movements.

In its cinematic form, Twin Peaks has not lost its sublime ability to deal with long-standing events that have pervaded the American psyche. However, at times Lynch proves to be his own worst enemy.

In his protracted framing, leisurely pace and casually deadpan exchanges, Lynch’s television doppelganger has proven to have a sharper sense of humour. Even the grim spectre of the television show presides over the film like a squawking crow as an occasional static punctuates certain moments and in so doing awkwardly reminds the viewer of the picture’s origin. To this end, one does wonder if the film can truly engage beyond the ardent Peakers. Moreover, the images in the director’s other films have stirred the senses and imagination with far more immediacy and grandiosity.

Nevertheless, Fire Walks With Me burns with an emotionally resonating universality, which comes from a truism in Laura Palmer’s plight. Even amongst the ones we hold dear, we cannot be ourselves, and the internal pain inside us all can eventually engulf us.