Monday, May 23, 2011

Reviews: Pirates 4: On Stranger Tides and Morgan Spurlock's New Documentary

Reviewed this post…

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
So I really don’t have much to say about this movie, other than I watched it.
I can only muster a 2.5 of 5 horn offering, as this flick was so very mundane compared to the original three or really mundane when compared to anything.

Johnny Depp was excited to breathe new life into this role, but it is really just much of the same, just now with an “X” scar on his right temple. How did it get there…oooooh…so mysterious.

There is no chemistry whatsoever in the love story between Depp’s Sparrow and Angelique (Penelope Cruz), daughter of feared Pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

FEARED Pirate Blackbeard…oooooh…so scary! Blackbeard’s most fear-inducing maneuver is to wave his sword and puppetize the rigging of his ship, scaring his crew into servitude.

The film starts with Jack Sparrow being dragged to court to be put on trial…except it isn’t Jack Sparrow, it’s Master Gibbs, Sparrow’s trusty first mate. Worry not, though, because Captain Jack is afoot and he does execute an escape plan for Gibbs. Alas, instead of making a clean getaway, Sparrow and Gibbs ends up in the hands of the British government. It is here that we learn that the government has hired a privateer, read: government sanctioned pirate, in Captain Barbosa.

Barbosa is called to service by the British monarchy to compete with the Spaniards in the race to the Fountain of Youth, previously discovered by Ponce de Leon.

In the span of time between Pirates 3 and now, it appears as though Jack has been searching for the fountain, with no luck in finding it.

In short order, a triumvirate of groups are racing for the Fountain. Barbosa and his crew of British sailors for hire; Blackbeard and his crew, which now includes Jack Sparrow and first mate to Blackbeard, Angelique; and the unnamed stone-faced Spaniards, who are machine-like in their quest for the lost location of de Leon’s find.

Yes, there is one decent battle that gives us a new perspective on the concept of the mermaid. And the aforementioned jail break scene turns into a decent action set piece in the opening moments of the film. But other than these two scenes, there is buttkiss for action in this flick.

There was no sense of peril, no sense of excitement. I think some of it comes back to the blasé interaction between Depp and Cruz coupled with the truly benign presentation of Blackbeard, this supposedly deadly Captain of the high seas.

The only interesting character was that of missionary, Philip (Sam Claflin), who seems to be filling the void of Orlando Bloom’s departure. The girlie part left vacant by Knightley, was more aptly filled by Astrid Berges-Frisbey, as Syrena the mermaid, than by Cruz.

Really the failure of this movie stems from the lack of a respectable baddie! Blackbeard is a nice enough guy for what you would expect; Barbosa and Jack are more like former frat brothers than the enemies we recall; and we are left with only the Spaniards, who again, are decent enough in terms of being completely reasonable as friendly adversaries, insomuch as they are basically indifferent towards the groups in the race.

There is not a single battle at sea, but for an attempted mutiny on Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Folks, this was a weak entry into an otherwise decent adventure series. Except someone forgot the adventure…

Rob Marshall has directed a handful of films, most of which fall well into the genre of musical moviemaking. The absence of Gore Verbinski is felt more than I can really describe. Even the less than perfect original trilogy had a grandeur to them that gave them flair. That was missing completely here.

The same writing team behind the first trilogy was at work here, so are we left to believe that it was Marshall who couldn’t pull it off? I guess that depends on how many fight scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Is it possible that they forgot to write in anything with even the slightest bit of action or peril? I don’t know…

Oh yeah, I forgot about the 3-D. I think that was because the 3-D was completely forgettable. Another failed attempt at manipulating our sense of space to spice up a movie. I thought the 3-D was cheesy and other than a few sword tips making way towards the crowd, it was mediocre at best.

There is a stinger after the credits…all the way at the end. It really isn’t worth it, but I am sure it is a sign that we are in for yet another Pirates flick. If you are interested in knowing the nature of the post-credits scene, check here at database:

This movie stinger site is the premiere site for knowing when you should stay seated and when you can run for the bathroom.

Of course there is also the RunGoPee app for iOS users. Is there an Android equivalent? I couldn’t find one.

Like I said above…2.5 of 5 Horns for POTC: On Boring Tides.

Morgan Spurlock hasn’t sold out…he’s bought in. That is the tagline for this documentary on product placement and brand partnering, in mainstream entertainment.

Spurlock’s film is the definition of meta as he delves into product placement via a first-person perspective on the advertising machine that is pervasive in virtually every aspect of our waking lives. Spurlock reaches out for sponsors to fund the making of the film, and from these meetings and the process of gaining financial support in brand partners, he eventually garners the meat and potatoes of the movie that we the viewer see on the screen.

I love movies, this is no secret. I think the obvious use of brand partnering can at times be distracting, but as director Brett Ratner put it in an interview in the film, sometimes you do what you have to in order to see your film made.

There are great perspectives put forth by Quentin Tarantino, Ratner, Peter Berg, and my favorite in this flick, Ralph Nadar.

Peter Berg may have put it best when he relates that his boss of the moment is General Electric and for their business sense, they don’t know an effing thing about art.

Spurlock secures, as the title of the film indicates, a title sponsor in Pom Wonderful, a pomegranate juice company.

Spurlock also secures for sponsorships: Sheetz (home of the collectible cup for the movie), Jet Blue, Hyatt hotels and suites, Merrell shoes, Mini automobiles, Ban deodorant, Amy’s organic foods, and several others, including trailer favorite, MANE and TAIL, a human/equine cross-over shampoo.

What blows my mind is how many folks flat out denied funding to Spurlock and denied him with a fervent no. This guy is a pretty established documentarian; I would have expected a warmer reception from some of the companies he talked to. I guess there are some politics at play and the fact that Spurlock, like Michael Moore, often uses heavy-handed action to demonstrate the extremes of his point.

Spurlock discusses in the film, the thin ice on which he treads by creating allegiances to the sponsor companies, in a work that serves to some extent to criticize the process, even if only by presenting both sides of the story.

As is customary with Spurlock’s work, comedy plays a big part. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurlock moonlights doing stand-up, as his delivery is solid and his comedic beats usually hit their intended target, which is also due to slick editing in the film itself.

The film is thorough in examining roles at different steps in the process of developing brand partners in popular culture. In addition to experts, we get a man on the street perspective in some of the interviews.

An interesting component of the film are the three 30-Second commercials that Spurlock shot and included throughout the run of the movie, as a deal struck with the three top sponsors. His story boarded ideas for the POM commercials were a bit hilarious. I would love to see them make it to production, but they are a little dicey for a family friendly beverage.

Did you know, after four weeks of daily consumption, POM pomegranate juice is 40% as effective as Viagra?  I had no idea that POM was so versatile…and you know what? It must be true, because I saw it at the movies.

Another very interesting concept was the piece in the film on the Broward County School District in Florida. Every year the district is faced with cuts and they have taken to selling advertising within school buses and on the fences of their athletic fields to try and generate income to supplement deficits in funding. Spurlock runs a fairly decent length piece on this as a concept of advertising to students and within the realm of school systems. In fact, to support Broward County, Spurlock buys a banner and some vehicle wraps to help promote his film and delve further into the meta aspect of becoming the very concept he is studying.

Spurlock examines the other side of the spectrum as well, when he heads south for Sao Paolo, Brazil. This Brazilian city has passed a local ordinance preventing outdoor advertising anywhere in the city. You would be surprised how stark a city can be when the banners and billboards are ripped down.

There are also some great artistic expressions, including a series of street art pieces and a re-envisioning of DaVinci’s The Last Supper with some very interesting renderings of the Jesus and his disciples.

Spurlock’s acquiring of POM as the title sponsor came with some pretty thick stipulations, including ticket sales, number of screens, and DVD sales. As of right now, this film has at its widest, played at 81 theaters, and this past weekend, eked out a miserable $507 per screen average with only a meager $478,000 for the domestic box office so far. Things don’t look good, but I hope he pulls it off. Generally speaking, I enjoy Spurlock’s work and I appreciate the completely internal look at this process that he has given us.

The stipulations as the movie presents them are as follows:

• $10 million gross at the box office (hopefully that includes the international take)
• Sell 500,000 DVD’s and downloads
• Generate 600 million “media impressions”

While the concept of media impression isn’t defined, I would hope that it includes Twitter, MySpace, FaceBook, etc. Hey Morgan, I’m doing my part...can I get a whoop whoop!

I have an interesting thought that wasn’t touched on in the film. I wonder what the product placement folks think of pirated movies? Not that they would ever outwardly approve of them, but by hook or by crook, the viewer sees their product and in the end, whether or not the artist gets paid, the brand sponsors end up satisfied. I wonder how that factors into the deal making with these companies and whether or not the production companies up the costs to enter into these brand partnerships. Just an aside to this otherwise well covered topic.

This is an enjoyable film that is essential a documentary on one component of movie making, television production, and really any and every form of media that we consume. As Ralph Nadar says in the trailer and the film, the only time we are free of the burden of advertising, is when we close our eyes and go to sleep. While this shouldn’t necessarily be a component of art…it is, and I am quite sure, it is here to stay.

I give POM WONDERFUL: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD a 4 of 5 Horn rating and I urge you as fans of cinema and consumers of media to go and see this movie.  Morgan Spurlock is an entertaining documentarian and ladies and gents, he has done it again.

For now, I think I’ll go and enjoy a POM Wonderful beverage while wearing my BAN deodorant, washing my hair with MANE and TAIL, checking in at the HYATT after my JET BLUE flight and valet parking my MINI…etc.

Well you know that’s not true, there’s no way in hell a Rhino would fit in a mini…but it would make for damn fine comedy.

That’s all for now...Until later, take care!

Reel Rhino

PS…Enjoy the REEL RHINO enjoying Morgan’s brand partners. Hey, maybe this advertising in movie thing actually works?!?!

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