Monday, July 24, 2006

Vast Improvements

Once you disregard that they both have cute girls in leading roles and that sailing is central to both, Wedding Crashers and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest really have nothing to do with each other, at least cinematically. I saw Pirates within a week of its release in theaters, and Wedding Crashers for the first time about a year after its release, and after seeing both, the one commonality between the two films is that they were both a lot better than I thought they would have been.

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

I did not see the first Pirates movie until the end of 2005, after it had been on DVD for quite a while. I associated the girly "Omigod, it's Johnny Depp! And Orlando Bloom!" mentality with that movie, and I expected it be sophomoric comedy. Turns out, I was wrong. It was actually a pretty decent movie. I wasn't blown away by it (though I should probably watch it again; a tiny screen and a DVD player with an identity crisis didn't help that movie's case) and I had no real drive to go see the second one in theaters. I figured I probably would see it, because many of my friends are inexplicably into the "let's go see everything in the theater as soon as it comes out" mentality. That's exactly what happened.

I was expecting something halfway between "decent" and "good" and I ended up with "excellent." This is seriously a great movie. Don't believe what you might hear about it being "incomprehensible." There are multiple plotlines. Deal with it. Just because there happens to be more than one thing going on at once in this movie does not make it hard to follow. It makes it interesting.

It probably helps that I'm a big fan of the historical/seafaring/colonial age genre. I mean, listening to the Decemberists, reading Neal Stephenson, and eating dinner at Dante's Down the Hatch is one thing (okay, three things) but to me, Pirates is the defining movie of that genre. Swashbuckling action, which might look cool but usually doesn't impress me cinematically, here has an actual purpose of defining the setting. A three-way sword fight? Pretty cool; I doubt that's ever been done before. The water wheel, the pendulum cage... these are what special effects ought to be; things that you can't see in everyday life but actually could exist and that you've never thought of.

The acting in this movie is noteworthy as well. For all the crap I heap on Johnny Depp's fanatical cult of "every teenage girl ever," the man knows how to act. He's taken Jack Sparrow from a simple pirate captain in an entertaining series of movies into a cultural icon. (Jack is an example of how a character is supposed to work, like I talked about a few months ago, with both a competent director to define the role and a competent actor to execute it.) He's charismatic and he possesses a humorously large vocabulary. Depp plays this character with just enough quirks to be entertaining, but not such antics that he's in Anchorman territory. His accent and personality are both flawless, never dropping either, greatly enhancing the credibility and enjoyment of the character.

Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom do very well in their respective roles as well. As one article I read put it, Knightles does well playing the "damsel doing just fine, thank you" as opposed to the damsel in distress. If this character type seems cliched at this point, it's only because Knightley herself made it so. If anything, Knightley seems less attractive than she used to, not quite sure why. I think she's a bit too skinny. And, though his role takes less finesse than Depp's, Bloom does a fine job as well. He's a great foil to Depp, courageous and serious to the self-interested and flippant Sparrow.

Now, a lot of people thought Gollum from Lord of the Rings was the coolest special effect achievement ever. I might be the only one who didn't much care about Gollum, and in that case I'm probably alone in not much caring about Davy Jones either. The character was good, and I guess the tentacles were cool if you're into that sort of thing, but it just didn't impress me. That said, Davy Jones is an excellent villain, a worthy followup to Barbossa, and I'm looking forward to seeing him again in the third installment.

As is easy to do in a pirate flick, Dead Man's Chest features great cinematography. How could those lovely, sweeping shots of a bustling port and majestic eighteenth century warships and vast open ocean really be omitted from this film? The cinematography reminded me of that from Master and Commander, which won an Oscar for its brilliant camera work. The music was awesome as well, enhancing the overall epic feel of the movie. This is actually the sort of movie that might entice one to become a "movie person" and randomly go to movies, expecting to get a great deal of entertainment value out of it. Unfortunately, Dead Man's Chest is so entertaining that you'd be sorely disappointed with virtually everything else out there.

Review: Wedding Crashers

Yep, I'm a year late on this review. This is one of those spur of the moment, "Hmm, I heard this was funny, so why not throw it in the Netflix queue?" ideas. Again, expectation pointed to "typical frat pack comedy, probably going to be a lot of gaggy humor" but whatever. As it turns out, the balance of "frat pack" comedy to romatic comedy was more stilted toward the "romantic comedy" direction. Usually, given two alternative styles, "romantic comedy" is not the direction you necessarily want to go. Compared to the sort of humor I was expecting, though, that was probably a pleasant surprise.

More of the pleasant surprise came from how witty Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn really were as the titular wedding crashers. One scene where Vaughn's character Jeremy provides Wilson's John with a copy of the Secretary of the Treasury's position paper on Micronesian economics, and the followup where John actually has a pseudo-intellectual discussion with the Secretary about Micronesian economics... genius. Some of the backstories they use to get into weddings are downright inspired, a far cry from the kind of stupidity I thought would surface.

But the best part of this movie is that is actually has a soul. At one wedding, John bumps into a girl who does not exist in real life. This girl combines "extremely attractive without being sleazy" with "playful and witty" with "sweet and charming" with "sophisticated but not arrogant." Now, if any male were to encounter a girl this incredibly ideal in the real world, he'd drop everything to pursue her. As it turns out, instead of pull some sort of eye-rolling immature stunt, this is exactly what John does. Thus, the movie has a real sort of likability that goes way beyond sophomoric jokes.

Likability, of course, doesn't imply perfection. We don't need to see what breasts look like. Nude scenes do not add to the cinematic value of a movie. They may get some single-minded guys in the door (and I of anyone realize that movie making is a business) but they simply are never cinematically justified. Also, the entire movie was extremely predictable. Of course Perfect But Nonexistent In The Real World Claire Cleary (a stunning Rachel McAdams) ends up dumping her loser boyfriend (and I wish the movie had been a bit less explicit as to his cheating on Claire, so it would have make John's achievement seem more impressive) so the Heroine and Hero can Reunite at the Triumphant Climax of the Film. Of course the Hero's Sidekick with No Moral Code but who has a Girl Proclaim Her Love to Him ends up actually loving her and another Happy Couple is born. We didn't need to watch past half of the movie to know what was going to happen at the end. But Vaughn and Wilson play such funny and compelling characters, and Rachel McAdams is so darn cute (and her character so darn amazing), that we want to watch it.

Currently listening: "To Zanarkand," Final Fantasy X, Nobuo Uematsu


Gina said...

To Pirates:

I'm glad you liked the movie; I was afraid you were going to completely trash it, and then you and I would have had a problem. LOL

The best thing I liked about Pirates was that the plotline was not just more complicated, but it was deeper--the characters who, especially in Will and Liz's case, were 2-D and cardboard-esque, came out to be real people with flaws and quirks.

I like the fact that they connected the last two movies--it makes it so that the third one won't be stale. It's one continuing story.

Jones' tentacles I think I agree with you on. The only really cool scene was when he was playing the organ. Other than that they didn't DO terribly much with them.

But the film, all in all was better than Pirates 1. Better visually, better plot-wise, just better all around. Best movie I've seen in a long time.

To Wedding Crashers:

I'm sure that there are some girls out there that come close to "that" persona. They're rare and definitely the type to chase after, as you said. But you're being a bit unfair/cynical to say that they don't exist.

Anyway, the thing Iliked about Wedding Crashers was that you had the typical Romance plotline--two people meet and fall in love but one or both has a secret. Secret gets out and all braks loose but they get together in the end.

Yawn. Perfect for depressed women eating chocolate trying to forget about their exes, but not really interesting story wise. However, the line with Vaughn and the Gloria(don't know the actress' name, you'll have to forgive me) was the hook for me. I didn't really know how that was going to work out--I definitely wasn't expecting them to fall in love or get married. While their relationship might not be the most--um--sane, it is a cool story.

Another thing that I liked about the movie was the bond between Wilson and Vaughn. There were points in the movie where I was just kind of in awe of their friendship. My favorite part, of course, being when Vince came and knocked Zach out while charging Wilson. Good stuffs right there, and I always cheer like a moron when it happens.

But anyway, I know you're loving reading this, but I gotta go--mom and stepdad want on.

Matt Pavlovich said...

In short response:

Nope, no trashing of Pirates here. It was legitimately good, and as you say, the best movie I've seen in a long time. And it had a kraken.

Of course I'm cynical. I've explained how, on a personality test I had to take in health class, I got a cynicism score of 9, compared to anger of 3 and aggression of 1. To pay homage to A Christmas Story, I work in cynicism the way other artists might work in oils or clay. Unfair, okay, maybe a little. Every female I've met (and they are few and far between) that even approxmiates Claire in Wedding Crashers is in some way unaccessible. But this isn't a blog for me to complain about my feelings.

Isla Fisher.

The chemistry between John and Jeremy, as you correctly point out, is another of the points that distinguishes Wedding Crashers from other comedies in its subgenre.

I've turned on comment moderation, because I recently got like forty "anonymous comments" which were clearly spam from God knows where. So it may take a while for comments to pop up.