Movie Bag #3 – Midnight Meat Train, A Scanner Darkly, Pirates: On Stranger Tides

Midnight Meat Train blew my mind.  I was expecting another fun but forgettable slasher flick, but what I got was a brutally gruesome one.  The movie follows a photographer as he tries to hit it big as an artist.  He tries to capture the heart of the city by walking the streets at night and taking pictures of what he finds, but once he catches wind of a series of murders that has been going on for a century he gets obsessed.  Someone in the subway is making people disappear at night.  The whole film takes an unexpected turn when the ending finally rolls around and you’re given the reason behind the murders.  We’re all familiar with those scenes in regular horror movies where the bad guy swings down toward the victim and you hear a crunch, but the camera cuts away or the victim is off screen.  In Midnight Meat Train you see the hammer cave in faces, hooks tearing through flesh, and bits being torn off and eaten.  Better yet, no silly jump scares.  I recommend this to gore lovers and horror junkies alike.

A Scanner Darkly follows the story of a cop that is undercover as a drug addict and is ordered to spy on himself.  The authorities are trying to track a dangerous drug that causes hallucinations, and every agent is both officially and visually anonymous.  I found myself not caring about the overall plot until the final parts of the movie because I was much more interested in what was going on in each scene individually.  A large amount of the movie consists of people with drug-addled minds trying to function like normal human beings.  Some are unaware that they are affected while the actions of others are made all the more appalling by their knowledge of their condition.  There are many funny moments, but even the comedy feels sad and unnerving because of the inherent wrongness of the situation.  The visual style takes a little getting used to, but it works really well when the character start to trip out.  Keanu Reeves’ stony acting fits his character nicely, and the entire movie is worth seeing just for Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson.  Check it out if you haven’t already.  If nothing else, it’ll definitely be memorable.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the fourth movie in a series that should have probably never had sequels.  Jack Sparrow is back, but this time he’s got a new director and it shows.  A host of new characters is after the fountain of youth, so the plot comes up with a bunch of reasons for various returning characters to be along for the ride.  Jack get kidnapped by ex-lover Angelica, who is Black Beard’s daughter.  Black Beard is after the fountain of youth because a prophecy predicts his death.  Barbosa is seeking revenge against Black Beard for taking his Black Pearl.  Gibbs is Barbosa’s guide because they wanted another familiar face in the movie.  Many of the characters are never given motives for their actions, and those who do have them explained rather than shown.  It’s very common for characters to do things that completely contradict what we know about them, and the plot relies heavily on these inconsistent motives along with random coincidence and arbitrary fetch questing to keep the movie going.

I might have had more fun if I had shut my brain off, but I just couldn’t stop thinking.  When you first see Black Beard the ends of his beard are burning like cigarettes and he shows off some supernatural powers, but then he never uses them again for the rest of the movie.  The Spanish get no screen time for most of the movie, but then they’re the big bad guys at the end.  At one point a character who is left to die goes to great lengths to save the life of someone who tried to kill them despite having no way of knowing what was going on or any reason to change sides.  There’s even a seesaw-like scene where they can’t even have consistent physics.  Do you want a bunch of cool action scenes peppered with plenty of comedy?  Go watch Curse of the Black Pearl again, then.  This movie has a few funny bits and a few action scenes, but the action is often confusing or uninteresting while the comedy is hit or miss aside from a well done ending.  The ending was actually the only time I heard a lot of laughter, which is saying a lot for a sold out theater.

Worse yet, the movie is brought to a standstill by huge amounts of exposition.  Why does Black Beard want the fountain of youth?  Exposition.  What happened to the Black Pearl?  Exposition.  What’s this new girl’s story and how does she know Jack?  Exposition.  Talking, talking, and talking.  What happened to the golden rule of “show don’t tell”?  In many cases the stories told by the characters sound like they would be more fun to watch than the story that we’re following in the movie.  The movie tries to introduce and explain far more story lines than it should have, and the writers couldn’t think of any better way to make the audience understand than exposition.  It’s just lazy, and it shows how much of a cash in this movie really was.  Johnny Depp got a larger advance for this movie than any other actor has in the history of movies.

On a strange note, Angelica and Philip seem to look just like Elizabeth and Will from the original trilogy.  This seems to have been a conscious decision, but why?  My guess would be that it was an attempt to make this movie feel more like a part of the overall Pirates canon by using familiar faces.  Jack Sparrow is still Jack Sparrow, but Barbosa is pretty much a different character entirely and Gibbs doesn’t really do anything at all.  Maybe they thought that using actors that looked like previous characters would tie it all together for viewers when in reality this is a sequel to a trilogy that run its course finished its plot.  That’s really the crux of the issue, isn’t it?  We’re looking at Shrek 4, The Matrix Revolutions, and the Star Wars prequel trilogy here.  Someone hits it big with a good movie or three, then decides to cash in by crapping out a few messy ones that rehash familiar sights and themes.  I loved Curse of the Black Pearl.  I’ve seen it so many times by now that I might even call it one of my favorites, but it should have never had a sequel.  We all remember the ending:  the bad guy was dead, Jack was rescued from his execution, and he and Will were running off to a future of grand off-screen adventures.  The original Pirates was a big success though, so they wrote an entirely new plot, gave bother characters daddy issues, brought the villain back from the dead as a good guy, and tried to turn the franchise into a Lord of the Rings trilogy.


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