Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, dir. Gore Verbinski)
I wonder if even the die-hard fans are starting to see the cracks in this franchise: I wasn't able to make it to the last-minute press screening, so I saw this movie last night at one of the first showings, along with a regular paying audience. Everyone got there really early and buzzed with anticipation; there was even a handful of people dressed up. People laughed uproariously at the trailer for Disney's cartoon-princess-in-the-real-world movie Enchanted, and when Pirates finally started and the title appeared on the screen, the whole audience cheered. But there weren't any more cheers throughout the rest of the film, except for isolated whoops from one or two audience members, and no laughs nearly as hearty as those for the rather lame trailer. Maybe people were satisfied when they came out, but they were surprisingly unenthusiastic during the film.
Obviously I can't blame them - I didn't think this was any better than the second installment, only longer, with the same problems multiplied. The plot is convoluted and practically incomprehensible, but that doesn't stop the characters from spending far too much time standing around trying to explain it to each other, which only leads to more confusion. I don't know why the filmmakers felt the need to make things so complex, when the appeal of the franchise is its simple sense of fun and adventure. This movie is not fun, and there's so much exposition that it takes forever to get to any action sequences. The climactic battle is exciting, if too drawn out, but not particularly dazzling. And Depp is occasionally funny, but his schtick really has run out of steam, which makes it all the more disturbing that he keeps expressing his desire to continue playing the character. This here is a textbook example of how to take all the fun out of a blockbuster franchise, and in an already weak summer popcorn season, it stands as the worst example so far. Wide release
Waitress (Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Sisto, dir. Adrienne Shelly)
Now this is an entertaining movie. It's simple, straightforward and relatively predictable, but so well-acted, genuine and funny that all of that works to its advantage. I've been a Keri Russell fan since her days on Felicity, and she turns in a wonderful performance here, completely winning and sympathetic as a pregnant waitress with an asshole husband, who has an affair with her OB/GYN. The characters here feel lived-in while being slightly stylized, and even Sisto's cartoonish abusive husband gets a few shades of gray. This is an indie film that will completely win over mainstream audiences, a perfect date movie that's not too ickily romantic, and definitely one of my favorite movies of the year. Forget the pirates and the ogre and the spider-guy; see this instead. Opened limited May 2; in Las Vegas this week
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Orla Fitzgerald, dir. Ken Loach)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Loach is often referred to as a filmmaker easier to admire than to like, and this film definitely falls into that category. It captures a historical period and a political attitude with grittiness and a reasonable amount of ambiguity, but it's more an edifying experience than an entertaining one. Worth catching if you're in the right sort of mood, but definitely not for everyone. Opened limited Mar. 16; in Las Vegas this week