The End of the Adventure? Thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I finally saw the new film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and as I walked from the theater there were some thoughts that struck me. (There may be minor spoilers)

Overall I thought it was an okay film.  On it’s own it’s a fun little adventure.  But since it is the 5th film of the franchise it asks to be judged as part of the whole  In that instance I will say it’s not as good.  But I don’t think that’s the fault of this film.  It is asking a lot of a film franchise that initially started in 2003 and wasn’t even planned at the time of being a film franchise when the first.

I’ll always say the first Pirates film is my favorite.  I still remember seeing the first one in a movie theater up in Alaska where I was spending the summer working at a youth camp.  The story of Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan was a compelling one.  But with each successive film, it seemed to lose the heart of the first film.  By the time of the fourth film On Stranger Tides it really felt like it hit bottom.

I made the comparison on Twitter that Dead Men Tell No Tales feels an awful lot like Rocky Balboa to the Rocky series.  The reason why I thought that as I walked out of the theater was because how this film has been somewhat portrayed in trailers as the “final adventure”.  It seems to try and “right” some of the “wrongs” of the last film and finish off the story of Jack Sparrow.

For those that don’t remember, Rocky Balboa came nearly 16 years after the last Rocky film (Rocky V).  To me Rocky V is one of those movies that doesn’t exist in my personal canon of films because it’s so bad.  It was always a bad way to send off Rocky.  But then Rocky Balboa released and was a better sendoff to the franchise and the character.  And while Creed has spun off and done it’s own thing, there was closure with the Rocky series.

I think On Stranger Tides is the Rocky V of the Pirates series.  There is no Will Turner or Elizabeth Swan in that film.  The story itself feels a little disjointed and there wasn’t any closure.  Dead Men Tell No Tales at least delves back into the history of Sparrow.  It helps bring the Turner/Swan story back through Will & Elizabeth’s son Henry (as well we get cameos of Orlando Bloom & Keira Knightly) and we get Jack Sparrow sailing off at the end of the film.  Granted given the after credits scene they could spin off and do more with Will/Elizabeth/Henry and Carina in a Creed type spinoff, but I think the story (at least of Jack Sparrow) should end here.

It’s been said of musical or comedy acts that one should always leave the audience wanting more.  You don’t want to overstay and the act get boring or not entertaining.  In some ways stories can be that way as well.  There should be at the end of the story a desire to want more but at the same time leave it to the imagination as to what that more is.  Granted it’s a balance between telling more of the adventure and leaving that desire to dream of what’s there.

Could there be more adventures out on the seas for Jack Sparrow?  Possibly, but sometimes it’s good to leave those up to the imagination of the audience.  There may be a new adventure on the horizon for the Black Pearl but I’m happy to stay in port and remember the old ones.

Carrying Pain: Some Thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and it did not disappoint.  There were a lot of great moments in the film and it reminded me why I loved the first one.  It has joy and heart and humor and when it’s serious it connects.  And at the heart of it is hope.

There are a lot of things that could be talked about in this film but there was one point that really resonated with me once I left the theater.  (Minor spoilers but nothing major)

One of the underlying plot points in the film carries over from the first film.  This is the rivalry/fight between Gamora & Nebula.  In the first Guardians, Gamora had the chance to kill Nebula and didn’t.  In this film, Nebula returns at the beginning.  She is first captured by the Guardians and then later escapes.  Later she finds Gamora with the expressed intent of “besting her”.  She comes in guns ablazing (literally) in a spaceship and crashes with Gamora having to save her again.

Later on, Nebula expresses all the rage and anger she had to Gamora was because Thanos would “repair” Nebula with cybernetics when she lost to Gamora and that’s why she hated Gamora.  Nebula raged because deep down she didn’t want to win.  She wanted a sister.  And so that pain built up inside Nebula and made her what she became in the 1st Guardians film and bled into this one.  And Gamora realizes that and tells Nebula that she was just trying to survive.  She didn’t mean to hurt Nebula.  And there’s a great scene where Gamora hugs Nebula and at first Nebula is stiff but finally she returns the hug.

Nebula still carries the pain of her past.  And at the end of the film, she doesn’t let it go just yet as she jets off to go after Thanos.  And Gamora lets her know that she’s welcome with them because she is family.

We all carry pain of some kind.  We are all hurt by people.  Sometimes the pain is unintentional and sometimes unfortunately it’s very intentional.  However we are hurt, we each carry that hurt with us.  Sometimes that pain can be used for good.  We see how we are hurt and we care for others so that they do not feel that kind of pain.  Peter Quill throughout the films carries the pain of seeing his mom die and fights for others.  Nebula rages with anger at the pain she carries and while she is not the same as she was at the beginning of the first film, she still is consumed by the pain and the anger that comes from it.

Like I said earlier, what I love about this series is that at the heart of the films is hope.  Hope for change.  Even if one carries such deep pain, there is hope for change.  I am very much looking forward to Vol. 3 and seeing how the character of Nebula is carrying her pain.  Because it reminds me of the pain that I carry and how I can’t let it carry me.

Thoughts on the “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Trailer

Today the first trailer for Episode 8 in the Star Wars Trilogy The Last Jedi released.  It was a long time waiting for a trailer compared to Episode 7 The Force Awakens.  Since this is a first trailer this is just a glimpse into what’s in store but I do have some thoughts:

1.) There is an “Empire” feel to this trailer.  It feels like Rey will have her “Dagobah” time with Luke.  From the training to the “what do you see”? I do hope at some point if it’s this film or Episode IX that she builds her own lightsaber.  Every one else in the saga has built their own lightsaber, it would make sense and only be right that she constructs a new lightsaber just for her.

2.) There looks like there will be some sweet space battles.  That was one thing lacking in The Force Awakens was great space battles.  Hopefully that will be remedied in this film.

3.) Finn in stasis (or whatever that was) reminded me of Han in carbonite freeze.  I wonder how much of Finn in this film will be still unconscious/recovering and how much will be him participating.

4.) I’m guessing there will be more Poe which hopefully will be connected to the space battles.  More time with him and Black Squadron will be a definite plus.

5.) The “Jedi to end” line is the one that has me scratching my head and partly concerned with the track of the film (and Episode IX).  Granted that’s what the director Rian Johnson wants is to leave it so vague like that.  What I hope is that it doesn’t actually mean the end of the Jedi.  I think that would be a mistake and would be wrong.  In a way if that happened, the Emperor would have succeeded.  He wanted to get rid of all the Jedi and if Luke sees to its end then what the Emperor wanted to happen would’ve happened.  Maybe it’s a moment of crisis and with Rey the Order is restored.  I don’t know.  Out of all the things in the trailer that concerns me.

There are a lot of feelings.  I think the main one (and I tweeted a GIF of it) was “What?”  There are a lot of “what?” moments.  To be honest given how things are I’m very excited but I’m also a little anxious.  It feels like trusting someone to handle a very priceless artifact and seeing them carry it to you.  You’re excited to get it but at the same time worried they might get careless and drop it.  The verdict will come in December.

Communication: Thoughts on “Arrival”

This week I picked up Arrival on Blu-Ray.  I saw the film in theaters back in November and in my “year in review” for my favorite films of 2016 said this was my film of the year.  So needless to say I was excited to watch it again (as well as all the special features documentaries).

Arrival poster

At the heart of this film is communication.  Communication between humans and aliens.  Communication between humans to each other.  The importance of having good communication.  How bad communication can be ineffective or disruptive.  Communication can be something that unites or it can be something that divides.

The main character of the film is a linguist.  Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) is called in by the Army to help with trying to communicate with the aliens.  She is able to connect with the heptapods and after many times of meeting and struggling is able to develop a line of communication with them.  It takes time and patience to understand even the basic things that the heptapods are trying to communicate.

Louise also has to communicate with the Army to tell them why she has to be so basic with the heptapods at the start.  One scene that was apropos was when she writes on the whiteboard at the base “What is your purpose on Earth?” and then goes into description of how each word has to be understood (as well as understanding what a question is) before being able to ask the question to get an appropriate response.  But through the course of the film Louise and Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist (played by Jeremy Renner) are able to establish communication with the heptapods “Abbott” and “Costello”.

Arrival Louise and Ian

But it’s not just communication between the humans and the heptapods important in the film, communication between humans to each other is important.  We see the struggles between the Army and Louise and Ian.  We see it between different countries as they are sharing (or not sharing) info with their encounters with the heptapods.  We see it with the media reporting the news.  The disconnection between different countries almost lead to aggression and even to the bring of war.

We live in a world today where there is instant communication.  The internet and social media has connected people around the world in ways that were not imaginable a generation ago.  But even with this advancement in communication, there is a lot of miscommunication.  We can turn on the TV or turn on our computers and see a huge disconnect in people communicating with one another and that can lead to people getting hurt.

Even though Arrival is science fiction, there is a lot of truth in it.  We as humans long to connect with others.  But really connecting with people takes time and it’s messy because we’re broken.  Our sin makes us broken.  To really communicate is to open oneself up and share themselves.  Many times we’re scared to do that because in our vulnerability we are worried people will take advantage of that and hurt us.  It takes a level of trust to be open in communicating with someone and that comes through relationships.  Louise built a relationship with “Abbott” and “Costello” which by the end of the film not only affected her but the entire world and the heptapods as well.  She trusted the heptapods but that didn’t come overnight.  It took time and work and also sacrifice.  But in the end, that trust led to better communication.

Arrival is a very timely film and one that gets to the heart not only of who we are as people but what it means to be human.  To be human both in our virtues and our flaws.  The beauty in how God created us and the sin which hinders and hampers us.  How we struggle to communicate with one another and how that affects our relationships with one another and how we’ve been given a gift (in Jesus Christ) that can unite all people together.

I said before it was my film of the year last year and seeing it again reminds me not just how good it is as a film but how thought provoking it is.  It is a good reminder that communication is key and we all could do a better job of it.

The Power Forgiveness Can Have: Rewatching The Prestige

Lately I’ve been going back and rewatching some of my favorite movies, especially ones that I have not seen in a long time.  Last week, I rewatched The Prestige.

the-prestige

The Prestige, which starred Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johannson and directed by Christopher Nolan, tells the story of two magicians/illusionists and the rivalry that developed which turned very personal.  Both Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) wanted to be the best and would stop at nothing to do just that.  In the end, the price that they both paid not only cost them but those around them.

There’s a lot one can unpack from a Christopher Nolan film.  One could rewatch his films numerous times and pick up different things.  This time when I was watching the film there were two things that stood out and I tweeted about them while I was watching the film.  The first was this: “If there is a word that is an underlying theme in this film it is hubris.” The other thing was this: “And how forgiveness could’ve kept things from escalating as it did.”

Both men had a huge amount of pride.  They wanted to be the greatest magician/illusionist in the world.  And both of them felt they were better and smarter than the other.  This hubris blinded them to the damage they caused.  Borden made a mistake which led to the death of Angier’s wife.  Instead of being sorry or asking for forgiveness, Borden went on to become a solo act.  Instead of Angier not pursing revenge, he hijacked a performance and shot Borden which cost him two fingers.  And on and on until there was irreparable damage done to not just the two men but their wives, friends, colleagues and everyone around them.

Granted if one had shown grace and mercy to the other it would’ve been a very short film.  But the truth remains.  Their anger and thirst for revenge drove both men in ways that made the situation worse.  On the flip side, forgiveness was right there and could’ve stopped a lot of heartache for both men.

Forgiveness is such a beautiful thing but it also can be one of the hardest things to do.  It is so easy to hold onto hurts, to hold onto wrongs done.  But God calls us to forgive.  We are called to forgive because He has forgiven us.  He forgave us with great cost to Him with His son Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.  He chooses to forgive us even though we wrong Him with our sins.  That is the beauty of forgiveness, that restoring of relationship.

Angier and Borden could not forgive one another.  Each man wanted to prove he was better than the other.  In the end, they proved that their actions kept them from being the best that they could’ve been as well as hurting their relationships with those around them.  May we be people that forgive.  It may come as a great cost but the rewards are much greater.

My Favorite Films of 2016

Last year I shared my favorite films that were released in the past year.  I thought I’d make that a yearly tradition and so here is my list of favorite films for 2016.   They are in no particular order, just in the order that I can remember them from the beginning of the year until the end of the year:

Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday

Though Only Yesterday released originally in Japan in 1991, the English dubbed version came to North America this year.  Only Yesterday is the story of Taeko Okajima and her life in two parts.  It tells one part of her life as an 8 year old child in the late 1960s Tokyo as well as an adult in the 1980s.  It was one of the last Studio Ghibli films to be dubbed into English and includes the voicework of Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel and Ashley Eckstein.

I Saw The Light

I Saw The Light

Based on the true story of country singer and legend Hank Williams Sr., I Saw The Light tells the story of his life as a singer just before his big break to right before his tragic death.  Hank Williams is played in the film by Tom Hiddleston and Elisabeth Olsen plays Audrey Williams, Hank’s first wife.  I’m usually a fan of a good biopic and when it’s a subject like that of Hank Williams I was drawn to it.  I thought the performances in the film were done well especially that of Hiddleston and Olsen.  It is hard to act and sing especially to play an iconic figure but Hiddleston was up to the challenge in my mind.

The Legend of Tarzan

LEGEND OF TARZAN

The Legend of Tarzan is a new take on an old story.  It tells the further adventures of Tarzan and how he and Jane (along with American George Washington Williams) take on some corrupt Belgians who were trying to exploit the Congo.  There are several nods to the classic Tarzan character while telling a story that resonates today.  And while most people this year will look at Margot Robbie’s other big role in 2016 (Harley Quinn), her performance as Jane Clayton is a showstealer.

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

A remake of a classic (which in turn was a remake itself) The Magnificent Seven tells the story of a ragtag group of seven men who help to defend a mining town from a evil and corrupt businessman and his hired army.  The cast for this film included Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio among others.  I enjoyed the original The Magnificent Seven and to me this film honors that film while also telling it’s own story.

Amanda Knox

amanda-knox

Probably the documentary of the year for me in 2016, Amanda Knox was a Netflix film that tells the story of Amanda Know, who is most well known for being found guilty and later acquitted of the death of a fellow student in Italy in 2007.  For this documentary there is lots of archive footage and interviews as well as interviews today from some of the key people including Amanda herself.

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

Out of the two Marvel movies that released this year, Doctor Strange was my favorite of the two.  Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job as Dr. Stephen Strange.  Strange went from an arrogant doctor over the course of the movie to the Sorcerer Supreme.  It was a good origin story for a character that is not as well known in the Marvel Universe as others.  And it didn’t kill off the main villain at the end of the movie.  It is a good setup for what’s to come in Phase 3 of the MCU.

Arrival

arrival

If there is a “Film of the Year” for me, I would say it’s this film.  From the first trailer to seeing it on the big screen, Arrival was interesting and compelling.  With a cast that included Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker, Arrival tells the story about humankind’s interaction with an alien species and the key to communicating lies with a language professor (played by Adams) and a physicist (played by Renner).  But it’s a different take on that familiar trope.  The visuals are stunning and the story makes you think.  This is a film I’m interested in seeing multiple times because of seeing the all the puzzles pieces in place.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

An interesting film that I found on Netflix, Blue Jay is the story of two high school sweethearts that meet up some 20 years later.  Jim (played by Mark Duplass, who also wrote the screenplay for the film) returns back to his hometown to settle some affairs after his mother passed away.  He runs into Amanda (played by Sarah Paulson) at a grocery store and the two reminisce about old times.  It is a very poignant film and one that deals with heavy issues in a thought provoking way.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one

Of course a list of my favorite films would have to include a Star Wars movie.  Rogue One is the first Star Wars anthology film and is set right before A New Hope.  It tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans for the first Death Star and the group that did it.  It had one of the best battle sequences I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie and there were a lot of cool references that tied into the Star Wars universe.  Thought I still have the original trilogy in my top 3 of Star Wars films, this one is right there in the running for 4th along with The Force Awakens.