Summer Blockbusters Bring the Viewers Out
No question about it: these two are the blockbusters everybody in the industry expected them to be. They are pure popcorn, junk food pich'r sho's -- spectaculous, spendifferic, stupendimus summer epics -- or perhaps epicettes, as with "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
Both cost a bundle, but oh, my, how the money rolls in.
Depp, for my money, is always welcome. So is Bill Nighy. In this particular case, two of the best actors in movies strut and fret their way across the screen in scene after scene struggling to keep their movie characters intact while fighting a script that undermines acting integrity again and again.
Not that this movie's makers care a whit about that. Their bet is, you won't either. They know, as you know, this is only the second act -- so all they really need to do is plaster enough wriggly foam makeup on top of fairly familiar faces, mix it up with high tech CGI, and send it sailing off, swords clashing and deck guns booming.
The (possibly) final act comes next summer. Another after that? Another Harry Potter? Another ? Sure. Why not? What we have here really are the modern equivalents of Saturday serials, 21st century versions of "The Purple Monster Strikes" but without Roy Barcroft.
And you have to wait a year between episodes. That's so you'll buy the DVD.
A word of advice: If you, somehow or other, missed Chapter One but mean to see Chapter Two, stop. Rent or borrow it and do the essential homework of seeing that first act before handing over your cash for two and a half hours of Act Two.
Things still won't make sense, but they will make more sense.
In Chapter Two, Orlando Bloom is back, bounding blandly about as before. So is Keira Knightly, spry and sprightly. Stellan Skarsgard shows up in Aristotelian/Star Wars fashion as Dad. Will you care? No, and you are not meant to care. This is after all an amusement park ride in the form of a movie: lots of motion, virtually devoid of any real dramatic action.
The plot stops as if at a signal for every fight or chase, where each detail of flight or battle is expanded, stretched out, dwelt upon proudly. There are clever bits and nifty stunts, but what there is of story does not advance one whit. There is lots of set decoration.
In the first picture, Depp as Captain Jack was surprising, a delightful swaggering Keith Richards buccaneer, managing to mug and be plausible at the same time -- but now he has to work to keep that fun in the picture, burdened as Captain Jack now is with the weight of moral posture that ill fits Depp's original conception.
For acting students, take note of Depp's discomfort playing serious scenes while trying to keep his caricature intact. It's positively Deppressing. At least this week offers good chances to learn where acting pitfalls lie and opportunities abound. On two other screens you can watch Meryl Streep at work, with both her great strengths and unfortunate habits in plain sight.
In "The Devil Wears Prada," Streep is at her most technical, a performing machine with every little piece of character clearly drawn. She's fun to watch, but you are watching a performer here, not an actor.
Aside from her, "Prada" isn't much a movie -- but the revenge novel it's base on wasn't much of a book either.
To see Streep actually acting, go back to watch her truthful moments with Garrison Keillor. If you can, go back and forth, acting student. You'll get the idea.
In "A Prairie Home Companion" a childlike life emerges, far overtaking any technical bits or scene-stealing twitchery Streepisms. Watch her here, and you will begin to understand what a great actress Streep is -- or can be, when she lets herself open.
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