Why the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Franchise Should Not Be Touched


By: Amanda Guarragi 

After nearly a decade, since Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was released in 2003, there has been confirmation from Disney that there will be, not one reboot, but TWO reboots, of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. One is a stand-alone film in the Pirates franchise and it is not considered a sequel, reboot or spin-off. Margot Robbie is set to star and Birds of Prey screenwriter Christina Hodson, is set to write the screenplay. The other film, is in fact, a spin-off, which was rumoured as a Disney+ series. It has a $100 million budget and is headed by Chernobyl creator, Craig Mazin and Ted Elliot (who wrote for the previous Pirate franchise), in order to take it in a fresh direction.

Here is the thing, Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most solid, live action, Disney adventure films, that they have in their library. The women in the franchise, have always elevated the story, especially Pirate King Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). The others that come to mind, are Anamaria (Zoe Saldana), Tia Dalma or Calypso (Naomie Harris), Angelica (Penélope Cruz) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). They have all made their mark on screen, there have been women at the forefront, in each of the Pirates films, so to make two spin-offs, that are female led, discredits the work these women put into their roles.

It is a franchise that cannot function without Captain Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann or Will Turner and I will stand by that. After having a marathon of the five films myself. I can honestly say, that whatever Disney attempts to do with these female led reboots, they will never come close to what they had almost 20 years ago. The way Disney makes their films now, is completely different than how they made them 20 years ago and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Their storytelling has changed and it seems that they cannot create a darker atmosphere for their films anymore. It is always light hearted fun and the characterizations are at surface value.

While watching The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), I felt an instant wave of nostalgia and I was surprised, that I watched this as a young child because the film is scary. It has this dark, eerie, ghost story feel to it, from the very beginning. Verbinski managed to hook you within the very first scene and make you want to learn all about Pirate mythology. The story is pretty haunting for a young child to watch, as the curse makes Pirates, who are aboard the Black Pearl, change into skeletons when there is a full moon. The special effects were so well done, it still blows my mind to this day, that everything was smoothly rendered. It was not a film for young children, whatsoever, but it is still in the Disney library.

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Courtesy of Disney, (left) Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom 

Dead Man’s Chest (2006) is my favourite out of the entire saga. It takes all we have learned from the first instalment and amplified it by 100. The action sequences, side deals and manipulation, made a great impression on so many people. The CGI for Davy Jones was exceptional and Bill Nighy gave a solid performance. Jones and his whole crew, were horrific sea creatures and it was so well done. Each movement that was rendered, felt so lifelike and authentic, that it still gives me nightmares. The battles between ships were also elevated and the design for ‘The Flying Dutchman’ was perfect. Not only was this a perfect sequel, but it had one of the best cliffhangers of the decade.

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Courtesy of Disney, (left) David Bailie, Mackenzie Crook, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley

It bumped the stakes going into the third instalment At World’s End (2007) and kept us waiting for an entire year. The score is probably Hans Zimmer’s best Pirate score to date because of the heart thumping undertones, that he used throughout for Davy Jones’ theme. It was really effective and it did not overpower the classic Pirates theme. Heading into the third one, Captain Jack Sparrow is in the depths of Davy Jones’ locker. While Will, Elizabeth and the rest of the crew head to Tia Dalma’s, to find out Commodore Barbossa is still alive. Everyone wants to save Jack and bring him back, but they need to travel to the ends of the world to go save him.

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Courtesy of Disney, (left) Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Johnny Depp 

At World’s End is such an exciting final instalment to the trilogy because it explores all the Pirate Lords, who hold one of the nine pieces. The Pirate mythology is so well thought out and presented in Singapore. Everyone is pretty much a Pirate in this film, including former Commodore James Norrington. Lord Cutler Beckett also became a fantastic villain with the East India Trading Company because he wanted to abolish piracy forever. We are also introduced to the Brethren Court in Singapore with Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun Fat), who is the Pirate Lord of the South China Sea. There were so many big players and moving pieces in this, which made for one of the most exhilarating third acts for a third instalment.

Gore Verbinski’s trilogy was so well written because they had a clear plan from the start. You could see the foreshadowing and where the story was going to go after each film. That is how you set up a trilogy. There was always anticipation for the next film because of how invested you became in these characters. The most impressive character arc, in this whole trilogy is Elizabeth Swann’s, she broke free from her role as Governor’s daughter, learned how to deal with pirates and the high seas, leading her to eventually become a Pirate Lord! Talk about amazing character development. If you really look at this trilogy, the focus may have been on Captain Jack Sparrow, but the underdog in all this, that truly stole the spotlight was Elizabeth Swann because you do grow to love her.

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Courtesy of Disney, (front) Keira Knightley 

The trilogy is perfect on it’s own. So when Disney pressed for a fourth instalment with On Stranger Tides (2011), nearly five years later, directed by Rob Marshall, it felt like it was an afterthought. At the end of the third one, they did allude to the fountain of youth and that Captain Jack wanted to travel there. They did leave it open ended but the only flaw in this film, was that Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann did not return with Jack. Instead we are introduced to Angelica (Penélope Cruz), who felt like a mirror of Jack, which was very fun to play with. It was also a Blow (2001) reunion for Cruz and Depp.

Courtesy of Disney, (left) Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz

In this journey, Captain Jack Sparrow loses his first mate Gibbs and has a run in with King George the Second, who insists that he should guide him on an expedition to the fountain of youth. We then see that Commodore Barbossa has joined the British navy and will join Jack. His old flame Angelica, has been impersonating him this whole time and Jack finds out that she is the daughter, of the infamous Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane) who uses voodoo magic and wields the ‘Mythical Sword of Triton’ to control his ship, the ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge’.

It was a fun movie and they did want to see, if they could make a side journey, without Will and Elizabeth but it just seemed empty without them. It is always great to explore different characters like Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), who was the first mermaid that we had seen in the franchise and to see various Pirates from mythology. It wasn’t the strongest Pirates film but we did get to know Jack a bit more, even though the writing for him in this one was weaker than the previous instalments.

The final and fifth instalment in the Pirates trilogy, was Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which takes place six years after the fourth film. Will and Elizabeth return to save the franchise. It is now thirteen years after At World’s End and their son, Henry Turner is now aboard ‘The Flying Dutchman’ with his father. Apparently he knows of a way, to break the curse, that binds his father to the ship and needs to seek out Captain Jack Sparrow for help. In order to help his father, he needs the ‘Trident of Poseidon’ and ventures to ‘The Devil’s Triangle’.

Courtesy of Disney, (left) Kaya Scodelario, Johnny Depp and Brenton Thwaites

All the big players come back and we are introduced to yet, another Pirate, Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), who is the undead Captain of the ‘Silent Mary’. Henry somehow joins the British Navy, in order to find the Devil’s Triangle and runs into Salazar. He then has a message for Jack Sparrow, that he is, in fact, going after him. Carina is on trial for being a witch, but is simply a young astronomer and horologist, who makes a quick escape and runs into Jack. It is a bit convoluted but the one thing the Pirates franchise does well, is develop their characters enough to make you like them.

Loose ends are definitely tied up, as the Turner family is reunited, Barbossa finds his long lost daughter and Jack is reunited with his crew, his ship and his love for adventure on the high seas. It was possibly the only way to end this franchise on a high note, while still leaving a little bit of mystery in the post credit scene, with the connection that Davy Jones and Will Turner share.

Courtesy of Disney, (left) Orlando Bloom and Lewis McGowan

The Pirates franchise as a whole, is a fantastic adventure franchise, when you see how they handle their characters. The original trilogy is done so well, that it definitely can make you forget the final two instalments. It is such a great franchise and I think a reboot, spin-off or even a sequel is not the greatest idea because the momentum is gone. It will always be treasured and I think developing new, original, adventure films with women at the forefront is the better way to go. We all know that everyone will be comparing these reboots to its predecessor and that’s harmful for female led films.

Disney has changed drastically and has only been focusing on remaking the films they already have in their library. Yes, you can perceive it as making content for a new generation but I was raised on their older classics and I loved them just as much. Like many other films that shouldn’t be touched, this is one of them because I personally think it is too soon to flip this script and not have the original cast present because they are the ones that made it iconic. I highly recommend giving these films a rewatch because they do hold up years later.

Courtesy of Disney, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow

Miss Juneteenth Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Miss Juneteenth is a film, about the generational effects of mothering and how choices can affect the future. This is Channing Godfrey Peoples directorial debut and she wrote the screenplay as well. The film is about a former beauty queen and single mother, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) who prepares her rebellious daughter, Kai Marie Jones (Alexis Chikaeze) for the ‘Miss Juneteenth’ pageant. The film shows Black heritage and the different opportunities that are made available for the Black community.

It begins with Turquoise reminiscing about her pageant days and the future she could have had. She sees her bright, young daughter and wants her to follow in her footsteps, in order to succeed. Turquoise wants her daughter to accomplish more than she did, which causes her to push her to her limit and overwork her for a pageant, she does not want to take part of. It does seem that Turquoise sees this as a redemption arc, for herself, if her daughter wins the pageant and gets the scholarship for university.

Turquoise worked hard to become ‘Miss Juneteenth’ and there was pressure, that came with the title but it also shows how circumstances, like an alcoholic mother, or a pregnancy, can lead to difficult decisions, that could change your life. The film pushes Turquoise back into the world of pageantry and she begins to doubt herself, in how she’s raising Kai. Turquoise can be seen as a very strict mother and Kai wants to express her creativity through dancing instead of becoming a clone of her mother, for this pageant.

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Courtesy Ley Line Entertainment (left) Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze

 

Nicole Beharie gives a nuanced, emotional, complex performance, as Turquoise and it is one of the best performances of the year. As she guides her daughter Kai, through the pageant, she picked up double shifts, to pay for her pageant run and she realized, that it meant more to her, than it did to her daughter. Turquoise was working three jobs and trying to make everything work, for her family but it seemed like everyone was against her. It may not have been intentional but Turquoise had to hustle and do everything for herself, when others fell through.

Turquoise had struggled with so many things in her life, including a strained relationship with her alcoholic mother. She was responsible for her own mother, from a very young age and she had to learn how to support herself. Those are choices that need to be made, in order to survive and that is what she did. She is a woman that would go to any lengths, to protect the people that are around her and go above and beyond for them, when times get rough.

Miss Juneteenth is a strong debut from Channing Godfrey Peoples, as she discusses the systemic racism and corruption in the Black community, in regards to equal opportunities for schooling and businesses. It shows the journey of a woman, who needed to make tough choices in order to survive, as she remembers a version of herself, that is now a ghost of her past life. Women sacrifice so many things for others around them, including their children and this was a film, that definitely showed the determination they have.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a fun Netflix Original Film, that takes Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) on a musical journey, to the iconic Eurovision stage, in order for them to achieve their goals. The film captures the essence of Eurovision perfectly and shows the world united through music. Director David Dobkin, does some great work in this film with his musical numbers and song choices throughout. It is a typical Will Ferrell movie and that should be taken into consideration, before anyone watches it.

It starts out as a dream for young Lars, who hears ABBA on television for the first time ever and starts dancing in his living room in front of his family. He is so overjoyed by their music because of their Icelandic heritage, finally being represented on screen, at the Eurovision main stage. His family laughs at him and his dream but Lars stops at nothing to get what he wants. Lars and Sigrit have been together since they were kids and have been singing as a duo, named ‘Fire Saga’ for a very long time. Lars, as a middle aged man, finally thinks he has the perfect song to enter for Eurovision and Sigrit joins him on this crazy journey.

It is a simple story about a small town dreamer, making his way to the big stage, with some magical elves helping him along the way. It was pretty humorous to see Sigrit bringing goodies, to the magical elves and hoping they bring them luck for Eurovision. With the magical elves being a prominent spirit in this film, they conveniently placed disastrous events so Lars and Sigrit could advance in their journey. Yes, this movie is very unrealistic but it is so much fun and the humour definitely distracts you from impossible situations.

The entire cast is really strong and the chemistry between Lars and Sigrit was great! There were many surprises with the performances, especially Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov, who was the Russian singer in the competition. He was just so electric in this role and I don’t think he has ever been better. Rachel McAdams was also really strong in this and was stunning as per usual. Will Ferrell was being Will Ferrell, I missed seeing him in this kind of role because that’s where he truly shines. If you do not like his humour, then this movie isn’t for you.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga has its comedic moments and will keep you intrigued because Eurovision is that exciting. There is plenty of drama, great song medley’s that will surprise you and a couple of cameo’s, that will make you do the Rick Dalton, pointing at the screen meme. The costume design was probably one of my favourite aspects about this as well because each country had their own design. It is vibrant, energetic, funny and what Eurovision is all about, bringing people together through music.

Little Fires Everywhere Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Little Fires Everywhere is a Hulu Original series, that is adapted from Celeste Ng’s novel. The series explores the residence living in Shaker Heights, specifically the picture-perfect Richardson family but when a mother and daughter, move into their rental home nearby, things take a dramatic turn. It has a very strong narrative structure, it is well written and shows the complexities of each character extremely well. The show tackles racial discrimination, microaggressions, the meaning of motherhood and a woman’s right to choose.

We first meet Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) who is standing on the sidewalk, staring at her mansion, burning to the ground. We can understand that something has gone horribly wrong and someone else has set her home ablaze. The opening title sequence is stunning as well, showing plenty of important objects and pieces that symbolize how materialistic the residence in Shaker Heights can be. The opening sequence, to any show, is the tipping point because it gives so much away and no one even realizes it, that’s why it is one of my favourite aspects in a series.

Elena had a perfect home, a perfect family, a picture-perfect life but she was unhappy with herself. She has always been confused about what she wanted. Did she want to have a career or did she want to have four children? Naturally people would say, that she could have both and live that picture-perfect life but it is unrealistic. No one’s life is perfect because people are not perfect. Elena wanted to have a family and have a career, but the more children she had, the more she resented the fact, that her journalism career was dwindling. This was such a perfect role for Reese Witherspoon because she plays the privileged, broken woman so well.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine 

The idea of perfection is what causes the most harm in anyone’s life. The pressure to be perfect and to always make the right choices is exhausting. Everyone doubts themselves and if they made the right choices in their lives. At the end of the day, we never really know until ten years later, when you realize how much time has passed and you reflect on your life. This is the case with Mia (Kerry Washington) and Pearl Warren (Lexi Underwood) who have been relocating, their entire lives because Mia is an artist, with a very dark past.

Mia first meets Elena when she takes a look at her rental home, which is down the street from the Richardson house. When Elena speaks to Mia, she is very passive and delivers lines with a discriminatory undertone. Elena reeks of white privilege and Mia is very transparent, when having discussions with her. The racial issues, are not only discussed throughout the series, but they are planted in the very passive dialogue, from white characters and it shows the microaggressions quite effectively. It is all about the way things were said to Mia and to Pearl, it is almost hard to stomach at times because of how oblivious Elena is to her own vocabulary.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (left Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon) 

Elena makes the attempt to welcome Mia and Pearl into her home, they became friends and had discussions about motherhood. The flashbacks to their former selves, played by Tiffany Boone and AnnaSophia Robb, were placed properly as well, so the audience can come to their own conclusion of how “motherly” these characters were. What does it take to be a mother? Are all women fit to be mothers? How does one even define motherhood? Is it really a choice to even be a mother or is it more of an obligation to the gender role? These constructs have women in a box, in a cage, if you will and once they get locked into a role or a life, they did not plan on having, it leads to difficult decisions.

What was most interesting about this show, was the character dynamics, between Mia and Izzy Richardson (Megan Stott) versus Pearl and Elena. Pearl wanted to live a normal life, she wanted to attend school and go to homecoming dances, maybe even experience her first love and stay for a while. Izzy hated her small town life, she did not want to feel boxed in and her art was her freedom. Both Izzy and Pearl, essentially, wanted to switch lives and switch mothers. Izzy and Pearl, saw who they wanted to be when they were older. Izzy saw herself, as a free, artistic spirit like Mia and Pearl saw herself, in a huge home, with a picture-perfect husband and a family like Elena.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (top) Kerry Washington and Lexi Underwood (bottom) Reese Witherspoon and Megan Stott

The final three episodes of the series, is when all the demons and secrets, creep out and wreak havoc on everyone close to the Richardson family. Their perfect family is torn apart by lies and poor decisions made by Trip Richardson (Jordan Elsass), Lexie Richardson (Jade Pettyjohn) and Elena. The central story, eventually shifts, to a legal battle between Elena’s friend, Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Mia’s coworker, Bebe Chow (Lu Huang), who fight for custody of young Mirabella/May Ling. It leaves everyone questioning, who is the right fit, to mother this child. Is it the birth mother or the adopted mother? As that heartbreaking storyline unfolds, we find out who Elena and Mia really are through flashbacks.

Little Fires Everywhere is one of the best series I have seen this year and it will keep you in it, until the very end. This cast is extremely strong, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon are incredible in this! The show is very important because it is very subtle in its delivery, that you won’t even realize how many issues are boiling under the surface. It slowly creates this atmosphere of doom like a slow, burning fire, that will ignite at any second. The final episode shows the privilege literally burning to the ground and I think it is a wonderful metaphor.

 

Revival Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Revival directed by Danny Green, is a mixture of every performance medium: a Broadway musical, Hollywood musical, animation, green screen technology, and sound stage. It is one of the most interesting and inventive films that has been released recently. Not only does it cover the spectrum of all art forms but it presents Catholicism in a different way. The story of Jesus is told in a humanistic way, with a wonderful book of songs to accompany it.

The way that it began as a stage play, with an introduction from Harry Lennix, who plays Pilate in the show and then slowly began to cycle through different performance spaces was really unique. There were moments of the film being on location in the mountains, or they made the choice to use a green screen for certain scenes. The special effects were quite good as well. It did seem overindulgent but it is probably because, there has never been a film that has tackled this many forms at once.

This cast was also really strong as well. There were many surprises but seeing Michelle Williams and Chaka Khan in the same film was awesome. The music was what held this film together and enhanced the story as it went on. The entire company did a great job with this passion play, both on the stage and on location. The costume design was strong as well because the vibrant colours made it visually stunning. The conversations about Jesus being a man first and a prophet second, were really thought provoking and challenged the ideology.

Revival is an innovative feature and I commend the film for being so bold. It crossed so many artistic mediums to present a story that we know, in a different way. The music will carry you through this journey and it will keep you locked in to the very end. It is a very refreshing film and they presented the story of Jesus in a more realistic way.