Thursday, June 1, 2017

Alien: Covenant, Paris Can Wait, The Lovers, and Short Takes on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

              Exotic Locales (mostly) Featuring Some Fascinating 
                  Characters (depending on your personal tastes)

                                                              Reviews by Ken Burke
 As I noted at the end of the analytical aspects of my last posting (May 18, 2017)—where you’ll find some new commentary in the Comments section that answers some of my plot questions about Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar)—my wife, Nina, and I took a short trip to Pacific Grove, CA, visiting the fabulous Monterey Aquarium while we were there (getting an up-close look at octopuses and sea anemones, which could easily have served as partial-inspirations for the grotesque monsters in the Alien movies), so I didn’t get around to posting anything last week, leaving me with 4 cinematic considerations for you; therefore, I’ll try my best to finally adhere to my long-standing, long-ignored vow to write (at least somewhat) shorter reviews this week, putting these subjects in order of most intriguing to me, although Nina would certainly voice her own rearrangement.  Even shorter statements on 4 topics still take up a lot of space, though, so I’ll forego my usual opening of a no-spoilers “Executive Summary” for all of them, with the assumption each of these has now either been out long enough or carries enough initial attraction that if you really wanted to see it you probably already have or if you don’t then the spoilers won’t matter anyway.  With that in mind, we’re off to a collection of very diverse contents.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
                            Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott)
As we continue to slowly progress through the backstory of what led to the original Alien movie (1979), we’re following on events shown in Prometheus (2012) where a human and an android were seeking the home planet of the Engineers; here, a ship carrying colonists to a distant planet follows an odd signal from that earlier destination leading to another terrifying result.
What Happens: As we pursue this slow-reveal of how the monsters we first met in Alien (Scott, 1979) came to be on planet LV-426 for their fateful encounter with the crew of the Nostromo, we begin … Covenant a few decades earlier than the plot events dominating the previous sequel, Prometheus (Scott, 2012; review in our June 14, 2012 posting [as always, I'll beseech you to please be tolerant of the sloppy layout of these early Two Guys posts as I keep working to improve the current ones]), with a conversation between Weyland Corp. CEO Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and his newly-activated android, David (Michael Fassbender), about the mysteries of creation.  From there we jump far along to 2104—10 years after the events of Prometheus—where the Covenant spaceship’s carrying its crew along with 2,000 human colonizers, 1,000 embryos to settle on distant planet Origae-6 (I’m assuming climate change on Earth wasn’t a “hoax” after all), with everyone in hibernation, the ship overseen by android Walter (also Fassbender), a later model of David (as we learn later, he’s more machine-like than his predecessor who took on too many human traits of curiosity and assertion [leading to the tragic events in Prometheus]).  With the ship reeling 
from a sudden neutrino burst, Walter awakens the crew—except for mission commander Capt. Jake Brason (James Franco) who dies from a fiery-malfunction in his sleep-pod (47 of the colonizers also expire from the forceful impact)—so the new leader is “person of faith” Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), who soon decides to follow the unexpected signal (turns out to be a somewhat-garbled recording of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”) from an unknown planet because this place seems to be life-sustaining, closer to reach than Origae-6, with little enthusiasm from the crew to have to re-enter their sleep pods for years more of this further-deep-space-travel, especially knowing what tragedies might be awaiting from another malfunction such as what took such a toll on the existing occupants of the Covenant. While most of the crew eagerly travels to the planet’s surface, Daniels "Dany" Branson (Katherine Waterston), Jake's widow, is the only one protesting the change in trajectory (“too good to be true”), although the others will end up wishing they’d listened to her after first noting no sign of animal life in this lush location then planetary-explorers Ledward (Benjamin Rigby) and Hallett (Nathaniel Dean) accidentally ingesting spores that transform into vicious aliens ripping through their infected bodies, horribly killing them.*

*However, these aren’t the “helmet”-headed, doubled-jawed Xenomorphs we’ve come to know from the earlier Alien-movies but are somewhat-similar-creatures.  If you want to know more about the distinctions among these beasts, go here (although the Wikipedia folks note this lengthy article has “multiple issues” it’s still a useful source of explanation about how these various monsters have been engineered differently, as well as how they take on the characteristics of their different hosts).

 Tragically (of course), the landing vehicle’s destroyed in an attempt to kill one of the aliens, with the surviving crew members rescued by David who explains how he crash-landed here with Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace)—details on what preceded this are in the Prometheus review noted above—with the unintended release of the deadly black goo that swiftly became a huge swarm of those spores, attacking and killing the entire population of the Engineers’ home planet (we find out later in a revelation from David to Walter it was an intentional release because David is convinced that all forms of humans, including our DNA-creating-Engineers, are just flawed beings who need to be eliminated).  In the process, we also learn David’s spent his time on this  lost planet experimenting with the deadly liquid, creating variations of this killer-species, including the horrible egg-stage/facehugger/chestbuster Xenomorphs in the 4 Alien movies released prior to Prometheus (here one of these creatures is used by David to kill Capt. Oram, unsuspecting of what he's about to encounter)The remaining crew on the Covenant manages to get a transport to the planetary surface, rescuing Branson, Lope (Demián Bichir), and Walter (although they have to kill an alien before returning to the main ship), but Lope’s also been infected, releasing another of these beasts into the ship which Branson, Tennessee Faris (Danny McBride), and Walter manager to shoot out of an airlock before the 2 remaining human crew members return to hibernation, with Dany discovering in horror before she’s locked in her pod that “Walter” really is David (who dispatched his lookalike in an earlier combat scene we didn’t see the outcome of).  Once David’s alone, he regurgitates 2 Xenomorph embryos, placing them with the human ones to insure once this ship reaches its destination all the intended-colonists will be killed.

So What? I'll just admit right off that rather than attempting to concisely convey how this Alien story fits into context of all that comes before and after it's more efficient to refer you to 2 sources which do this job better than I likely could: 
Prologue: The Crossing 
(2:40), narrated by David, showing how Dr. Shaw repaired him (his head was separated from his body during the finale of Prometheus), then she went into her hibernation chamber as they traveled to  the Engineers’ home planet; along with this you can see a detailed timeline video (13:29) of all the prior Alien movies (including what some call the “heretical” Alien vs. Predator entries in this collection [Paul W.S. Anderson, 2004; The Brothers Strausse, 2007])—a site which replaces the one noted in my 2012 Prometheus review which I now see no longer exists; you can also find numerous other versions of both this chronological video and variations on the 3rd link far below connected to this movie on the YouTube pages containing my citations.  Also in that  earlier review of Prometheus I noted a limitation about it for me in how it evokes so many other sci-fi stories, a problem that Covenant mostly avoids, functioning more as a event-specific-continuation of the Alien saga than a collage of elements from other sources (including The X-Files’ deadly, otherworldly “black oil”), although … Covenant’s certainly (intentionally, I’m sure) repetitive of aspects of Alien (going off-course to explore a signal from a crashed Engineer ship, the protagonists’ ship’s computer called Mother, the unexpected [on Oram’s part, not ours] leap of a facehugger, the deadly creatures bursting out of human bodies, the final alien being lured all through the spaceship only to be flushed out of the airlock) which may feel less borrowed when this series is complete so these elements could function more as intentional foreshadowing (as with repetition between plot elements of Star Wars’ middle episodes, A New Hope [George Lucas, 1977] and Return of the Jedi [Richard Marquand, 1983]) than as simple attempts at audience comfort by recycling familiar plot elements.  

 What happens on Origae-6 when Branson’s released from her sleep pod with knowledge of David’s malign intentions is yet to be answered (assuming David doesn’t somehow dispose of her during the voyage), but rest assured Scott’s got at least 1 or 2 more episodes to go before we get to Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) on LV-426 in 2122, so all will be strung together (we hope) in due time.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: 
As with the narrative of Prometheus before it, Alien: Covenant attempts to mix outer-space-sci-fi-thrills with much deeper philosophical questions about the nature of our creation, the dangers that lurk within the operations of DNA experimentation, the deadly hubris that can transfer from our human scientific engineers even into their A.I. machines concerning the notion of “improving” on what we know already exists in nature.  Scott certainly has a grand vision of using his original Alien vehicle (which has been previously described as a horror movie set in outer space*) to probe such grand ideas, leading to a reasonable embrace by the critical establishment (71% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 65% average score at Metacritic), although audiences haven’t been overly-enthralled, with a roughly $60 million take in the domestic (U.S.-Canada) market after 2 weeks in release plus another $101 million from overseas, so the $97 million production budget’s been covered but distribution costs will likely be that much again with income dropping fast despite playing in 3,772 domestic theaters.  I generally enjoyed what I saw in Alien: Covenant, found the acting and lavish-computer-effects to be solid, yet I don’t experience it as being more than a necessary link between the weighty concepts of Prometheus and the eventual payoff with Alien, thus I don’t have much else to offer at this time until I see how it fits in with whatever else Scott’s planning for us.  In final context, this may just be a grandiose place-holder.

*This is a detailed position presented in Bruce Kawin's article “Children of the Light” in various editions of Barry Keith Grant’s Film Genre Reader.  You can get to a PDF by doing a Google search of “bruce kawin children of the light,” then clicking on the citation Children of the Light - Summer.  I still see Alien as part of the outer-space-sci-fi-genre, but I agree Kawin makes good arguments.

 For my standard Musical Metaphor (offering a final perspective on the review subject from the standpoint of another artform) it seems appropriate I go with the same thing David chooses when Weyland asks him to play some selection from Wagner on the piano, so here we have “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” (from the opera Das Rheingold, 1869) at gK-HQ (an element of the movie’s stirring soundtrack) displaying its grandiose sense of triumph (or maybe it's just an example of amplified braggadocio), an oppressive attitude which mirrors David’s own self-deluded-self-vision, seeing his alien experiments as better creations than those produced by the Engineers (who made—as he sees it—our flawed species, even though they were prepared to terminate us as a failed experiment as shown in Prometheus) and, of course, we even-less-desirable-humans, which David shows a seminal contempt for (as he later admits, with only Dr. Shaw as someone he respected, even loved as best an android can [despite using her in his grotesque experiments to create the killer aliens]) in his initial dialogue with Weyland, asking the pointed question of “Who created you?” while noting he'll live indefinitely as his human maker dies (propelling the storyline of Prometheus as Weyland sponsors the expedition to a distant moon, hoping to find some Engineer technology to prolong his fading-existence [leading to yet another external-linkage for that film, Scott's sci-fi-classic Blade Runner {1982} where invading Replicants come to Earth demanding more life from their creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell {Joe Turkel}, even as … Covenant generates a notable-sci-fi-allusion of its own to 2001: A Space Odyssey {Stanley Kubrick, 1968} with its misguided-machine, HAL-9000, killing most of its crew mistakenly sensing they won’t be capable of successfully completing their mission out to Jupiter]).

 Of course, if you’d prefer a Musical Metaphor with a little less pomp and circumstance but instead the learned irony of a song about being taken home to “the place I belong” (which the Engineers’ planet certainly is not for us), then here’s a video of Denver’s "Country Roads" song (from the 1971 Poems, Prayers & Promises album), illustrated with footage from Alien: Covenant.  For that matter, if you want the full-operatic-version of Wagner’s work noted above, along with German song, here's one (with explanations of the text right below the video, which contains just a static image anyway).
                     Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola)
The wife of a constantly-distracted movie producer agrees to travel across most of France from Cannes to Paris with her husband’s French business partner, but rather than an efficient trip he keeps extending their time together in this comic, almost-romantic journey featuring the enchanting countryside, exquisite food, marvelous wine, and personal awakenings.
What Happens: Anne (Diane Lane) is the wife of work-obsessed-movie-producer Michael (Alec Baldwin), who’s ready for them to travel on a private jet to Budapest for some business before returning from the Cannes Film Festival to Paris.  However, she’s developed an ear infection making it questionable for her to fly anywhere so instead she accepts the offer from Jacques (Arnaud Viard), Michael’s French business partner, to join him as he drives across the country (from the Mediterranean almost to the Atlantic), with an anticipated arrival by nightfall of that day for Anne to take over the apartment being loaned by a friend until Michael can join her later.  However, gregarious Jacques isn’t interested in timely travel, preferring instead to show his guest (they know each other but apparently not very well—although Michael’s a bit concerned about leaving his wife with a Frenchman so he may have a better idea of how much stock Jacques puts in fidelity) the wonders of the countryside they’ll be traveling through (the Sainte-Victoire mountain near Aix-en-Provence [inspiration of many Cezanne paintings], the grand Roman aqueduct in Pont du Gard, the Pyramid of Vienne [a town south of Lyon along the Rhône river] once the centerpiece of a huge Roman circus, the Institut Lumière [about the early pioneers—the French say inventors—of cinematography] in Lyon along with the impressive Fabric Museum, the famous Romanesque Vézelay Basilica with its relics of Saint Mary Magdalene), along with frequent stops to savor the scrumptious delicacies and fine wines of the various regions (each seems to have some edible that’s “the finest in all of France”).  Despite Anne’s initial desire to arrive at her final destination, she succumbs to Jacques’ “joie de vie,” consuming all that their journey has to offer (except for his flirting because while she can’t say she’s fully happy in her marriage she’s not ready for a rapid affair—although she has a spontaneous auto-mechanics-solution when the fanbelt in Jacques’ old Peugeot breaks, using her pantyhose as a makeshift fix until they can reach a nearby repair shop).

 After a couple of days of indulging in this stylish-debauchery (even if you don’t care for French food the glorious dishes they’re served will surely make you want to rush out after the screening to whatever fine cuisine you favor for an extravagant, unforgettable dinner) they finally get to Paris, but by now we see Jacques is fully convinced there's a special bond between them (although that didn’t keep him from having a quick tryst with his old [friendly] friend, Martine [Élise Tielrooy], in Lyon), sending a box of rose-shaped-chocolates (they looked delicious!) to Anne's borrowed apartment (along with a full reimbursement for all the charges on her credit card, in that his had been recently stolen and his cash accidently went back to Paris with his assistant), plus an invitation for her to slip away from LA to meet him in San Francisco when he’ll be there in the near future.  She’s impressed, maybe intrigued by his offer (although I doubt she sees much investment potential in such an easily-diverted-hedonist), but her time on the road with Jacques has finally inspired Michael to be more attentive (some jealousy mixed with panic) to the point of cancelling his suddenly-arranged-trip to Morocco to sort out problems with the director of his latest film in order to immediately join Anne in Paris, eager to repair whatever distances may have developed between them (which sounds like it could be the conclusion to our next film under review, but appearances are deceiving in that case).

So What? Paris ... is Coppola’s first fictional film (although she’s an established documentarian, with her most famous work to date being from 1991, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypsethe travails of famous husband, Francis Ford Coppola, making his equally-famous-dramatic-epic about the  horrors of the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now [1979]); however, only she knows just how fictional it is, with the basic concept of a woman going on a journey throughout France with her husband’s associate based on an actual event from a few years ago that called out to her as an inspiration for her fictionalized screenplay.  While some have celebrated Paris Can Wait as an insightful look at how a woman who’s used to living in the shadow of her celebrated-spouse can finally begin to see how she wants to better take command of her own life (with a visual connection between Ms. Coppola the filmmaker and her character of Anne, who’s got a good eye as an amateur photographer as we see in various quick cutaways to the images she shoots of everything around her, from natural textures to her sumptuous meals—including several snapshots of Jacques in front of the aqueduct, all but 1 of which she later deletes as she seems to be having a bit of an ethical tussle with herself about purging all evidence [and temptations?] of this flirtatious friend or keeping a memento as a possible reminder for future considerations), others have dismissed this joyful celebration of living in and for the present as an appealing travelogue at best, although a decadent display of its upper-crust-extravagance at worst.

 Certainly, Paris Can Wait is marvelous to look at regarding the beautiful attractions of central France along with the mouth-watering-meals that appear on a regular basis (even the impromptu picnic by the river when the car overheats is a feast, given all the goodies that Jacques just happened to procure from the previous-night’s-hotel, seemingly ready to spring a surprise luncheon on Anne when the right circumstances presented themselves), but what you think of such a concept might determine how much effort you’d want to make to track this one down (after 3 weeks in the domestic market it’s now in only 70 theaters with a box-office-take of a bit under $1 million, so a future video option might well be your best bet if the power of pleasure compels you).

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: 
My marvelous wife, Nina (a gifted photographer as well as now an emerging writer), noted when I was only mildly moved by Paris Can Wait that it’s likely more of “a woman’s picture,” mainly because she was enthralled by it (with some guilty subtext on my part, recalling how much like Michael I was before I retired [and, at times, since then when I spend too much of my week writing and posting this silly blog], easily putting in 60-to-80-hour-weeks, always keeping her [impatiently] waiting when I’d show up a bit later than agreed upon, never being ready on time for our departures as I tried to finish up “just one more thing” before doing what was truly necessary such as getting dressed for wherever we were going that night), so just for curiosity I looked into the details of the reviews surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic (none very supportive: 59% positive at the former, a 49% score at the latter) to see how the male and female critics surveyed rated this film.  Of the 44 reviews at RT 26 were positive, from 15 males and 11 females, whereas 18 negative responses included 12 men, 6 women; MC’s 21 reviews had 9 as positive (which I see as anything from 60 on up [because in academia, even a D- is passing]) based on 5 males, 4 females, while the 12 negatives (59 on down) came from 7 men, 5 women.  Based on these results, you could say that a good number of men liked what they saw while slightly fewer females than males were put off by it, but overall it may not be just “a woman’s picture” after all, especially for women who weren’t that thrilled with it.  (Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times offers her score of 30 and snarky comments of “a smugly affluent Euro trifle […] an indulgent wallow in gustatory privilege.  By the time the final meal is devoured, you’ll be wanting nothing so much as an antacid.”  MC’s lowest score, though, goes to my own San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, a flat 0 [not sure exactly how MC translates review comments to scores; this one’s based on the lowest of his 5 indicative icons, an empty chair]: “a poorly acted, colossal bore of a film that strikes wrong notes from beginning to end.”)

 Even without trying to ingratiate myself with my charming Nina (never a bad idea, though), I must disagree with the dire decisions of these above naysayers (especially Mr. LaZero), even though I can’t say I was ever more than pleasantly amused by what I experienced with Paris Can Wait, yet it’s still a delightful film to watch.  As for a Musical Metaphor to send it off into the glorious sunset, I’ll try to score a few more points with Nina by using a song from one of her very favorite singers, Tony Bennett, although it's definitely an appropriate inclusion here, “The Good Life” (written by Sasha Distel, Jack Reardon; you can find it—among several other Bennett albums—on the marvelous 1994 MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett) at (just the audio because the only live performances I could find are duets with Billy Joel, not what I had in mind here, although we’ve seen Tony live a couple of times so I’ll bet we’ve seen him perform this, one of his signature tunes) with lyrics that speak to me about Anne being encouraged to not just accept “the good life [which] lets you hide all the sadness you feel [but instead to] be honest with yourself, don’t try to fake romance,” just as Michael seems to finally tell her “I still want you [for yourself, so] kiss the good life [of material distractions] goodbye.”  (By the way, about distractions, you won’t have to read any subtitles in Paris …, but when the French are talking just to themselves all the conversations are in their native language with no translations, so while I doubt that us monolinguists are missing much please note we’re not getting any insights as to what’s going on in these parts of the chatty script.)
                                The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs)
A long-married couple have grown apart, each with a lover demanding that they move forward on their (unannounced) divorce but with the spouses procrastinating until after the visit of their college-student son; what complicates the situation for all of them is the husband and wife start getting attracted to each other again, requiring new sets of secrets and decisions.
What Happens: A couple married for a LOOONG time have so little left in their relationship that both of them, Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger), are invested in affairs (with, respectively, Lucy [Melora Walters]—a neurotic dancer with a scary sense of disempowerment where Michael’s concerned—and Robert [Aidan Gillen]—the embodiment of impatience where Mary’s concerned), promising faithfully to their paramours that the long-awaited-divorce is on the horizon, just as soon as the visit’s over from college-student-son Joel (Tyler Ross) and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula).  If their goal was to have a family heart-to-heart about the inevitability of the marriage coming to an end, though, the parents might as well admit this is merely an excuse to prolong the inevitable because Joel’s so antagonistic toward Mom and (especially) Dad he seems willing to never see either of them again.  (His dialogue implies he’s aware of Michael’s philandering—even though Mary doesn’t appear to know about it or maybe she just doesn’t care because wherever he is gives her more options to be with ever-demanding-Robert—but not his mother’s, so whatever prior-family-dynamic led to his myopia about the parents’ situation isn’t explained, it’s merely presented as an excuse for him to be hot-headed, cynical, quick-to-leave; exactly how he manages to be another person with Erin’s a mystery to me, so either she’s the saint of the entourage or she’s just as willing to be browbeat by a demanding mate as Michael is with Lucy—based on what we see of Erin, though, I’ll accept her as the only one here with much decency.)  Where the plot gets interesting for awhile, though, is when Mary and Michael suddenly get interested in each other again, leading them to new sets of lies about their ever-evolving-schedules.

 However, if you’re expecting this to play out in a British-farce-manner or be resolved with the original couple reuniting after seeing the long-drawn-out-error-of-their-ways, this story isn’t for you because it’s much more downbeat (about how desperately-needy everyone is—except Erin) than the movie’s publicity leads you to expect even as the plot resolves as stated, with Joel storming off as his parents go through divorce.  Yet, there’s a final twist as Mary and Michael, now settled in with their former lovers, suddenly find themselves sneaking off to have affairs with their former spouses.

So What? You’ll generally find The Lovers described as a romantic comedy, which is the attitude portrayed in its trailer (2nd link of the cluster for this movie far below), but it’s much more serious than comic, with one aspect of the drama being how difficult it is for any of us to care very much about any of these people (with sweet Erin as the exception, the hopefully-unbruised one of the bunch).   I truly see potential for a much more successful narrative here, either one that plays its comic possibilities more as the actual focus of the story rather than as a come-on-inside-the-tent-attraction, only to be put aside for the bitter encounters all these adults have with each other, or one that starts out in a straightforwardly-Ingmar-Bergman-like-tragic-direction about the dissolution of a couple (as with Scenes from a Marriage [1973], Saraband [2003]paired with the difficulty of finding true happiness when your partner-waiting-in-the-wings is offering nothing but more challenges, giving you fair warning this is about “romances” destined to move from the frying pan into the fire.  (Concerning Lucy especially, who may be a ballet dancer but could easily be doing martial arts on Michael, as she constantly, but figuratively, kicks him in the balls with her demeaning, overly-dramatic rants [the movie’s first scene features her crying, serving as appropriate foreshadowing for all else to come; Robert’s no prize either, though, or at least he’s naïve enough to have truly believed—as so many affair-agents do—that divorce was a reality that he would not have to wait a seeming-eternity for.) 

 There’s some genuine humor here (along with some crafty dialogue as the lover pairs talk about finally having “a real date,” referring not to a public display of affection but instead a place on the calendar for the divorce to proceed); however, mostly this is just miserable-intimacy-cataloguing with a group of malcontents who have no idea what they really want nor any understanding of how to accept satisfaction if they ever get it (shown in an early scene where Michael comes up with a phony excuse to avoid Lucy, only to find Mary at home also as they start to reconsider each other).  Overall, The Lovers feels like an adaptation from a novel with a lot of necessary elements left out, but it’s a fully-contained-original-screenplay written by Jacobs so he gets all the credit or the blame.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: 
In preparation for not being in tune with the critical consensus for the latest entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean series (a very short review follows below), I’ll first go rogue on The Lovers with my paltry 3 stars (normally 60% on a 100-pt.-scale, but carrying a bit more leeway, given that I rarely go above 4, saving my higher numbers to honor any examples of notable-cinematically-recognized-significance, not just what film might be among the best of the current crop) compared to the loftier-responses of my learned colleagues (87% positive reviews found at Rotten Tomatoes, a 76% score at Metacritic [although those results are based on only 40 RT reviews—very low for them—31 at MC—a bit low for them as well, so maybe a wider net would have captured more dead fish]).  In addition to The Lovers not being the screwball-comedy-structure I’d been led to believe it would be, the dramatic interchanges among the married couple, each of them with their respective paramours, the son with his parents all show some severely-emotionally-damaged people who are hard to get interested in (not that movie characters have to be likable; my Top 5 films of all time—Citizen Kane [Orson Welles, 1941], Persona [Bergman, 1966], Rules of the Game [Jean Renoir, 1939], Intolerance [D.W. Griffith, 1916probably a surprise, but these rankings incorporate a lot of historical context], The Battleship Potemkin [Sergei Eisenstein, 1925]—are filled with flawed, if not downright despicable, characters, but they all contribute in a significant manner to a memorable film), so despite the sterling potential of the story idea, profound acting (especially by Letts and Winger, although Walters does a great job with the nutcase she inhabits) in The Lovers, I’m left with a flat feeling about some pitiful people, Mary and Michael seeming to be content only when they're grazing in the grass beyond their own fences.

(To give you an idea of the dearth of variety in the publicity
shots I could find for this film, this silly thing is the
best I could find of Mary and Robert.)
 For The Lovers’ Musical Metaphor I’m inspired by a scene in the film to choose a great song by Jackson Browne, “In the Shape of a Heart” (on his 1986 album Lives in the Balance), found at com/watch?v=wDgaLD dOC7Q (the October 10, 1992 concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater [on the peninsula just across San Francisco Bay from me], a show I didn’t see but I attended a similar one about 6 years earlier at the same venue, so whether he sang this song then I’ll never know but I’ve listened to it so many times I feel like I could easily have seen him doing it live).  If you see the movie,  you will find Joel’s anger at his family boiling over so much he knocks a hole in his bedroom wall, allowing Mary to talk to him through it from the hall in a later scene (I guess the builders of this house decided to use cardboard instead of sheetrock to keep costs down because Joel looks more like one of those guys from Trainspotting [Danny Boyle, 1996, 2017; review of the latter in our March 29, 2017 posting] than a muscleman capable of shattering walls), reminding me of Browne’s lyrics about “I guess I never knew what she was talking about [… because] there were other holes as well In the house where our nights fell Far too many to repair […] People speak of love don’t know what they’re thinking of Wait around for the one who fits just like a glove Speak in terms of a life and the living Try to find the word for forgiving.”  How true!

 Maybe I’m just dwelling for a moment on the bitter memories of past relationships gone wrong (while being extremely thankful for the 30-year-one I’m now in with Nina countering all that), but I’d say you’re better off spending 2 hours listening to repeats of this song (and others on the album, especially the title track, along with "The Pretender"* [from Browne’s 1976 album of the same name]) than giving this much of your allotted-time to The Lovers, unless you’re just trying to figure out 50 ways to leave yours (song from Paul Simon’s 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years).

*This version’s from a huge Madison Square Garden concert celebrating the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Browne joined by Crosby, Still, and Nash, but you might also enjoy a much earlier solo version where Jackson explains the motivation of this song, again appropriate to The Lovers.
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)

       Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales 
       (Joachim Rønning, Epsen Sandberg)
Once again Capt. Jack Sparrow’s in trouble from various directions as he’s set to be executed by local authorities even as the commander of yet another ghost ship has an old score to settle; meanwhile there’s a desperate search on for the legendary Trident of Poseidon, necessary to break all ocean-based curses while wild action (and great computer effects) swirl around.
 Aye, me ‘earties, it’s time to “Yo ho, yo ho” again with the 5th episode of the movie series based on a Disneyland ride, so you should know by now what to expect regarding the return of independent-spirit Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), familiar faces from his rag-tag-crew, constant adversary Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and various new faces to help refresh a narrative thread which has previously mined all it can about nautical myths in New World tropical waters.  This time the focus is on Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) attempting to find the legendary Trident of Poseidon to lift the curse keeping his father, Will (Orlando Bloom), at the bottom of the ocean on the doomed Flying Dutchman.  Barbossa and new villain, Capt. Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), also seek the Trident, but Salazar wants revenge on Sparrow who long ago tricked him into entering the Devil’s Triangle where he and his crew became ghosts (sound familiar?), until they were at least allowed to ply the high seas again due to Jack trading his magical compass for a bottle of rum after a bank heist goes horrendously awry (tearing up much of St. Martin’s in the process), although all the chaos does lead to Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) joining the expedition, as she’s got an ambiguous star-based-map that should lead to the Trident.  I’m offering these comments as an actual Short Takes review (actual in that it’s short for a change) because the foreknowledge of this movie with its 4 predecessors has surely determined if you’ve already seen it or have no such interest (those eager to keep this franchise alive [ticket-buyers, that is, not just the Disney accountants] have made an impact already, generating about $77 million domestically along with another $248 million internationally so the $230 million production budget’s well-addressed after just 1 week in release).

 While the current story seems to offer a wrap-up for this movie series (the Trident’s found; Henry destroys it, releasing all the ocean-based-curses; Barbossa reveals himself as Carina’s father but then sacrifices himself to kill Salazar; Jack gets his Black Pearl ship back, from the enchanted bottle where it was previously put by Blackbeard, along with his compass and even Barbossa’s monkey; Will’s reunited with his son [and wife Elizabeth {Keira Knightley}] while Henry connects with Carina), but then a post-credits scene with Will and Elizabeth implies the return of Davy Jones (the supposedly-dead-pirate from these movies, not the actually-dead-musician from the Monkees) so, Pirates … fans, sit tight for yet another episode, which may finally bring about Sparrow’s swan song.*  While there’s nothing of any significance going on in these silly stories, the computer-generated-imagery is superb (especially the revolving-guillotine-scene where Jack's about to be beheaded), the characters are a kick to watch (even slipping in some crafty-dialogue that pushes the PG-13 rating to its limit, including comments about Carina’s expertise in Horology [the study of time, not of wenches]), and—despite the critical drubbing offered by the “experts” (RT 32%, MC 39%)—the situations and surroundings continue to evoke pleasant memories for me of the original ride at Disneyland (which I know I’ve been on more times than I’ve seen these movies, which truly could have ended successfully after the first one except for the financial windfall for all involved$4.037 billion worldwide gross [against production budgets of $1.130 billion], plus whatever … Dead Men … ends up making) so I’ll just conclude this with a Musical Metaphor of the great ride’s theme song at (George Bruns, Xavier Atencio; ride opened 1967), featuring footage from that underground grotto plus lyrics so you can grab a bottle of rum and sing along, which should keep you busy until next I sail back into your neighborhood with more reviews from Two Guys in the Dark.

*You might enjoy this video with speculations on the post-credits scene and/or this one about the various Easter Eggs you'll find in this Pirates of the Caribbean ... movie if you know where to look.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are just too many to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 forward this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about Alien: Covenant: (an “Everything Explained” video [22:10] with additional connections to Prometheus)

Here’s more information about Paris Can Wait: (contains travelogue notes on the stops along the way of the movie’s journey plus recipes for some of the food consumed by the characters) (15:02 interview with director Eleanor Coppola)

Here’s more information about The Lovers: (32:36 interview with director Azarel Jacobs and actors Debra Winger, Tracy Letts [begins with the above trailer])

Here’s more information about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (an extended trailer, 5:20) (14:10 video on assorted random facts about the entire Pirates of the Caribbean series)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 4/12/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 30,716 (a whopping increase over recent numbers!); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (when I got 5 of my hoped-for 6 continents, with only Africa missing, as the penguins way down in Antarctica still don’t have cellphones or laptops yet):

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