FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Francis Ford Coppola |||
Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola is an amazing talent whose inspiration and influence spans many generations. Virtually the link between the studio system of yesteryear and the independent minded filmmaker of the modern age, Coppola became the first major film director to emerge from a university degree program in filmmaking, thus legitimizing a now common route for many future filmmakers.

This Academy Award winner continues to enjoy an enormous critical and popular success due in large part to Coppola’s ability to break down an epic saga of crime and the struggle for power into the basic story of a father and his sons, punctuating the prevalent theme throughout Coppola’s oeuvre: the importance of family in today’s world. His personal portrait mixed tender moments with harsh brutality and redefined the genre of gangster films.

This intense, yet unassuming thriller has an impact that touches the viewer on a personal level and raises the question of privacy and security in a world of technology – thirty years ago! Coppola’s then virtually unknown cast is a roster of inevitable superstars, including Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, and Robert Duvall. This Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound lost out to Coppola’s other great effort of the year, The Godfather: Part II.

Coppola's masterful Vietnam War-updating of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" was the first major motion picture about the infamous “conflict”. This colossal epic was shot on location in the Philippines over the course of more than a year and contains some of the most extraordinary combat footage ever filmed. Unforgettable battle sequences and sterling performances from every cast member (including Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, and Martin Sheen) mark this Academy Award-winning drama as a must-see for any true film fanatic.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

By BrianOrndorf

July 6th, 2006

Captain Jack Sparrow returns for more pirate adventures in “Dead Man’s Chest,” but fails to bring along the excitement that made the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” such a treat. “Chest” is so busy trying to explain its muddy plot that it squeezes out the merriment of the high seas, and reduces Johnny Depp to tedious caricature.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

When Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) learns his blood debt to the infamous pirate of the ocean Davy Jones (a wonderful Bill Nighy, somewhere under heavy CGI) is being called in, he looks to duck his promise and find a way to break the oath. Also trying to track Jack down is his old partner Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who must locate Jack’s magical compass to help free his bride-to-be, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), from prison. As Jones and his evil aquatic minion hunt the waters searching for their prize, Will finds his father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) is in dire straights; Elizabeth meets her pirate destiny; James Norrington (Jack Davenport) thirsts for revenge; and Jack quests for a special chest that contains his only chance for freedom.

The success of 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” was found in its gonzo Saturday matinee appeal. Determined to keep itself as frothy as possible and as thrilling as summer entertainment allows, “Black Pearl” was an enormous, and unexpected, sensation at the box office. More importantly, it made audiences slap-happy again with the idea of seeing pirates onscreen.

“Dead Man’s Chest” is the hotly anticipated second installment (a third, “World’s End,” is due next May), and it gives the audience what it wants, but this time the attitude feels deflated, and the end product lacks a good sense of rum-drunk playfulness.

“Black Pearl” had a stealth appeal to it that was irresistible: audiences weren’t expecting quality from a movie based on a theme park ride, they didn’t believe a pirate movie could be so richly pleasurable, and nobody had seen Johnny Depp take such a mainstream acting risk before. That sparkling element of surprise helped the film hurdle some serious comedy problems and third act pacing issues. “Chest” launches itself under intense expectations, and you can sense the production is now wary of taking on any new gambles with this enormously budgeted sequel.

Director Gore Verbinsky is more than happy to dish out additional Jack Sparrow escapades, and for the most part, this is a slick motion picture. Using his bottomless buckets of money to dream up sophisticated action set pieces for his characters to tumble around in, “Chest” is spectacular when the adventure goes huge. For instance, not only do Jack, Will, and Norrington finally have their much-anticipated battle of wits and steel, they just happen to be clashing on top of a gigantic rolling water wheel, scrambling to keep their balance as they truck down a jungle mountainside. Also great fun is the Kraken: Davy Jones’s monster squid-like “pet” that inhales entire ships in one gulp on command. Verbinski devotes nearly 30 minutes to fighting this beast, but it’s worth the excessive screen time; it’s an astounding sea creature special effect and the film’s one viable threat (out of far too many) to our heroes.

Filming sequels back-to-back always seems to freak out filmmakers, pushing them to cram in enormous story lines (look to the “Matrix” and “Back to the Future” films for further proof of this phenomenon) out of fear there’s not enough to sustain two movies. “Dead Man’s Chest” is no exception. In retrospect, “Black Pearl” felt simplistic and easygoing, while the sequel seems leaden and distended by the sprawling story it wants to tell. “Chest” spends an inordinate and punishing amount of time with expository dialog, stealing the life from the characterizations, and leaving little room to play outside of the requisite massive action sequences. Things are so suffocating and knotty, Verbinski stops the film mid-way to afford pirate scallywags Pintel and Ragetti the chance to explain the plot to the weary audience.

In separating the characters this time around, “Chest” is not lacking diverse plotlines, but it has difficulty keeping the story in sync, forgetting to make room for organic joviality and some snappy patter between characters. The picture starts to wear down with each new plot twist, and it’s hard to ignore that no matter how fancy and thoroughly realized the new characters are (Davy’s sea-encrusted thugs are something to behold), the story has the tendency to come off as a droning rehash of the first film.

Whenever “Black Pearl” stalled, it had Johnny Depp to kick on the lights again. In “Chest,” Depp’s playfulness is amped considerably, but so is his self-awareness. It’s still a mischievous, jolly bit of acting, and Depp appreciates what people want from his performance; however, he rings the bell one too many times. Sparrow hasn’t worn out his welcome yet, but Depp teeters on self-parody at times, almost coming off as a class clown Jack Sparrow impression rather than the real thing that electrified the first film.

Faring much better is Keira Knightley, here given the most substantial growth of the three leads. In “Chest,” Swann gets her prized moment to join up with the pirates, and with it is born a more impassioned and assured performance from the actress. While the boys slosh around in their established personalities, Knightley gets to play it all: sexy, feisty, and heroic.

As “Chest” heads into the final lap of its 150-minute running time, Verbinsky lets the action take the reigns for an extended climax that serves more as an elaborate set up for the next film than a satisfying closure to this one. Suffice it to say, the last shot of “Dead Man’s Chest” is absolutely killer – we’re talking a “Batman Begins” level of sweetness - and blows the door wide open for “World’s End” to ditch the unmanageable plot wrangling and return this franchise to the flume ride exuberance it once had.

My rating: C+