Friday, June 9, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Disney, 2017) – Directors: Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg. Writers: Jeff Nathanson (s/p). Jeff Nathanson & Terry Rossio. Based on Characters By: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie & Jay Wolpert. Stars: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Lewis McGowan, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Angus Barnett, Martin Klebba, Adam Brown, Anthony De La Torre, Giles New, Orlando Bloom & Keira Knightley. Color, Rated PG-13, 129 minutes.

I loved this episode, though it could have improved if I could understand everything that Johnny Depp said. His lines were largely slurred as his character was mostly drunk. I get that. But he had a lot of funny lines I missed because of that (I learned them later on).

The film starts with 12-year old Henry Turner (McGowan) rowing out to visit his cursed father, Will Turner (Bloom) at the bottom of the ocean on the Flying Dutchman. Will tells him to find the Trident of Poseidon, a talisman that breaks all curses and Henry vows to do so. He knows that he has to find Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) to do so.

Nine years later, Henry (now Thwaites) is slaving away on a Royal British navy ship headed for the Devil’s Triangle. He tries to warn the Captain but is locked up for his efforts and the ship is boarded by the dead Captain Armando Salazar (Bardem) and his ghastly crew in various stages of decomposition. They slaughter all on board but Henry. Salazar always leaves one man alive to “tell the tale” because – see the subtitle. He tells Henry to find Jack Sparrow and warn him that Captain Salazar is coming to get him and his compass.

Meanwhile, on the island of St. Martin, the people are gathered around for the opening of the new bank, one that is impregnable and pirate-proof. The soldiers open the doors to the bank revealing a huge safe with a combination lock (mind you, this is the 18th century, 100 years before the modern combination lock was invented). The safe is opened to reveal Jack Sparrow asleep in a drunken stupor. The soldiers line up to shoot him but hold their fire when a woman also exits the vault. “Is that your wife?” someone asks the governor. Then the action begins as Jack’s men have a team of horses tied to ropes attached to the safe and, instead of breaking through the back wall of the bank, it takes the entire building on a wild chase through the town.

As this is happening a young woman scientist Carina Smyth (Scodelario) has been accused of witchcraft (women did not do science at that time) and has managed to escape her prison cell. Deliberately ducking into a door marked “No Dogs, No Women” she is immediately attracted to the large brass telescope in the room. “Get your hands off my Herschel!” says the proprietor. Then Jack bursts in with “Have you seen my bank?” And we see it crashing by outside. Both Jack and Carina run out after the careening building. Remember, the door of the safe is still open and all of its contents spill into the street during the chase.

When it’s all over, only a single doubloon is left and Jack takes it before his crew can see. They desert him and he foolishly trades his compass for a bottle of rum, freeing Salazar, his crew and his ship from the Devil’s Triangle. Jack and Carina are captured by the British for execution, he on a guillotine and she at the gallows. A speech Carina attempts to make turns into an argument with Jack and is just enough of a distraction for Jack’s men (who prior to this scene deserted him for lack of payment) to rescue them both along with Henry and they sail away in the Dying Gull.

Where is Jack’s ship, the Black Pearl? As of the previous installment, it was shrunken to the size of a ship-in-a-bottle carried in Jack’s inside jacket pocket. Carina knows how to find the Trident of Poseidon from a notebook given to her by her father. Linking it to her scientific knowledge of the stars, “I’m an astronomer!” Pirate: “Oh, you raise donkeys?” No, she explains, she studies the stars and it’s by the stars they will locate the trident. “I’m also a horologist” (knowing glances all around) Pirate: “So’s me mother, but she doesn’t go all proud about it.” No, she explains again, she studies time and has a chronometer that will tell her how long it will take to get there.

The British navy also want the trident, believing it will give them control over the seas, as does pirate Captain Hector Barbossa (Rush). The British commander consults a real witch, Shansa (Farahani), who gives them the compass and the chase is on.

The rest is all action, fun and flashbacks. We learn how Jack Sparrow got the little bird name. It was when he first made an enemy of Captain Salazar while he was trying to rid the seas of pirates. Young Jack Sparrow (De La Torre) was taunting him from the crow’s nest and it sounded like a sparrow to Salazar. But then, in a completely Disney scene, Jack tricks Salazar into entering the Devil’s Triangle by lassoing a convenient rock outcrop and forcing his entire ship to do an incredible U-turn at the mouth of the triangle.

The special effects crew literally went overboard with this movie. The rag-tag look of Salazar’s crew, missing various body parts and yet still moving was amazing. Salazar’s hair alone was a miracle. It moved as if it were always under water, even when in the fresh air. The best scene effect left the crossing of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments in the dust. It was a complete dividing of the ocean and the Black Pearl had to sail along the edge of a cliff of water to rescue our heroes. Jaw-dropping.

All the acting was excellent on all characters. I never lost belief at any time and the two hours and 14 minutes flashed by. The only thing that kept it from being a perfect movie was, as I said my inability to understand a lot of funny lines. 

Though there are innuendos, there is no sex, gore or vulgarity in this episode, which I found refreshing. I even thought I might get seasick at one point, but it was more of a thrill ride. I was having such a great time I almost missed Sir Paul McCartney’s cameo as Uncle Jack. But be ready for another Pirates of The Caribbean. The post-credit shadow of Davy Jones promises another sequel.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

249 Park Avenue South, New York

I’ve been aware of L’Express for a while now and they’ve been in business for twenty-seven years, but I like to take my time when I dine, especially on rich foods. Express food doesn’t attract me, unless it’s take-out. But L’Express surprised me.

I found it to be a charming French bistro, airy and friendly and only fast if you want it that way. The online menu promising a Lyonnaise Bouchon was a big plus and some of the dishes were especially intriguing. When my server, Ayman, brought the single-card menu with drinks on the reverse side and the daily specials card, I was surprised to see the “crispy tripe” not listed. Ayman explained that it’s a seasonal dish and the menu changes with availability.

Asked if I wanted a drink, I chose the Elder Flower Martini – Absolut pear vodka, St. Germain and champagne. The St. Germain provides an elder flower flavor and makes the usually unpleasant pear-infused vodka delightful. A purple pansy floating on top added an arty look. Ayman assured me that my dishes will be arriving at my pace and they did.

My first course was a classic Escargots á La Bourguignonne. The aromatic sauce of butter, garlic, parsley and shallots completely hid the tender snails in their individual cups on the serving plate.

The wine I chose was a beautiful 2013 Domaine Le Couroulu, a ruby red varietal blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre from the southern Rhone region of France. Its fruity, medium body accented every dish and never overpowered.

My second course was another classic, Frogs Legs Persillade. Served with parsnip puree, it was lemony, garlicky tender and transporting. I even had a small discussion with Ayman over what frog’s legs tastes like. It’s a more delicate texture and more of a light fish flavor than the heavy flavor of chicken and this dish was perfect.

Keeping with the Burgundy theme, my main course was Short Ribs á La Bourguignon, with mushrooms, parsnips and carrots. It was almost a stew, a hearty, meaty, savory stew with big chunks of vegetables and beef tender enough to cut with a fork. Excellent again. The side dish, Charred Brussels sprouts was the only drawback. It was almost boring compared to the other dishes. The only flavor was what was intrinsic to Brussels sprouts. Sometimes that’s enough. Not this time. I left half.

Dessert more than made up for the side dish. I told Ayman that this Tarte Tatin with Crème Faiche was the best I’ve ever had. I’m not a fan of apples, but this caramely sweet/tart hot dessert was sheer wonder. I loved it. Along with a double espresso, it was the definitive way to conclude a lyonnaise feast. L’Express taught me the old maxim about not judging a book by its cover is true. It was an authentic, classic French experience, complete with all the care in preparation and service. I would definitely return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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