My Thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Men Tell No Tales

SPOILER FREE REVIEW of Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) TO FOLLOW: 

 

I would like to begin by explaining what Pirates of the Caribbean means to me, as it is integral to the remainder of this review:

I saw the first film, The Curse of the Black Pearl for the first time in theaters when I was eight years old. Despite not understanding every intricacy with the oftentimes complex storyline (heck, I’m still uncovering hidden facets when I watch it fourteen years later), I can clearly remember loving it. It was something that me and my father shared a passion for, which is ironic, as writer and publicist Michael Singer, in his book Disney Pirates; The Definitive Collector’s Anthology, states that the relationship between parents and children remains “a subtextual tradition in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.” This certainly bled over into my own life, as both the ride and the films are a shared love between my and my own parents.

As the franchise continued, I developed a need to understand how the filmmakers accomplished the incredible visual artistry, which made me love studying movie magic and behind-the-scenes wonders. Pirates took me to other worlds, giving me a colorful cast of characters to follow along with and, subsequently, inspired me to make my own. Story-wise, it showed me that the lines between good and evil can be blurred. People are capable of change, villains can be good, and everyone needs love. As both I and my appreciation for Johnny Depp grew, his acting became the gateway to other artists and forms of cinema, thereby fostering my want to be heavily involved in creating these incredible cinematic worlds for other daydream-prone kids like me in the future.

When I think of my inspiration, it’s Pirates. It’s always been Pirates. That’s what these movies did for me.

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Why then, is it that I feel the need to apologize and justify my love for them every time it comes up in conversation? The reactions I get from others are more often than not, “Wait really? Pirates? Why?” and as someone studying film seriously for a career, these reactions have caused me to doubt my own tastes in cinema, as though liking the franchise makes my analyses and opinions less valid. Why these reactions? Any number of reasons: Disney’s an easy target as the entertainment industry’s current world superpower, the movies are intended as frivolous, big budget entertainment, or my personal favorite, franchise fatigue, which is currently threatening to sink Hollywood’s Summer Blockbuster season this year.

Allow me to explain:

The first Pirates film was made entirely out of love. Love for the 1967 Disneyland attraction, love of actual 18th century nautical history and mythology, and love for truly creating something out of nothing, with a handful of small to medium-sized names who made magic together. The formula not only worked, it thrived. The second and third films continued to foster this atmosphere of love by delivering upon storylines built from the first film and seeing them through to some very unforeseeable and genuinely surprising conclusions. The fourth and fifth films were afterthoughts, made only for the sole purpose of steady, reliable income. And their stories and execution mirror that attitude, as jokes fall flat, narratives get repetitive, motivations get blurred, and everything feels stale. This in turn creates a chain reaction; Audiences become polarized or disappointed, critics lash out, and the quality of the franchise as a whole is diminished.

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Maybe I put too many expectations on Dead Men Tell No Tales. After the highly criticized spin-off/sequel fourth film On Stranger Tides became the worst rated and worst received of the franchise, maybe I just needed Dead Men Tell No Tales to not only right its predecessor’s wrongs, but to boost the quality of the series collectively. It failed, and it failed hard.

If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it wouldn’t be the shortest in the series. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it would have spent time with its characters, their motivations, and made us care even slightly for them. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it wouldn’t have rewritten its own canon, completely ignoring plot points established in the original trilogy. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it would have been carefully handled.

“Rushed,” is how I would describe Dead Men Tell No Tales in a word, despite its principal photography being completed over two years prior to its release. The story is rushed, the pacing is rushed, the character development is rushed, and the ending is rushed. The film backtracks on its own canon in two major regards, and fails to explain its mythology in any way that would be considered coherent. Furthermore, new characters Henry Turner, Captain Salazar, and Carina Smyth, all of whom were promised repeatedly by cast and crew to be intriguing new additions to the series, were completely forgettable and lackluster. This isn’t a problem with directing. Much like On Stranger Tides, I believe directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (just like #4’s director Rob Marshall) were dealt a difficult hand; How do you possibly lead a franchise equally as strong as predecessor Gore Verbinski? This is the fault of an extremely calculated plot, devised to be simple, form-fitted to match a tried and true structure, and extremely concise.

The shorter run time of this movie is one of the few consistent praises critics agree upon, but I argue that what makes the former films so great is the time they take with every character and detailed explanations of their universes. Dead Men Tell No Tales shows that shorter does not mean better. Rushed is rushed.

What wasn’t rushed? What took two years to complete; the graphics. Consequently, what is the strongest part of the film? You guessed it – the graphics. What was lost from this film versus the others was that 90% of its scenes were done on controlled stages with extensive use of computer generated imagery. The first four movies, while all demonstrating incredible usage of CG effects and characters, were filmed on location or at sea. While it was sad to see this no longer be an element of the fifth film’s production, the resulting graphics were absolutely gorgeous and stunningly detailed. All joking aside about the Pirates films quite literally, “jumping the shark,” with their added CGI ghost sharks, these creatures were genuinely the most interesting design of the film, along with a glittering island, The Silent Mary and her ghostly crew, and a Ten Commandments-esque parting of the sea sequence.

What else this movie does right is its emotional hooks, which is what has always made the series stand out. Barbossa gets a fantastic character arc, really emphasizing just how far he has come from being the primary villain in 2003. And, anyone with the ability to breathe most certainly knows this by now, but the reintroduction of original characters Will and Elizabeth to the film bookends it perfectly, and in my opinion, makes the entire movie worth every moment. The problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that there isn’t enough of this. While these two instances are great, there’s nothing else to hold onto, and therefore, no connection to really anything else.

I know I put too many expectations on Dead Men Tell No Tales, and I’m feeling the consequences now. Without giving too much away, the ending allows for more films. And this is perhaps what makes me the most upset; Its blatant refusal to die. Some argue that they should have stopped after the first film. I and most others argue after At World’s End, uniting the trilogy from 2003-2007. But to keep it going at this point would make my beloved films into even more of a joke than they already have become to most people. Since the studios seem to toss quality by the wayside, however, let me make this earnest plea in a way they in which they would listen; Continuing these movies would result in significant financial risk. Franchise fatigue has hit these films long before it was a recognized trend. Keep it up, and you lose your source of income.

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For the past six months, I decided to throw all caution to the wind, buffeting any questioning of my taste in movies with hype for the upcoming film and completely embracing my excitement for it. I inundated my friends’ newsfeeds with blog posts, links, pictures, trailers, you name it, speculated wildly about the plot to my poor roommate, didn’t rest until I finished my long-running fan fiction, and more. But every time I did, I attached an apology. “I know I’m obsessed with these movies.” “I know I’m crazy.” “Thanks for humoring me.” No longer. Despite their imperfections, I still love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and I forever will because of who they made me. I will go see Dead Men Tell No Tales again, maybe even tonight. It is by far my least favorite of the series, but I will watch again to see if somehow this initial response is wrong or miscalculated. This was a lesson; Expect less, hope more, know when to quit, and finally, embrace what you love.

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I’m tired of apologizing. I love Pirates of the Caribbean because it is an entertaining, creative, innovative, trailblazing, emotional, layered, complex feature that has made me me. They’re not perfect. Yes, they should have ended years ago. But they do matter.

 

All photos by author.
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I Wrote a Piece of Fan Fiction for 10 Years and Here’s What Happened…

Fan fiction gets a bad rap, and that’s mostly because of some of the more…strange products that end up on the internet. While we often see cringeworthy, oftentimes hilarious outcomes that freak out celebrities like James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, or even have entire Twitter accounts devoted to some of the more outlandish musings (and let’s not forget “My Immortal”), “fan fiction” is generally used as a derogative term that denotes something exceedingly derivative or poorly written. Even I thought ill of fan fiction at first.

 

This was before I published some.

…and no surprise, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean related.

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Let’s start at the beginning:

I was twelve years old, visiting the Disneyland Resort. This was in the months immediately preceding the release of Pirates 3, which everyone thought at the time would be the final installment of the franchise (oh how wrong they were). I liked the movies quite a bit, and was enchanted by the new additions to the park including Jack Sparrow and Barbossa animatronics inside the Pirates attraction, as well as the complete revamp of Tom Sawyer Island to Pirate’s Lair.

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And you can bet that I will absolutely be recreating this photo when the island reopens, given that the bone cage is still there.

Inside the Pirate-themed Pieces of Eight store in New Orleans Square, I bought a book called, Bring Me That Horizon, a compendium of cast and crew bios, on set and behind-the-scenes details, and exclusive set photos from unit publicist Michael Singer. It covered the entire trilogy, and as I had been interested in film from a young age, I was proud to have bought the book with my own money that I had earned from chores.

I started rifling through the book as soon as it was mine. I can clearly remember sitting at a waterside table at the Hungry Bear restaurant with it as I waited for my parents to bring back lunch. It was also at this table that I started thinking about a story. I wanted to write about a new character who was always a part of the Pirates stories, but was never seen, and I wanted her connected to my two favorite characters from the movies, Jack Sparrow and Tia Dalma.

The summer began with me seeing the third Pirates movie (which quickly became my favorite), getting a cat I named Calypso (because I had no self-control), and then spending the remainder of the season writing my story. I wrote on pieces of brightly colored construction paper and stuck them in all possible pages of the Singer book and carried it with me everywhere I went. So loved is that book, there are pages currently falling out of it.

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Myself and said hero, Michael Singer, along with a satchel gifted to him by Mr. Depp himself.

I named my original character Rose Hexfury, a name randomly generated for my player from the short-lived World of Warcraft-esque virtual game Pirates of the Caribbean Online. She was to be Jack’s half-sister and Tia Dalma would be her mentor. I wanted her to be a gypsy from France, interact with all of the characters in the franchise, and somehow have mystical powers by the end.

…sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it? I was twelve. Shut up.

Well, I agreed with you. Life moved on, and within a year, I was over it. My love for the Pirates movies continued to grow, but I felt silly writing this story, which I had devised into filling FIVE books (an ambitious little one, I was!). I wasn’t Ted Elliot or Terry Rossio, I was a preteen from Nevada without any writing experience whatsoever. What was the point of writing this story? Anyone who would ever read it would find it ridiculous, I thought. So I stopped. I put it down and intended to never return, and I never told anyone what I had been working so hard on that summer.

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Aforementioned well-loved book. Don’t judge it by its cover–it’s most definitely falling apart on the inside.

Word about a fourth film began years later, and at the age of fifteen, I saw the finished product of On Stranger Tides. Even though it had been years since I had written a word of Rose Hexfury’s story, I found myself worried that the movie would interfere with the canon of what I had planned. I remember feeling relieved that it hadn’t, and I even started thinking about how I could add Penelope Cruz’s character Angelica to my story. This newfound interest in picking it up again failed, however, as now I was midway through high school and really considered it childish.

I was just about to graduate from my senior year in high school when I found myself on the then still-untitled Pirates of the Caribbean 5 IMDb page. I nearly fell to the ground when my eyes drifted to the rumored cast list, which included Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush (obviously), as well as Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and GASP!…JACK DAVENPORT AS NORRINGTON! “But how?” I thought. “Norrington (who by that point had grown to become another favorite character of mine) died in Pirates 3!”

In considering ways in which this could be possible, I felt once again the familiar stir of my story begin to resurface. Even though the iteration of the script featuring Norrington’s return to the story would ultimately be rejected, I started trying to find a way to bring him into mine.

That’s when I realized that Rose Hexfury’s voice was still inside me, and somewhere deep down, a twelve-year-old version of myself refused to shut up until I finished the story. So, that summer after I graduated, I got to work, vowing to finish it once and for all. Would I publish it? Never. Would I tell anyone? DEFINITELY not. I still found the whole thing rather embarrassing. I just wanted it done so that I could print out the final product, stick it in a drawer somewhere and forget about it completely.

Then I came to college, and I began to meet people just as impassioned by film and television as I was. I met writers, nerds, fans, and fellow minds who were incredibly witty and creative. Many of these friends had dabbled in fan fiction, and one of them convinced me to put my work online via fanfiction.net at the start of 2015.

I will say, were it not for the Dead Men Tell No Tales release date tomorrow, I would have had no impetus to finish the story. But I can clearly see that the film’s plot threatens to completely destroy the ending of my now ten-year-old story. So with a hard deadline of May 26, 2017, I have finally completed Rose Hexfury’s journey, and my, how far it’s come. I can’t believe a decade-long project has finally come to a close.

This process has been absolutely invaluable to me, and I would like to tell you why:
  • The discovery that I can write! Not only that, but I like it. It’s been so interesting to go back through the old pieces of construction paper and map how my vocabulary and syntax has grown far more dynamic in the passing years. I now feel so much more certain of my abilities.
  • Learning to write in another’s voice. I tell you what, it’s surprisingly hard. It’s been so much fun but also such a challenge to visualize the performers of these established characters saying the words that I am penning. I give credit where credit is due to fan fiction writers who can do this well. It’s no easy feat.
  • Learning to keep true to another canon. My story attempts to be 100% canonically correct to ten full hours of a movie franchise, something I put down in 2007 and have stood by throughout the process. This has also proved challenging. I’ve had to know what I’m talking about, and still haven’t totally succeeded. After the storm passes, I will launch into edits to fix a few missteps, rogue typos, and inconsistencies, as I really want the story as airtight as possible.
  • Feedback. I am usually scared to death of criticism, but feedback from users of fanfiction.net has been absolutely key to my work and has helped me grow significantly. I now better know what an audience responds to, as well as times when I’m being far too vague or not giving a character enough attention.
  • The people. Branching off of this thought, I have learned to be far more open-minded about this facet of the internet. Fan fiction isn’t embarrassing. It’s not worthless or lesser, as I originally thought. People from all over the world contribute, and how amazing is it that that many people are so inspired by someone else’s work to write a continuation or a spinoff or a crossover with some other work? Yes, it most definitely can get weird, but for the most part, these sites are an epicenter of creativity and passion, and I think that deserves to be supported and treasured.
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My fic’s cover image. Phone filters these days…

My story is based on the work of Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, and Jeff Nathanson, the screenwriters who built such a wonderful world for me to play with, as well as everyone involved in the creative teams of the films and the Imagineers who designed the original 1967 Disneyland attraction. I further was inspired by the work of Robb Kidd, who did an amazing job with his Jack Sparrow and Brethren Court series, which I have also looped into my story several times.

I thank my friend for forcing me to put my work online for people to read, and the handful of people who ever knew it existed in the first place and the readers on fanfiction.net.

Ten years and 196,835 words later, I am finally embracing my work. I’m not ashamed anymore. In fact, I’m proud and relieved that it’s over. If you would like to read what I’ve done, below is the link. While you’re there, I encourage you to poke around the site find stories from your own favorite movies, books, television shows, games, and more. There’s so much out there, much of it very good.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11382703/1/The-Legend-of-Rose-Hexfury

All photos by author. Gifs from giphy.

I Might Have a Theory About Who Carina Smyth Is…

Yes, it’s another Pirates post. Yes, I’m sorry, but only somewhat. Please bear with me for another month, then I SWEAR I’ll shut up.

We’re a little over a month out from the movie I have been waiting four years for; the fifth (and with any luck, final) Pirates of the Caribbean film, Dead Men Tell No Tales. The film has opened to some pretty stellar reviews out of CinemaCon last month, and it seems with every passing day, Disney gives diehard fans like myself a little sliver of more information to properly tease us before the big release; Brenton Thwaites’s new character who was once simply known as, “Henry” has been confirmed as Will and Elizabeth’s son. Just yesterday, an international trailer 100% confirmed Keira Knightley’s return to the franchise as Elizabeth Swann (AND I’M STILL SCREAMING!). But last night, as I was talking with a friend and fellow Pirates fan about these new revelations, I had a revelation of my own with a crazy direction this movie might take.

Call me a sentimental fool still all choked up over Loganbut I love father/daughter relationships in movies and TV. They are some of the most complicated, strong and loving bonds to portray, and they never cease to make me a blithering mess.

Well I got pretty intrigued upon reading Michael Singer’s new book, Disney Pirates: The Definitive Collector’s Anthology. In the chapter regarding DMTNT, Singer writes that the series has always been about “parents and their children” (109). Be it Elizabeth and Governor Swann, Will and Bootstrap Bill, Jack and Captain Teague, or Angelica and Blackbeard, the series has always had a strong focus on parentage, particularly fatherhood. Jerry Bruckheimer elaborated upon these parent-child dynamics as they appear in DMTNT as follows:

In the fifth [movie] both Henry Turner and Carina Smyth are either trying to liberate or searching for their fathers.

We know that Henry is clearly trying to “liberate” his father, Will, from his cursed, slimy state upon The Flying Dutchman, so that means that Carina is the one Bruckheimer suggests is searching for her father.

So now the question becomes, who is Carina’s father? Recreating a virtual version of The Maury Show is becoming a rather popular pasttime in nerd media nowadays, what with debate still going on about Rey’s parentage in the Star Wars universe and Peter Quill’s upcoming Daddy issues being a prevalent part of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 due in a few weeks, so we may as well keep it going in the Pirates universe as well!

So without further ado, Carina Smyth? Who’s your pops?

Jack Sparrow

Okay, this was my first thought, and was actually what prompted me to write this post. Let’s break down all the reasons why Jack COULD be her dad.

  • AYE AYE! The last name.

In one of his very first scenes in Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow encounters two Naval officers and reports that his name is “Smith.” Her last name is “Smyth.” COINCIDENCE? Perhaps…

  • AYE AYE! She resembles him.

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Carina and Jack share dark eyes, dark hair, and pronounced cheekbones. This could be a coincidence in casting, but it’s interesting to note nonetheless.

  • AYE AYE!  Her mother could literally be anyone.

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Jack’s a promiscuous guy. He has had a ton of liasons…it was bound to happen eventually!

  • AYE AYE! She’s the proper age.

Carina appears to be a love interest for Henry, who we can assume is 17 – 20 years old in this film. She could be anywhere around that age. While Jack’s age is never explicitly stated, it can be assumed that he’s either the same age or slightly younger than Johnny Depp, who is going on 54.

  • AYE AYE! She’s the exact opposite of him.

Scodelario has stated that Carina is, “an astronomer and an academic.” That is not Jack in the slightest. From the trailers so far, she appears to be very headstrong, intelligent, and no-nonsense. She tells Jack that she’s “Not looking for trouble,” to which he replies, “What a horrible way to live!” All of these render her the direct opposite of Jack, and could make for an interesting complement.

  • BELAY THAT! …ew. Jack’s totally checking her out.

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There are some pretty convincing arguments here, but overall, I’m not sure that the filmmakers would give such a irresponsible, wacky character the responsibility of a daughter. Overall, I’d have to say:

Jack Sparrow, you are…NOT the father! 

 

Will Turner

Could Henry have a sister? Short answer? No.

  • BELAY THAT! Henry too is checking her out.

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SORRY, GEORGE LUCAS. NOT TODAY!

  • BELAY THAT! Pretty sure that given his home life, Henry would know if he had a sister.

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Elizabeth and Will only see each other once every ten years because of the curse. As Carina and Henry are roughly the same age, they would have to be twins to be brother and sister, and if so, where the hell was Carina in the post-credits teaser of At World’s End, locked in a closet? So no, she’s not a secret Turner… at least not mothered by Elizabeth.

  • BELAY THAT! That would mean Will Turner was unfaithful and NO. IT’S TRUE LOVE. HE’S PERFECT, SHUT UP.

Will Turner, you are…NOT the father! 

 

Joshamee Gibbs

Could Carina be the daughter of Jack’s most trusted ally? It’s not impossible…but not likely.

  • BELAY THAT! Not enough emotional impact.

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Sorry, Gibbs. I love ya, but the initial responses to Carina’s character were too positive for her character to have anything less than an impactful presence. The most impact would be a relationship with an established, prominent character, and you’re not it.

Joshamee Gibbs you are…NOT the father! 

 

Captain Teague

Could Jack have a sister? …it’s not too far fetched.

  • BELAY THAT! Too large of an age gap between Carina and Jack

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It’s not impossible, but I just don’t find it super believable.

  • BELAY THAT! Keith Richards will most likely not make an appearance.

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Unless the film has killed Teague offscreen or has a surprise cameo from Richards planned, what would the payoff of having it revealed that Teague is Carina’s father if Teague isn’t even around to react to this revelation?

  • AYE AYE! However, a young Captain Teague HAS been cast…

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…and I really don’t see a reason why that would be unless he’s going to be used in the young Jack Sparrow/Captain Salazar flashback scenes. Hmm…

  • BELAY THAT! Jack is still checking her out in that scene, and even if he has no idea, that’s still mighty unsettling.

Once again, not today, George Lucas!

Captain Teague…prolly not! 

 

Some Rando We Haven’t Met

Carina could very well be the daughter of a new character we haven’t met yet. Maybe we’ll never meet him over the course of the narrative, and the search for him is merely a part of Carina’s character.

  • AYE AYE! This might make for a less cliche plot.

What are the odds of all these various relationships getting more and more interwoven with each other in the same place in the Caribbean? I know I’m talking about fictional pirates in a Disney movie, but Carina’s interconnectedness might strike people as a bit cliche.

  • AYE AYE! A character written independent from the previous films would be far easier to write.

By making Carina and her parentage entirely original, it becomes far easier to write a fresh-feeling story that doesn’t need to take precedence from previously established character story lines.

  • BELAY THAT! Once again, no emotional connection.

Yeah. Who cares if Joe-Blow is Carina’s dad? We need something to connect to, and I think that overrides believability here.

Rando, you are…NOT the father! 

 

…let’s bring out the big guns, now.

 

Barbossa:

Hector Barbossa has had quite the journey throughout these movies, going from primary villain, to twist ending, to antihero, to tragic hero. He has been Jack’s nemises and ally, and he has changed dramatically in each film. Could fatherhood be his new role in DMTNT? 

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  • AYE AYE! Carina is of proper age.

We don’t exactly know how old Barbossa is, but the dude’s been around. He could have grandkids and I’d believe it.

  • AYE AYE! She has a strong, fiesty personality.

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Just like her dad! Her sharp quips and biting sarcasm (“Are all pirates this stupid?”) could make her a deadringer for Barbossa’s daughter. She’s a sass bucket in the making, and I think that is absolutely genetic!

  • AYE AYE! She seems to have a knack for sailing.

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The newest international trailer shows Carina taking the wheel like a pro…something her dad is also very fond of.

  • AYE AYE! She’s the exact opposite of Jack.

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Just as I said before as a reason why perhaps Jack could be her father could make her a better candidate as Barbossa’s daughter. Barbossa generally loathes Jack and finds him to be an inept nuisance. What if Carina felt the same?

  • AYE AYE! It was in the original draft of the script.

YUP. THAT FEELS LIKE A BIG INDICATOR.

  • BELAY THAT! …exactly.

You know what else was in the original draft of the script? James Norrington. But that’s okay, I’m not bitter or anything. The fact that this has been made common knowledge might be a clue that the production has moved on from this concept, as also Carina was intended to be older and a love interest for Jack, yet Scodelario’s age and character seem to be jiving more with Thwaites’ Henry.

  • AYE AYE! The book!

Okay, here’s the hook: Disney has released a children’s book about Carina’s past written by Meredith Rusu called, The Brightest Star in the North: The Adventures of Carina Smyth. The story opens with Carina being left at an island orphanage as a baby with a notebook and a note that reads, “Her mother died. Her name is Carina Smyth.” But it is the description of the man who delivers her there that alerted me that this might be Barbossa; The man is described as having a large feathered hatand a hobbling gait. Who likes big hats and has a peg leg?

That’s right! Good ole’ Barbie!

So….

Hector Barbossa, you…ARE the father!  Barbossa, how do you feel?

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We have a winner ladies and gents! I think that Barbossa is going to be Carina’s father after all, and my, what an interesting dynamic this will make! I cannot wait to see how this all unfolds!

Until next month, my friends!

All gifs from giphy.

 

Reading Too Much Into Trailers #3: Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Men Tell No Tales

Post originally appeared on Chapman Club 55’s Blog.

Hello. My name is Jessica Johnson. And within maybe an hour, MAYBE an hour of meeting me, you’ll always discover that I am a psychopath: my nerdom for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, franchise, even nautical history is…a lot. A lot to even handle, sometimes. It’s a wonder I still have friends, honestly. 

Well, this is a big year for Pirates fans…the few of us who remain. The fifth installment of the franchise that was definitely supposed to end in 2007…then again in 2011…and now maybe 2017 (we’ll see? I guess?) will grace our lives on May 26th of this year. Minutes ago, the first full length trailer was dropped during the Super Bowl. This production has been shrouded in mystery from the start, so I’m going to go ahead and break down what is probably going to go down with the plot, and what direction I need this film to go. DO NOT DENY ME THIS, DISNEY. 

  • The Cast:

What Disney Says: In early 2014, POTC 5‘s IMDb page postulated the return of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, and Martin Klebba as Marty. These returns were all confirmed at the 2015 D23 Expo. However, three more cast members were on the rumored list, but disappeared only a few months later: Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti, Lee Arenberg as Pintel, and my personal favorite (because I’m a sucker for a good villain-turned-misunderstood-good guy) Jack Davenport as James Norrington. The page’s Trivia even had a rumored plot line which made my heart so happy: 

“This will be the first Pirates of the Caribbean film to have Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa), & Jack Davenport (James Norrington) teaming up together.”

That fact is now long gone off the page, but not before I preserved it because how flipping cool would that be!? Those three despised each other! And even though Norrington died at the end of POTC 3; At World’s End, he died at sea, which allowed the caveat that perhaps his soul joined the crew of The Flying Dutchman. Just imagine him serving under Will Turner’s command! Talk about conflict!

Alas, these rumors of were dispelled with one fell Tweet from Lee Arenberg- he and Mackenzie would definitely not be coming back: 

Lee Arenberg Not Returning

However, new characters joined the scene. Confirmed in the cast was Javier Bardem as our new villain, Captain Salazar, Brenton Thwaites playing a character simply known as “Henry,” and Kaya Scodelario playing a young scientist named Carina Smyth

What I Say: Keira Knightley, who played the damsel-turned-Pirate King Elizabeth Swann, ruled out ever returning to the franchise back in 2008. HOWEVER…

That’s right! Knightley was seen shooting very secret scenes in a sound stage in London! The original gang (almost) is most-assuredly all back! 

  • The Plot:

What Disney Says: Here’s the official plot synopsis released by Disney

“Johnny Depp returns to the big screen as the iconic, swashbuckling anti-hero Jack Sparrow in the all-new Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The rip-roaring adventure finds down-on-his-luck Captain Jack feeling the winds of ill-fortune blowing strongly his way when deadly ghost sailors, led by the terrifying Captain Salazer (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle bent on killing every pirate at sea – notably Jack. Jack’s only hope of survival lies in the legendary Trident of Poseidon, but to find it he must forge an uneasy alliance with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a brilliant and beautiful astronomer, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites), a headstrong young sailor in the Royal Navy. At the helm of the Dying Gull, his pitifull small and shabby ship, Captain Jack seeks not only to reverse his recent spate of ill fortune, but to save his very life from the most formidable and malicious foe he has never faced.”

…nuh uh. There’s more. 

What I Say: Well, there’s a few things to consider here, fam. 

New cast member Brenton Thwaites began the Rumor Train with a simple slip of the tongue: 

“It’s about a young man who wants to reconnect with his father, Davy Jones. There’s a curse that prevents him from doing that. I think it’s about how he goes around that and tries to fix it and he has to save his dad. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a lot of fun!”

HA!! You know who Davy Jones is now, Brenton? WILL TURNER. Plus the odd way that his character only has a first name…yeah. He’s most definitely Will and Elizabeth’s son. 

Now let’s take a look at the trailer that just dropped this afternoon: 

…now besides screaming at the top of my lungs, there’s a few things I noticed and want to point out to inform what is my plot synopsis. 

One…oh no.

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Poor Will! Get some ointment for that, dude!

Will Turner has barnacles on his face, and that’s not good at all. POTC 3 clearly lined out the conditions of Calypso’s curse upon the original Davy Jones and the crew of The Flying Dutchman: If you don’t do the job (ferrying souls lost at sea to the other side), you get all tentacly. So this means that Will stopped doing his duty and is getting punished for it. Orrrrrr….there could be another reason Orlando’s beautiful face has been compromised. Here it is, MY prediction for how this will all go down. 

My Plot Prediction: 

Captain Salazar has escaped from the Devil’s Triangle to wreak havoc upon pirate-kind. This includes the three most powerful pirates on the seas: Captain Hector Barbossa, Captain Will Turner, and most of all, Captain Jack Sparrow. Henry Turner, son of Will and Pirate King Elizabeth Swann, has grown up seeing his father only once every ten years and is tired of it. Just like his father before him, he bravely ventures off to find a means by which he can free his father from his cursed state; a mystical artifact known to be the Trident of Poseidon. Astronomer Carina Smyth seeks the trident for her own means, and Jack seeks it in order to free The Black Pearl from its constricting bottle. This common goal brings these three together. Meanwhile, Salazar reaches Barbossa (…I have a bad feeling about his fate, I’m sorry to say…Sorry, Barbossa fans.) and Will. Seeing as Will is immortal, the only thing Salazar can do is make him and his crew gradually decompose back into barnacles and sea creatures. The clock is ticking for our heroes…THEN NORRINGTON SAVES THE DAY! 

okay, I may have projected my own dreams there at the end, but that’s overall what I think is going to happen, plus an amazing Elizabeth Swann reappearance! Meanwhile, we all must wait for what will hopefully make a great (and final) installment of this billion-dollar franchise! It’s killing me slowly, but hey, all good things to those who wait, I suppose!

For an awesome, nerdy, fun blog related to all things Disney, please visit www.chapmanclub55.com for more reading from some talented Chapman students!

Another Day of Sun: A Tribute to 2016

Well, that’s a wrap on a pretty insane year all told. I want to look back at 2016, warts and all, the good and the bad.

I’m gonna do so in the only way I know how: through a movie reference. My favorite film of 2016 was undoubtedly La La Land (Chazelle, 2016), and my favorite song from the film was the exuberant, remarkably choreographed song “Another Day of Sun,” which serves as the opening number that takes place in gridlocked traffic (an experience LA inhabitants know all too well).

The song is the main supporting element to the title, “La La Land.” It depicts the stories of thousands of people who still come to Los Angeles based on a dream that began with the advent of Hollywood; to chase their dreams of fame and fortune in the Mecca of the entertainment industry. I’m one of these dreamers living in “La La Land.” The dream persists, despite an excess of competition, uncertainty, and adversity. I feel like this translates to what we all just went through in 2016:


Behind these hills, I’m reaching for the heights…

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“2016 is going to be SO much better than 2015!” we all said. Ah, what a simpler time December 31st, 2015 was!

2016 began with its typical new year’s surge of confidence, hope, and resolutions. 2015 in my mind at the time,  was a horrible year. The latter half of it included the death of a grandparent, the death of the family dog, three consecutive illnesses, a sprained ankle, and a smashed pinkie finger JUST as the year wrapped up.

2015 could burn in hell for all I cared. I was ignoring the good things, however: I got to see my favorite actor in person twice. I worked at an amazing production company. I went to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon AND The Late Late Show with James Cordan. I survived 24 Hour Night at Disneyland and attended two red carpets. But it’s so easy to forget the good and focus on the bad, and that’s exactly what I did. 2015 was the worst, and 2016 would be full of new possibilities and new beginnings.

…And chasing all the lights that shine.

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This was the spring that I studied abroad for a semester in New Zealand. Things were going so incredibly well. I made a new group of international friends, learned my way around a new country and culture, and did things that, now looking back, I cannot believe I had the courage to do!

I went to Fiji and Australia entirely by myself! I completed the foremost item on my Bucket List; jumping off the Auckland Sky Tower-on LEAP DAY no less! I directed an original play in a theatre group I was entirely unfamiliar with. I learned the native Maori language. I threw all caution to the wind and chased experiences I never otherwise would have chased!

I even chased a deeply personal change. I told someone I had feelings for them that I had been repressing for years. Even though, unfortunately, nothing came of it or will ever come of it, for the first half of the year, this was just another bout of hope that was putting wind in my sails as I returned to back home and to Los Angeles to finish out the year.

When they let you down…

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Auckland Sky Tower illuminated in solidary with Belgium. Photo by author.

I’d like to say that upon returning, that’s when everything changed for the worse, but that would be a lie. Despite being surrounded by new and exciting experiences while abroad, the entire world was rattled by countless terrorist attacks. Throughout the year and especially within the past week, celebrity deaths seemed to follow one another endlessly.

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Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, and most recently Debbie Reynolds hit me particularly hard. There was a beautiful quote from Tiia Ohmen, one of the co-creators of the website Fangirl Quest, a photography and travel advise website that maps movie and television shooting locations. This quote offers a perspective about why celebrity deaths affect us so:

Could it be because they’ve given us something to laugh about? To cry about? Because they’ve inspired us to pursue some career ourselves, in acting or music or in whatever it is they did well? Or because they used their publicity to support those who are suffering, inspired us to do good, or told us fight for our rights? Or maybe because they just told us “it gets better”, or “always keep fighting”, and helped us through a rough patch in our lives?

Could it be that they made us feel, and by making us feel they actually made us feel more alive?

The mourning seemed without end: David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, George Michael, Carrie Fischer… And then I lost another grandparent in the blink of an eye.

Loss led into heartbreak, heartbreak led into frustration, frustration led into fear. This fear was also felt universally. I was in a country under the British crown when the United Kingdom left the EU, and I was in the U.S. when voting in my first election; the election that will forever be known as the most divisive since the days of the Civil War. Fear is rampant right now and will continue to be if we let it get to us. But the responses to the adversity that have emerged gives me so much hope.

Get up off the ground…

Kind actions followed every tragedy. Hopeful words lifted everyone’s spirits. Charitable deeds restored hope in humanity.

It is human nature to seek constant improvement and to have hope for the future. I too tried to improve bad situations. Unfortunately, good intentions did not go unpunished, for all attempts to better myself were thwarted by more nonsense: A repeated attempt to join an important group fell short. A career changing competition resulted in disqualification beyond my team’s control. Fitness progress was halted by a contagious disease and then a sprained knee. Before I knew it, 2015 seemed like a blessed memory compared to the things 2016 was dishing out.

Morning rolls around…

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But, once again, we are at the end of another year and the start of another, and already there is much buzz about how much better 2017 will be than 2016:

As I stated before, the need for self-improvement seems wired in humans. That’s the reason why New Years resolutions exist in the first place: It’s a chance to start again and use a finite amount of time to spark a better change for oneself and one’s community.

…And it’s another day of sun.

But the fear remains in my mind: What if 2017 doesn’t deliver upon the promises we wanted 2016 to deliver? What if it’s just as full of grief, disappointment, and uncertainty…or worse?

But a best friend put it well when I voiced these concerns:

I think all we can really do is stay positive and keep sending out good vibes into the universe, and hope that others are doing the same.

And so morning will roll around tomorrow, and it shall be another day of sun in a new year. At the end of the day, 2015 didn’t do anything to us. Neither did 2016. In order to make sense of our situation, we as a people have characterized these years as having their own identities and wills to make our lives better or worse. When it comes down to it, we are the ones who control our fates. Terrible things happen, but so do the good.

2016 was the year I actually committed to increasing the quality and number of posts featured in this blog, which has been in existence since 2013. This was the year I made friends who live in over a dozen countries around the world. 2016 was the year I was brave. 2016 was the year I was one step closer to figuring out who I am.

So here’s to a better 2017 for everyone. I hope that every resolution is met (c’mon, self. The gym is not a punishment) and that problems that arise can be met with level-headedness and an easy resolution.

It’s another day of sun. 

Header image from StockSnap. All photos by author. All gifs from giphy.

Post-Pirates Teaser Drop: A Fan Freaks Out Part 2

It happened.

Less than 10 minutes into Fear the Walking Dead‘s Season 2 finale, AMC made a surprising move and gave us the Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Men Tell No Tales teaser right away (which might prove pretty ineffective to their ratings, seeing as the teaser immediately went viral once it dropped).

So there it is! The moment I’ve been waiting three years for. Let’s break it down:

 

  • Navy men get my heart a-poundin’…but then I realize my main man, Norrington is not among them. My heart gets real sad. 
  • We get our first look at Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar. He’s a real icky looking dude with flowy, mermaid hair, bloodshot eyes, and black gunk coming out of his mouth. In desperate need of a makeover.

[Jessica begins to pen letter requesting a Captain Salazar makeover montage a la Clueless or She’s All That]

Side note: Not a fan of the ghost pirate with half a face. Not okay.

  • We get our first(ish) look at Will’s son-I mean Will’s son-I mean…Henry. Brenton Thwaites can pass for a teenager. I can dig it. And it’s excellent casting if (when) he turns out to be Will and Elizabeth’s son.
  • We see Jack Sparrow! …on paper. Captain Salazar holds up a paper with Jack Sparrow’s likeness on a “Wanted” poster. I’m a bit miffed that we didn’t get to see the scallawag himself, but I can live a few more months without seeing him just yet.
  •  Salazar gives us some plot clues. He instructs Henry to find Jack and warn him that “death will come straight for him.” So, Will’s son-I mean Henry now has a means by which he will come into contact with Jack, therefore setting up our plot.
  •  Camera pulls up to the stars as we exit the eye of the Pirates Logo. TOLD Y’ALL. Star navigation is undoubtedly a big part of this plot!
  • Dissonant “Yo Ho” song, followed by only the title card, “2017,” and the eerie hashtag, “#APiratesDeathForMe.” 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?? Are there troubled waters ahead for Jack? Where is Will going to come into play? Does anyone have any ideas why on Earth Marty is allowed to come back to the crew, but not Pintel, Regetti or Cotton? Why do I care so much? Will we ever know?

All told, I am slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to see Will or Jack in the teaser. Ultimately, it’s the classic characters that will get people in the seats, not new characters. This is evidenced by the disappointed response from fans from the fourth film: When you have a formula that works, don’t change it. Of course, I have previously discussed reasons why said formula had to change in the past, but it doesn’t make the overall effect any different. Hopefully, we can get more press soon, featuring some stills or footage of our favorite pirates in action, and maybe get some more clues as to the rest of the plot.

Until then, me hearties…

 

…A Pirate’s Death for Me!

Pre-Pirates Teaser Drop: A Fan Freaks Out Part 1

I had a very clear idea of what my Sunday was going to be like upon awakening. Little did I know that it would soon become solely about fangirling over what else, Pirates of the Caribbean. 

The original plan was to finish watching the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, go shopping, do some busy work, then head out for a double feature of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the remake of The Magnificent Seven. That’s when my roommate, eating breakfast beside me on our couch, let out a low, guttural guffaw as though she had been punched in the stomach by a MMA fighter. Just as big of a Pirates fan as I am (if you need reference to my fandom, please see previous blogs found here and here…and here), she shoved her phone in my face, which was playing the following message:

…which prompted us to do this…

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That’s right, m’lords and ladies, the moment I have been waiting years for is here at last, and we’re getting a first look at Pirates of the Caribbean 5; Dead Men Tell No Tales! 

As I write this post, I am about three hours from…whatever Disney has in store for us during one of the commercial breaks of Fear the Walking Dead’s Season 2 finale on AMC. So while the basic structure of my day remains unchanged, it has undoubtedly gotten far more interesting.

I have mentioned this in other posts, but whereas I might claim having a fandom for any variety of nerdtastic shows and films (The Walking Dead, Sherlock, Bates Motel, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, and all things Disney, to name a few), since I was eight years old, Pirates of the Caribbean has captured my imagination, and was the first series of films to make me truly love cinema. As I have stated before, they are not without their flaws, but overall, they hold a special place in my heart.

It has been nearly ten years since my favorite installment, At Worlds End, was released, and five since On Stranger Tides came out. I was at the first announcement that Orlando Bloom would be reappearing in this film, and have eagerly been searching for any shred of evidence about what the next film will be about (…still hoping for a Norrington cameo…please Disney…please…). Until the teaser can (hopefully) give us some more clues about the narrative, let’s take a look at the poster, which was formally released this morning:

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This logo is a little interesting. First of all, it looks very similar to the logo of At Worlds End, which featured the classic Jack-like skull atop two crossed bones. This design was meant to mimic a skull and crossbones flag, a common object seen in the third film. This design also varied from Curse of the Black Pearl (skull atop crossed swords), Dead Man’s Chest (skull atop crossed torches), and On Stranger Tides (same logo as Curse of the Black Pearl, only completely silver). This design is silver AND gold, but is additionally jewel-encrusted and has carvings that are illegible to my eye as of now. Here’s what I was able to decipher/speculate wildly about:

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  • The Hunt for the Trident of Poseidon is all but confirmed. 

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For months, the Disney Company has claimed that the storyline would be about Jack and his respective villain (initially Christoph Waltz as Captain Brand, now Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar) hunting for the Trident of Poseidon. The new logo seems to be sporting a symbol that looks an awful lot like a trident running right down the center of the skull’s forehead.

  • …as well as the Bermuda Triangle…

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Other early rumors discussed a plotline regarding the Bermuda Triangle. Upon closer examination, this appears to be the very thing that the poster is trying to suggest as well. Could we be travelling into that seafaring folklore in this film?

  • Navigation will be a major part of the plot.

Unless it is merely an aesthetic choice, this poster art is the most chart-like of the previous four films, with a subtle map background beneath the main logo, as well as very specific placement of jewels on the skull’s forehead, which gives me the impression of a star chart. Will navigation by star patterns play into the narrative of Dead Man’s Chest? 

  • We can’t ignore the inscriptions on the bones…

To me at this time, the inscriptions are rather unclear from what I have been able to see online, but I can only make out one full word from the carving on the bone on the bottom left hand corner of the poster: “Isla.” The phrase is clearly in Spanish, but I can’t and won’t be able to make out any other words until I can either access the poster physically or in a higher definition.

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Until then, I must wait for three more hours to get answers to my many questions about the plot of Dead Men Tell No Tales. I know how incredibly sad I must appear, but don’t blame a fangirl for fangirling!

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I’ll see you all in Part 2, once I have emerged from the other side of this exciting nerdtastic Sunday afternoon!

All images from Instagram. All gifs from giphy.

Me Before “Me Before You,” and Me Afterwards

I have been absolutely obsessed with the notion of Me Before You since the trailer premiered in February. Even though I, a cinephile who is studying criticism, should have immediately waved it off as a silly chick flick, I found myself absolutely giddy. May couldn’t come soon enough!

Well. It’s June. New Zealand got Me Before You a month later than the States, much to my chagrin. In the meantime, I picked up the book, written by Jojo Moyes. This was a dangerous thing to do, because in my experience, if I read a book and love it, I’ll despise the movie (cough cough-Gone Girlcough). But my need to know what I was about to get into with the film adaptation ultimately won out, I completed it, and now tonight, I have finally been able to see the film for the first time.

Me Before You has followed me throughout my journey of living and traveling in New Zealand over the past six months. In this spoiler-free list, I would now like to tell you my impressions of both the book and the movie and how they together have impacted me.

1. If you need to really sell a trailer, put Ed Sheeran songs in it. Sold. 

2. Seek out tiny bookshops. It’s where I bought Me Before You, and finding it in the crowded stacks felt like finding buried treasure! It makes the experience worth it!

3. For the record, parks make THE PERFECT place to read a book. (especially if you are reading by a fountain and have a cup of your favorite tea nearby!)

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Or if you suddenly look up from the chapter you’re reading and find yourself a Disney princess. That too.

4. However, busy airport terminals do NOT make the perfect place to finish this particular book. …just imagine me openly weeping in public. Yup. You got it.

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Particularly THIS. This was the crowd I was weeping in front of.

5. Romance film audiences are incredibly irksome. Ladies, I get it, Sam Claflin’s a sexy beast. But if we’re gonna squeal like pre-pubescent girls whenever his character is shirtless, I’d just recommend you stay home and rent Pirates of the Caribbean; On Stranger Tides. He’s shirtless for half the film in that one!

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See? Giggle at the sexy missionary, girls. Not the quadraplegic who needs his shirt off to combat a fever.

6. The men in my theater were the real MVPs. There were approximately 80 women, and 3 men…and they looked very uncomfortable. Way to take one for your ladies, gentlemen!

7. When in doubt, cast Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in your movie. This was some of the finest work I have seen either of them do. And what they both have exhibited in their previous work (for me, Game of Thrones, Pirates, and The Hunger Games [sidebar: #JusticeForFinnick]) was the main reason I was excited for this film in the first place, so that’s saying a lot. They absolutely nailed their performances and had incredible chemistry, bringing so much more spirit and life than I ever imagined their book equivalents having.

8. Adapting the novel into a screenplay was no easy task, but it was done very well. Many plot points were excluded (including one major element of Louisa’s past), but none of them were missed. Nothing that was changed made the story feel less authentic.

9. See the film preferably with a group of people. Once the credits begin to roll, the lights will come up, everyone will be ugly crying, and then you’ll all erupt in laughter at how silly you look. It happened for me, and the energy in the room was tangible. We were all invested in this story together, and the emotions that followed were cathartic and real. It felt good.

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Me after Me Before You. …I waited so long to write that caption. Worth it.

10. Like Will Traynor, live boldly. We only have one life to live. As Will says in the film, “It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.” Anything is attainable, so do and see as much as you can with the time you have.

27/50 happy hunting I am going to leave this book – my very own copy of #MeBeforeYou, signed and used by me, where I first read this beautifully touching story, the beginning of this journey – somewhere in central London over the weekend, for someone to pick up and read, to keep or to pass on (let's just hope not throw away). So happy hunting. If you find it, please enjoy it. Read it. Share it with us (me and @mebeforeyouofficial), we'd love to hear your story. #thebookbeforeyou Also, as a side note, I feel I need to just express my utmost adoration for the wonderful @jojomoyesofficial. Again, without whom none of this could have happened. Thank you. And congratulations! Me Before You has officially been number one on the NY times bestseller list for 11 whole weeks. And Jojo you deserve it. We love you. #50daycountdown #liveboldly #willtraynor

A post shared by Sam Claflin (@mrsamclaflin) on

11. Like Louisa Clark, stay true to who you are. Lou is quirky, klutzy, and has a unique taste in fashion, yet she never once struggles with accepting who she truly is and never compromises it.

12. We have control over our fates. Tragedies happen. Things, people, even bits of who we are can be lost forever. We are the ones to choose what our next chapter is. We can choose to be happy, or not. We choose to live…or not. The choice, whatever that may mean in any circumstance, is always ours and ours alone.

13. Love freely and with all your heart. Especially in today’s world, where so much hate and fear exists, the fear to love openly should never be prevalent.

G2ZSH1CZMN14. Me Before You is more than a chick flick. It’s hilarious, and tragic, and inspiring, and hopeful, and so much more. At least for me, it’s worth every second!

 

…oh. And one more thing: WEAR WATERPROOF MASCARA. You’re welcome in advance!

Gif from giphy, stock photo from StockSnap.io

Appreciate This as Much as I Do #1: James Norrington

Allow me to take you back to the summer of 2006.

Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Man’s Chest, had just been released, opening to record breaking box office numbers for its time.  It was all anyone was talking about, especially where my family was concerned. We were all Disney fans, and there were three children in the family the proper age to fully appreciate the tone of the film. A typical childhood game amongst me and my two male cousins was one we lovingly called, “Whoever You Want To Be,” wherein we did exactly that; behave as any character from any medium, thus, “whoever you wanted to be.” Inevitably, however, one of us would gain control of the game, somehow dictating to the others what movie, TV show, or video game we were reenacting (true, going against the spirit of the game, but making it no less fun when all was said and done!).

I had a trampoline in my backyard. The three of us decided to play “Whoever You Want To Be” atop it, but my elder cousin quickly made the decision that the subject of our game was to be Pirates, and why wouldn’t it be? They were hilarious, swashbuckling adventurers that grabbed our imaginations! However, I knew how this game was going to ultimately play out: I was the only girl out of the three of us. I was fed up always been stuck playing Padme, Leia, or any assortment of various princesses. These roles were boring! I did nothing but get saved by whichever boy was playing my hero!

So as soon as the roles of Will Turner and Jack Sparrow were instantly swooped up by my cousins, I put my foot down…or, up, I suppose, as we were on a trampoline… Elizabeth Swann, although getting a few neat action scenes in the second installment, was just another girl role I was to be saddled with.

That was when took control of the game. “Fine,” I remember saying. “You can be Will and Jack, but we’re doing the Wheel Scene, and I’m going to be Norrington.”

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And that’s how a ten year-old girl became obsessed with the secondary villain of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.

Now, exactly a decade later, James Norrington remains my favorite character of the Pirates franchise, as well as one of my favorite movie characters of all time. In this post, I wish to outline how and why my interactions with this character went from just a means by which I could break from stereotypical damsel roles as a pre-teen to a solid appreciation of an antihero whose story arc is relatable, complicated, and heartbreaking.

(Lieutenant/Commodore/Mr./Admiral) James Norrington…

  • Undergoes the most dramatic story arc above all other characters in the franchise. 

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The characters of all four films have unique and diverse qualities which make them each individually stand out. All good characters have an intriguing arc to their storylines, usually ending with them learning a lesson or changing their ways. In the case of the Pirates films, if a character remains flat, with little to no discernable changes, they are either villains, minor characters, or Jack Sparrow.

Think about it: Although he’s morally ambiguous, Jack performs enough lovable, hilarious, and relatable actions that leave fans rooting for him.  However, he doesn’t undergo any real change as the story progresses. This is not the case for the characters of Will and Elizabeth. The original trilogy provides a coming-of-age narrative for them both as they each discover their indivdual strengths, as well as their love for one another.

James, however, undergoes the most dramatic changes in his characterization. He serves several purposes in the first film, Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): He’s the secondary villain to Captain Barbossa, an obstacle between the love of Will and Elizabeth, and an antagonist who’s main motivation is to see the demise of our hero, Jack. In Dead Man’s Chest (2006), audiences only discover in the film’s second act what ultimately befell the former Commodore; he has dwindled into obscurity, just another scruffy, dishelved pirate who is devoid of hope and is oddly accepting of his disgraced state. This is the case until we start to see that familiar fire of ambition ignite once again as soon as he becomes aware of a means by which he can get his former title and reputation back. He then immediately leaps into action (or, in this case, casually sword fights atop a rogue mill wheel and rolls into action), deceiving and betraying Will, Jack, and Elizabeth by stealing the heart of Davy Jones for himself and pledging allegiance to the villainous side. In the third film, At World’s End (2007), we see far less of James, learning that he has been promoted as an Admiral, but yet is not the same sassy, straightlaced nobleman from the first film. His time living with the other half has changed him, and this becomes increasingly apparent as he is forced into carrying out Lord Beckett’s plans in the War Against Piracy. He has a chilly reunion with Elizabeth, and finally comes to the realization that he has picked the wrong side. He frees Elizabeth and her crew, and his fate is sealed with one final kiss with his unrequited love as he sacrifices his life to save her. Even in his final breaths, he attempts to kill Davy Jones, yet is futile. Despite being a supporting character, audiences see James rapidly progress from a secondary villain to a tragic hero over the course of the first three installments.

  • Has six deleted scenes over the course of the three movies, one in Curse of the Black Pearl, five in Dead Man’s Chest (including an alternate ending), and one in At World’s End, all of which reveal hidden secrets about his character.

The deleted scene in the first film shows James as having a merciful side and a strong sense of duty. He even offers Elizabeth a chance to call off their engagement altogether free from judgement, as can be seen in the clip below:

In an audio commentary on Curse of the Black Pearl between Keira Knightley (who plays Elizabeth Swann) and Jack Davenport (who plays Norrington), Knightley stated that the scene was cut because it made Norrington appear “too nice.” I can only imagine that this is a similar reason why the majority of the scenes in Dead Man’s Chest were cut as well. The clip below is one of the five deleted scenes that were cut featuring Norrington, where Jack shows a shocking amount of mean-spiritedness:

Another of the four deleted scenes piggybacks off of this one, where James finds the hanging skeleton of the priest Elizabeth describes hanging in the church tower. Yet another cut scene occurs right at the onset of the sword fight between Jack, Will and James that leads to the aforementioned mill wheel fight. The three men’s blades are locked together. In this position, Jack tries to team up with Will against James, saying, “We cannot let him get the chest, mate, trust me on this. You can mistrust me less than you can mistrust him, trust me!” The final deleted scene, described with screen shots via Pirates of the Caribbean Wiki, depicts a scene called, “Manual Labor,” where Jack nearly stands on James’s hands as he does menial work swabbing The Pearl’s deck, stating, “A bit of manual labor is good for you, former Commodore. Builds character.” He refuses to move until James shines his boots.

These deleted scenes depict Norrington in his recently disgraced state, even going so far as to reveal to Elizabeth (and therefore, the audience) through the allegory of the mad priest just how isolated he feels. This character is at his lowest, and yet the common theme in all of the scenes is that Jack is constantly belittling and demeaning the already emotionally broken James. If these scenes were to remain in the final film, what message would that send to younger viewers? If Jack is supposed to be our hero, would that then make it alright for those who looked up to him to follow in his footsteps and tear down those we perceive to be weaker than us? Jack then becomes less of a hero and more of a bully, and although Norrington’s screen time is greatly diminished by these cuts, I am so grateful that they ultimately happened.

  • Quickly (and rather unexpectedly) became a fan-favorite.

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Norrington was meant to only ever appear in Curse of the Black Pearl, but according to an interview with producer Jerry Bruckheimer (which I sadly couldn’t find, and that annoys me greatly), fan reactions were too positive to keep him from joining the sequels.

I actually can attest to witnessing the Norrington love firsthand. One of my most vivid memories from watching both Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End in theaters were audible gasps from the audience in two key moments; in Dead Man’s Chest, when Davenport’s iconic voice growls into the first scene indicating his unexpected return to the franchise, and in At World’s End, when the character is killed. His death sparked outrage among many fans, inspiring an online support group (now defunct, as it’s nearly ten years old), and a petition for Disney to reverse his death (also currently defunct).

Many fans were wise, however: they knew that because James had died at sea, there was a chance that Will Turner, now the new Davy Jones, could find and recover his soul in the Locker. There was a chance everyone’s favorite bewigged anti-hero could return as an immortal being, this time placed in the interesting dynamic having to serve beneath Will’s leadership, the man he largely considered inferior to him during his living days. So overwhelming was this response, several rumors circulated about what precisely what the fifth installment of the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Men Tell No Tales would be about, and IMDB.com perpetuated rumors by stating the following in a Trivia Fact that remains on their page as of the time this blog was posted:

“This will be the first Pirates of the Caribbean film to have Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa), & Jack Davenport (James Norrington) teaming up together.”

Sadly, however, this storyline does not appear to be the most recent draft of the script that Disney Studios ended up with. No evidence exists to suggest that Davenport was anywhere near the filming locations of Dead Men Tell No Tales,  and from what little plot details have been released up to this point, the storyline sounds as though it has moved on from this initial concept. If Norrington will appear in the film, the only hope fans have is that he perhaps makes a cameo onboard The Flying Dutchman.

But why would a secondary character warrant such passionate admiration from fans?

  • Empathy. We’ve been there, bud. We’ve had our hearts ripped out by an unrequited love. We’ve lost sight of our dreams. Sometimes, we’ve even associated ourselves with the wrong people to get what we want. Although some might think he’s found “the dark side of ambition,” Norrington makes it clear that he prefers “to see it as the promise of redemption.” #Same.
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Watch as a man’s heart shatters into a million pieces.
  • High levels of sass mixed with a teaspoon of dry British wit: Ugh, Norrington’s sassiness is off the charts! One of his key attributes is that he serves as a foil to Jack Sparrow, having to remain stoic and unwavering in the face of the infamous pirate’s bizarre antics. Davenport spoke in an interview for the release of Curse of the Black Pearl about his character’s purpose, stating:

    “I’m trying to not keep it all on one note. It’s easy to fall into that trap with this kind of thing because by definition, especially in my stuff with Johnny [Depp], I’m kind of the straight man in those scenes. It’s very easy to find yourself doing the same thing all the time, but the story allows me not to do that. […] It remains to be seen whether or not I’ll suddenly become England’s next sneering villain. I hope not!”

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“So you never wondered how your latest fiance ended up on The Flying Dutchman in the first place?”

Little did Davenport know at the time that his character would go on to have many more dynamic shifts, thereby increasing opportunities to show how opposite he is to some of the more outrageous characters and using a plethora of sassy zingers to regain power in every scene.

  • Once we grow to like his character, we want to see him win: Going on this journey of seeing him at his very best and very worst makes us root for his redemption – a redemption that he never receives. We want to see him escape the East India Trading Company. We want to see him ditch that wig, become a pirate again, fight against Beckett, and ultimatly find his long-awaited happiness. The tragedy that befalls him is bewildering and upsetting to us because we know that this character we have grown to respect will never get a happy ending.
  • He’s played by Jack Davenport, folks! The man is one heck of a guy, and deserves far more promient roles than he’s getting. I’m talking to you, Kingsman: The Secret Service According to Michael Singer in his book Bring Me That Horizon: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean (a book which I loved so much at the age of twelve that it currently has pages falling out of it), Davenport was always known to consistently be in good spirits and keep morale up on set. He is one of my nine favorite actors, and I will go into specifics on why he’s so awesome in a later blog post (…I can feel your unfettered enthusiam already!!).

In final thought, I think I’ve made it pretty clear from previous blog posts (found here and here, namely) that if there’s one fandom that I would call my foremost love, it would undoubtedly go to Pirates of the Caribbean. I only decided to write this love letter to my favorite character in the series upon completing a marathon of the first four films, wherein I examined why I held so much appreciation for this character, and it all began as a ten year-old girl playing make-believe on a trampoline.

Thanks for joining me on my first in what will most likely become a long series of posts imploring you to “Appreciate This as Much as I Do!”

Your point is invalid, because I Disney Bounded as Norrington from Pirates today. So take that. #potc #disneybound

A post shared by Jessica Johnson (@jjj_jess_i_can) on

 

Header image from freeimages.com, gifs from Giphy

My Thoughts on Johnny Depp’s Domestic Abuse Allegations

It’s been a few days, and finally enough information has come out that I feel like I can give an assessment of the drama unfolding between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard that can at least be supported with some evidence.

Let’s break down what happened in chronological order, as it gets pretty convoluted: Johnny Depp and french pop star Vanessa Paradis were in a relationship from 1998 to 2012. In that time, they had two children, Lily-Rose and Jack. Johnny Depp met actress Amber Heard on the set of The Rum Diary in 2009, and the pair began dating in 2012. They married in 2015, and controversy quickly followed when Heard falsified quarantine documents and smuggled the couple’s two dogs into Australia while Depp filmed Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017). However, just as this controversy was wrapping up (with albeit a strangely robotic court-appointed public apology from both of them), a far more serious one erupted.

It begins on Friday, May 20th, when Depp’s mother, Betty Sue Palmer, died after battling a long illness. The following night, police responded to a domestic dispute report at Depp and Heard’s Los Angeles home. On May 25th, reports surfaced that Heard had filed for divorce from Depp after only 15 months of marriage, citing “irreconcilable differences,” as the reason for their split. Then, chaos ensued. First, Heard demanded $50,000 a month in spousal support from Depp, which was denied by the judge. Then, she asked for a restraining order from Depp and protection for her dog Pistol. The judge denied the order for Pistol, but granted a 100 yard order for Heard herself. Her demand that Depp be mandated to attend a year-long anger management course was also denied. Then came word of Heard’s elaborate testimony about ongoing abuse from Depp, but particularly regarding the night after his mother’s death. In her court papers, Heard submitted a photo of herself with a black eye she claims was caused by Depp throwing an iPhone at her face, is supported by testimony from neighbor Raquel Pennington, and goes into graphic detail about the events that unfolded that night:

“I immediately covered my face and was crying because of the pain resulting from the phone hitting me. Johnny charged at me, insisting on seeing my face. He taunted me, challenged whether or not the cell phone actually hit me. He then forceably pulled back my hair as I attempted to stand up from the sofa. I then yelled out “Call 911″ – hoping it would be heard by [mutual friend iO Tillet Wright] who was still on the phone. Johnny continued screaming at me, pulling my hair, striking me and violently grabbing my face.”

Depp himself has not personally responded to these allegations, and will be out of the country until June 7th. The court case is scheduled for June 17th.

Many people have many different views about what happened, who is at fault, and who is telling the truth, be it journalist, celebrity, or fan. At the end of the day, none of us were there. A great majority of us do not know nor ever will know Depp or Heard personally. When all is said and done, none of us get a say in what happened. Anyone claiming otherwise, either calling Heard a liar or Depp a monster, is flat out wrong for doing so. Fan culture, on its way to entering the mainstream, has developed this massive sense of entitlement, as though we have any sort of insight or say into the inner workings of these people’s deeply personal issues. We don’t. 

So I will not claim that I know anything beyond what I have read from different perspectives on this upcoming case. While we cannot say for certain who is right or wrong, lying or telling the truth, that does not mean we can’t lend support to one side over another. I have reached a decision on this matter as to who I support, and it was not as easy as one might assume.

I take abuse allegations very seriously. I am a woman, but moreso I am human, and as such I feel massive fury burning inside me when I hear of any sort of abuse in any form. Be it the ongoing Bill Cosby assault charges, Ashley Judd recently coming forward about sexual assault from a producer many years ago, or even tragedies befalling countless victims every day that we hear about on local or national news, I feel a rage and sadness that fills me up. Victim shaming and blaming is abhorrent. So what was I left with when my favorite actor was accused of domestic abuse?

I became a Johnny Depp fan in 2009 upon watching Secret Window (2004), an incredibly tense psychological thriller that demonstrated to me just how skilled of a performer Depp is. This fandom came at an important time in my life. While most of my middle-school aged friends at that time were head over heels for relative newcomer Justin Bieber, or imagining themselves as the “Future Mrs. Taylor Lautner,” I took my fandom in another direction entirely: this man wasn’t just mere eye candy, but a masterful artist on screen and a good, funny, giving person off screen. It was following Johnny Depp throughout his filmography that first taught me to look at film critically. Through Johnny Depp, I found Tim Burton, David Koepp, Gore Verbinski, Terry Gilliam, and many more directors who therein introduced me to more artists, styles, and films. This caused a massive web of cinema that continues to grow to this day. I owe everything I am today in my career to Johnny Depp.

Maybe that’s why I burst into tears of joy and exhaustion after waiting in line for twelve hours overnight to see if he would make an appearance at the Live Action Panel of the 2015 D23 Expo. Not only did that appearance happen, it happened in the form of Depp advertising the upcoming Pirates film AS Captain Jack Sparrow. It had been six long years of several failed attempts to see my favorite actor in person, so my emotional bubbling-over was understandable. Little did I know that only two months later, I would come within three feet of Depp at the Dolby Theatre amongst a mob of eager fans. He and I would make eye contact there and grin at each other when I couldn’t think of anything else to do. It was brief moment, but a great one that I’ll always treasure. I had one chance to not screw up, and I managed to pull it off casualty-free!

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My photo of Depp at the Dolby Theatre last October. Photo by author.

All of these memories and feelings of nostalgia welled up inside me as I stared at Amber Heard’s black eye. Could my childhood hero be capable of such cruelty? I wasn’t too keen on Heard from the onset of their relationship: Her youth compared to Depp made me nervous that she was just after his fame and money. I was frustrated with Depp for separating from Paradis, who I absolutely adore, in favor of Heard. But despite my prejudice, abuse would render my favorite actor utterly despicable in my heart if the allegations were proved to be truthful.

But in the past few days, testimony from important sources surfaced that changed my mindset. First, Lorrie Anne Allison, Depp’s first wife, said that he was soft-spoken and never once shouted at her during their marriage. Depp and Paradis’s daughter, actress and model Lily-Rose, has used her very popular Instagram account to advocate for her father’s innocence, including posting this picture of the two of them along with a impassioned message of his kindheartedness:

Vanessa Paradis is perhaps the most important voice in this group, as she is Depp’s longest romantic partner. She stated the following in a letter obtained by TMZ:

“To whom it may concern, Johnny Depp is the father of my two children, he is a sensitive, loving and loved person, and i believe with all my heart, that these allegations being made are outrageous, in all the years i have known Johnny, he has never been physically abusive with me and this looks nothing like the man i lived with for 14 wonderful years – Sincerely, Vanessa Paradis, May 27th, 2016, Los Angeles.”

Further support was lended in a letter penned for The Wrap by Doug Stanhope, a friend of Depp’s. Stanhope claims that Heard is blackmailing Depp, and that he has been watching Heard manipulate Depp since before they were married. He goes on to say that he and his girlfriend were with Depp at his house the day after his mother’s death, and told them their honest opinion of Heard after Depp confessed that “Amber was now going to leave him, threatening to lie about him publicly in any and every possible duplicitous way if he didn’t agree to her terms.” Stanhope and his girlfriend left Depp’s house, and only found out later that that was the night the domestic dispute occurred. Further complicating matters is the fact that the LAPD has stated that there was no apparent evidence of the injuries Heard describes when they responded to the domestic dispute.

I will not ignore the fact that Depp has run into trouble in the past. He was arrested in 1994 for trashing a hotel room with then-girlfriend Kate Moss while drunk, and then again in 1999 in a scuffle with intrusive papparazzi. In 2012, he settled in a court case with a UC Irvine professor who sought punitive damages after being roughed up by his bodyguards at a concert. Despite these occassions, however, I cannot see how someone with so much support from his friends, family, and partners of the past could be capable of the domestic abuse that Heard describes.

It was only after all of the above evidence that I arrived at my decision to support Depp. Once again, I will state that it is not my place to call Heard a liar, and so is that the case for anyone who isn’t directly involved in this matter. At the end of the day, I don’t know Johnny Depp, nor will I ever know the full truth. If I am going to lend my support in one way, it has to go to the man who made me love movies, who formed my appreciation for actors and artists, and who I have watched go out of his way to be kind, patient, and generous to friends and strangers alike again and again.

I was told that I was an “anti-feminist” for not supporting Heard, and that makes my blood boil. I am no less of a woman, no less of a feminist, and have no altered moral code because I support the ‘man’s side’ in this argument, or as the person in question referred to it as, “another instance of support being thrown to the white man,” looping a race argument into a totally non-race related argument. I believe Depp more than I do Heard because of the evidence that has been provided. If you support Heard, that is your right and I will not judge you for it. The moment that you begin attacking me for my beliefs, however, is the moment you may kindly take your opinions elsewhere.

I will be watching as this case unfolds with bated breath. With whatever further evidence comes forward in the upcoming weeks, at the end of the day, I hope that justice is served, no matter what that means. If future evidence shows that this alleged violence did in fact occur, I hope that Depp is punished fairly. If more support is thrown to Depp, I hope that he can escape this disastrous marriage relatively unscathed. But for now, my heart remains with my favorite actor.