'Pirates 5' jumps ghost sharks

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 10, 2017
Photo by: Walt Disney Home Entertainment Kaya Scodelario, Johnny Depp and Brenton Thwaites star in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."

Owls Head — Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 129 min.). The fifth film in the "Pirates" franchise is pure hokum, but still a lot of fun. The film literally jumps the shark, only in this case it is a ghost shark, and there also are a ghost ship and ghost pirates, including new villain Capt. Salazar (a terrific Javier Bardem). The film also introduces two younger characters, played by Brenton Thwaites ("Blue Lagoon: The Awakening," "The Giver") and Kaya Scodelario ("The Maze Runner" franchise). Plus, there is a funny cameo by Paul McCartney (The Beatles).

For the new film, producer Jerry Bruckheimer turned to Norwegians Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg to direct. The duo also directed "Kon-Tiki." The prologue has a young Henry Turner finding a map, rowing out into the ocean and diving to the bottom, where he finds his cursed father (a returning Orlando Bloom as Will Turner) and his ship, the Dutchman. His dad warns Henry to forget him and get on with his life, by Henry says the Trident of Poseidon can break all curses, including Will's, if he can find it. The film then jumps forward nine years, with Henry (Thwaites) a sailor on a British naval ship that is about to chase a pirate ship into the Devil's Triangle. That ship is the ghost ship of Capt. Salazar and his fellow ghosts, whom we learn later were tricked into the Triangle by Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp returning to the boozy character that allows him to overplay so much). Salazar, a Spaniard who rid most of the Caribbean of pirates in his heyday, also seeks the Trident of Poseidon to break the curse that has made he and his men ghosts. Salazar and his men were killed in an explosions, so their ghosts bear wounds and holes, and even are missing parts.

Henry is arrested as a deserter, as he is the only survivor of the navy ship, which gives him a chance to meet up with Carina Smyth (Scodelario), an orphan who has grown up to be an astronomer who thinks she can read The Map That No Man Can Read, which will lead to a treasure that turns out to be Poseidon's resting place. Meanwhile, there is a third arrest, that of Sparrow, as his crew, led by Master Gibbs (a returning Kevin R. McNally), instead of stealing the safe from the new bank in St. Martin, hauls off the whole bank building, which then bumps its way through city streets for one of the most outrageous stunts ever depicted in a film. But then, playful excess is what these films are all about. A bit later comes another returning face: Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who throws in his lot with Sparrow, at least temporarily.

The special effects are exceptional, what with ghost sharks that have lost big chunks of their bodies, ghost pirates who are similarly deformed -- and their hair and clothing still moves as if they were underwater -- and a ghost ship that can rear up like a monster to clamp down on another ship. McCartney's cameo is as Sparrow's Uncle Jack, who is also imprisoned. One of the film's funniest bits is when Henry gets excited over having seen Carina's bare ankles.

Bonus features include four deleted scenes (2:59); bloopers (2:58); some black-and-white on-set photos by Bruckheimer (1:40); and a seven-part making-of (47:50) that includes looks at the two directors, the creation of the ghost sharks and McCartney's cameo, as well as a sit-down interview with Thwaites and Scodelario, who talk about their auditions, working on the film and first exposure to the franchise as young teens; an interview with Bardem and others about the character of Salazar that gets into make-up, special effects and costumes; and a day with McNally during filming. The making-of is very well done. One of the interesting tidbits is that Bardem played pre-ghost Salazar as a matador and ghost Salazar as a wounded bull. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Cult of Chucky (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R/NR, both 90 min.). What's more fun than Chucky? Four Chuckys. The seventh film in the "Chucky" franchise offers a bit of terror and a lot of humor, and most of the action takes place in a mental institution, where Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif of "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency," "When We Rise" mini-series) has been transferred as a patient. Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault) has Nica convinced that she murdered her family, rather than a Good Guy doll named Chucky. Chucky is voiced by Brad Dourif, who is Fiona's father.

The film is written and directed by Don Mancini, who has directed two previous Chucky films, "Seed of Chucky" and "Curse of Chucky," and was the creator of the original characters, back in the first of the three "Child's Play" films in 1988. Also back from the original film is actor Alex Vincent, playing a grown-up Andy Barclay, who attempts to save Nica from Chucky's vendetta. (The film opens in timely fashion, with Andy and his date discussing gun control during their restaurant dinner.) Andy, it turns out, has kept the original murdering Chucky's head in his safe, taking it out occasionally to talk with and to torture. The head is missing a quarter of its skull. However, by now the Chucky dolls, who are inhabited by the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, know a spell that can be used to animate other Chucky dolls.

One Good Guy Chucky is introduced at a group therapy session by Dr. Foley and is adopted by patient Madeleine (Elisabeth Rosen) as a substitute for her dead baby, while Jennifer Tilly, playing a version of her real self that is possessed by Tiffany, brings Nica the Chucky doll that was used in Nica's niece Alice's therapy sessions. Later on, a third Chucky is mailed to Dr. Foley. The line of the film belongs to Chucky about Dr. Foley: "You're sick and not in a fun way like me." In addition to the gun control opening, there is a bit of social commentary when Chucky says he learned the animation spell online. There are three gross deaths and film goes a bit over the top near the end.

The score by Joseph Loduca is very good. There are some cool Chucky effects, and the film definitely sets up a sequel. Extras include three deleted scenes (5:36) with optional Mancini commentary; audio commentary by Mancini, who also served as executive producer, and Tony Gardner, the head puppeteer and associate producer; and three featurettes. Inside the Insanity (6:43) looks at the production, while Good Guy Gone Bad (5:03) looks at the incarnations of Chucky and how it takes seven people to operate him. The Dollhouse (7:37) centers on the relationships of Dourif and his daughter and Gardner and his daughter (Kyra who directs this featurette) over the years, as the fathers worked on the Chucky films. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.75 stars Universal also has issued "Chucky: Complete 7-Movie Collection on Blu-ray and standard DVDs, including the six films mentioned in this review and "Bride of Chucky."

Demonic (Anchor Bay DVD, R, 83 min.). One of the film's producer is horrormeister James Wan (director of two "The Conjuring" films, two "Insidious" films, "Fast & Furious 7," the upcoming "Aquaman"). The 2015 haunted house film is directed by Will Canon ("Brotherhood"), who also was one of the three writers on the project.

Detective Mark Lewis (Frank Grillo of Audience's "Kingdom" mixed martial arts series) gets a call one night while buying liquor and goes to the abandoned Martha Livingston house, where three bodies have been found, along with a young man (Dustin Milligan as John) in shock. John claims his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend (Scott Mechlowicz as Bryan) committed the ax murders and his girlfriend (Cody Horn as Michelle) is missing. What happened in the house is shown through a combination of found footage on damaged recordings and John's flashbacks as he is interrogated by psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Klein (Maria Bello). It turns out that John's mother was the only survivor of a very similar mass murder in the house 40 years previously. In both cases, the young people held a séance in the house.

It is during the séance that the film finally starts to get creepy. After a ho-hum first hour, the film has a terrific last 20 minutes. It too sets up a sequel. Lots of the early "scares" are sound startles. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2.5 stars

Armed Response (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 93 min.). In effect, this action film also is a haunted house mystery, with the house again able to have some surprises for its intruders. This time, though, the house is an abandoned prison that has been converted into one of the government's secret "temples," places of interrogation that use science and biometrics to elicit the truth from suspects. For example, an early scene shows a man unwittingly giving up a pass code through his bodies responses. That man, by the way, is played by Gene Simmons of the band Kiss, who is a producer on the film, which is a collaboration with WWE Studios. WWE star Seth Rollins (aka Colby Lopez) plays Brett, one of the investigating team.

That team is led by Chief Isaac (Wesley Snipes) and includes Riley (Anne Heche) and Paul (Morgan Roberts). Before arriving at the non-responsive site to find out what happened to the on-duty team -- whom we see going berserk in the opening -- Isaac picks up former soldier Gabriel (Dave Annable), who designed the temple interrogation program and its safeguards, which will soon be used against the investigating team, after they are locked within the building. Mo Gallini plays terrorist Ahmadi, whom they find locked in a deprivation chamber.

The film, directed by actor John Stockwell, does not make much sense, particularly when some "supernatural" elements are thrown in, including hands emerging from walls to pull off a man's arms. The boring first half hour is mostly searching through a dimly-lit building. There are some flashbacks to combat in Afghanistan, which is supposed to supply the motive for what is going on. None of the acting is particularly good. The movie was filmed in Louisiana, which also was the setting for "Demonic." The sole bonus feature is a behind-the-scenes look (15:33) that has an opening introduction by Simmons (whom I did not recognize during the film, even though I knew he was supposed to me in it). Grade: film and extra 1.5 stars

Sniper: Ultimate Kill (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 93 min.). This is the seventh film in the ongoing series and the second written by Chris Hauty ("Sniper: Ghost Shooter"). The decent action picture brings together Chad Michael Collins ("Sniper: Reloaded, Legacy and Ghost Shooter) and original "Sniper" stars Tom Berenger  ("Sniper, 2, 3 and Legacy") and Billy Zane ("Sniper, Reloaded and Ghost Shooter"), albeit in more reduced roles, with Zane's really a cameo.

Collins plays Special Ops sniper Brandon Beckett, who is having second thoughts about being a sniper after attending the funeral of sniper Tommy Worthington (68 confirmed kills to Brandon's 63), who committed suicide. Brandon sees his future headed in the same direction and thinks he wants more in life. However, Richard Miller (Zane) recruits him for an operation in Bogota, Colombia for the Joint Task Force Southern Command, which is being run by his father, Sgt. Thomas "Master Guns" Beckett (Berenger), who has come out of retirement. The operation is trying to capture drug lord and human trafficker Jesus Morales. Also involved in the hunt is DEA Special Agent Kate Estrada (Danay Garcia of TV's "Fear the Walking Dead"), while the liaison back home is Homeland Security Special Agent Jon Samson (Joe Lando). It turns out Morales has hired an extremely skilled sniped, known as "The Devil," to kill Estrada and he is using a technology-guided "impossible bullet" that locks on its target and thus can change course.

Time is spent on characters and the action is pretty good, particularly the raid on a farm. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

A Ghost Story (A24/Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 92 min.). The film was off-putting from the start and I almost abandoned it 25 minutes in, but then it got worse. Writer/director David Lowery is too precious (pretentious?) for his own good. First, the film annoyed me by not filling the whole screen and by having rounded edges for the corners. Then, I realized Lowery was favoring long, static shots in which little happens, such as the couple kissing, and later a woman eating almost a whole pie. The couple is played by Casey Affleck (Oscar winner for "Manchester By the Sea") and Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"). Lowery never even bothers to give them names.

Spoiler alert: There is a ghost in the movie and it is Affleck's character, who is killed in an auto accident outside their home. (In yet another annoyance, prior to showing the accident scene, Lowery has black smoke, as if from a fire, coming into the frame, only it is from the left and traveling towards the accident rather than away from it.) And then the film turns stupidly literal, as Affleck - or perhaps a stunt double, who knows or cares -- rises from the morgue slab under a bed sheet, with holes cut out for the eyes. It is a disconcerting visual that lasts the rest of the picture, which normally would make me laugh at how ludicrous it was, if I already had not been so annoyed by the film.

The film has almost no dialogue after the opening, except for a couple of flashbacks and then when a Spanish-speaking woman and two children move into the house. Apparently the ghost is stuck to the spot -- it even sees another ghost, in a patterned bed sheet, stuck in the house next door. Time passes and the house is torn down and an office building is built, but then suddenly the ghost is in the Wild West, and well, it is not even worth bothering to figure out what is going on.

The film comes with audio commentary by Lowery, cinematographer Audra Druz Palermo, production designer Jade Healy and composer Daniel Hart. There also is a look at the film and the passage of time that is set up like campfire storytelling (again too pretentious), a look at the composer (4:37) and a deleted scene (5:56) in which Affleck's character makes coffee. Grade: film dog; extras 2 stars

American Horror Story: Roanoke: The Complete Season 6 (20th Century Fox, 3 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 399 min.). This was not one of my favorite seasons of "American Horror Story," although it got better once the dramatic recreation for "My Roanoke Nightmare" TV show turned into the "real-life" characters and actors visiting the horror house in the season's bloody second half. The season included the return of its large repertory cast, who assume different roles as the settings change. The season also deals with a haunted property, as the very first season did.

The basic tale is of a series of supernatural events afflicting an interracial couple (Sarah Poulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. play Shelby and Matt Miller in the reenactments, while in the interviews the "real" couple are played by Lily Rabe and Andre Holland; I found Gooding's Matt to be too whiny a character) who move to North Carolina. In their new home they find a ghost child, a swine monster and a murderous nurse (Kathy Bates). Another key character is Matt's sister, Lee Harris, played by Adina Porter in "real" life and by Angela Bassett in the reenactments.

Bonus features include a Q&A panel from The Paley Center for Media (30:03) that features Paulson, Bates, Porter, Cheyenne Jackson, Denis O'Hare, Gooding, executive producer Tim Minier and co-creator Brad Falchuk, as well as series promos. Grade: season 3 stars; extras 1.5 stars

Other TV releases

Vikings: Season 4 Vol. 2 (MGM/20th Century Fox, 3 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 441 min.). The second half of the season deals with the escalating tension among Ragnar's sons after he returns to Kattegat. Ragnar and Ivar the Boneless set out to fight the Saxons. Back home, a prophecy that a woman will rule Kattegat deepens the feud between Aslaug and Lagertha. Bonus features include extended, unrated versions of all episodes; deleted scenes; creator's audio commentaries with Michael Hirst and Linus Roache on back-to-back episodes "In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning" and "All His Angels"; and featurettes "The Queen and the Shieldmaiden," "Vikings, Valhalla and the Legacy of Ragnar Lothbrok" and "The Journeys of Bjorn Ironside."

Taken: Season One (Lionsgate, 2 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 7 hours 20 min.). During its broadcast, I gave up on this series after its first episode. This series is an adaptation of the Luc Besson film, which gave very little context or back story given Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson going on his action hero mode), other than that he had a background that yielded him "a very particular set of skills," skills that helped him save his kidnapped daughter, while ringing up a huge body count. In this prequel series, Mills is played by Clive Stanton (TV's "Vikings"). In the opening episode, apparently based on the August 2015 attack on a high speed train in France (which throws the prequel timeline totally out of whack), Mills is traveling with his little sister Cali (Celeste Desjardins) en route to their parents' 40th anniversary celebration. When two suspicious characters board the train, Mills takes matters into his own hands, and takes out the two terrorists, but not before Cali is fatally shot Later, the viewer learns that the train incident not have been a random attack, but instead is linked to Mills' past as an undercover operative involved in the attempted takedown of a terrorist and drug kingpin named Carlos Mejia (Louis Ferreira). The train incident also brings Mills to the attention of intelligence officer Cristina Hart (Jennifer Beals), who recruits Bryan to join her force. The sole extra is an on-set featurette.

Reign: The Fourth and Final Season (Warner Bros., 3 DVDs, Nr, 669 min.). This presentation of the story of young Mary Queen of Scots comes to an end. Queen Mary Stuart (Adelaide Kane) takes back her country  and establishes her rule in Scotland, the land of her birth, but now a wild nation that is foreign to her. The show's cast expands to include a new court in Scotland, including Mary's half-brother James (Dan Jeannotte). The set, which contains the final 16 episodes, has no bonus features.

iZombie: The Complete Third Season (Warner Bros., 3 DVDs, NR, 550 min.). In this season, Liv (Rose McIver) discovers there are more zombies living in Seattle than she previously believed, including a private military contractor who employs a zombie army that is preparing for the day when humans learn of their existence. While Major finds acceptance in the army, Liv and Clive investigate the murder of a zombie family that may set off an all-out war. Ravi's former boss at the Center for Disease Control shows up in the city to investigate the Max Rager massacre. Te show is based on characters created by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred for Vertigo comics from DC Entertainment. Bonus features include deleted scenes and the 2016 San Diego Comic Con panel. The set will also be available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.

2 Broke Girls: The Sixth and Final Season (Warner Bros., 2 DVDs, NR, 468 min.). Also coming to a close is this half-hour comedy about Max (Kat Dennings) and Caroline (Beth Behrs). After the two friends realize their dream of turning their cupcake window into a dessert bar, they still have to work around the clock at the diner. Meanwhile, Sophie and Oleg deal with their new baby. On the personal front, Max takes up sexting and Caroline opens up to romance. In addition to the 22 episodes, there are unaired scenes and a gag reel.

The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Tenth Season (Warner Bros., 2 Blu-ray or 3 DVDs, NR, 471 min.). Last season, Leonard and Penny went from neighbors to newlyweds, eloping to Las Vegas. Now, they have to recreate their wedding for family, including Penny's mother (Kathy Sagal) and brother (Jack McBrayer) and Leonard's parents (Christine Baranski and Judd Hirsch. Sheldon drafts a new roommate agreement, as he and Amy try cohabitation. Meanwhile, Howard and Bernadette prepare for the arrival of Baby Wolowitz. Extras include a gag reel and five featurettes, including a best of the 2016 Comic Com panel.

Empire: The Complete Third Season (20th Century Fox, 5 DVDs, NR, 792 min.). The show started to lose me this season, as the battle between Lucious Lyon (Terence Howard) and his three sons for control of Empire Records continued unabated, with the oldest son, Andre, losing any sympathy I used to have for him. Lucious also launches Empire's music streaming division, but his half-brother Tariq launches a murder investigation of Lucious. Lucious' ex, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), heats up her romance with mayoral candidate Angelo Dubois. Jamal Lyon has to wrestle with his pill addiction and he is sent away for treatment against his will. Hakeem Lyon seems to have the upper hand, except when it comes to love. The extras are uncut music performances and studio sessions.

This is Us: The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox, 5 DVDs, NR, 775 min.). This acclaimed debut series  was nominated for 10 Emmy Awards, winning two for Sterling K. Brown as leading actor and Gerald McRaney as guest actor, and was nominated for two Golden Globes. The series, which stars Many Moore and Milo Ventimiglia (TV's "Lost"), is from the writer of "Crazy, Stupid, Love" and centers around characters who share the same birthday. It follows several decades in the lives of Jack and Rebecca Pearson (Ventimiglia and Moore), traversing several timelines and interweaving the  stories of people whose lives connect in unexpected ways. The extras are "The Aftershow" on all episodes.

Code Black: Season 2 (CBS/Paramount, 4 DVDs, NR, 11 hours 23 min.). The show takes place in a hospital emergency room that is constantly overwhelmed by critical cases. It follows the trauma team and  doctors-in-training as they try to cope with the chaos. Marcia Gay Harden plays Residency Director Dr. Leanne Rorish. New to the cast is Rob Lowe as elite military physician Col. Ethan Willis. The set contains 16 episodes, an inside look at the seventh episode, an overview of the season, a day in the life of a showrunner, a gag reel and deleted or extended scenes for select episodes.

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