Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

“The Book of Henry” and “Cult of Chucky” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I remember the phrase “Dead men tell no tales” as the last thing a ghostly pirate voice says before heading down a mini-waterfall on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disney. Seeing this phrase as the subtitle in the latest entry in the franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” it made me nostalgic not only for the ride, but also for the “Pirates” movies of over a decade ago, particularly the first two, “The Curse of the Black Pearl” from 2003 and “Dead Man’s Chest” from 2006, which I found to be highly entertaining swashbucklers. Then came the awful, non-sensical, and just downright confusing “At World’s End” in 2007 and the middling, unmemorable “On Stranger Tides” in 2011.

So what was I going to get with “Dead Men Tell No Tales?” Would it be just another cheap cash grab from Disney Studios and Bruckheimer Productions, or would it be a movie that cares to tell a great action-adventure story like the first two movies? The answer is both, but more of the latter than of the former. Thank goodness.

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” does a great job at capturing the ghost story elements from the first movie while at the same time incorporating some classic seafaring lore. In the this case, the movie opens up with notorious ghost ship “The Flying Dutchman” and has a plot that centers around a search for Poseidon’s trident. For those of you who prefer your mythology as Roman rather than Greek, this would be Neptune’s trident.

The legend surrounding the trident is that whoever controls the trident controls the sea. The trident also has the power to break all curses. This is especially important for Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who seeks to break his dad Will (Orlando Bloom) free from the curse of serving on the Flying Dutchman.

The accursed Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) also seeks the trident in order to break the curse that he and his men suffered at the hands of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) years before. In a cleverly written flash back sequence, we see who Salazar used to be, how a young Jack became captain and came to be called Sparrow, and how Salazar and his crew came to be cursed. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” showcases some brilliant special effects, as some of Salazar’s crew have body parts missing—including heads. In the flash back, we find out why.

Character finally matters again in this movie. After watching the past couple of movies populated by card board cut outs that I didn’t particularly give a darn about, it’s good to once again see fleshed out characters provide an emotional anchor to the story. Henry’s love and longing to be reunited with his father provides a strong motivation for his actions. Henry also has a love interest in the form of accused witch Carina (Kaya Scodelario). She’s along because she can decipher a book that contains a map that no man can read. “It’s a good thing I’m a woman” is quite possibly the cringiest line in the movie, written if for no other reason than pandering and virtue signaling, but there is some truth to it. She is the only main female character in the movie, and she is the only one who can read the map. Those two features are incidental, however. She can read the map because she studied and learned, not because of some innate ability from owning a vagina.

The action sequences in “Dead Men Tell No Tales” are fun and grand. Yes, there are some that are nothing more than ghosts running folks through with sabers, but I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the elaborate stunt work and humor involved in the bank heist in the beginning, the rescue from the hangman’s rope and guillotine, the brilliant maneuver in the flashback sequence, harnessing a ghost shark to pull a row boat, and the gut wrenching rescue at the end of the movie that has several main characters climbing up a ship’s anchor. There is also the breathtaking sight of an army of extremely ticked off ghosts running on top of the water to attack.

Some of the dialogue and verbal jokes in “Dead Men Tell No Tales” may fall flat, but where those go wrong, the physical comedy and the action goes so very right. Couple this with some solidly written characters, amazing visual effects, and a dash of classic sea-faring tales, and the movie comes together very well. This is the kind of imagination, innovation, and story telling that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies have missed in the past two entries, and it’s inspiring to see that it’s back. Even if it’s not quite as good as it once was, it’s most of the way there. Given what has come before, that is more than good enough for me. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” proves that with the right script and director, there is still life in this franchise after all. Buy it on Amazon:  Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

The Book of Henry

Hey there—are you feeling happy? Are things in your life going so well that your overall outlook is pretty positive and upbeat? Are you looking to change all of that? Well then, do I have the movie for you. It’s called “The Book of Henry” and it will send you spinning into the darkest depths of depression in no time.

The movie is about an eleven-year-old genius named Henry (Jaeden Lieberher). He’s the man of the house for his single mother (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Henry controls the finances and is without a doubt the most mature member of the household.

I really enjoyed watching Henry. He was precocious, but not annoying, and he was intellectual without being cynical. The fact that he’s a kid helped, I’m sure. Then he leaves the movie in a long, painful, emotionally draining sequence of very dramatic scenes—and we’re still less than halfway through the movie.

The rest of the movie centers around a book that Henry left behind for his mother, detailing the abuse that his classmate and neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler) suffers at the hands of her step father (Dean Norris). A myriad of reasons are given as to why the police and child protective services cannot be called in—the step father is police commissioner being one of them—so the book Henry leaves is also a guide on how his mother can get away with murdering the step father to save Christina.

Throughout the course of “The Book of Henry” we get to see: a once bright child suffer a terminal illness; another child become detached from the abuse she suffers; a corrupt governmental system that covers up the truth; administrators of agencies in charge of child welfare—including the school—turn a blind eye to reported abuse allegations; an intricately planned out pre-mediated murder; a suicide; and I’m sure I’m leaving a few things out but this is enough. The movie piles on the heavy-handed drama, forces a completely out of nowhere and unbelievable romance story between Henry’s mother and his doctor (Lee Pace), then has the audacity to have the most lazy and pat ending it could possibly have.

Not all in “The Book of Henry” is bad. The acting is good, and as mentioned, Henry is a great character. I just wish there was more of him—and less of everything and everyone else. If you’re feeling a bit too good and want to get a bit more depressed, then by all means Stream it. Otherwise, just Skip it altogether. 

Cult of Chucky

Chucky is back! So is Nica, who fans of this series will remember from the previous installment, 2013’s “Curse of Chucky,” which made these movies a family affair for the Douriffs. Actor Brad Dourif provides the voice of Chucky and his daughter, Fiona Dourif, plays wheelchair-bound Nica in the movies.

Whereas “Curse” was more about the history of killer Charles Lee Ray, also played by Brad Dourif, and his relationship to Nica and her family, “Cult of Chucky” sticks with the present day and is more forward looking. After the events in “Curse,” Nica is in a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault), who has more than just Nica’s brain on his mind. As before, a Chucky doll arrives in the mail and chaos ensues. People start turning up dead and no one will believe that a possessed doll did it.

While “Curse” was by no means a great movie it had good atmosphere and seemed as though writer/director Don Mancini was returning to the original roots of the darker and more sinister “Child’s Play” movies rather than the jokier, tongue in cheek tone of movies like “Bride of Chucky” or “Seed of Chucky.” Even the beginning of “Curse of Chucky” made it look like this would be continued, as Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent)—the owner of the original doll in the “Child’s Play” movies—tortures the disembodied head of Chucky with a blow torch after having a bad date.

But it doesn’t. The movie gets pretty silly pretty fast, and a lot of the plot details are murky at best. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were some decent scares or thrilling kills or if the movie gave us something toward the reason we watch horror movies in general--and “Chucky” movies in particular--in the first place. Instead, we have a story that is all over the place punctuated by the cheapest and most easily telegraphed jump scares that didn’t startle me one bit. Plus there are multiple scenes that seem to end too early—the scene fades to black just when they’re getting to the good part and we might see something cool. It’s sad when a horror movie has very little horror in it and instead relies on lazy storytelling and hack tricks. If fans have to wait another four years for another “Chucky” movie, we deserve it to be much, much better than this.

I am optimistic, though, as the one thing I can say about “Curse of Chucky” is that it ends well. The only reason to watch it is if you’re a true fan, in which case Stream it because something big happens and you need to see the end of this one for the next one to make sense. For casual viewers and non-fans, definitely Skip it.

More New Releases: “Haunters: The Art of the Scare,” documentary about the folks who create haunted houses, haunted mazes, and extreme terror experiences; “Sniper: Ultimate Kill,” which pits sniper vs. sniper on the hunt for a Colombian drug lord, starring Chad Michael Collins, Billy Zane, Tom Berenger, and Danay Garcia; “Atomica,” about a nuclear safety inspector who has to get communications back online to a remote power plant in the desert, starring Sarah Habel, Dominic Monaghan, and Tom Sizemore; “The Sensitives,” documentary about environmental illness; and “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming,” with Ian Ziering and Tara Reid saving the planet form a worldwide sharkpocalypse.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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