Monday, April 09, 2018

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #53. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details. Visit the Johnny Kitties page for a full list of Johnny Depp's filmography and links to all previous Johnny Kitties blog posts.]

"When you watch these films, you get this feeling, this sensation that anything can happen." Brendan Thwaites, "Henry" in this latest installment of the Pirates franchise

"Not only is it huge in scope, but we're dealing with iconic characters and iconic ships and elements. I felt there was some sense of magic, walking on to that set." Co-Director Joachim Ronning, on getting started on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Captain Jack's past does more than haunt him. 
Down on luck, Captain Jack Sparrow realizes that he made a mistake as soon as he traded in his magic compass for a bottle of rum at a local bar. This compass, which has been Jack's prized possession in all of the Pirates films, points him in the direction of what he wants most. A fellow crew member gave it to him years ago while on the ship of Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), who was ruling the Spanish seas and killing all the pirates in his path. To stop him, young Jack trapped the evil captain and his crew in Devil's Triangle, where they were all killed. Jack got away with their ship.

Now, what Jack didn't realize is that giving the compass away triggers the release of these angry ghosts. Free to seek revenge, Captain Salazar sets out to kill Jack and find the mythical Trident of Poseidon so that he can break his curse and control the seas. A few other people are looking for the Trident for their own reasons too, so it's a race to see who finds it first in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, this adventure revisits old friends and introduces new ones, who represent the next generation of Pirates of the Caribbean.

It's not just the same old same old.
It's hard to believe that five Pirates of the Caribbean movies are out. The first three, which I consider the originals, told one continuous story. The last two were independent stories, and I really enjoyed them too. What I love about this installment of Pirates of the Caribbean is its mix of both old an new. "I think what we've done here is come up with new angles, new surprises," Johnny says. "I think it will have the surprise, the element of surprise that the first one had."

The film opens with a young boy on a mission. It's Henry Turner, son of Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly) and Will (Orlando Bloom), and he's determined to break his father's curse. Will and Elizabeth drove the story of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films. When we last saw them, they were forced to part ways because Will had to captain The Flying Dutchman under a curse that only gave him a single day every 10 years to set foot on land. Henry doesn't want to wait that long, so he meets his father at sea and tells him his plan to find the Trident of Poseidon, which has the power to break his and all other curses of the sea. Of course, to do this, he'll need the help of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Although Will tells Henry to give up and stay away from Jack, he spends the next 9 years looking for Jack and working toward his goal. Henry (Brendan Thwaites) also meets a young woman, Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who is arrested for witchcraft just because she's a girl who happens to be smart about astronomy and horology. I like her! She agrees to help Henry because she also wants the Trident of Poseidon to reveal mysteries from her past. Javier Bardem makes a great scary ghost pirate. "He's full of rage and the need for revenge," Javier Bardem explains. My favorite thing is how his hair is always floating as if he's under water.

That brings me to the great special effects, make-up, and costumes. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies always show me something I've never seen before, and this one didn't disappoint. All of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have great stunts, special effects, and ghosts in them, and I appreciate that they are all so detailed and different every time. In this one, I love how the decaying ghosts (including the sea creatures) look and move. I have no idea how they achieved some of the underwater sequences. It's all movie magic! "It's in the craftsmanship and the detail," Kaya Scodelario says. "It's very easy to lose yourself and feel like you're in another world."

What about Johnny?
I know, I didn't talk about Johnny here at all. I'll admit that I didn't enjoy finding Captain Jack overtly drunk in the first few scenes. I used to completely forget Johnny was Johnny when I watch his movies because I get lost in his character. These days, though, with all of Johnny's personal drama in the last couple years, I'm always watching his new movies irrationally wondering if he's seems okay and thinking I'll be able to tell either way. Seeing him act drunk so well isn't helping my sanity, though I realize this drunkenness is necessary for moving the story along. You know Captain Jack has hit rock bottom when he trades his compass for a bottle of rum!

But this has nothing to do with why I didn't mention Johnny sooner. It just didn't occur to me, and that's a good thing! As always, Johnny is fantastic as Captain Jack. They were very welcoming in that creative way, and they were very happy to be there in that creative world," Johnny says of his directors. "They really let me do some very strange stuff, and they'd just laugh. An actor's responsibility is to give a director some options. They got some options." I soon got wrapped up in his latest adventure. (He also gets one of his most famous friends to make a musical cameo.) I must be so used to the captain by now that I focused on the other ingredients that make this movie fun.

I really like the fulfilling story, which dips into Captain Barbossa's past. It reminds me of the original saga, and I was just as happy to find out more about Will, Elizabeth, and Hector. New characters showed up in a similar mold to those we know so well. Henry will grow up to be just like his dad, and Corina is a strong woman who handle things herself, just like Elizabeth. I like that this film brought some closure to the original story but also left room for new ones. Like Star Wars, this could go on forever – and you know Captain Jack will always be there too, looking for a bottle of rum and maybe saving the day.

The Kitties try out the pirate's life. 
The Kitties aren't big fans of water, but they couldn't resist riding The Black Pearl's anchor. Here, with Mr. Smith (Tyrone) at the helm, Captain Jack (Gordon) leads the way to the safety of the ship as the parted sea is slowly closing in. Not far behind are Henry (Comet) and Captain Barbossa (B.J.). Captain Barbossa grabs Carina (Lily) just in time to save her from falling into the hands of Captain Salazar (Norman), who is hot on her heels. (These are some of the how'd-they-do-that special effects I'm talking about!)

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film 52. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) [March 2018]

What's next?
Johnny joins an all-star cast on a train in Murder on the Orient Express. I hope he's careful because someone dies.

 All images © Walt Disney Pictures, except for the illustration © Melissa Connolly

Monday, February 26, 2018

Theatre Trips: An American in Paris and Meteor Shower

Hi everyone,

For Melissa's Kitties, I always intended to incorporate more posts about the plays, concerts, and other fun things I do throughout the year. I meant to start doing this in January after I saw An American in Paris, here in D.C., and Meteor Shower in New York City. But the day after I returned from New York, I came down with a cold that made me lose track of the time. I'm still catching up, so here's some old, interesting news from the theatre world.

An American in Paris
This new An American in Paris musical, which I attended at the Kennedy Center on January 6, is inspired by the 1951 classic film, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. It tells the story of an ex-GI who stays in Paris after World War II to follow his dream of being a painter. He falls in love with a French girl, but their relationship has complications.

If you've seen the movie as often as I have, you'd notice that this stage version is different. For example, some of the characters have different personalities than they do in the movie. (What bothered me most, of course, was that Jerry Mulligan isn't as friendly as Gene Kelly's version.) The French girl, Lise, is not a sales girl in a local shop but a ballet dancer, working toward her big break. (I consider this an improvement.) All the guys fight over her in this story. Also, some of the songs, all written by George and Ira Gershwin, are missing or different from those in the film.

These changes are okay because this stage musical is based on its own new book by Craig Lucas. This story has a more realistic tone that matches the post-war era. It stands on its own, but it pays homage to the film with nice choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and impressive moving sets that seem to dance across the stage to the music. (It reminded me of how things moved in the historic 17-minute ballet at the end of the film.) In its own way, this version of An American in Paris still captures the art, excitement, and romance of the city and the promise of new beginnings. Find An American in Paris on tour for a nostalgic journey through the City of Lights. 

Meteor Shower
I heard about Meteor Shower when it was first announced that 1) Steve Martin wrote this new play, and 2) the cast includes Amy Schumer (making her Broadway debut), Keegan-Michael Key (from Comedy Central's Key & Peele), and Laura Benanti (a Broadway star most recently made famous for her great impression of Melania Trump on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert). I had to see it! My theatre buddy and I planned an emergency road trip to New York for the show at Booth Theatre on January 13, a week before it closed.

The story, which takes place in 1993, is about a California couple, Corky (Amy Schumer) and Norm (Jeremy Shamos), who are expecting another, more sophisticated couple over for dinner. Before they arrive, the other couple, Laura (Laura Benanti) and Gerald (Keegan Michael Key) decide to play tricks on their friends by telling them lies about their own past, like how Laura was a really fat child and Gerald had bad parents. The witty conversations that follow throughout the evening spark plenty of laughter because of the wonderful writing and performances. Also, a meteor shower happens and someone gets hit, but don't worry, it's hilarious.

Jokes and sprinkled throughout Meteor Shower in gestures, looks, reactions, and quips – all of which I could tell came from the mind of Steve Martin. Here are just a few examples:

  • While they are preparing for their guests to arrive, Corky and Norm catch themselves saying snide remarks to each other during their conversations. Each time, they stop and run to face one another and hold hands. As if fresh from relationship therapy, they calmly tell each things like, "I understand that you probably didn't know you hurt me. I'm asking you to be more careful with my feelings." and "I love you and I know you love me." Once satisfied with their exchange, they nod to confirm forgiveness, scramble back to whatever they were doing, and resume their conversation. 
  • Keegan-Michael Key made me laugh the most: When he first shows up, he yells his responses to any questions and dominates everyone's personal space. 
  • Between scenes, Laura Benanti and Amy Schumer take turns doing a short dance, like a shuffle or tap routine, while classical music plays and the set rotates from the interior side of the home to the backyard side. It's unexpected silliness. (I imagined Steve Martin thinking this up: How are we going to fill the break? Let's just have Laura Benanti do the Charleston on the side for 30 seconds.)

At first, what's happening in this play is unclear. It becomes clearer when you realize that some scenes are repeated from different perspectives while other scenes share earlier conversations. But nothing is completely clear until the end when it's revealed that Laura and Gerald are the subconscious selves of Corky and Norm. Now, if only I could remember everything that was said and done in the last 80 minutes, I'd be set. Since none of us can see it right now, armed with this new context, here's hoping we can all find it in writing somewhere. Look for Meteor Shower if it tours. Steve Martin has given us a funny thinker.

Posters: An American in Paris © Allied Touring; Meteor Shower © DKC/O&M

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Welcome, Mew!

Hi everyone,

Dan found Mew on the side of a road. She was on her way to Japan, but he convinced her to stick around.

Mew was meant to be named after the Japanese anime character Nyu, from Elfin Lied, but everyone kept mistaking it for Mew, assuming she was named after the Mythical Pokemon character. She's a little bitter about this error because she thinks Mew is too cute to fit her strong-willed personality. I tell her that, while Nyu is resilient and tough, she is a sad and dark character. Mew, on the other hand, is bright and sometimes mischievous. I remind her that Mew is the single ancestor of all other Pokemon characters, and she has mad skills: she can learn any new Pokemon moves and morph into other Pokemon characters. She's also a shapeshifter with psychic abilities, who is capable of flight, teleportation, and invisibility. She's more than cute.

Convinced by this argument, Mew follows in her namesake's footsteps. She is a daily practitioner of extreme martial arts and Samurai moves. She spends her days with her mentor Ryo-oh-ki to reap the benefits of his wisdom, learn the art of shapeshifting, and share their mutual love for everything Japanese. While she hasn't perfected flying, teleportation, or invisibility (yet), she is stealthy and likes to spy on new visitors before making her presence known. Mew is a certified psychic. She's happy to tell anyone's fortune anytime, and she can read everyone's mind, so watch what you think around her.

Mew doesn't have a lot of spare time because she's always training in her latest martial arts level, studying Japanese, meditating, or making travel plans (though she hasn't yet followed through on them). When relaxing, she listens to music and reads Marvel Comics (X-Men are her favorite.) She loves James Bond movies and, of course, Lost in Translation. Some of her favorite people include Aretha Franklin, Liam Neeson, Amy Schumer, Kazuo Ishiguru, and Bruce Lee.

Mew (January 12, 2018)
This is Mew's favorite way to say hello. 

Monday, February 05, 2018

Welcome Ryo-oh-ki!

Hi everyone,

Two kitties, Ryo-oh-ki and Mew, have been a part of our family for the last several years. Technically, they are my sister's boyfriend Dan's cats, but everyone has been living under the same roof in Columbus for quite some time. I have been slow to introduce these kitties here because they are usually busy studying Japanese and practicing it on me whenever I visit – even though I don't know the language. It took all this time for us to understand each other.

Today, I'll tell you about Ryo-oh-ki, our old, wise Maine Coon. While public records say that Ryo-oh-ki was born in 1999 behind Dan's bed in Cleveland, legend has it that he's lived various lives for hundreds of years. Some say that his mythological lore rivals The Mother Kitty's.  (While The Mother Kitty considers him a peer, she shrugs off any comparison.)

Ryo-oh-ki sees you...

Ryo-oh-ki is named after the Japanese anime character, Ryo-ohki – a shape-shifter that's a cross between a cat and rabbit. (Someone added the extra hyphen to Ryo-oh-ki's name to help with pronunciation after hearing him sound it out slowly to everyone he met.) Like his namesake, Ryo-oh-ki spent years studying shape-shifting techniques (mainly by trying different Edward Scissorhands inspired haircuts) and developing his own taste for carrots and talent for hopping.

While he is inexplicably worldly and knowledgeable beyond his years, Ryo-oh-ki spends his days modestly, studying the stars, meditating, and amusing his kitty-pupil, Mew. Together, they love everything Japanese and practice Taikiken (martial arts) and Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangements) daily. He's an avid fan of anime (of course) and Akira Kurosawa films.

Ryo-oh-ki loves making new friends and having deep, lengthy conversations with them. Among his role models are Mark Twain, Michelle Obama, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life. (He's friends with them too, but he doesn't like to drop names.)

Ryo-oh-ki (11-15-2017)
Hello, Ryo-oh-ki!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

2017 in Review: A Musical Journey

Hi everyone,

Last year, I saw some wonderful performances, like my favorite tapper Savion Glover at Howard Theatre, here in D.C., and Steve Martin and Martin Short, making a stop on their comedy tour at Ohio Theatre in Columbus. I attended my first opera, which I was drawn to by trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who wrote the music. Called Champion, this jazz-infused opera at the Kennedy Center tackled homophobia through a moving portrayal of closeted gay boxer Emile Griffin. (Watch Terence Blanchard talk about the opera in this video.) I hit the theatre a few times, too. My favorite show was Mean Girls, the Musical, at National Theatre. Tina Fey wrote it based on her spot-on movie about high school cliques. I felt lucky that it made a stop in D.C. before heading to Broadway, just when I needed a good laugh. 

The rest of 2017 was all about music. Here's a run-through of my favorite concerts, with some links to tunes, so you can get a taste. Enjoy!

Hello, Hip-Hop!
I saw these hip-hop legends for the first time. 
  • I kicked off the year with Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) on New Year's Eve. He played a series of concerts before heading over to Africa to begin a new adventure as a painter. I know Mos Def more from his movie roles, but it was special to see him perform and get the Kennedy Center crowd bouncing. Listen to Mos Def's 2009 song, "Life is Good". 
  • Q-Tip did the same, accompanied by pianist Jason Moran. I was thrilled to see the frontman of A Tribe Called Quest, who is the inaugural artistic director of hip-hop culture for the Kennedy Center. Performing in the renovated Terrace Theater, Q-Tip introduced himself and the genre to the Kennedy Center regulars. Watch A Tribe Called Quest performed their new song, called "We the People", on Saturday Night Live in 2016.
Jazz It Up!
I stuck with some of my favorites in jazz.
  • On a night off from playing in the jazz quartet for Terence Blanchard's opera, Jeff "Tain"Watts  played two sets at Blues Alley with his own band. One of the most inventive drummers in the world, Tain gets in the zone, and his blissful facial expressions make him just as entertaining to watch as he is to hear. I stayed for both sets because I would've regretted leaving. Here's a 2009 video for "Return of the Jitney Man" by Jeff Watts. 
  • Also at Blues Alley, I caught vibraphonist Gary Burton on
    his farewell tour, accompanied by pianist Makato Ozone. Watching these two master musicians play a flawless set was unforgettable. The level of artistry and sound transformed the space, stunned the attentive audience into cheers, and left us wanting "Farewell Tour" to be a typo. Watch Gary Burton and Makato Ozone, from 2002, play "Afro Blue" at the Montreax Jazz Festival. 
  • With 2017 marking Thelonious Monk's 100th birthday, pianist Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center's artistic director for jazz, threw a celebratory concert with fellow fans, including pianist Kenny Barron. While this concert included bits of Jason Moran's In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall show, which he performed at the Kennedy Center in 2016, this concert offered additional music and first-hand personal stories about the musician. Like any good party, the concert ended with band members parading into the grand hall and mixing with the elated audience members who followed. See Jason Moran play Monk's "Thelonious" in this video from 2009.
  • I was thrilled to see bassist Ron Carter again with his quartet at the Kennedy Center. Ron Carter is all class – always polished, professional, and pure sound. He played everything from jazz standards, like "My Funny Valentine", to the classical music of Bach. He even threw in an old cowboy jingle. I don't think he knows any bad notes. I don't know what song Ron Carter is playing in this 2011performance, but I like it. 
Make Way for the Girls!
These ladies are all unique and wonderful. 
  • I've followed Aimee Mann since her 'Til Tuesday days in the '80s, and her artistry and musicianship only gets better. Supporting her latest solo album, Mental Illness, she stopped at Lincoln Theatre, and invited us to settle in for some sad songs. She describes this collection of songs as her most depressing yet, but that's not how you feel at her shows. With her deadpan sense of humor and down-to-earth charm, Aimee Mann lit up the venue between songs and kept everyone laughing. Her shows feel like intimate parties among all of us who have a mutual understanding of her messages. We get her music, we get her jokes, and we know it's a special combination that only she can deliver. She performed "Patient Zero" in 2017 for Prairie Home Companion. 
  • A few years ago, my friend sent me her favorite Gillian Welch album, and when the songs come up on my iPod, they always stop me. Accompanied by David Rawlings at the Kennedy Center this summer,
    Gillian Welch didn't disappoint with her folk/rock concoctions. The sparse set and acoustic show, involving two guitars and sometimes a harmonica, didn't detract from the fullness of sound or energy. Like Aimee Mann, she charmed us with her sense of humor and blew us away with her voice. I'm not sure what year this is, but watch Gillian Welch and David Rawlings show off their guitar skills, playing one of their best songs, "Time (The Revelator)".  
  • I first saw Meshell Ndegeocello when she supported Sting on tour in the '80s or '90s at a concert I attended with my dad and sister. We became instant fans. For this special concert tribute to Nina Simone, Meshell Ndegeocello played songs from her album, Pour un Ame Souveraine: A dedication to Nina Simone, and had surprise guest Toshi Reagon join her on some of them. I first saw Toshi Reagon when she supported a Michelle Dorrance tap show. Afterward, I told everyone about the cool lady with the big voice who accompanied the dancers. To see these two women performing together felt like a once-in-a-lifetime event. Their interpretations of Nina Simone's unique music flooded the room and entranced those of us who experienced it. Here's a track from the album called "Real, Real" that features Toshi Reagon.  
  • I know Lisa Fischer because of Sting too. She's performed with him and as a special guest at the last few benefit concerts he's hosted for the Rainforest Foundation in New York. She's also toured with the Rolling Stones as their lead back-up singer,
    but you might know her from the Oscar-winning documentary about amazing back-up singers 30 Feet from Stardom. I was excited to see Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton with her performing front and center. She has a big voice with surprising range. The song arrangements by Grand Baton were entirely unique. With their accompaniment, she sang jazz standards, original compositions, and popular songs, including barely recognizable versions of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Message in a Bottle." Sting's right, Lisa Fischer is a star. See her with Grand Baton performing the "The Last Goodbye" in 2014. 
These Guys Know All My Favorite Songs. 
Where Sting goes, I will follow, and wherever David Bowie is, I hope he hears us. 
  • Only Sting could get me to a casino. He performed at the new MGM National Harbor casino in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in support of his latest studio album, 57th & 9th. Begrudgingly, I arrived in the suburbs bright and early, with snacks and activities planned to help me while away the hours until the 8 p.m. show started. I waited in line to get my wristband at 11 a.m. Then I waited around until it was time to wait in line as part of the general admission crowd. After I finally claimed a second-row spot in the theater, I had to wait among the crowd for another couple hours until the show started. The show began on time and never bothered to pause. It was a continuous 3-hour performance of new material and classic hits, shared with up-and-coming energetic support act The Last Bandoleros and family members – Sting's son, Joe Sumner, and longtime guitarist Dominic Miller's son, Rufus. I felt old when I realized that I last saw Rufus Miller with braces on his teeth selling CDs for his dad at Blues Alley, but Sting snapped me out of it. As usual, he was in top form, able to outlast us all and keep us bouncing in unison. I never doubted he'd be worth the wait. Listen to Sting perform his latest Oscar-nominated song, "The Empty Chair" – a tribute to murdered American journalist James Foley. 
  • In Wes Anderson's 2004 film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Brazilian musician/actor Seu Jorge plays a guitar-carrying sailor on an expedition with Bill Murray. Throughout the film, he performs in Portuguese acoustic renditions of David Bowie classics, like "Ziggy Stardust" and "Changes." For this Kennedy Center concert with the National Symphony Orchestra, The Life Aquatic: A Tribute to David Bowie, Seu Jorge dressed in character and shared stories about hearing and learning these songs for the first time. (The only David Bowie song he knew when Wes Anderson approached him about this project was "Let's Dance.") The dimly lit concert hall was set with some maritime props and covered in mist, which all seemed appropriate for this special occasion. Despite the unnecessary orchestral arrangements and foreign language interpretation, everyone in this audience recognized each song instantaneously and had the same joyful reaction. (Some of us even sang along in English.) These songs are built to last. Thanks, Bowie! Because I couldn't pick a favorite, watch Seu Jorge performing "Space Oddity" and "Rebel Rebel" in for Austin City Limits in 2016. 
What does 2018 have in store? See you at the next show. 


Photo credits: Q-Tip with Jason Moran: Tracey Salazar; Jeff Watts: Ralf Dombrowski; Kenny Barron and Jason Moran: Jati Lindsay; Ron Carter: Joal A. Siegel; Aimee Mann: Mark D. Caicedo; Gillan Welch and David Rawlings: Rick Diamond/Getty Images; Meshell Ndegeocello: Joachim Bertrand/Funk-U; Lisa Fischer: Joyce Jones/Suga Bowl Photography; Sting: Matt Condon; Seu Jorge: Sachyn Mital

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Happy holidays!

Hi everyone,

I'm still here!

I know it's been far too long, but I apparently needed this break. Life has gotten in the way of my creativity. Among other things, I had to find a new job, while my old one was puttering out. Luckily, I found a good one, but I'm still adjusting to all new daily routines.

I thought I'd have time to draw a few kitties, but distractions keep coming and going one after another. (Now, the Kitties are distracted by Christmas boxes, wrapping paper, and ribbon!)

Once things settle down, Melissa's Kitties will be back. I have several ideas brewing, like building a website and shop, refocusing my blog, and having the Kitties invade Instagram. You can look forward to two new kitties joining our family, long-overdue book and event reviews, and the latest Johnny Kitties tribute.

In the meantime, enjoy the season! See you in January!