Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead

Music

London Jazz Festival, 9-18 November, various locations

Opening tonight with a "Century of Song" gala at the Barbican centre, this landmark music festival is returning to London for its annual November stint. Exploding across the capital with a seemingly endless line-up of improvised music, this is guaranteed to keep all jazz aficionados positively paralysed with choice. From established performing legends to promising young newcomers, the twenty-odd festival gigs a night promises to show a unique snapshot of all that’s interesting in the world of jazz. Highlights include veritable living legend Herbie Hancock and last year’s Grammy Best New Artist winner, Esperanza Spalding. Jon Snow even takes a break from presenting Channel 4 news to show off his apparently "beautiful voice" in a duet with Mara Carlyle.

Festival

London Storytelling Festival, 9-18 November, Leicester Square Theatre

For the second year running, London Storytelling Festival returns to Leicester Square Theatre for ten days of tales, talks and teaching. Literary fans can hear from award-winning writers and performs, and a schedule of workshops is also in place. Aspiring writers can gain priceless tips from a weekend masterclass with Martin Dockery – seven time finalist in The Moth’s grandslam storytelling championship. Story-writing skills can also be honed at workshops with Sarah Bennetto, including the chance of reading your work live at a showcase. This unique festival sits somewhere between stand-up comedy, spoken word and a literary salon. Billed as ‘a great excuse to be snuggled up somewhere warm with fellow like-minds’, what more could you want from an autumnal evening?

Comedy

Josie Long, 10 November, Soho Theatre

“Hello there! My name is Josie Long and I am 30 years old and that is frankly a little alarming,” explains the three-time Foster’s Award Nominee in the introduction to her new show. Long may not be the first person to find that crossing the triple-decade milestone has put her in a reflective mood, but it's certainly funnier than most people’s. This, the sixth solo standup show from the amiable Oxford graduate, is written following her "political awakening". Not that her newly-found serious subject matter has affected the amount of laughs; critics agree this is the best offering yet from the TV panel show regular. Consisting of a spot of soul-searching, a tinge of Tory-bashing and an earnest contemplation of the frantic need to tick a bucket list in the last months of your 29th year, this show proves that the unstoppable comedian is exponentially increasing in talent.

Art

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour, Somerset House, 8 November - 27 January, 2013

Perhaps the most iconic street photographer of all times, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer of monochrome but endlessly disparaging of the potential of colour photography. This exhibition takes an unusual slant through his oeuvre, re-assessing his influence on future colour photography. Centred around the rare exhibiton of ten extremely little-known works by the master, curator William A. Ewing seeks to find a new lens with which to re-examine the icon. He juxtaposes Carteir-Bresson's work alongside 75 works by 15 international contemporary photographers. The message? A categorical example fo the directionla influence he exerted on the pioneers of the medium he detested.

Theatre

People, National Theatre, until 9 February, 2013

When a playwright has a reputation approaching that of national-treasure status like Alan Bennett, success is almost guaranteed. Indeed, seat for People have been snapped up so swiftly that, unless you’re very lucky, you’ll have to wait a few weeks for the new batch of ticket slots. Following the success of The History Boys, Bennet brings us a new satire on – of all things – the National Trust. Described by Bennet in the preface as “a play for England, sort of” -  this is a story of upper-middle class snobbery descending into family drama. Nicholas Hytner directs.

Herbie Hancock is one of the artists performing at London Jazz Festival (Photo credit: RAFA RIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Disney
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Pirates of the Caribbean’s silly magic still works – but Johnny Depp doesn’t

This fifth sequel makes no sense, but my former teenage heart still jumped. It’s Johnny Depp who’s sunk. [Aye, spoilers ahead . . .]

“One day ashore for ten years at sea. It's a heavy price for what's been done.”

Ten years ago, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), having replaced the sprawling villain Davy Jones as captain of the Flying Dutchman, spent his only day on land before leaving his bride, the incumbent King of the Pirates, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), for ten years, to fulfil his cursed fate and bring the dead at sea to their eternal rest. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was sailing away to new adventures, again running after his beloved ship, the Black Pearl. It was 2007, I was 14, and the trilogy I had put all my teenage heart into was ending with the third instalment, At World’s End, on a bitter-sweet and loyal salute to the series.

But whatever the posters said, that wasn't quite the end, and what came after was awful.

First, the third film’s traditional post-credits scene showed Elizabeth waiting for her husband’s return, a ten-year-old boy by her side. She, the King of the Pirates, who in the same movie had just led a fleet to defeat the East India Company, had been sitting on the sand for ten years, raising a kid, instead of sailing, even while pregnant, to save Will like a fictional Ann Bonny? I was furious. Then, in 2011, Disney released On Stranger Tides, a sequel so hideous that even this former fan could not bring herself to like it. Bloom and Knightley had moved on, and without the original lovers’ duo, Johnny Depp’s legendary Sparrow had no substantial character to balance his craziness. Somehow, it made money, leading Disney to plan more sequels. Hence the fifth story, Salazar’s Revenge (Dead Men Tell No Tales in the US) hitting theatres this weekend.

Admittedly, it didn’t take the fourth or fifth movie for Pirates of the Caribbean to stop making sense, or just to be a bit rubbish. After the surprise success in 2003 of The Curse of the Black Pearl (young man associates with pirate to save young woman from more pirates and break a curse, adventures ensue), Disney improvised two more stories. Filmed together, there was 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest (couple’s wedding is interrupted, curse threatens pirate, fiancé wants to save his father from said curse, adventures ensue) and 2007’s At World’s End (everyone goes to the end of the world to save dead pirate while piracy is at war with East India Company and man still wants to save his father, adventures ensue). Chaotic plots, childish humour, naively emphatic dialogue and improbable situations quickly lost much of the audience.

Yet I’ve loved the trilogy for it all: the swashbuckling, sword-fighting and majestic ships on the high seas, the nautical myths, the weird magic and star-crossed love story. Everyone knows the main theme, but there are more hidden jewels to Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack. “One Day”, the melody to the couple’s last day together, is a beautiful backwash of nostalgia, as they embrace in the froth. Detailed costumes and stylish sets (At World’s End had stunning shots, such as a Chinese junk navigating the icy waters of the world's end) worked their magic every time.

As expected, there's little subtlety in Salazar’s Revenge. It’s over-the-top comedy and loud action, unnecessarily salacious jokes and copied scenes from the original. Its villain, Capitán Salazar (Javier Bardem), is a parody of a nightmare, but then not everyone can convey terror from under layers of CGI the way Bill Nighy could. It is a story of sons and daughters – Turner’s son Henry is following in the family tradition, trying to save his father from a curse – usually the sign that a series is dangerously lurking into fan fiction (here's looking at you, Harry Potter’s Cursed Child). Praised for being a feminist character, the new female lead Carina (Kaya Scodelario) spends half the film being sexualised and the other half defending the concept of women being smart, where previous films let Elizabeth lead a fleet of men without ever doubting her sex.

But the promise has been kept. Exactly ten years after leaving in a flash of green, Will Turner returns and brings some of the original spirit with him: ship battles and clueless soldiers, maps that cannot be read and compasses that do not point north. Zimmer’s theme sounds grand and treasure islands make the screen shine. The Pearl itself floats again, after disappearing in Stranger Tides.

Yet the one bit of magic it can't revive is in the heart of its most enduring character. Johnny Depp has sunk and everyone is having fun but him. Engulfed in financial troubles and rumours of heavy drinking, the actor, who had to be fed his lines by earpiece, barely manages a bad impersonation of the character he created in 2003. Watching him is painful – though it goes deeper than his performance in this film alone. Allegations of domestic violence against his ex-wife Amber Heard have tarnished his image, and his acting has been bad for a decade.

It should work better, given this incarnation of his Jack Sparrow is similarly damaged. The pirate legend on “Wanted” posters has lost the support of his crew and disappoints the new hero (“Are you really THE Jack Sparrow?”). The film bets on flashbacks of Jack’s youth, featuring Depp’s actual face and bad special effects, to remind us who Sparrow is. He is randomly called “the pirate” by soldiers who dreamt of his capture in previous movies and his character is essentially incidental to the plot, struggling to keep up with the younger heroes. He even loses his compass.

Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is the sequel no one needed, that the happy end the star-crossed lovers should never have had. It is 2017 and no one will sail to the world’s end and beyond to save Depp from purgatory. But all I wanted was for "One Day" to play, and for the beloved ghosts of my teenage years to reappear in a sequel I knew should never have been written. The beauty was in that last flash of green.

And yet the pirate's song sounds true: "Never shall we die". Pirates of the Caribbean has, at the very least, kept delivering on that.

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