Review: The Pyrates

Rating: ★★★★★
The Pyrates
by George MacDonald Fraser

Now here’s a gem that’s escaped my notice for far too long. First published in 1983, The Pyrates is certainly as fresh and witty today as it was back then. Taking place in a non-specific part of the Golden Age of Piracy, the tale ranges from England to Madagascar to the Caribbean, and features the wildest cast imaginable. The characters are highly (and intentionally) stereotyped, and this is put to great comedic use. The hero, Captain Ben Avery, is brave, dashing, and impeccable in every fashion. The author makes frequent mention of his manicured nails and chisled jawline. Indeed, Avery seems perfect in every fashion, so it should naturally follow that every woman in the book swoons after him, be they admiral’s daughter, pirate queen, Spanish maiden, or missionary nun turned tribal goddess and chocolate addict. Whatever their role in this book, each of these women share one thing in common (aside from their lust for Captain Avery, that is) – each is heart-wrenchingly gorgeous, and each knows how to play that to maximum effect. They pout when they need to pout, scream appropriately when a damsel-in-distress scenario is called for, and slump to the ground to lie in a vulnerable-yet-alluring position when knocked out cold by the bad guys. Continue reading

Review: Gosling’s Black Seal

Rating: ★★★★☆
Gosling’s Black Seal

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from Internet Wines and Spirits

I’ve been avoiding this rum for years. You see, my first experience drinking rum “neat” was with a bottle of Black Seal, and to be honest, I don’t think I was ready for it. It struck me as rather foul, and I moved on to other, more lightweight and approachable rums. Continue reading

Review: Cruzan Black Strap

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Cruzan Black Strap Rum

I’ve been told Cruzan Blackstrap is one of the rums that most closely resembles that of the British Royale Navy, which may explain why so many of them defected and went pirate. They should have called this “Mike’s Spiked Molasses”, as I can sum it up in just a few lines:

Smells like molasses.

Tastes like molasses.

Leaves a distinctive, molasses-like aftertaste.

But all is not lost – it might be tough to drink without a grimace, but I can’t think of a better way to start your morning than pouring a few ounces of this 80 proof stuff on your pancakes. Yarrr!!! Continue reading

Review: Captain Morgan’s Private Stock

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Captain Morgan’s Private Stock

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from Internet Wines and Spirits

Way back when I decided it was time to move up from Rum&Cokes, this was the rum I started with. Higher quality than standard Captain Morgan, it was very drinkable. The spiciness was appealing and exotic, and it nicely toned down the shock that would normally accompany drinking rum straight for the first time, thus making for a very smooth introduction. Continue reading

Review: Treasure Planet

Rating: ★★★☆☆
A surprisingly fun (and even touching) version of Treasure Island that, if not loyal in the strictest sense, manages to stay true to the original spirit of the book. The imagery is very good. At times it’s amazing. John Hawkins, the Doctor, and the Captain are all nicely portrayed. And Long John, you ask? You may hate me for saying this, but in its own weird way I think this is the best version of Long John Silver I’ve ever seen. He’s both endearing yet sinister, believable as a pirate and yet he still manages to show paternal affection for Hawkins. Making him into a cyborg was a very clever, and highly appropriate, touch. Sadly, any genius that went into creating Long John was offset by the dopey lameness of the Ben Gunn android, but such is life.

Review: Blackbeard’s Reserve

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Blackbeard’s Reserve

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from Internet Wines and Spirits

The best of rums, the worst of rums. Ah, Blackbeard, how you’ve teased me. My brother brought up a bottle of Blackbeard’s Reserve 25 Year Aged Rum once when he came for a visit. Glorious bottle with a gloriously dark rum inside. And the taste? I don’t know that words can describe it. Let’s just say, some people look for smoothness in their drinks, others look for sugary flavors – me, I want to feel like I’ve been smacked in the teeth with a strap of leather wrapped around a gold-plated peg leg – and Blackbeard delivered like none other. I was in love. Continue reading

Review: Treasure Island – 1999 (starring Jack Palance)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
What the hell was this?

Not quite bad enough to be a complete mockery, but not terribly good, and the filmmakers made some very strange choices in the creation of this film. Most noteworthy is their departure from any faithfulness to the book by having the officers of the Hispaniola betray Jim, thus forcing him to join the pirates. Now, I’m all for trying new things, but it just felt awfully contrived. The Captain’s character especially may as well have been written by a twelve-year-old, right down to when he grabs Long John’s crutch and throws it out of reach like a playground bully. And rewriting the beginning to attribute Long John’s wooden leg, Pew’s blindness, and Black Dog’s scars all to a single fateful day may have looked good in script, but struck me as dopey. Continue reading

Review: Treasure Island – 1990 (starring Charlton Heston)

Rating: ★★★★½
It’s a shame this is so hard to find because it’s clearly the most accurate, and I believe the best, version of Treasure Island out there. The script is very loyal to the book and the actors do an incredible job. This holds particularly true for Christian Bale, who plays Jim Hawkins. As anyone who’s seen a movie where kids outwit adults knows, it’s a terribly awkward thing to portray with any amount of believability. But Christian pulls it off with great finesse – Watching him it’s easy to picture this boy growing up to be an admiral some day. Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, however, was somewhat disappointing. He just seemed wooden to me. But then again, I can’t really picture Heston ever being anything but.

Heston’s lackluster performance aside, it’s a fantastic movie, and definitely my favorite interpretation of a fantastic book.

Review: Treasure Island – 1950 (starring Robert Newton)

Rating: ★★★☆☆
I must confess that I never saw this movie as a kid. Or if I did, I don’t remember it. As such I’ve no sense of nostalgia or childhood fondness attached to it. If you do, that’s fine – we love what we love, and we don’t need to justify it. But having seen it for the first time as an adult, I just don’t think it was all that great. Jim Hawkins was much too young to believably outsmart everyone, and his pudgy baby-face only made it all the more silly to watch. Long John was a giant, one-legged grease ball, more goofy than anything else. And the pirates, with their peculiar jaunt and super curly hairstyles, were just plain silly. I suppose the story was more-or-less loyal to the book, but it all had that dated and muted feel that is so common amongst older Disney movies.

In a word, “eh.”

Review: Pirate Songs

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Mary Malloy & Stuart M. Frank

Genre: Genuine traditional pirate shanteys.
Rating: PG
Target Audience: Grown ups, mostly

Buy it now from Billy Bones’ Pirate Locker!

If you want to give a try to a more traditional style of pirate music, then this is for you. These are very traditional sounding sea-songs, all having to do with piracy. Not only are the songs authentic, but the voices that sing them also feel very real – not all studio polished and Britney Spearsish, but like real, sea-going folk. It’s fun, but generally something I can only take in small doses. One song does stand out, however – “Bold Trinity” is truly a haunting song, and sure to enrage cabin boys everywhere.