Awash with Swash

Pirates 3 is at least enough for another year

Movie Guru

by George Logan

There's another Pirates movie out. It's pretty much what you expect, just a good deal longer.

It has a lot to do with last year's entry. There are giant whirlpools in the ocean, a beating heart in a box, and an inevitable development in a romance between two pretty young people, which began in the first movie. Of course, the romance serves about the same purpose as a romance in a Marx Brothers movie; it just gives the funny characters a chance to get a cup of coffee.

But mainly there are these pirates, see, and some of them are dead, but not really; in fact there seem to be several different degrees of pirate mortality, rendering subjects who are technically dead but nonetheless feel fit enough to make an appearance now and then. To be dead in a Pirates movie is the same thing as to be immortal. Mortal and immortal alike, they all deceive each other instinctively, and you never know from minute to minute who's teaming himself with whom. You may spend most of the movie's three hours wondering a.) What the hell is going on? And b.) Is it important for me to know?

Like some of the best dreams, it makes little sense, and if you start trying to figure it out, you'll miss some of the action.

This time they're in Singapore for a while, which offers the opportunity to hire some Asians, including Chow Yung Fat, who seems a little out of place here; the well-known actor wears a politely indulgent, OK-but-just-this-once expression. Capt. Barbossa's back again, and of course, the betentacled Davy Jones, voodoo temptress Tia Dalma, the semi-fossilized Bootstrap Bill, et al., implicated in a grand global war at sea between the Nine Pirate Lords and the East India Trading Company, which seems to have a fleet a little bigger than the Spanish Armada.  

And then there's Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow, who shows up finally, after half an hour, in a bizarre surrealist scene cinematically somewhere between a scene from Luis Bunuel â‘20s surrealism and the Monkees' TV showâ"toward the end, that is, when the lads were trying to be stylishly psychedelic.

If the movie's worth watching, it's only for its splendid scenes, even if they don't make any coherent sense together. Pretend it's a film festival of disjointed shorts.  

The sheer degree of swashbuckling is, I think, unprecedented, enough to make Errol Flynn shrug and turn in his mustache. Every stray rope seems to hold the potential to launch characters skyward when most necessary, like Bond's old ejector seat.

Those who just want to see Keith Richards' cameo, drop in about two hours after showtime. It's hardly more than an inside joke; it might have seemed fun to juxtapose Sparrow's affably drunken mumble, cocky swagger, and almost effeminate insouciance with the portrayal's reported inspiration, the Rolling Stones guitarist himself. In this movie, Depp is doing Richards, but Richards is not. He's just a large, grim presence. Still, he somehow finds occasion to play a little guitar.

Depp is cute as he can be, then again not appreciably cuter than in the previous movies. He seems frankly a little more self-conscious this time. â“He is quite charming, isn't he?â” one character asks. (Which character asks that question is relevant to my point, but it's perhaps too complicated to explain here.)

Special effects and set design are the stars. I suspect that when director Gore Verbinski happened upon the drawings for the Flying Dutchman , he found them to be so cool he said, â“Hey, we've already got us a movie. Fire the screenwriters.â”

Much of the dialogue, and frankly, the action, makes it seem as if the whole cast is an improv group goofing on a pirate ship, on the very brink of giving it up for a game of softball. â“Do you think he plans it out, or just makes it up as he goes along?â” asks one character, as do we.

The phenomenon may be more interesting than the movie: that Americans, and in fact the whole world, would gravitate to a long movie about people who don't have cell phones or laptops. It's an escape from the modern world, but maybe more particularly from political realities.

The opening scene, not clearly explained but one of the movie's finest scenes, depicts a politico-corporate regiment executing suspected pirates of diverse ages, races, and genders, with mention of the suspension of habeas corpus. Given the present reality, World's End may be, on one level, a warning.  

Nota bene : Just before the movie, the snack-counter lady told us to be sure to wait through the ending credits. A lot of people missed it, she said, but there was something special at the very end. Waiting is no small feat for people who've been sitting in the same seat for fully three hours. But we waited. What's at the end is a sentimental epilogue, years later, which includes a mild surprise about two of the movie's least-interesting characters. If you're the sort of person who stands in the aisle at Kroger smiling at Hallmark cards, you may find the wait worthwhile. For me, the faux-sincerity of it almost spoiled the whole loony joke, which is the Pirates series at its best.

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The Depths of Depp

Before he was a pirate of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp's career in cinema was something of a conundrum. Here was a critically acclaimed actor, an international sex symbol, and a proven draw on the small screen whose big screen projects were often dismal failures at the box office. As Pirates of the Caribbean has since demonstrated, this was more a reflection on Depp's out-of-the-mainstream choices as an actor than an indictment of his star power. A case in point is his enigmatic turn in 1995's Dead Man , a haunting, poetic surrealist western helmed by cinematic auteur Jim Jarmusch, a mesmerizing little arthouse production that earned back scarcely 10 percent of its filming costs in first-run box office receipts.

Filmed in eerie black and white, Dead Man is the story of a fresh-faced young accountant named William Blake (Depp) who travels to the Western frontier town of Machine in the mid-19th century to take a job he's been promised. When he arrives, the head of the company (Robert Mitchum, in what would be his final role) tells him the position is already filled, and chases him off with a shotgun. Forlorn and destitute, William falls into bed with a flower girl he meets on the street, and winds up killing her violent boyfriend Charlie (Gabriel Byrne). Fatally wounded and a fugitive from justice, William roams the surrounding wilderness in the company of Nobody (Gary Farmer), a Native American who happens upon the wounded youth and tries in vain to remove the bullet which has inextricably lodged in his chest.

The film is fraught with literary references (Nobody first mistakes William for the poet William Blake), often-mystifying symbolism, and a circus roster of quirky Jarmuschian side characters, with wonderfully weird cameos from the likes of Billy Bob Thorton, Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes, and Iggy Pop.

But most compelling of the lot is Depp's William, who slowly transforms from a bumbling and cloistered naÃf into a stone killer with a Zen-like willingness to embrace a destiny he never made. Here's hoping that between tours of duty on Jack Sparrow's pirate ship, Depp still has the inclination to make movies like this.

â" Mike Gibson


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