The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Colorful pirate talk
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink rum, get tipsy
Violence/ Scariness: Action violence, characters killed
Diversity Issues: Strong female lead character, one strong minority supporting character
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

This week’s release of the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie is a good time to catch up with the original.

Avast, me hearties and come hear the tale of a terrible pirate curse.

 

No, not the one about the curse on pieces of gold that turn anyone into the walking undead, revealed as skeletons when touched by moonlight. This is one about the curse of the pirate movie, which has been known to turn fine actors into eye-rolling, scenery-chomping over-actors and empty the bank accounts of movie studios faster than real-life pirates pillaged their victims.

 

It takes a lot of courage to take on a pirate movie following notable critical and box-office catastrophes like Roman Polanski’s “Pirates” and “Cutthroat Island” with Geena Davis. This one’s origins as a Disney theme park ride didn’t seem too promising.

 

So maybe it is those low expectations that made this movie seem surprisingly enjoyable.

 

That is, if swashbuckling, rope-swinging, plank-walking, yard-arm-spinning, rum-drinking, double-crossing, colorful sidekick-joking, and all-around yo-ho-ho-ing sounds like fun, and especially if you know the theme park ride well enough to appreciate a couple of sly references, including a replica of one of the ride’s most memorable moments.

 

Elizabeth Swann, daughter of the Governor (Jonathan Pryce) is fascinated by pirates. On their voyage from England, Elizabeth helped rescue a boy named Will Turner. While he was unconscious, she took his gold medallion with a skull and crossbones.

 

Now grown up, Elizabeth (“Bend it Like Beckham’s” Kiera Knightley) is still wearing the medallion and is loved both by Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) and by Will (“Lord of the Rings” heart-throb Orlando Bloom). When the dreaded pirates of the Black Pearl, led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) sack the town, Elizabeth offers them the medallion if they will leave. They take it, and take her, too. Turner takes off in pursuit with the notorious Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), with Norrington and his men right behind them.

 

It turns out that the medallion is the last of the cursed pieces of gold that turned Barbossa and his crew into the walking dead, always hungry and thirsty, but unable to eat or drink. By restoring the gold to its chest — with the right person’s blood — the curse will be removed.

 

There are advantages, though, in being a pirate who cannot be killed.

 

Just like the theme park ride that inspired it, the movie’s greatest strengths are its atmosphere and art direction. The production design has that splendidly imaginative synthesis of classic book illustrations and some innate collective unconsciousness that gets the essence of every detail right, from the curve of the sail to a pirate’s pet monkey. Then come the action sequences, both energetic and entertaining. The script has some nicely creepy twists and some nicely saucy lines. Johnny Depp falls prey to the pirate curse, speaking as though he is recovering from dental surgery and at times seeming to be acting in his own movie completely separate from everyone else. But he is undeniably fun to watch. And with Lord of the Rings heartthrob Orlando Bloom as the hero, you get the two best sets of cheekbones in Hollywood on screen at the same time.

 

 

 

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of violence for a PG-13, and while it is not especially graphic, there are images, including the literally skeleton pirate crew and a false eyeball that keeps coming out, that may be disturbing to some viewers. There are some revealing bodices and some mild sexual references, including prostitutes (not explicit and no nudity or sexual situations). There is some strong and colorful pirate language. Characters drink rum and get tipsy.

 

Families who see this movie should talk about the rules/guidelines distinction and the movie’s many broken promises. How did the various characters decide which rules they would follow?

 

 

 

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy pirate classics like “The Crimson Pirate” with Burt Lancaster and Errol Flynn’s “Against All Flags” and “The Sea Hawk”. Fans of pirate movies with truly over-the-top pirate performers must see Robert Newton’s definitive Long John Silver in “Treasure Island”. For a landlubber version, any version of “Zorro” — with Antonio Banderas, Guy Williams, or Tyrone Power — is swashbuckling fun. And every family should watch “The Princess Bride”. Disney’s “Shipwrecked” is a sort of “Home Alone” with pirates, a neglected delight starring Gabriel Byrne. Fans of musicals will also like the Gilbert and Sullivan gem “The Pirates of Penzance”, with Kevin Kline as the Pirate King and the delightful “The Pirate” with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.

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Never Let Me Go

Posted on September 23, 2010 at 6:44 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexuality and nudity
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Disturbing theme, some images of medical procedures and injuries, sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 24, 2010

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day, about a butler who devoted his life to service without questioning his master’s authority or the validity of his judgment became a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. And now his book, Never Let Me Go is a movie that while very different in genre addresses some of the same themes. Once again, the setting is the English countryside, and once again the main characters are born into a life of service that they do not question.

It’s a science fiction story without a single lab coat, spaceship, or gizmo. It isn’t even set in the future, but the recent past. It appears very much like the world we knew in the the 1980’s, but we are told before it begins that a medical discovery in 1952 has led to life expectancy of 100 years in 1967.

Then Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan of “An Education”) starts to tell us her story. She is a “carer,” and thinking back on her childhood at a school called Hailsham. As we go back to see her there with her friends Ruth and Tommy, it all seems perfectly normal at first. But there are some elements that seem strange. The headmistress (Charlotte Rampling) makes the usual speech after finding cigarette butts at the school, but why does she emphasize that for these children especially “keeping yourselves healthy is of paramount importance?” Why do they seem to have no families or even last names? And what is that panel on the wall that beeps when they casually touch their wrist to it every day as they come back indoors?

The excitement in the children’s lives comes from the visits by “Madame,” who examines their artwork and selects the items she thinks are the best for her gallery, and even more on the rare opportunities they have to buy trinkets with the tokens they are given for good behavior. They are very happy when they hear they are getting a “bumper crop” and enjoy their treasures but to our eyes the items look like garage sale cast-offs. These are not poor children; they attend school in an almost-idyllic countryside setting. But they do not seem to have anything.

Just once, a teacher tells them the truth, and then she is fired. SPOILER ALERT: the secret not fully revealed until the end of the book is disclosed much earlier in the movie so I am going to include it here. If you don’t want to know, skip this paragraph. The fate of these children has already been decided. They have been bred for use as spare parts. They are to be kept healthy and happy like farm animals until, in their 20’s, they will become “donors.” And after three or four “donations,” they will “complete.” Their purpose is to give of themselves literally and ultimately to keep others alive.

Director Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”) understands that just as “Rosemary’s Baby” tapped into a whole new category of dread by putting a Gothic story in modern Manhattan, giving us an alternate reality that seems so familiar to us is eerie and unnerving. It is not familiar through experience, set in the recent past. But it is also familiar through movies. The accents and Hailsham setting lull us into a Merchant-Ivory/Masterpiece Theater civilized world of tea being served at four. The fact that the truest horror happens off screen is haunting. When the headmistress says, “We were answering questions no one wanted asked,” it is as devastating as any gory attack by zombies or aliens. When the characters show their humanity by hoping for a better outcome, we see how much has been taken from them because they have no idea of how to insist on it.

The title comes from a “bumper crop” treasure, a used audio cassette by a torchy 60’s singer (performed by Jane Monheit), given to Kathy by Tommy.  She plays it over and over.  What does it mean to have someone who wants to hold on to you that way?  Kathy knows how it feels to care deeply about someone.  She loves Tommy.  As they grow up, though, it is Ruth who becomes his — what?  Girlfriend does not seem the right word as they have little sense of what that means.  Ruth does tell Kathy that she will not let Tommy go.  But then things change and as she has to let go of so much more, she thinks about what she can leave behind, what will give her life meaning beyond the limited scope that has been set for her.

Romanek, best known for music videos, is stronger on visuals than with story.  He does very well in creating a world so believable, so thoroughly familiar and sturdily institutional, that the slight variances from what we know quickly seem natural.  Like the people who proposed and approved and benefit from this system, the ones who are never seen and hardly referred to, we can watch without considering too deeply the consequences and significance of what we see — for a while.  

The three sections of the film are starkly different in architecture and color scheme.  Hailsham shows a little of the benign neglect of institutions that have existed for hundreds of years and are expected to be around forever.  After graduation, they move to “cottages,” rural, rustic, remote.  They make shy ventures into the world but can barely order a soda in a restaurant and feel most at home on a beach where an abandoned ship washed up on the shore somehow seems to resonate with them, an empty vessel, once useful, with nowhere to go.
 

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Love Actually

Posted on December 22, 2008 at 8:00 am

A
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexuality, nudity and language
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug humor, drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense and sad scenes
Diversity Issues: Stong, loving diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2003
Date Released to DVD: 2004
Amazon.com ASIN: B00005JMFQ

“Love Actually” is as stuffed with goodies as the Christmas stockings for those at the very top of Santa’s “nice” list — and it is just as entertaining, too.

You say you like romantic comedies with gorgeous stars, witty dialogue delivered in swoon-worthy English accents, and oodles of happy endings? This movie gives you ten at once. And yet none of the stories ever feels hurried or incomplete.

The interwoven stories all take place in the weeks before Christmas and cover many kinds of love, touching, tender, sweet, charming, funny, and bittersweet. They include a Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is drawn to the outspoken girl who delivers his tea, an eleven-year old (Thomas Sangster) who wants to attract the attention of the coolest girl in school, a man in love with his best friend’s new bride, a waiter who is sure that all his dreams of romance will come true if he goes to America, a thoroughly married man (Alan Rickman) whose flirtatious secretary is making him wonder how thoroughly married he is, a rock star (Bill Nighy) angling for a comeback with a cheesy Christmas single, a heartbroken writer (Colin Firth) who can’t stop thinking about the woman who cleans his house, even though they don’t understand each other’s languages, and a couple who meet at work as movie stand-ins assigned to increasingly (and hilariously) more intimate poses.

Richard Curtis, who wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill for the first time directs his own screenplay with heart and style. It helps, of course, that he has a dream cast, including newcomer Sangster, a real-life cousin of Hugh Grant and already a first-rate actor and a knock-out screen presence. Each of the actors creates complete, endearing, vivid, and vulnerable characters that we will remember long after we have forgotten most “stars” who spend two full hours onscreen in the latest multiplex fodder.

The movie begins with the Prime Minister musing on the arrivals section of the airport and the love everywhere as people are reunited with those who are most precious to them. This theme continues with a faded rock star (the magnificent Nighy) recording a silly Christmas version of “Love is All Around” (also featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral). But other themes just as important can be summed up somewhere between the words of W.S. Gilbert — “Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady” and a celebration of what one character not unhappily calls “the total agony of being in love.”

This is a movie about taking big chances (both hopeful and hopeless), about making big gestures to show our love, and about big, big feelings that may make us crazy and miserable but remind us that we are alive and why we are alive.

For one man and woman, the inability to communicate in words may be what allows them to sense how much they really belong together. We see in subtitles what they really want to say to each other, but more important, we see on screen what they say to each other with their eyes and the way their breathing changes when they look at each other. Other couples both speak English but still somehow cannot find the words to let each other know how they feel. One ardent soul reaches out through music. Another…just reaches out. Characters also grapple with non-romantic love, including parental, sibling, and deep friendship. They grapple with temptation and conflicting loyalties. And all of them carry our hearts with them.

In addition, any movie that manages to include a child dressed as a Nativity lobster, a Bay City Rollers song played at a funeral, love-emergency lessons in both drums and Portugese, and Hugh Grant dancing through the halls of 10 Downing Street to the Pointer Sisters is worth seeing at least twice.

Parents should know that the movie’s R rating comes from some very strong language, sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations, including prostitutes and adultery. There is humorous nudity when stand-ins for what appears to be a soft-core porn movie chat politely as they are posed in increasingly intimate positions. A character’s history of sex, drugs, and rock and roll is played for humor. There are some tense and sad scenes. Some audience members may object to the portrayal of the American President (Billy Bob Thornton) as a crude bully. One of the movie’s many strengths is its matter-of-fact portrayal of loving inter-racial friendship and romance.

Families who see this movie should talk about how the characters handle their feelings of loss, longing, and fear.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Curtis movies as well as classic romantic comedies with more emphasis on romance than comedy like “Moonstruck,” “Roman Holiday,” and “The Philadelphia Story.”

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