"Could this be it?" I wondered as the boat was pulled into the void. My dissatisfaction with the first two Pirates movies was facing the unexpected outcome that this new movie was becoming enjoyable.
Granted, the Pirates movies have had good things in them. The actors' spirit carries through the whole series, and Dead Man's Chest set the bar with the greatest CG effects of any feature film. It's in reaching for epic status that director Gore Verbinski's "embarrassment of riches" gets boring.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End features good story and visual concepts in its first 75 minutes. The quality of the first section makes it a stronger picture than Dead Man's Chest. But it just delays what cynics feared going in: Another Three Hours of Loosely Connected Pirate Stuff.
Verbinski's nighttime shot of the Black Pearl sailing through calm waters is a sublime image. The star-filled sky is reflected in the ocean below, creating the illusion of a pirate ship floating through space. It's the one time Verbinski's met the Spielberg comparisons that get thrown his way. Later, the ship's crew reasons they can only rescue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) through an alternate reality, entered by flipping their boat upside down.
But with Sparrow on board, we're soon back into long meeting scenes, romantic misunderstandings, double-crosses and references to numbing information I shouldn't have been expected to retain from Dead Man's Chest. There came a point where I didn't know what the hell was going on anymore.
Beneath the convoluted story mechanics and epic posturing, Pirates of the Caribbean is a lighthearted spectacle—something that might be worthwhile were these movies half as long. The premise set in the third chapter's early stages of a sea-voyage adventure (like Mutiny on the Bounty, but with more rum and facial tentacles) soon gets lost in the clutter. True to its theme park origins, the Pirates movies don't feel like another time and space so much as a Disneyland approximation of another time and space.
There's some delight in the final battle, but like everything else, the scene goes on far too long. Dead men are the least of At World's End's concerns. The amount of dead space in this thing is phenomenal.
William Friedkin's Bug ties into a present distrust and paranoia. The grim story has a couple isolated in an Oklahoma motel room they believe to be infested with insects that are feeding off their bodies. The sensation of having bugs crawl beneath one's skin is common for meth addicts. And while Bug isn't a drug metaphor, necessarily, Friedkin gets political in exposing the value of dependence for people who believe they can depend on very little.
Agnes (Ashley Judd) is a lonely bartender living in regret of her son's disappearance. One night she meets Peter (Michael Shannon), whose social inexperience and sincerity give Agnes no cause to doubt his claim the government wants to destroy him.
Friedkin barely disguises that Bug is based on a play (screenplay by playwright Tracy Letts), but the claustrophobic descent to madness is well-orchestrated and unpleasant. It's only in the showiness of the performances the translation runs less smoothly.
The slow-burn impact of Bug comes close to the wounded terror of Bill Paxton's Frailty. It's most powerful in retrospect for the same reason: It's a tragedy disguised as a horror film.
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