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  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): ***½

    Directed by Gore Verbinski

    I went to this movie expecting to kinda like it, and hoping that it just wasn't too stupid. I had no idea I'd like it as much as I did. I'm pretty sure it'll make my Top Ten list for 2003. I had an incredible amount of fun being in the theater as I watched this movie being projected on that screen.

    Much like that Full Throttle movie, it is very evident that everyone involved in the proceedings is having an absolute ball. Geoffrey Rush chews up the scenery and spits it out and then puts it back in and chews it up some more as the evil pirate leader who has some sort of fetish for apples. Keira Knightly (very lovely) plays the feisty girl who gets mistakenly kidnapped by the evil pirates after a misunderstanding. Even Orlando Bloom, in the thankless role of the stoic hero type, gets to get in his fun here and there, the best being a very short bit where he imitates Jack Sparrow.

    And speaking of Jack Sparrow, where would this movie be without the absolute genius of Johnny Depp? I'll tell you: it would be swimming in mediocrity and be lost with all those other pirate movies of late (Cutthroat Island, anyone?). Johnny Depp takes unbelievable risks as an actor with this character and every single goddamn one of them pays off. Every moment he's on the screen he's absolutely riveting, most of the time because you simply cannot believe that a character like this actually exists in this movie—in any movie. The way he prances and minces and slurs his words and does crazy, elaborate hand gestures and looks for all intents and purposes like he might pass out from sheer overexcited-ness at any given moment.

    And you know who it is, right? It's freakin' Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Jack Sparrow is, well, not an imitation of Keith Richards so much as almost a channeling of his essence. If Keith Richards existed back in whatever time period this film takes place during, and was also a pirate, he could I believe be expected to act a lot like this.

    I also really appreciated the fact that most of the supporting characters (like the pirates on the Black Pearl and the soldiers and sailors of the main town) get interesting personalities of their own. It really all shows that this film was kind of a labor of love.

    The plot involves Sparrow's old ship, The Black Pearl, whose crew got together under the leadership of his first mate Barbossa (Rush) and decided to strand him on a deserted island. Well, shortly thereafter the Black Pearl stumbles upon some Inca gold (or maybe Aztec? Ah, it doesn't matter) and gets themselves a curse of being unfeeling, always hungry undead. I have to say that the special effects on these undead pirates are absolutely freakin' seamless. They'll walk across the scene and transform from ordinary pirate to undead pirate right before your eyes (they look like skeletons in the moonlight) and you can't see the seams. There's even a climactic sword fight where the participants are constantly going from pirate to skeleton pirate without slowing their swings or losing a step. Anyway, the only way to cure the curse is for every single one of them to put their piece of gold back in the chest and perform a "blood sacrifice." Of course, Barbossa didn't figure this out until after the crew had traded all the gold away. So for the past ten years they've been looking for the gold pieces, pillaging ship after ship and town after town until they can get them all back. There's only one piece left to go, and it just so happens that the girl took it from the hero some ten years ago. And Sparrow's been trying these past ten years to get back his ship and give Barbossa what's coming to him.

    From there we get scenes of cannon battles between boats, between boats and city fortifications, masterful sword fights (between Sparrow and the Hero among others), people walking the plank, getting locked in dungeons, being abandoned on deserted isles, fighting skeletons, swinging from ropes from ship to ship. Pretty much anything you can think of that you'd want to be in a pirate movie is in this movie.

    In that sense this film reminded me a lot of two other great (and very different) films: The 5th Element and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. All of these films have a very strong element of "I've always wanted to see..." in them. Luc Besson wrote the plot of The 5th Element when he was only 16. Ang Le always wanted to make a movie with people leaping across rooftops and fighting on giant bamboo trees. And in this movie you get the distinct feeling that the filmmakers always wanted to make a pirate movie where everything happens. And, by god, I had a blast watching that film.

    And at any rate, how could you not like a film where a corset plays a MAJOR role in the plot?

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