"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
Tom's Dispatch has a classic example of the Republican government in action. Apparently, while it's completely okay for the U.S. government to listen to anyone's phone conversation they want to, the names and positions of the people who work for Dick Cheney are a state secret. Given that the Vice President's office is not supposed to be a clandestine organization and that it is the taxpayers (not the oil companies) that pay their salaries, shouldn't these names be a matter of public record?

Pirates swash has not buckled
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
4 stars out of five
Dir: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

It may not be the greatest swashbuckling pirate film of all time or the greatest supernatural thriller of all time, but it's definitely the best film in its genre.

Admittedly, it is a small subcategory to dominate, but 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is by far the best film ever made based on a Disney amusement park attraction.

Its sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, has replaced it at the top of a slightly larger genre--the best pirate movie of the last 20 years, possibly the best since 1950's Treasure Island and the best film combining pirates, horror and comedy ever made. Dead Man's Chest also has the additional distinction of featuring the best film performance ever by a man with an octopus for a head.

Dead Man's Chest picks up where The Curse of the Black Pearl left off. Freedom-and-rum loving Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is at sea in The Black Pearl, and poor-but-honest blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is about to marry Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), the spirited daughter of the governor of Jamaica. Enter the bad guys and before you can say, "Ahrr, matey" a complicated interlocking set of problems is set in motion.

Thirteen years ago, Sparrow sold his soul to become captain of the Pearl, and now his debt has come due, with the collection notice served by Will's not-quite-dead pirate father (Stellan Skarsgard), appropriately, in the spirit locker of the Pearl. Unless he can cut a new deal, Sparrow must join the crew of the damned sailing the supernatural Flying Dutchman under the command of the dreaded cephalopod-headed Davy Jones (the one with the famous locker, not the lead singer of the Monkees).

Meanwhile back in Kingston, Will and Elizabeth's wedding has been interrupted and the not-so-happy couple clapped in irons by Lord Beckett of the East India Trading Company. It seems Sparrow has something the company wants and Beckett will happily hang Elizabeth unless Will hunts down the pirate and brings him back.

Things get more and more complicated as Sparrow's nemesis, ex-Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) turns up in an unexpected way and Elizabeth escapes and goes after Will and Sparrow. The numerous plot twists make the story tough to follow at times, but Dead Man's Chest makes wonderfully inventive use of a wide variety of seagoing folklore and legends, twisting archetypes and cliches to suit its purpose. There are jailbreaks, cannibal cults, double-dealing, sea monsters, narrow escapes, tavern brawls, ghosts, voodoo sorceresses and action aplenty.

The action set pieces, such as a three-way swordfight inside and on top of a rolling waterwheel and a battle with the gigantic ship-crushing kraken (best performance by a giant squid since 1954's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) provide the adrenaline that keeps Dead Man's Chest moving at a breakneck pace. The special effects are top-notch and the score, cinematography and set design all add polish to a gem of an adventure film.

At the heart of any good action franchise are good characters, and Pirates is no different. Depp delights as the lovable scoundrel Sparrow, a performance he reportedly based on Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. Bloom and Knightly are solid as the truehearted hero and heroine.

Special credit should go to Bill Nighy, who is marvelously menacing as Davy Jones, though how he manages to perform with such subtlety through so much makeup is a mystery.

As the disgraced Commodore Norrington, Davenport puts an admirable amount of meat on the bones of a character who was little more than a cardboard cutout in the first film. Other minor characters returning from the first film include the buccaneer Laurel-and-Hardy duo of Mackenzie Crook and Lee Arenberg, who add plenty of additional laughs.
While the sequel lacks some of the chemistry of the original, it doesn't lack humor. The biggest laughs tend to be throwaway lines like Jonathan Pryce's "I am still the governor you know! Why do you think I'm wearing this wig?" or Sparrow's inebriated Grouchoesque attempt at seducing Elizabeth when she comes aboard the Pearl in men's clothing: "My dear, those clothes don't flatter you at all. For a lady such as yourself, it should be a dress or nothing. Fortunately, I happen to have no dress in my cabin."

While the story has some stumbling points (Why do Davy Jones and his cursed crew continue to sail? Why is the East India Trading Company made out to be villainous while the colonialist British Empire is not? Why didn't the cannibals eat the pirates straight away?) and the pace is relentless, the only real problem with Dead Man's Chest is the lack of a satisfying ending. After 2-1/2 hours, the movie does not so much end as just stop after setting the stage for a third Pirates of the Caribbean film (already filmed and due out next spring).

I don't generally hold with the opinions of professional assassins when it comes to movies, and I disagree with his overall opinion, the ninja has a very funny review of this movie