Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
The most remarkable thing about Pirates of the Caribbean is neither Johnny Depp's mesmerizing perfor- ‘ mance nor ILM's literally eye-popping skeletal ghost-ship crew. It's the fact that the movie works at all. After all, the movie is based on a theme-park attraction. Pirates of the Caribbean is more entertaining, funny, thrilling and romantic than it has any right to be. It's been compared to such genre-celebrating pictures as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Princess Bride and, though not in that league, it's in the same spirit.
Pirates has everything one could want in a pirate movie: stolen treasure, a terrible curse, a secret island-cave hiding place, a feisty damsel in distress, ships blown into driftwood, bottles of rum, planks to walk and plenty of swordplay and rope-swinging. Too intense for younger viewers (the Disney label notwithstanding), Pirates brings a light touch to its material, never taking it too seriously. The plot is nonsense but has a goofy logic of its own.
Though enamored with the mythology of pirate lore and indulgently forgiving of its colorful anti-hero, what the film really celebrates is not actual piracy but the pirate-movie tradition of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks. It's no classic, but it's a fine tribute.
Content advisory: Much stylized swashbuckling action violence and menace; mild horror imagery (animated skeletal corpses); comic drunkenness; mild sensuality and innuendo; brief profanity.
Walter Mat-thau is Albert Einstein. That's the conceit that differentiates I.Q. from countless other romantic ‘ comedies relying on the same standard formulas of mismatched lovers, meddlesome matchmakers, supposedly perfect but obviously inappropriate fiancés and so on.
Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins are cast somewhat against type: Ryan often plays bubbleheaded and Robbins brainy, but here Ryan is a science whiz, if a bubbly one, while Robbins is a grease monkey, if a thoughtful one.
The real twist, though, is that Catherine (Ryan) happens to be the niece of Albert Einstein — and, while she has a brainy fiancé, he's a twit. Her uncle Albert decides she really needs someone like Ed (Robbins).
This sort of thing has been done to death, but there's something endearingly goofy about throwing Einstein, of all people, into the mix that breathes new life into the formula. Aiding and abetting are a gray-haired coterie of Einstein's real-life scientific peers, Kurt Gödel, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Liebknecht, who mug about like the four widowers in Return to Me.
The pseudo-scientific milieu, with much banter about the nonex-istence of time, offers a new angle on the sense of inevitability and formula that invariably attends this sort of film. Despite its title, I.Q. isn't the smartest romantic comedy ever made. But it won't insult your intelligence, either.
Content advisory: A few dou-ble-entendres.
Good Morning (1959)
Japanese auteur Yasujiro Ozu's delicate, wry comedy of manners takes a sympathetic but not uncritical look at life and etiquette in a small, 1950s Japanese village community.
The architecture is traditional, but one home now has television, and life will never be the same. The adults wear traditional dress, but the children go to school in sweatshirts and jeans and study English at home.
The story loosely revolves around a vow of silence taken by two boys in protest of their parents' refusal to buy a television, a key instance of the film's theme of communication. It's interested in what we say, how we say it and what it all means.
Formality and courtesy attend adult interactions, but beneath the surface lurk petty misunderstandings, resentments and suspicions. A boy complains that adult conversation is bloated with meaningless, empty pleasantries while his friends prefer to engage each other with an amusement that appears to be an Asian equivalent of “pull my finger.” (One forlorn youth is disastrously bad at the game, and his parents have no idea why he regularly soils his pants.)
Ultimately, Ozu wisely highlights both the necessity of trivial social chatter as profoundly necessary to personal interaction and also the potential danger of allowing inconsequential filler to spare us having to say what really matters.
Content advisory: Recurring body-function themes; an extended childish protest against parents.