New 'Pirates' a roller coaster

At the end of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," many in the youthful audience clapped. Clearly, they had enjoyed the film throughout. But it felt more like the clapping seen as an amusement park roller coaster pulls up at the end of the ride. The passengers had just had a visceral experience and were signaling how much they had enjoyed themselves.

And that's what "At World's End" is: a visual, auditory thrill ride that loops and drops and takes the turns tightly. What it doesn't do is try to tell a coherent story. Judged by traditional narrative standards of film plotting, this "Pirates" is a mess. It's impossible to sort out exactly what's going on and why. Even the battle scenes, where it's helpful to be able to figure out sides, are all but impossible to sort out. Pirates to the left, pirates to the right, cannons booming, masts falling, cutlasses in hand, sword fights aplenty &

you need a program.

A filmmaker once commented that every movie should have a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order. Well, perhaps. But traditional storytelling has always been about structure and imposing order on disorder. Classic plotting aside, many recent films do have had an exciting and engaging discordancy and the narrative arcs distinctly nonlinear. The films of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga &

specifically 21 Grams and Babel &

are good examples. The fact that these films do not move from A to B to C, but use backstory and reversals and a series of blended multiple plots to tell a thematic story, only adds to the tension and the impact and never detracts from the overall sense that the films had a coherent momentum which can be ultimately grasped by the audience. The films "Traffic" and "Crash" are also of the same ilk, proof that film is so involving that the audience will find the coherence though it isn't immediately self-evident.

The question then comes to mind: do films such as "At World's End" signal a new emerging genre, one intended for a distinctly different audience, one that doesn't demand even a semblance of plot. More and more, contemporary "action films," as they're called, care little about story line and focus almost exclusively on, well, "action" meaning the creation of a headlong, thrilling momentum. In other words, the "ride." That this is often accomplished at the expense of any kind of meaningful dialogue or character development is beside the point. Establishing an emotional connection between the audience and the characters is quickly abandoned for the more basic and emotive connection made as Captain Jack Sparrow does battle with Davy Jones on a cross spar of a square rigger as the ship is being sucked down into the center of an enormous ocean vortex, while Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner fight for their lives on the deck far below. What the battle is about is completely obscured. It's all about the moment, and then the next moment, as the action is ratcheted ever higher, all framed by the frayed context that this is occurring somewhere in the Caribbean during a century when people with very bad teeth would rather steal a treasure than work for it.

Of course, "At World's End" takes a breath on occasion and nautical charts are brought out, a compass produced, and intense discussions held about Dead Man's Cove and a meeting of pirates and the beating heart of Davy Jones, hidden in his locker. But for the intended audience, such meaningless interaction is thankfully cut short in order to get back to the ride. Which is why the Pirates fans are there in the first place.

The target audience for "Pirates" was brought up on video games which are all about sustained movement, racing ahead through a labyrinth, a visual and auditory banquet of stimulation. And that is exactly what this third (and last?) installment of the wildly successful franchise is all about. To the film's credit, the photography is spectacular, the costumes beautifully done, and the CGI first rate. There is not one frame that seems artificial, no matter that many scenes are shot in front of a green screen and the background added later. Technically, this movie is flawless. And when the credits do appear on the screen, there are folks in the audience who raise their hands and cheer. They took the ride and enjoyed it. What more can you ask of a movie? A lot, perhaps, but then it depends on who you're asking.

Black Book

Starring Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman and Waldemar Kobus

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Rated R

"Black Book," directed by Paul Verhoeven, promises to be a foreign film examining the intense struggle of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. Films of this ilk rarely fail to create a sustained tension as very courageous people, their country occupied, fight a brutal German army. The expectation is that the movie will be restrained, an almost delicate parsing of how individuals coped with the risks they took while facing an enemy that was both lethal and remorseless.

Surprisingly, Verhoeven's "Black Book" feels far less like a foreign film and more like an American film in its effective but heavy-handed approach to the narrative. The film opens briefly on a Kibbutz, the year is 1956. Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) is reflecting back on her years as a spy working for the Dutch underground. There is a slow dissolve to the year 1944. The war machine of Nazi Germany is seemingly on the verge of a great victory, successfully occupying countless countries such as Holland. As a Jew, Stein has been in hiding, living with a farm family. And so the tale begins as circumstances lead her into the arms of the Dutch Resistance and then, as a spy, into the arms of Ludwig Muntze (Sebastian Koch), a Nazi officer.

The courage of resistance fighters in all of the occupied countries was remarkable, and a reminder that though the darkest side of the human condition was revealed as the Nazis systematically killed millions of innocents, there were thousands who stepped forward and at great personal sacrifice responded with an unequivocal "no, this will not stand." That is the essence of this film, which we're told is based on a true story. Know that it is also graphic in its violence and Verhoeven does use nudity (full frontal in one scene) as an effective metaphor &

countless people were stripped of their dignity and their humanity.

Is "Black Book" a good movie? Well, yes. And, no. But having said no, perhaps it's only because it doesn't play to type, demonstrating that Verhoeven has spent the last decade working in Hollywood and not in Europe and it shows. In the end, this is a taut and intense film about a woman who was heroic and who prevailed.

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