Movie Project #28 and #29: Pirates of the Caribbean [2003] & Master and Commander [2003]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl [2003, dir. Gore Verbinski]
It’s kind of amazing that I have managed to evade the Pirates of the Caribbean series over the years. It wasn’t until recently (say, in the last couple years) that I was even aware of the theme park ride that served as Curse of the Black Pearl‘s inspiration. Nowadays, it’s not inconceivable to make an enjoyable film based on something so shallow (i.e. The Lego Movie), but I imagine it was quite the surprise back then.

In a nutshell, Curse of the Black Pearl is a huge budget adventure flick that relies heavily on its uniquely strange — and charismatic — lead, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). There’s no denying Sparrow is a great character, and Depp delivers a performance so likable that it inspired him to basically play (mostly uninspired) variations of this for the next several years. Geoffrey Rush matches him step-for-step in the form of the villainous Barbossa, and the two of them make for quite the pairing. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley also play pivotal characters, but they are far less interesting. When neither Sparrow nor Barbossa are on screen, the film suffers slightly.

Curse of the Black Pearl overstays its welcome a bit, but it does manage to find the right mix of action and humor (with a dash of romance) throughout. It’s easy to see why this became a successful movie franchise, although it’s also surprising how dark it can be, given the Disney name attached to it. 7/10

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World [2003, dir. Peter Weir]
Whereas Pirates of the Caribbean is a fantastical adventure with skeleton pirates and an eccentric hero, Master and Commander comes across as authentic as it gets. While I don’t know a starboard from a poop deck, I was continually impressed with how this Peter Weir feature doesn’t dumb down its content for the audience. The very first scene throws us right into the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, with Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his HMS Surprise being ambushed by a French privateer ship that is significantly larger in size. It isn’t until the battle scene is over that the film sheds some light on what we just saw, thanks to some dialogue between Aubrey and others on the ship. Even then, the conversation feels natural, and not forced to enlighten us as viewers.

It’s this sense of realism that really impressed me with the film. Crowe makes Aubrey out to be a great leader, but not one without flaws. He is kept partly in check via his friend and ship doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), a man who finds respite in the form of species observation and collecting. They provide a good balance for each other, with the doctor being the more levelheaded of the two.

Master and Commander makes for an excellent underdog story, as Aubrey leads the HMS Surprise across the high seas frantically in pursuit of the French ship that damn near destroyed them at the beginning of the film. Pursuing rather than retreating is a ballsy move, but this chase makes for an increasingly entertaining adventure. It’s a shame that Master and Commander has become a bit of a forgotten film, because this is a great piece of historical fiction. 8/10

Movie Project #16: The Truman Show [1998]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Truman Show [1998]

The Truman Show [1998]
Director: Peter Weir
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and Laura Linney
Runtime: 103 minutes

I’m not sure what took me so long to finally see The Truman Show. Maybe it was because I thought it would be too similar to Edtv, a likeminded film I remember seeing around that time period (though now I honestly don’t remember much about it). Perhaps it was because I had reservations about Jim Carrey in this type of role. Whatever the case, I am glad that I included this in my new project and finally seeked it out.

Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, a man who is unknowingly under surveillance 24/7, the star of a TV show he knows nothing about. He has been filmed since the day he was born, set up in an artificial world built under the watchful eye of its creator, Christof (Ed Harris). The life designed for Truman is not unlike what you would find in Suburbia, U.S.A.: he has a loving wife, Meryl (Laura Linney), a stable desk job, and a best friend (Noah Emmerich) to drink beer with. Every detail has been thought out, and a large number of viewers watch his show every day.

The Truman Show [1998]

Things begin to go awry when Truman suspects something is off with the town he lives in. Strange happenings occur on the 30th year of the show. A falling spotlight from the artificial constellation above nearly hits him on his way to work. Later, his car radio picks up a strange feed from the show’s crew, and Truman hears them describing his actions in real time. The kicker, however, is when Truman sees his allegedly dead father on the street dressed as a homeless man. Before he gets the chance to talk with his “father”, the man is whisked away on a bus by the powers to be.

Now questioning just what the hell is going on, Truman becomes determined to leave his town and see what life is like outside of Seahaven.

The story sets itself up as a drama, but also as a sneaky satire that lends way to some amusing moments. There are several funny jabs at in-show advertising. Characters make sure to show product logos at all times, and occasionally make the sales pitch to go along with them. Even Truman’s wife is in on the act.

Jim Carrey was given a chance to show off his dramatic acting chops in this movie, and he passes the test with flying colors. Right from the start, Truman is easily likable as Carrey injects his natural charisma into the character without going overboard. He still has his funny moments, but they are much more subdued (when compared to, say, The Mask or Ace Ventura).

The Truman Show [1998]

I was also impressed with the rest of the cast, a laundry list of strong names that add quite a bit to the film even in small roles. Laura Linney and Ed Harris are terrific, but the pleasant surprises of seeing Natascha McElhone (as Truman’s forbidden love interest), Paul Giamatti (a control room director) and Peter Krause (Truman’s boss at work), among others, were great as well.

In a way, The Truman Show was a bit of foreshadowing for something that would happen the year after its release: the debut of CBS’s voyeuristic TV show, Big Brother. Looking back now, the movie is even more relevant today with the unfortunate rise in popularity of these so-called “reality TV” shows. Hell, the film even has its own psychological delusion titled “The Truman Show Syndrome“.

I quite enjoyed The Truman Show, and I am happy that I saw it for the first time in 2012 with several years perspective. It’s not a perfect film — there are some ideas that I would have loved to have seen elaborated — but its sharp satire and strong cast really hit the spot for me.

8/10