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The business of murder and swashbucklery 

François Ozon was once considered the enfant terrible of French cinema. Then he made the critically praised and very adult Under the Sand and followed it up with last year's musical murder-mystery 8 Women. In his latest, Swimming Pool (opens Friday, July 18, at the Little), Ozon has finally found a way to effectively blend the terrifying imagery of his earlier work (like Criminal Lovers --- his twisted modernization of Hansel and Gretel) with the accomplished skill displayed in Sand.

            Pool is also Ozon's first (mostly) English-language film, and its initial setting is London, where we see author Sarah Morton (Sand's Charlotte Rampling) snub a fan while riding the Tube to her publisher's office. Sarah has written a series of popular murder investigation novels featuring a character called Inspector Dorwell but now finds herself in one deep rut. She's fed up with her creation and can't bear to go through the same old motions in a new Dorwell adventure, even if it will thrill her fans and make her a fistful of euros.

            Sarah's publisher John (Charles Dance) thinks she simply needs a change of scenery and suggests she make use of his villa in the south of France. So she ditches the dreary grays of London and heads for the sunny chateau, where the warm hues eventually begin to melt her icy demeanor. The occasional smile even crosses Sarah's lips as she starts to bang out a new Dorwell story on her laptop... but her peace and quiet is quickly interrupted by an unexpected visitor.

            John's free-spirited teenage daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) shows up one night and turns Sarah's serene setting on its ear. The solitude is replaced by loud music, loud sex with a string of ugly Frenchmen, and even louder bikinis... when Julie bothers to wear them (which is, like, hardly ever). The two butt heads like houseguests on Big Brother but inevitably find a way to get along without resorting to any kind of Freaky Friday-type absurdity. Sarah even ditches her latest Dorwell story and starts writing something inspired by what could only be called a growing obsession with Julie.

            Saying more about Pool's plot would give too much away, since it's one of those films with a Hitchcockian kind of twist. At least I think there's a twist. The clues are presumably all there, but Ozon keeps distracting us with the perpetually nude Sagnier. Pool will most likely be a picture where the women will have to explain the end of the movie to the men, who will be gathering their unfurled tongues off the theater floor and pushing their spring-loaded eyes back into their sockets.

            Ozon, who seems to have a fondness for titles pertaining to water, is blessed with solid performances from both Rampling (who looks like she could be Selma Blair's mom) and Sagnier (who looks considerably older than she did in 8 Women, or Ozon's Water Drops on Burning Rocks). While Sagnier might get the most attention for showing the most skin, the show belongs to Rampling, whose Sarah slowly uncovers her emotions along with the swimming pool itself.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the second theme-park ride turned big-screen feature, following the ridiculously unnecessary The Country Bears and preceding the doubtlessly unnecessary Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy (the trailer for that is attached to Pearl). I was excited to see it, mostly because I really like Johnny Depp, enjoyed director Gore Verbinski's previous three features (even The Mexican), and have had many a naughty dream about Keira Knightley.

            Got to the screening, and yo ho ho and a bottle of... hey, wait a minute. I hate pirate movies. What the hell am I doing here? Maybe it's just me, but being born after the whole Errol Flynn thing was over and having to deal with stuff like Cutthroat Island, Hook, and Muppet Treasure Island (The Goonies doesn't count, okay?) doth not a pirate fan make.

            Pearl is set in the 18th century and opens with a prologue that shows the Swann family making the transatlantic journey from England to the New World. They encounter a ship destroyed by pirates and manage to rescue an unconscious pirate boy, whose special pirate medallion is swiped right off his little pirate body by young Elizabeth Swann.

            Flash forward a dozen or so years and former pirate boy Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is now an expert blacksmith and part-time Justin Timberlake impersonator, while Elizabeth (Knightley) is the unenthusiastic recipient of a marriage proposal from a snooty commodore (Jack Davenport). When Elizabeth faints and takes a spill into the drink thanks to a tight corset, she's rescued by the swishy Jack Sparrow (Depp), a renowned marauder of the seas.

            Sparrow is rewarded with a trip to the brig, but not before catching a glimpse of Elizabeth's desirable booty (the medallion, stupid!). This sets off a whole chain of zany pirate-related activity, specifically pertaining to Will's medallion and its importance to the Black Pearl, a legendary ship whose crew was cursed to exist in that strange state in which you're not quite dead but not entirely alive, either. They look normal except when the moonlight hits them. Then they resemble Imhotep from The Mummy, which is funny because that film was also too long and totally unsatisfying.

            Disney's first-ever PG-13 film would have been a complete nightmare if it weren't for Depp, whose character is an unholy combination of Captain Morgan, Dudley Moore, Keith Richards, and Andy Dick. In addition to facing down the Black Pearl's captain (Geoffrey Rush) in a battle to see who could chew up the most scenery, Sparrow spends most of the picture playing both sides (ahem!) in the many, many double-crosses.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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