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Pirate series runs aground 

'Bug' gets under your skin.

THEY'RE BACK: But a little overboard.
  • THEY'RE BACK: But a little overboard.

Everybody, it seems, wants to make a film trilogy these days. There’s an obvious problem with the three-parters, however: Once you’ve spent three films cooking up second-act stuff — sidelong glances, shifting allegiances, character arcs that stop mid-swing — it’s almost impossible to wrap it all up in a neat bow by the time the credits roll on the third movie. Not only that, but by the time people have sat through six or seven hours of film and waited often years between installments, a simple resolution isn’t good enough by the time they buy a ticket for number three. They want the Big Payoff.

For a lesson on how a trilogy can work, look to the “Lord of the Rings” or the original Star Wars movies. For a look at how an otherwise perfectly good series can be shipwrecked by an overly ambitious third film, a ticket to “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is required. While “World’s End” isn’t exactly a bad movie, it is the worst installment in the “Pirates” trilogy, and is several rungs below the high bar set by the original. Full of pirate politics, incomprehensible blabbering about the supernatural, and allegiances that shift as often as the sands of the Sahara, “World’s End” is one of those films that will have you squinting at your watch in the dark before it’s even half over.

Back for the third round is the old gang: Orlando Bloom as the dashing Will Turner, Keira Knightley as damsel-in-perpetual-distress Elizabeth Swann, Geoffrey Rush as the dastardly Captain Barbossa, and the crew of swabs and scallywags we’ve grown to love from the first two films. With Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) having been eaten by the Kraken at the end of the last film, our heroes set out to do the impossible: journey to the underworld and get him back. After some derring-do in Singapore, they manage to do just that. Once Jack is back, however, he’s soon up to his old trickster ways, selling out his once-friends — or would that be them selling him out? After awhile, I just stopped keeping track. Whatever the case, with the armada of the East India Co. — led by the unstoppable flying Dutchman and tentacled beasty Davy Jones — bearing down on them, our heroes have only one chance: Convene a meeting of the nine pirate lords and convince them to band together to fight their common foe.

As I said, “At World’s End” isn’t exactly a bad film. There are a number of thrilling fight scenes, some genuinely dazzling sea battles, and some truly lovely performances (Geoffrey Rush stands out, as always, as does a turn by Rolling Stone Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow’s father and the keeper of pirate law). That said, the only way to judge a part of a trilogy is in relation to the whole: How well does it stand alone? How well does it support the other parts? How successful is it in resolving the Big Questions of the trilogy? Sadly, the answer to all those questions when it comes to “World’s End” is: Not very well. This is a film with just too much going on, as if the screenwriters decided that the thing to do was to pack every idea they ever had about the series into a five-pound bag. Instead of the sharp, interesting adventure that we got in “Curse of the Black Pearl,” we wind up with a lumpy, misshapen thing so lopsided that it manages to subtract from the rest of the series.

In short: if you’ve seen the other two “Pirates” films, it’s definitely worth a ticket to see how it all turns out (and be sure to stay until after the credits for a touching final resolution on the Will/Elizabeth story).

David Koon

One of the many blessings of the cinema, God love it, is its occasional, unapologetic embrace of the perverse and distorted. For a few bucks, we can sit in a dark room, enshrouded in safety and relative anonymity, and enjoy watching behavior that would in real life have us fumbling for our car keys and muttering something about having to go see a guy about a thing.

Horror films in particular have this attraction, so much so that their fans will normally grin and giggle at every horrible thing that flashes across the screen. Most horror films tend to play to this, delivering decapitations and disembowelments more for punchlines than pathos. It's rare that you’ll find a horror film with a real, pervasive sense of dread, one that makes you genuinely afraid for the characters, rather than just wincing in anticipation of the gore to come.

“Bug” is one of those rare gems. Directed by William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”) and adapted from a stage play of the same name by Tracy Letts, “Bug” is a slow, methodical sounding of the depths of fear and paranoid insanity, and it’s one engrossing trip down.

Ashley Judd plays Agnes, a honky-tonk waitress living in a run-down motel and surviving on a cocktail of vodka, loneliness and a healthy terror of her menacing ex-husband Goss (played perfectly by Harry Connick Jr. — that's right, I said it), who has just been paroled and is looking to get back together. One night a friend introduces Agnes to Peter (Michael Shannon), an awkward but gentle man who offers her the companionship she needs. Needs so desperately, in fact, that she clings to his love even as she begins to see his increasingly erratic and paranoid behavior.

Peter becomes convinced that her motel room is infested with near-microscopic insects that are biting him, and eventually convinces Agnes as well, even though she can't see them. From there, the story follows a careful trail from paranoid theory to paranoid theory until the couple becomes convinced that the bugs are part of a massive government conspiracy to experiment on Peter (and through him, on Agnes as well). As their paranoia mounts, their lives begin to disintegrate until the bugs are all they can think or talk about.

Watching their descent is both thrilling and painful — much to my surprise, I found myself reacting with the same mixture of fear, sadness and dread as if I were watching a friend of my own being consumed by untreated schizophrenia. Friedkin's direction and the performances by Judd, Shannon and Connick are so realistic and evocative that you can practically smell the flypaper and cigarettes.

Judd and Shannon play off one another beautifully, turning up the tension slowly until the third act, when they let fly with a torrent of crazed desperation that's almost too much to watch. Shannon's performance in particular is so taut, so finely tuned and balanced that he steals every scene he's in even before he starts raving, but the importance of Judd's turn as Agnes can't be overstated easily, either. It's easily one of the best roles she's ever had on film.

Taken together, the acting and direction and script make for a film at first ominous, then saddening, then downright terrifying. Some horror films grab you by the throat. This one sidles up to you, offers you a beer, chats with you just long enough to make you uneasy, then clubs you over the head and drags you back to its basement.

Matthew Reed

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