Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hilarity on the High Seas

“The Pirates!” Skewers the Myths By Skip Sheffield The most entertaining movie out this weekend is an animated feature aimed at a younger audience. “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is the title, and it blows away anything in Disney’s shallow “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. “The Pirates” has a screenplay by British author Gideon Dafoe, who may or may not be related to famous author who created “Robinson Crusoe.” It’s a cool name regardless, and Defoe has authored four books so far skewering and spoofing the myths and conventions of pirates. The movie is based loosely on the first book, “The Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists,” which explains how Charles Darwin, Queen Victoria and an extinct flightless bird can be worked into the same plot. Educated adults will also discover references to Karl Marx, Napoleon, Jane Austen and Charles Merrick the “Elephant Man.” Clearly this Columbia-Sony Animated collaboration is not a children’s film, though it can be enjoyed as such. Hugh Grant heads a cast of celebrity voices as the Pirate Captain, a vain, bumbling but lovable leader of a motley crew of misfits on the high seas in the year 1837. The Captain has the requisite luxuriant beard. He wields a gleaming cutlass, dines on ham and swigs grog with his mates, but he is not doing so well in the booty department. Amassing the largest amount of booty- treasure to you landlubbers- is key to winning the coveted Pirate of the Year competition the Pirate captain has failed to win in more than 20 years of trying. It’s an overblown extravaganza that is kind of a cross between a Miss America pageant and American Idol. The Captain faces stiff competition from Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and the Elvis-like Pirate King himself (Brian Blessed). A chance encounter with famed Origin of the Species explorer-scientist Charles Darwin leads to a realization the Captain may have something more valuable than silver or gold. Bonus points to those who spot right away what kind of bird the Captain’s loyal, pudgy Polly is. The discovery will take the captain and his crew of stereotypical pirates (none has a proper name) to London and an encounter with Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) and Darwin’s ingenious, sign-flipping mute monkey BoBo. The plot description is nowhere near as funny as the actual execution. “The Pirates!” is rife with absurd modern references that add to its clever, wacky, smart-aleck appeal. A Not-So-Hot "Five-Year Engagement On the other hand we have the “adult” comedy “Five-Year Engagement,” which is really more juvenile than grown-up. Jason Segal, who also co-wrote the script with director Nicolas Stoller, stars as Tom Solomon, a San Francisco sous chef who yearns to have a restaurant of his own. Emily Blunt is his patient, brainy fiancée, Violet Barnes. The film begins with Tom’s romantic rooftop proposal to Violet with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. From there it goes downhill after Violet enrolls in grad school at the University of Michigan and Tom follows. “Five-Year Engagement” is another raunchy, vulgar Judd Apatow production. If it weren’t for delicate, lovely Emily Blunt, it would have no class at all. Sure, there are some laughs, but they are the crude, snickering kind. The movie goes on far too long. We get it already. Romantic relationships are hard to maintain, especially when partners are on divergent paths. “Monsieur Lazhar” a Melancholy Valentine for Teachers “Monsieur Lazhar” is a heartfelt class act about the joy of teaching, the pain of loss and the difficulties of dislocation. Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) is a recent Algerian immigrant to French-speaking Montreal. The story begins with a shocking tableau of a teacher’s apparent suicide in her own classroom. The students are traumatized and in a state of shock. The school’s principal is a rigid, politically-correct worrywart. In fact the whole school is rigidly politically-correct and mandatorily feminist. Into this situation comes Monsieur Lazhar, who volunteers his services as substitute teacher when no one else will. Lazhar has a natural knack for teaching and relating to children, but inevitably he will run afoul of school policy and his own difficult situation. “Monsieur Lazhar” has beautiful, moving performances by its juvenile actors and convincing portrayals by the adults. It is a melancholy salute to education in a changing world.

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