"Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Double Hour"

I wanted an escape into the magical, to be taken away and not have to think of anything for a couple of hours and found it in "The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."  The film is Johnny Depp's latest adventure as Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates" series.  Director Rob Marshall gives us a rather played-down version compared to the previous ones, which for me, made it the better film out of the four . . . Four? Yes, there've been that many.

Reprising his role as Barbarossa - - now with a peg leg - - Geoffrey Rush is again a perfect foil for Sparrow; their exchanges are witty, biting, clever and challenging.  It pays to pay attention to the dialogue; often the best part of a scene, thanks to writers Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, and at least seven others.  Kevin McNally also appears in the film as the stalwart snitch Gibbs as he had in the earlier films.  New to "POTC 4"  is the terrific Ian McShane of "Deadwood" fame as the deadly pirate Blackbeard, his mesmerizing blue eyes rimmed with kohl (as are Depp's and Cruz's: wonder if they had a special budget for kohl?); and Penelope Cruz as his alleged daughter and Depp's love interest from the past, though they spend more time fighting than loving.

It is thought and is probably true that the public is tired of the Pirate, but I suggest you see this one.  It could reignite your spark (I sense there will be yet another in that at the end Jack says something like, "But that's not all . . ."  So . . .)  For one thing, the look is lighter, more open, plus there's a lot more going on than Sparrow trying to save high-born ladies, playing one-up with a rival, and surviving close calls dealt him by both royalty and miscreants - - well, it wouldn't be "Pirates" without some of these.  Neither Orlando Bloom nor Kiera Knightly are in this film, nor is there a voodoo priestess and other instances or people involved in the black arts; however there is a quartermaster (Ian Mercer) who has been "zombified;." nor are there slimy figures from the deep with wriggling, wormy beards.  The Fountain of Youth is the quest theme for this film.  Keith Richards shows up again as Captain Teague, Sparrow's dad for a bit at the start to give his son some tips as to the location of the fountain.  He delivers a great line when Jack asks him if he's found it.  Richards replies, "Does this face look like it's seen the Fountain of Youth?" as the camera closes in on Richards's ravaged visage.  One would expect no less.  Not only the Brits but the Spaniards also are in quest of the Fountain.  The former for the right reason (who doesn't want to be young forever?) and the latter for the wrong.  Good sport Judy Dench makes a surprise cameo appearance as a noble lady in a carriage on top of whom Sparrow lands for an instant while escaping a hanging.

The film is free of slapstick and sight gags which grew tiresome in the previous films; but lots of rip-roaring, swash-buckling action - - swinging from swag, chandeliers, and the like.  The animals (an irritating monkey, for one)  have been replaced by a bevy of beautiful seductive, but deadly mermaids who live in a bay beyond which lies the magic fountain that they protect; just when you think one wants a kiss, you lean over the boat and she'll bite your face off with her fangs while dragging you below to Davey Jones's Locker.  The underwater camera work is stunning.  A sweet, poignant, subplot is introduced involving Syrena, one of the mermaids (a lovely Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and Phillip (Sam Claflin), a handsome young, God-fearing believer.  The film becomes even more engaging during magical scenes dealing with the discovery of the Fountain (breathtakingly shot in Hawaii by Dariusz Wolski heading an extensive film crew) when down becomes up and a whirlpool spins upward, sucking those caught in it heavenward into a setting so lovely it rivals like scenes from"The Lord of the Rings."

"The Double Hour" (La doppia ora) in an Italian film with English subtitles, directed by Guiseppi Capotondi, starring Kseniya Rappoport and Filippo Timi.

This Italian thriller is on a par with Alfred Hitchock's best films.  It holds you in suspense from the very beginning.  Sonia (Ksenyia Rappoport), a chambermaid in a high class hotel, scans obituary columns obsessively; studies Spanish using recordings; and is attentive to her duties, despite distractions.  She pushes her cart room to room, cleaning.  In one, she finds the French windows wide open, crosses to close them, looks down to see the room's occupant, a woman, lying in the street, her head oozing blood.
We learn that comely, blond Sonia is single and new to Turin so regularly frequents a speed dating scene at a restaurant where, after a number of obviously losers, she eventually meets Guido (dark, handsome Filippo Timi), an ex-cop turned private security guard. Their courtship is idyllic until one day, exploring a mansion Guido is supposed to be watching while the owners are away, they are attacked by balaclava-wearing burglars.  Both are shot; Soniya survives, but believes Guido had died.  Soniya hears his voice, thinks she sees him on the hotel's security camera; her mind is playing tricks.  She is visited, stalked, and questioned by Dante (Michele Di Mauro), a cop Guido had worked with;  a mysterious hotel patron, who always carries a large suitcase that Soniya and her work-mate Margherita (Antonia Truppo) suspect he carries his dead wife's body in, haunts her. 

Things are not what they seem.  There is one shocking scene where you'll find yourself jumping out of your chair. This mysterious, subtle, low-key suspense film about love, betrayal, and heartbreak has jaw-dropping twists.  "The Double Hour" was made in Italy in 2009 where it won for Best Actor, Actress, and Film at the Venice Film Festival.  It is showing in art house theatres, but not for long:  In SF, at the Clay.  Check local listings.