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Entries in Johnny Depp (11)

Thursday
Dec252014

Into the Woods

There’s a certain joy that washes over me when I watch a good musical. Movies and music are wonderful mediums for artistic expression, as each find their own truths and meaning in their own distinct, separate ways, but combining the two is complete bliss. Both complement each other, the music giving the visuals an extra flavor that would be missing had they been accompanied by silence, and vice versa. When those visuals are as striking and the music as wonderful as they are in “Into the Woods,” it’s impossible not to be entertained. This is visually one of the best musicals since 1940’s “Fantasia,” full of all the grandeur and wonder that one might expect from a Disney movie.

Adapted from the 1986 Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into the Woods” tells a story that mixes together numerous childhood fairy tales. In a small town, there is a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who are desperate to have a child, but whose family lineage has been cursed by an evil witch (Meryl Streep), making it impossible. She tells them she will break the curse if they can obtain four items for her in the surrounding woods: a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood and a shoe as pure as gold. On their search, they run into Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who is attending the Prince’s (Chris Pine) ball, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who is on her way to see her grandmother, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), who is stuck in a tall tower with no stairs or doors, and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who is heading to town to sell his cow, but will end up trading it for some magic beans. The baker and his wife, thrust into the middle of all these stories, will do their best to get each of those items however they can.

“Into the Woods” is a magical film, one that combines the natural wonder of the fairy tales it portrays with terrific songs that simultaneously poke fun of those tales and lovingly embrace them. It doesn’t shy away from the darker moments of these Brothers Grimm tales, including the death of major characters—and yes, you’ll get to experience the evil stepsisters getting their toes cut off in an attempt to fit their feet in the golden slipper—but it never gets dark enough to lose its whimsy. Chris Pine, in particular, steals every scene he’s in with a self-deprecating performance that adds a satirical spin on fairy tale machismo as it upends the traditional character gender roles so many of these classic stories exemplify.

But Pine is merely one part of one of the best ensemble casts of the year. Streep, as is expected at this point, gives one of the best performances of the year as the wicked witch. The nuance she brings to the character makes the witch all her own, as she crafts someone who is both terrifying and also immensely likable. Even as she threatens and frightens the baker and his wife, she charms, as does Kendrick, cast perfectly in the role of the disheveled, but nevertheless lovely Cinderella. She has proven her vocal talent in movies like “Pitch Perfect,” but whereas that movie mostly featured an a cappella group singing together, she gets to shine alone here. Her story is the funniest and most emotional, so her songs bring with them added weight and she performs them with aplomb.

For those more interested in visuals, however, the star of the show won’t be Kendrick or Pine or Streep or even Stephen Sondheim, but the fantastic art direction that somehow manages to give colorful life to the dark settings. The costumes, props, sets all create a vivid world, one that would be desirable to live in were it not for the witch curses and giants stomping about. If you don’t mind a pervading sense of dread in your visuals, “Into the Woods” will amaze you, even if the songs and story don’t.

It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t, though, as almost every moment in this two hour movie is a delight to watch, the sole awkward part being the song sang by the Big Bad Wolf, played by Johnny Depp, which is full of enough (presumably intentional, but still uncomfortable) sexual innuendo towards Red Riding Hood to derail the mood up to that point. Luckily, it’s early on, so it corrects itself quickly, but in every other regard, “Into the Woods” proves itself as an absolute gem of a musical.

Into the Woods receives 4.5/5

Thursday
Jun122014

22 Jump Street

If someone asked me what the most surprisingly good movie in recent memory has been, I would confidently answer, “21 Jump Street.” The film took a largely forgotten show from the late 80s/early 90s and abandoned much of its dramatic personality, replacing it instead with flavorful comedy and clever spoofs of the buddy cop action movie genre. Even the two lead stars seemed incompatible, but it proved to be a “don’t judge a book by its cover” type of movie, firmly planting itself as one of the funniest and smartest comedies of that year. Its sequel, wittily titled “22 Jump Street,” isn’t quite as successful, as its monotonous story gives it a mild case of “The Hangover Part II” syndrome, but the difference between that film and this one is that, while it reused similar situations from its predecessor, the jokes are fresh and more often than not manage to produce some big laughs.

“22 Jump Street” begins with a routine action scene—one involving an octopus of all things—a poor start to a sequel whose first movie nobody remembers for its action. Shortly after, it sets up its story through a quick meeting with Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) where he explains to Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) through some obvious, but still funny meta-humor that nobody expected them to succeed. To bring the old Jump Street program back was a risk, but they were successful enough to keep the program running and this time with a bigger budget. He explains that their next assignment is exactly like their last, an obvious jab at the played out “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” Hollywood sequel mentality, only this time they’re going to college. There’s a new drug called Whyphy (pronounced Wi-Fi) making the rounds and, just like last time, their job is to find the dealer and stop the drug from being distributed nationwide.

Of course, just because a movie is aware that it’s copying itself doesn’t generate an automatic forgiveness for its narrative laziness. Despite a twist or two, there is nothing new here to keep one interested as it succumbs to the very same “rehashed sequel” issues that it repeatedly makes fun of through its nearly two hour runtime. Even its drama is rehashed, only this time it’s Schmidt that’s jealous of Jenko’s newfound popularity rather than vice versa. The only clear difference between this movie and the first one is that the lousy, ineffective drama is actually increased, needlessly pervading the entire thing and causing the film to fail even harder because of it. And yes, there’s another drug trip scene.

“22 Jump Street” is one of the most self-deprecating movies I’ve ever seen, since it jokes about redundant sequels even as it relies entirely on those redundancies to form its story. Luckily, some genuine effort was made to be funny and the chemistry between Hill and Tatum is as strong as ever, which makes up for most of the film’s shortcomings. There are some terrific bits here, including the most awkward fistfight ever put to screen, and also like its predecessor, it cleverly skewers filmic clichés, like the traditional “meet cute” scene. It’s safe to say that if you laughed in the first movie, you’re likely to laugh here as well, as Hill and Tatum play off each other about as well as any comedic duo has onscreen.

Also notable is the very welcome and surprisingly serious (albeit short-lived) plea for tolerance of homosexuals, though you’d have to be reaching pretty far to argue “22 Jump Street” is a message movie. Its intention is to simply make its audience laugh and sometimes that’s all you need. Despite its copy and paste story, unwanted increase in drama and one egregious moment of product placement involving Doritos as Jenko walks down a dorm building hallway, logo to camera, without actually eating them, the film works. Although it’s unlikely to leave as much of an impression as the first movie, it’s just plain funny. It does exactly what it promises it will do, which will be enough for most viewers who want more of the same, but let’s just hope a third outing spices things up a bit.

22 Jump Street receives 3/5

Thursday
Apr172014

Transcendence

Wally Pfister is probably one of the most talented, yet unheralded, workers in Hollywood today. Many may not know that he’s actually the man behind the camera for every single one of director Christopher Nolan’s films (aside from his first, “Following,” and his upcoming sci-fi film, “Interstellar”). He even won an Oscar for his cinematography work on “Inception,” so it’s clear the man has talent. He knows how to shoot a movie and evoke emotions through visuals. Since film is a visual medium, that strength is arguably the most valuable to have in Hollywood. In this regard, his directorial debut, “Transcendence,” follows his tradition of excellence (despite being shot by “Hot Fuzz” and “The Spectacular Now” cinematographer, Jess Hall), but it’s lacking nearly everywhere else. Pfister certainly picked some things up from Nolan, but he lacks his penchant for storytelling. With an uneven pace and unexplored themes, “Transcendence” can be described as little more than a missed opportunity.

Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is an artificial intelligence expert. With many years of research and hard work behind him, he hopes to one day create a machine that will be able to reach singularity—or as he likes to put it, transcendence—that moment in time when a machine reaches superhuman intelligence. It’s a vision that doesn’t seem to be too far off in the future, which sparks a radical movement of extremists determined to stop it. After giving a speech about the future of artificial intelligence, a member of that extremist group shoots him. Although he survives the attack, the bullet is shown to have been laced with poison, which entered his bloodstream, giving him only a month to live. In light of this, his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) comes up with a crazy idea. She suggests planting a nanochip in his brain and uploading his consciousness to a supercomputer, thus ensuring he lives on. Her partner, Max (Paul Bettany), reluctantly agrees to give it a shot, though the odds of success are low. Much to their surprise, however, it works and Will is essentially alive, or as close as one can be to it, in a computer.

These early moments, along with the closing, are perhaps the best in the entire film. Though essentially a sped up tragedy—complete with dramatic music, emotional breakdowns and even a sad Morgan Freeman narration for good measure—it works. The capable actors bring their characters to life, upping the ante for what’s to come. However, anyone who has seen a film about technology achieving sentience will see all of it coming from a mile away, which is to say things don’t quite go according to plan.

This gives way to a plethora of wonderful ideas that, sadly, are haphazardly introduced and never intelligently expanded on. At one point, after Will reaches his sought after transcendence, the film seems to be heading in the right direction and finds its focus. Will begins to heal the sick, even those with long time illnesses that modern medicine hasn’t found cures for yet. He lets the blind see, the paralyzed walk and more. It asks, what if we could be better than God? What if we could fix the mistakes a supposed flawless creator burdened us with? What if we could see everything all at once, as any omnipotent being should? What if we could heal someone’s potentially life threating injuries in seconds, to the point where it’s like those injuries never even happened? These are compelling thoughts, ones that seem wonderful at first, but the complications of playing God slowly reveal themselves, showing that these vulnerabilities and afflictions are what make us human.

Granted, the effects of playing God are hardly breaking new cinematic ground, but they gave “Transcendence” the weight it so desperately needed. Unfortunately, it’s also around this point that it introduces its most absurd idea: the taking over of actual human bodies through the use of nanobots and “connecting” them to Will’s digital infrastructure. While I hesitate to say that such an event is completely out of the realm of scientific plausibility, it nevertheless gives the film that typical Hollywood feel and essentially strips it of the ideas it had just minutes before introduced.

Despite messy narrative and thematic arcs, “Transcendence” still manages to pack a ton of awe into its runtime, mostly thanks to Pfister’s understanding of cinematography. The shot composition is solid, the camera movements are fluid and its interesting focus on seemingly mundane objects ground the film. For those interested in the technical creation of filmmaking, “Transcendence” will be a thing of beauty, but it all goes back to those missed opportunities. Despite similar central ideas, it never quite reaches the bombastic action of something like “The Terminator” or the heartfelt wonders of last year’s “Her.” It tries to combine both into one cohesive whole, one that can tug at the heartstrings while also keeping things exciting, but, ultimately, it collapses under the weight of its own ambition.

Transcendence receives 2.5/5

Wednesday
Jul032013

The Lone Ranger

It seems like a strange time to reboot “The Lone Ranger,” the Western themed radio/television show that debuted back in the 30s when the idea of the Western hadn’t faded from society’s interest, much like it has today. Today, audiences seem to want robots and explosions and carnage and new technologies, not a shootout in pre-industrialized America with tumbleweeds rolling around in the background. Perhaps that’s why this 2013 version of “The Lone Ranger” decided to sell its soul. This movie is a Western for the ADD-addled generation, those who need every sense needlessly bombarded with pounding music, sound effects and visual flash. While I hesitate to label it a disaster as some have, “The Lone Ranger” is missing the essence of the genre and it doesn’t do enough to make up for it.

John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer. Despite ridicule from his brother and the general populace, he believes America is heading in a direction of prosperity, a bright and evolved future that will do away with the need for violence to bring criminals to justice. However, while traveling on horseback with the local rangers, including his brother, he is attacked by a wily band of savages, led by Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a recently escaped madman who was to be executed. In the ambush, everyone is killed except for John, who is restored back to health by a Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp). A treaty has been drawn up between the Comanches and the man who plans on building the transcontinental railroad in or around their reservations, Cole (Tom Wilkinson), but the newly formed team of Tonto and John, eventually dubbed the Lone Ranger, discover not is all as it seems, so they set out to uncover the conspiracy.

I suppose I should clarify one thing. When I speak of “visual flash,” I’m not saying it isn’t welcome. On the contrary, the film is so bland, predictable and unfunny that it’s one of the only things keeping this thing from sinking closer to the bottom of the barrel. Regardless of what one might think of director Gore Verbinski from a narrative viewpoint, his eye for beauty is virtually unparalleled. He’s one of the most visually interesting directors currently making movies (and one of the reasons why “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” remains underrated today) and his talent shines through here. There are some terrific shots with some striking imagery that you can’t help but gape in awe at. The problem is that much of that pizzazz is misplaced.

This movie is set in 1933, when the country was becoming more prosperous and looking to leave its life of wild west outlawing in the past. It was a time to look forward, but a ton of work still needed to be done. It was still a rough and gritty transitional period, yet the visuals here are squeaky clean, never conveying the tone or time the movie is set in. “The Lone Ranger” is, more or less, “Pirates of the Caribbean” set in the old west, but whereas those fantasy adventures benefited from these touches, “The Lone Ranger” suffers. With all of the excessive action, it is unfortunately bogged down by an overuse of obvious CGI, a misjudgment in a movie that needed to be toned down to begin with, not bloated with extravagance.

And speaking of bloating, “The Lone Ranger” is overlong. Running at only a tick under two and half hours, the film drags along with nowhere to go. The eventual revelation of who could be behind the madness is transparent from the start and no other reason is given to care. Sure, there’s a kind-of romance between John and the newly widowed Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), but it’s underdeveloped and ignored for the most part. It’s almost as if the three writers of the film picked one piece of an outlined story, wrote about them without consulting one another and then tried to place them together, resulting in a movie with no flow or cohesion.

“The Lone Ranger” is one of those strange movies that doesn’t do much of anything particularly well, but it’s hard to outright hate it. Its humor lands with a thud more often than not and even its somewhat insulting portrayal of Native Americans—more so in the way it uses their cultures, values and beliefs for laughs than the casting of Depp as one—never truly kills it. The only real reason to see the movie, if you can get past its modernized computer animated façade, is the action, particularly the final moments aboard a speeding train, but even that proves to be futile. If that’s what you’re looking for, you need to look no further than Buster Keaton’s 1926 masterpiece, “The General.” Nearly 90 years later and that silent film trumps this one in nearly every way and, without the help of computers, still stands as one of the most thrilling movies ever put to screen. “The Lone Ranger” on the other hand is a two and a half hour time suck. Here’s hoping Verbinski puts his skills to better use with his next project.

The Lone Ranger receives 2/5

Friday
May112012

Dark Shadows

At this point, the result of a collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp isn’t so much an acquired taste as it is one that you’ve already come to enjoy, but has a sour aftertaste. Many would argue that after a string of solid movies for the duo, including Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow, they’ve hit a lull and in recent years have been unable to recapture the magic that existed so long ago. I would argue, however, that they’re still as wonderful as ever. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street should have been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, Corpse Bride was a wonderfully macabre, but ultimately satisfying adventure into the abyss of death and Alice in Wonderland, though certainly flawed, was a quirky and visually interesting take on the classic story. Only once with the ill advised Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have they failed to entertain. Their latest collaboration, an adaptation of the campy soap opera from the 60s titled Dark Shadows, is a minor entry in both of their mostly impressive careers, but it’s funny, fun, different and it boasts some terrific performances.

Dark Shadows is set in the 18th century and follows a young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) as he and his family sail off to America. Once there, he becomes somewhat of a playboy, living with untold riches and striking up a physical relationship with Angelique (Eva Green), a worker in the home he so affectionately calls Collinwood Manor. However, a physical relationship is all he’s interested in because his love belongs to someone else. This breaks Angelique’s heart, which is something Barnabas may have tried to avoid had he known she was a witch, so she puts a curse on him that kills his entire family, including the woman he loves, and turns him into a vampire. With the help of the townsfolk, she eventually captures him, places him in a chained up coffin and buries him in the ground to live in darkness for all eternity. Two hundred years later, a construction crew stumbles onto his grave and accidentally lets him out, so he makes his way back to Collinwood Manor to meet the newest members of his family, including Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath) and their live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). It’s not too long before Angelique hears of Barnabas’ escape, so she sets out to either win him over or destroy him for good.

Dark Shadows coasts by on a one joke premise: that an 18th century man has stumbled into a 20th century world that he doesn’t understand. Frankly, it’s a story that could have been told in any genre and without the fantasy/horror elements, of which seem to exist solely to create a somewhat believable way to make the set up happen. Such arbitraries hardly matter, however, when you have actors who are up to the task of taking an already witty script and making it even more enjoyable. Depp brings his A-game, which he always does to a Tim Burton production, and it’s endlessly entertaining to watch his 18th century look, mannerisms and rhetoric contrast with a time when hippies ruled and metal was emerging (which leads to a great cameo by one of the all time metal greats, Alice Cooper). Because he has laid in darkness for 200 years, Barnabas has not seen the world progress and still holds onto archaic trains of thought, most humorously when he attributes everything he doesn’t understand to Satan. Even his notion of sexuality is stuck in the past; he covets women based on their child bearing hips rather than modern characteristics men typically look for.

Dark Shadows is not a particularly serious movie, as one should be able to tell by now. Despite its (sometimes downplayed) haunting, gothic visual style that Burton has an affinity for, there are more laughs than anything else, a notion that most viewers would find hard to argue with after the montage set to The Carpenter’s “Top of the World.” It’s not the most polished film Burton has ever done and sports some noticeably amateurish flaws, including one particular shot where the eyelines don’t match up, but it’s nevertheless a surprising delight. Its trailers were worthy of groans, but what doesn’t work in short form works wonderfully in context, similar to 2009’s surprise hit, The Blind Side. It’s not the most subtle film in the world (the connection between one of the characters and Barnabas’ deceased love is plainly obvious), but Dark Shadows is goofy in all the right ways.

Dark Shadows receives 3.5/5