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Entries in Johnny Depp (11)

Friday
Oct282011

The Rum Diary

If you look at Johnny Depp’s filmography, it’s full of weird movies and eccentric characters, like the ones in Pirates of the Caribbean, Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to name a few. It’s like he’s drawn to weird. That theory is only further strengthened by The Rum Diary, a movie that includes hallucinogenic drug trips, hermaphroditic voodoo witch doctors and a dozen other scenes of absolute randomness. For a while, the wonder of where it will go next is charming, but eventually it becomes tiresome and by the end of its two hour runtime, you’ll have completely checked out.

Based on the novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, the film follows Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) as he takes on a job at a newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960. During his attempts at what one might call journalism, he runs into a beautiful socialite named Chenault (Amber Heard) whom he begins to fall for. Unfortunately, she’s married to Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who is trying to get Paul to write misleading newspaper articles to rally public support for the building of hotels on an isolated island.

Things eventually go haywire, of course. Paul teams up with two bumbling alcoholics, Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) and Sala (Michael Rispoli), and they find themselves in precarious situations one would never expect. They end up on the dangerous end of a car chase, negotiating shady business deals, hanging out at posh parties, gambling on cockfights and arguing their innocence in a court of law, along with the aforementioned witch doctor visit and trip on “the most powerful drug in the history of narcotics.” So much of it is so unnecessary to what minimal story this film manages to create that you soon forget what Paul is doing and why.

But it never matters. Story points could be dropped and reintroduced at any point and it wouldn’t make up for the disjointed narrative. The romance that develops between Paul and Chenault isn’t even followed through and is instead quickly dropped with a few simple lines of dialogue. I suppose the nonsensical placement of certain scenes is supposed to heighten the humor, but the simple fact of the matter is that the film just isn’t that funny. At times, it’s too dry or understated, almost like a British comedy, and so far from being in your face, it’s practically non-existent. Other times, it’s too zany, which eventually leads to Paul and Sala essentially dry humping in the car.

The exception is Ribisi, who acts like you’ve never seen him act before, and he manages to squeeze out whatever humor he can, though much of it has to do with his alcoholism, which is no laughing matter even in a movie as silly as this. What it lacks in laughs, however, it makes up for with truly terrific performances. Depp is as good as ever as another charismatic, crazy, cunning man of words, but it’s Heard who manages to shine here, breaking free from ridiculous horror thrillers like The Ward, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and Drive Angry and showing us some true potential.

But The Rum Diary nevertheless feels incomplete. Its story is fragmented and no emotional arc is ever created, despite an early moment where the score slows down and Paul photographs a poverty stricken area where a child is playing in a broken down car. With all the quirkiness on display, I suppose writer/director Bruce Robinson decided not to bother. “Best to stick to the comedy,” he must have thought. I wonder if he ever thought that perhaps the comedy wasn’t working.

The Rum Diary receives 2/5

Friday
May202011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I’m a Pirates of the Caribbean apologist. Viewers and critics alike have berated the second and third entries in the franchise, but I defend them on the grounds that they shouldn’t be taken seriously and are simply good, stupid fun. I won’t be doing that for On Stranger Tides. This fourth installment is nothing more than an obvious cash grab, a slapdash resurgence of a franchise that doesn’t know what to do with itself. Those who hated At World’s End are suddenly going to have fond memories of it after watching this.

The movie begins with a familiar face. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) is on trial, though for what I haven’t the slightest clue. He is about to receive his sentencing when suddenly, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) randomly appears in full judge garb, sentencing him to life in prison. Before he knows it, Jack has ditched the outfit and joined him in the carriage that is transporting him off to jail. Jack informs him he has a plan and to just sit tight for a while. Of course, that plan never comes into fruition and next thing they know, they are confronted by the British armed forces. Before much of anything happens, Jack escapes and runs into Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who has been impersonating Jack in another plot point that is never really explained. It turns out she is, but not really (but maybe), the daughter of the famed Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Next thing he knows, Jack is on Blackbeard’s ship and they’re on their way to find the Fountain of Youth.

Like its predecessors, On Stranger Tides doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There are zombified slave people, mermaids that evidently don’t like man-made light, but flock to it nonetheless, and a scene where Jack runs into an old friend who is able to fire a gun and save his life despite being, as far as I could tell, an apparition. Also like the previous movies (particularly the third one), it’s not always clear who is good and who is bad. It never establishes anyone to root for, so you end up rooting for no one.

Although those problems have been a consistency since the second film, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End made up for it with over-the-top action. You were bombarded with so much excitement that you wound up forgetting that you really had no idea what was going on. The ridiculousness was part of its charm. I think back to the end of the third film where multiple ships were circling around a whirlpool in the middle of the ocean, firing cannons at each other while characters swung to and fro and battled each other on top of the ships’ masts. For some reason, On Stranger Tides decides to scale back its action to a large degree. Nowhere will you find the outrageousness of the previous films. Rather, you’ll see little more than your generic on-land swordfights that usually end up going nowhere due to the film’s apparent desire to ensure that very few people, especially the main characters, are actually harmed.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is convoluted, confusing and overstuffed. The funny thing is that at two hours and eight minutes, it’s the shortest Pirates movie yet, but it feels like the longest. It meanders about, introducing new characters that are poorly developed and throwing them in subplots that are uninteresting and, like the human/mermaid romance, very silly. It forces its humor, the actors don’t seem to be into it and it more or less ends up where it began. Even the reliable Depp as the ever amusing Jack Sparrow seems like he’s floating through this, though that could be due to the witless script that gives him nothing funny to say.

The final nail in the coffin comes from the obligatory 3D, which is more useless here than ever before thanks to the overwhelming darkness that pervades the film. This is the darkest movie to utilize the format since Sanctum and, thanks to the tinted glasses, it’s difficult to see much of anything. When you can see, the effect isn’t noticeable. When it is noticeable, it’s nauseating and off-putting. Given all its blunders, there’s really no reason to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It’s hard to imagine even die-hard fans of the franchise will be able to find enjoyment in this.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides receives 1.5/5

Friday
Mar042011

Rango

If you’ve ever heard me talk about animation, you know I’m at the forefront of the “Animation is not just for children!” movement. Opponents of that train of thought are, quite simply, daft. Just because children can find enjoyment in a particular animated movie does not mean adults can’t, or even that it was meant for them. Accessibility does not equate to target audience. While it's true that movies like Planet 51 are strictly for kids, films like How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled and many more have proven that animation can delight the young ones in the audience while also sparking the long lost imagination of the older crowd. Well, you can now add Rango, a downright delightful animated Western that ranks among the best non-Pixar offerings in recent memory, to that ever growing list.

As the film begins, we meet a chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) trapped inside of a glass cage as he rides with his family across the Nevada desert. After the car swerves due to an animal in the road, his cage falls out of the window and smashes, leaving him stranded and alone. However, he soon meets Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher) an iguana who is on her way to Dirt, a town inhabited by animals whose only resource is precious water. When he arrives, he creates a rough and tough identity for himself, calling himself Rango and boasting of violent scuffles that never happened. Impressed by his words, the townsfolk make him sheriff. And he couldn’t have come at a better time because the water is drying up and they hope he will be able to find out why.

If you’ve seen the trailers for Rango, you may be aware of the unique filming style. Although animated, the actors voicing the roles physically acted out the performance. It wasn't motion capture, however. As Depp put it, it was “emotion capture.” This technique allowed the performers to interact with each other (as opposed to the usual solitary voice recordings most other films use) and be as silly as possible while cameras filmed their every move, footage that was later used as reference in the animation process. The approach worked because the fun they undoubtedly had creating the movie flows through the screen like no other film in recent memory.

While much of that is due to the terrific script and the funny delivery by the voice actors, it is also due to the beautiful and vibrant animation that is (shockingly) not hampered by the dimming glasses of 3D. The choice to not put Rango in 3D is a wise one and it shows just how much livelier your film can be with every bright color in its palette popping off the screen. In addition, the attention to detail is astonishing. Some are merely nice touches, like the inclusion of mustache-esque scales on Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by Bill Nighy), but others add to the realism of the unforgiving desert, like backgrounds that look like they’re moving because of the scorching humidity.

Rango may not have the heart of a Pixar film (though it tries), but it has fun, particularly with old Western tropes like horseback riding and standoffs, by putting its own little spin on them and crafting some clever jokes at their expense. It has everything that makes a great Western, only exaggerated and manic to properly fit with the animation style and it works. With the exception of True Grit, Rango is the best example of the genre to come along in years. All things considered, that’s pretty impressive.

Rango receives 4/5

Friday
Dec102010

The Tourist

It almost seems like a no brainer to pair Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, two of the hottest celebrities around right now, in terms of star power and good looks, together. Jolie is one of the most gorgeous women on the face of the planet and has the talent to back it up and the ladies all swoon over Depp, who also turns in a good performance each and every outing. That is why it’s such a shame they are stuck together in The Tourist, a movie that should have been so much more. It’s still stupid fun, but the first half of that description is what disappoints the most.

As the movie begins, we watch as a British agency led by Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) tails Elise (Jolie), who is linked to a mysterious man named Alexander Pearce, a fugitive criminal that they are trying to track down. However, nobody knows what he looks or sounds like, so they are hoping she will lead them to him. As she sits down for a coffee one morning, she receives a letter from Pearce that tells her to board a soon-to-be-leaving train. When she is on, she is to find a man with his shape and size and make the British police force believe he is Pearce. She finds that man in Frank Tupelo (Depp), an American tourist.

With that beginning, one might assume that the movie is on a fast track to absurd action and ridiculous scenarios, almost like Knight and Day only with the gender roles reversed, but that isn’t the case. There is some action, but it isn’t the main attraction. The reason to see The Tourist is to watch Jolie and Depp play opposite each other. They both are magnificent and produce some of the best chemistry we’ve seen all year.

Being an espionage thriller, The Tourist is a tad confusing. At one point, Elise apologizes to Frank for bringing him into all this, but I wasn’t quite sure what “this” was exactly. It’s all explained by the end, but there’s a serious lack of context throughout the majority of the movie. It’s like the filmmakers were so happy to have Depp and Jolie onboard that they forgot to make sense of what they were doing.

At the same time, however, it’s believable. Aside from one early usage of a technology that I’m not sure exists, this is more realistic than Salt, the aforementioned Knight and Day or any other similar espionage thriller to be released this year. Of course, it’s all still preposterous and requires your suspension of disbelief, but I was willing to grant it that and it worked for me. At least until the end rolled around and packed a final twist that was so outlandish it took that suspension of disbelief and vaporized it.

But that isn’t enough to destroy The Tourist. Sure, the screenplay is all over the place and the action scenes leave a lot to be desired—director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (who I mention only because his name is awesome) stages them poorly and doesn’t have the finesse to make them exciting—but the performances are great and there are some hearty laughs, particularly from Depp who has some fun with tourist stereotypes and speaks Spanish despite being in Italian locales.

This is a movie that knows what it wants to be. As the British agency follows Jolie in the very first scene, one of the camera operators zooms in on her butt. His boss, not amused, tells him to “be professional.” As soon as this line is said, Donnersmarck cuts to his own close-up of Jolie’s curvaceous backside. Right here, he’s telling us to sit back, relax and not think too hard. He’s not trying to impress us with flash. He’s just trying to give us some silly fun. And I found myself entertained, so I guess he achieved his goal.

The Tourist receives 3/5

Friday
Mar052010

Alice in Wonderland

When director Tim Burton and Golden Globe award winner Johnny Depp team up for a film, the result is always magical. From 1990's Edward Scissorhands to the 2007 masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the two have been more or less successful in every picture they've made together. Now uniting again for the seventh time, Depp and Burton have created an enchanting tale in Alice in Wonderland. Working more as a sequel to the title story (following the 1951 Disney animated feature closer than any other) rather than another iteration in itself, the film creates a fantastical world that feels alive and is brimming with imagination. It is a must see.

The film begins in the real world with Alice as a young girl (played by Mairi Ella Challen at this age). She tells her father that she thinks she's going mad because of a recurring dream she is having, but he tells her that some of the best people are mad. Flash forward thirteen years later and Alice is a young adult (played by Mia Wasikowska) and on her way to a party where she is asked for her hand in marriage by a gentleman she does not love. As he asks her, in front of seemingly hundreds of people no less, she spots a white rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) and she chases after it, only to fall down a hole into Wonderland. She quickly meets a colorful cast of characters including Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both played by Matt Lucas), Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), and of course, the Mad Hatter (played by Johnny Depp). She swears she's never been there before despite their insistence that she has. They believe she has come back to stop the evil Red Queen (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and take down her jabberwocky, a giant mythical beast, thus giving power of the land back to her sister, the kind White Queen (played by Anne Hathaway).

Alice in Wonderland is a timeless story and no matter whether you've read its source material, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," or seen one of the dozens of adaptations of it (including a 1976 porn version that, unfortunately, I've yet to get my hands on), you should be familiar with the gist of it, but you've never seen it like this. Alice's trip down the rabbit hole begins much like it usually does, with Alice growing taller and shrinking smaller before finally making it through the tiny door too little for her to crawl through, but Burton takes the rest of the film down a completely different path, one met with an unabashed amount of wonderment and a strong sense of peril, two things its previous Disney counterpart was missing.

That 1951 animated movie looked good, but was bogged down by poor musical numbers and a story that went nowhere. Alice's adventure never took a deeper meaning other than her desire to live in a more illusory world where she wouldn't succumb to boredom. This modern update--or more accurately labeled sequel--thankfully does more and you do feel like Alice has a purpose in this world. (Not to mention it does away with the singing.)

Still, I will admit that much like previous iterations, the story isn't as interesting as simply looking at the lush visuals on display. You may brush the story off as nonsense, but you'll still sit there in bewilderment at the film's artistry. It's bedazzling in a way that makes you feel like a kid again because the world you're looking at could only be realized by someone with a childlike sensibility, of which Burton, however dark it may be, has in spades. Every frame fills each corner of the screen with something remarkable to look at and the 3D makes it pop. The extra dimension gives added depth to an already stunning landscape, rarely resorting to the annoying things-flying-at-your-face gimmick too many 3D films employ.

Each character in the movie is wonderfully well rounded with distinct personalities and Burton juggles them perfectly, giving you enough time to meet and like (or hate) them. Depp, as great as an actor as he is, does not overpower the film because he's working with solid material (unlike Public Enemies where he was forced to work with mediocrity) and the actors around him do more than a capable job of playing against him. Wasikowska, who plays the titular character, does a particularly excellent job in her first starring role. I see big things on her horizon and much how Edward Scissorhands catapulted Depp into the spotlight, I expect Wasikowska to start gaining exposure after her star turn in this.

As better as this is when compared to the 1951 Disney animated version, it could have followed its footsteps in one regard. In that film, Alice quickly lands in Wonderland and when she finds her way out, the movie ends almost immediately. It never bothers with real world back story. This does a bit too much. I could have done without the real world affairs and found the whole engagement story to be a distraction. Although I like how she relates the people she knows in the real world to the zany creatures in Wonderland, it adds nothing in the way of depth.

That quibble aside, Alice in Wonderland is a real treat and will best be enjoyed by those still with the ability to dream and believe in the impossible.

Alice in Wonderland receives 4.5/5