Tag Archives: Johnny Depp

Mystery, Meet Riddle

City of Lies

by George Wolf

After nearly three years of lawsuits, allegations, finger-pointing and false starts, City of Lies lands in theaters as an engrossing attempt to untangle a web of conspiracy.

Based on LAbyrinth, Randall Sullivan’s non-fiction best-seller about the investigations into the murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls/Notorious B.I.G), the film leans on stellar performances and solid construction to advance its very clear agenda.

Johnny Depp stars as Russell Poole, the LAPD detective who collaborated on the book, with Forest Whitaker as journalist “Jack” Jackson, a fictional character modeled after Sullivan.

It was Poole’s belief that members of the LAPD conspired with Death Row Records mogul “Suge” Knight to murder both iconic rappers. Poole’s case is not a simple one, but director Brad Furman and first-time screenwriter Christian Contreras are able to deconstruct it and then reassemble the parts with a satisfying amount of thriller intrigue.

Employing shifting timelines and a touch of voiceover narration from Depp, Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer, The Infiltrator) and Contreras find numerous avenues to inform us organically. As the case does come to resemble “a riddle inside an enigma,” our own sense of discovery is consistently nurtured, which naturally increases our investment in what Poole is selling.

Depp and Whitaker make their characters’ gradually increased trust authentic and well-earned, though some of the film’s period detail (especially in the wig and makeup dept.) isn’t exactly on point.

More curious is Furman’s late game decision – just when similarities to JFK are impossible to ignore – to roll out some grainy, slo motion footage that feels wildly misplaced.

And, much like Oliver Stone’s playbook in 1991, there is little interest in leaving equal time for rebutting Poole’s conclusions. Armed with strong accusations that hardly seem like a stretch anymore, this is a film with a complicated story it wants you to hear – and hopefully believe.

But believe it or don’t, City of Lies tells that story in a compelling fashion that doesn’t waste your time.

God is Irish

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane McGowan

by Hope Madden

Sloppy and ruinous, raucous and charged, and more than anything, punk rock—honestly, this could describe about a dozen Julian Temple movies. In this case, crashing the party of his Sex Pistols docs and his intimate Joe Strummer film is Shane McGowan. And he’s pissed.

Drunk, I mean.

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane McGowan is Temple’s exploration of life after punk.

The poet of Irish rock, a traditionalist who set gritty street ballads to Celtic tunes, McGowan wanted to save Irish music. This was the legacy he was after, and as frontman of the Pogues—Ireland’s second most successful and likely most Irish band—he did.

Yes, here’s where all rock biopics ask, “At what cost?” Temple’s film doesn’t wait, though. Opening as it does on McGowan, 60-years-old, slurring, wheelchair bound and still drinking, Crock of Gold never hides from the ravages of a punk rock life.

The young McGowan railed at the cliché of the drunken Irishman even as he personally confirmed it. “You want a Paddy?” he says of the British establishment. “I’ll give you a fucking Paddy!”

The film faithfully follows McGowan’s chronology, from boyhood in County Tipperary to angry adolescence in London, on to thrashabout music and eventually international stardom before the inevitable crash, slow rebuild, and crash some more.

And McGowan himself is right there, either narrating the unfolding events or listening in to earlier tapes of him narrating. His constant presence anchors the wild, fascinating tales with their physical toll.

Temple also fills the screen with bizarre animation, old movie footage of the Irish War and of bucolic country life, as well as images of McGowan’s late 70s London, Sex Pistols show and all. What he conjures is an image of clashing ideas and ideals that found a home in McGowan’s imagination and translated into melancholy street music.

McGowan’s touring life of drink and drugs, violence and very little toothpaste are well documented. It’s hard to pin down the feelings drummed up by all these stories. The modern day balladeer—a full set of dentures on display when he smiles, which is rarely—seems simultaneously brash and regretful.

For passing fans or newcomers to McGowan’s music, Crock of Gold is an unusually clear-eyed testament to the toll of punk rock excess. These guys were not meant to live forever.

But for true fans, it’s a painful and strangely beautiful look into one remarkable if misspent life.

They Are Us

Waiting for the Barbarians

by George Wolf

In the forty years since J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians was first published, world events have continued to re-frame its thematic relevance.

Now, the novel finally has a big screen adaptation, amid a tumultuous political climate that again makes Coetzee’s tale feel especially prescient.

In a vaguely historical era within an unnamed “Empire,” the Magistrate (Mark Rylance) governs his desert outpost population through moral conviction and a delicate harmony with the land’s indigenous peoples.

Conversely, Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) – the soft spoken and sadistic head of state security – believes “pain is truth.” Joll arrives at the outpost to carry out random interrogations of the nomadic “barbarians” and learn the truth about an attack that he feels is imminent.

The Magistrate protests this view of the natives and the Empire’s directives, drawing the ire of Joll and later, his more overtly cruel lieutenant, officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson).

Coetzee’s debut screenplay adapts his own novel with delicate grace and an understated foreboding. But as relevant as the theme of creeping fascism remains, its bite is dulled by ambiguity and broadly-drawn metaphors.

The urge to speak more universally via an unspecified name, time and place is understandable, but it hampers the intimacy required to feel this warning in your gut.

The Oscar-winning Rylance (Bridge of Spies) almost makes up for this by himself, with a tremendous performance of quiet soul-searching. The film’s summer-to-the-following-autumn chapter headings paint the Magistrate as an obvious man for all seasons, and Rylance makes the Magistrate’s journey of fortitude and redemption feel almost biblical.

Depp and Pattinson provide worthy adversarial bookends. As Joll, Depp’s only eccentricity is a pair of sunglasses, but again he requires minimal screen time to carve an indelible figure.

Mandel is an even smaller role, but Pattinson makes him the eager realization of the ugliness Joll keeps bottled up. It’s another interesting choice for the gifted Pattinson, and another film that’s better for it.

Director Ciro Guerra utilizes exquisite cinematography from Chris Menges for a wonderful array of visuals, from beautifully expansive landscapes to artfully orchestrated interior stills. Though the film’s first act feels particularly forced, Guerra (Birds of Passage, Embrace of the Serpent) gives the remaining narrative – especially the Magistrate’s attempts at penance with the tortured Girl (Gana Bayarsaikhan) – the room to effectively breathe.

Waiting for the Barbarians is not a film that will leave you guessing. But the decades-old message remains painfully vital, and in its quietest moments of subtlety, the film gives that message sufficient power.

Cheap Tricks

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald

by Hope Madden

People really miss Harry Potter.

Maybe they miss the romantic notion of outsiders among outsiders, or the oh-so-earnest world of good versus evil. J.K. Rowling enchanted a generation with a densely populated world of magic and mayhem and an awful lot of people long to go back. So many, in fact, that they will mostly settle for the sloppy bastard Fantastic Beast series.

It is still Rowling’s words, after all—the author pens the screenplays, inviting us back into that wizarding world, albeit about a generation or two earlier.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald picks up six months after its blandly likeable predecessor, 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Odd duck Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is banned from international travel by the Ministry of Magic. Grindewald (Johnny Depp) is in prison. Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller)—who conveniently survived what was clearly his death in the previous effort—wants to know who he is and where he belongs.

The second installment opens well, offering more vitality, thrill and sinister mayhem than you’ll find in its predecessor’s full 133 minutes.

Redmayne is as adorable as last time. Depp brings something seductively sinister to the role. And Rowling’s clear distaste for leaders who bang the drum for racial supremacy and fear mongering is both understandable and nicely executed.

David Yates returns to direct his sixth Potter-verse flick. He finds opportunities for the visual flourish that was the only true strength of the first Fantastic Beasts film, but manages far stronger narrative momentum this time around.

All of which really only leads to the frustration of realizing at the 134-minute mark that this film doesn’t end. In fact, the last scene is basically the beginning of the movie. The 130- minutes previous basically amounts to exposition that sets up the next film.

Which is funny, since the previous entire film amounts to little more than a preface to an actual narrative.

Characters are quirky, wardrobe is glorious, Ezra Miller broods well—all of which is a lot of what we’ve already seen. What Grindewald doesn’t offer is anything new, or any reason to care.





I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of February 26

It is one hell of a week in home entertainment, people. Oscar nominees aplenty! No reason to leave home even one time this week. Woot!

Click the film title for a full review.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Coco

Darkest Hour

Murder on the Orient Express





Terror Train

Murder on the Orient Express

by Hope Madden

Kenneth Branagh likes a big room.

The thespian and Shakespearean master often feels ill-suited to film, as if he cannot help but play to the back row. Whether Branagh is in front of or behind the camera, subtlety and subtext don’t appear to come easily.

How about Agatha Christie? Branagh gambles that a 20th-century crime novelist whose prose created the architecture for a genre of books, movies, stage and television will still thrill modern audience.

A stacked ensemble for Murder on the Orient Express makes the same wager.

Branagh plays Christie’s brusque genius, Belgian Inspector Hercule Poirot.

Branagh the director is so preoccupied with Branagh the actor that his talent-laden cast is offered little more to do than to quickly hash out one-dimension. The waste of talent is the real crime afoot.

Those underused? A wide array of A-listers, from immediate hot properties Daisy Ridley (The Last Jedi) and Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin) to cinematic icons (Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi) to true movie stars (Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp)—and that’s not even half the cast.

Josh Gad appears in his second period-piece of the season (after last month’s Marshall), here playing a shady, drunken lawyer-turned-secretary who just might have killed a man.

Leslie Odom Jr. (Broadway’s Hamilton) plays a problem-solving doctor and former sharpshooter who just might have killed a man.

Penelope Cruz is a missionary nurse who won’t touch a drink, but she just might have…

You get the point. It’s an Agatha Christie story. At its best, campy, stagey fun. At its worst, stale.

The movie is a bit of both.

In keeping with Branagh’s love of spectacle, Murder on the Orient Express is a gorgeous, larger-than-life adventure. He shot on 65mm, and whether 20th Century Fox decides to release a 70mm print or not, the result is a glorious display, particularly in Act 1.

By the second act, we’re trapped in the train with a murderer. At that point, Branagh’s film starts to smell musty, and no quirky fun performances (Pfeiffer is particularly memorable) or delicately framed dining car treats can freshen things up.

When not doting on his star, Branagh’s camera showcases dazzling locations before luxuriating in the sumptuous appointments of the elegant train cars. It’s big. Very big. Grandiose, you might even say.

Which makes no sense at all for Christie’s close-quarters sleuthing of clues, faces, motives and sleight of hand.





I Don’t Want to Go Out – Week of September 30

Two of the best and most criminally underseen films of the summer are now available for your home viewing pleasure. Watch them! And also, there are a couple we think you might want to skip.

For the full review, click the film title below.

A Ghost Story

Survivalist

(DVD/BR)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales


Goon: Last of the Enforcers

(DVD/BR)





Lost at Sea

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

by Hope Madden

Summer is the season for amusement parks, and in that spirit Disney rolls out the closest thing cinema has to a theme park ride – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Pros: New directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon Tiki) keep the pace tighter, the tale more seafaring and the visuals more interesting than in the last few (almost unendurable) installments.

Cons: Disney has brought the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise back.

The series began as a pretty enormous gamble, taking a popular Disneyland ride and turning it into a movie.

Brilliantly, this put the not-yet-self-indulgent talent of Gore Verbinski behind a camera, but let’s be honest, it was Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow that made the film.

All swoozy and splishy, drunk and dodgy, hilariously rock and roll, Sparrow made all of us wish for the pirate’s life. It was fun. It was ingenious, even a bit subversive. It was nearly 15 years ago.

In the meantime, Cap’s adventures have taken on the stench of bloat.

By 2017, Depp is a has-been with a terrible drinking habit. Sure he’s still cute, but there’s something a tad pathetic about him and the consistently bad choices he makes.

As Jack Sparrow, I mean.

Obviously.

Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbosa – intriguing as always. He’s joined by Javier Bardem, arguably one of the three or four best actors working today, wasted here in an underwritten, toothless role. He plays about 2/3 of dead sea captain Salazar, blandly bent on revenge.

What – zombie pirates? Next you’ll tell me Jack’s about to be executed in a town square, or find himself stranded with crazies on a desert island. Or that there will be a pirate cameo from a classic rock star.

Oh, Paul McCartney…

The accursed Salazar wants Sparrow. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) – son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) – wants Sparrow too, to help him find Poseidon’s Trident, which can break all the curses of the sea and save ol’ Dad.

Also there’s a young female love interest (Kaya Scodelario) – a woman of science mistaken by society as a witch. It’s a storyline that could have been interesting, I suppose, but Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay uses it to nod toward feminism while glimpsing a corset-pushed bosom.

Dead Men Tell No Tales (they do, by the way – tons of them) might seem to some an affectionate wrap up of a once-beloved and now tolerated family film series. Don’t believe it – Rønning and Sandberg are already tapped to direct Episode 6.

Can Poseidon’s Trident put an end to this franchise?

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Fright Club: Sexiest Villains

Some people dream of the hero. There are folks who swoon during Avengers films, choosing their fave from the assemblage of good guys, or wait with baited breath for Wonder Woman to get her stand alone film.

But what about the bad guys? Are you saying that, just because we like a date with blood on their teeth, there’s something wrong with us? Surely not! Tell us you didn’t get a little weak in the knees for Skeet Ulrich in Scream, or swoon just a little when Catherine Deneuve seduced Susan Sarandon in The Hunger. Of course you did! And why not?

So today, we celebrate the sexy villains. Join us, won’t you?

George Pick #3: Elizabeth Olsen – Silent House (2011)

Olsen is a tremendous talent, consistently excellent even in lesser films. Silent House starts off strong but eventually relies too heavily on a gimmick and Olsen’s tight shirt to keep you interested. Still, Olsen’s vulnerable yet badass character is undeniably hot – tight shirt or no.

Hope Pick #3: Tony Todd – Candyman (1992)

No, he’s not classically handsome. In fact, on paper, Candyman is not that sexy of a villain. He has a hook for a hand, bees in his chest, that moldy velvet robe thing has to smell awful. But Tony Todd’s voice is the push over the cliff. When he tells Helen (Virginia Madsen) “Don’t fear the pain. The pain is exquisite,” you can’t help but want to believe.

George’s #2 Natasha Henstridge – Species (1995)

Species is more a SciFi thriller than a horror movies, but George gets to choose so it’s not up to Hope and her picky rules. No one could blame the guy for landing on this one – Henstridge is fierce and sexy and very naked. What is he, made of stone?

Hope’s #2: Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Sweeney Todd is to Hope what Chocolat is to normal people. Sure, Depp is a dreamboat regardless of his role, but with Sweeney Todd, director Tim Burton finally lets him get a little mean. When he lifts that blade above his head, singing of his “old friend,” he is hypnotic.

George’s #1: Salma Hayek – From Dusk til Dawn (1996)

Duh. Bow your head, dogs! When Salma Hayak appears in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk til Dawn, everybody pays attention – everybody in the bar Titty Twister, and everybody watching. Hayek is easily one of the most gorgeous humans on earth, and her snake-bedecked dance is no doubt enough to lure many voluntarily to her eternal servitude.

Hope’s #1: Rutger Hauer- The Hitcher (1986)

Hope had been nursing a crush on Hauer since Blade Runner, but it was The Hitcher that sent her over the edge. Unsettling, given the tender age at which she saw the film? No doubt, but his brilliant eyes and steely delivery and the way he seduced girlie C. Thomas Howell on that drive across the desert was just more than her bored little heart could bear. Don’t judge her.

Who did we miss? Let us know on twitter @maddwolf!





It’s No Tea Party

Alice Through the Looking Glass

by Hope Madden

One billion dollars. That’s global money, keep in mind, but still, who’d have thought Tim Burton’s utterly banal and forgettable 2010 acid trip Alice in Wonderland had made so very much money? Too much – and not just because the film had no genuine merit, but because that kind of sum necessitates a sequel, however wildly and wholly unnecessary – even unwanted – that kind of muchness must be.

And so, back to Underland we go, accompanying an adult(ish) Alice who returns from a stint as sea captain to find Victorian England just as restrictive as it had been when she was a child escaping into her imagination. And so, to her imagination she returns.

Director James Bobin (The Muppets) has the unenviable task of following Burton into the rabbit hole – not unenviable because he may suffer by comparison, but because his options are somewhat limited based on the film’s predecessor. Expect garishly overdone visuals that offset weekly drawn characters.

Familial tensions are at the heart of the tale, penned by Linda Woolverton and based on some of Lewis Carroll’s most dreamlike and incongruous storytelling. Too bad Woolverton and Disney insisted on hemming Carroll’s wild imagination inside such a tediously structured framework.

The Hatter is depressed to the point of death and Alice has to go back in time to save him. Basically. But you can’t change the past – a lesson she’d allegedly learned in her first fantastic voyage, but I guess it didn’t stick. So, let’s learn it again, with the help of Time himself, as played by Sacha Baron Cohen with a Schwarzenegger-esque accent.

Aside from that new face, the same forgettably wacky group returns to the future/past. The talented Mia Wasikowska struggles to find life inside the bland Alice while Helena Bonham Carter pointlessly chews scenery.

An underused Anne Hathaway brightens certain scenes, and Johnny Depp – reliable as ever inside a fright wig and exaggerated make up – does bring a wistful humanity to the otherworldly events.

But imagination and tiresome capitalism butt heads from the opening sequence, and without the foundation of compelling characters or the requirement of engaging storytelling, Through the Looking Glass proves to be a pointless, though colorful, bore.

Verdict-1-5-Stars