SPOTLIGHT: Johnny Depp

Renowned mostly for his mainstream work in Pirates of the Caribbean and by fans of Tim Burton movies, Johnny Depp can be categorized almost unfairly.  I say almost because he does great work in both of those categories, and I say unfairly because there is quite a bit more to this actor’s career.  Whether he be a playwright fighting to get back to his childhood (Finding Neverland) or a sly gangster evading the authorities (Public Enemies), Depp proves time and again to be one of the most diverse, high-quality performers working in film today.  He takes on projects of passion, and they just happen to make a lot of money.  This could be because he works with talented filmmakers with a built-in audience, but it’s not.  It’s because he carries a built-in audience to terrific filmmakers, and then everyone wins.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland
Directed by: Marc Forster
Written by: David Magee (screenplay) Allen Knee (play)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, Julie Christie, Freddie Highmore

Finding Neverland is the Jonny Depp film Tim Burton has attempted to make time over and time over, and has failed to create despite all his creative savvy.

It is the fairy re-tale of the classic Peter Pan story.  What makes Neverland so brilliant is that it doesn’t attempt to retell and spit out the same story with a teeny-tiny twist or different color palette like Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Instead the film looks at the story with a whole new scope, depreciating no magic or thematic value, and instead enhancing it and recreating it into a marvelous, heartwarming story worth remembering like the original. Continue reading

ARCHIVE REVIEW: Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John Logan (screenplay), Stephan Sondheim (musical)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall

Welcome to the deep, dark abyss of Tim Burton’s mind, my friends.  In a land where logic takes back seat to lavish set pieces, art design, and terrible beauty, storytelling is of the most paramount importance to make the movie work.  With Burton’s obsession with visuals and macabre humor, this can be a problem.  Never has his ability, neigh, gift for storytelling been so brilliantly fused with his other obsessions as it is in Sweeney Todd.

It helps that Burton is working with an already legendary source material by the late, great Stephan Sondheim.  Though he was reluctant to approach a live musical, his risk has paid off and he appears a natural at it.  This is an entire movie filled with risks, especially with the casting.

Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter may not seem too risky of a choice, but when they’ve never sang a word on screen before and have not been professionally trained, it is in Hollywood.  Luckily, Burton only appears mad and actually isn’t.

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Ten New Movie Icons

As you learn more and more about the movies in America, a few faces stand synonymous with the silver screen.  Darth Vader, James Bond, Dorothy Gale, Dirty Harry- there are countless others I could name, but that’s not the point of this post.  What are the new screen icons, the characters that will join the ranks of those immortal celluloid figures 50 years down the road?  Here are my choices for 10 movie characters who burned their towering images into the silver screen.

1. Gollum- I choose this endearing figure from the Lord of the Rings trilogy not only because of the beguiling performance of Andy Serkis, but because Gollum also marks a transition in filmmaking.  If this is the digital age, it’s only because Serkis and Peter Jackson proved you could do it without sacrificing emotional intensity or credibility.  When Gollum talks to himself as his alter ego Smeagle, you believe in the new power of special effects.

2. The Bride- The blood-splattered angel of Quentin Tarantino’s gory genre exploitations is portrayed by Uma Thurman with both the suave of a genuine action star and the grit of a truly great actress.  The yellow jumpsuit-wearing, samurai sword-wielding incarnation will remain in movie watchers’ minds for years to come.

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REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Linda Woolverton (screenplay) Lewis Carroll (books)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway

Burton, the genius imaginateer behind Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd along with a list of other brilliant works, teams up for the eighth time with star Johnny Depp to recreate a classic childhood fantasy in the likes of their 2005 effort Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The story is more of a sequel than a remake, combining elements and characters from Lewis Carroll’s 19th century books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. It starts with Alice, now 19 and soon to be wedded to a freckled face boy who suffers from digestion issues and happens to now own her dead father’s trading business. The trouble is Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has no intentions of marrying him or living a life where everything is decided for her. When asked to accept her fate of no longer being able to accept her fate, Alice rushes away and follows the white rabbit into a whole where she returns to Wonderland although not remembering having been there before.

In Wonderland Alice is told that she must rescue Wonderland from the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) by slaying the Jabberwocky with the sword of the Red Queen’s sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). With direction from many of the realm’s bizarre characters, including a delightfully peculiar Mad Hatter (Depp), Alice is taken on a journey where she and only she can decide the fate of herself and of Wonderland.

In other versions of Carroll’s story, the story and realm which he creates is more linked to our world, with commentary on villainous Victorian aristocracy, 19th century breakthroughs on philosophy of the self, self-absorption and even perhaps the sad end to world anglo-manifestation. Of course these messages are far above the heads of children, but make great observations for adult audiences. In Burton’s version, this dimension of the story is slightly written out in favor of a more Disney approved feministic theme about being able to make your own decisions and do what it right. It’s not total fluff though, and it’s written into the story quite nicely, with Alice’s real world reflecting her Wonderland world. Burton cleverly has characters in both worlds imitate each other and even mimics his scenes to draw the comparisons. Continue reading