Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Depp’

Into the Woods: The Woods Can Be a Wonderful Place—Movie

December 29, 2014

Into the Woods” is a joyous, albeit dark, journey into the combined worlds of Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine and the Brothers Grimm. Directed by Rob Marshall, with screenplay by Lapine, based on the musical by Sondheim and Lapine, “Into the Woods” grabs you in the very first scene and never lets go.

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Through song we’re quickly introduced to a variety of familiar fairy-tale characters with some unfulfilled dreams, chief among them—the Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Stepmother (Christine Baranski), Jack and his Mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman) and most especially, the Witch (Meryl Streep). Yes, the Witch has unfulfilled dreams, too…dreams that only the Baker and his Wife can make happen. And why would they help the Witch? Well, as she explains, to reverse the curse they didn’t know was placed upon them…a curse that makes it impossible for them to have children. Helping the Witch puts the Baker and his Wife in contact with virtually every other character in the musical. The plot seems simple and direct, but that is not necessarily the case. As the Witch reminds them…and us…be careful what you wish for.

What helps makes “Into the Woods” so successful is that every single actor can actually act and sing. Each actor makes you believe in his or her character and is perfectly cast.

The supporting cast…and the word, supporting, is used loosely… is just phenomenal. As the Wolf, Johnny Depp is sublime. He is everything you’d want in a wolf…sly, sneaky, lithe and sexy…even with those ears and whiskers. What’s more, his voice suits his character to a tee. Depp has limited amount of screen time, but he makes the most of every single second. As the object of his “affection,” Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Hood is terrific. She conveys just the right amount of spunkiness. Crawford may be young and little, but this girl can sing…she’s a precocious belter and is fabulous. Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman as Jack and his Mother make the perfect team. Huttlestone is impishly cute with a great voice and his character’s “love affair” with his cow seems very believable. Tracey Ullman has a shockingly melodic voice. In a supporting role, we don’t see a lot of her, but she is fun to watch when she’s on the screen. Fans of “The Bold and Beautiful’s” Mackenzie Mauzy knew she could sing and as Rapunzel she doesn’t disappoint, making a beautiful and belligerent Rapunzel. Cinderella’s Stepmother, Christine Baranski, is hysterically mean. She can sing with the best of them and her role just seems meant for her.

Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince and Billy Magnussen as his brother and Rapunzel’s Prince have to be singled out for special praise, especially Pine. They are both fabulous and together are just hysterical. When they sing, “Agony,” you’ll be in anything but. Pine is the year’s comedic find. He has a bit more dialogue than Magnussen and as the slightly dim, but oh so charming prince, he just continues to astound, he is that good.

Then there are the leads…to say they are all amazing is putting it mildly. As the Baker, James Corden is so very lovable you can’t help but root for him. He might not be leading man handsome, but he is a terrific actor and with his wonderful voice, he makes you fall in love with him. His scenes with the young characters, Jack and Little Red Riding Hood, are very charismatic and his work with Blunt and Streep is especially good. Emily Blunt is extremely endearing as the Baker’s Wife. She has a delightful voice and her scenes with Corden and Pine are terrific in very different ways. Anna Kendrick gives us a very plucky Cinderella, one with a huge heart, but fierce in spirit at the same time. Her singing is amazing and she is just all-around magnificent. Finally there is Meryl Streep as the Witch. To say she is astounding and perfect in every way is an understatement. Many of us knew Streep could sing, but we’ve never heard her sing the way she does in ‘Into the Woods.” Ferocious and soft when she needs to be, she just nails it. The beauty of Streep is that her part is meant to be huge and she plays that just right without overwhelming her cast-mates. The other actors more than hold their own with her which makes the movie a well-rounded affair.

The musical takes full advantage of the screen, using special effects where it’s called for and not a bit more. The effects help the film, but never overtake it. As brilliant as “Into the Woods’” cast is, the movie would be nothing without the breathtakingly beautiful and lyrically fun songs of Stephen Sondheim. Abetted by James Lapine’s marvelous screenplay, the astute direction of Rob Marshall and the most wonderful of costumes by Colleen Atwood, “Into the Woods” is a feast for the ears and eyes.

Sometimes it’s more than ok to go into the woods. This is one of those times. Run, don’t walk.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

Tusk: He is the Walrus—Movie

September 23, 2014

Is it possible that in “Tusk,” as an actor, Justin Long, makes for a better walrus than he does in portraying a human being? Based on this performance, the answer has to be “yes.”

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With “Tusk,” writer and director Kevin Smith proves once again that he has a creative mind like no one else in Hollywood. Based on Smith’s SModcast 259 The Walrus and the Carpenter, “Tusk” is the story of wise guy podcaster, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), who has a show with fellow shock jock, Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment). They call their podcast “The Not-See Party,” in which Wallace finds videos of people doing a variety of stupid things, shows them to Teddy, and the two then make fun of the people on their respective videos. Wallace decides to follow up on one story—someone called “The Kill Bill Kid,” who accidentally sliced one on his legs while performing a stunt. “Kill Bill” lives in Manitoba, Canada, so after saying goodbye to his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), it’s off to Canada Wallace goes. Once there he discovers that his story is no longer viable. Not wanting to waste the money his flight cost, Wallace decides to look for some other strange story in Manitoba. A handbill in a restroom bar provides him with just the ticket. The handbill is from Howard Howe (Michael Parks), offering free lodging for the opportunity to hear his lifetime of stories. Wallace’s curiosity is piqued, so he makes his way to Howe’s estate and what an estate it is!

Howe, confined to a wheelchair, appears to be the ever-so-gracious host and he does have some truly great stories to tell. Over tea, he reminisces about trips with Hemingway and others. Wallace is fascinated and doesn’t realize his tea has been laced with drugs. He passes out and when he awakens, Wallace finds himself strapped in a wheelchair and that’s just for starters. To tell more of his fate would ruin the movie’s “fun.”

Wallace has not been forgotten by Ally and Teddy who haven’t heard from him in a few days. Then they both receive a strange, disturbing voice mail from him and come to the conclusion that something bad has happened to him. They take off for Manitoba and meet with a local detective, Frank Garmin (Ralph Garman) who puts them in touch with Guy Lapointe, a former Quebec cop who has been hunting Howe for years. Together they go off in search of Wallace.

Thankfully, the success of “Tusk” doesn’t rise or fall on its acting. Truth be told, Justin Long isn’t all that good and in human form, he is in the movie a great deal. Granted, his character is not very likeable, but it feels like something more could have been brought to his performance. But when called upon to do other things, he really sizzles. Parks as Howe is riveting, and it’s easy to see how Wallace could be seduced by him. Although it’s nice to see Osment back on the screen, he’s not given much to do, but he does shine in his early scenes with Long. Genesis Rodriguez does a fine job as the girlfriend who’s too good for Wallace (or so we think). But Michael Parks aside, it is the unbilled, uncredited actor as Guy Lapointe who steals the show.

Truly only Kevin Smith could imagine something so bizarrely entertaining as “Tusk.” And if you’re a “Clerks” aficionado like me, you will definitely appreciate the scenes in the Canadian convenience store which are absolutely hysterical.

Your first reaction to “Tusk” might be, “what was that?” Part creepy…part very creepy…and part weirdly funny, you might not know what to think about what you’ve just seen. “Tusk” is definitely not for everyone. But if you love Kevin Smith as I do, “Tusk” should definitely be on your movie-viewing list.

3 nuggets out of 4

Transcendence: Falls Flat—Movie

April 22, 2014

In many ways “Transcendence” is a movie about man vs. machine…a very smart machine in the form of artificial intelligence. Directed by Wally Pfister and written by Jack Paglen, “Transcendence” is set in the not too distant future.hr_Transcendence_4

When the film begins, the U.S. and probably the world, is Internet fee. A catastrophe of some kind has wiped out the ability to use the Internet, wifi, and all the devices dependent upon such technology. The movie goes back five years so we can find out what happened and why. There, in the Berkeley area, we meet two married scientists, Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall). They are both proponents of pushing the AI envelope…seeing how far science can take us in replicating thoughts, ideas, tissues and cells. Think a combination of “Her” and “The Six Million Dollar Man,” but on a much grander scale.

The film raises some interesting issues—certainly there are benefits to all this technology, but what happens when man’s bad impulses begin to outweigh man’s goodness. That’s the concern of a group led by Bree (Kate Mara). Early on in the film, a member of her group does something drastic which sets the wheels in motion for the rest of “Transcendence”–a showdown of man vs. machine.

With all the talent assembled for “Transcendence,” one would think this movie would be better. It just goes to prove that if it’s not on the page, no amount of good acting can breathe life into a film. Johnny Depp gets top billing, but in reality this movie belongs to Rebecca Hall. She’s a good actress and does what she can, but doesn’t have enough with which to work. Depp is absent from too many scenes and, for the most part, when he appears it’s via screen within a screen. Paul Bettany (who’s in the film more than Depp) and Morgan Freeman lend a sense of gravitas to the plot, portraying colleagues and friends of the Casters and act as the voices of reason. Finally, Cillian Murphy is on board as an FBI agent brought in to investigate an incident relating to Will (one can’t help but notice that Irishman Murphy sounds more American than Depp and that seems rather strange).

Maybe we’ve been exposed to too many television programs and movies about AI, but “Transcendence” just doesn’t seem to have any mojo. It falls to earth with a thud.

2 nuggets out of 4

 

The Lone Ranger: Hi-Ho Silver Yippee—Movie

July 7, 2013

Director Gore Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger” is a thrill-packed and often hilarious take on how the Ranger and Tonto came to be.Lone Ranger

The entertainment value comes with the delightful pairing of Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger. The chemistry between the two as they exchange quip for quip is palpable. One could almost call this a buddy flick if it weren’t for some of the gravity behind the film. Both the Ranger and especially Tonto have serious back-stories, and in Tonto’s case, his story is fully developed.

Based on the black and white television show of the 1950s, the rebooted “Lone Ranger” is packed with shoot’em ups, explosions and some very witty dialogue. With screenplay and story by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the film’s main problem is that it can’t decide if it wants to be a full-out comedy or not. At times it veers from one extreme to the other. I’m not a screenwriter, but it seems to me that there had to be a way to make this a dramedy without the jarring shifts in tone.

We are first introduced to an old Tonto in a Wild West museum in 1933 San Francisco. The Tonto “statue” comes to life before youngster, Will, a museum visitor. Encouraged by Will, Tonto haltingly begins to tell his tale and the action shifts to 1869 Colby, Texas. Without giving too much away, the story basically revolves around the meeting of Tonto and the Ranger, some of the villainous chicanery behind the transcontinental railroad in the form of Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), the pursuit of Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and the resolution of some personal demons.

“The Lone Ranger” boasts a terrific supporting cast, most notably the aforementioned Wilkinson and Fichtner, as well as James  Badge Dale as the Ranger’s older brother, Dan; Ruth Wilson as Dan’s wife, Rebecca; and  Barry Pepper as Captain Jay Fuller. Helena Bonham Carter is also involved in a highly unusual way.

“The Lone Ranger” is full of mind-boggling stunts. Although Depp and Hammer did many of their own stunts, if you stay through the credits you’ll see that they were assisted by an additional 300 stunt people to pull them off (I exaggerate a little, but not much). The scenes on the train are just spectacular…and the horses and rabbits are no slouches either. There are special effects, but they actually propel the story and never interfere with its telling. Hans Zimmer’s score works beautifully with the action and the familiar “Lone Ranger” theme, the William Tell Overture, is used just at the appropriate time.

As noted earlier,“The Lone Ranger” is not without its flaws. But the film is highly entertaining and never dull. Should there be a sequel, I will be at the front of the line.

3 nuggets out of 4

Alice in Wonderland—Movie

March 22, 2010

A smoking caterpillar, jabberwocky to be dealt with, butterfingers comprised of real fingers. Welcome to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. As directed by Burton with screenplay by Linda Woolverton, Alice in Wonderland is imaginative and beautiful to watch.                               

Burton’s Alice is 19 and on the verge of being proposed to by the son of her deceased father’s business partner—a man no want would want as a fiancé. In a panic, she runs off and falls down…a rabbit hole. There’s she’s reunited with friends from her childhood’s past adventure in Underland, led by the Mad Hatter. Her mission in Underland? Restoring the White Queen to her rightful throne.

Relative newcomer Mia Wasikowska is outstanding as Alice. She reminds one of a young Gwyneth Paltrow. Strip away the make-up and you find a playful, always interesting Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. It’s fun to think about what roles he might be taking on when he enters his 60s. There seems to be nothing he can’t do.

Alice features a terrific supporting cast, mostly unrecognizable underneath fantastic make-up and inspired costumes or just the voices in some cases—look for Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter as the White and Red Queens respectively, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit, Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky and Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat.

Alice in Wonderland is shot in 3-D, which is not necessary. A combination of animation and live acting, the other effects are so visually stunning, 3-D seems like a toy with which Burton wanted to play. Sometimes less is more.

Only 108 minutes long, the film seems longer and does drag in spots.  But if you’re looking for a treat to the senses with a healthy dose of great acting, you’ll enjoy your visit down the rabbit hole.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus —Movie Review

January 18, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is weird, colorful and truly imaginative. Written by Charles McKeown and Terry Gilliam and directed by Gilliam, Imaginarium is not for everyone, but if you have an open mind for the odd, you’ll enjoy it.

Imaginarium is the story of traveling carnival–like psychic, Dr. Parnassus, played beautifully by Christopher Plummer and his relationships with daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), confidante Percy (Verne Troyer) and magician Anton (Andrew Garfield). Parnassus plays mind/mirror games with people which enables them to actually visit their imagination. Now Dr. Parnassus faces a problem. Centuries ago (yes, he’s that old) he made a deal with the Devil in the form of Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) involving his daughter and the Devil has come to collect. While traveling from one town to another and trying to figure out how to outwit the Devil, his company saves the life of hanging -by -his -neck, Tony (Heath Ledger). What follows is complicated to explain but fascinating to follow.

During the making of the movie, Heath Ledger died. Rather than recast and reshoot the entire film or scratch the film entirely, Gilliam decided to cast other actors in the role of Tony, each one having their own go with someone’s imagination. Somehow this works and it works seamlessly as played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. All actors are very strong, but Depp is the first new Tony we meet and at first one doesn’t even realize the change has been made, he’s that terrific. He’s not trying to be Heath Ledger, but he’s so good, it’s hard to remember that Ledger was in the film to begin with.

If you have a taste for something very unique and a desire to see special effects put to fascinating use, you’ll want to see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4


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