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Posts Tagged ‘johnny depp’

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” My rating: C  

114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The year’s strongest cast wrestles inertia to a standstill in “Murder on the Orient Express,” the latest addition to the pantheon of unnecessary remakes.

We already have Sidney Lumet’s perfectly delightful 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s great  railway mystery. But as with Shakespeare, Dame Agatha’s yarns are worthy of retelling for each new generation.  Problem is, this retelling is stillborn.

It’s always difficult to know exactly why a movie goes wrong, but in this case it may very well lie with the decision to have Kenneth Branagh both direct and star as eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The character dominates virtually every scene, which means the acting weight alone was exhausting. To then also ride herd on a huge cast of heavy hitting thespians was too much to ask of anyone.

As it now stands, Branagh disappoints in both capacities. His features masked by absurd facial hair as obviously fake as the computer-generated backgrounds, he makes a mess of Poirot, who goes from crowd-teasing cutup to moody depressive without much in between. Lines that should evoke a laugh barely generate a tentative smile.

As for the directing end of things…well, what can you say when you have this much talent on hand and still end up with a dull yarn weighted down by blah characterizations?

Set aboard a snowbound luxury train on the Istanbul-Paris run, Michael Green’s screenplay clings to the basics of Christie’s tale (the “who” in the “whodunnit” makes for a one of the better revelations in all detective fiction) while dabbling with some of the particulars, largely in an effort to make the project more attractive to today’s mass audience.

Thus the screenplay finds time for one karate fight, a chase down a railroad trestle and a shooting — none of which are to be found in the novel or the earlier film.

While a few of the characters have undergone some tweaking (a physician aboard the train is now a Negro played by Leslie Odom Jr., providing the opportunity to dabble in some racial issues), most cling to Christie’s parameters. (more…)

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Johnny Depp

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES”  My rating: C- 

129 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

At this late stage audiences for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” should know better than to expect any surprises.

Like all of its predecessors, “Dead Men” is as shiny and polished as a hand-blown glass Christmas ornament — and just as empty.

The plot (the screenplay is credited to Jeff Nathanson) is predictably incomprehensible.

Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the grown son of series regular Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, who has maybe 90 seconds of screen time), is determined to save his father from eternal enslavement on the sunken ship the Flying Dutchman. (Thwaites is such a bland screen presence that he achieves the near impossible by making Bloom seem dynamic.)

To break that spell Henry will have to obtain several powerful talismans:  a pirate diary containing a hidden map, a compass with mystical properties,  Poseidon’s trident.

He bickers with a young woman, Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who is so much smarter than the oafish and superstitious men around her that she’s repeatedly condemned as a witch. Wanna bet they’re going to move past bickering and fall in love?

The series regulars — among them Geoffrey Rush as the dour Captain Barbossa and the crew members of the Black Pearl — give their usual one-note performances. Most of these characters were set in stone four movies ago and haven’t evolved one whit.

That goes especially for star Johnny Depp, whose Captain Jack Sparrow remains an unchanging and buffoonish blend of swash and swish. For this viewer, anyway, the charm wore off several films back. (more…)

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Eddie Redmayne

Eddie Redmayne

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”  My rating: C

133 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There’s some magic in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” but it’s all courtesy of the special effects and design departments.

Dramatically speaking, this attempt to expand the “Harry Potter” franchise is stillborn. Not even the usually screen-dominating Eddie Redmayne can give it a compelling head or heart.

Based on an original screenplay by “Potter” creator J.K. Rowling (who also produced this film),  “Fantastic Beasts…” is a prequel unfolding in the 1920s. This setting gives the set and costume designers plenty to play with, and their vision of Jazz Age New York City — and the parallel wizarding world that coexists with it — is rich and evocative.

Would that the same could be said for the story and characters.

Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a British wizard who comes to the Big Apple with a small suitcase filled with fantastic creatures. Eventually we learn that he’s a sort of Marlon Perkins on a mission to preserve magical species on the verge of extinction. Much of the film consists of chase scenes in which Newt tries to recapture escapees from his luggage.

Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell

The first one, involving a platypus-like creature that gobbles up jewelry and precious metals, is mildly amusing. Things go downhill from there.

Newt finds that America’s wizarding world is in crisis. The Magical Congress of the U.S.A., the governing institution, has been fighting a losing battle to keep wizardry a secret from the Muggles (only the Yanks call them No-Mags…as in “no magic”). But their cover is being blown by the depredations of some sort of malevolent magical creature that is leveling entire blocks of Manhattan.

Newt’s guide through North American wizardry is Porpetina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a sort of bob-coiffed lady detective who has taken it upon herself to police these mysterious happenings.

And he unwittingly gets a sidekick, a roly poly and somewhat bumbling human named Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, who immediately begins stealing scenes from his Oscar-winning costar. In fact Fogler’s disbelieving No-Mag is the single best thing in the film, and his romance with Porpentina’s psychic sister  Queenie (Alison Sudol) provides the only charm and genuine emotion.

Something’s amiss when the second bananas eclipse the leads.

(more…)

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Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depps.

Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depps.

“ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS”   My rating: C 

113 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG

Perhaps to truly enjoy Disney’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” just forget there was ever a Rev. Charles Dodgson, a socially awkward mathematician who under the nom de plume Lewis Carroll wrote children’s fantasies bursting with sly satire and fabulous wordplay.

Sly satire and fabulous wordplay are in short supply in this overproduced yet perfunctory sequel to 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland.” They’ve been replaced by unfocused, unmanaged movement. This is a very busy film.

The best way to approach “Looking Glass” is as a two-hour 3-D special effects demonstration reel. With lowered expectations it might not be so bad.

Fans of the Carroll novels will be utterly at sea. Familiar characters drift in and out, but the story cooked up by screenwriter Linda Woolverton is cut from whole cloth and hits hard on issues of female empowerment — a worthy topic, perhaps, but not something on the Rev. Dodgson’s radar.

In the first scene Alice (Mia Wasikowska reprising her role), now a young woman, is the captain of a sailing ship braving a fierce storm and Malay pirates.

Bring on the F/X!

She returns to 1870s England only to discover that her beloved father has died and her impoverished mother (Lindsay Duncan) has agreed to sell the ship to the pea-brained, chauvinistic ex-fiance she spurned in the first movie.

Guided by a butterfly (voiced by the late Alan Rickman in his final role) Alice passes through a mirror into “Underland,”  where a new quest awaits her.

She learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is ailing — at death’s door, in fact, mourning the demise of his family years before.

Alice resolves to travel back in time to rewrite history and save her suffering friend. This entails a visit to the citadel occupied by Time personified (Sacha Baron Cohen), where she pilfers a time machine.

Once in the past she not only tries to rectify the Hatter’s domestic situation but discovers the origin of the enmity between the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and her sister, the foul-tempered Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter).

At one point the story zaps back to the real world, where Alice has been institutionalized with what her barbaric male doctor calls “a textbook case of female hysteria.” (more…)

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Johnny Depp and Ralph Steadman

Johnny Depp and Ralph Steadman

“FOR NO GOOD REASON” My rating: B  (Opens June 13 at the Tivoli)

89 minutes | MPAA rating: R

For many of us it is impossible to separate the savagely witty, nightmarish, splattery cartoons and illustrations of Ralph Steadman from the gonzo journalism of the late Hunter Thompson.

In 1970 the American Thompson and the Brit Steadman formed a partnership to write and illustrate a story about their trip to the Kentucky Derby. They hit the big time two years later with  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,  Thompson’s drug-saturated novel inspired by his Rolling Stone assignment to cover a convention of police chiefs in Sin City.

Steadman’s bizarre, jagged, horrific illustrations were the perfect visual counterpart to Thompson’s words. The pair seemed to have been made for each other.

There’s a bit of  vintage footage in Charlie Paul’s “For No Good Reason” showing Thompson’s indignant reaction to Steadman’s assertion that his jump-off-the-bookshelf cover art is the main reason Fear and Loathing became a best seller.  The public only began reading the book, Steadman teases, after being attracted by his art.

It’s a moment that in many ways encapsulizes the relationship.  Steadman and Thompson (who committed suicide a few years back) needed each other. The artist calls the writer “the one man I needed to meet in America.”  Together they were an unbeatable team. Then they spent decades as near rivals, trying to establish their own independent identities.

As you’d expect, that love/hate partnership takes up a good chunk of Charlie Paul’s documentary.  But the film also shows that Ralph Steadman is a man of many parts: a political satirist in the spirit of Daumier, Nast, and Goya; a social activist; a visual experimenter. He also seems like a genuinely nice fellow.

(more…)

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“THE RUM DIARY” My rating: C- (Opening wide on Oct. 28)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Rum Diary” is such a drab affair it  bears mentioning only as an example of how great movies stars can squander their popularity.

“Rum” marks the second time actor Johnny Depp has played famed gonzo journalist Hunter M. Thompson (actually here he plays a Thompson-like character). One can only assume that Depp finds inspiration or at the very least an acting challenge in portraying the chemically-addled, terminally sardonic writer/wastrel.

His first outing as Thompson was 1998’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” a surreal pigout that was fairly faithful to the book but still unremarkable.

“Rum”  is based on Thompson’s autobiographical novel about his early career as a newspaperman in the Caribbean.

The trailers make it look like a laugh-heavy dip into debauchery beneath the palms — all drink, drugs and beautiful women.

In truth, this is a sour, joyless tale of idealism run aground. And that would be acceptable if the film were better made.

(more…)

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“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”  My rating: C

137 minutes | PG-13

“On Stranger Tides,” the fourth entry in Disney’s phenomenally profitable “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, is at least an improvement over the last two sequels.

It’s still not a particularly good movie (though it remains hugely impressive from a technical standpoint) but at least it didn’t make me want to pound a handspike into my forehead.

“Pirates” 2 and 3 were runaround movies in which the principal players would first run over here, then run over there without a whole lot of reason. Basically director Gore Verbinski was mounting special effects extravaganzas in which plot and characters were a distant afterthought.

Now helmed by Rob Marshall (who followed up on his smash “Chicago” with the dismal “Memoirs of a Giesha” and “Nine” and badly needs a commercial hit), the franchise has jettisoned (more…)

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