Tag Archives: Johnny Depp

From Hell (2001)

Executing a Writer Series on Alan Moore would seem especially self-defeating. The idea is possibly even offensive to the man himself, he having gone to great lengths to distance himself from the film adaptations of his comics. He’s had his name stricken from credits and movie posters, declined any input or involvement throughout production and beyond, and even claims to have never seen any of the film versions of his stories. Furthermore, the dude literally writes comics in such a way that they are inherently resistant to any other medium. He doesn’t do this just to be a jerk, but rather to show what comics can do that other mediums cannot.

And From Hell is the perfect example of that, both in its original comic form and in comparison to the 2001 Hughes Brothers film. Most know Moore for his most popular works Watchmen and V for Vendetta, for his brilliant Batman/Joker book The Killing Joke, for creating original characters like John Constantine and breathing new life into previously-thought-useless ones like Swamp Thing. If you’ve read From Hell, though, you know what Moore is truly capable of as a writer.

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The Human Stain (2003)

The Human Stain tackles a great many things, with racism and African-American struggles being only the largest of the many themes at play. The dehumanizing power of racism is an undeniable part of America’s past, but it was every bit as important a discussion in the early years of the new millennium when the film came out. It’s every bit as important now at the time of writing and will be every bit as important there, where you are, in the future, at time of reading. As with anything so powerful, so socially destructive, the cultural perception ebbs and flows with time and with provocation. Do we remember that dark past? Do we really? Do we hold a part of it in secret? These questions pry at Coleman Silk, our “hero”. Before we delve into Coleman it must be noted that The Human Stain (the novel) should be a mainstay of every contemporary African-American literature curriculum, and it was written by an Old White Jewish Guy.

That guy is Philip Roth, an author so prolific that it’s surprising so few of his works have been adapted to the screen. The long-gestating adaption of American Pastoral, arguably Roth’s most famous work, is now looking set for the year ahead with Ewan McGregor taking on directing and starring duties. And the adaptation of Indignation just played at Sundance a few days ago to positive reviews, too, so maybe we’re in for a bit of a Roth resurgence in the same way No Country for Old Men prompted a scramble to adapt the best stuff by Cormac McCarthy. Here in The Land of Hypothetical Roth Adaptations we’d cast Johnny Depp as the possibly-demented Mickey Sabbath in Sabbath’s Theater, so when that happens in real life just know that you heard it here first.

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Black Mass (2015)

Part of me viewed Black Mass as a critic. I took into consideration the actors, the script, the staging, pacing, etc. What about character arcs? What about historical accuracy? You know: the usual. I considered some of the things that usually pop up on the imaginary checklist (like how many trailer-worthy zingers will we endure?) and a few that were more specific to this film (like will Johnny Depp’s makeup look as bad as it did in the set photos?); I considered that I’d have to play the game where you try to compress and bury all of those checklistable points so that you can actually watch the movie. I considered Out of the Furnace, the last film by Black Mass director Scott Cooper, and the frustrating way in which that film tried and nearly succeeded in being an epic like The Deer Hunter. Somehow, one of Furnace‘s major flaws seemed to be that it was only almost that kind of movie, something that attempted an ambitious feat but failed to stick the landing.

But despite a sneaking suspicion regarding that last point Black Mass is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than Out of the Furnace or even Crazy Heart, Cooper’s first two films which both touted incredible performances but misplaced directorial style, and that’s probably because the other part of me viewed it as a Bostonian. The Globe‘s Ty Burr says it best in his review: “For worse and for worser, James “Whitey” Bulger is a son of Boston, and moviegoers here will react differently to Scott Cooper’s film than they will in Seattle, Dallas, or Dubuque.” That was inescapably true for last night’s Boston Common screening, wherein the feeling was that everyone in the theater was already familiar with what was unfolding up on the screen.

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Slow West (2015)

These days, Westerns seem to either be smaller art-house fare or destined box-office flops. Michael Agresta’s phenomenal article “How the Western Was Lost (and Why It Matters)” touches on a few reasons why — see The Lone Ranger, Cowboys & Aliens, Jonah Hex, or don’t see them — and a few reasons the erosion of the genre marks a sad day for American Cinema. Agresta is mainly writing about the public perception of the Western and not necessarily about whether Jonah Hex is any good or not (it’s not), and so the commentary on the smaller art-house stuff is limited. He’d agree, though, I think, that the more limited platform of independent and small-studio filmmaking is where the majority of “good” Westerns are being produced these days.

And Slow West is somewhat of an interesting film to consider in the larger context of The American Western, a long-standing genre with a hugely important but slightly malleable history as outlined by Agresta. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee as the young dreamer Jay and Michael Fassbender as the mysterious drifter Silas, Slow West is an undeniably style-heavy piece that takes full advantage of the fact that it’s not a big-budget tentpole. In doing so, the film retains a self-awareness that manages to be less wink-wink than you might expect.

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Film & TV News: May 25

News

  • The jury at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival (which included the Coen Brothers, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller, Guillermo del Toro, Xavier Dolan and a few more) selected champions yesterday as the festival comes to a close. The Palme d’Or went to Dheepan, the Grand Prize went to the Holocaust drama Son of Saul, acting awards went to Rooney Mara and the fantastic Vincent Lindon, and the best screenplay award went to Michel Franco for Chronic. Whew!
  • Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander is rumored to be in talks for both Assassin’s Creed and the next installment of the Bourne franchise. If she doesn’t get either role, we’ll be more than content to just watch Ex Machina again.
  • Empire has released the first pictures from Ridley Scott’s The Martian, starring Matt Damon and everyone else who’s in every movie these days. From the looks of the photo above, The Martian may touch on the theme of man’s singular place in the vast and unknowable universe. Shocking.

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Film & TV News: April 27

News

  • It’s Marvel Week here at Motion State! In preparation for Avengers: Age of Ultron, we’ll be giving the comic book movie giant more attention than it deserves usually receives.
  • Daniel Bruhl confirmed this morning that he’ll be playing Baron Zemo in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, a film which is rightly being dubbed Avengers 2.5 due to the burgeoning cast.
  • The shortlist for the new, younger, quippier, Marvelier (more Marvelous?) Spider-Man includes Tom Holland, Timothee Chalamet, Asa Buterfield, Nat Wolff, and Liam James. Our pick is Holland, but we likely won’t have to wait long for the official announcement.
  • David Ayer released the first picture of Jared Leto’s nu-punk Joker from next year’s Suicide Squad film. Our humble opinion on the look is…sorry, what? Squad is a DC film, not Marvel, you say? You can’t defile Marvel Week so willingly, you say? Fair enough. Thankfully, the other 51 weeks of the year are pretty much DC Weeks.

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Desperado (1995)

As an avid guitarist, there’s a special place in my cold and shriveled little heart for the opening credits scene of Desperado. There are hundreds of popular movies about guitarists, some of which are really great (like Sweet and Lowdown and School of Rock) and some of which are really not (like Rock Star and Crossroads…wait, that’s the Britney Spears one). In the pantheon of Guitar Flicks — which, by the way, should totally be a genre on its own — Desperado might be close to the top, but it certainly isn’t the best movie available. Still, there’s something unique about the way Robert Rodriguez treats the guitar, and something especially mystical about that credit sequence.

Rodriguez’s entire Mexico Trilogy follows the same guitar-playing assassin, and there are probably arguments to be made for Desperado not even being the greatest entry in its own trilogy. While 1992’s El Mariachi was definitely improved upon in subsequent entries with the recasting of Antonio Banderas as El, Rodriguez’s debut feature still plays well as a standalone opener and a part of the larger trilogy. It’s without a doubt the most “realistic” depiction of a guitarist (at least at the beginning), and El’s attempt at finding a gig in the local saloon is probably one of the most gratifying scenes for any musician who’s spent time attempting the same.

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Netflix Picks #1

Jorge: Full disclosure, The Hunt is an unfair pick for a Netflix recommendation. If you’re settling down with a glass of wine and a partner to cuddle with this Valentine’s Day, you will be more than disappointed. You will be devastated. But if you’re in the mood to distrust your fellow man and sympathize with a poor soul, then where better to turn than Danish cinema? (Of course, if I were really mean it would be a Lars von Trier film.) In his best, most heartbreaking role, Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal) plays a family man wrongfully accused of molesting a child at his day care. Off to a rough start, I know, but follow him for a few minutes and you won’t be able to look away from the handsome, lovable man who somehow played a Bond villain. The Hunt‘s pace is slow and thoughtful, like most movies from anywhere other than the US and India, and it serves to convince us that this story is nothing but true and harrowing. It’s a tough two hours, yet worth it for a different perspective at a time when the media is quick to point the finger. This is a story about innocence in the face of blame and hatred.

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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Charlie Kaufman’s feature screenplays have only been adapted by four directors. There’s Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.), there’s Michel Gondry (Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), there’s Kaufman himself (Synecdoche, New York and the upcoming Anomalisa). The fourth is none other than George Clooney, who chose the Chuck Barris biopic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind as his directorial debut.

Confessions was a battle of personalities from the start. Kaufman, still a youngish scribe, was already gaining a reputation as a writer very involved with a given film at every stage (up until now that was a point in his favor; stay tuned). Kaufman attracted some big interest, and Bryan Singer was originally attached to direct Johnny Depp in the lead role. Once the two of them moved on it was Clooney who moved into the director’s chair, arguably enjoying the height of Clooneydom following O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Ocean’s Eleven. And the largest personality of them all might be Chuck Barris himself, author of the autobiography Confessions, host of a dozen late-night gameshows, veritable connoisseur of crap TV. Barris claimed he worked as an international CIA assassin on the side while producing television by day, which has never been confirmed or denied but does indeed make for one hell of a story.

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Big Eyes (2014)

Big Eyes is about a fringe artist whose Gothic work about depressed, child-like characters becomes wildly popular, copied, and commercialized until it’s rendered a caricature of itself. And no, it’s not Tim Burton’s autobiography. It’s the bizarre true story of Margaret and Walter Keane and the fortune they made in the 1960s on paintings of children with, you guessed it, big eyes. Still, it’s not hard to analyze Burton’s attraction to this story. Each new movie “from the mind of Tim Burton” seems to parody his own aesthetic, turning it into a brand more than an auteur’s style. It would be far too easy  to say that Walter represents the big, money-hungry studios and Margaret is Tim, just victims of their own popularity.  But this is a movie that deserves to stand alone–and after Dark Shadows, I’m sure Burton wants it that way.

The audience might already be familiar with the weird 1970 court case in which Margaret sued Walter for slander while he stubbornly insisted that he was the original artist. But Big Eyes sheds light on the couple’s even weirder marriage. Margaret originated her iconic wide-eyed waifs when she was just a modest painter selling portraits on the street. But it was Walter who took credit for her work and turned them into a massively lucrative venture by selling cheap posters to the general uncultured public. The art world turned up their noses and scoffed, of course, but, as Walter passionately declares, the world is built on the lowest common denominator. Continue reading Big Eyes (2014)