Johnny Depp

Alice in Wonderland (2010, Tim Burton)

Alice in Wonderland has a number of balls in the air at once and director Burton–though he does show a good sense of them each while in focus–can’t seem to bring them together successfully. The potentially unifying elements–like Danny Elfman’s score or Mia Wasikowska in the lead–both fall short. For whatever reason, Burton doesn’t have Elfman design the score to be memorable; even when it’s competent, it just reminds of better Danny Elfman scores. As for Wasikowska, who’s utterly phenomenal whether she’s in nineteenth century England or the titular Wonderland, the film loses her too often.

And that loss of Wasikowska, even though it’s always to bring in the assorted cast of Wonderland, kills the film’s momentum. Alice has a very standard plot–Wasikowska has an unpleasant future waiting for her in reality, will her experiences in Wonderland somehow edify and empower her to deal with them? Even though it’s Alice in Wonderland, it often feels like Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton wish they were making Dorothy in Oz.

But when Wasikowska is on screen, she’s able to sell Wonderland’s generic journey. She’s got able assistance too. Johnny Depp turns the Mad Hatter into a wonderful character, acting against his makeup, and Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic as the Red Queen. Both Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover are painfully affected but they’re always opposite someone great so it doesn’t matter too much.

Wonderland’s a moderate success, but should have been a much greater one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based on novels by Lewis Carroll; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh), Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Crispin Glover (Stayne), Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee and Tweedledum), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Timothy Spall (Bayard the Bloodhound), Michael Sheen (White Rabbit), Barbara Windsor (Dormouse) and Alan Rickman (Absolem the Caterpillar).


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993, Lasse Hallström)

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape does something very unscrupulous… it relies on the viewer’s affection for its characters to get away with being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In terms of narrative honesty, I mean.

Gilbert Grape is, for the majority of its run time, a lyrical character study. Yes, it takes place in a summer and not an average one, but director Hallström goes out of his way to show the extraordinary events in the film as standard in the characters’ lives. Sven Nykvist’s photography, Alan Parker and Björn Isfält’s beautiful score, it all combines to create that lyrical mood.

Then something little happens, thanks to the introduction of Juliette Lewis’s stranded tourist into the lives of locals Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio’s lives.

Then something big happens and it turns out that deus ex machina finish isn’t even necessary, not even a part of it, for Gilbert Grape to work. One has to assume writer Peter Hedges, adapting his own novel, wasn’t willing to streamline for the sake of narrative honesty.

Depp’s strong in the lead, Lewis is good as his love interest. DiCaprio, as Depp’s mentally handicapped brother, is outstanding. But Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schellhardt are great (though underutilized) as Depp and DiCaprio’s sisters. Darlene Cates is affecting, if a little rocky.

Excellent supporting work from Crispin Glover, Kevin Tighe and Mary Steenburgen.

Regardless of the narrative subterfuge, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an excellent film. It’s often a wondrous, transcendent experience with some exquisite acting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lasse Hallström; screenplay by Peter Hedges, based on his novel; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Andrew Mondshein; music by Alan Parker and Björn Isfält; production designer, Bernt Amadeus Capra; produced by David Matalon, Bertil Ohlsson and Meir Teper; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Gilbert Grape), Leonardo DiCaprio (Arnie Grape), Juliette Lewis (Becky), Mary Steenburgen (Betty Carver), Darlene Cates (Bonnie Grape), Laura Harrington (Amy Grape), Mary Kate Schellhardt (Ellen Grape), Kevin Tighe (Ken Carver), John C. Reilly (Tucker Van Dyke), Crispin Glover (Bobby McBurney) and Penelope Branning (Becky’s Grandma).


Dark Shadows (2012, Tim Burton)

With Dark Shadows, director Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith find a great formula for humor in the film, which has a lot of inherent humor in just taking place in 1972 and having vampire running around.

While it’s very much comedic, Burton infuses it with a surprisingly dark element. But Johnny Depp’s lead isn’t the evil, of course; instead, it’s Eva Green’s witch.

There’s a lot of good acting in Shadows, but Green’s the most impressive. She delights in the character’s evil, but never makes her unenjoyable to watch.

Depp gives a strong performance, making his vampire both tragic and comedic. He makes the character cute, even when he’s doing bad things. Jackie Earle Haley’s part is too small, but he’s very funny as Depp’s drunken sidekick. Bella Heathcote–who gets lost a little in the script (Shadows could go on quite a bit longer)–is good, as is Gulliver McGrath as her charge.

Both Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter are excellent, playing to the humor in the film in different ways. They have a fantastic scene together. It’s short, but simply fantastic.

The only unimpressive performance is Chloë Grace Moretz. She’s adequate, but lackluster compared to her costars.

The Bruno Delbonnel photography is excellent; Burton’s got a great look for the film, though the CG is a tad shiny.

Oddly, Danny Elfman’s score is nowhere near as compelling as the seventies rock soundtrack.

Despite a couple third act missteps, Shadows is a very pleasant, extremely likable surprise.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on a story by John August and Grahame-Smith and the television series created by Dan Curtis; director of photography, Bruno Delbonnel; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Graham King, Johnny Depp, Christi Dembrowski, David Kennedy and Richard D. Zanuck; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Johnny Depp (Barnabas Collins), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard), Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Julia Hoffman), Eva Green (Angelique Bouchard), Jackie Earle Haley (Willie Loomis), Jonny Lee Miller (Roger Collins), Bella Heathcote (Victoria Winters / Josette DuPres), Chloë Grace Moretz (Carolyn Stoddard), Gulliver McGrath (David Collins), Ray Shirley (Mrs. Johnson), Christopher Lee (Clarney), William Hope (Sheriff) and Alice Cooper (Alice Cooper).


Sleepy Hollow (1999, Tim Burton)

For the majority of the running time, at least Sleepy Hollow isn’t boring. Burton gets in an event every ten minutes, which keeps it moving. It often gets really stupid and watching Johnny Depp’s histrionics get tiresome after the first five minutes, but at least it moves. Until the finale, which drags incredibly. Since the film is constructed as a mystery, once the villain’s identity is revealed, it becomes a lot less interesting. Burton could have done something better, but not much in Sleepy Hollow suggests he cares enough to bother.

Besides the supporting cast and the production design—and Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography, which is lovely—there’s nothing special about the film. For a lot of it, Depp is running around with costars Christina Ricci and Marc Pickering, looking like their babysitter. Ricci’s playing the love interest though, which would come off as odd if Depp was for one moment trying to create a believable character. Watching him primp around—his facial expressions could power a small town alone—is mind-numbing.

But the supporting cast features some excellent performances—Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid and Richard Griffiths are all wonderful. Michael Gambon doesn’t do well though, neither does Jeffrey Jones. Miranda Richardson has some good moments and some awful ones.

The script’s stupid, but it’s unclear if any of the problems are Burton’s fault. His sensibilities—besides the production itself—are reined in. He even rips off a moment from Total Recall.

It’s a lame, worthless movie… but not intolerable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, based on a screen story by Kevin Yagher and Walker and a story by Washington Irving; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Chris Lebenzon and Joel Negron; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Scott Rudin and Adam Schroeder; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ichabod Crane), Christina Ricci (Katrina Van Tassel), Miranda Richardson (Lady Van Tassel), Michael Gambon (Baltus Van Tassel), Casper Van Dien (Brom Van Brunt), Jeffrey Jones (Reverend Steenwyck), Richard Griffiths (Magistrate Philipse), Ian McDiarmid (Doctor Lancaster), Michael Gough (Notary Hardenbrook), Marc Pickering (Young Masbath), Lisa Marie (Lady Crane), Steven Waddington (Killian), Claire Skinner (Beth Killian), Christopher Lee (Burgomaster), Alun Armstrong (High Constable) and Christopher Walken (Hessian Horseman).


From Hell (2001, Albert and Allen Hughes)

I had no idea Heather Graham was ever a lead in such a high profile project. I knew she was in From Hell, but she’s got a lot to do–and with an Irish accent. I suppose it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen her give, maybe because her character isn’t a twit and Graham tends to play morons. She does a decent job, even if her hair coloring looks unnatural, not to mention her general appearance not seeming very realistic for a Victorian era streetwalker.

From Hell‘s a solid Jack the Ripper thriller. There’s nothing particularly outstanding about it–the graphic violence, which I guess caused a stir, is somewhat tame (it’s a Jack the Ripper movie after all), but it’s solid. Johnny Depp has a fine accent and he’s a dependable lead in this one. It’s hardly a showy role–regardless of him being psychic, which doesn’t seem to help with with the case at all. Robbie Coltrane gets all the good lines as Depp’s sidekick.

The star of the film is really the production values. It looks and feels like one thinks the 1880s London would look and feel. When the Hughes brothers do sequences with visual flourishes, well… it doesn’t exactly work. Depp’s opium-fueled fantasies look a whole lot like someone running film through iMovie filters. They’re effective due to their content, not their presentation.

Again, it’s fine. It might be too hard to really get involved with a Jack the Ripper thriller; no point.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes; screenplay by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Dan Lebental and George Bowers; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Martin Childs; produced by Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Johnny Depp (Fred Abberline), Heather Graham (Mary Kelly), Ian Holm (Sir William Gull), Jason Flemyng (Netley), Robbie Coltrane (Peter Godley), Lesley Sharp (Kate Eddowes), Susan Lynch (Liz Stride), Terence Harvey (Ben Kidney), Katrin Cartlidge (Dark Annie Chapman) and Ian Richardson (Sir Charles Warren).


A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)

The best thing about A Nightmare on Elm Street is the font in the opening titles. It’s something sans serif and it’s slightly off and it looks good. To be fair to the movie’s reputation, I did jump twice, both times at the end; maybe because it was waking me up. As opposed to encouraging me never to sleep again A Nightmare on Elm Street made me wish I was comatose for its running time.

It’s not hard to pinpoint what’s wrong with the movie. Wes Craven’s script is atrocious and his direction is worse. His actors–with the exception of Johnny Depp–are awful. Ronee Blakley might give one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. John Saxon’s not as bad as the rest, but he’s bad. Heather Langenkamp is terrible as the lead. She and Blakley are never once believable as mother and daughter.

I’ve seen this one before and I remember it being poorly made. I can’t understand why it has a good reputation. The number of Halloween lifts are few, but visible enough to remind of a far better film.

Craven’s ineptness as a director doesn’t get any help from editor Rick Shaine, who’s unspeakably bad. I think some of the problem might be lack of coverage, which would be Craven’s fault, but come on. People move five yards between cuts.

Charles Bernstein’s music is silly.

It’s a crappy movie and it’s disheartening it launched a franchise. I guess audiences weren’t any better read then either.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Craven; director of photography, Jacques Haitkin; edited by Rick Shaine; music by Charles Bernstein; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Robert Shaye; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring John Saxon (Lt. Thompson), Ronee Blakley (Marge Thompson), Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray), Jsu Garcia (Rod Lane), Johnny Depp (Glen Lantz), Charles Fleischer (Dr. King), Joseph Whipp (Sgt. Parker) and Robert Englund (Fred Krueger).


Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton)

Ed Wood is a biopic of the unsung. The “misfits and dope addicts” of impossibly low budget American filmmaking. The film’s epilogue, following up with the characters, puts the film on the same level as all other big Hollywood biopics. Except this one is about someone who really didn’t do anything (and didn’t even get famous until after his death).

I remember around the time the film came out–I still have fond memories of seeing it at a sneak preview–the screenwriters talked about how difficult it was to turn Plan 9 from Outer Space into the momentous event in Ed Wood’s life it is in the film. Glen or Glenda, for obvious autobiographical reasons, was the better choice, but it wouldn’t have worked as a film (and certainly wouldn’t have gotten Martin Landau an Academy Award, though I doubt anyone was seriously considering the film for awards season at that point). Their solution is an interesting one. After Wood goes from funny to dramatic (the introduction of Patricia Arquette and the death of Landau’s Lugosi), the last act goes back to funny. But in a strange overdrive, best described by Bill Murray in the film–“How do you get all your friends to get baptized just so you can make a monster movie?” It isn’t just the characters in the film, it’s the viewer too. The lunacy has to encompass the viewer to get the picture to end right. And it works beautifully.

The film portrays Wood as a bit of a dope, but also filled with such unbridled, infectious enthusiasm, he can get anyone to do anything. Of a certain age, anyway. One of Wood‘s funniest running jokes involves the older members of the film crew, who are either perplexed by the director’s actions or resignedly amused.

The whole show actually isn’t Johnny Depp, which is kind of surprising, given the enormity of Depp’s presence. He’s so big it’s hard for him to fit in the frame. I remember during one early scene with Mike Starr, I forced myself to notice Depp’s twitching eyebrows. It was the only time during the viewing when I thought about his approach to the character as an actor. The rest of the time I was transfixed.

It’s all about Tim Burton really. Breaking down the dialogue, it’s better than average, but nothing earth-shattering. It’s Burton’s approach to the characters and to the story itself. Watching Ed Wood and thinking about what careful and deliberate steps Burton took in making it… is a little strange. Especially during the third act with the reenactments of the Plan 9 scenes. Burton convinces the viewer to stick around for the guy who made Plan 9, then goes and shows the film in all its awfulness.

The supporting cast–from Sarah Jessica Parker to Max Casella–are all excellent. Parker’s got some of the meatier scenes in the first half with Depp–Arquette’s basically just playing the dream girl, she’s good, but she doesn’t get to do much–and she’s got a wonderful exit. Landau’s Lugosi performance is something to behold… especially given Lugosi was a terrible actor himself, only to be portrayed as beautifully as Landau does. He really does some amazing things with Lugosi, borrowing the film from Burton and Depp.

Somehow, Burton manages to make the film feel good at the end–it must be the silliness–and it’s an exquisite experience. The deft handling of comedy, drama and practically fetishized filmmaking suggests Burton’s capable of great things. It’s just a shame he doesn’t try to attain them anymore.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, based on a book by Rudolph Grey; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Tom Duffield; produced by Denise DeNovi and Burton; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ed Wood), Martin Landau (Bela Lugosi), Sarah Jessica Parker (Dolores Fuller), Patricia Arquette (Kathy O’Hara), Jeffrey Jones (Criswell), G.D. Spradlin (Reverend Lemon), Vincent D’Onofrio (Orson Welles), Bill Murray (Bunny Breckinridge), Mike Starr (Georgie Weiss), Max Casella (Paul Marco), Brent Hinkley (Conrad Brooks), Lisa Marie (Vampira), George ‘The Animal’ Steele (Tor Johnson) and Juliet Landau (Loretta King).


Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)

Dead Man is not a strange film. I haven’t seen it in ten years and I’ve probably seen the majority of the Westerns I’ve seen in that interim. So the opening, as Johnny Depp watches the familiar Western trappings pass from a train window, probably didn’t resonate on my last viewing. What Jarmusch doesn’t get enough credit for–though I really don’t know, it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to have a conversation with someone about Jarmusch–is his dialogue. IMDb doesn’t list it as such, but Dead Man is great comedy. It’s one of the funnier films I’ve seen lately. Besides Gary Farmer, who maintains funniness throughout the film (even when he and Depp’s relationship gets poignant), Jarmusch has his two trios. In the first, there’s Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott and Eugene Byrd. Dead Man might feature Wincott’s finest performance; he’s phenomenal as a motormouthed assassin. Byrd plays the straight man, with Henriksen the unknowing butt of the jokes. This interplay lasts the majority of the film, until Henriksen becomes the knowing butt of Wincott’s joke. The second trio–Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop and Jared Harris–only have a scene, but it’s an amazing one. Thornton’s gift for delivery is clear here, but it’s Pop who steals the show (it isn’t hard, since he’s the only one wearing a bonnet).

The humor–down to Robert Mitchum’s cameo–is all relatively straightforward, presented in dialogue and visuals. Even Farmer’s funniest scenes are because of his dialogue. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp’s trip through Dead Man is tonal. It’s Robby Müller shooting black and white like a Frenchman from the 1930s, the film clearly filmed on location, but still infused with a hyper-reality. The skies are too dark or too bright to be real. Neil Young’s score sometimes becomes the focal point, as it’s the only clue into what Depp’s experiencing. Depp’s character is a genre standard, a quiet man forced into violence by circumstance. Jarmusch’s added ingredients–Depp’s death is inevitable from the start (due to a bullet near the heart) and Farmer as a Native American guide–really aren’t unprecedented. Where Dead Man‘s different is in the presentation of the story.

There’s also the politics of Dead Man–the Western is probably the most political genre. From the opening slaughter of buffalo to the smallpox-infected blankets at the end (even if blankets couldn’t carry the virus), Jarmusch indicts Manifest Destiny with Dead Man. But he escapes propaganda by wowing with the beauty of the untouched American landscape. Discovering the beauty of the natural world is part of Depp’s trip in the film. The viewer’s too.

Jarmusch–through Farmer–neatly sends the viewer home at the end of Dead Man after privileging him or her to particular journey. Back when Dead Man came out, I remember a friend of mine always wanted to know what color Depp’s suit really was, figuring Jarmusch had to make him wear something wacky (and Mitchum’s line about the clown suit really does encourage speculation). I really want to know what, in the dramatic vehicle, Gabriel Byrne brought for Mili Avital. I hope it was silk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Robby Müller; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Neil Young; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; produced by Demetra J. MacBride; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Johnny Depp (William Blake), Gary Farmer (Nobody), Crispin Glover (Train Fireman), Lance Henriksen (Cole Wilson), Michael Wincott (Conway Twill), Eugene Byrd (Johnny ‘The Kid’ Pickett), John Hurt (John Scholfield), Robert Mitchum (John Dickinson), Iggy Pop (Salvatore ‘Sally’ Jenko), Gabriel Byrne (Charlie Dickinson), Jared Harris (Benmont Tench), Mili Avital (Thel Russell) and Billy Bob Thornton (Big George Drakoulious).


Scroll to Top