Your Rum Weekend at the Movies

10/28/2011 1:41 PM |

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Puss in Boots: Wait, a movie called Puss in Boots starring Antonio Banderas? Didn’t we just see an Almodovar movie a few weeks ago? Zing? This new cartoon seems like DreamWorks at the height of their soulless, low-craft franchise-building: spinning off a one-joke character already milked by the Shrek franchise into his own adventure. But as it happens, Puss in Boots is more fun than any Shrek movie except possibly the first (and even that one feels tainted after ten years of nonstrop Shrekking, both in that series and in any number of other DreamWorks movies). There’s still plenty of cynical DreamWorks formulating (Puss is given backstory, a caring mother, and a mismatched buddy in the form of an amusingly disreputable Humpty Dumpty), but this time, they’re not passing off movie clichés as canny, adult-minded satire of fairy-tale tropes, nor are they making dopey pop-culture jokes, or ending the whole thing with a big full-cast dance number… well, actually, they do that last thing. I’m pretty sure even if filmmakers refused, Jeffrey Katzenberg would personally animate such a sequence himself and paste it onto the end.

But even if early word calling this a strong adventure movie played straight kinda oversells Puss in Boots just a bit (though not as egregiously as the geek reviews that compared DreamWorks’ live-action Real Steel to an eighties Amblin movie as if all reading from the same stupid press release), this is a DreamWorks cartoon where the humor comes more from the physical comedy of animation than warmed-over attitude. Put another way: a horrible egg-man who can’t lift himself up for fear of cracking into pieces is pretty funny. As is a cat that wears a hat and boots, but no clothes. The animation looks richer and more distinctive than the bland Shrek series, and it all moves along at a pleasant if easily forgettable clip. Put it in the “look, they’re kind of trying” category with Kung Fu Panda 2 and Megamind.

In Time: Say this for Andrew Niccol’s work as a writer-director: it’s always ambitious. His best film remains one that apparently altered his screenplay significantly: Peter Weir’s The Truman Show has proven remarkably prescient in terms of both reality TV and showing that Jim Carrey could be taken seriously. But Niccol’s own Gattaca is pretty damn good in its own right, and his Nic Cage arms-dealing chronicle Lord of War has a lot of fascinating material even if it doesn’t completely coalesce. What worries me about In Time, a futuristic sci-fi thriller, is S1m0ne, a similarly futuristic sci-fi non-thriller Niccol made with Al Pacino back in 2002. Granted, Gattaca seems more in line with the thematic concerns of the Logan’s Run-sounding In Time, set in a world where time is currency and people can either live to be extremely pretty for a long time, or die young (and equally pretty) from poverty. But In Time also seems to be aiming for audience-grabbing thrills, and it’s there that I can picture Niccol falling down, S1m0ne-style, as he’s shown much more facility with quietness and process than actual suspense or excitement. On the bright side: science fiction, Amanda Seyfried in a crazy wig, everyone looking pretty.

The Rum Diary: I dig that Film District has decided to go full-on wide-release with the kind of Johnny Depp movie that only five or six years ago would’ve come out on forty screens, Libertine-style [Even one screen was too many for The Libertine. -Ed.]. Even after several billion-dollar movies for Depp, Rum Diary had a tough time finding a distributor, going by the principle that even the biggest star in the world can’t sell a movie not made for twelve-year-olds (never mind that Depp has experienced such success based in part on his cross-generational appeal, which presumably includes lots of olds).

Depp returns to Hunter S. Thompson country, only earlier and less psychedelic, and maybe with Amber Heard instead of Benicio Del Toro? I like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and all, but a calmer, Amber Heardier take on Thompsn doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, because I have no real desire to ever see Fear and Loathing straight through again. Regardless of how Rum Diary turned out, though, it will be somehow held against Depp as film nerds continue to dismiss anything and everything adventurous he’s done in the past five to ten years as not enough or nonexistent. Similarly, his cred-filled 1990s run seems to be scrubbed of low-grade thriller junk like Nick of Time or The Ninth Gate for sake of an easy Depp-sold-out argument [Hey, the latter is an auteur film. -Ed.]. I, for one, would put his past eight years in a shinier spotlight against any other period in his career. Anyway, Editor Mark’s decidedly negative account at least makes Depp sound enjoyable. He’s rarely less than that.

Anonymous: Here’s how my wife describes this movie: “We all know that William Shakespeare wrote a bunch of great plays. What this movie presupposes is: Maybe he didn’t?” [BRB, giving your wife a column. —Ed.] It’s all the funnier that this presupposition is made by noted scholar Roland Emmerich, whose past theories include: Mammoths helped to build the pyramids. And: the world will come to an end in 2012. And also: Godzilla will rampage through a city while seemingly not killing anyone. Anonymous got some decent notices at the film festivals where it inexplicably played, and I hate to be like this, but to those notices I have to say: I do not believe you.

Like Crazy: I keep forgetting this indie movie about a long-distance relationship is coming out, possibly because it’s being released by Paramount Vantage, which I’m pretty sure went out of business two or three years ago. In conclusion, this movie may not exist. But if it does, I bet it’s sad and wistful!

The Double: The second half of an unintentional double bill: shitty thrillers with big stars getting a contractually obligated theatrical release before landing on DVD! The Double is actually a wee bit worse than Trespass, by virtue of not starring Nicolas Cage and instead featuring the always-wan Richard Gere. As famous as Gere is, he’s at the age where I suppose his appearance in a basically-direct-to-DVD movie isn’t that much of a shock, and I know Topher Grace isn’t at a career peak right now, but man, this can’t feel good for him. As usual with this type of project, the more pressing question, rather than will Gere and Grace track down the nefarious assassin known, like someone out of an early-nineties thriller about the Cold War (which this basically is), as Cassius, is: why did these guys read this script and then agree to do this movie? I guess it’s possible that it happened in the reverse order, but even then, I can’t imagine either actor would be a huge enticement to the other on his own. This movie will be playing at the AMC-Loews Village 7 on Third Ave, just like Trespass did (although somehow this one rates another screen over in Times Square). It’s your one-stop shop for movies that will be on DVD in a week. Also possibly mice.

3 Comment

  • I really wasn’t expecting to do this, but in looking at Depp’s resume since the first Pirates movie, I kind of have to take the side of your straw man here. He’s certainly challenged himself in the Tim Burton movies, but his performances have seemed more and more self-indulgent as Burton’s career has fallen completely off the cliff. I enjoyed him in ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO but that hardly qualifies as adventurous; he was good in FINDING NEVERLAND, but you don’t get points for elevating crap if your entire schtick is your independence. Haven’t seen SECRET WINDOW or RANGO though I gather they’re both reasonably successful on their terms; cute cameo in the Yvan Attal-Charlotte Gainsbourg movie there. PUBLIC ENEMIES actually stands out as the one really successful expenditure of Depp’s actorly gifts and cultural capital in the last decade.

    It hasn’t been a bad run by any means, and I don’t really demand that he be any kind of swashbuckling auteur, but that seems to be how he thinks of himself and by those standards his returns aren’t, despite his efforts, significantly better than that of other stars of similar stature making less ostentatious efforts to be in interesting movies.

    He remains, of course, an inventive and delightful screen presence.

  • Depp, right! So it’s been eight and a half years since Depp did his first Pirates and became a huge star in his late thirties. So I’m looking at this as Period B (1995-2003) vs. Period C (2003-2011). Period A being the first eight years or so of his real career, which most people can probably agree is pretty rad, if a little sleepy sometimes.

    Period B has a lot of strong work, some of which I’d even call underrated. Donnie Brasco, Sleepy Hollow, Blow, and From Hell are all interesting (if not always entirely successful, but in my view decent-or-better) movies with strong work from Depp. But also in this period, there are a bunch of smaller arty movies that not that many people seemed to like all that much at the time: Dead Man, Fear and Loathing, The Ninth Gate. I’m not saying their lack of immediately positive reception means that they’re not good (although: The Ninth Gate is not good, Polanski or not, regardless of reception then or now or any time in the future). There are also some schlocky thrillers like The Astronaut’s Wife and Nick of Time (and The Ninth Gate is pretty much just a slightly tonier version of the Schlocky Mid-Nineties Depp Thriller). These smaller movies, I feel tend to either be venerated much more in retrospect, or forgotten/overlooked entirely. Both of which are fine, and understandable — that’s how these things work — it just seems to me that a lot of the Johnny Depp Sucks Now stuff (which I have read, I suppose more from that collective straw man of Semi-Pro and Amateur Internet Writers) doesn’t take into account the time that’s passed, allowing those forgettable movies to be forgotten and those offbeat movies to develop a cult.

    Period C, in the meantime, has at least as much strong work, I’d say, and more panache (if, OK, sometimes a little less nuance). That includes four Pirates movies; maybe it’s been over-tapped at this point, but there’s so much joy of performance in Depp’s work that I can’t hold it against him. Here’s a guy who seems to be enjoying himself in a summer movie, which you’d think wouldn’t be that rare a quality, but it is. His Mad Hatter is a bit of a throwaway, but it’s also a supporting part (and funny), while his other Burton movies — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd — have some of his most inventive work and don’t overlap much at all. (Interestingly, Period B has only one Burton/Depp collaboration, perhaps something that plays into the sudden anti-romanticization of Burton/Depp as lazy and repetitive.)

    But there’s more beyond Burton and Pirates: I absolutely adore his performance in Once Upon a Time in Mexico; some of it is just the lucky contrast of this fantastic underplaying being released a few months after his fantastic Pirates overplaying, but it’s one of my favorite characters of his regardless. Even the junkier stuff during this period, namely Secret Window and The Tourist, are much more enlivened by Depp’s presence than, say, The Ninth Gate or Nick of Time. Some of that may be self-indulgence, for sure, but he also seems to be enjoying himself more, post Jack Sparrow, and for an actor who flirted with sleepy-eyed whimsy so often early on, or straight-man dullness in the middle, that’s a welcome change.

    I do wish he would do a little more Public Enemies type of stuff and a little less Pirates/Lone Ranger type of stuff (although: his other Verbinski collaboration, Rango, is pretty terrific, and its western love makes me think that this Lone Ranger business could be great fun). Flat-out preferring Period C Depp is more a matter of personal taste than anything, I admit (admiring as I do his weirder, more roccoco tendencies) — where I think the arguments get a little weird (and this is not the argument you’re making at all) is when I read about how Depp WAS so interesting and NOW he’s such a lazy paycheck-casher — especially when the worst movie he’s done in the past ten years was the vaguely arty and nigh-unwatchable The Libertine (one screen too many — totally agree).

    In terms of full-on quality-blast, you’re right — he probably is a few notches below the standard that Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and George Clooney have so committed themselves to maintaining. But Depp’s also a different presence than any of those guys, much more eccentric and prone to flourishes. Despite his roots, and despite the charms of Clooney et al, he’s much more of a movie star.

    I do wonder if sometimes current Depp-bashers are just having trouble accepting that — his movie-star quality — and may prefer a time when they frankly weren’t paying much attention to him either way. Or would prefer to ignore the realities of a long career, which short some miraculous runs are going to include some less stellar movies. (I realize the vagueness of “they” here; probably it’s just as much of a problem that I read some movie blogs at all, let alone their comment sections!)

  • And wow, I just wrote a LOT about two thirds of Johnny Depp’s career. I kind of love going through actors’ filmographies.