On Shallower Tides…


Never believe the hype.

The word was that this was supposed to be the movie that got the franchise back on track. Even Johnny Depp was on record about how bloated and convoluted the last couple of PIRATES movies were, so the fourth film was set to right those wrongs.

Not so much. This installment is just as messy and murky as the last 2.

In fact, looking back – I felt exactly the same way I did after seeing the 3rd one (AT WORLD’S END). In my review of that I wrote:

“All the lame jokes, un-affecting fight scenes, and pointless attempts at romaticizing map-mythology with supposed sacred artifacts holding eternal power just left me bombastically bored.

I did however like the Keith Richards cameo (as Jack Sparrow’s father no less). I heard there was a bonus scene like the other PIRATES had after the credits but at the 2 hour 45 mark I was dying to get the hell out of the theater – bet you will be too.”

Except for the remark about the running time (at just over 2 hours this is shorter) I have the same reaction. This time I did stay to see the bonus scene though.

A lot of the cast from the series doesn’t return – there’s no Keira Knightly, Orlando Bloom, or Bill Nighy so the film offers a lot of Depp sparring off with Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane as Blackbeard, a real missed oportunity as a character.

ON STRANGER TIDES is a noisy film full of groaners (Keith Richards has the funniest line, but I won’t spoil it here), poorly plotted set-pieces, and Johnny Depp just swishing through the motions. It also doesn’t take any pleasurable advantage of having zombies in it!

The last half takes the plot mechanics of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE substituting the Holy Grail with the Fountain of Youth and re-writes them over and over again to no great effect.

Penélope Cruz and Depp have some mad chemistry but when she’s reduced to a screaming b**** and Depp is just an ambitious cad they join the entire cast of people it’s impossible to care about.

The 3D did nothing for me either.

I have to say though the audience around me seemed to love it all (there was even applause at the end), and my wife enjoyed it saying that she loved “the costumes, the detail on the sets and the ships,” “how dark it was” and that “Johnny Depp appeals to all ages.”

Judging from that this movie looks pretty critic-proof. It’s an event movie that people will feel obligated to see so I’m sure it’ll be a big hit. To me though it was another failed fourth and a big waste of time.


The Wrong Alice Indeed

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Dir. Tim Burton, 2010)

I had forgotten that in my review of SWEENEY TODD (January 13th, 2008) I had joked that I was only going to see Burton/Depp productions at Movies At Timberlyne in Chapel Hill. Since I now live in Raleigh, I’m so glad that wasn’t a strict vow because this really wouldn’t have been worth the 40 minute drive.

This is exactly what I thought it was going to be – another CGI fueled fantasy fest with Depp dancing around like a maniac as dark yet ostensibly beautiful imagery bombards the viewer.

We all know the basic story here so I’ll try and keep it brief. A 19 year old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) in Victorian times escapes from her oppressive family and the unwanted marriage proposal from a chinless Bourgeois doofus of a suiter (Leo Bill) into a magical land. She encounters, you know, a White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), a Blue Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), a Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), and twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both voice
d by Matt Lucas).

For villainy’s sake there is the Red Queen – Helena Bonhma Carter (you knew she’d have to be here somewhere) with a disturbingly huge head, who has stolen the reign of the land from her sister, the blindingly White Queen (Anne Hathaway) – who strangely has little presence. Also there’s Crispin Glover, who doesn’t look like he likes working in ginormous budget world, plays Stayne Knave of Hearts, the ominous head of the Red Queen’s army.

But of course most folks won’t care about any of that stuff – they care about Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.

For some reason his make-up with his green eyes and fiery orange hair made him look like Madonna at times. His patently wacky performance will surely please hardcore Depp fans, but his take on the character, much like his turns in previous Burton work as Willy Wonka and Sweeney Todd, has that not so fresh feeling.

I personally feel that Depp and Burton should be separated for a decade. If they want to come back then and make another Disney re-imagining of something that’s been done to death in the past, so be it. But give us, or at least me, a break for a bit!

The film builds to a big battle climax which too greatly resembles the terrain and aesthetics of the STAR WARS prequels. The humorless execution and the distinct lack of charm made the third act particularly hard going.

Still, I can’t completely slag it off. On the whole it’s a well made and reasonably entertaining movie that I think a lot of people will enjoy. There are inspired flights of animated fancy and some close to great Gilliam-esque visual splendor.

I just felt overall that as played by Wasikowska, Alice was too much of a blank slate, Depp was too weird, Glover not weird enough, Bonham Carter not as amusing as she’s supposed to be, and the whole remake enterprise ambiance was a bit off.

All through the first half of the film, seemingly every character says that Alice is the “wrong Alice.” I’m not going to spoil why it is they say that, but of the dozens of adaptations out there in which to experience Lewis Carroll’s immortal story, it’s an apt statement because this sure isn’t the right one.

More later…

Ledger’s Last Film: Good But Not Great Gilliam

(Dir. Terry Gilliam, 2009)

Terry Gilliam is infamous for problems plaguing (and sometimes halting) many of the productions of his fantastically far-fetched films, but as I’m sure folks reading this well know, none have been hit harder than this one. The untimely death of Heath Ledger midway through shooting threatened to squash the project, but Gilliam came up with a solution to cast 3 of Ledger’s acting peers to fill in for his remaining scenes.

It helps the conceit that in the story Ledger’s character steps through a magic mirror into another world in which he could be somewhat plausibly changed into another person. It also helps that the 3 actors filling in just happen to be very big names in the business: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell.

Given these circumstances, the finished film works better than it has a right to. Working with a much lower budget than before, Gilliam knows how to draw an audience in to a strange setting, one that’s familiar to fans with its ratty stage folk and tall tales that just might be true. In the title role, Christopher Plummer, made to look ten times scragglier than usual, leads a group of show folks making their way around modern day London in a make-shift stage vehicle. The group is made up of the Doctor’s daughter (Lily Cole), a clever but neurotic magician (Andrew Garfield), and an out-spoken dwarf (Verne Troyer) who has many of the films best lines.

Plummer tells his daughter (and us) his bizarre back story (well, bizarre if you’ve never seen a Gilliam film before) involving a deal with the Devil (a terrific Tom Waits) and the darkening of his visions. When crossing a bridge in the middle of the night the traveling troupe comes across Ledger hanging from a noose. They get him down and find he’s still alive. When he comes to the next day he asks where he is. Troyer answers:

“Geographically, in the Northern Hemisphere. Socially, on the margins. Narratively, with some way to go.”

Ledger has no memory of his life before his suicide attempt so he joins the Imaginarium players, soon making changes to their set and presentation. A crumbled newspaper page blowing around the rubble of the seedy dank underworld they call home reminds Ledger of his shady background, but he continues to go along with the troupe especially after learning that the Doctor’s Imaginarium is no scam.

The film beautifully builds up to when Ledger first goes through the mirror and the transition to Johnny Depp is successfully smooth. Depp has the briefest bit of the guest replacement actors, but makes the most of it with his patented eyebrow exercises and dance moves. Jude Law and Colin Farrell are well suited for the smarmy greedy parts of Ledger’s personality that emerge in further mirror excursions if indeed that’s what they were supposed to symbolize.

Such errant elements in the second half don’t gel well and key plot points are muddled or clumsily glossed over, but that Gilliam was able to complete this film to as coherent as it is makes up for a great deal of defects.

THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN is the closest relative IMAGINARIUM has in Gilliam’s canon. Both deal with wizened old men spinning legends out of their outrageous realities; performing their fables on the sideshow circuit, laying in wait for fortune or death – or both. IMAGINARIUM has a much lower budget that MUNCHAUSEN, yet it benefits from less aesthetic indulgence and its smaller scale gives it more intimacy.

It’s far from Gilliam’s best movie, and it’s far from Ledger’s best performance, but as a salvaged final project, I’m glad THE IMAGINARIUM exists. It’s a mixed bag of a movie (and may still have been had Ledger lived), but it’s a still a fairly fun film and a fitting tribute. At the end we are told that this is “A film from Heath Ledger and friends.” I know it’s lame to say that ‘it’s the thought that counts’, but dammit – it counts the most here.

More later…

The Terry Gilliam Repertory Role Call 1977-2009

In anticipation of the new Terry Gilliam film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS opening wide this Friday here’s a listing of Gilliam’s stupendous stock company. This is excluding the Monty Python films, because Gilliam only co-directed one of them (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL). So let’s get right to it:

Jeff Bridges (THE FISHER KING, TIDELAND) 7 years before “The Dude”, Bridges abided as pony-tailed radio shock jock Jack Lucas who finds redemption by way of a crazy homeless Robin Williams (see end of list). Bridges’ fate was less rosy in TIDELAND (2005) – he plays a crusty old rocker reminiscent of Kris Kristopherson (a foreshadowing of CRAZY HEART?) who dies of a heroin overdose and spends most of the film as a rotting corpse sitting upright in a chair in a rustic farmhouse. Also notable: Bridges narrated the excellent heartbreaking documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA that focused on Gilliam’s aborted 2000 production of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE.

Jim Broadbent (TIME BANDITS [1981], BRAZIL [1985]) The small but juicy role of a sleazy Compere of the game show “Your Money Or Your Life” was one of Broadbent’s first film roles. He appeared again in Gilliam’s next film, the bizarre but brilliant BRAZIL, as Dr. Jaffe – a plastic surgeon for one of the other notable cast members on this list (Hint: skip ahead 2).

Winston Dennis (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN 1988) A couple of bit parts as “Bull-headed Warrior” who battled King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) in TIME BANDITS and “Samurai Warrior” in BRAZIL led to an actual character name for Dennis, actually 2, Bill/Albrecht, an intertwined duo in Gilliam’s overblown but still incredibly charming epic comedy: THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988).

Johnny Depp (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, ) A Hunter S. Thompson adaptation is not a characteristic project for the dogged director, but with the demented Depp as the Gonzo journalist, Gilliam found his fantasist footing in the trippy terrain. Depp lent a hand famously filling in for Heath Ledger as “Imaginarium Tony #1” in the upcoming IMAGINARIUM… and is slated to be Sancho Panza (a role he was unable to complete in 2000) in THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (2011). Barring any unforeseen incident, mind you.


While she’s best known for her US television sitcom work on Soap, Who’s The Boss, and Everybody Loves Raymond, Helmond has an almost alternate reality film career in the alternate realities of Gilliam. In TIME BANDITS she’s fittingly named Mrs. Ogre as she’s the wife of “Winston the Ogre” (Peter Vaughan), in BRAZIL she’s Ida Lowry – the mother of protagonist Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), and in FEAR AND LOATHING… she’s “Desk Clerk at Mint Hotel” – a study in uncomfortable disapproving scowling. You’d think she’d be used to Gilliam’s grotesqueries by that point.

Ian Holm (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) To go from the legendary Napoleon to the lowly office boss Mr. M. Kurtzman in just a few years is quite a demotion. And perhaps it’s adding insult to injury that neither role has any positive light shed on them but Holm puts in perfect performances that actually provoke sympathy. Incidentally Holm would go on to portray Napoleon again in THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES (2001).


Jeter died in 2003 leaving behind an eclectic career that stretched from musical theater to television comedy to the silver screen and back again. His parts in 2 of Gilliam’s finest films as “Homeless cabaret singer” and “L. Ron Bumquist” are as memorable as character acting can be – especially when he belts out a medley of show tunes in drag to Amanda Plummer in THE FISHER KING.

Simon Jones (BRAZIL, TWELVE MONKEYS) These are pretty blink and miss them cameos (as an “Arrest Official” and “Zoologist” respectively) from Python pal Jones best known as Arthur Dent on the BBC TV version of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1981).

Heath Ledger (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) Of course, the tragic death of Heath Ledger in 2008 deprived the world of an amazing young talent, but a blossoming Gilliam leading man is how he’ll remain frozen in time as “Tony” in his last film: THE IMAGINARIUM… Ledger was reported as being close to Gilliam beginning with their work on BROTHERS GRIMM, so it’s not so far-fetched to imagine them collaborating often had he lived.


McKeown has been on hand to fill in random bit player parts in these 4 films simply because he co-wrote them with Gilliam. His work as “Theater manager”, Harvey Lime, Rupert/Adolphus, and “Fairground Inspector” may go majorly un-noticed but such a solid player should at least get a shout out from this blogger.

Christopher Meloni (TWELVE MONKEYS, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) Before he was Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, or criminal Chris Keller on Oz for that matter, Meloni played Lt. Halperin in TWELVE MONKEYS then “Sven, Clerk at Flamingo Hotel” in FEAR AND LOATHING…

Derrick O’Connor (JABBERWOCKY, TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) According to Wikipedia: “Terry Gilliam, who has directed O’Connor on three films, has noted in his audio commentaries that Derrick seems to have a habit of taking away most of his dialogue in favor of physical character humor. Notable examples include TIME BANDITS, in which his characters’ dialogue was resorted to simple grunts while the Maid Marian character ‘translated’ for him and in BRAZIL , in which Derrick scrapped all of his character’s dialogue and simply repeated the dialogue of Bob Hoskins‘ character.”


Gilliam’s former Python mate Palin was his first leading man as Dennis Cooper – dragon slayer in JABBERWOCKY (1977). Palin went on to co-write TIME BANDITS and appear in it as Vincent, who shows up in as Shelly Duvall’s lover in 2 different time periods. His last role for Gilliam was as the devious but dapper Jack Lint in BRAZIL.


In TWELVE MONKEYS, the venerable Plummer played Dr. Goines, a world-renowned virologist and father to a crazy radical Brad Pitt. He has a larger role, the title role, in Gilliam’s latest offering. In an interview on ClashMusic.com Gilliam spoke of the collaboration: “It’s wonderful trying to create a little family group. At one stage I’m taking Christopher Plummer, one of the greatest actors of a few generations, and having him do these different double acts; one with a model with little acting experience, one with a two-foot-eight man and one with Tom Waits, America’s greatest musical poet. And it all worked out!”

Jonathan Pryce (BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, THE BROTHERS GRIMM) As protagonist Sam Lowry in BRAZIL, Pryce provided an ingratiating everyman. He had smaller but still memorable parts in MUNCHAUSEN as “The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson”, and BROTHERS GRIMM as “Delatombe” – a conniving French General.

Jack Purvis (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) A dwarf who appeared in all 3 of the original STAR WARS trilogy, Purvis was Time Bandit Wally, Dr. Chapman in BRAZIL, and Jeremy /Gustavus in MUNCHAUSEN. Unlike his roles as Jawas and Ewoks for Lucas, in Gilliam’s films he at least got to show his face and have a few lines. Purvis died in 1997, leaving behind a brief but fascinating filmography.

Peter Stormare (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) The only actor to appear on both Gilliam’s and the Coen Brothers’ repertory role calls, Stormare is a towering intimidating stonewalling actor who seems to fit into whatever skewed scenario visionary film makers come up with. His roles in these 2 films couldn’t be more different: he’s the thug “Calvadi” and in BROTHERS GRIMM he’s credited as “The President”. Well, maybe I have to wait to see if they’re really so different.

Verne Troyer (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) Troyer, best known as Mini-Me from the AUSTIN POWERS films, seems to be the go-to little person since the original Time Bandits are too old or deceased now. Maybe Gilliam should give Peter Dinklage a call next time out.

Peter Vaughn (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) As a medieval creature who complains of a bad back, the Pythonesque “Winston the Ogre” was wonderfully played by Vaughan: “You try being beastly and terrifying… you can only get one hour sleep a night because your back hurts, and you daren’t cough unless you want to pull a muscle.” In BRAZIL he had a crucial bit part as the ironically named Mr. Helpmann.

Tom Waits (THE FISHER KING, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSAS) Waits steals the show in THE FISHER KING as “Disabled Veteran” with a monologue in which he declares: “I’m what you call kind of a “moral traffic light”, really. I’m like sayin’, “Red! Go no further!” Looks like he may be set to steal the show again in IMAGINARIUM… in what may be the meatiest role on this list: Mr. Nick/The Devil. Also between these 2 roles his song “The Earth Died Screaming” appeared in TWELVE MONKEYS.

The wild wacky fast talking Williams looked at the time like he might become a Gilliam mainstay but alas that so far was not to be. In MUNCHAUSEN his manic “King Of The Moon” (“I think therefore you is”), whose head detaches from his body, hurriedly floats off with the movie for a few priceless moments, but it’s his touching role as Perry in THE FISHER KING that stacks up there with Williams’ best work.

Okay! Is there anyone I missed?

More later…

PUBLIC ENEMIES: The Film Babble Blog Review

“John Dillinger was shot dead behind that theater (points at the Biograph Theater) in a hail of FBI gunfire. You know who tipped him off? His fuckin’ girlfriend! (shrugs) He just wanted to go to the movies.”
– Rob Gordon (John Cusack) from HIGH FIDELTY (Dir. Stephen Frears, 2000)

(Dir. Michael Mann, 2009)

At a recent revival showing of THE UNTOUCHABLES (part of a Robert De Niro double feature) the first shots showing the legs of Armani suited men storming up marble stairs made me think they accidentally started THE UNTOUCHABLES a few reels too soon. Of course, what I was actually seeing was the trailer for a new fangled ‘30’s gangster movie with Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as his FBI chief pursuer. On first glance it looked remarkably like Brian De Palma’s Capone era classic. Upon closer inspection, well, the looks linger but this tale is told from the bad guys point of view.

“I’m John Dillinger. I rob banks.” Depp smoothly parlays his M.O. to a new romantic prospect – a coat check girl played by Marion Cotillard (fresh from her Oscar winning turn as Edith Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE). “Why did you tell me that?” She asks, intrigued, but she’ll soon learn that Depp’s Dillinger is forthright about everything. Despite being a bank robber on the run from the feds with his picture in the papers and 30 feet high in the newsreels, he comes off as a ‘man about town’, always on the make with the movie star glow that Depp couldn’t shake off if he tried. So why is he so hard to catch? The only argument the film seems to offer is that it’s because he is just as elusively slippery as a Warner Brothers cartoon character from the same period. When he is caught it is not for long as we are witness to more than one prison breakout sequence.

Over a decade ago, Mann made one of the definitive epic crime dramas – HEAT, but this sadly can’t hold a candle to that masterpiece. While HEAT bristled with tension, PUBLIC ENEMIES goes through the motions with gunfights lacking in electricity and multiple dialogue driven scenes that just sit there. Depp is confident and slick, Bale is determined and humorless; yet beyond that there’s not much to their personas.

Bale is one of the most engaging actors working today but since BATMAN BEGINS it seems like he’s being inserted right and left into potential blockbusters like some kind of celebrity product placement; he’s a cowboy, a Vietnam soldier, he’s Dylan, he’s the new John Connor, he was even almost President George W. Bush in W.! Bale’s character is solid, as is Depp’s, but there are no surprises present in their sparring standoffs.

Still, PUBLIC ENEMIES is a sturdy well made movie with a number of striking set-pieces, so this isn’t a complete pan. A major saving grace is its great supporting cast including Billy Crudup (almost unrecognizable as J. Edgar Hoover), Stephen Dorff, James Russo, Lili Taylor, and Channing Tatum as Baby Face Nelson. That there’s no fault from any member of the supporting players shouldn’t be lightly dismissed. Also there are a few definite sparks between Coittard and Depp which helps since it’s a fairly unfleshed out romance.

Like Capone’s fate in THE UNTOUCHABLES, and for that matter many other movies based on true crime, we know how this will end for Dillinger but at 2 hours and 20 minutes this takes its sweet time getting there. However, once you get to the climax it’s the most stirring part of the film. As Cusack noted in the quote at the top of this review, Dillinger was killed after taking in a movie at the historic Biograph Theater. Mann deftly illustrates, in the only section in which the glacial pace works, the odd peace Dillinger carried himself with. We see shots from the last film he saw – MANHATTAN MELODRAMA with images of Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy pouring off the screen. In the shadows deals are being made and fates are being sealed, but as Depp and the audience, both on screen and off, are being bathed in the white light coming from the projector, art and life are sitting comfortably side by side taking a break from mocking one another. It won’t last long though…

More later…

10 Actors Amusing Reactions To Their Signature Characters Being Re-cast In A Remake *

* Or reboot or re-imaging or whatever rationale they’re using.

This is not one of those “Hollywood has completely run out of ideas” posts – though the amount of remakes coming down the line is staggeringly depressing. No, this is about when a new version of a beloved cinematic staple is announced and it’s obviously threatening to the original actors who won’t be included. Inspired by Faye Dunaway’s response to the absurd casting of a proposed BONNIE AND CLYDE remake (see #4), this list is what I believe are the funniest and most pointed reactions to redundant rehashes:

1. “I am Snake Plissken!” Kurt Russell on an upcoming ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK redux. He elaborates in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “I didnt play Snake Plissken, I created him! Goldie [Hawn] and I were talking the other day about this, and I said, ‘Man, this is weird, isnt it?’ And she said, “When they were going to do a remake of Private Benjamin, I thought, ‘I didnt play Private Benjamin, I created that role!’” Russell may not have to worry, with the state of the economy the movie is likely to be axed. Well, with hope that is.

2. “Nobody ever offered me a part.” – William Shatner on the new J.J. Abrams STAR TREK prequel. This is actually not so ridiculous a complaint – if Leonard Nimoy as Spock (in an odd time warp way I guess) can be included, why can’t the original James T. Kirk? Shatner even made a youtube video response to clarify things. Watch it here.

3. “They didn’t even ask me!” Adam West on being left out of the first BATMAN reboot starring Michael Keaton in 1989. David Letterman made this into a comic catchphrase and on a Saturday Night Live sketch, Michael McKean did a dead on impression of West declaring: “I wanted to play – Uncle Batman. He – he would be an older, distinguished gentleman — much like yourself, Commissioner Gordon….(addressing Weekend Update anchor Norm McDonald) and he would help Batman fight crime!” Needless to say that didn’t happen. As Robin (David Duchovny – that’s right) on that skit said: “Holy Not-Taking-Your-Medication, Batman!”

4. “Couldn’t they have at least gotten a real actress?” – Faye Dunaway on the casting of Hillary Duff in the BONNIE AND CLYDE remake. Duff responded “I think that my fans that are going to go see the movie don’t even know who she is. I think it (what she said) was a little unnecessary, but I might be mad if I looked like that now too.” Jeez, show some respect little Miss 15 minutes of fame gone into obnoxious overtime! This is another should be axed project with only this cat fight left standing.

5. “These comedy remakes are horrible!”Tom Selleck on the possible George Clooney * movie redo of Magnum, P.I. He elaborated: “I tell you what worries me – because I love Magnum and we have loyal fans – is they take these TV show titles, and they buy them and they spend $100 million on special effects, and then they make fun of them and trivialize it. Then they try and get the actor who used to be in it to do some ridiculous cameo to prove to the audience that it’s OK. And I will not do that.” Sounds like a not so subtle jab at the Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson STARSKY AND HUTCH but a lot of other TV to movie adaptations fit the bill.

* Now it looks like Matthew McConaughney is on as Magnum. Sigh.

6. “Pointless”Gene Wilder on the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (The Wilder original was entitled WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY). Wilder went on: “It’s all about money. It’s just some people sitting around thinking ‘how can we make some more money?’ Why else would you remake Willy Wonka? I don’t see the point of going back and doing it all over again. I like Johnny Depp, and I appreciate that he has said on record that my shoes will be hard to fill. But I don’t know how it will all turn out.” Well, it turned out pretty bad. Depp’s Wonka was creepy not charming like Wilder’s and the movie misfired on many other levels. “Pointless” actually is an understatement.

7. “I’m furious”Jack Nicholson on Heath Ledger getting the role of The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT. From an interview in 2006:

MTV: What do you think of another actor, Heath Ledger, playing the Joker in next summer’s “The Dark Knight”?

Nicholson: “Let me be the way I’m not in interviews. I’m furious. I’m furious. [He laughs.] They never asked me about a sequel with the Joker. I know how to do that! Nobody ever asked me.”

Nicholson, right after Ledger’s death, told reporters in London “I warned him.” What? Nicholson warned him about playing the Joker? “It’ll kill you!” Is that what Jack advised? Or was it a threat/curse? Anyway as much as I love Nicholson (and readers of this blog should know this well), his Joker was a joke while Ledger’s was the real deal. I know Jack as a 3 time Oscar winner knows this well by now.

8. “Fletch is me.” Chevy Chase on the proposed (but stillborn) FLETCH re-whatever it is: “If I played any part in the Fletch remake, think about it: as soon as I appeared on the screen people would say, “Hey… There’s Fletch, man!” Silly idea. Keep me out of it.” Chase pissed off Kevin Smith (read Smith’s blog to find out how) who had a “Son Of Fletch” pitch, then FLETCH WON was on as a prequel with possible Chevy providing an older Fletch voice-over perspective with Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, Zach Braff, and Joshua Jackson (?) being tossed around for the role. This is more and more looking like another ‘not gonna happen’ projects. Unless they put it on the Underhill’s bill…

9. “When he had to do fart jokes, he lost me.”Jerry Lewis on Eddie Murphy’s THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. Despite that Lewis was an executive producer on this and its sequel NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS he told Entertainment Weekly just last year: “I have such respect for Eddie, but I shouldn’t have done it. What I did was perfect the first time around and all you’re going to do is diminish that perfection by letting someone else do it..” On Sunday however, at the Oscars Murphy presented Lewis (“from one Nutty Professor to another” he said) with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and bygones were nowhere to be seen.

10. “Give me a break – Joey Bishop on the “re-imagining” of OCEAN’S 11: Not exactly a reaction to his role because Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra’s original part) is the only name used from the 1961 original in the George Clooney/Brad Pitt/Everybody in Hollywood remake but Bishop’s response is priceless nevertheless: There will only ever be one Rat Pack. Its a joke. All they are doing in the remake is a cheap impersonation of the original Rat Pack. People knew about Frank and his broads and Dean and his drinking. They knew that we partied together. With the new version, you’ve got five or six people who never had any association with each other off screen.” They can’t sing either, right Joey? Right? Oh, sorry Mr. Bishop passed away in 2007. Maybe the success of OCEAN’S 11 and its 2 sequels was too much for him.

Okay! Another patented Film Babble Blog list down. Anybody’s amusing response that you think should have made the list? Please let me know.

More later…

Depp & Burton Together Again At The Multiplex

I went today with my Varsity Theatre co-worker friend Molly to see SWEENEY TODD: DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at Movies At Timberlyne. I realized as we pulled up that the last time I’d been to this particular multiplex was for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY – another Tim Burton/Johnny Depp deal. So I decided that I’ll only go to Timberlyne to see Burton/Depp movies from this day forward. So I won’t be back ’til 2010 when Burton’s live action ALICE IN WONDERLAND is released. Depp as the Mad Hatter – can’t hardly wait.

So onto the picture show:

(Dir. Tim Burton, 2007)

I went in to this completely unfamiliar with the original 1979 Steven Sondheim musical (I say “original” loosely – that was based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond which was based on…oh, you get the idea) so I liked letting it play out with no comparing notions. To me it was essentially the 6th in the Burton/Depp series – which are usually gothic twisted stories with a misunderstood but still magnetic protagonist with an odd affliction or vision and all the visual splendor that a crazy haired madman director can provide.

This time though Depp is singing and not badly I admit. Burton’s wife and reporatory member Helen Bonham Carter has good pipes too. In fact all of the cast -Sasha Baron Cohen (BORAT!), Alan Rickman, and Jamie Campbell Bower all sang without embarrasment – I just wish they had better songs to sing. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first let’s get onto the obligatory plot description.

Depp in the title role, with all the strained intensity he brought to Captain Jack Sparrow, shows up in London after years in exile. He finds that his beloved wife poisoned herself and a daughter is being held captive by an evil Judge (Rickman) – the same Judge who had him exiled.

His old landlady (Carter) runs a scummy roach-ridden meat-pie emporium and after a taste of one of her ‘orrible pies she returns his treasured set of razors – which shine like EDWARD SCISSORHAND‘s blades in the light. Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) – the young sailor who brought Todd home, falls in love with Todd’s daughter (Jane Wisener) and plots to save her from the evil Judge. Todd, while planing his revenge against the Judge, goes into an odd business venture with his lusty landlady. He, with Barber shop set-up, slits the throats of his customers and drops them through a chute to her basement to be used for meat in her ‘orrible pies.

Maybe, as I was told, the editing down to 2 hours from 3 of the original score made for a lot of concessions but the amount of fragmentary non-gripping verses without choruses and then overlong sequences based on a flimsy overdone melody left me buried musically. None of the songs were catchy enough for me to remember right now is what I’m saying. The look of the film with its grey hued tones contrasting with the bright rich red color of blood lives up the best of Burton except that the flour whiteness of Depp’s and Bonham Carter’s skin almost gave me snow blindness.

Typical of Burton there are a handful of fitfully funny bits – Depp’s unchanging gloomy mug in the one sunny fantasy scene song that Bonham Carter sings (“By The Sea”) is one that comes to mind. Still the whole thing seems to lack ommph. Full sequences are better than passable but there was no real passion present.

Depp and Burton next time out should sink their teeth into such material not just nibble. I mean a musical mind you, one with a costume ball rape scene and scores of bloody slit throats, should be a full meal not a glorified Hors d’oeuvre. Just sayin’ that this choppy LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS meets DELICATESSEN could’ve been so much more.

More later…

The Summer Of The So-So Sequel

“Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness.”

Last week all them there critic folk dumped on SHREK THE THIRD, the week before that they dumped on PIRATES 3, before that they dumped all over SPIDERMAN 3 so I can’t wait for them to dump on OCEAN’S 13! Then stand back for what RUSH HOUR 3 has got coming!

Okay so sure these are products of franchise blockbuster seasonal thing, sure – but does movie medriocrity have to be so slickly blatant? I guess so – here goes :


Man I was dreading this. I was so indifferent to PIRATES 2 (informal short title) I didn’t post a review so this time out upon hearing it was just under 3 hours and word that it was another convoluted exercise in excess I was looking forward to it about as much as I was to a dental appointment (which incidently I had earlier the same day). Not to say the flick is a total waste – there is a fine cast of good actors (Depp, Bill Nighy, Stellen Skarsguard, Mackenzie Cook, etc.) who wade their way through the muck and provide some solid moments but woo-wee! All the lame jokes, un-affecting fight scenes, and pointless attempts at romaticizing map-mythology with supposed sacred artifacts holding eternal power just left me bombastically bored. I did however like the Keith Richards cameo (as Jack Sparrow’s father no less). I heard there was a bonus scene like the other PIRATES had after the credits but at the 2 hour 45 mark I was dying to get the hell out of the theater – bet you will be too.

So that’s the #1 movie in the country – now for the #6 movie (yep, how’s that for a seque?) :

WAITRESS (Dir. Adrienne Shelly, 2007) Keri Russell is Jenna, a small town waitress with an abusive asshole husband (Jeremy Sisto) who may as well be always clad in a wife-beater sleveless t-shirt. She escapes her miserable existence by dreaming of new pie recipes but that may be harder to do since she finds out she’s pregnant. Her fellow waitresses at the pie diner (Cheryl Hines and the director herself Adrienne Shelly) provide some solace – Hines with her wise-cracks – “good luck on your 5 minute date, don’t forget to wear a 5 minute condom!” and Shelly with her affable hang-dog quirkiness. None of this matters as much as Jenna’s new infatuation with her doctor (Nathan Fillion) who may just be who she’s looking for. Meanwhile Andy Griffith puts in a rare film performance as the cranky old diner owner who of course spews weary wisdom before gobbling down a piece of the plentiful pie. Funny without being cloying WAITRESS may have an ending that’s too pat but it achieves its “feel-good movie” goal and while I almost expected an announcer for the Lifetime channel to tell me what’s coming up next over the end credits I still smiled at the earnest effort.

Now as usual some new release DVD reviews. Dig in kids! :

(Dir. Hal Hartley, 2006) Hartley’s HENRY FOOL (1997) was one of the best independent movies of the 90’s. To make a follow-up (don’t want to call it a sequel) now comes off as one of the oddest decisions in recent film history. What’s odder is the film itself – a twisted, contrived, and frustrating series of espionage capers. That’s right Hartley took the unique absorbing picture he painted in FOOL and made it into a rote spy thriller. Parker Posey returns as the title character and again proves she can carry a movie – it’s just unfortunate it’s this meandering mumbo-jumbo.

It is nice to see Posey get back to her indie roots after such mainstream turns as YOU’VE GOT MAIL and SUPERMAN RETURNS – I just wish Hartley’s heart were more into it. After being told of Fool’s (Thomas Jay Ryan – who only appears briefly) death Fay makes a deal with an Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum – who looks very tired) to get her brother Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) out of jail while she goes to Paris to retrieve the missing possibly world-threating confession journals of Fool’s. That’s all I’m going to write about the damn numbing plot. Action scenes are ham-fisted and mostly made up of freeze frame still shots and purposely not showing us the actual moments of impact. The result is we are not convinced and don’t care about what’s going on. I know I didn’t. I believe I need to re-watch HENRY FOOL to get the sour taste out of my mouth from this dim grim (sorry – couldn’t help it) mess.

THIEVES LIKE US (Robert Altman, 1974) Having been an Altman fan for most of my life I was very curious about this movie. It was never available on VHS and I never came across it on TV so it was just a title in a filmography in some random film guide I would pick up from time to time. It’s still glossed over in Altman’s Wikipedia entry the last time I checked. Curious because it comes from Altman’s most acclaimed and glorious period (the 70’s, stupid) – I mean its right smack between CALIFORNIA SPLIT and THE LONG GOODBYE so what was the hold-up? Even more curious is that it’s really good and should be more than just noted – it’s a movie to savor.

Just released by Paramount on DVD mere months after Altman’s death we can finally see Keith Carradine, John Schuck, and Bert Remsen play bank-robbing ex-felons in Mississippi in the 30’s. Hitting over 30 banks they build up quite a reputation as evidenced in the radio reports and newspaper headlines they grab. Along the way Carradine falls for Altman regular Shelley Duvall, Remsen marries a frumpy beautician, and Schuck gets drunker and drunker. The real meat on the plate here is the mundune every day life between the stick-ups where Coke bottles are clutched, bad jokes are told, and the notion of settling down is as daunting as the fear of being caught by the law. The only special feature on the DVD is a commentary recorded by Altman reportedly in the late 90’s but it’s the only extra it needs to have.

In my adventures in Altman appraisal since the great man’s death I’ve put together this handy list –

THE ROBERT ALTMAN REPORATORY COMPANY (or stock company as Ebert calls it) ROLE CALL :

For the most part I’ve stuck to his movies – the TANNER series and it’s follow-up being the only exceptions. Also this is far from complete – the noting of everyone who puts in a brief cameo or just walks by in THE PLAYER (’92) who is in another Altman movie would take all day – sorry Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher! I don’t ignore THE PLAYER (how can I?) but I tried to get the most relevant down. Stand up when your name is called thespians!

Rene Auberjonois (pictured left) – MASH (’70), BREWSTER McCLOUD (’70), McCABE & MRS. MILLER (’71), IMAGES (’72), THE PLAYER (as himself) : Sure he may be better known from TV gigs like Benson and STAR TREK : DEEP SPACE NINE but it’s his work during Altman’s great early ’70’s run especially as Father Mulcahy in MASH that put him on the movie map.
Ned Beatty NASHVILLE (’75), COOKIE’S FORTUNE (’99)
Karen Black
Keith Carradine
Bud Cort
(pictured on the right) – BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH– Only 2 movies but what a 2 movies to make a mark in! Forget about Harold for a bit and give Cort his due! BREWSTER McCLOUD is sadly still unavailable on DVD but there is a rumored release set for later this year that I pray is not just a rumor.
Paul DooleyA WEDDING, A PERFECT COUPLE (’79), HealtH (’80), POPEYE (’80), O.C. AND STIGGS (’85)
Robert Duvall
Elliot Gould MASH, THE LONG GOODBYE, NASHVILLE (as himself), THE PLAYER (as himself)
Sally Kellerman (above) – BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, THE PLAYER, PRET-A-PORTER (’94)
Lyle Lovett
THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS (’93), PRET-A-PORTER, COOKIE’S FORTUNE (also had songs in DR. T & THE WOMEN-2000) : Lovett was creepily effective as the plain-clothed cop on Robbin’s back in THE PLAYER but you’ve really got to give it up for his crazed cake chef in SHORT CUTS.

Michael MurphyCOUNTDOWN, THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK, BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, KANSAS CITY (’96), (also the TV projects TANNER ’88 and TANNER ON TANNER) : Definitely one of Altman’s most reliable and solid players. Murphy has a handle on a particular late 20th century American male persona – polished and poised on the outside but in the inside a troubled tortured soul. Well used in the undeservably underrated Tanner series.
Paul Newman
John Schuck (pictured on the right) – BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, THIEVES LIKE US : Speaking of under-rated, Schuck is a wonderful unsung character actor who added much to Altman’s golden age. However you may recognize him more if he had Klingon makeup on.
Lily Tomlin (pictured left) – NASHVILLE, THE PLAYER (as herself) , SHORT CUTS, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (’06) : One of the biggest comedy stars of the 70’s, Tomlin displayed her best acting under Altman’s tuteledge. For her to be happily on-hand for his last hurrah was a beautiful thing indeed.

More later…