Tag Archives: Johnny Depp

Progenitors: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

A little late on this, but in honor of Tomorrowland, here is another, more successful, Disney attempt to turn a theme park attraction into a live-action film, a success that has haunted their follow-up attempts to this day…

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a little bit of lightning in a bottle. It shouldn’t work; in fact, it didn’t just ten years later – when the principal actor and director teamed up again with a similar tone and dollar signs in their eyes, only to be trounced by generally divested cinema-goers and critics. It didn’t work the half-dozen or so times that Hollywood has tried to return pirates to the mainstream since the end of their heyday ransacking Hollywood way back in the misty yesteryear of the 1930s. And it didn’t work just the same year The Curse of the Black Pearl was released, when Disney took two other Disneyland/ Disneyworld rides and made films out of them, both to negligent box office results and dismal critical failure. Continue reading

Modern Blockbusters: Alice in Wonderland


aiw_triptych_fullAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland
, the novel, is naughty. Alice in Wonderland, the Tim Burton film, is just nasty. An expatriated perversion of Lewis Carroll if ever there was one, it is the culmination of Tim Burton’s decade-long trek to shoot in the back any of the good will he earned doing more with film history than any mainstream American director during the 1990s.

Burton spent the better part of his early career falling in love with film and selling his love to the public on a silver platter. In their own ways, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, and Mars Attacks are infected with pure cinema, and they do everything in their power to show it, warts and all. Alice in Wonderland is all warts, not remotely invested in anything that makes its source material tick and not even passingly committed to finding a genuine visual and filmic translation of a literary text of madness, insecurity, and stream-of-consciousness insanity.
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Midnight Screening: Ed Wood

With the culmination of the month-long Worst or “Worst” feature on some of the alleged worst films ever made, what a better way to return to the weekly Midnight Screening series than a great film about the guy who made some of the alleged worst movies ever made…

As a rule, Tim Burton’s interpretation of “film” works best when it has a guiding light and a vision. In the early 1990s, Burton was about the most visionary mainstream American director you could find, doing nothing less than sneaking away with oodles of money from the Hollywood producers he played uneasy servant to and using that money to paint his personal fixations all over the screen. In recent years, he has become a passe parody of his former self, creating gluttonous products that feel more like someone’s idea of a “Tim Burton film” than the real deal. But the passion, the lusty Americana, and the campy, Christmas tree fuel-for-the-fire went away long ago. Money, as it so often does with directors, has made Burton a blase Hollywood director-for-hire. But for this enfant terrible, boredom was not always the rule of thumb… Continue reading

Terry Gilliam: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

After the rousing financial success of his previous release 12 Monkeys, someone finally saw fit to give Terry Gilliam a small influx of money to release one of his many long-term passion projects hounding him for what sometimes seems like decades. Of course, that didn’t end up happening and to this day still doesn’t seem to have worked out in his favor, but the man needed work, and when the long-dormant adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s bananas American nightmare Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (in production as a film as early as the early ’70s) came his way, and someone actually wanted him to direct something for once, Gilliam couldn’t say no to a chance to have a little fun with a project he never much viewed as a personal commitment. Maybe it was letting his hair down a little, but what better way to let your hair down than with a drug-infused trip to Las Vegas with Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, and one of the great cult icons of American fiction? Continue reading

Wild Wild Jest: Rango

When Rango was first announced, it seemed like a dream come true. An animated film starring a lizard that embraces and likely parodies the Western genre? Now there’s something for you. Unfortunately, there was that whole trailer thing … well, let’s just say the trailers were downright tepid and filled with jokes that seemed more clever than funny, products of a writer hopped up on his or her own ego. Continue reading

Wild Wild Jest: Dead Man

This being a review in a month-long exploration of the Western genre.

Update late 2018: After a re-watch, I’m not entirely satisfied with my original, college-age review. (Would that I ever was?). In particular, I find my more nihilistic reading of Dead Man to be hopelessly mired in my youth. In its interplay of shaken signifiers and layered meanings, Jarmusch’s film is never nihilistic. If it reduces the Western to a pageant, it also animates new possibilities for pageantry, retexturing the Western as a kind of poetry as Emersonian as it is Derridean, as open to reconnecting with space and nature as it is exposing its inabilities to do so. The film thrives on an immanent tension, and would that more films followed suit.

After all, if this film re-reads all films as lies, is not Dead Man part of that great filmic canard as well? Dead Man is not “truth”, nor does it want to be. It’s a self-reflexive, filmic op-ed piece, overstated for pure effect. In its untethering from reality, it associatively overlays, blurs, and emulsifies various images and sounds together in new, unexpected ways, shattering pre-established truths and restitching them with an eye not for their cohesion but their imaginative associations, for the spaces in between them, for the breakages and fractures which expose the stitching of reality and the potential for reorganizing sound, space, and mind to new ends. A lyrical expression of the Western as out-of-body experience, it not only critiques the genre; it breaks it, and resurrects it as something anew. What it ultimately imagines is not anti-Western, really, but a new, hopefully prognostic breed of cinema, one not only interested in excoriating the Western myth but also in conjuring a new, more mutable one, a vision of the Western as self-critical, poetic play. I’ll keep the original review up for posterity’s sake, but read at your own risk!

Original Review (Edited mid-2015):

Dead Man is a revisionist Western, sure, but there have been many great revisionist Westerns (look to Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven from three years before-hand for ample evidence). There certainly have not, however, been many movies like Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s attempt at creating not a gritty non-myth but an anti-myth –  and it’s a marvel of marrying acidic form to acerbic content. This is not only a revisionist Western, but an anti-revisionist Western, an anti-Western, even an anti-film. Continue reading