Saturday, October 11, 2008

Johnny Depp: a profile

Image Hosted by

It's been a bizarre and bumpy road for Johnny Depp. He tried to be a rock star, only to see his band split. He moved into serious acting, only to have his credibility destroyed by accidentally becoming a teen pin-up. Then, defying his idol-status, he threw himself into the cinematic underground and slowly, slowly proved himself to be one of the most adventurous and genuinely bohemian actors of his generation, both a serial Oscar nominee and the headliner of some of the biggest moneyspinners in cinema history.

He was born John Christopher Depp II on June 9th, 1963, in Owensboro, Kentucky - the self-styled "barbecue capital of the world". His father, John Christopher senior, was a city engineer, and his mother, Elizabeth Sue Wells, a waitress. He was always very close to his mother, but perhaps even closer to his grandfather, who he knew as Pawpaw (Depp himself was known as Dipp or Deppity Dawg). He'd visit Pawpaw often, and happily recalls sunny days picking tobacco together. It was a terrible shock to the seven-year-old boy when Pawpaw died.

Also traumatic was the family's move to Florida soon afterwards. John Senior did eventually find secure work as director of public works at Miramar, but the family spent a long time living in motels and were constantly shifting from place to place - well over a dozen in total. It was bad for the older kids - daughters Debbie and Christie (now Johnny's personal manager), and brother Danny (known as DP, now a screenwriter) - but Johnny took it especially hard. Though an inquisitive child - at 8 he was hugely interested in Evel Knievel and World War 2 - he did not take to school and went off the rails, once being suspended for mooning the gym teacher. By 12, he was smoking, very soon came drinking, and drugs. There was petty theft and vandalism, he lost his virginity at 13. Small wonder he got into rock and roll.

Johnny first discovered a love of music back in Owensboro, when attending the church of his uncle, a fundamentalist minister. His uncle would preach, the people would clutch his feet and be redeemed, but Johnny was more taken by the gospel music. In Florida, as this troubled adolescent became a surly teenager, he received a guitar from his mother, a $25 Decca electric with a little blue amp. Having stolen a chord book from a local music shop, he, like millions before him, retired to his room and taught himself to play - Smoke On The Water and Led Zeppelin being his first ports of call.

On emerging, he was a competent garage rocker. Getting together with a bunch of neighbourhood lads - one had a bass, another a PA system, they made their own lights - his band began to play backyard parties, playing songs by The Beatles, Cheap Trick and Chuck Berry. By the time he was 16, with the band now called Bad Boys, he was making $25 a night at Florida's nightclubs. There were drawbacks. Still underage, he had to enter clubs through the back-door and leave after the first set. But it was good, and got better. Convinced they were on to something, Depp dropped out of school at 16. Not so sure, his parents (who'd divorced the year before) told him that, if he was capable enough to do without education then he'd also be able to support himself without their help. Thrown into a quandary, Depp considered returning to school and even met with the Dean. The Dean, though, told to stick with music as it was the only thing to which he'd ever applied himself.

Influenced by The Clash, Elvis Costello, early Motown and the fledgling U2, Bad Boys changed their name to The Kids and started to take off, supporting such luminaries as Talking Heads, Ramones, The Pretenders, B-52's and Iggy Pop (Depp remembers his first self-consciously punky words to Iggy being "F*** you! F*** you! F*** you!". Iggy called him "a little turd" and ignored him). Aiming for the big time, they packed their gear into trailers and relocated to Los Angeles, hoping for the big record deal. It would never come.

By the age of 20, Depp was married, to make-up artist Lori Anne Allison, five years his senior. As The Kids were struggling, having to get day jobs to support themselves (Depp was at one point selling ballpoint pens over the phone), she suggested her husband try acting, and introduced him to her friend Nicolas Cage. Cage persuaded a reluctant Depp to meet his agent, Ilene Feldman and she got him an audition for an upcoming movie by Wes Craven, already notorious for The Hills Have Eyes. After the tests, Craven turned to his young daughter for casting advice - she liked Depp. And so Johnny made his feature-film debut as a hunky boyfriend devoured by a killer bed in A Nightmare On Elm Street. The money, he figured, $1200 a week for eight weeks, would come in handy.

Music coming first, Depp had hoped this would be a one-off but, unable to see any future, The Kids split up. So he continued acting. After starring in the wretched teen sex comedy, Private Resort (and despite having been divorced from the supportive Allison), he decided to get serious and enrolled at The Loft, a Los Angeles acting school. Dividends were near-immediate as he won the part of Private Lerner in Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning 'Nam drama Platoon. Unfortunately, it was his last good part in years. He appeared in episodes of Hotel and Lady Blue, and the TV movie Slow Burn, with Eric Roberts and Beverly D'Angelo, but that was it. He'd found another band, Rock City Angels, but the work wasn't coming.

When it did come, he turned it down. The producers of a new Fox TV series came knocking. Called 21, Jump Street, this was to involve a crack squad of young policemen, working undercover in schools to stamp out youth crime. Now a budding Orson Welles, Depp thought it
beneath him, or at least wrong for a serious artiste. But no one else was right for the part, so the producers asked Depp again. This time he took it. Not only did he need the work but, he reasoned, no way would the show last more than one season. It couldn't hurt him.

And, of course, the show took off, with Depp - Officer Tom Hanson - its most popular character. Very rapidly, he became a teenie idol, worshipped for his looks (nightmare!), and was receiving 10,000 letters a month. The $45,000 per episode was nice, but Depp was trapped and, possibly, ruined. Help came from strange quarters. Director John Waters, infamous for having Divine eat dog-muck in Pink Flamingos, was looking for a real heartbreaker to star in his latest happily disgraceful enterprise, Cry-Baby. He cannot possibly have imagined that Johnny Depp, one of the hottest young stars on TV, would have been so keen to lampoon himself. But, desperate to escape his new pretty-boy image, he was, and signed on to star alongside Ricki Lake and porn queen Traci Lords.

With his run at 21, Jump Street coming to an end, Depp took another swipe at his image by starring in Tim Burton's lower-budget Batman-follow-up Edward Scissorhands. Spikey-haired, pasty-faced and horribly scarred, with terrifying blades for fingers, he tried to bury Tom Hanson for good. And, expressing himself only with his eyes and clumsy movements, he was brilliant, easily outshining his co-star Winona Ryder to whom he was then engaged. He'd earlier been engaged to Twin Peaks siren Sherilyn Fenn, between 1985 and '88, and then to Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Gray, but Ryder, he said, was the one. Their eyes had met at the premiere of her Great Balls Of Fire movie, they'd later been introduced at the Chateau Marmont hotel (where John Belushi OD-ed) and had their first date at a party thrown by psychedelic guru Dr Timothy Leary, Ryder's godfather. Depp famously had Winona Forever tattooed on his arm (he already had a Betty Sue one, for his mum), later changing it to Wino Forever when they split.

That split came soon, in 1993, as Depp entered an extraordinary run of movies. There was the superb What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, where he played a small-town boy torn between Juliette Lewis and Mary Steenburgen, wishing to escape but tied to his dysfunctional family (Leonardo DiCaprio was fantastic as his retarded brother). There was the sweet Benny And Joon, where he drew on the characters and routines of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Then there was another strange family and two more women in Arizona Dreaming. Depp's reputation as a class act was growing but personally he was off the rails again, drinking heavily, with rumours of hard drug-taking rife. He was dreadfully unhappy, all the more so when River Phoenix died of an OD outside The Viper Rooms, the LA club Depp co-ran (in 1999, he'd open the Man Ray restaurant/bar in Paris, along with Mick Hucknall and Sean Penn).

In 1994, Depp began a tempestuous on-off relationship with supermodel Kate Moss. He was arrested for trashing a New York hotel room (he'd been arrested in 1989, in Vancouver, for fighting with hotel security, and would be again, in 1999, for scrapping with the paparazzi). But his work got better and better. First, he returned to Tim Burton with Ed Wood, a loving portrayal of the hopeless transvestite director, for which Martin Landau won an Oscar as the ageing Bela Lugosi (Depp would later buy a Hollywood mansion formerly owned by Lugosi himself). Then there was the excellent Don Juan DeMarco where psychiatrist Marlon Brando attempts to convince a hilarious Depp that he's not the great lover of legend - only to discover that sometimes madness is better than sanity. Nick Of Time was a taut thriller, running in real-time, while Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man was one of the most beautiful films of the last 20 years. Here Depp is Bill Blake, a young truth-seeker in the old West who, aided by a Native American convinced Depp's the poet William Blake, finds murder and mayhem, only to discover serenity and wonder in dying.

His reputation now solid, he was thoroughly convincing as undercover cop Donnie Brasco, falling under the spell of mobster Al Pacino - for this role Depp spent much time with real-life Brasco, Joe Pistone. Then he directed for the first time with The Brave, a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother DP. Here Depp also starred as a Native American (Depp is actually part-Cherokee) who, alcoholic and just out of jail, decides to die in a snuff movie in order to feed his family. The movie, featuring Depp's buddy Brando, was nominated for the Palm D'Or at Cannes, but never received a proper cinema release.

Finally splitting with Kate Moss in 1998, Depp would soon meet French singer/actress Vanessa Paradis and relocate to the south of France, then Paris, where he could live a "normal" life. They'd marry in 1998 and have two children, daughter, Lily-Rose Melody and son Jack. Depp would continue to battle with the paparazzi, but now he was protecting his children's privacy. Possibly Nick Of Time, where he played the father of a kidnapped kid, made him all the more sensitive.

But though he sought normality in the day-to-day, his roles were now far from normal. He played Hunter S. Thompson in Terry Gilliam's freaky Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, having researched his part by living in the man's house, drinking and shooting with him (Depp has a huge collection of guns, a habit he got from his father), and setting off 75-foot explosions. Next he was Jack Kerouac in The Source, with Dennis Hopper as William Burroughs and John Turturro as Allen Ginsberg. He was a rare-book dealer in Roman Polanski's odd satanic thriller The 9th Gate (Depp also collects rare books himself, as well as insects). This was shot in France, Depp meeting Paradis while there, then shelved for some time. Next came the equally strange sci-fi weird-out The Astronaut's Wife, and then it was back to Tim Burton yet again with Sleepy Hollow, with Depp as young detective Ichabod Crane, on the trail of Christopher Walken's superlatively horrible Headless Horseman. Some criticised Depp's insistence on bringing comedy to the role but he delivered some delightful moments of surprised innocence that worked well with Burton's grim backdrops and a heavy-duty thespian cast. He was rewarded with a Number One hit.

After this, there was Sally Potter's The Man Who Cried with his Sleepy Hollow co-star Christina Ricci, and Before Night Falls, the tale of Reinaldo Arenas (brilliantly played by Javier Bardem), a gay Cuban poet persecuted by Castro's post-revolutionary regime. In the latter, Depp would appear twice, in violently different roles. First he'd pop up as a pouting drag queen who smuggles Arenas' manuscripts out of prison in his anus (the handover scene, involving four rolls of paper, is hilarious), then as a sadistic interrogator with an unfeasibly large member, taking erotic pleasure in sliding his revolver into a terrified Bardem's mouth. Then came the Oscar-nominated Chocolat, wherein Depp based his accent on that of his friend, The Pogues' Shane MacGowan. Depp has continued his musical connections throughout, appearing in the video for MacGowan's That Woman's Got Me Drinking, as well as The Lemonheads' It's A Shame About Ray, Concrete Blonde's Joey and Tom Petty's In The Great Wide Open. He's also in an occasional band called P, who released an LP in 1995, played slide on Oasis's Fade In-Out on the Be Here Now album, and appeared with Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves on the Hollywood Goes Wild LP, in aid of an animal rescue charity. Beyond this, 2001 would see him direct several videos for his wife.

Depp's refusal to pander to the mainstream continued with Blow, where he played George Jung, the man credited with helping Pablo Escobar gain entry into the US cocaine market. Depp, naturally, visited Jung in prison to get his part right. Onset, he was not always so serious, indulging in an ongoing fart-joke with co-star Penelope Cruz. His humour is as idiosyncratic as his choice of roles. He calls himself "Mr Stench", and it was telling that he chose to send himself up so mercilessly on the last ever Fast Show.

Next came From Hell, where Depp appeared as Inspector Frederick Abberline, a psychic and opium-addled cop aided by a disapproving Robbie Coltrane and tart-with-a-heart Heather Graham while on the trail of Jack The Ripper. It wasn't a big hit, but that has never mattered to a man so keen to avoid trading on his looks that he turned down the lead in Speed (which made Keanu Reeves a star), the Brad Pitt part in Legends Of The Fall, and the rather tasty role of Lestat in Interview With The Vampire (taken by Tom Cruise).

After From Hell, Johnny disappeared for a while. This was due mostly to the spectacular collapse of Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a farrago masterfully captured in the documentary Lost In La Mancha. 2003 brought rumours that Gilliam had managed to re-finance the project, seemingly an advancement on The Fisher King, and that Depp would return to the fray. It's to be hoped that it works out. Though many disliked the pair's collaboration on Fear And Loathing, Don Quixote would see Gilliam back on familiar mediaeval ground and surely back on form. And Depp's sense of adventure and fun could only serve him well, just as it has done for Tim Burton, Gilliam's only modern rival in the (serious) fantasy genre.

When Depp DID return, it was with an unexpected smash hit. Based on a Disney theme park ride, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl looked doomed to go the way of Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island. However, with inspired casting that saw Geoffrey Rush ham it up wildly as the ferocious (and undead) pirate Barbossa and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley shine as life-threatened lovers, word of mouth turned it into a huge smash that passed $200 million at the US box office in only four weeks. And Depp was the undisputed star. As Barbossa's nemesis Jack Sparrow, he could easily have taken the Errol Flynn route to action heroism. Instead, just as he had based his Chocolat character on Shane MacGowan, so he conjured Sparrow from the crumbling but still caustic remains of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. It was brilliantly weird, so weird that director Gore Verbinski actually had the other characters in the movie comment on its strangeness. And, given the performance resided in such a massive success, millions now recognised Depp's versatility and comic ability, even the critics agreed. No one was surprised when he was Oscar nominated. After Sleepy Hollow, this was the second time Depp had chosen an unpredictably comic path to Number One.

Another reason for Depp's absence from the world's screen's during 2002 was the delayed release of Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon A Time In Mexico. A follow-up to the director's El Mariachi and Desperado, this saw Antonio Banderas return as the guitar-player-turned-assassin in a higher-budget cross-double-cross scenario. Now on a major roll, Depp once more stole the show as the manipulative, corrupt and black-hearted CIA agent Sands, even writing his character's musical theme. Another held-up production would be JM Barrie's Neverland, charting the author's path towards writing Peter Pan by examining his relationship with dying mother Kate Winslet and the inspiration he receives from her young children. Depp would star as Barrie, alongside Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman (who'd earlier appeared in Spielberg's Hook) and Johnny's Fast Show buddy Paul Whitehouse, and put in a performance of huge charm, flitting between childlike scamp and serious adult artist. Quite rightly, he'd be Oscar-nominated for the second time. Filmed before Pirates, Neverland had been briefly shelved to avoid competition with an excellent live-action adaptation of Peter Pan.

Before Neverland's release had come a brief cameo in Yvan Attal's Ils Se Marierent Et Eurent Beacoup D'Enfants, a comedy drama where three friends enjoyed/endured relationships of varying stabilities. Two are jealous of the third's seemingly steady marriage to Charlotte Gainsbourg, but in fact he's getting some on the side and she's thrilled by a chance encounter with Depp's handsome stranger. Very different would be Secret Window, based on a Stephen King story, where Johnny played a writer attempting to escape the pain of his wife's infidelities by throwing himself into his work in a cabin in the woods. Then spooky John Turturro appears, accusing Depp of plagiarising his work and then stalking him with severely malicious intent. Once again undermining his glamorous image, Depp would play the persecuted Mort Rainey as morose and painfully self-contained, innocent and hopelessly dishevelled, adding to the tension as his world is violently invaded. It was an above-average thriller with some thoroughly neat twists.

Once Neverland had seen him hit the box-office heights once again, Johnny finished 2004 in The Libertine, another period drama, this time set in the 17th Century. Here he played John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, one of the most dashing personalities of the Restoration - a war hero, poet, drunk and womaniser, who kidnapped a wealthy heiress he then married, indulged in many affairs and, though a favourite of Charles II, managed to get himself banished from court on several occasions. Quite a character, as he was also a fine poetical satirist and prime influence on Alexander Pope. It was a shame he died of drink and syphilis when only 32, but what a part for Johnny Depp, the sensitive hell-raiser, the pretty-boy with hidden depths, romancing Samantha Morton and Rosamund Pike and making impassioned speeches to Parliament. Having used Shane MacGowna's accent for Chocolat, he also now brought him onboard in a bit part as a scruffy bard.

Come 2005 and it was time for a reunion with Tim Burton and oddly, after the weak Planet Of The Apes and half-baked Big Fish, on this occasion Burton needed Depp more than Depp needed Burton (Depp once said of Burton that the director had saved him from being "a loser, an outcast, just another piece of expendable Hollywood meat". Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was to be a non-musical take on Roald Dahl's classic, far darker than Gene Wilder's extraordinary Willy Wonka effort. Many were considered for the Wonka part - comedians like Steve Martin and Robin Williams, and Burton's favourite screwballs Christopher Walken and Michael Keaton. But thankfully Depp won it, and brought along his own Charlie - Freddie Highmore, one of Kate Winslet's kids in Neverland, who'd impressed Depp with his otherworldly talents. Johnny's Sleepy Hollow co-star Christopher Lee would join in the fun, as would Burton's now-wife Helena Bonham Carter, with Depp's outstanding turn as a psycho child-man earning him another Golden Globe nomination. Lee and Bonham Carter would also join Depp in the director's next piece, provided voices for the animation The Corpse Bride, based on a Russian folk tale. Here Depp's character would be led into the underworld by a spooky Bonham Carter (she is surely the best spook in the business) whom he's accidentally married while his live fiancee Emily Watson waits at home.

The second and third parts of the Pirates Of The Caribbean saga would be filmed back-to-back. The second would see Depp escaping cannibals, swordfighting on giant rolling mill-wheels and attempting to save his soul from Bill Nighy's monstrous Davy Jones. The third, where at one point he'd play multiple versions of Jack Sparrow, would have him fleeing both Jones and Tom Hollander's ruthless East India Company official. So popular had the first Pirates movie been that its sequels became cinematic events, massive money-spinners, with the third installment becoming the third biggest box office hit of all time.

Never one to waste such freedom, Depp now offered to work alongside Benicio Del Toro in The Rum Diary, based on the work of Hunter Thompson, Depp and Del Toro having earlier enjoyed their working relationship on Thompson's Fear And Loathing. The movie would also serve as a tribute to Thompson. When he committed suicide in 2005, it was Depp who financed a lavish party and fireworks display that peaked with Thompson's remains being fired from a cannon. The project, though, would prove complicated, Del Toro dropping out and Bruce Robinson taking over as writer and director. There'd also be Shantaram, based on Gregory David Roberts' novel, which would see Depp star as a junkie robber who escapes jail and flees to India, where he works as a doctor in the slums before turning gun-runner and counterfeiter and fighting Russian troops in Afghanistan. Pre-production would again be a troubled affair, with intended director Peter Weir walking after disagreements with Depp. In late 2007, Warner Brothers would postpone the production due to spiralling costs and script problems that could not be fixed due to the writers' strike.

By then, Depp already had another hit on his hands. Seeking a new challenge he'd reunited with Tim Burton for Sweeney Todd, a filmed version of Stephen Sondheim's hit musical. Burton had actually been attached to the project some six years before and approached Depp to play the lead. Depp, though, had been unsure of his singing voice. Now, his curiosity piqued, Depp would repair to a recording studio with his old friend Bruce Witkin, formerly his bandmate in The Kids, and try out the songs. He was, he felt, good enough to pull it off. In one way it would be a troubled shoot, production having to be shut down briefly when Depp's daughter suffered a mystery illness and spent time in Great Ormond Street hospital. In gratitude for the hospital's successful efforts, Depp would donate $1 million to its upkeep, thus mirroring the actions of JM Barrie, who he'd played in Finding Neverland, Great Ormond Street having long been financed by the proceeds from Barrie's Peter Pan.

In Sweeney Todd, Depp would play a young barber who's framed and transported to Australia by Alan Rickman, an evil judge who ravisheses and ruins Depp's wife and steals his daughter. On his return to England, Depp would seek bloody revenge, reopening his business and, with the help of an adoring Helena Bonham Carter, turning his foes into pies. It was dark and gory and great fun with Depp receiving his third Oscar nomination and, at last, after years of courageous and quite brilliant performances, actually winning something, being awarded a Golden Globe. With Shantaram and The Rum Diary both held up, he would move on to Public Enemies, to be directed by Michael Mann, where he'd slip back to the 1930s to play uber-crook John Dillinger, pursued by the nascent FBI.

Forever testing himself and his audience, Johnny Depp is still on the run from 21, Jump Street. In the process, he's become one of the very, very few film stars whose movies are unmissable. Indeed, he's arguably the most fascinating actor at work today.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Image Hosted by

Violent, thrilling, musical, and comedic, Tim Burton's latest Gothic period piece is many things – and unoriginal is certainly not one of them. This eclectic blend of genres may not always produce the perfect results, but the utter bizarreness keeps the intrigue from wearing off..... before the killing begins...:-)

Based on the Broadway musical,Benjamin Barker, is a happily married father in Victorian London. But an evil perverted judge named Turpin (Alan Rickman at his oil-slick smoothest) lusts after Barker's wife. So he wrongly sentences Barker to prison, seduces and poisoningly induces Barker's wife, and takes Barker's baby daughter as his "charge," to await the day when she is old enough to marry him. Fifteen years later, Barker escapes from prison, returns to London along with a fellow sailor Anthony Hope, and adopts the persona of barber Sweeney Todd. At first, he intends only upon avenging Turpin, assuming that both his wife and daughter have been murdered/dead long ago, but he soon discovers that his daughter is still alive. He also discovers he has an other-barberly way with a razor.....

Meanwhile, the sailor, Hope discovers love at first sight with Johanna, Todd's now grown up daughter, unknown to him and now the "charge" of Judge Turpin. And as it happens, Todd's landlady (Helena Bonham Carter), an unsuccessful baker, could use (spoiler) some fresh ingredients to sell her pies: Human Meat. Yes, (chorus) Human Meat. (Spoiler complete).
As bizarre as Sweeney Todd is, it works on quite a few levels. It is literally unlike anything committed to the big screen before, with its wide array of odd imagery and fiercely vibrant performances. The fact that it is a musical is its most inspiring aspect, considering the subject matter is unbelievably dark. To blend slashing throats with melodic tunes is a feat perhaps no one but Tim Burton could pull off. The heavy contrast of singing and bloody violence is utterly singular and many thanks go to Steven Sondheim for crafting such luscious music to go with the sinister plot. That stark contrast adds to the undeniably visceral imagery, which at times becomes so outrageous that you can't help but laugh or applaud.

Those unfamiliar with Sweeney Todd's origins may be surprised to find that the majority of the film is sung. Rather than inserting musical numbers into the story, practically the whole plot is revealed through musical exchanges between the actors, and ominous lyrics foreshadow the visuals to come. Strangely, with so many songs throughout, very few carry a tune or melody that will stay with you after the credits roll. Much of the clever writing will evoke laughter at first listen, but even the more light-hearted songs rarely recall the catchy riffs of macabre musical relative The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While the tunes themselves may not be overly memorable, their delivery is, as several extremely talented actors showcase their singing abilities.

Johnny Depp is the perfect match for portraying the scheming, vengeance-obsessed barber Sweeney Todd, with his brooding presence and sullen voice. There is no better actor in the world that could portray this like Johnny Depp does. His performance is a defining one, one that goes far beyond the Jack Sparrows, Edward Scissorhands, or J.M Barries that Depp portrayed with perfection. Sweeney Todd is a man torn apart by vengeance, a man that answers only to the call of death. Depp illustrates the psychological factors of the character in subtle nuances, giving one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema. A true achievement that lives up to the excellence of the entire movie. His wild-haired accomplice Mrs. Lovett receives exquisite attention by Helena Bonham Carter and her musical numbers with Depp are easily the most impressive in the film. Sacha Baron Cohen turns in an enjoyably maniacal performance as Todd's barber rival and even the main antagonist portrayed by Alan Rickman joins in the singing. Young Ed Sanders as Toby steals his fair share of scenes as well, and the newcomer proves he can sing with the best of them.

As one could expect from an R-rated Tim Burton thriller about a demonic barber, there is plenty of bloodshed. Straight razors are the primary tool of destruction and the blood flows freely once Todd begins his vengeful killing spree. In a manner reminiscent of Tarantino's Kill Bill, the violence is so excessively brutal that one quickly becomes desensitized to the carnage, and throat slashing montages can be appreciated for their morbid humor and the eventual cannibalistic endeavors they represent. Plenty of physical humor and darkly comedic imagery do find their way into Sweeney Todd, though the story at the heart of this tragic musical is so horrific that the overall mood of the film remains grim.

I believe one needs to have an open mind and appreciation for (or better yet understanding of) musical theatre, melodrama, and old film noir/horror films and actors. This movie does not cater to the brutish. I don't mean this to sound elitist but the level of art going on here (visual, acting, music) is significant and requires participation by the audience. If you're passive you won't enjoy it.

Aside from an abundance of bleeding necks, the visuals are truly amazing. The foggy streets of London and the haunting menace of Mrs. Lovett's meat pie shop recall the eerily dark set designs of Sleepy Hollow, while the vibrant dream sequence leans toward Beetlejuice. Every character's costume also superbly matches their physique, from Lovett's Gothic dresses to Pirelli's garish garb.

Overall, the casting is flawless: Johnny Depp is dark, menacing, brooding, damaged, and coldly insane at both the loss of his wife, his deportation to Australia, and imbues a very real sense of revenge. He is well complemented by Helena Bonham-Carter's Mrs Lovall: a woman who really does know how to fail and obsess well; and Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin is lascivious, and evil. Timothy Spall gives a career best - I thought him even better here than Boys from the black Stuff, which is saying something - he weaves an intricate beadle, who knows his status depends on obsequious violence, and Sasha Baron Cohen is simply a turn to be enjoyed - and shows his very fine skill as giving credibility to pomposity.

Tim Burton loves the macabre, as well as bleak colors, and the film is so heavily desaturated that at times it appears black-and-white. At least until the red begins to flow. But this harsh color scheme does wonders for the makeup, locations and sets, for they all become more vividly alive - the performances stand out, as do the carefully planned expressions and lyrics, since color only interferes visually with characters such as Sacha Baron Cohen's flamboyant Pirelli. Additionally, the daydream sequences by Mrs. Lovett are wildly vibrant in comparison to the real world of ashen streets and neutral shadowy rooms. The movie is undeniably bloody. That's the first thing that everyone has to know. The blood is over-the-top, though, on purpose. The blood isn't supposed to gross you out, it's supposed to be a character all its own. With all of the dark hues and blacks everywhere, the blood serves as a frightening contrast with Sweeney's spiraling madness. The bright colors are so noticeable that it's no wonder the upbeat number "By the Sea" works so well; it shows viewers a world different from this one, where everything is bright and pretty and colorful. Mrs. Lovett has fallen so completely and totally in love with Sweeney that when we finally glimpse what she's thinking, it is beyond beautiful in some strange and twisted way.

More visually stunning than musically memorable, Sweeney Todd nevertheless presents an epic and ghastly tale of love and revenge in a manner unlike any before it. Bloodthirsty to an extreme, but with entertainment to match, Burton's latest should not be missed for those with an appreciation of the daringly original.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Finding Neverland

Image Hosted by

FINDING NEVERLAND simply lets Johnny Depp fly from being everybody's best friend in the extremely slick and stylish pirate Jack Sparrow into a mind-opener, writer and failed in success James M. Barrie.

Kate Winslet goes from the giggling, weird, mood-swinging Clementine from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, into a lost but in the same time cheerful widow Sylvia L. Davies.

It's truly a beautiful little masterpiece. FINDING NEVERLAND is such charming, excellent in every way that you simply can't find anything negative about it. It's truly wonderful scenes as Depp's writer character hanging out with the family, trying to get a kite in the air is just so beautiful watching. But FINDING NEVERLAND finds it true class work in it's changes from fantasy and reality, seeing threw the eyes of a mind-unlocking Johnny Depp that sees everything else than we see in happenings. As when the Davies' family's strict grandmother points at one of the small boys, Barrie sees a hook in the old woman's hand and we can clearly see him shaping and creating the character of Captain Hook.

Threw all the beautiful scenes and truly inspiring settings, there are nice laughs put between and emotional work on the finest piece of work. Creating great settings as a small house on the county side, a elegant theater - all off course having its special place in the whole movie the picking of locations and moods are really breathtaking.

Johnny Depp does one of his best character performances ever, and with fine dialogs and fine poetic sentences threw the movie this can't do anything than be one big, charming beauty in his filmography. The whole idea of making a movie about how the writer of Peter Pan invented and started creating it, it's itself just original and great.

James Barrie being a successful writer are having dry times with his pen and paper, making disappointing plays, and with the theater owner Frohman counting 100% on him. While sitting in the park he suddenly bumps into a widow and her boys, this awakes a magic inside him and spending a summer with the family he gets new, incredible ideas and starts writing like never before. Although having problems with his wife, James Barrie realises that he has to put everything in his mind to create this play into something that would become Peter Pan.. STARS: 5/5

Edward Scissorhands

Image Hosted by

Burton's films are usually set in a world of its own and in that regard Edward Scissorhands isn't much different. However, here he shows us two different worlds. One is that of Edward's house and the other is that of the neighborhood. While the neighborhood is inhabited by 'normal' people, Burton uses his imagination with the colourful houses and the people who are sort of from the 60s or 70s era. It's a typical suburban neighborhood where men drive to work and women gossip. Edward's mansion is more coloured in black and white (sort of reflects on the idea that he's an 'unfinished' experiment) and his garden is richer in green. The background score contributes well to the screenplay and cinematography is fine.

The story is simple but sublimely told. It's a little Frankensteinish, Edward (Johnny Depp) is created by his inventor, a scientist, who dies before giving him hands(he has scissor-hands). After the death of his creator, he stays locked inside the mansion until a kind lady Peg (Dianne Wiest) decides to take care of him. She takes him home. This arouses curiosity from the neighbors. Edward tries to adjust himself to this new world and falls in love with Peg's daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). While the neighbors accept him (because of their own benefits), it does not take long for them to turn their backs against him. Edward mows their garden, cuts their trees in marvelous shapes of animals and humans, cuts their hair among so many other things that attract the neighbors, but soon he faces difficult obstacles where these people turn against him and things only get so much worse that even Peg's and Kim's efforts to save him hardly seem to succeed...

Burton tells this wonderful story beautifully. The characters are indeed very well-written and the climax is moving. The film is a little weird, especially with the combination of the dark humour, romance, drama and action set in the 'real' world but it works well. The film is said to be inspired by a fictional childhood hero of Burton who had scissor-hands. Clearly he's put a lot of heart into it. I just saw the film recently and it clearly has stood the test of time and one movie that will stay for a long time.

Depp in the title role is wonderfully outstanding. I can't imagine anyone else play the part. It was made for him as he did full justice to the character and immortalized it. Wiest is completely different from her other roles and only proves what a versatile actress she is. Ryder is charming and adequate.

To conclude, this is a simple, yet beautiful story of an outsider who is initially accepted by all, just to be shunned. While the people accept him for their own benefit they refuse to see his wonderful heart and eventually smash it. I know I'm using the world wonderful too often but that's the adjective that best describes 'Edward Scissorhands'.

Ed Wood

Image Hosted by

Edward D. Wood, Jr. is the man responsible for such films as "Glen or Glenda," "Bride of the Monster," and "Plan 9 From Outer Space," to name a few of the films mentioned in "Ed Wood" (1994), Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's nod towards the man and his films, which garnered him the official title of the "Worst Director of All Time."

Ed Wood was in love with every frame of every film he made, or so this film tells us. He's oblivious to any technical blunders--when his film "Plan 9" is being directed, a Baptist preacher mentions that one of the tombstones fell over during the shoot in a fake graveyard, and that the characters on screen arrived at day but now it's night. "Ever heard of suspension of disbelief?" Ed asks. He stresses that he's a director and he knows what's best.

In one of the more ironic scenes of the movie, he meets his role model, Orson Welles (Vincent D'Onofrio), in a restaurant. Welles complains about his struggles in filmmaking, and Ed tells him how he relates--of course, Welles has no idea that Ed is a Z-movie director. On some strange level, they are briefly similar. Only in their struggles, however. Welles tells Ed to not give up, to take charge of his picture. It renews Ed's feelings towards his "Plan 9" project. He marches back to the set, shouting orders at crewmembers. It's reminiscent of the scenes in all movies where the characters are inspired and suddenly win the day. The sad--and utterly ironic--thing is, as the audience, we know no matter how inspired Ed feels his film is going to bomb. His effort is pointless.

The cast is led by a magnificent performance by Depp who I have long maintained is one of the finest actors (or at least bravest) of my generation. He encapsulates that hubris nature of Wood so perfectly, and the charm he uses to pull everyone along is brillinat. Martin Landau is stellar as Bela Lugosi. Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette as Wood's two loves are both amazing. Bill Murray is glamorously flamboyant, he steals the show every time he's on screen.

The movie starts with Ed (Depp) and his girlfriend, Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), trying to get a movie made in Hollywood. Ed likes women's clothing. A lot. Dolores can't figure out where her angora sweaters keep getting to. Ed loves women--he says by dressing in their clothes it makes him feel closer to them. Err...yeah, right.

Ed struggles to get a film made in Hollywood. He meets Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) in a coffin shop and they become close friends; this helps Ed's position in Hollywood, too. The unfortunate problem, however, is that Lugosi is a washed-up druggie living by himself in a messy home. He's a wreck. Nobody wants him in a picture.

Nothing stops Ed. He finally gets his big break when a movie producer who is unashamed to admit that he makes `crap' funds Ed's first full-length feature film, `Glen or Glenda." It's an uncredited parallel of Ed's own life--a tale about a transvestite who is afraid to come out of the closet.

The fact that Ed Wood has absolutely no directorial talent is established early on when he is rummaging through old stock footage of charging buffalo and octopus. "Why if I had half a chance, I could make an entire movie using this stock footage. The story opens on these mysterious explosions. Nobody knows what's causing them, but it's upsetting all the buffalo. So, the military are called in to solve the mystery." Sad.

Ed does, indeed, use the footage of buffalo in the beginning of "Glen or Glenda," for no apparent reason whatsoever. It just appears via a dissolve. Ed is practically thrown out of Hollywood--but yet he makes another film, this time "Bride of the Atom," the title changed to "Bride of the Monster" before it is released to the public. It flops, needless to say.

Wood remains the optimist. He cons a Baptist church into funding his newest feature, "Plan 9 From Outerspace," which is often heralded as the pinnacle of really bad movies, along with "'Manos': The Hands of Fate" and "Pod People." He's a self-assured liar and a thief--he swears to the church that they'll get enough profit from his movie that they'll be able to make as many religious films about apostles as they want. Perhaps, in the end, he wasn't lying after all.

Behind the laughs is a great piece of work. Filmed in a distinctly wacky black and white, and filmed with the same purposeful akwardness of an old Ed Wood movie, Tim Burton has done the unimaginable--he's managed to make a two hour + film about the life of the worst director of all time, and he's also managed to make it quite interesting.

"Ed Wood" is bizarre, delightful and strange. It's from another world. It's a unique film experience unlike any other. It's got the odd eccentricity of "Edward Scissorhands" and the joyful glee of "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," while keeping the gothic look of "Batman." All in all, it's a nice little trip.

And "Ed Wood" is packed with movie in-jokes. We, as an audience, know the future of Ed Wood's fate--which is why much of it is funny. There's also a great scene during that in which he meets Welles. Ed says, "Do you know my movies have even been recut after they were finished?" Welles replies, "I hate it when that happens." And that pretty much sums up the film's sense of humor.


Image Hosted by

We all have our vices. Vices make us complete human beings. We can surpress them and deny them, but we can't quite run away from them. Does it not strike you as a little humorous when someone looks at a menu, knows exactly what they want, but then decides not to get it for fear they will not only offend their God, but offend their own nature? Lasse Hollstrom's latest film, Chocolat, knows all about that person.

Juliette Binoche stars as Vianne Rosher, a chocolate shop owner who not only gets people to talk about their forbidden fruits, but also has the ability to make people happily indulge in them. She, along with her daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), moves into a quiet French village during Lent and opens her chocolate shop. The townspeople look in the window, admire the confections for a moment, then walk on by.

One diabetic woman, Amande (Judi Dench), decides to stay for a little while. Vianne puts a colorful ceramic plate on the table and spins it around. She asks what Amande sees in the image. Amande tells her and Vianne presumes to know exactly what kind of confection Amande would like the best. We could only dream of such customer service this time of year.

Amande's young grandson, Luc, an aspiring artist, also can't seem to stay away from the chocolate store, in spite of the wishes of his churchgoing mother (Carrie-Anne Moss). Actually, the whole town goes to the same church and it doesn't take long before the Mayor (Alfred Molena) has his say against the shop, since many of the chocolates have been carved into the shapes of naked women and have names such as Nipples of Venus. The chocolates also seem to be changing people's behavior. A sexless, joyless married couple all of a sudden can't keep their Butterfingers off each other.

The non-churchgoing Vianne eventually becomes the center of the town's controversy, but she soon has company after the arrival of the river rats, a group of Irish merchants who travel by boat to pawn off whatever they can, much to the dismay of the townspeople. Here, Vianne meets Roux (Johnny Depp), and they become fast friends and, well, you know the rest.

The story of Chocolat could be described in one sentence-Footloose, only instead of dancing, it's chocolates. However, in this film we have some magic realism to deal with. Unfortunately, the film does not quite develop its own `magical' ideas. It gets bogged down by the usual story elements an d sub-plots we often see with this kind of story. We get the battered wife who finds solace in Vianne's shop and we get the burning of a particular place (here, a boat) to further drive home the point that outsiders will not be tolerated. I would have liked a little more `magic.'

On the other hand, we do get some magic in the form of the performances. Juliette Binoche actually smiles and acts charming, as opposed to the sorrowful and pensive roles in which we usually see her. What a relief to finally see her carrying a picture with warmth, confidence and wit, as well as beauty. The guitar-twanging Johnny Depp (reuniting with his Gilbert Grape director), with a ponytail and an Irish accent, compliments her with a rugged look and easygoing charm that makes his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants character a perfect soulmate for Binoche.

I recommend stopping by the candy counter or sneaking in some Fannie May confections before the movie starts. This film does for chocolate what Big Night did for Italian food. In spite of its flaws, Chocolat makes for a far more rewarding and satisfying film experience than Hollstrom's last feel-gooder, the over-rated Cider House Rules. In the end, something about this film won me over. It could have been the irrisistable theme of great food being as close to Godliness as one could get. It could have been the sights of chocolates being created and turned into glorious, statuesque works of art. It could have been the enjoyable cast, each member dealing with their hidden anguish and repression. Or it could have been all of the above, combined with the captivating and alluring grace of Juliette Binoche.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Donnie Brasco

In the late 1970's, FBI agent Joe Pistone poses as jewel expert Donnie Brasco to win the trust of ageing mob middleman Lefty Ruggiero. As time passes Donnie gets tighter and tighter into the mob, rising up when boss Sonny Black gets bumped up. While Donnie puts his life at risk, his real life crumbles as he never sees his wife or children. As he moves upwards, his friend Lefty is bypassed time and time again. As Donnie gets deeper, the FBI start to worry and want to extract him - something that cannot be done without exposing himself and condemning Lefty to death.

Now that Pirates of the Caribean has made him a bankable star as well as a good actor I decided to dig out some of my old Depp videos and watch them. I have been a Depp fan since the mid-90's when I saw Arizona Dream, Ed Wood and Don Juan all in a period of 6 months -I realised then that this was not only a very talented guy but also one who seemed happy to do whatever interested him rather than whatever was going to make money. This film is in a well known and fairly reliable genre - the Italian American gangster movie but has the strength that it is an engaging true story. The plot follows Joe as he gets in deeper, is suspected, gets involved in battles between bosses and eventually starts to lose himself and forget what side he is actually on. Even though this is a true story, it still basically goes where we expect mob films to go, but it manages to rise above the clichés by having some very good characters and emotional themes.

The whole gangster thing works and is gripping, but it is the relationship dynamics between Joe and Lefty that made it more interesting. The element of going `native' when undercover has been done plenty of times, but it is the combination of this being fact and Depp's great performance that makes it work well here; we feel for Joe a great deal. On the flipside the film also allows us to feel for the mob, or at least one of them. The majority of the mobsters are the usual stereotypes but Lefty is written with a great deal of sympathy - he is a middleman, taking the risks, doing the dirt but always passed over and having to beg money to keep his bosses happy. These are tragic characters and the film is not the slightly glamorous gangster lifestyle that Pacino has experienced in his Godfather roles. These two characters are well written and it is their subplots that makes the film better than the central plot (which itself is also very good).

Depp is good and his performance is solid even if it doesn't really rank up their with his best - he lacks his usual flair but he gives the material it's dues. Pacino is of course, wonderful. His character is a far cry from his Godfather work and he manages to bring such pathos to Lefty that it is impossible not to feel for him. The support cast may not have as much in the way of character but they all do well in their roles. Madsen, Kirby, Ivanek, Heche, Miano and others all give good support, but it is Pacino and Depp's film - which is a good thing.

Overall, the fact that this is a true story makes it more interesting but, while I was watching it I wasn't really thinking about it and was just enjoying the gangster film itself. The basic story is a well worn one but is still delivery well by Newell (who was a very unusual choice for director), but it is the emotion threads involving Joe and Lefty that make the film much more than just another gangster film. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the black pearl, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End

Image Hosted by

I - Curse of the Black Pearl

"Even I love Johnny Depp, and I'm male," a previous reviewer declares, tongue in cheek. Well, I wouldn't go quite that far, but there's no doubt whatsoever that when I lost my heart to this film, Johnny Depp's outrageous Cap'n Jack Sparrow had almost everything to do with it. I don't normally review 'current' films, so the very fact that I'm writing this highlights an almost unprecedented event - after endless failures, Hollywood has finally rediscovered the spirit of the classic swashbuckler movie.

With hindsight, I think the one brilliant decision that was made at some point - given a modern production environment - was to *separate the roles* of hero and swashbuckler. You can then have your worthy Costner-type juvenile lead, as required, who has to Come To Terms with his Past (although his eventual fate is a trifle unexpected in conventional terms...) - *but* you can also have your essential and irrepressible swaggering rogue (of course, he totally steals the film from the moment he first appears, but *that's* no hardship!)

The moonlight special effects were overdone, in my opinion - not that they aren't believable, but that they would have been more effective if used more sparingly, for occasional flashes of nastiness rather than solid minutes of battle. However, that's a minor niggle. The stunts are energetic, highly satisfactory, *not* computerised, and on occasion even carried out by the stars :-)

The other saving grace of the production is its humour - not that there aren't a few over-arch knowing references, but on the whole it manages to send itself up without suspending disbelief in the process. Jack Sparrow's first arrival on the scene (with total aplomb aboard a steadily-sinking boat) is a prime example, as indeed are the vast majority of subsequent scenes involving this character...

The basic Romance and Rescue structure is satisfactory enough, with the addition of the requisite Feisty Female for the 21st century (though I felt the character would have been a little more historically plausible if she had been a little less liberated - she clearly possesses a stronger character than her young man, she doesn't have to strive to be his physical equal as well...) However, it is the pirates themselves who really make the film, simply by being a pack of unreconstructed and uninhibited villains (from the Jeffrey Farnol School of Historical Dialect) who are far larger than life and totally unselfconscious about it. To quote the opening words of the 'Guardian' review: "we have been waiting [50 years] for a modern pirate film featuring someone who, in all seriousness, actually says the words, or perhaps the two-syllable single word: 'Ah-harrrrr!'"

Jack Sparrow, as swashbuckler extraordinaire and consummate rogue (of course, totally honest in his own way... ahem) is the main attraction of the entire film. Not so much loopy as totally round the bend - outrageous and unpredictable (there is a running gag throughout the first part of the film where he is repeatedly described as "the worst pirate I've ever seen", as in "the worst at it", only for the preposterous tactics in question to prove spectacularly successful).

This character saves the hero in more ways than one - without him, the film would be another "Mask of Zorro", a rather stodgy attempt to update an old favourite for modern-day sensibilities and compensate with more and flashier sword-fighting (swashbuckling is not *about* fighting! It comes into it, yes, but it's not the point.) But together, the pair work off one another beautifully - reliability and inspired lunacy, self-doubt and cocky flamboyance, dogged devotion and shameless self-interest. The only question is which, precisely, is the sidekick...

There are two beginnings to this film, neither of them bearing any relation to the wooden costume-drama-by-numbers prologue that actually opens the movie. The moment when events start to move (it could scarcely be less subtle) is signalled by the swell of the theme music for the first time at Sparrow's initial appearance. But for me the moment when the film really took off was in that instant during his first escape, when he seizes the rope and swings up, up, and out, in a classic swashbuckler move from the past that brought it all flooding back... and my heart flew up after him into my throat, and remained enjoyably in that position until the end of the movie, when the audience began spontaneously to applaud.

The film is far from perfect - characters like Captain Norrington (*please* - 'Commodore', like 'Prime Minister', is a job description, not a form of address!) and the Governor are little more than pantomime stereotypes, with only frustrating hints of humanity to indicate that they do after all have potential denied them by the script. Annoying anachronisms slip in - "it's okay", "I was rooting for you" - most of the nautical jargon comes out with about as much sign of comprehension as a phonetic rendition of a foreign language, and Sparrow's one precious charge of powder gets soaked through often enough in the course of the plot to be utterly useless by the end. Both hero and heroine come across as wooden and thankless roles. Orlando Bloom may be costumed to look increasingly like Errol Flynn during the course of the film (was it my imagination, or does he spend it gradually cultivating a duplicate of that famous moustache?), but, alas, any resemblance ends there.

But then it doesn't really matter. It is Depp, not Bloom, who has inherited the mantle of Flynn and Fairbanks in this film. Jack Sparrow was the character who caught my imagination - and, since I'm extremely impressionable, also had a distinctly peculiar effect on the way I stood and walked for several hours later. And there's not many films can say *that*..! ÿ

II - Dead Man's Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest does the right thing as a sequel: It maintains the same carefree spirit of the original and creates an even more fitting story to the whole Pirates lore. After narrowly escaping the gallows--with the help of his friends Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley)--and reclaiming his cursed Black Pearl, it still seems Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has a few more fish to fry. More specifically the barnacle-encrusted undead on board the ghostly Flying Dutchman, lead by Mr. Octopus Face himself, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Jack apparently owes a blood debt to the inky captain and if he can't find a way out of it--namely locating the secret contents of Jones' famed locker--Sparrow will be doomed to eternal damnation and servitude in the afterlife (insert Jack Sparrow's face of disgust here). Making matters worse, Sparrow's problems manage to interfere with the wedding plans of Will and Elizabeth, who are forced to join Jack on yet another one of his misadventures.

Depp's Oscar-nominated performance as Captain Jack is still a marvel in slovenly pirate behavior, with his slurred speech, swaying swagger and slack, waving arms. But whether channeling famed Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards or not, it's the duality of the character that continues to intrigue us. He is a lusty, fearless man with a deeply defiant and somewhat sneaky streak but whose delicate features, long, dread locked hair, Kohl-rimmed eyes and almost girly mannerisms give him a subtly effeminate air that belies his macho antics. This time around, young Brits Knightley and Bloom have a little more to do, with Elizabeth's growing attraction to Jack and Will's reunion with his father, Bill "Bootstrap" Turner (Stellan Skarsgård), who's soul is stuck on the Flying Dutchman. And Nighy (Love Actually) once again makes his mark as an effective villain, infusing his rather quirky acting ticks--the laconic delivery, the laid-back attitude--which shines through all the special effects make-up. Let's just say, Nighy certainly rivals Depp in the arrogant rock star stance, even if he has tentacles for a face.

The other thing Dead Man's Chest does right is make things bigger and better. From a hair-raising sword fight on top of a spinning water wheel to the way Davy Jones and his crew look--all water logged and crustacean-like--the film's production value is simply amazing. Returning producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski make sure the action sequences, the sets, the costumes, the make-up and the special effects give the audience a familiarity to the original while also taking them on a whole new adventure. And if you are a fan of the Disney park attraction (the one at Disneyland, not Disney World), the elements that got missed in the first one--the creepy bayou, the beating heart in the treasure chest--are in this sequel. Dead Man's Chest does lag a bit from time to time, especially in heating up the Jack, Elizabeth and Will love triangle. But that's OK. We enjoy watching their banter, as much as we do the rest of it. And for those who'll want more adventure after the movie ends, Dead Man's Chest gives us a promise the third installment will be just as much pirate fun.

III - At World's End

The Pirates of the Caribbean-movie serials is probably one I'll never grow tired off. The characters are fun and great, always adventurous and spectacular to watch.

It's really too bad that this time they felt the need to make things even bigger, more complex and conclusive than the previous two movies. Really not needed. In my opinion the first movie "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is still the best because of the reason that it's simple, fun and choices to be purely entertaining. They already went wrong with this approach during the second movie; "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest", when they put in more new characters and different hard to follow plot lines. "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" goes on in the same trend as the previous movie. There are more new characters and as far as the new many plot-lines are concerned...well let me just say that after a while I just gave up trying to understand the movie and just let the movie take me away with its visuals, humor and other entertaining elements. And this movie regardless should really be able to take you away on a roller-coaster-ride of pure entertainment.

No doubt in my mind that this movie could had become the best one out of the series. It had all the potential and budget for that, now if they had only cut down about halve of the script...Most of the plot-lines seem redundant and are actually far from believable because they contradict from what happened in the first two movies. The many betrayals among characters and side-picking became really confusing after a while, till it reached a point when you just didn't knew who was fighting for what. But like I said before, after a while you just stop caring about it and simply enjoy the movie for what it brings you. It all is also the reason why the movie is now nearly 3 hours long. Now the movie is not as good and entertaining as the first but maybe just slightly better than the second one, because of the large scale of this movie.

The movie is definitely big. There is no lack of action as some people claim there is. There is just as much action as there is in the first two movies, only difference this time is that the movie is nearly 3 hours long and therefor the movie also has some more talking-sequences and slower moments in it.

The movie is also big with its musical score by Hans Zimmer and he actually succeeded in composing a new great theme for the movie. In its action moments the movie gets definitely uplifted by its musical score.

The action sequences are definitely well constructed and at times pure eye candy. So are the special effects, although I feel that the second movie was still better on that. It seems like they tried to overdo things this time and I'm mainly talking about the end battle, when it comes down to its special effects, by putting in some complex shots. No matter how good CGI is these days, you still see that it's CGI.

Most roles get extended in this movie. Marty, Tia Dalma and even Jack the monkey and Cotton's parrot. But of course the movie still remains the Jack Sparrow-show. Really one of the best characters in recent years, all thanks to Johnny Depp, who provide the movie with its biggest laughs and most hilarious absurd moments. He still plays the character as good and fresh as he did for the first time 4 years ago. You can't just ever grow tired of Jack Sparrow. I was also very pleased to see Geoffrey Rush back as Barbossa. His role was bigger which allowed Geoffrey Rush to shine even more. Bill Nighy was also as good as always as Davy Jones. Orlando Bloom's and Keira Knightley's acting also has really improved over the years. I was actually surprised to see how much of the movie Keira Knightley carries this time and how well she does this. Even in the sequences with Geoffrey Rush she does. She also gets to do more interesting in the movie when it comes done to action. In a way she has taken over the Will (Orlando Bloom) role in this movie this time and Will himself gets pushed more to the background this time compared to the first two movies, which really shouldn't bother most people, unless you're a teenage-girl of course. She handles both the action- and comical sequences really well. And even Keith Richards shows up in an already classic cameo as Jack's father. But some role also got narrowed down to my regret, such as Jonathan Pryce's and Jack Davenport's and lets not forget the Kraken.

Still, I really wouldn't mind seeing more Pirates of the Caribbean movies in the future, if needed with new actors and characters, as long as Johnny Depp stays as Jack Sparrow. The serials still have more than enough potential and haven't dried up yet.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Image Hosted by

One of Robert Rodriguez's first movies shot on high definition video once again proves that sequels can be just as good or better than the originals. This movie is the conclusion to Rodriguez's Mariachi trilogy, with El Mariachi being pulled into a plot to prevent the Mexican government from being overrun by a corrupt Mexican general. This movie was actually my first exposure to Rodriguez's trilogy and it hooked me immediately. The visuals are spectacular and I instantly loved the characters.

For having shot this movie in such a short amount of time, it looks awesome. You're treated to beautiful shots of Mexican landscape and architecture, right before it gets shot up in some great gun battles. In some of these scenes, you'd never think that a most (if not all) of the bullets and architecture damage were added digitally, although it makes bullet-hole continuity a pain (if you pay attention to that sort of thing). This movie shows that Rodriguez has a serious gift for putting together great action scenes (see Mariachi and Carolina's escape from the hotel).

The cast in this movie rocked. This movie continues to show why Johnny Depp is one of my favorite actors. His role as Agent Sands, the corrupt CIA agent, was definitely one of the best parts of this movie, adding most of the humor (and in the final 20 minutes, he makes for one of the coolest looking movie characters I've seen in a long time). Of course, Sands wasn't the only character in the movie. Antonio Banderas continues to rule as El, and Willem Dafoe (another favorite actor of mine) rounds out the key players as the ruler of the local drug cartel. You know an actor's good when he can believably pull off playing another race. If I hadn't seen Dafoe in others movie previously, I could believe he was Mexican (which is amazing seeing as how the man doesn't speak Spanish). We also get superb performances from supporting players Eva Mendes, Rueben Blades, Mickey Rourke, Danny Trejo, and Enrique Iglesias.

I can honestly say that Rodriguez's final Mariachi installment is one of my favorite action movies. It was enough to hook me on a trilogy I had seen nothing of previously and had no background before watching. A fast-paced action flick with a great story (and equally good soundtrack). Plus, if you have the DVD, make sure you check out the special features to see just how passionate Rodriguez is about his craft. 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Image Hosted by

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is a twisted, outlandish venture into the mind of a warped junkie, a reporter who is traveling to Nevada in order to cover a Hells Angels motorcycle race, along with his Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro, who gained forty pounds for his role). "We were somewhere around Barstow when the drugs began to take hold," is the line that opens the movie in an expeditious manner, as a red convertible roars from right to left, in the direction of Las Vegas. The vehicle's trunk is packed with an abundance of deadly drugs. "We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers. Also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, two dozen amyls."

The narrator of the story is Raoul Duke (played by Johnny Depp), a balding, stumbling shell of a man, constantly smoking or inhaling drugs, his body overloaded with deadly substances. He is in a permanent daze throughout the entire film, constantly consuming drugs every time the camera pans onto him. He is also the reporter, the main character of the film, and he is in such a daze that after the motorcycle race is over, he's not even sure who has won. So sitting cramped in his increasingly trashed hotel apartment, he begins clacking away mumbo-jumbo on his typewriter, desperately trying to make sense of the seemingly frenzied world surrounding him.

The year is 1971, the beginning of the after-effects of the frivolous sixties. Raoul still seems to think that he is living in the past decade. He explains that his carefree ways were out of place for such an area as Las Vegas, and in one of the funniest scenes in the entire movie, he visits a conference detailing the dangers of substance abuse, and inhales cocaine throughout the seminar (led by the late Michael Jeter).

The movie is based on the semi-autobiographical memoirs of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who traveled to Las Vegas in 1971 with an overweight "Samoan lawyer" named Oscar Zeta Acosta. According to Thompson's novel, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," originally published at the end of the decade, they broke many laws and were essentially high on various dangerous substances the entire time. In his novel, Thompson used the character Raoul Duke as a relation to his own past, and the pair's psychedelic weekend as a metaphor for the Lost America. After the sixties, during the Vietnam War, Americans were deeply confused, and turned to many dangerous substances for answers. Some critics claim that "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" glamorizes drugs. If anything, it demonizes them (sometimes quite literally), and the constant drug use is merely present to account for the duo's wacky behavior.

That's not to say that "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is a harmless film. Under the wrong circumstances, it could be misunderstood, which is why it was nearly slapped with an X-rating by the MPAA, and -- along with the book -- caused outrage when it was released in 1998, alongside the utter disaster "Godzilla."

Depp is the reason the film's narration succeeds as well as it does -- a lesser actor might come across as annoying. Depp seems to be channeling the physical freedom of Steve Martin and the slurred speech patterns of Thompson himself -- although he was given ample time to pick up on Thompson's mannerisms, since they spent much time together prior to shooting and throughout the filming process.

But what is essentially so fascinating about "Fear and Loathing" is its blazing style and blatant uniqueness. Brought to the screen by Terry Gilliam ("Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Brazil"), one can only expect the movie to be strange, but it is severely distorted to the point of insanity. What is even more intriguing is Gilliam's use of his camera, cinematography and backgrounds -- the camera essentially takes on the role of a third person, as it is constantly moving, positioned at awkward angles against harsh, dizzying backdrops, wallpapers and carpets. The overall effect of the movie is the equivalent of getting high -- only this probably isn't as dangerous. Probably.

In some ways, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is an utter mess of a movie -- pointless, sick, but yet it is also occasionally hilarious, and I found myself very entertained. I am not usually a fan of these sorts of movies, which only helps account for my extreme surprise in finding that I not only enjoyed "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," but found it to be an important art house movie -- bizarre, mystifying, strange, bewildering. It is as if Fellini directed a Cheech and Chong movie. It is an experience unlike any other, and although I can completely understand the negative reviews it received upon its release years ago, I find myself somewhere in between the haters and the die-hard cult fans. The film was released on a Criterion DVD last year; a sign that despite its infamous background it actually has a fairly strong legion of fans. In some ways the movie is as confused and wandering as its narrator. It's somewhat pointless, but incidentally, I think that is the point. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Image Hosted by

Author: EdBloom from Belgium

I have seen Charlie & The Chocolate Factory last night and though I usually don't care very much in giving my opinion, the journey M. Burton and his team made me cross deserves an homage. Especially with all that criticism rising around the film before it has been released.

I have been a Tim Burton fan for more than a decade now; I grew up with his films. But what I have been through yesterday his really unique. I actually never thought he would offer us such a film one day. Fans of his first period, with all the lonely and desperate characters won't like it for sure. Since Mars Attacks !, and more specifically since Big Fish, Burton decided to tell things differently. His vision of the world slightly changed in every of his films : now, the rejected freak comes down to the world and stays. A world that remains frightening and weird even thought we call it "reality" but a world worth living in. And that's what Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is all about… It all begins with a main title sequence that may be one of the main weaknesses of the film. The sequence is very entertaining and visually ambitious but they decided to go with CGI and it looks like it was a decision they made in last minute. Since the film was proudly made with "real" sets, "real" Oompas Loompas, "real" squirrels, the main title looks inappropriate. It's not that important but it's a Tim Burton film and we know how much he usually works on his main title. Hopefully, Danny Elfman is there with a crazy mix of the Edward Scissorhands and Spider-Man (the music when the title of the film appears gave me shivers), a true musical roller-coaster that gives a hint on what his score will sound like through the film.

After that, it's just emotions. All kinds of them: laughs (many – the audience laughed almost every thirty seconds), tears of joy (we all know Charlie's gonna find that ticket but when he does, you just can't refrain your heart to beat faster), mercy (the way Burton depicts the social misery of the Bucket's family is really touching), amazement (the Wonka Factory and its many rooms is true wonder, one the most achieved design Burton ever offered us) and many mores. Very much like the book, even though it seems simple and childish, you would like to stop for a second to collect those feelings and try to analyze them but you don't have the time. It just never stops (I realize it might be a flaw for some people in fact). Burton never has been so generous in terms of human warmness.

Johnny Depp proposes another inventive and completely wacky interpretation here. I won't compare with Gene Wilder since I don't know the first film very well (pretty unknown flick here in Europe) and those comparisons should stop anyway. Depp makes of Wonka a tormented and unadapted character who doesn't know much about common courtesy and doesn't really care anyway. He built up his own universe in response to his authoritarian father and he's pretty proud of it. He just doesn't want those "weird" (a word he likes – you've all seen the TV spots) and boring parents with their despicable children to ruin what is life is based on. Yet… So Depp's Wonka is actually very moving and pathetic in his attempts to entertain his visitors. As Burton does everything he can to make you hate Augustus, Vercua, Violet and Mike at the moment you first see them, you get instantly closer to Wonka when you noticed he feels the same. In addition to that, John August's vision of Wonka's past (including an always perfect cameo by Christopher Lee) offers the character a real depth you didn't expect.

Danny Elfman is also one of the main attractions of the film. While his score is already classic Burton/Elfman work with some interesting experiments (the main themes are splendid), the songs he wrote for the Oompas Loompas are just so funny. Hugh laughs in the audience for some musical choices. Those songs don't intend to stay with you for months (it would have been hard as they're based on Dahl's lyrics that doesn't allow Broadway impulses), they're just off-beat numbers playing with many references in so many styles. Oingo Boingo fans have to buy the soundtrack when it'll come out, it'll bring them back 15 years ago.

What can I tell you more ? McDowell's sets are amazing, Pescucci's work is impressive as well as Rousselot's beautiful cinematography. Some Oscar Nominations should fall here.

As for the ending, without revealing it, August's additions are really touching and fit perfectly to Burton's new approach. Even though the final shot tempers the "family" theme that he developed through the film (it's still Burton, not Disney), Burton makes you feel good because he feels good (and what I'm writing here will ring a bell when you'll see the movie). I don't know for you but after so many distressed and pessimistic films, it really moved to see that he found a certain peace. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is a step forward in the direction he gave to his career with Big Fish. He lost his father, he became one, he's getting older and all those questions and doubts are expressed in many important and very complex images and scenes he imagined for the film. That's why I could call this film the "Edward Scissorhands" of his new period. Those films are very different but gave me both some very essential emotions.

Arizona Dream

Image Hosted by

Some movies only work if we let ourselves carry away by them. They present a surrealistic imagination world that comes from the mind of their creators. They are hard to watch, especially when they mix real characters that live their lives sometimes awaken, or inside one big dream or their own dreams.

Axel Blackmar (Johnny Depp) is a dreamer, and an unusual example of personal choices. His parents died and he went to New York, to work with fish. He could have sold cars with his uncle Leo (Jerry Lewis), but he's there, talking with that monotonous voice about what he does. Maybe it was a simple dream, where an Eskimo catches a fish with two eyes on the same side, and tells his kids to go out with their dog so he and his wife can…And the kid with the dog allow to see an orange balloon that seems to go from Alaska to New York, where Alex sleeps in a truck. "Wake up, Columbus", the words of his mother and Axel's hope to find something in the land already discovered by that man.

Alongside fish flying through the air, we join Axel to be the best man of his uncle's wedding. With his friend Paul Leger (Vincent Gallo), the untiring chats go from movies to philosophies about cakes, pies and bananas. Paul is an actor: "I'm having a great performance on Friday", he says. "It's an audition", Axel says to humiliate him. The truth is that it's not even an audition. This stuff lived by Axel is a story for us, but is a personal rediscovering and rethought of decisions in life for the character. When he sees Elaine (Faye Dunaway) he feels something strong, but doesn't know how to call it. Days later he becomes the lover of a woman decades older than him. Elaine's daughter, Grace (Lili Taylor) is also there, and it doesn't goes long until Axel finds himself in a crossroad between the heart of two women, that as he describes them, are "too similar and big to be in the same world".

David Atkin's story and screenplay comes plagued of phrases that could come out of a lunatic's mouth, but they fit in the film's context and twist your head at maximum. "I've got to climb…It's a long way to the moon"; "I'm gonna live forever until I become a turtle…They have infinite lives", besides scenes of well known movies in crucial moments. And what music (Goran Bregovic)! And what editing (Andrija Zafranovic)! And what cinematography (Vilko Filac)! And what director! Known for his originality, recognized director Emir Kusturica puts his own signature to his movie, collaborating in the story he must have dreamed a little to; giving life to the dream with his flying camera, full of unexpected turns and in love of its surroundings. What he achieves is greater words, although not everybody could understand it, and, for that matter, appreciate it.

And his actors…Jerry Lewis in a total comprehension of his character, and so involved in his work that you wouldn't believe it. So incredibly likable in one of those roles we never give much importance to. Faye Dunaway…Wow! She got to work with some of these actors later, but here, as an old woman in character and, with respect, in person, she maintains that virtue of creating uniqueness, with her laughs, smiles and way of saying things. Lili Taylor was the most interesting character here. The silent daughter that could be crazy but no one can really tell. With imagination and freedom, Taylor makes her character believable and not as overacted as it might be. Vincent Gallo, who I respect mostly as a director and as an actor that does what he wants, the ability he has had to choose his roles is visible here again; as he shines without lights to help him. A wonderful performance his fans shouldn't miss.

But Depp…How can I explain? I've said it a lot, surely, but I will repeat it. He's like a magician, but not with the cards and the hat and the tricks. He is with his face, his looks, his way of talking, his perfection of movement…But it's not really something technical: "in the acting world, Johnny Depp is a magician". I'm sure he still has plenty of that for us, but here is where he let us know first.

In one scene, Vincent Gallo's character Paul, an actor, requests that no one touches his face, because it's important. "Do you think they touch Brando's face? Do you think they touch Pacino's, De Niro's? Do you think they touch Johnny Depp's face? I don't know then, but not know; and if they did before, they shouldn't have. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Don Juan DeMarco

Image Hosted by

Every movie reflects its times. This one is certainly no exception. The mysteries of courtship have reduced to awkward teen-age comedies or sexual romps where the sex has little or no relevance and even less lust.

So much of the wonder of this film is derived from its fantasy. As long as we think its fantasy, we do not have to ask how accurate it may represent our reality. In other words this film wisely avoids what is and focuses on what should be. Or maybe what was.

The movie opens with Don Juan DeMarco (Johnny Depp) walking with purpose and in the full costume of an 18th century cavalier (complete with a cape). He goes into a restaurant. There he finds a beautiful young woman waiting for her dinner companion (who is late). Don Juan begins to talk to her. He takes her hand, and noticing her knuckles (a word of cacophony if ever there was one) and delivers an ode, which celebrates the perfection of that part of her hand. His words are smooth and his delivery flawless. His sincerity cannot be questioned. She succumbs to his charm. After a seduction (he would not have been concerned if he had failed), he announces that he is now ready to kill himself! Talk about tongue in cheek.

He is set to do it when Marlon Brando enters as the wonderful Dr. Mickler/ Don Octavio De Flores who is hoisted up to where Don Juan is by a Cherry Picker that he has trouble getting into. Don Octavio immediately talks Don Juan down by accepting whom Juan thinks they both are. That's the wonderful beginning.

In the next 10 days, Don Juan tells Don Octavio, a series of tales that reminds one of Scherezade. In the meantime every woman and one of the men besides Don Octavio (a really tall muscular masculine type named Rocco) come completely under his spell and they all listen to their hidden romantic side.

Don't confuse Don Juan DeMarco with the Decameron. The movie is not really about sex, seduction, or relationships between men and woman.

I may be wrong, but I think it is a yearning. It is a cry for something better that we all want for ourselves. What woman would not want to have notice taken of the effort she has gone to make herself as good looking as she can? What man would not like to have the skill to make a woman believe what he says about her? What man does not secretly wish he was so deeply committed to something (women in this case) that his words would convey his deep feelings effortlessly? Furthermore that his commitment was pure and truthful? That it was not a line? We cannot look at these questions in a movie without covering them with something like fantasy. The ideal is so unappealing. We want instant gratification.

I have thought about this for a considerable time and have come to the conclusion that a woman could never accept what I have written without thinking it was masculine crap. If cornered I would agree. But before I did, I would point out that Don Juan was a poet whose verses are life. He believes what he says: it is his ultimate truth. Seduction and sex are really quite secondary. Finding perfection and conveying it is primary.

Don Juan is well worth your two-hour investment. Perhaps it will connect you to what you yearn for and the truth everyone seeks. 

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Corpse Bride

Image Hosted by

Don't let the creepy title of this animated, musical tale throw you off. In the tradition of other excellent, animated features of recent years, The Corpse Bride will surely rank as one of the best. Granted, this kind of film may not be for all tastes, but if you can get past the title and are game for a wondrous, haunting world of fantasy and love, then this is your meal ticket.

Victor and his parents meet Victoria and her family to attend a wedding rehearsal. Unbeknownst to Victor's family, it seems Victoria's parents are broke and desperately need the marriage to secure their future. Yet, marriage is new to the nervous Victor, and when he gets jittery at the church, he runs off and into the woods to collect his thoughts. There, he jokingly recites his wedding vows and slips his wedding band on a finger shaped piece of what appears to be wood. The next thing he knows, the wooden finger is a real finger belonging to a former bride, and she has sprung 'alive' to his offer of marriage. As Victor reels in horror and confusion at his 'corpse bride', he is whisked away to another world of people who have died. While the corpse bride is partly decomposed, she retains much of her former beauty. Yet others in this strange land are mere skeletons and rotted flesh. It turns out that the corpse bride was to be married, but her groom had evil plans for her. She has been waiting for her true love ever since her demise. Meanwhile, Victoria's parents are approached by a mysterious, handsome suitor who wants to marry Victoria. Victor must make a fateful decision and choose between the two brides even as the dead descend on the land of the living for a wedding ceremony like none other. One groom and two brides-what to do? This is Tim Burton's latest foray into stop motion animation, and he and Mike Johnson direct with economy from a relatively simple screenplay by John August, Pamela Pettler, and Caroline Thompson. The characters, especially Victor and the corpse bride, are well etched and create an emotional bond with the audience. Although we want Victor to marry his love Victoria, we grow to feel sympathy and attachment to the corpse bride as well. As for the images of the dead, Burton and company do a delightful job of making what, on the outset, could be grotesque and turning them into energized, playful souls. There is a terrific Peter Lorre homage with a worm who keeps popping in and out of the bride's eye socket. After a short time, the skeletal limbs and discolored dead no longer seem frightening or gross. Ironically the most colorful sequences involve the world of the dead while the living are painted in austere, lifeless mutes of gray.

Much of the production team are veterans of other Burton films. Longtime collaborator Danny Elfman again provides an atmospheric score and a handful of nifty, little songs to move things along. Even the voices of the principals are Burton alumni, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (Burton's significant other). Give Depp credit for voicing a British sounding character convincingly while others like Emily Watson, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee and Tracey Ullman, to name a few, are quite effective at bringing their figures to life. It's a testament to Burton's imaginative appeal that twice the usual number of major acting talents contributed to this work.

For all those who loved Burton's earlier produced efforts, The Nightmare Before Christmas (whose ghoulish nature is quite similar) and James and the Giant Peach, this is a worthy followup. The animation itself is virtually seamless, and the characters and figures move as in real life. It is a far cry from the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials of the 1960's. The set designs and costumes are very much Gothic in style. It seems that Burton is drawing from his own films or is perpetuating his influences as evidenced in his previous films like Beetlejuice, Batman, and Edward Scissorhands particularly in his obsession with the good and evil in man. It also delves into the perception of life versus death. Who is really alive and who acts like the nonliving? It is evident that the true antecedent of The Corpse Bride is Burton's own version of Washington Irving's Sleepy Hollow with a nod toward Dickens (with its contrast in class distinction and its unsavory characters), especially the Miss Havisham character in Great Expectations.

The Corpse Bride marks a continuing peak in the current revival of animated feature films which was signaled by Toy Story a decade earlier and has been raised to new heights with such recent triumphs as Shrek and Finding Nemo. The final shot is a wondrous, memorable end that recalls the transformation scene in Disney's classic, Beauty and the Beast. In fact, so good is its animation and technique that it is easy to forgive any shortcomings in what is basically a one act, one note story albeit told with sincerity. With just a bit more pathos and storyline, Burton's team would have had an instant classic. It's a near miss, but its status as the best animated film of the year is secure.