The Astronaut’s Wife (1999)

The Astronaut's Wife (1999) - DVD Cover

The Astronaut’s Wife (1999) – DVD Cover

One of three Johnny Depp movies released in 1999, The Astronaut’s Wife is definitely the weakest of the three and had me questioning my resolve to watch ALL the films Johnny Depp’s appeared in during his career.

The Astronaut’s Wife features Depp as Spencer Armacost the astronaut while Charlize Theron plays his wife Jillian. An explosion occurs while Spencer and a fellow astronaut are  conducting a space walk to repair a satellite. The ground crew and their fellow crew mates lose contact with them for 2 minutes. They are retrieved and immediately returned to earth where they slowly come out of comas, but to their wives they are changed men. Dun, dun, duuun.

The Armacosts in happier times - The Astronaut's Wife (1999)

The Armacosts in happier times – The Astronaut’s Wife (1999)

The directing and acting go for heavy handed including slow motion shots of glasses falling to the ground and shattering while people scream in the background and ominous dream sequences in which Jillian sees dead people. Oooh, the tension. As much as I like Theron and Depp as actors, the on-screen couple have about as much chemistry here as Angelina Jolie and her brother James kissing.

Jillian (Charlize Theron) and Spencer (Johnny Depp) share a kiss.

Jillian (Charlize Theron) and Spencer (Johnny Depp) share a kiss.

No wait, the siblings have more chemistry than Depp and Theron and that’s saying something.

Angelina and James share a kiss.

Angelina and brother James share a kiss.

Other than the central mystery of what happened during the blackout there is little driving the plot. We are continuously told by Jillian how much her husband has changed and how much he doesn’t sound like himself, but we are never shown enough of the pre-event Spencer to be able to make that connection ourself.

After Jillian becomes pregnant with twins, dun, dun, duuun things are supposed to become creepier (a la Rosemary’s Baby) but it never achieves that level of suspense for me. It plays like a drawn out episode of the X-Files, but without the redeeming forces of Agents Mulder and Scully to propel the plot and give us context.

The resolution of the plot is as heavy handed as the rest of the movie and would have had me fuming had I paid good money to see this in the theatre back in the day. Let’s face it Johnny Depp playing an asshole misses the whole point of his charm as an actor. There’s no redeeming this movie and I haven’t even started on how they play up Jillian’s history of mental health issues as a reason why no one is going to believe her alien conspiracies.

The movie faired poorly at the box office taking in less than $10 Million during its run making it one of Depp’s worst performing film given its $75 budget, and yes that includes The Lone Ranger.

Whew, thankful to have that one out of the way. Now I can move onto the third film from 1999 for Depp – Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.

 

 

The Ninth Gate (1999)

The Ninth Gate (1999) - DVD Cover

The Ninth Gate (1999) – DVD Cover

In 1999, Johnny Depp teamed up with director Roman Polanski to star in The Ninth Gate, a supernatural thriller that was loosely based on the 1993 novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte called The Club Dumas.

Depp stars as Dean Corso, a rare book dealer who is hired to locate and authenticate the remaining copies of The Nine Gate of the Shadow Kingdom, by a wealthy businessman Boris Balkan (Frank Langella)  who wants to know which of the copies is authentic and which are forgeries. The book is reputed to have been co-authored by Satan himself and unlocking the secrets of the book enable the owner to summon the devil.

Corso’s greed and arrogance quickly lead him to become entangled in a satanic conspiracy after several of the people involved with the books are found murdered.

Mind if I smoke? - Depp as Dean Corso in The Ninth Gate

Mind if I smoke? – Depp as Dean Corso in The Ninth Gate

Depp plays Corso with a self-assured confidence benefiting his character. His supreme confidence is exhibited in an early scene when he suavely swindles a couple out of their invalid father’s rare Don Quixote manuscript by playing into their greed. This contrasted with Corso’s vulnerability when physically confronted makes for an interesting character.

During Corso’s travels to authenticate the manuscripts he crosses paths on several occasions with a strange young woman with green eyes. After he confronts her they form an unspoken alliance of sorts, with the girl showing up unexpectedly when Dean needs her the most.

As the film builds to its climax, Dean and the audience begin to piece together the mystery of the Ninth Gates manuscript and how all the players fit together.

The film is one of those supernatural horror films that does a good job of creeping you out without relying on cheap scares, blood or gore. I enjoyed Depp’s strong performance in this and would almost put it on par with his role in Donnie Brasco. The only reason I think I wouldn’t elevate it to that level is because The Ninth Gate is lacking a strong foil for Depp to interact with. Depp relies on a lot on reaction shots in the film and his expressive face does not let him down. For those who like their Depp films with a bit of sex and Johnny bare chested, there’s definitely some of that going on here as Dean Curoso is seduced by two of the principal female characters.

Do I look like I believe the bullshit you're feeding me?

Do I look like I believe the bullshit you’re feeding me?

 

Despite Polanski’s abhorrent personal history he still has talent as a director and this picture has some great shots and timeless feel to it. Depp in interviews said that working with the notoriously rigid Polanski was tough after working for someone as free as Tim Burton, but was thankful for the experience.

By The Numbers

  • 4th film in which Depp’s character wears glasses. The round glasses he wears for the first half of the film have been identified as Savile Row Beaufort Panto 
  • 3rd film in which Depp’s character has some form of facial hair.

Next up is another 1999 flick Astronaut’s Wife starring Charlize Theron as the wife to Depp’s Astronaut.

 

 

 

 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) DVD Cover

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) DVD Cover

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) Depp takes on iconic gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and his drug-fuelled road trip to 1970s Las Vegas with his friend and attorney Dr. Gonzo (aka Oscar Zeta Acosta) . What initially started as photo assignment for Sports Illustrated, to write captions for the annual Mint 400 off-road race, becomes a debauched lost weekend in which Raoul Duke (aka HST) and his “Samoan” lawyer burn their way through a suitcase full of drugs.

 We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge, and I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.

This is Bat Country! - Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke aka HST.

This is Bat Country! – Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke aka HST.

Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s 1972 book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream the unique combination of the source material, Depp’s manic acting, and director Terry Gilliam’s unique eye behind the camera, the result is something behold.

On the surface it feels like a nonsensical, disjointed, drug-induced hallucination that can leave you scratching your head, but on closer examination there is a method to the madness in Thompson’s confrontation of the American Dream and what lies beneath. In one scene Duke’s writing about the height of the counter-culture movement in 1965 and how far they’ve come (fallen) since then. Images of social unrest are contrasted through out the movie (Vietnam war protests and News footage of bombings) with the ‘bread and circuses’ mentality that is the reason for the very existence of Las Vegas.

Depp digs deep for his transformation into Hunter S. Thompson’s alter ego Raoul Duke. From living in Thompson’s basement for a period of time to get to know him and his quirks, to allowing Thompson to shave his head, to borrowing vintage pieces of HST’s clothing for the actual movie, Depp knew no boundaries in his effort to become the character.

Hunter S. Thopmson shaving Johnny Depp's head. - Source Unknown.

Hunter S. Thopmson shaving Johnny Depp’s head. – Source Unknown.

Ah, devil ether. It makes you behave like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel. Total loss of all basic motor skills. Blurred vision, no balance, numb tongue. The mind recoils in horror, unable to communicate with the spinal column. Which is interesting because you can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can’t control it.

It’s ultimately one of my favourite Depp performances watching not only his manic facial ticks and physical acting while pretending to be under the influence of drugs, but also the rapport between him and Benico Del Toro on screen. I can’t imagine how they delivered some of the scenes and managed to stay in character.

Definitely not for everyone, but anyone with appreciation of satire, Gilliam, or Depp’s acting should definitely give this ago. If you haven’t been exposed to the world of Hunter S. Thompson before now, this is a fucked up and brilliant spot to begin.

I also read a great biography a couple of years ago by the artist Ralph Steadman called – The Joke’s Over – Ralph Steadman on Hunter S. Thompson which highlights the pair’s working relationship as well as provides a nice coda to Thompson’s suicide in 2005.

By the Numbers

    • 3rd film in which Depp’s character wears glasses.
    • 4th film in which Depp’s character wears a distinctive hat or hats.
    • 1st film in which Depp shaved his head for the role.
    • The film was referenced in the 2011 animated movie Rango (Starring Johnny Depp) when the title character wearing a very HST-esque shirt lands on the windshield of a red convertible.

Next up in the rotation is the 1999 Roman Polanski film The Ninth Gate which features Depp as a rare book collector that has a run in with the supernatural and occult when he goes looking for a couple of lost books.