These are Not the Heroes You’re Looking For

You know that feeling when you’ve been putting something off for a long time, partly because you don’t want to deal with it and partly because you don’t know how to deal with it?

Insert heavy sigh here.

I read today the blog post from Joss Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole here – Joss Whedon Is a ‘Hypocrite Preaching Feminist Ideals,’ Ex-Wife Kai Cole Says where she explains how the Joss Whedon so many have worshipped and idolized as being a feminist is anything but. She’s confirmed for many what a lot of people have suspected for a while now, mainly that the person that fans have idolized and held up as some paragon of virtue and the person he is in his day to day life don’t add up.

It’s never easy as a fan to have to reconcile this. I don’t need to explain this to anyone who’s watched and enjoyed Firefly, Buffy, Angel, or any of the Avengers that Whedon has been central in bringing to life. Speaking for myself, its painful having enjoyed those shows & movies and having myself held up Whedon as that rare male writer of “strong female characters” to have to square these new facts about him.

It overshadows the work, taints it. Poisons it. Forces people to view it through a news lens, which can be a good thing. However, this brings me to the real reason I sat down to write this post. It’s not just Joss Whedon and his creations, that I am having a hard time reconciling my feelings about. There’s another pop culture figure that I have been guilty of fawning over in the past – namely Johnny Depp.

You can read my unabashed love letter to the actor  from January 2013 here – Welcome to a Year of Living Depp-erously where I laid out my ambitious plan to commemorate his 50th birthday and 30th year of acting in film by reviewing all of his movies. It sounded like a fun idea at the time. I managed to review only about 26 of his films (over a 3 year period) before I lost steam, distracted by life and my own creative pursuits.

I kept meaning to go back to it. To start it up again. To build this tribute to the actor I admired, but along the way something happened. Johnny Depp stopped being a fantastic chameleon of an actor that I admired and became a real person with some serious issues. Accusations of violence and domestic abuse related to him and his relationship with Amber Heard were all over the press as their relationship ended in divorce.

Part of me wanted to pull the plug on my tribute. Wipe the entries from the web. Distance myself from this version of a person I couldn’t reconcile with the person I was raving about on the screen. But as I said about Joss Whedon and his creations, there suddenly becomes something else about them know that you have this knowledge of the person and what they believe in. How they treat other people. You can’t disassociate that knowledge from their work. I can’t. I am sure some people can and do. It’s probably the only reason people like Depp and Woody Allen have careers still.

So in the case of my online tribute, I ignored it. It seemed simpler to wait and decide what to do with it. I was sure I was done reviewing any more of his films and blogging about it. But do I tear down the posts I have made? Try to erase it? It’s not as if I was trying to pretend they didn’t exist. I am sure anyone in this day and age that knows their way around Google and TheWayBackMachine could scrape up copies of them without any effort. I simply avoided doing anything about to avoid having to make up my mind about how I felt about Johnny Depp as a person.

Kai Cole’s post today about her relationship with Joss Whedon was the tipping point for me. I realized that I had been avoiding reconciling my previous worship of Depp as an actor ever since the news of his violence and abuse surfaced.

For the time being I am choosing to leave my earlier reviews of Depp’s movies up. I won’t be reviewing any more of his films in the context of this Tribute. I can’t fault myself for enjoying his work when I was oblivious to who he is as a person. Now that I’ve seen who he is and how he treats people, I can’t continue to blindly laud him.

I am certain that my opinion on this matters little to either Joss Whedon or Johnny Depp’s bottom line or whether or not they can sleep at night, but that’s not the point. The point is that we, the public need to stop elevating celebrities to such heights and realize that they are human. We also need to believe victims of abuse and violence when they tell us what is going on. We need to stop defending these people just because we don’t want to reconcile our love of their work, with the flawed and messed up people they may be in real life.

Thanks for listening to that rant. I return you to your previously scheduled ramblings from this website.

 

Lost In La Mancha (2002)

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Lost in La Mancha (2002) with Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, and Jean Rochefort

Lost in La Mancha chronicles director Terry Gilliam’s (Time Bandits, Brazil) attempt to make  “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” a long simmering project close to the director’s heart.

Johnny Depp was to star in the movie as Toby Grisoni, an advertising executive from the future that is transported in time to Don Quixote’s time and is mistaken for Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza.

The documentary was filmed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe who had previously worked with Gilliam on Twelve Monkeys when they made another behind the scenes documentary The Hamster Factor and Other Tales from the Twelve Monkeys. (Which is well worth a look for those interested in Gilliam’s creative process and the movie.) What the documentary film makers did not bargain for when filming this latest documentary was the disastrous turns the filming of Gilliam’s latest opus would take.

Gilliam’s reputation had made it necessary for him to go outside the Hollywood studio system and to finance the film on his own. Gilliam and his team laid the ground work raising the capital through a series of European investors and secured sites in Spain for filming. What they didn’t foresee was a number of increasingly insurmountable road blocks that would be thrown at them. From the deteriorating health of Jean Rocherfort, who was critical in his role as Don Quixote, to a flash flood on the second day of shooting that destroyed valuable equipment.  The shooting schedule and viability of the film was quickly thrown into doubt.

The documentary captures, Gilliam’s creative process and the behind the scenes look at the few takes they did manage to get, as well as the rising tension and uncertainty of the future of the film. It’s ironic that the film itself takes on a quixotic nature as Gilliam soon becomes the one “tilting at windmills”.

The few scenes featuring Depp show a promising role where his character is the audience’s contemporary guide in to Cervantes world of Don Quixote, much in the way that Twain’s Connecticut in King Arthur’s Court was a “contemporary” guide to the Knights of the Round Table.

Since the film was halted in 2000 and the rights held by the insurance company,  there has been several attempts by Gilliam to restart the film. In 2008 Gilliam confirmed that he had entered into pre-production on the film with Robert Duvall and Johnny Depp attached. Since that time though Johnny Depp’s role has been replace by Ewan McGregor according to reports when plans resurfaced for the film in 2010. The film sounds as if it is still going ahead with a major re-write and plot change and may be released in theatres as well as on Amazon eventually.

You can read more details about the film here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Killed_Don_Quixote

http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/terry-gilliams-amazon-deal-is-for-us-release-of-don-quixote-possibly-a-defective-detective-mini-series-20150609

From Hell (2001)

From Hell Poster 2001 From Hell (2001) features Johnny Depp as Inspector Frederick Abberline who becomes involved in the Jack The Ripper case in London in 1888. The film is loosely based on the comic book series by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell that ran from 1989 to 1996 and focuses on one theory that the murders were part of a larger conspiracy to cover up the birth of an illegitimate heir to the British throne.

Released in 2001 the film also features Robbie Coltrane as Abberline’s right hand man Sergeant Peter Godley, Heather Graham as Mary Kelly, and Ian Holm as Sir William Gull a physician to the Royal family. I originally saw this film in 2001 at the Toronto International Film Festival on the morning of September 11th as the tragic events of that day were unfolding. I always wondered if my feeling of detachment from the film was in part due to the events of that day and my inability to focus on the film. After that screening the Festival annouced they were suspending screenings for the remainder of the day to allow people to deal with the repercussions of the attack and out of respect for the dead and missing.

Re-watching it 13 years later, I found that I still did not connect with the film or its content in a way that I would have expected. The Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) do an admirable job directing and the film is stylish and lush to look at, but something is lost in the delivery. The immediacy of the story and the personal stakes of the characters involved never draw me in to the point that I get caught up in the story and forget I am watching a movie. There’s a certain detachment for me that is cross between watching a police drama and a horror story that is focused on the gruesome nature of the crimes.

Johnny’s Depp performance is solid in this movie despite the questionable cockney accent that he employs. Depp’s character Inspector Abberline has visions of the murders that lead him deeper into the conspiracy. Personally I didn’t feel that the visions added anything to the plot and would have been more impressed if it Abberline’s obsession and determination to do the hard detective work was what drove him to solve the case.

I generally like Depp in period pieces such as Dead Man, Sleepy Hollow, and Sweeny Todd to name a few, but for some reason From Hell didn’t click with me and sadly falls fairly far down my list of Depp films.

Blow (2001)

Blow (2001) with Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, and Franka Potente, Rachel Griffiths, Paul Reubens, and Ray Liotta

Blow (2001) with Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, and Franka Potente, Rachel Griffiths, Paul Reubens, and Ray Liotta


Blow (2001) features Johnny Depp as George Jung, a hustler and drug dealer who ultimately became responsible for most of the cocaine flowing into America in the late ’70s and early ’80s from Columbia.

The film boasts a great cast with Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths as George’s parents, Franka Potente and Penlope Cruz as his love interests, and Paul Ruebens and Jordi Mollà as his drug dealing partners to name but a few of the players.

TRIVIA Even though they were cast as George’s parents, Ray Liotta is only 9 years older than Johnny Depp while Rachel Griffiths is actually 5 years younger than Depp.

The story is told from George’s point-of-view and we quickly learn that he doesn’t want to live the boom and bust cycle that his father, Fred, lived during the 50s. Fred explains his life philosophy to a young George as “Sometimes you’re flush and sometimes you’re bust, and when you’re up, it’s never as good as it seems, and when you’re down, you never think you’ll be up again, but life goes on.” For George this isn’t good enough and that he’s driven to succeed where his father failed.

A young 20-something George and his best friend Tuna (Ethan Suplee) migrate to California in the late 60s intent on putting distance between him and his middle-class up bringing and to live the easy life of a beach bum. It’s there that George gets a taste for imported weed and soon hits upon a scheme to become drug dealers and middle men.

The business quickly grows exponentially and “Boston George” is soon transporting drugs from the West Coast back to Boston via his stewardess girlfriend. While doing time for transporting drugs across state lines he encounters Diego Delgado (Jordi Mollà) a car thief with important Columbian connections. It’s through Diego that eventually meets Medellín Cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, who entrusts George and Diego to begin transporting cocaine to the US for distribution.

Once George’s rise to fame in the drug world reaches it climax, the tables begin to turn. The once shiny life of a drug dealer begins to sour as everyone he once loved turns against him.

Depp brings to George the prerequisite amount of swagger and confidence benefiting a hustler of George’s nature and Depp immerses himself in the role as only he can. Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths almost match Depp with their ability to age with the characters of George’s parents and only being minimally affected by George’s bullshit and lies. During this re-watch of Blow I found myself imagining George’s story told solely from his parent’s perspective and what a different and interesting story that would be.

As with all films “based on a true story” you have to wonder how much liberty was taken with the facts for dramatic purposes. More so in this case since the source material is based on George Jung’s autobiography and he tends to paint himself in a favourable light compared to some of the other characters. As George’s world collapses and he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the life he’s built for himself, he tends to paint himself as the innocent, injured party and all his ills are caused by others.

Johnny Depp as George Jung in Blow (2001)

Johnny Depp as George Jung in Blow (2001)


I enjoyed Depp’s performance in this film. His ability to get inside the head of the character and embody that person while he is on the screen is something to behold. For the role of George Jung, Depp reportedly met with him in prison and interviewed him. Below is a quote from Depp that highlights his process of understanding the character’s he portrays.

“George Jung is a lot of things. He’s a complicated guy. But first and foremost – what I was really happy to find out – was he is just as human as can be. There is no evil. There is no malice in him. He’s not greedy. He’s just a good man who recognized his mistakes and has to live with his sort of devastation every day. I saw a strong guy when I met him. He’s very strong, kind of ironic, funny, broken man. My opinion is that George Jung has served his time and paid his debt to society. He’s not doing anyone any good rotting away in a prison cell. The guy is rehabilitated. And I’m not sure the system rehabilitated him. I think he rehabilitated himself based on the hideous thoughts he’s had to live with and realities he has had to deal with. I think he has paid his debt to society. I think he could do much more good on the outside. He’s doing work with the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program right now. He could, potentially, go on the road with DARE and teach kids the dangers of drugs. And he could also pay his debt to his daughter and try to give her a father.”
–Johnny Depp (Reel.com)

While Blow is a solid film with great visuals, storytelling and compelling acting, I found I was more critical of it on this re-watch. I found the veneer of false nostalgia wore on me more this outing than the first time I saw it. Compare it to a similar period piece like Donnie Brasco, where the time period seems ingrained in the characters and the story whereas in Blow I felt it was more for show. That the choice of wardrobe, set dressing, cars, and especially music were all done with careful deliberation to illicit the most nostalgia out of the audience whether or not they have any first hand experience with the given time periods. The other thing that bothered me more on this outing was the selling of George’s story as some corrupt version of the American Dream. George’s story never feels like a cautionary tale to me (whether it should or not is another debate). The first 2/3 of the movie feels like the director wants us to cheer for George as the underdog and the guy who’s exploiting the system and making good. The final 1/3 of the film film feels like its George’s “woe is me” tale where he rages against the injustices of the system and the harshness he is treated with by his friends and family. While I am not expecting Blow to be some documentary on the horrors of the drug trade in America while, all I am saying is that I was more critical of the glossing over of such issues this time.

Chocolat (2000)

Chocolat (2000) with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp

Chocolat (2000) with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp

Chocolat (2000) directed by Lasse Hallström tells the story of a insular French village in the late 1950s that finds it’s conservative attitudes and morality challenged when a young single mother and her child come to town and open a Chocolateir.

Juliette Binoche’s character Vianne quickly becomes the lightning rod of the community, first by befriending the “outcasts” of the community and drawing the ire of the more “respectable” citizens like the uptight Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) who’s busy trying to protect his public image and the Serge Muscat (Peter Stormare) who abuses his wife Josephine (Lena Olin).

The film does a good job ratcheting up the tension as the forces align against Vianne, culminating with a visit from a group of Irish gypsies which includes Depp’s character Roux. Watching Depp’s performance was bit cringe-worthy for me, not in the acting per se, but rather his accent. The Irish accent sounds somehow mangled to me and in retrospect like a bad parody of Depp’s later character Capt. Jack Sparrow. The chemistry between the two actors (Binoche and Depp) is good and the smouldering attraction between the two characters is well done.

Chemistry_Depp_Binoche

Fire Extinguishers on Standby. There’s some heat happening!

"Let me fix that squeak in your screen door."

“Let me fix that squeak in your screen door.”

I remember the film when it was first released being talked about as one of those “hot” Johnny Depp movies, which seemed strange to me at the time. I’d never thought of him as sex symbol, and frankly most of the roles I had seen him in up to that point where not traditional “sexy” roles (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). After watching this movie, a light suddenly went on and I could see what the women were talking about.

Depp’s role, while relatively small in the context of the film, is pivotal. The carefree and almost hedonistic nature of the gypsies is too much for the village to take and the town turns on them. Without giving too much away, there are a number of characters whose lives begin to unravel as they must come to terms with the choices and relationships they have built for themselves.

There are so many great characters and actors in the story. There’s Judi Dench as the ailing matriarch who is being kept from her grandson by the boy’s mother played by Carrie-Anne Moss. There’s the young parish priest, played by Hugh O’Conor who’s own lust for life is being stifled by the Church and the community’s demands of him. There’s also Vianne’s daughter Anouk and the toll the lifestyle they have chosen is having on her coming of age. The movie held up watching it 10+ years later and despite Depp’s accent it’s worth a look.

The Man Who Cried (2000)

The Man Who Cried (2000)

The Man Who Cried (2000)

Director Sally Potter wrote and directed this story about a young Jewish Fegele Abramovich and her struggle to reconnect to her identity and find her father. The story opens in 1927 in a small Jewish village in Russia where Fegele and her father live. A villager returning from the United States spins stories of how it’s the land of opportunity and that anyone can make a name for themselves. Fegele’s father leaves for America with a number of the other men from the village, leaving her in the car of her grandmother.

Not long after her father’s departure the family’s village is razed during a brutal pogrom. Fegele and some of the other villagers flee the carnage, only to find hardship on the road to safety. Fegele eventually is spirited out of the country, but finds herself utterly alone. Adopted by an English family in the UK, Fegele, newly renamed Suzie (Christina Ricci) struggles to reconnect to her identity.

Music and theatre form an integral part of the story. Before Suzie’s father leaves he sings “Je Crois Entendre Encore” from a Georges Bizet opera to her and its obvious that this musical connection between the father and daughter is strong even from an early age. Later when she is alone and isolated in England, Suzie discovers she can over come her social stigma as an outsider by singing. A teacher from the school accidentally stumbles upon her talent and begins coaching her.

As a teenager she successfully auditions for an opera company run by Felix Perlman (Harry Dean Stanton) that is based out of Paris, France. Suzie is befriend by Russian dancer Lola (Cate Blanchett) who becomes her room mate. Lola quickly ingratiates herself with Opera’s star Dante (John Turturro) as a wayof climbing the social ladder and ensuring a better future for herself. Suzie is drawn to the “gypsy” horseman Cesar (Johhny Depp) who’s brooding good looks, cuts through the scenes when he’s on stage.

The many brooding stares of Cesar (Johnny Depp) in the Man Who Cried (2000)

The many brooding stares of Cesar (Johnny Depp) in the Man Who Cried (2000)

The tension quickly escalates as Germany declares war on Poland and before long the thunder of troops are heard on the streets of Paris. The characters quickly realize that their very existence is threatened and do what ever is necessary to stay alive.

Depp’s Cesar provides an interesting counterpoint to Dante who at one point looks down, literally and figuratively, on Cesar and his fellow Romani making music on the beach and declares to his German hosts that their music lacks refinement. Dante only values material wealth and feels that he has earned his status as he has made something of himself whereas the gypsy and Jews are lazy and dirty in his opinion. Meanwhile Cesar values family and community above all else and is willing to sacrifice his life if necessary to defend it.

The ending of the moving is a bit anti-climatic as Suzie eventually does make it to America where she miraculously tracks down her ailing father in the final 10 minutes of screen time.

As far as a Depp movie goes, it was a decent one with Depp turning in a restrained performance fitting of his character and his role in the story. He shines while on screen with all his usual charisma and its easy to see why Suzie is attracted to him, but he does not overwhelm the picture. I enjoyed the movie even more for the subtlety that Sally Porter infuses the film with. Many of the early scenes are lyrical with moving imagery and music without a lot of dialogue to guide or drive the plot. The audience is given time to absorb the story and embrace the characters. Themes of father figures resonate in the film as does the connection to music and the role it plays in the characters lives.

A fairly obscure film of Depp’s but one worth watching if just for the story itself.

Transcendence Trailer

Earlier this year I had heard Johnny Depp was working on a new science fiction movie called Transcendence but details were fairly sparse other than it involved Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

Well the first trailer for the new movie was released today. Scheduled to come out in mid-April 2014 the movie features Depp as some tech giant (mega Bill Gates / Steve Jobs combined) who’s technology comes under fire by activists trying to stop his empire and technological research. Depp’s character is mortally wounded and his team figure the only way to save him is upload his consciousness into the computer they have. (Like nothing bad ever comes out of rash decisions like sacrificing yourself for untested technology.)

The trailer looks interesting enough that it will have me checking it out in theatres in April. It kinda had a 12 Monkeys vibe to it.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the film is directed by Wally Pfister. Wally, who? Okay let me put it another way. Wally was Christopher Nolan’s director of photography on the Batman movies, Inception, Momento, pretty much anything Nolan has ever directed.

Check out the trailer below, or visit the site TranscendenceMovie.com

Depp in Review – Year Two

It’s been almost a year since I foolishly declared that I was going to spend the next 365 days revisiting Johnny Depp’s thirty year long acting career and rewatching and reviewing his 40+ movies (see A Year of Living of Depp-erously). I managed to review almost half of his films and his one TV show, 21 Jump Street by September this year before the wheels fell off.

Life intervened and I took on a number of new projects and somehow time for Mr. Depp’s movies and my goal got put on hold. One of those new projects – my experience in the Playwrights Junction – is coming to an end (sadly) at the end of January and I will be able to fit more Depp reviews into my schedule. Although in light of my pace last year, I think I am going to go with something a little more reasonable in 2014 and aim for 2 reviews a month on average. At that leisurely pace it should take almost the full year to cover the remaining 20+ films.

Up next on the rewatch list is Depp’s appearance in Sally Porter’s drama The Man Who Cried from 2000.

Hope you had a good 2013 and will join me in celebrating 2014 by continuing to discuss Johnny Depp’s movie roles.

Cheers!

 

Before Night Falls (2000)

Before Night Falls (2000)

Before Night Falls (2000) – DVD Cover

Johnny Depp turns up in this 2000 film from director Julian Schnabel in two small, but pivotal roles. Before Night Falls examines the life and death of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas in a series of vignettes from his life.

Javier Bardem plays Arenas with the great emotion, conveying not only Reinaldo’s sexual awakening as a gay man in 1960s Cuba, but his struggle of conscience as he continues to write in the face of increased government pressure to silence him. Many of the sequences are poetic and dreamlike in the sense they feel ethereal and detached from reality. In several scenes we see Reinaldo imaging one reality only to be confronted with another starker image.

Johnny Depp as Bon Bon

Johnny Depp in glam mode as Bon Bon in Before Night Falls (2000)

Depp shows up two-thirds of the way into the film as  Bon Bon, a transvestite inmate who in makes a deal with Reinaldo to help smuggle his manuscript out of prison. In an interview in Johnny Depp Starts Here” by Murray Pomerance, Depp said his character was channelling his inner Sophia Loren in this role. Depp demonstrates his ability to amplify his feminine side as an actor. The confidence he exudes in this role makes the character stand out in the few scenes Bon Bon appears in.

Image of Johnny Depp as Bon Bon

Johnny Depp in peasant mode as Bon Bon in Before Night Falls (2000)

Image of Johnny Depp as Lt. Victor

Johnny Depp as Lt. Victor in Before Night Falls (2000)

Depp’s second role is almost the polar opposite of his role as Bon Bon. Instead of the feminine, transgressive, co-conspirator and fellow inmate of Reinaldo, Depp plays Lieutenant Victor, a hyper-masculine oppressor, and interrogator of Reinaldo’s writing, sexuality, and political views. Victor wants to break down Reinaldo and force him to renounce his writing and counter-revolutionary propaganda in exchange for the promise that he will be released. In one of those “Is he dreaming?” scenes Reinaldo visualizes Victor pressing his crotch to Reinaldo’s face in a moment of faux-comfort, but real domination.

Reinaldo eventually escapes Castro’s regime in Cuba by becoming part of the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, claiming refugee status in New York City. The remainder of the film touches on his time spent in exile and his declining health which is alluded to in the film as being AID/HIV related.

One of the central things I took away from he film was about the power and beauty of art. In a scene when Reinaldo is first discovering his voice as a writer he is taken aside by two famous writers, Virgilio Piñera  and José Lezama Lima to help mentor him. Lima explains in a speech to Reinaldo that art is dangerous.

“People that make art are dangerous to any dictatorship
They create beauty 
and beauty is the enemy. 
Artists are escapists.
Artists are counter-revolutionary.

There’s a man that cannot govern the terrain called beauty so he wants to eliminate it.”

An interesting and powerful movie worth watching not just for Depp’s small roles, but Reinaldo Arenas’ story and Cuba’s struggle.

By the Numbers

  • 4th film in which Depp wears a bandanna or scarf in his hair.
  • 2nd film in which Depp appears in women’s clothing.
  • 2nd film in which Depp uses a “Spanish” accent.
  • 2nd film since Platoon where he is not one of the principal characters of the film.

Up next in the queue for review is the Sally Potter drama “The Man Who Cried” (2000)

 

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Sleepy Hollow (1999) - DVD Cover

Sleepy Hollow (1999) – DVD Cover

In this Tim Burton adaptation of Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, Depp is cast as Ichabod Crane. Instead of portraying Crane as the jittery schoolmaster, Burton recasts him as a New York City constable bent on applying forensic science and “modern” investigative techniques to everyday cases. Crane’s fastidious investigations and doing things by the book puts him at odds with his superiors’ preferred method of rough justice. Partly as punishment and partly to get rid of him, Crane is dispatched to Upper State New York to investigate several beheadings in the village of Sleepy Hollow.

Burton’s adaptation seems to be at odds with its own narrative from the start. In his native New York City we see Ichabod Crane being depicted as a cool customer, ready to confront his superiors and take on the system, yet later in the movie we quickly see how ‘delicate’ Crane is and that his confrontational nature witnessed in the courtroom is no where to be seen.

Who's a pretty boy? - Ichabod - Don't Touch My Hair - Crane investigating

Who’s a pretty boy? – Ichabod – Don’t Touch My Hair – Crane investigating

As with many of Depp’s roles he’s noted in interviews that he took inspiration from a number of real life sources for his performance as Ichabod-  Angela Landsbury, Roddy McDowall, and “a frightened little girl”. Depp’s gift of being able to turn off and on these masks, almost hinders him in Sleepy Hollow in my opinion as his performance felt uneven to me.

The film is gorgeous to look at it as you would expect for a Burton film, but I was surprised rewatching how few Burton-esque flourishes there are. The pumpkin scarecrow, that bears a striking resemblance to Jack Skellington, and the haunted tree are two of the creations that are immediately recognizable as Burton.

Somewhat less glamorous shot of Ichabod in Investigate mode.

Somewhat less glamorous shot of Ichabod in Investigate mode.

Certain “comedic” touches such as Ichabod getting splattered by blood on numerous occasions seemed over-the-top*. I joked with a friend that between the blood splatter and Ichabod’s squeamish face / near fainting spells you could have yourself a pretty good drinking game with Sleepy Hollow.

Oh wait, someone has already had the same thought – Fire Frog’s Sleepy Hollow Drinking Game.

hessian

Christopher Walken is criminally wasted as the Headless Horsemen here, channelling his inner Tasmanian Devil, gnashing his chiselled teeth and growling in the few scenes when he’s in possession of his head.

"Alas Poor Yorrick, I knew him well"

“Alas Poor Yorick, I knew him well”

Christina Ricci does a good job as Ichabod’s foil / love interest Katrina Van Tassel when she’s not being upstaged by her step-mother, the Headless Horsemen, or Ichabod’s fainting/showboating. Burton is blessed with a wonderful cast of supporting actors from Ian McDermid and Christopher Lee (both of who played critical roles in Star Wars), to future Harry Potter stalwarts Richard Griffiths and Michael Gambon.

Unfortunately, I never found the film as suspenseful or as terrifying as I did the original Disney cartoon of Sleepy Hollow. Granted the movie was entertaining to watch, but I found that I cared little for unravelling the mystery of who was controlling the Headless Horsemen, or what their motive was. For me I, spent more of the film wishing that Burton had jettisoned the entire Headless Horsemen plot and instead explored Ichabod Crane and his crime fighting in NYC – consider it an early precursor to CSI: New York. Of course your mileage may vary, depending on your affinity for all things Burton/Depp.

*Especially when the blood is from a corpse.

Note: As fate would have it, immediately after I re-watched this movie, the new TV series – Sleepy Hollow aired on Fox in the fall of 2013. An interesting mix of cheesy action and creepy horror had me far more interested than Burton’s 1999 film.

Up next I review Depp’s small roles in the 2000 film – Before Night Falls directed by Julian Schnabel about Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas.