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:



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.


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.

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)


The Brave (1997)

The Brave DVD Cover

Johnny Depp’s directorial debut The Brave (1997) tells the story of Raphael (Depp), a young Native American father who, out of desperation, makes a pact with a sadistic McCarthy (Marlon Barndo) to be tortured and killed in exchange for $50,000. The film premiered at Cannes in 1997 to standing ovations , yet devastatingly bad reviews in the press. Depp’s reaction to the reviews was to refuse to release it in North America. As a result it’s a difficult to find film. I found a version someone had posted on YouTube. Otherwise foreign  DVDs are available on sites like Ebay for sale.

Overly long at 2 hours and slowly paced, the film isn’t so much as bad as it is weak. Raphael is an ex-convict, a failure as a husband and father, and feeling useless enough that he is willing to make this Faustian bargain to end his life to save his own family’s, but his sense of desperation is never convincingly portrayed. We’re also told (repeatedly) that his family and relatives are going to be forced off their land by developers in the coming days, but other than being mentioned, there is no reaction to the threat by anyone in the community and the opportunity to build on the tension is squandered.

Johnny Depp as Raphael in The Brave (1997)
Johnny Depp as Raphael in The Brave (1997)

Once Raphael has accepted an advance on the $50k he is given one week before he is expected to return to meet his fate. With the premise in place, Raphael is left to try to make amends with his family, trying to buy their love and make up for lost time, without ever explaining where the money came from or what it is he’s gotten himself into. The family and Raphael feel disconnected and isolated in the story and it’s not until the second half of the film that we begin to have more of a sense of how they fit into the community when they begin to interact with other characters.

One assumes Depp was trying use the film to underscore the plight of Native American’s but that theme never feels fully integrated with the story. Quite the contrary actually, I felt that you could have easily transplanted Raphael and his family’s plight into any culture, any poverty stricken neighbourhood, and the story would have functioned equally well if not better.

The film is based on a book by mystery writer Gregory MacDonald who is better known for his Fletch series, and was adapted for the screen by Depp, Paul McCudden and Depp’s brother D.P. Depp. Iggy Pop provided the score, which went a long way to supporting and elevating the action on the screen. Iggy also makes a cameo towards the end of the movie at Raphael’s going away feast.

The last twenty minutes of the movie is worth sticking it out for as everything does come together in an unexpected way and Depp shows some restraint as a film maker in choosing which violence he does show and what he does not.

Personally, I think the heart of the film is overshadowed by the sensationalism of the “snuff film” premise. I also felt that Raphael as a character could have been more nuanced and gained more empathy from the audience had he simply been struggling against impossible odds and still not been able to overcome them.

Not nearly as big of a train wreck as I had been anticipating, and while I am glad I sought the film out, I don’t think it will ultimately rank very high on my list of memorable performances by Depp.

By the Numbers

  • Directorial debut by Depp and screen-writing credit.
  • 2nd film in which Depp shares screen time with Marlon Brando. Don Juan DeMarco (1995) being the the first.
  • 3rd film in which Depp wears a bandana. Platoon (1989) and Don Juan DeMarco (1995) being the other two.
  • 3rd film in which Depp has connections to Native American or Aboriginal Character – the others are Arizona Dream (1992) and Dead Man (1995)
  • 2nd Depp related film in which Iggy Pop makes an appearance – Dead Man (1995) was the other.

Ironic Trivia – Larry (Marshall Bell) says to Raphael (Depp) after threatening his family “I guess we will see you in the movies, Tonto.” Depp would eventually go on to play Tonto in this year’s The Lone Ranger (2013).

Happy Birthday Johnny!

Happy 50th Birthday Johnny Depp!

Happy 50th Birthday Johnny Depp!

Happy Birthday to Johnny Depp who turns 50 today – June 9th.

If that isn’t hard enough to fathom, chew on this – the man has been acting in film and tv for THIRTY years. Yup you read that right. 30 years. I’ve been falling behind on my year long tribute to Depp and his career, but fear not I have not abandoned reviewing his 40+ films.

Just finished watching Don Juan Demarco the other night and need to finish writing the review.

Here’s a quick recap of the films (and TV) I have reviewed so far that either star or have an appearance by Depp.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Private Resort (1985)
Platoon (1986)
21 Jump Street (1987-1991)
Cry-Baby (1990)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Arizona Dream (1992)
Benny and Joon (1993)
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
Ed Wood (1994)

10 down and 30+ to go. Up next is one of my favourite Depp films – Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man.

Happy Birthday Johnny and here’s to many happy returns!

S is for Satire and Sarcasm


Satire (n) –1) the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc. 2) a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn derision or ridicule.

At an early age, long before I could tie my shoes or count to a hundred, I was exposed to sarcasm. I knew the power or a well-timed verbal barb courtesy of my mother. People often say that they don’t suffer fools gladly; well my mom is definitely one of those people. If you’re being foolish or asking a foolish question she’s going to tell you to your face EXACTLY why it’s foolish. More times than not it was directed at people that crossed my mother, but even her own family was not off limits. It may sound like a form of child-abuse to some, but to me it was training at the feet of a master. Like the oratory power of a silver-tongued politician, my mother’s wit and sarcasm is a gift and to see it in action is awe inspiring. Even if I didn’t fathom the nuances of her verbal prowess at that early age, I soon grew to appreciate it and respect it.

Having such a good teacher, I was forced to develop some self-discipline when it came to my own sarcastic tongue for fear of alienating friends, enraging teachers, and later in life co-workers and bosses. I learned that just because you have the ammunition, doesn’t mean you have to use it.

With such a pedigree it’s little wonder that I came to love satire and sarcasm in popular culture. Comedians like George Carlin, Lewis Black, Al Franken, Bill Maher, Steven Wright, Bill Murray, Monty Python, Mary Walsh, Ricky Gervais, Rick Mercer, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. Artists like Gary Larson (Farside), Matt Groening (Life in Hell, The Simpsons, Futurama), Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury), Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), and Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County). Authors, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Coupland. Movies like Mike Judge’s Office Space and Idiocracy, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, any Monty Python movie, any Mel Brooks’ film, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the list goes on and on.

Looking over that list I suppose I tend towards political satire or at least satire that challenges authority and social norms. I guess its little wonder that my favourite Looney Tunes characters include Bug Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Foghorn Leghorn. A more sarcastic, anti-establishment, bunch I can’t imagine.

I’ve been trying to develop my own satirical voice in my writing, but with all things as subjective as humour it’s difficult to tell if you’re hitting the mark or making jokes and references that only you appreciate. I guess it will have to wait until my writing group, and hopefully the public in general, passes judgment before I know if the legacy of my mother’s wit and sarcasm has been passed to my writing ability.

Right now I have an urge to go watch some of those fantastic movies I mentioned.

Who are some of your favorite satirists?

M is for Movies

a-to-z-letters-m Here we are at the halfway mark in the month long A to Z Challenge. On the one hand, I am like “Wow, it’s half way done!” and on the other hand, I am like “What do you mean we’re only half way done!”.

For the letter M I thought I would take a moment to talk about Movies. I grew up watching a lot of movies on television. Where I lived we received feed from a Detroit station WKBD that featured Bill Kennedy at the Movies. Bill had been a radio announcer and actor, but made the transition to television announcer. Sharing his love of movies he would host an afternoon screening of older movies tossing out the occasional trivia between commercial breaks. While the movies were never kid friendly I somehow would get sucked into some 1950s war movie or obscure Hollywood musical just because it was on. I think it may have been the Detroit station as well that would show a Saturday afternoon horror movie. This is where I saw Steve McQueen fight The Blob, and Boris Karloff as The Mummy among other frightful fare that caused no end of nightmares.

Sure I got out the occasional movie in the theatre as a kid, but for my mother to haul three kids out to matinee showing of some family friend show was a rare occasion. The two that stand out in my mind were The Fox and the Hound and On Golden Pond, both from 1981 coincidentally enough. I would have been around 13 at the time, my one sister would have been 11, and my youngest sister would have been maybe 8. I remember seeing The Fox and the Hound and being terribly sad at one of the pivotal emotional points in the movie and not wanting to cry because I was too old. The memorable moment for me in On Golden Pond, was not anything specific that happened on screen, even though it was a dramatic movie that made a big impression on me, but rather the fact that we almost go thrown out of the theatre before the movie even started. I am sure my mother was having troubles getting us settled and likely raised her voice. An usher (remember those!) came by and asked us ‘kids’ what we were doing in the theatre by ourselves and my mother had to pipe up and explain that she was indeed the mother of this unruly mob.

My movie going habits during my teen years were indiscriminate. My friends and I would go and see whatever was new in theatres that week. While we saw some great films we watched more than our fair share of bad 80s movies. It was around this time I began to develop my own taste for what I liked in films and while it ran the gamut from action to drama, story and characters trumped everything.

During my teenage years, my cousin and fellow movie fan, Don, was in a big influence on shaping my taste in cinema. I can’t point to a specific movie that we saw during that mid-80s period that I would say defined our movie going relationship as teens, but later in life when we were living in Toronto as adults, the rep and art house cinemas of that city became the temples we worshipped at. I got a real education in story telling in those years discovering the greats of the previous generations (Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Stanley Kubrick, John Huston, to name a few) as well as discovering the up and comers of the next generation (Quentin Tarantino, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, and Wes Anderson).

After graduation from University when I had the time and money I joined Don in making an annual pilgrimage of the the Toronto International Film Festival. Taking a week off work we would cram as many movies into one week’s viewing as humanly possible averaging between 3 and 5 films a day. By the end of the week I would be burnt out and happy. Not everything I saw struck a chord with me but a lot did resonate. What I enjoyed the most in the 10 years that I attended the festival was listening to the directors talk about their passion about their art form. From the first time directors to the seasoned veterans, it was plain to see that they loved what they did sharing their vision with audiences and making a story come to life.

I still love movies and while I don’t have as much time as I would like to see all the movies that interest me, I try to savour each and every movie going experience. Thanks to Don, my parents, and all my friends who ever dragged me to a movie for making me the film lover that I am.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edwards Scissorhands (1990)

Edwards Scissorhands (1990)

In the same year that saw Depp hit the screens in John Water’s Cry-Baby, the actor was busy teaming up with another eccentric director with a very distinct style – Tim Burton. Having previously directed the off-beat and commercially successful, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and Beetle Juice (1988), Burton was coming off his Hollywood blockbuster, Batman (1989) when he directed Edward Scissorhands (1990)

For those that may be unfamiliar with the premise (are there seriously people that haven’t seen this movie?), Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) lives alone in a decaying mansion on the edge of suburbia after the sudden death of The Inventor (Vincent Price). Physically incomplete – with unwieldy scissors for hands – and emotionally stunted due to lack of social interaction, Edward is part Frankenstein’s monster and part Pinocchio. Edward’s isolation is interrupted when neighbourhood Avon Lady and bored housewife, Peg Boggs (Dianne Weist), desperate for a sale ventures up the desolate mountain to the run down mansion. When she discovers Edward alone and abandoned she does the only thing in her bored suburban life that makes logical sense and takes him into her home.

Team Edward - Johnny Depp as Edwards Scissorhands

Team Edward – Johnny Depp as Edwards Scissorhands

Despite his ‘grotesque’ appearance, the novelty of a stranger in the suburban enclave with its pastel painted houses generates enough attention and envy from the other bored house-bound women, that Peg soon finds her social status elevated. As Edward tries to gain acceptance and fit in he discovers his talent at sculpting things with his scissors – first topiary, then dog grooming, and finally hairdressing. Each talent bring him increasing popularity within the neighbourhood and notoriety outside it.

Edward’s rising fortunes take a turn for the worse when he gets mixed up with Peg’s daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder) and her boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). His fall from grace snowballs and is eventually cast out of the neighbourhood when Jim and the neighbours turn on. Despite Kim and Peg’s continued acceptance and understanding of Edward, they are unable to mend the rift. The ending, which I will try to avoid spoiling for those that may not have seen it (go watch it now!), is heartbreaking it’s a fitting end to Edward’s story and avoids any Hollywood cliché that may have otherwise been attached to it.

The film runs the gamut from dramatic to comedic and everything in between. The humour is often derived from Edward’s reaction to unfamiliar situations and people’s reaction to him, but it never feels forced in Burton’s colourful fantasy world.

Depp’s performances up until now have only hinted at his chameleon-like abilities as an actor, but have mainly alternated between clean cut boy-next-door and bad boy heart throb. As Edward, Depp relies heavily on facial reactions to convey much of his characters mood, and when he does speak, Edwards soft, child-like voice makes a big impression. While I haven’t counted them myself, it’s been said that Edward has fewer than 126 words of dialogue in the entire movie. Depp draws inspiration for his Edward Scissorhands character from silent movie greats Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

While the film primarily deals with the themes of isolation and self-discovery, there is also underlying themes of art and the power of creativity and imagination. In the early scenes, we are shown the brightly coloured houses of the subdivision in contrast to the dreary muted greys and blacks of the mansion. The subdivision gives the impression of being alive and vibrant while the mansion appears deserted and decaying. When Peg arrives a the mansion we see how alive and creative the mansion is, with its sculptured topiary and lush greenery. Burton’s visual style seamless blends 1960s, 70s, and 80s styles together in the look of the subdivision and the fashions to give it a retro feeling that I find actually works to make the film feel timeless in a way.

Not the last time Depp would play a character with barber skills.

Not the last time Depp would play a character with barber skills.

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Depp playing the iconic role now, but it has been reported elsewhere that before his involvement other leads had been considered, including Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Robert Downey Jr., and William Hurt. While I personally would love to visit the alternate universe in which Robert Downey Jr. plays Edward, I am thankful Burton and Depp found each other since they would go on to make a total of 8 films together (so far).

There’s a million other things I want to say about this film and could probably write a thesis on it, but I’ll leave it at that for now and we’ll move on to our next film in the journey and one I have not seen before – Arizona Dream.

Cry-Baby (1990)

Cover of Cry-Baby DVD

Cry Baby (1990)
Directed By John Waters

Up next in my year long tribute to Depp’s acting career is a review of his first movie role post-Jump Street. This time out Depp teamed up with a fellow outsider, director John Waters to make Cry-Baby a campy, musical send up 1950s juvenile delinquent films like Rebel Without a Cause (55), Jailhouse Rock (57), The Wild One (53), The Restless Years (58), and Live Fast, Die Young (58). In it Depp starts as Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker, a teenage ‘greaser’ complete with slicked back pompadour, leather jacket and white t-shirt.

Set in Waters home town of Baltimore, the ‘drapes’ are at odds with the middle-class ‘squares’ and their socially acceptable lifestyle. Despite his bad boy looks and outsider attitude Cry-Baby and his gang of misfits are essentially good kids at heart. At the centre of this class war is a star-crossed love story between Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane) and Cry-Baby (Johnny Depp).

Cry-Baby Ensemble Cast

Cry-Baby Gang – Milton Hackett (Darren E. Burrows), Wade ‘Cry-Baby’ Walker (Johnny Depp), Mona ‘Hatchet-Face’ Malnorowski (Kim McGuire), Pepper Walker (Ricki Lake), and Wanda Woodward (Traci Lords)

Among Waters impressive ensemble cast are Iggy Pop, Susan Tyrell, Polly Bergen, Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, Darren E. Burrows, and Kim McGuire.

Allison is being raised by her socialite grandmother Mrs. Vernon-Williams (Polly Bergen) who runs the charm school and who has everything to lose socially by having her granddaughter involved with Cry-Baby and his low class of characters. Allison’s boyfriend Baldwin is happy to stir up anger against the drapes, antagonizing Cry-Baby at every opportunity and leading a party of squares on a raid of the drapes home turf – Turkey Point.   The raid ends up with the drapes being rounded up despite being the victims and dragged before the court. Hijinks ensue as people plot to break Cry-Baby out of jail. In the end the lovers are reunited.

Johnny Depp and Amy Locane as Star Crossed Lovers in Cry-Baby

Johnny Depp and Amy Locane as Star Crossed Lovers in Cry-Baby

Ironically Cry-Baby was Waters’ acceptance by the very Hollywood machine Depp was attempting to distance himself from. After scoring a moderate success with Hair Spray (1988) (the first incarnation not the 2007 version), Waters succeeded in getting green lighted for a Hollywood production and a modest budget that was several times larger than anything Waters had worked with up until that point. Depp was looking to break away from his teen-idol image that he had earned working on 21 Jump Street.

Cry-Baby is the first role in which we can see Depp’s process as an actor beginning to shine through. He immerses himself in the role and convincingly alternates between threatening bad boy and sensitive and misunderstood outsider. One of Depp’s trademarks as an actor is taking inspiration from other well established figures and making them his own. Whether they are real people  or other fictional characters, his knack for choosing the right combination of characteristics from these figures is what makes Depp’s characters interesting. In the case of Cry-Baby Walker, Depp admits in It Came From Baltimore documentary that he took inspiration from his father – a real life Greaser, rockabilly pioneers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, and finally a young Elvis.

Cry-Baby with Match

Come On Baby Let Me Light Your Fire

Although Waters chose to go with professional singers to dub both Locane and Depp’s musical numbers the lip-syncing is barely noticeable and does not distract from the film in the least. In the It Came From Baltimore documentary available on the Directors cut DVD, Depp confesses that he can’t dance and actually hates it. He admits that it was only with the help of the cast and choreographer he was able to get through the dance scenes.

Cry-Baby was one Depp’s films that I hadn’t experienced before. Although it took me a bit to get into it, the movie turned out to be a fun, ride, with some great campy performances and cheesy musical numbers that I think would best experienced with a group of people and some copious amounts of alcohol.

The film helped open a number of doors to Depp including our next film up for review Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.