Despite my liking of director Kevin Smith as a pop-culture icon and as a director, my expectations of this low budget indie comedy were considerably dialled back following Smith’s own admission of the movie’s less than stellar reception from critics. However I was still willing to give it a chance and what I’d seen and heard still appealed.
Two convenience store clerks (a Kevin Smith regular theme) both named Colleen (Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith) hate their jobs, wish they were singers in a band (and sort of are with their drummer Adam Brody) and long for something else in life, other than practicing Yoga and staring at their phones. Then one night the store comes under attack from a race of miniature Nazis and the girls find themselves the only two people who can save the world from a Nazi uprising … in Canada at least.
This isn’t a movie you go and see for the plot, as it’s bizarre and stupid and really just an excuse for Smith to throw in a lot of Canadian satire of Mounties, hockey, beavers and people saying ‘sorry aboot that’ all the time. It’s mildly-amusing but also a bit of an oddity not helped by mostly poor, cartoonish acting. Smith’s daughter is watchable but lacking and the same can be said of Johnny Depp’s daughter, and well neither of them can sing but I’m guessing that was intentional. Also Johnny Depp himself has an extended, near-unrecognisable appearance that’s typically caricature for the actor these days and certainly one of his least memorable. Much of the entertainment here comes from the Canadian in-jokes so if you’re not familiar with any of that a great deal of this will go over your head. The combination of Canadian and Nazi imagery certainly proved curiously intriguing and well, the Bratzi’s are so ridiculous they’re actually fun … and the climax involving a big monster is a lot of fun too. Yet it remains a movie that feels stitched together from ideas that should have either been fleshed out or left alone entirely, because really – who comes up with this material and were they smoking something at the time? However, this wasn’t as awful as I was lead to believe but certainly wasn’t that great either. Smith can and has done a lot better. One for the curious or die-hard Smith fans only.
I think I’m not alone in being a little tired of Johnny Depp’s over-the-top caricatures in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice In Wonderland, even if he is often good in those roles. Occasionally however it’s nice to see him in a more normal acting role, and to some extent this is a perfect vehicle for him. He plays Boston gangster Jimmy ‘whitey’ Bulger; a ruthless and manipulative thug and leader of a local gang. One day however an old friend from the neighbourhood comes knocking to ask a favour, who also happens to be an FBI agent out to nail the local Mafia, and soon an awkward alliance is formed.
This gritty and occasionally very violent crime yarn based on true events is well cast and well directed and I was swept up by the realism and atmosphere. At first it takes a bit of getting used to Depp’s make-up and he stands out a bit compared to the other cast members for this, but thankfully an assured and gradually menacing performance shines through and Depp proves himself equally adept at villainous characters as he is light hearted ones. Also he’s not the only one who delivers a strong performance as the often underrated Joel Egerton (The Gift) is brilliantly conflicted as an FBI agent in bed with the devil. Benedict Cumberbatch turns up as Whitey’s politician brother but only adds marginal screen presence, and Kevin Bacon appears as a very shouty FBI chief. Yet it’s the uneasy relationship between Depp’s mobster and Egerton’s Fed that carries the movie and proves edge of the seat and powerful with a few moments that genuinely shock (the prostitute).
It may not be as complex or as layered as some crime epics, and how things wrapped up confused me a bit … but overall, I had a very good time with this and those after a decent crime thriller need look no further.
Sometimes there is a reason you don’t get around to watching a particular movie. Maybe it’s just passed you by, other movies have caught your interest more … or something is trying to tell you, it’s not really as good as you’ve heard. This is one such movie.
Johnny Depp plays undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco who gets embroiled in the goings on of a gang in New York and gets mentored by aging mobster Lefty (Al Pacino). Based in a true story this is of course an intriguing set up and makes for at first engrossing viewing. Pacino this time around isn’t playing the boss, the main guy, but more an always overlooked and fairly disgruntled ‘hood with one eye on a boat trip out of town, and another on the boss’s job. It’s definitely an interesting change of pace for the usually loud and brash actor. Depp is the confident, slightly cock-sure guy who thinks he’s got it all under control, as his family life begins to fall apart and he gets pulled further and further into the underworld. Michael Madsen is on hand as the guy everyone fears and looks up to.
Depp & Pacino’s friendship holds this together well, but isn’t the most convincing, as Lefty seems to take much of Donnie at face value despite many moments that should have lead him to question the guy’s identity. There is however plenty of tension as Donnie juggles his family life with that of the mob and tries to keep one step ahead of everyone else as the FBI increasingly pressure him for results.
The biggest issue is the supporting cast. The surrounding actors are plucked from the poor-man’s mob actor barrel, lacking much of the menace or presence of a Joe Pesci or Harvey Keitel. British director Mike Newell goes for a realistic style and avoids much of the grandeur or energy of other great mob movies like Goodfellas. With only smattering of violence and a script that often felt like it was satirizing the world it was depicting (how many times do we hear ‘forget about it’ ?), something about this just never came to life. Add an ending that seriously lacked the big pay-off I’d been lead to believe was coming … and I came away rather disappointed.
There was something about this movie upon it’s release and over the years that has always made me stay away from it. The bizarre appearance of Hollywood actor Johnny Depp as famed drug addict / journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the always cautionary ‘unfilmable novel’ cliché and then the combination of drugs and Terry Gilliam – one of the more out-there, albeit skilled surrealist directors around. It seemed a bad combination. Yet now with this challenge and as a long time admirer of the former Monty Python member, who still for me made the best time travel movie ever conceived (Twelve Monkeys) – this finally had to be worth a look, right?
Depp as mentioned plays Thompson, going under various names in a three day drug fuelled road trip to and through and back again from Las Vegas along with his attorney (Benicio Del Toro) to report on a motor cross race in the desert in 1971. With a back drop of the Vietnam war, president Nixon and the hippy counter culture … this had plenty going on, but finding much entertainment in it was a struggle. This was Gilliam on acid, and for a director who already is Tim Burton on acid – that’s saying something! Hallucinations, a wealth of oddball characters, drugs, gambling, more drugs and basically two hours watching two utterly risible people not quite kill themselves (or anyone else they come across). Depp’s performance is like a Tex Avery cartoon, over the top jittery, with a one tone drawl (not helped by the cigarette filter permanently hanging out of his mouth) and is loosely aided by an animalistic, borderline psychotic Del Toro. Cameos by the likes of Cameron Diaz, Christina Ricci and a nearly unrecognisable Toby Maguire prove fun … and a soundtrack covering (amongst others) classic hits from The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan turn out to be the biggest plus of this total head-f**k of an experience. By the end credits I actually felt like I’d been on some sort of trip … and not a particularly good one.
Gilliam’s direction is technically impressive and truly creates the feeling of a doped out, paranoid and trippy journey complete with unconventional camera angles and bizarre effects work (hotel guests turn into reptiles and eat each other, or have an orgy – I couldn’t be sure) … so hat’s off to him for that, but I watch movies either to be entertained or to learn something … and I didn’t get much of either out of this.
I used to be a huge Tim Burton fan back when he made the likes of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. I loved his gothic style and imagination. Combine this with his frequent collaboration with composer Danny Elfman, most notably on the Batman movies, and this movie-fan was in constant awe. In recent years however I haven’t really kept up with his movies. The last one I watched was Sweeney Todd, which left me cold, and I haven’t as of yet seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
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