Friday, January 30, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 5:16 PM
Johnny Depp.
It started with The Wrap, Sharon Waxman’s much-bookmarked movie biz website, issuing an email with the subject field “5 Ways Actors Over 50 Are Avoiding the Johnny Depp Curse” and then following it up with another snarky missive linking to another story: “41 A-List Actors Who Bombed as Hard as Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai.'  And true enough, the art world comedy caper, released Friday, Jan. 23, without previewing to critics (rarely a good sign), was greeted with gleefully derisive reviews   (“strenuously unfunny,” “a whirlwind of horrible British accents,” “an anachronistic mess”) and practically no box office whatsoever. Opening weekend: a scant $4.2 million, for a film that cost $60 million to make, and millions more to market (thank you, Lionsgate, for the argyle socks with the Mortdecai mustache pattern! ). By contrast, American Sniper (also strenuously unfunny), scoped out $64 million in its second weekend of release.

But Johnny Depp, despite his embarrassing presenter’s speech at the Golden Globes and a run of big screen thuds – Transcendence, The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows – managed to parlay his Keith Richards imitation into a billion-dollar franchise, starring as that rogue swashbuckler Jack Sparrow in four Pirates of the Caribbean blockbusters. (A fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is on tap for 2017.)  True, the shtick gets progressively shtickier as the series sails on, but Depp is central to the skull-and-crossbones tentpole (or flagpole). And no one can take these oddball and adventurous performances away from the actor: Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood for Tim Burton, Dead Man for Jim Jarmusch (a couple of scenes with Robert Mitchum, no less!), Donnie Brasco, Blow, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. And though it’s too sweet for some, many more found Chocolat, with Depp as a gypsy wooing Juliette Binoche, disarming and charming and Oscar worthy.

Here’s what Depp (who cameos as the lip-smacking pederast wolf in Into the Woods ) has lined up in the near future: London Fields, an adaptation of the Martin Amis novel, starring Depp’s current companion, Amber Heard, as the clairvoyant femme fatale; Kevin Smith’s teen party romp Yoga Hosers (OK, this is going to bomb) and Black Mass, the true crime story of Whitey Bulger. Depp stars as the infamous Boston mobster, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Kevin Bacon and Joel Edgerton join in for the fun. The director, Scott Cooper, did Crazy Heart, which won Jeff Bridges his Oscar. Maybe one – or more – of these will find an audience, and people will stop picking on Depp. And if they all do fizzle out at the multiplexes,  well,  let Charlie Mortdecai saunter off into the sunset with his walking stick and his mustache and his ascot and his faux upper crust accent and what little dignity he has. Johnny Depp, we knew him when he was cool.
POSTED: Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 5:27 PM
Patricia Arquette contemplates her future, in "Boyhood."

“I feel like I’ve watched this really strange shift in cinema over the course of my career,” Patricia Arquette observed, back last summer when Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, the 12-years-in-the-making movie about a kid growing up and the family growing up around him, was just rolling into theaters across the land. “I’ve seen it become a business of bankers and spreadsheets,” she added, noting that “the way that Rick chose to make this movie — the structure, the collaborative openness” was a reaction against a formula-following, demographic-driven industry.

“There are philosophical elements about the human connection, there is space for human relationships” in Boyhood, Arquette affirmed. Her performance, as a struggling single mom who makes some bad choices with the men in her life, and some good choices when it comes to raising her son (Ellar Coltrane) and daughter (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s kid), brings heartfelt specificity to challenges that working parents face everywhere, every day.

Arquette, an Emmy winner and Golden Globe nominee for her starring role on the NBC mystery series, Medium, said that signing up for Boyhood, in which the cast would shoot for a few weeks every year, as Coltrane’s character evolved from grade school to college dorm, was a daunting commitment. “It was jumping into the void from the get-go.”

POSTED: Thursday, January 15, 2015, 9:20 AM
Michael Keaton in "Birdman."

Birdman, a breathless backstage drama starring Michael Keaton as a fading Hollywood star trying to reclaim his career, and his soul, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s between-the-wars screwball romp, tied with nine nominations apiece  as the list of films and filmmakers vying for the 87th Academy Awards were announced this morning in Beverly Hills.

Rounding out the eight (out of a possible ten) best picture contenders: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash. The Imitation Game came away with eight nominations,  and American Sniper and Boyhood followed with six each.

In the best actor race, Keaton, who made his screen debut in 1978, in the Joan Rivers-directed Rabbit Test, received his first Academy Award nomination. The Birdman star is up against Steve Carell for his transformative take on Newtown Square multimillionaire John du Pont in Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper as the Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle in American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch as the British codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and Eddie Redmayne as  Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Keaton’s role is the sole fictional character in the bunch. And a surprise snub: no nomination for David Oyelowo, who stars as  Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma.

POSTED: Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 4:55 PM

It’s one of the basic rules of Hollywood: if a film, or a formula, hits big, do it again. And again. And sometimes you don’t even wait to see if it’s a hit before you knock it off. That seems to be the case with the two Kevin Hart titles in the winter release lineup. In The Wedding Ringer, opening Friday, the Philly funnyman plays a guy who hires himself out to loser dudes who don’t have a best man for their wedding. Josh Gad is said dude, and thus a buddy comedy is born.

In Get Hard, opening March 27, Hart plays  a car wash employee hired by prison-bound (very) white collar criminal Will Ferrell to school him on how to survive life behind bars, assuming that Hart’s character has done time because of his “low income status” -- or as Hart puts it in the trailer, “I was being black.” And thus, a buddy comedy is born.

Here are three more Hart pairings we’d like to see:

POSTED: Wednesday, January 7, 2015, 4:35 PM
Roger Ebert gazes at a screen.

During an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Bill Murray -- there to promote his crowd-pleasing character piece, St. Vincent, and to be feted by the whole town during “Bill Murray Day” – remembered a Roger Ebert moment from earlier in the fellow Chicagoans’ careers.

“It was at Cannes, and I had done some movie like Broken Flowers which people were liking as a film, as acting," Murray recalled about the 2005 Jim Jarmusch indie. "And they said, 'Your acting is like almost invisible, it’s so good' — they were being nice, saying things like that.

“And I said, `That’s funny, because I was told a long time ago that I should not even be allowed to make anything but comedies -- ever.’ And Roger, who was sitting there, fell right into it, and said, `Who said that?’

POSTED: Wednesday, December 31, 2014, 1:20 PM
What's everybody lookin' at? Furious 7, comin' at ya.

If you haven’t bought your 2015 planner yet, or entered the big days into your smart phone, now’s a good time to get going – and to start planning for the movie events of 2015. A few earth-shakingly significant dates:

Jan. 11: Golden Globes are handed out, stealing thunder from the Oscars, the nominees for which are announced…

Jan. 15: Look for Birdman, Boyhood and Selma to pick up multiple nods.

POSTED: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 5:00 PM

Unless Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, Gizzardgulper and Bonecruncher get wind of the project and hire a team of hackers to do serious cyber-mischief, there should be no problem when Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl children’s book, The BFG, hits theaters in the summer of 2016. The story, about an orphan who befriends a Big Friendly Giant (thus the titular acronym), is one of Dahl’s most popular. It was made into an animated feature (released in 1989) and has often been mounted as a stage play. Now, a movie -- with Spielberg set to start production early in the new year.

While casting for the aforementioned evil giants has not yet been announced, Tony-winner Mark Rylance gets the title role, and 10-year-old Ruby Barnhill has been pegged to play Sophie, the heroine.  Spielberg’s track record with unknown kid actors is pretty good:  Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore in E.T., Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun – all have gone on to decent (ha!) Hollywood careers. Dahl, whose granddaughter Sophie was the inspiration for the girl in The BFG, died in 1990, but he (and his estate) have had an amazing run with film adaptations: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971),  Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), James and the Giant Peach and Matilda (both 1996) and The Witches (1990), not to mention a slew of adult stories and novels turned into TV and film projects. Dahl also wrote the screenplays for two Ian Fleming titles: the family-friendly flying car tale, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Sean Connery 007 entry, You Only Live Twice.

POSTED: Thursday, December 11, 2014, 9:38 AM
Michael Keaton and Edward Norton duke it out in "Birdman." (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

If the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s goofy tradition of splitting its best picture and lead acting Golden Globes awards into two categories -- drama and “comedy or musical” – has an upside, it’s in its inclusiveness: Let’s invite everybody to the party. And so, when the nominees for the 72nd Golden Globes were read off Thursday morning, Alejandro Inarritu’s  hugely adventurous Birdman, a backstage drama (yes, a drama -- it’s about suicide and self-redemption, about looking for love and finding the will to go on, and about the transformative power of art, isn’t it?) found itself positioned in the “musical or comedy” slot. And the movie’s star, Michael Keaton, was nominated as best actor in a musical or comedy. Fair enough: there’s music in Birdman, a propulsive jazz drum score, and some classics, too. And certainly there are scenes that will make you smile and laugh – before your heart sinks along with Keaton’s fallen superhero, into a chasm of doom.

That said, Birdman handily landed the most nominations -- seven, including screenplay, musical score, and Edward Norton and Emma Stone in the supporting acting slots. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, followed with five nominations each. And although Gone Girl’s director, David Fincher, was nominated in the directing category, his film was not among the best picture candidates, drama or comedy or musical. Too bad, Gone Girl – best comedy of musical, that would have been a good one.

It’s worth noting that four of the five best actor/drama nominations – Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, David Oyelowo for Selma, and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything --  are for performances based on real-life figures (John du Pont, Turing, Martin Luther King and Stephen Hawking, respectively). Jake Gyllenhaal, as a creepily zealous freelance cameraman in Nightcrawler, was the lone fictional character.

About this blog

Steven Rea has been an Inquirer movie critic since 1992. He was born in London, raised in New York City, and has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Iowa City, Iowa. His column, "On Movies," appears Sundays in Arts & Entertainment, his reviews appear in the Weekend section on Fridays, and his blog, On Movies Online, can be found here. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Steven Rea's previous blog posts can be found here. Read his most recent columns and reviews, here. He is the author of the book “Hollywood Rides a Bike,” and also curates the movie stars and bicycling photo blog, Rides A Bike.

Reach Steven at srea@phillynews.com.

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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