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And the best actor award goes to……

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

The post is a tribute to one of the greatest actors of our generation.  Obviously, he is very popular in the west, but somehow I find, here in India, he is not the HOT favorite or let’s say, ‘top of the mind’ . At one time it was ‘Al Pacino’ or ‘Robert De Niro’  and a generation back, it was a ‘Tom Cruise’ or a ‘Brad Pitt’ and now, maybe it is ‘Matt Damon’ or still better – Leonardo Di Caprio, but not the guy I am talking about – at least not that easily. He has been there since the Cruise-Pitt era and has also acted along with both Leo and Al Pacino.

I first saw him in ‘Edward scissor hands’ in 1993-94, maybe when I was in 6th standard on ‘STAR Movies’.  I liked the movie very much. I don’t remember much of the movie nor his acting to comment (nor is a 6th std guy qualified enough, I suppose, to comment).  By now, you must have understood, whom I am referring to – its none other than JOHNNY DEPP.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS started what is one of the most longstanding and fruitful partnerships of all time. i.e. between Johnny and Tim Burton. Tim Burton, known for his dark, stylized picturizations and some ‘out-of-the-world’ themes and who better than the man himself- Johnny Depp.

SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) was another great movie by the actor director duo. The movie, though a horror movie delves the fine line of scientific belief and the supernatural. And Depp’s performance as the New York constable with the just the right amount of fear and conviction on his face adds a lot of suspense to the story and the theme.

In 2005 came CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLAT FACTORY, an adaptation of the book by the same name. This time, Tim Burton uses his skills of visual imagination a bit too much and the result is quite boring to an adult viewer. Children might still like it. Depp’s performance as Willy Wonka saved the day, I must say. Overall, the film was received much positively as compared to the 1971 adaptation.

Then came, SWEENY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – one of the best movies I have ever seen. Through this, Tim Burton goes back to his dark and gory days and that too to such an extent that there is blood all over the place. The movie is a musical and Depp has even rendered his  voice to many of the songs. He took special vocal training for the same. The result is quite commendable. Depp’s acting has been stellar to say the least. The calm faced, yet evil barber goes about taking his revenge in a very strange way. The climax is also wonderful. Johnny Depp received his third Academy Award nomination for the film.

The last released movie of this combo was ALICE IN WONDERLAND in 2010. The movie was not that great. Neither were the 3D effects too good. But Depp as the Mad Hatter in the small role he has obtained still manages to steal the show.

ED WOOD (1994) and CORPSE BRIDE (2005) are their two films which I have not seen and plan to do so at the earliest.

Now some non Tim burton movies …..

NINTH GATE (1999) directed by Roman Polanski (of The Pianist fame) is one of the best mystery-thrillers of all time. The movie in more ways than one is similar to Da-Vinci code and explores the connect between books and the supernatural in an interesting manner and Depp, considering he was just 36 at that time, plays the part of an aging Book Dealer very well. The movie is a must watch, though somehow it didn’t get the kind of feedback which was expected.

CHOCOLAT (2000) directed by Lasse Hallström has Johnny Depp in what you may call an extended guest appearance. The movie truly belonged to Juliet Binoche (for which she won the academy award for the best actress). The chocolate symbolizes guilty pleasure and discusses how humans tend to associate certain feelings and emotions with sin. It also teaches a lesson or two about how a single lady’s conviction and determination is able to change the life of an entire village.

FROM HELL (2001) is another great film about Jack the ripper. Depp who plays the role of a troubled police officer who investigates this particular case has done a brilliant job. Heather Graham, whom I have generally seen in insignificant roles has also done a brilliant job in the film. The film, a bit gory in terms of murder (and of course, keeping in mind what Jack the ripper does) may not be suitable for the feeble hearted, but is really worth a watch.

2001 also saw Depp play the role of George Jung in the biopic BLOW. Depp has done a brilliant job and has tried to portray a real life character (unlike other films, this character is very much in the twentieth century).  The film being a biopic is quite monotonous and ends on a sad note. But I must say, the ways of George Jung were very interesting though. Penelope Cruz being relatively new to English films has not got a substantial role. The film also has Franka Potente (The German actress of Run Lola Run fame).

FINDING NEVERLAND in 2004 saw the coming together of two actors – both best in the business – Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp and incidentally Depp  and not Winslet (who was nominated for Eternal sunshine… the same year) got an academy award nomination for the film. The film is again a semi-biographical one about J M BARRIE, the dramatist who created Peter Pan. It has really inspiring performances from the whole cast including the boys playing Kate WInslet’s children.  The film has its fun parts and also the emotional ones and truly, it is one of the best films of all time. The film got a number of academy award nominations in categories like Best picture, Best adapted screenplay, art direction, film editing and costume design.

SECRET WINDOW was another 2004 movie from Depp. The thriller is based on the much tried and tested formula of dual personality and even a very inspired acting from Depp is not able to save the day. The film is adapted from a Stephen King Novel and there is not much you could do about the story line – and hence the benefit of the doubt.

Jumping to 2009, Johnny Depp once again acted in a sort of a biopic enacting the American gangster John Dillinger in PUBLIC ENEMIES. The film also starred CHRISTIAN BALE, as his archrival. Truly speaking, I found the film thoroughly boring and only the beautiful MARION COTILLARD was able to catch my attention a bit.

I kept the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN towards the end because I know most of you must have already seen all the three movies, that too multiple times. Talking of the POTC franchise, the 1st one – THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL was the best of the lot and it earned an academy award nomination for our very own JACK SPARROW aka JOHNNY DEPP. The DEAD MAN’S CHEST and AT WORLD’s END depended way too much on special effects and chaotic story telling rather than good movie making skills. Nevertheless,  JACK SPARROW has become so symbolic of POTC franchise that the owners have now decided to do away with some of the dead weight – i.e. ELIZABETH SWANN (Kiera Knightley) and WILL TURNER (Orlando Bloom). The fourth one in the series – ON STRANGER’S TIDES is set for a 2011 series and will also feature my favorite PENELOPE CRUZ.

In short, Johnny Depp – the man with 3 academy award nominations but yet to win one is really the best of the generation. His acting skills are such that most of the characters whether real like George Jung or JM Barrie or the imaginary ones like Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka or The Mad Hatter simply can’t be imagined being played by other actors. He plays the role, gets into the character and takes away the character for himself. Period.

The entertainment weekly poll has resulted in Depp topping the Most Powerful Entertainers of 2010 category ahead of even Will Smith and Leonardo Di Caprio. Very deserving indeed.

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Mind over Matter or Mind over Machine?

June 25, 2010 10 comments

Welcome back. The post again is about movies and here I am going to discuss three seemingly very different movies but which according to me have a common thread. It is about those movies which go into a virtual world, access to which is through our own brain. And this access is by connecting the brain to a particular machine or system. The movies are THE MATRIX (1999), VANILLA SKY(2001) and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004). All the three movies belong to different genres altogether. While the Matrix is a science fiction – action thriller, Vanilla Sky is a science fiction – psychological thriller. Now comes the most interesting combo. A science fiction – Romantic film. Seems unlikely? Well, Eternal….is indeed one of its kind.

The question arises – ‘Why this particular type of movies ?’. Being a Nolan fan, am waiting with bated breath for the release of ‘Inception’ featuring Leonardo. It is again about getting into the dreams and sharing dream space though I am not sure about the passage through mind – is it through a machine or is it telepathic? Thus I am tempted to do a comparison of these films. Also, two of the movies feature in Pratik’s suggested list as a reply on the last post.

Coming back, lets discuss the plotline of the three movies. Matrix – The movie is set in 1999 where the main protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) who is computer programmer is approached by some hackers who want him to understand ‘The matrix’. It turns out that matrix is a virtual system built by machines for controlling the humans and all that Neo is seeing is the virtual world. Outside the matrix, it is a post 2199 era where the bodies of all humans are being used by the machines for their body heat and bio electrical energy.  The hackers – Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are people in the real world who help unplug Humans from the matrix. Morpheus believes that Neo is the ‘ONE’ (word play of NEO) who is capable of saving the humans from the matrix. Over the course of the movie and the two sequels, NEO helps save the world not before we see a lot of mind blowing action sequences. These scenes were first of their kind and are still being aped the world over in many action movies.

Vanilla Sky talks about David Aames (Tom Cruise), a rich spoilt brat who starts seeing Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz). His previous partner Julianna (Cameron Diaz) becomes jealous of them and crashes the car (carrying David and Julianna) on intent because of which David’s face is disfigured . Jullianna dies in the car crash. David loves Sofia but she does not seem to have the same feelings for him. Though eventually she comes to him and helps him recover and have a successful plastic surgery. But later on, he starts seeing weird things, starts seeing Julianna replacing Sofia sometimes. He is also stalked by a strange man who keeps giving him warnings. I won’t be revealing any further, go figure out the rest of the movie for yourselves…..

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind  – The story starts on a train where Joel Barish (Jim Carrey)  and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) meet for the first time. They have an instant liking towards each other. We are slowly taken to flashback, where it is revealed that both were ex-lovers and Clementine had hired the services of Lacuna Inc to erase memories of Joel permanently. Joel is heartbroken and is left with no other choice but to erase his own memory. He goes to Lacuna Inc and applies for a selective memory removal – all memories of Clementine are to be removed permanently.  The employees of Lacuna connect a computer to Joel’s brain and start the procedure. The story then revolves around how once the process starts, Joel is reluctant to part with his memories mind and how he fights back to retain some of their sweet moments together.

All the three movies are complex to a great extent but some of them try and explain the logic to the viewer.  While in Matrix and Eternal ….., the concept of mind-machine interface is introduced early on in the movie, vanilla sky does a great job by holding back the explanation till the very end. It’s a different thing altogether that rather than letting the viewer decipher things himself, he is spoon-fed the whole logic in the last 5 minutes. The matrix is pretty simple to understand and Keanu’s hairstyle gives us a fair idea whether it’s the real world or virtual world. In Eternal, one is expected to be on his toes while watching because of the non-linear style of narration and the continuous movement between the real world and the world of memories.

Though Matrix might seem the oldest of the three, Vanilla sky is the remake of Spanish movie OPEN YOUR EYES(1997) (Abre los ojos) starring Penelope. Also movies like DARK CITY (1998) and THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (1999), though not very popular had started exploring the virtual world.

Talking about success of the films, ‘The Matrix’ as everyone knows has achieved a cult status, has a high ranking of 26 in IMDB and has also won 4 Academy awards – for film editing, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects. Eternal….has reached a high 59 rank in IMDB and film won the Academy award for Best original Screenplay. Kate Winslet got an Academy award nomination once again (She’s got 6 till now and she won at the 6th attempt for THE READER).Vanilla Sky has not got many good reviews (a number of negative reviews by top critics on rotten tomatoes) and it got an average IMDB ranking. But nevertheless, it was a commercial hit.

Few words on casting. None of the main actors were the original choice in The matrix. While many actors were approached before Keanu (one of them was Will Smith), Sean Connery  and Sandra Bullock were approached for the role of Morpheus and Trinity respectively. Vanilla Sky featured all top actors and in a sense was a sure hit. Penelope had just begun her career in English films and Cruise’s affair with Cruz ( J) helped generate a lot of publicity. And finally for Eternal…, both feature in my top 5 list of favourites. While Carrey did a stupendous job, performing in a serious role (not doing his rubber faced comedy, his forte), Kate Winslet stole the show completely. In fact, this role helped Carrey establish himself as an ‘actor’ in the real sense of the term for the first time and not just a comedian.

Personally, I liked Eternal Sunshine … the most. Only thing I did not like about the film is ‘oh so long’ title. I liked this movie the most probably because I am biased towards Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. On a serious note, it’s really difficult to bring science fiction into a romantic theme and the effort was totally worth it. The results are there for you to see.

PS: I had planned to write a post on RAAVAN. But now that the film has bombed, may it RIP.

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