Sunday, October 31, 2010

Flick of the Week: That's not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it?

This week’s Flick of the Weeks takes us with Johnny Depp from his bit part as Learner in Platoon to his role of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.220px-Pirates_of_the_Caribbean_movie

A funny thing happened when Pirates of the Caribbean came out: everyone suddenly realised that Johnny Depp was the biggest star going around – a guy who could act, but also could carry a blockbuster.

Prior to POTC, Depp was pretty much most known in film as the go-to-guy for Tim Burton. He was the guy who had a chance at major teen-fandom with 21 Jump Street and turned it down. He was the guy who had been engaged to a string of Hollywood actresses – Sherilyn Fenn, Kate Moss, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder (the latter of course the reason for his “Winona forever” tattoo, that is now famously “Wino forever”. 

He was well known, but he was edgy, on the outer, more at home in a film that would make people think “huh?” than it would have them lining around the block to see.

Here’s his US box office prior to POTC:

Cry-Baby…………………..……………………….$8,266,343
Edward Scissorhands………………………$56,362,352
Benny and Joon……………………………….$23,261,580
What's Eating Gilbert Grape……………$10,032,765
Ed Wood…………………………………………….$5,887,457
Don Juan de Marco…………………………..$22,150,451
Arizona Dream………………………………….$112,547
Nick of Time……………………………………..$8,175,346
Dead Man…………………………………………..$1,037,847
Donnie Brasco…………………………………..$41,909,762
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas………$10,680,275
The Astronaut's Wife……………………….$10,672,566
Sleepy Hollow……………………………………$101,071,502
The Ninth Gate………………………………...$18,661,336
Chocolat…………………………………………….$71,509,363
Before Night Falls……………………………..$4,242,892
Blow……………………………………………………$52,990,775
The Man Who Cried………………………….$747,092
From Hell…………………………………………..$31,602,566

That is not a record that would have Hollywood suits salivating.

The standard rule in Hollywood is the Tom-Cruise rule – ie do one for money and then one for art – So you have him do Mission: Impossible then Jerry Maguire then Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia then Mission: Impossible II – everybody is happy and the star gets to feel like he is a real artist.

Depp seemed to forget about doing the one for the money. Yeah Nick of Time was an action film, but given it was done in real time, it was a bit of a gimmicky one. But other than that? Sleepy Hollow was the only one that got over $100m – the bare minimum to be classed a hit. And yet for Nick of Time and Donnie Brasco he was apparently paid $5 million.  Madness I hear you say. Well yes, but Donnie Brasco took $83 million in the rest of the world – you think they were all just going to see Al Pacino in his decline? 

Depp was a star who didn’t appear in movies that stars were meant to appear in, but it didn’t matter we – and Hollywood – knew he was a star. He just has it. There’s no other way to describe it, but he’s got it, and others, like say Matthew Modine do not.

And so along comes this mad idea to make a film based on a ride at Disneyland – and let’s be brutally honest, a pretty dull ride at that. 185px-Carolco

And what is more it is to be a pirate movie. The biggest grossing pirate movie prior to POTC? Cutthroat Island (starring Matthew Modine) which cost $98 million to make and brought in a stunning $10 million. How bad was its performance? Well it bankrupted Carolco Pictures, so I think we can put it down as a loss.

When word came that Disney were doing this film many were ready to scoff and gag – especially as it was going to cost $140 million to make.
But there were a few things that made you stop and think: Geoffrey Rush was in it, and Rush was not known for appearing in crap. Kiera Knightly was in it, and coming off her breakout role in Bend it Like Beckham you just knew Hollywood was desperate to get her in a hit. And Legolas himself, Orlando Bloom, was in it – so you had to figure there’d be a few teenage girls who would see it anyway, so it surely couldn’t bomb. The screenwriters were also intriguing – Ted Elliott and Terry Rosio had done Shrek, so you knew they could have fun with genres. 

But most of all Johnny Depp was in it.

He was a star, but he didn’t appear in Hollywood schlock, so you felt safe going to see this – it was as though Depp (and Rush) was letting you know this one was going to be done well – a blockbuster with intelligence perhaps – or at the very least some wit.

And it was.

The story about pirates who are cursed and who need to get the blood of the son of one of their crew and also the final piece of gold returned is all nice and everything, but you don’t really care too much, you just enjoy the ride. And that is the crucial element of pirate movies – they have to be fun. They can’t be deep or attempt to say things about our culture (as for example westerns can), they are just the purest adventure film. Captain Blood, Treasure Island, The King’s Pirate (a personal favourite of mine as a kid) are just good fun, and POTC has this in spades.

The fun is not so much the action (though the opening sword fight between Depp and Bloom is joyous to watch), it is through the zippy lines delivered with relish by Depp and Rush.

Depp so revolutionised how pirates are viewed that when Opera Australia did a revival of The Pirates of Penzance, Anthony Warlow essentially played the Pirate King as Jack Sparrow. 

Bloom is as good as he can be (you can take that anyway you want), Knightly is an excellent 21st century damsel in distress. But the film belongs to Rush and Depp. When they are on the screen you really don’t give a damn about anyone else – they are two actors appearing in a blockbuster but knowing just what tone to adopt. They are like two “serious novelists” who decide to write a potboiler pageturner and who end up showing everyone that lowbrow doesn't mean low quality.

Depp absolutely deserved his Best Actor nomination. He carried the film and made it a blockbuster in a manner perhaps only Russell Crowe in Gladiator has done in the last 20 years (we can now add Robert Downey Jr to that list for Iron Man, but that was helped by the actual fan base of the comic – unlike Depp’s and Crowe’s films) .

And bingo, Depp was suddenly the biggest star on the planet. Here’s his US box office since POTC:

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl……..$305,413,918
Once Upon a Time in Mexico………………………………………………..$56,359,780
Secret Window………………………………………………………………………..$48,022,900
Finding Neverland………………………………………………………………….$51,680,613
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory……………………………………….$206,459,076
The Libertine………………………………………………………………………….$4,835,065
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest…………………………$423,315,812
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End……………………………..$309,420,425 
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street……………..$52,898,073
Public Enemies……………………………………………………………………….$97,104,620
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus……………………………….$7,689,607
Alice in Wonderland…………………………………………………………….…$334,191,110

imageTalk about doing one for money and one for art. And yet even the ones he does for art – Finding Neverland, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sweeny Todd, Public Enemies do more money than did his films before POTC.
What’s up next for Depp? A thriller with Angelina Jolie (just about the female version of Depp) The Tourist (out in December – expect it to do very well), then a decidedly odd animated film called Rango (directed by Gore Verbinski how directed POTC), then a film based on a novel by Hunter S Thompson (The Rum Diary).

And to follow up that bit of weird, indie fun? Why strap yourselves in me hearties, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean 4 – the first of the series to not have Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightly (it does have Rush of course) .  

Wherever his career takes him from here, it is hard to see him faltering. Unlike Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise you expect him to be able to make the transition from star to older, supporting actor easily. Because he is a guy who made a career out of appearing in interesting films, he’ll be able to keep doing it for many years to come.
Pirates of the Caribbean–Trailer
Previous Flicks of the Week:
Platoon – Willem Dafoe
Inside Man – Clive Owen
Gosford Park – Robert Altman
The Player – Tim Robbins
Bull Durham – Kevin Costner
Field of Dreams – Ray Liotta
Goodfellas – Samuel L Jackson
Pulp Fiction – Frank Whaley
Swimming with Sharks – Kevin Spacey
Working Girl – Sigourney Weaver
Aliens – Bill Paxton
Apollo 13 – Ron Howard
American Graffiti – Richard Dreyfus 
The Graduate – Dustin Hoffmann
All the President’s Men – Jason Robards
Once Upon a Time in the West – Henry Fonda
Mister Roberts – Jack Lemmon
Some Like it Hot – Billy Wilder
Witness for the Prosecution – Marlene Dietrich
Touch of Evil – Orson Welles
The Third Man – Trevor Howard
Brief Encounter - David Lean
Lawrence of Arabia – Claude Reins
Casablanca – Humphrey Bogart
The Big Sleep – Howard Hawks
His Girl Friday – Cary Grant
Charade – John Williams
Schindler’s List – Liam Neeson
Love Actually – Emma Thompson
Sense and Sensibility – Ang Lee
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Michelle Yeoh
Tomorrow Never Dies – Pierce Brosnan
The Thomas Crown Affair – Renee Russo
In the Line of Fire – Clint Eastwood
Where Eagles Dare – Richard Burton
Zulu – Stanley Baker
The Guns of Navarone – Peter Yates
Breaking Away – Dennis Quaid
The Right Stuff – Ed Harris
The Rock – Sean Connery
The Longest Day – Richard Beymer
West Side Story – Ernest Lehmann
North By Northwest - The first one

5 comments:

jude said...

Oh dear. Yes, the actors were all good, except Bloom. But I thought it was crap I'm afraid. Just rubbish. But well-done rubbish. I was glad when it was finished. Maybe I just don't do blockbusters, but piles of special FX and smartarse yanky punchlines is very been-there-done-that isn't it?

Greg Jericho said...

yes - been there done it, but usually not been there done it very well. I thinkthis was - the sequels though... *shudder*

Lad Litter said...

I wish I'd seen POTC before I heard Depp had based his characterization on Keith Richard. Would I have worked it out otherwise? Maybe. But if he'd based it on Brian Jones, no worries.

Anonymous said...

"I wish I'd seen POTC before I heard Depp had based his characterization on Keith Richard. Would I have worked it out otherwise?"

It was pretty obvious, we all piled out of the cinema saying pretty much that.

Re Orlando Bloom. i was lucky enough to see The Return of the King on the first night at a Multiplex in Pasadena, LA, the mixture of teenage girls and Tolkien fanatics counts as one of my all time fav cultural dissonance moments.

I Continue to love your work Grog.
dylan

jreidy said...

yeah, this was a great movie and the second - though a bit long, was even better.
They really did the humour well.