Review: Johnny Depp in “Mortdecai”

mortdecai

There’s just never enough ham on the buffet for Johnny Depp these days. Unfathomable as it seems for anyone who grew up watching him in the ’90s—with his indelible performances in Cry-Baby, Ed Wood, Dead Man, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—Hollywood’s once most dependable weirdo has gone on to become something of a laughingstock—and not by comedic design. Though his work with Tim Burton maintains a degree of authentic strangeness, Depp’s post-Pirates of the Caribbean resume has otherwise seen this former eccentric calcify into rote foolishness and diminishing returns. (It’s no mean feat to be the worst thing in Tusk, a Kevin Smith movie.) A man’s gotta stay in fancy scarves and bracelets, sure—but at what cost?

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2014 in Review: “Lucy”, “Stray Dogs”

lucy Having essayed a near-future operating system (Her) and an intergalactic man harvester (Under the Skin), Scarlett Johansson capped her unofficial post-human trilogy in style as a hot-pants-wearing drug mule turned…pure, transcendent consciousness? If Under the Skin saw Johansson’s E.T. unraveling to the grisly reality of the human condition, her transformation in Lucy happens almost in reverse, as Lucy races from the corporeal to the cosmic while effectively shedding all that is human. That director Luc Besson—who hasn’t been this much fun since his halcyon days of Leon and The Fifth Element—walks a tightrope between the absurd and the sublime is all the more impressive, mirroring Lucy’s metamorphosis by moving, with elastic formality, from low-rent gangster thriller to goofy nature documentary to riffs on Malick and Kubrick. The most amazing thing about Lucy, though, is Johansson herself: If there’s a more affecting performance all year than the scene where she recalls the sensations of infancy to her mother—over the phone, while on the operating table—then I didn’t see it. It just goes to prove something that Besson has hinted at in his films all along: the future is female.

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Review: Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan”

efdfdsfdsLeviathan, the pitch-black new film from Elena director Andrey Zvyagintsev, is bookended by montages of startling, almost cosmically withering imagery. Chilled to prehistoric temperature in the blues and grays of Mikhail Krichman’s photography, it opens wide in a god’s-eye view of a distant coastline, before peeling back layers of landscape until they take on a recognizably human dimension—not unlike a series of colossal Russian dolls unnesting to reveal a decaying center, with its evidence of life and industry blotting the terrain. It’s the Malickian equivalent of Will Smith wisecracking “Welcome to Earth,” and the next two hours are the accompanying punch in the face—in glorious, acerbic slow motion. Continue reading