Traditional wisdom has it that January is a dumping ground for bad movies.
“Everyone is broke after shelling out for Christmas presents,” the studios say. “The weather is crappy and anyone leaving the house is going to the gym instead of the movies,” complain the suits.
That’s why clunkers like One for the Money, a Katherine Heigl crime drama with a two per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating and Season of the Witch — which saw Nicolas Cage go all medieval on the forces of evil and strain his credibility as an actor — made the lives of critics and audiences miserable on long, cold winter nights in bygone Januarys. Why waste good movies when no one was likely to go?
Years ago studios threw the odd quality film into the January mix — Traffic, Good Will Hunting, Before Sunrise, Dr. Strangelove and Silence of the Lambs—but every good movie like Matinee (92 per cent on RT) was balanced out with a stinker like Body of Evidence and its paltry six per cent rating.
There is still that yin and yang as last week’s releases of The Boy Next Door and Mortdecai (two movies that will decorate Worst Of the Year lists) proves, but the tide seems to be changing. Perhaps that’s why Project Almanac, a time-travel drama from producer Michael Bay, moved from a prime July release date to the barren January slate. Surely Bay, as savvy a player as Hollywood has, wouldn’t allow his movie to be tossed out with the trash.
The reason given for the schedule move was that Bay himself wanted to sprinkle some of his Transformers’ fairy dust to pump up the film’s appeal to young audiences. But it’s also apparent that a micro-budget movie like Project Almanac, even with Bay’s name attached, could get lost in a summer filled with large-scale offerings like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, so why not release in a less crowded, but increasingly profitable field?
What used to be a time to fill screens with borderline cheesefests has become a viable month to release a movie.
Last year big crowds braved the polar vortex to help the Kevin Hart comedy Ride Along set a January opening record. This year the Oscar-nominated Selma and Still Alice have opened wide in a month usually reserved for Golden Raspberry winners. Perhaps the biggest story of 2015 so far is the success of Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle biopic, American Sniper, which has raked in upwards of $170 million in just two weeks. The success of that film is as strong an indicator as Hollywood needs that January is no longer a no-go zone.
There are dozens of biographies on Johnny Depp and a surprising amount of them use the word “rebel” in the title. There’s the Passionate Rebel, the Modern Rebel and even Hollywood’s Best-Loved Rebel.
There can be no argument that Depp is a fearless actor, unafraid to tackle tough, challenging roles, but it’s hard to accept the rebel title these days. For 20 years, he wildly threw darts at the wall, making exciting movies with interesting directors.
With Tim Burton, he created the off-kilter Eds — Wood and Scissorhands. With John Waters, he produced Wade Walker, the greaser love interest in Cry-baby. And, with Lasse Hallström, he came up with Gilbert Grape, caregiver to his brother and morbidly obese mother.
Along the way, he was also Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the world’s most successful drug dealer in Blow, and the depraved poet at the dark heart of The Libertine.
Few actors could have pulled off Ed Wood and no one does debauched like Johnny, but the carefully cultivated hip outsider image was never truly accurate. Shrouded in a cloud of Gauloise smoke, he was one of Hollywood’s too-cool-for-school kids, emitting an outsider’s aura, while astutely playing the Hollywood game.
But any remaining traces of Depp’s bohemian status were wiped away with Captain Jack Sparrow’s colourful scarves in the tetralogy of Pirates of the Caribbean movies. They made him a superstar, and wealthy enough to buy Bahamian islands, but also ushered in the damaging wig and makeup era of his career.
The pale makeup of Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland’s crazy oversized hat, and the raven headdress of The Lone Ranger overshadowed Depp’s performances, obscuring his character work with props and flash.
This weekend, he hides behind a moustache in the comedy Mortdecai.
As the title character, he’s pompous, bumbling — imagine Inspector Clouseau with an English accent and an attitude — and on a worldwide hunt for a painting said to contain the code to a lost bank account.
Will people be attracted to Mortdecai? Hard to know. Depp’s showy performances have, by-and-large, garnered big box office but profitability, while important to the suits who green light projects like this, is exactly what’s killing Depp’s credibility as a serious actor.
He’s not in Nicolas Cage territory yet — there’s an actor whose Western Kabuki style of acting redefines idiosyncratic — but with Pirates of the Caribbean 5 coming soon, perhaps it’s time to put Depp’s rebel actor image or reliance on props to bed.
Beware The Quirk! The Killer of Careers! The fearful beast is known to inhabit Southern California and frequently seen lurking in the Hollywood Hills. Easily recognizable by its overuse of make-up, strange facial hair and flamboyant dress, The Quirk lives off schtick and frequently speaks in a funny voice, seducing its victims—usually actors—with a siren song of bad jokes and vocal tics.
Johnny Depp has been outrunning The Quirk for years, narrowly missing the beast’s bony grip. Until now. The Quirk has finally claimed Depp, leaving behind a mass of exaggerated accents, silly walks, gapped teeth and lurid lip hair known as “Mortdecai.”
Based on “The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery” by Kyril Bonfiglioli, the movie stars Depp in the title role as a wealthy art dealer with a taste for the finer things in life, an obsessive habit of grooming his facial hair and a nearly empty bank account. He’s pompous, bumbling—imagine a jet-setting Inspector Clouseau with an English accent and an attitude—and on a worldwide hunt for a rare Goya painting said to contain the code to a lost bank account filled with Nazi gold. Along for the ride are Mortdecai’s his trusty cockney manservant Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), Gwyneth Paltrow as Lady Johanna Mortdecai, Ewan McGregor as an MI5 agent and Jeff Goldblum as a “thick-fingered vulgarian.”
“Mortdecai” breathes the same air as “The Pink Panther” movies, with an added nod to the 1967 “Casino Royale,” an all-star heist movie most notable for featuring both Woody Allen and Orson Welles on the same marquee, but gets lightheaded when it comes to replicating the easy-breezy tone of those films. Capers flicks of a bygone era had a swingin’, hip feel of controlled chaos not overplayed farce but Depp is pedal-to-the-metal, quirking-it-up in a display completely without charm and worse, without wit. He sets the mood for the film—daft, overly mannered, arch and unfunny—and his preening feeds The Quirk, but leaves the audience hungry for laughs.