Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of J K

blogger, blogging, book blogger, book blogging, books, childhood, childhood favourite, film blogger, film blogging, Harry Potter, J K Rowling, Johnny Depp, LGBTQ+, rant, rants

DSCN6734So it’s been quite a while since I had a good old-fashioned rant about JK Rowling, hasn’t it. But now, only a few weeks after JK Rowling and David Yates caused a stir by brushing off the controversy surrounding Johnny Depp’s continued presence in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, the Harry Potter author is pissing off her fans once again. Over recent years, I’ve sort of become disillusioned with Rowling. Yes, she does a lot of great things and has used her money to aid some fantastic causes. That doesn’t mean she can get away with anything, though. Whether she means to or not, she has allowed herself to gain a certain sense of entitlement that only goes with becoming the world’s richest author. Just look back on the moment when she acted like a victim when it was revealed she had written The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

film blogging, film reviews, films, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, review, reviewing, reviews

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When I first heard about Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie novel Murder on the Orient Express I was super excited. I mean why wouldn’t I be? I adore Agatha Christie, love Hercule Poirot, and will watch anything starring the legend that is Kenny B. Then I saw the first picture of him as the Belgian detective and my excitement started to wane somewhat. That fucking moustache man! It looked like it had been drawn on his face with soft-serve ice cream. I’m all for new interpretations of familiar characters but David Suchet’s moustache is a classic. So slick and proud. I agree that Poirot’s moustache needs to be an impressive statement but I don’t think he’d have made the statement that Branagh appears to be making. Still, it wasn’t enough to put me off wanting to see it. What put me off more was the casting of Johnny Depp. I realise we’ll never know the true story of what happened with him and Amber Heard but I still think Hollywood has brushed it aside too quickly. I’d have preferred him to get a bit of downtime after the accusations… just to let him know he’s not infallible. So I wasn’t really in a rush to see it anyway but then I heard a cavalcade of negative reviews. Although, I knew I couldn’t resist the lure of Kenny B forever though.


animation, audiobook, book haul, books, currently reading, Johnny Depp, Netflix, Penguin Books, recently watched, Will Arnett
Bit of a confession time to start with: I’ve just got Netflix back and it’s meant my amount of reading time has decreased quite a bit. I knew I was going to go back before Season 2 of Stranger Things came out but I’ve so easily fallen back into my usual binge watching. I’ve read a bit but definitely not as much as I should have. I’m definitely blaming work; if I wasn’t so tired I wouldn’t find it so easy to just collapse in front of the TV for hours. It would also mean I’d have finished writing this post hours ago instead of now. Although, to be fair, I have been busy today. I’ve taken my usual load of Instagram photos (with a new Halloween aesthetic – so look out for that) and then I’ve had a good tidy. I’m, once again, trying to sort out my life and get rid of loads of stuff I don’t need anymore. Like clothes I haven’t worn in ages or don’t fit. Eventually I’m going to own a normal amount of items and be able to walk around without having to step over piles of books that take up every inch of available space… but that doesn’t sound too much fun really.

Weekly Bookish Post

  • Classic gothic fiction – where to start?

In my new series of, hopefully, helpful bookish posts, I wrote a handy guide to early gothic fiction. I’ve encountered a few people over the years wondering where to start or having trouble getting into The Mysteries of Udolpho. I use my years studying these novels to suggest a way into these novels.

Currently Reading

  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I’ve read a bit of this recently and am still loving it. If the chapters weren’t so long that I keep falling asleep in the middle of them then I’d be further on by now. However, I put it aside in favour of some more appropriate Halloween reading.

  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Starting with one of my favourite Christie novels. It’s a creepy crime tale that is full of death and intrigue. It also helps that I’m reading the Facsimile edition and it’s pretty fucking spooky. I’m hoping to finish this ASAP before moving on to something else. I’ll also attempt to finish my Dracula audiobook. It’s the Audible exclusive featuring a cast including Alan Cumming and Tim Curry. I’m sure it will be fantastic. 

Recently Purchased 
  • Vintage Penguins

 Another week and another batch of new, old books. This time I’ve found the classic Penguin copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, the iconic Milton Glaser cover of Run, Rabbit Run by John Updike, and, finally, a rare (ish) edition of Island by Aldous Huxley. They’re all gorgeous and I can’t wait to see them in person.

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Rick and Morty, BoJack Horseman
So, after all this time, I finally get Netflix back and what is the first thing I do? Watch the 3rd season of Rick and Morty again. I genuinely think this was the best season so far. It featured the best episode so far (‘The Ricklantis Mixup’) and my least favourite ever episode (‘Morty’s Mind Blowers’). Despite this, it was just a great all round season. The episodes all worked well together and everything was just so entertaining. I can’t wait til the next series comes out in a million years. Then, after having to hear a colleague talk about it recently, I watched the entire new series of BoJack Horseman in a day. I loved it but I’m feeling a bit pyschologically drained. I’m a huge fan of dark comedy but this series was super intense. The episode about BoJack’s mother was fantastic but left me feeling more than a little empty. I definitely think it requires a second watch… just after I’ve got over the first viewing I mean.

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

I watched this for the first time in years for my latest TBT review. Find out what memories it brought up in my review here.

TBT – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Disney, films, fucking creepy, fucking funny, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, pirates, TBT

It’s weird to think, especially after just watching Dead Men Tell No Tales, that Johnny Depp was nominated for a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar for the first POTC film. Yep, Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow was deemed so brilliant and original that it earned the actor his first Academy Award nomination. I guess it’s difficult to think about this now, particularly considering that Depp and Disney are basically just flogging a dead horse with every new outing for the pirate Captain. Sparrow no longer feels like a breath of fresh air but a pathetic attempt to cash in on families and super fans. I guess it’s not just the character either. Back I 2003 I was a huge fan of Johnny Depp. The man was the indie darling who had done so much great work with Tim Burton. His Keith Richards impression single-handedly made pirates sexy again and made it okay for men to wear eyeliner. He showed that he had what it took to be a big Hollywood star and that he could bring in the big bucks. Since then he’s gone further and further off the rails. Look at the films he’s made over the past few years. Loads of over budget passion projects, major flops that he should have passed on, and lots of other forgettable roles. Of course, there’s the accusations of domestic abuse on top of it but it’s not like that’s stopped him. He still managed to land a role in the Fantastic Beasts Franchise and is set to star in the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express even with that cloud over his head. I’m not about to make any moral assumptions about a man I’ve never met but it just sits ill with me that he got no negative feedback from it. Anyway, with this in mind, I think it’s time we go back to a time when Johnny Depp was still an actor that you could love.

Nobody ever expected Pirates of the Caribbean to be a success. I mean, let’s face it, a film based on a super old theme park ride was starting off in a bad way and then there’s the pirates. Prior to its release, there hadn’t been a decent swashbuckling adventure in forever. Then you had the fact that Johnny Depp wasn’t the bankable star back in those days. He was an indie kid who was never expected to be able to carry off a huge blockbuster. Nothing about this film was really playing it safe. Even Orlando Bloom, fresh off his LOTR popularity, was a risk in the lead role. However, as we all know now, the film became on of the highest earning films of 2003. It was loved by audiences and praised by most critics. My friends and I certainly adored it. I mean we were mostly 15 year old girls so the sight of Johnny Depp in eyeliner was something we could all get on board with. This and LOTR definitely helped me become pretty obsessed with men with facial hair.

So the film that was expected to flop ended up creating 4 sequels; most of which made an awful lot of money at the box office. However, none of those films captured the brilliance and fun of the first. The sequels tried so hard to be different but, in doing so, managed to steer away from what made the first one so good. Everything just became bigger, bolder and longer. The plots became even more of a stretch and the characters got lost in the action. Plus, Captain Jack, by then a money making machine, slowly started to edge away from the pack and become more prominent. He’s always been best as the comic relief that works alongside the lead roles. That has never been more apparent than when rewatching the first one.

After all, that film is still incredibly entertaining after 14 years. It is essentially the story of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabth Swann’s (Keira Knightley) turbulent romance, which has to overcome other suitors and a bunch of cursed pirates. When Elizabeth is kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity by the Captain of the Black Pearl (Geoffrey Rush), Will teams up with recently captured Captain Jack to track the ship and rescue her. Turns out, the crew stole a chest of Aztec gold that has left them neither alive or dead and unable to enjoy any of life’s little pleasures. In order for the curse to be lifted a blood sacrifice must be made by all of the crew. Unfortunately, the pirates sent one of their crew to the bottom of the sea before they realised. So they’ve been searching for his child ever since. That’s where our lovebirds step in.

There’s no denying that the first film in the franchise is the best and most entertaining. It may have its flaws but it is the most consistent of the 5 films. I’ll admit that it goes on too long and there is a lot of unnecessary time getting to know supporting characters. I mean I love Jack Davenport and Jonathan Pryce but really don’t think they needed as much screen time as they got. There is too much bloat in this film and the narrative could definitely have been streamlined. There is also a problem with the swashbuckling side. It’s hardly the most exciting sword fighting that we’ve ever seen on screen. It needed to be more spectacular. Instead it’s just forgettable.

Still, there are moments in this film that are just superb. Elizabeth’s first night on the Black Pearl has one of the most entertaining sequences of the entire film. It’s also lovely to go back to a time when Geoffrey Rush actually seemed to be having fun in this role. I know his Captain Barbossa has died numberous times by now but it was just sad looking at how tired he looked in Dead Men Tell No Tales. In Curse of the Black Pearl Barbossa is a terrifying villain who you love to hate. But this film is in no way too scary for its younger audience. Yes, there are a lot of skeletons and references to death but there is much more in the way of humour to keep them on board. After all, this film was all about Johnny Depp unveiling one of the greatest pirates that we had ever seen on screen. Captain Jack is charming, sneaky and hilarious. It’s a shame he’s been worn so thin by every subsequent film that he’s become a sort of parody of himself. Rewatching Curse of the Black Pearl was a bittersweet experience because it reminded me how good this franchise can be but also showed how far it had fallen. I hope Disney have the good sense to just leave it be now but, if history has taught us anything, I highly doubt it.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

bullshit, Disney, fucking awful, fucking ridiculous, fucking stupid, Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, pirates, sequel, unnecessary sequel

Let’s be honest, even leaving the possible domestic abuse to one side, Johnny Depp has well and truly gone rogue in recent years. No offence to the man but he’s kind of a walking parody of himself these days. I mean I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that the actor genuinely believes he is Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s the only thing that explains the fact that he won’t stop making Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Watching the 4th film was painful enough; those fucking mermaids man. Then we have to suffer the indignity of a 5th. It just stinks of desperation. This has been a dying franchise since the 2nd film because, let’s face it, there was only so far you could go making films based on a fucking theme park ride. Yet, Disney keep flogging that dead horse and are back with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. A film that, for some unknown reason, was renamed Salazar’s Revenge in the UK. Now, it was bad enough that I actually watched this film but to have to watch it with this god awful title? That’s too much. So I’m defying my geography and referring only to the superior title. Salazar’s Revenge? For fuck’s sake, that sounds like a really terrible soap opera or something. This is the POTC movie that, basically, nobody asked for so to give it such an underwhelming name for its European distribution just seems like a super bad idea. Although, with the news that a 6th film is dependent on DVD sales it may actually pay off for us in the long term.

It seems to me that there are two types of people in the world. There are those who have slowly but surely grown sick of the same Captain Jack Sparrow shtick that has become so tired and predictable over the last 4 POTC movies. Then there are those with brains so tiny that they’d be endlessly amused just from looking at their own hands. Since the first Pirates of the Caribbean film wowed audiences in 2003 very little has changed about the character. There has been little, if any, development over the span of 4 films and he feels less like a character than a series of mannerisms at this point. We saw, from the disappointing On Stranger Tides, that Jack cannot hold a movie on his own so, to try and reinvent the wheel, the franchises 5th outing is going back to its roots. We see the return of original stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush as well a carbon copy of the plot. All wrapped up in a package that is nowhere near as polished as any of the Gore Verbinski’s three films. So, it was never going to go well.

The powers that be have clearly decided that too much of Captain Sparrow can be bad thing and have, once again, placed him as second fiddle to a couple of bright young things. In this case it is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), offspring of William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer and horologist on a quest to complete her father’s work. Just like the first film, Will and Elizabeth 2.0 are both searching for some sort of mystical McGuffin (in this case it’s Poseidon’s trident) that will, supposedly, solve everyone’s problems. To do this they must ask for the help of everyone’s favourite rock star pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). At the same time, Jack is trying to outrun an old enemy (Javier Bardem) who is seeking both bloody vengeance and an end to his death curse. There’s also the inevitable appearance of the British navy who decide to get mixed up in everything. Dead Men Tell No Tales is clearly trying to recapture the excitement of the first but the ride isn’t as much fun this time round.

The main problem lies in the fact that, the more you examine the plot the less it makes sense. I mean how does Salazar know that Jack’s compass holds the key to his escape? Why, when they do escape, are they unable to step on land? What exactly is Barbossa’s motivation for anything? Why the fuck do British sailors go after the trident? There is so much included in the plot that, when you think about it, doesn’t add anything to the narrative. David Wenham turns up as the face of the British Empire but he has absolutely no impact on anything that happens. This film isn’t a well-crafted masterpiece but is just a series of events that come together to make the ending possible in the most dramatic way. Things need to happen so we can have the cycle of double-crossing that has become a requirement in this franchise. It’s just the most convenient and laziest way of making the story work.

Which, I guess, really isn’t a problem in itself. It’s just that there isn’t enough to distract us. Johnny Depps’ Captain Jack has become super irritating in the past few years so no amount of his weirdness is enough to keep you on board. Even Javier Bardem, who is the greatest Bond villain of recent years, doesn’t feel as invested in the character of Salazar as he should be. The character may be a triumph of CGI but he never feels like the most terrifying of foes. Of course, there are some fine action sequences at the start of the film but as time moves on these become more absurd and confusing. An early sequence that sees Henry save Jack and Carina from being executed is a fabulous sequence in the same vain as the Gore Verbinski era but it quickly just descends into madness. The final showdown is just a mess of CGI with no elegance or coherence.

I was genuinely shocked to discover that this film is actually the shortest in the franchise. It definitely felt longer than any of the previous films. Watching it from start to finish seemed like a fucking marathon. There simply isn’t any life in this franchise anymore. Or at least in the franchise as it once was. I think the days of Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impression are well and truly over. If this is going to continue, and really I don’t think it should, there should be a change of direction. People will try to defend Dead Men Tell No Tales as being mindless entertainment. I defy that statement. This film isn’t mindless entertainment: it’s just mindless.


book haul, books, British, Chris O'Dowd, currently reading, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, pirates, recently watched, Richard Ayoade, sitcom
So, finally, I’ve sorted my computer woes and bought a “new” laptop. I say new but it’s actually just an old, refurbished one that I can use until I figure out what I’m going to do next. Although, I can’t exactly say my woes are over because the screen is cracked/scratched and the seller is being an arse about it. I guess I’m just destined to be a loser when it comes to technology forever. Anyway, we’re here again with another Sunday rundown and, unfortunately, I don’t have much to report. I’ve tried to get further into my current read but I’ve been super tired all week. It’s been touch and go if I was going to make it through a chapter (something I need to do) before I go to sleep until last night when I just couldn’t do it. It’s been leaving me feeling a bit anxious all day so I’m planning on having a good reading sesh tonight. As early as possible to give me enough time to finish.

Currently Reading

  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Still loving this but I just need to get my arse in gear. I’m not reading as much at work so all my book time is pre-bed. It’s not been going so well lately but I really want to finish it asap. I’ve got a huge TBR to get through and loads of books I want to buy.

Recently Purchased 
  • Vintage Penguins

Instagram is both a wonderful and a terrible thing. It makes me so happy to share my book collection with other, interested people and I love seeing other people’s books. However, it does make me more aware that I’m lacking certain things. When planning a recent post I discovered that I didn’t have any purple Penguin books. I decided it was time to rectify that as, now that I’ve also stumbled across a couple of the hard to find grey ones, I only need Purple to complete me Penguin rainbow. The purple are also pretty rare to find these days so I’m extremely excited about this purchase and regret nothing. Despite my new plan to try and stick to a ‘one in one out’ rule that will only let me buy a new book when I finish one. The rate I’m going it’ll be months before I can buy another book!

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges:, IT Crowd, Green Wing
Still not got Netflix back because I’m still trying to read more. Instead I’m still watching some classic British sitcoms on channel 4 catch-up. It’s been great. I finished watching season 2 of Green Wing because I haven’t seen it since it was first on TV. Yes, it’s not as good as the first series but it’s still a fantastically weird show. I love quirky British comedy and this was so different to anything at the time. Now I’ve gone back to the beginning of The IT Crowd. This is the show that really cemented my love of Richard Ayoade and he is undoubtedly wonderful as Moss. There’s something so comforting and familiar about this show and it’s all down to the performances and Graham Linehan’s writing. A classic.

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
I haven’t really liked any POTC film since the first one so I never planned on watching the 5th one. Especially after the 4th was so fucking awful. However, I relented and watched it today. I’ll tell you all about it on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

books, Eddie Redmayne, exceeds expectations, films, fucking sweet, Harry Potter, J K Rowling, Johnny Depp, rant, review

Yesterday I finally saw the next stage in JK Rowling’s plan to dominate the word of literature and film. I mean I have nothing against the woman but everything about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has just screamed of “how can we squeeze more cash out of our loyal fans?” I mean the decision to release the screenplay may be no-nonsense from a financial standpoint but it just seems like a shameless tactic to earn more cash. It kind of feels as though Rowling and her backers just see the Harry Potter fandom as bags of cash and are doing everything in their power to exploit them for continued financial gain. You know me by now; I think Harry Potter should have ended at the final book. It was complete and it was satisfactory. Rowling herself once said she wouldn’t revisit the world again but has continued to prove that was a huge fucking lie. Yes, she gives loads to charity and helps people and I admire her for that. However, her constant flip-flopping on this and inability to leave well alone just makes me lose respect for her. She’s like the literary world’s George Lucas. So I wasn’t exactly convinced I’d come out of Fantastic Beasts feeling much love… especially when the Rogue One trailer showing beforehand gave me literal tingles. I mean my legs actually went numb. I haven’t felt that kind of emotional response to anything Harry Potter related for years. I’ll always be a fan but I’ve been over it for a while now. At least Disney don’t try and pretend that you’re anything but bags of cash in their eyes.

I’ve had a bit of a tough relationship with JK Rowling over the years because of her constant need to present herself in a way that just feels false. She tries to act as though she’s all about her art but she’s still really driven by cash and fame. It’s why we’ll never see and end to her Harry Potter writings and why she’ll continue to allow Warner Bros. to release films in the franchise. She had a huge idea a few years ago and she’s trying to cling onto that high. I get it but I don’t respect it. You need to know when to quit. Before he started getting super annoying and twattish, I really respected Ricky Gervais for knowing when to let go of an idea. He let The Office and Extras go when they were at a high and people love them even more because they never went shit. Harry Potter is in danger of outstaying his welcome.
Still, I love Eddie Redmayne with all my heart so I was quite excited to see him front Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The first film in the quintet introduces us to Newt Scamander, the who will go on to publish a textbook familiar from Harry Potter’s school days. Set in the mid 1920s, Newt (Redmayne) is visiting New York City on an errand. Whilst there his magical suitcase, full of magical beasts, finds itself in the hands of a No-Maj (the American version of muggle), Jacob (Dan Fogler), and some of the contents escape into the city. Before Newt can track down his missing menagerie he is apprehended by ex-auror Tina Goldestein (Katherine Waterston). Tina plans to take Newt and Jacob to her bosses at the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) to help revive her reputation. Unfortunately for the trio, a magical related No-Maj death could derail all of their plans and land Newt and his creatures into even hotter water.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes it’s name from a small book that was released by JK Rowling to raise funds for Comic Relief in 2001. It contained information about the various magical creatures that inhabited the world of Harry Potter. Obviously, the film is not an adaptation, per se, but takes us to the time before Newt began writing his magnum opus. To say that I went in with lowered expectations I actually found the film to be an incredibly welcome entry into Harry Potter canon. Especially after the disgustingly bad Cursed Child. It is helped by a fantastic cast, which to my surprise included Colin Farrell as auror Percival Graves. Eddie Redmayne perfectly encapsulates the character of Newt and is completely believable as the animal lover.  Katherine Waterston manages to do what I felt Emma Watson never quite managed to pull off in her 7 films and provided us with a worthy, young heroine who can hold her own against all those wizards. Tina is fabulous and I want to be her with every fibre of my being. And Ben Fogler is the perhaps the greatest part of the trio as the lovable and clueless Jacob. You bond with him instantly and stay with him as you both learn more about this mysterious wizarding world.
The film is exciting and dark but has the inherent British charm and humour that comes with all of the Harry Potter films. It manages to breathe new life into the franchise by being primarily new and different but with enough similarities that you feel at home. The snippets of the old score coming through or familiar references and in-jokes will give a tug on your heartstrings whilst you’re exploring American wizarding customs. No longer focusing on students, the magic is more powerful and the special effects more exhilarating. There’s a lot going on but director David Yates just about manages to keep control. There are things that characters and plot lines that feel a tad underdeveloped and the whole thing could probably have been a bit shorter but that’s just me nitpicking.
Ultimately, this film made me feel good. It’s the closest I’ve been in years to feeling the same excitement I felt when I was a young Potterhead. It’s sweet, unassuming and just fun. There is a lot in Fantastic Beasts to show that it could be a great addition to the franchise but I can’t help remember The Hobbit. People were up-in-arms about the fact that a short children’s book was being adapted into 3 movies. Now an even smaller book has spurned 5 films and nobody gives a shit. I worry that after a couple more things will be starting to stretch a little. I know Dumbledore avoided fighting Grindlewald for a long time but 5 fucking movies worth? Come on! Plus, I have major issues with the casting Johnny Depp as a key character. I’m really dubious about his abilities these days. He’s too repetitive with his character choices and each of his eccentric characters are just the same person with a different wig. Still, having JK Rowling in charge of the script could actually mean that these films stay on the right course and keep the Potter spirit alive. This film certainly gives me hope.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

cowboy, fucking awful, fucking magic horse, Johnny Depp, reboot, review, television, terrible, Wild West

Just a few months ago, Quentin Tarantino was showing us exactly how you can update the old Western for a modern audience. However, it would show questionable parenting skills if you happily took your 10 year old with you to enjoy the bloody revenge saga. So this can only mean there is a gap in the market for a good, old fashioned family friendly narrative set in the Wild West, right? Well maybe but even if audiences were crying out for a new cowboy hero it certainly can’t have been the Lone Ranger. The original radio series started in 1933 and the television show was popular in the 50s. Not exactly the typical Disney demographic. Nobody has been patiently waiting for this character to get a new outing and, quite frankly, it was always going to be difficult to translate it for a modern world. This isn’t like getting the same freedom you would making a film out of a pirate theme park ride. With something like the Lone Ranger you are forced to stick to certain traditions… even the questionably racist ones. You have to ask who exactly were Disney creating this film for.

Although the answer to that is painfully obvious: Johnny Depp. After director Gore Verbinski put the idea into his head that he could play the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick there was no stopping him. We sat on the sidelines of a production full of drama with its apparently limitless budget, expanding schedule and almost free reign for one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. It’s a horrible example of everything that’s wrong with the industry: throwing money, CGI and big names together with the aim to make nothing more than a bucket load of cash. I’ll admit there was always a part of me that hoped this film would fail as it might start a chain of events to change all that. It is with only a slight amount of joy that it seems my wish was granted. The Lone Ranger was torn apart by critics and opened to disappointing numbers in America. So have audiences simply fallen out of love with Johnny Depp or was it that the Lone Ranger, unlike other recent rebooted franchises, simply has no place in the heart of a modern audience?

The Lone Ranger, in the current cinematic tradition of origin stories, sets out to provide an insight into the histories of John Reid (played by Armie Hammer), the Texas lawyer who is about to become better known as the heroic Lone Ranger, and his devoted sidekick, Tonto. This back-story is clumsily placed within a framing narrative that takes place years later in 1933 as a young Lone Ranger fan is touring a museum in San Francisco. He wanders through the various Wild West exhibits before stopping to look at a dummy portraying ‘The Noble Savage in His Natural Habitat’. This dummy comes to life before his very eyes and, after orchestrating a swap to get his hands on the boy’s bag of nuts, reveals himself to be none other than Tonto (Johnny Depp in really terrible old man make-up). The elderly Tonto goes on to explain how he came to meet the Lone Ranger and, in doing so, reveal the story of the man behind the mask. This narrative, whilst not terrible, is probably fairly unnecessary. It adds little to film aside from the reference to 1933 and the year the radio series was first broadcast. If anything it just raises more questions. I mean what is Tonto doing there anyway? Am I meant to believe that a museum in San Francisco would hire the ex-sidekick of a legendary defender of justice to simply stand still for hours? Or is the director suggesting that they actually have possession of a magic Tonto mannequin? In reality the framing narrative is a way of giving Tonto more of a pivotal role and ensuring that the proceeding 36 hours of film (oh sorry was it actually only 149 minutes?) is as much (if not more) about the second fiddle as it is about the masked horseman himself.
As unnecessary as it may be, I don’t wish to suggest that this framing device is to blame for the painfully long running time. Really it adds as little to the length of the film as it does to anything else. No, the main problem is the same thing that was to blame for the messy production: self indulgence. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a big budget blockbuster that has such an inflated sense of self importance before. Verbinski can discuss as many of his cinematic influences as he wishes but, the fact is, this film takes far too long to get to where it’s going. It is always nice in an action packed blockbuster to have quieter moments to regroup and calm everything down but Verbinski is so keen to give his audiences time to breath that you could easily believe he’s found a way to make every second last for at least 2 minutes.
Then again this sedate storytelling would be less of a chore to sit through if we were dealing with a leading pair that had any kind of on screen chemistry. At times it feels as though Hammer and Depp were making two different films and, in an effort to create a final product, the two were simply stuck together during post-production. On the one hand, you have Hammer getting very little to do except talk about how much he loves the law, wear a mask, ride a horse, and do stupid things so Tonto can admonish him all the time. For a film that steals his name for its title, the Lone Ranger is quite clearly an after thought. Even the vaguely interesting moments, like his brother’s death and his love for his sister-in-law, are not given as much focus as they deserve. I’ve seen a fair amount of criticism for Hammer but I think he does the best he can with the material he was given. No longer the brilliant hero but instead something functional and horribly predictable.
There was never any point in pretending that this film was ever going to be primarily concerned with the man it should have been about. This was Depp’s show and he was the only one that mattered. Perhaps if Verbinski had gone down the Eddie Murphy route Depp could have played every character and the Lone Ranger would have ended up with more to do? To give him his dues, Depp is pretty strong in the role and provides a great deal of the films humour. Although, no matter how many comparisons you make to Tonto and Buster Keaton to distract people it will always be slightly uncomfortable to think that Depp is playing a Native American. He can bring up any number of Native American ancestors to justify it and discuss wanting his performance to bring about some form of justice as much as he wants. The fact remains that watching Johnny Depp parading around doing his best Captain Jack style performance whilst wearing a dead bird on his head and speaking in broken pidgin English doesn’t feel quite right. I understand that Depp has worked (I was initially going to write hard here but thought that statement was a bit too bold) to make Tonto a well-rounded character and give him a back-story of his own, which is a fantastic idea in theory. Making Tonto the driving force and brains behind the double act is a interesting idea but to suggest that Depp’s performance will erase years of misrepresentation is insanity. Coincidentally ‘insanity’ is also the answer to the question ‘how exactly does Depp flesh out the character?’ I can already feel the old wounds healing nicely.
This is a film that, like its co-stars, just doesn’t gel. It’s pretty schizophrenic to be honest. At times it tries to be the typical Disney children’s film full of immature humour and horses appearing in trees (seriously what were they thinking when it came to that fucking horse?). The next moment focuses on a man ripping out and eating the heart of his nemesis. So what is this film? Is it a big budget family film, a dark and gruesome tale of life in the Wild West, a romance or is it a campaign to fight the wrongs done to Native Americans? Well why bother deciding on just one theme when you can cram it all in together. This film changes tone quicker than the guy Katy Perry was singing about in Hot n Cold changes his mind for fucks sake. It tries to master everything yet barely succeeds in establishing a single idea. Forever fighting against itself and never quite reaching anything it strives to be for fear of pushing it too far away from everything else.
With a shorter running time and a much clearer focus I’m almost certain that this film would have been given a warmer welcome by both critics and audiences alike. For there are some things to actually get excited about here. The rest of the cast come across fairly well during the rare moments when Depp ceases to be the main focus on screen. Helen Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, and William Fichtner are all given a small amount of space to show their considerable talents but they, like the criminally underused Ruth Wilson, deserved to get more material to really get to grips with their characters.
On top of this, the film is as beautiful to watch as you would expect a film that has had so much money thrown at it to be. The backdrop is the most pure and traditional Western setting and becomes a key character in its own right. It’s amazing and the design is just exquisite. Added to that are some rather exciting action sequences including not one but two train showdowns. If you ignore some of the more questionable computer generated moments (for example the rooftop ride of the masked avenger on horseback which stood out as some of the worst CGI around at the moment) the final chase, set to Hans Zimmer’s reworking of The William Tell Overture, is pretty darn good. If Verbinski had focused on more moments like this instead of padding out the story with excess detail and history this film would have been the ideal Summer blockbuster.
So all in all not quite the horrible mess that I was hoping for but there is no doubt that this film is really far from perfection. An overly long, confused and egotistical film whose impressive backdrop and allusions to the past are not enough to push a mediocre narrative out of the shadows. If a film’s basic function is to entertain then The Lone Ranger, despite a selection of impressive set pieces and performances, doesn’t always manage to deliver let alone surpass this primary aim. Whilst I’m still unconvinced that The Lone Ranger needed to be made, this film has suggested that in the hands of better film-makers the source material could have been crafted into a Western feast for all the family to enjoy.

Dark Shadows (2012)

Chloe Grace Moretz, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, reboot, review, television, Tim Burton, witch
“Hey, have you heard? Tim Burton and Johnny Depp did another film together.”
“Not again.  This bromance is getting out of control. If they like each other so much why don’t they finally just get it on and leave us all in peace.”
“I think he’s already married to that actress who always turns up in his movies.”
“Of course he bloody is. Who can even remember how many films the two of them have made together anymore?!”
Of course, dear reader, we all know that the number of Depp/Burton collaborations to date is, in fact, eight (the number he made starring his wife is a slightly less obsessive 6). The latest being Burton’s big screen version of the cult gothic soap opera of the 60s and 70s, Dark Shadows. I was incredibly excited to see this film (even if it did take me about 7 months to actually get round to it). Not because of the connection with the show (as a child of the 80s/90s I only became aware of it thanks to this film) but because I unashamedly adore Tim Burton. Yes that’s right, dear friends, I am Murdocal and I’m a Burton-holic. I’ve started to discover a growing number of people who are quick to criticise his gothic genius and I simply don’t understand it. I realise that some of his films have missed the mark of late but, like Woody Allen, I remain loyal and naively go into every new Burton film believing it will be his best. So, like a child heading to bed on Christmas Eve, I sat down to watch full of an innocent hope that a distinctively dressed man would deliver the present I’d been dreaming of.

And there was so much potential. The trailer suggested this would be a dark, vampire-based comedy with an amazing cast and fantastic Burton-esque visuals. He cites the television series as one his first major inspirations and the film is full of opportunities for Burton to work his magic and pay homage. Opening in 18th Century Maine where Barnabas Collins, the only son of a family of fishing tycoons, spurns the affection of Angelique (Eva Green) who, unfortunately, turns out to be not only pissed off but also a witch. Needless to say she vows revenge on Barnabas and sets about ruining his life. Once his parents are out of the way she brings about the demise of the true object of his affection, Josette (Bella Heathcote). As a final insult to injury she prevents Barnabas from following his love to the afterlife by turning him into a vampire and burying him in a crate for 200 years. As opening sequences go, this sets the audience up for a great ride. The gothic styling is perfect and the performances by Depp and Green are exaggerated but on target with the necessary sensibility.

The mood changes once a strange twist of fate releases Barnabas from his grave and into the bright and confusing world of the 1970s. Much of the humour depends on the oft seen ‘fish out of water’ trope as Barnabas gets used to his modern setting. For his part, Depp plays the vampire at odds with himself remarkably well. And who would expect anything else? If there’s one person who knows exactly how to bring the Burton it’s Depp. That he happens to be a fan of the original series also helps. His own Barnabas is a charming and often amusing creature who finds himself dealing with a world he could never have dreamed of.
As a central character you couldn’t really ask for better but it is still not enough to bring together the many plot strands that demand our attention. Unfortunately, it’s a simple case of too many plots spoil the broth: Barnabas’ mission to revitalise the family business; his romance with the new governess (significantly also played by Heathcote); bringing together his crumbling family; and his connection with their live-in psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter). All of these stories are given some time to introduce themselves before being dropped into cinematic oblivion. The mysterious governess who is set up to be a character of major significance is absent for much of the plot and is never given the chance to explore the part she has to play in the grand scheme of things. The remains of the Collins family are portrayed by an array of big names but, again, they are never given the chance to show off their collected talent. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the head of the family but, for the most part, you can’t help but feel that she is just going through the motion.  As are Johnny Lee Miller, in his role as her sleazy brother, and Helena Bonham Carter, playing the quirky Dr Hoffman, who both float through their roles in a truly forgettable manner.
 There is a slight ray of sunshine thanks to the Collins family’s very own wild-child daughter, played by one of the few teenagers I don’t automatically detest and fear, Chloë Grace Moretz. (Before I go on, I have to admit that I both love Moretz and am utterly jealous of her. At 9 years my junior, she is already better presented, more grown-up and has a greater understanding of how clothes work than I ever will. Bloody youths.) She very much embraces her 70s teenager with her dreamy/stoned demeanour being broken up by moments of rage and brattiness. She is funny in a dark, sarcastic and slightly emo way and is my favourite character in the whole film. Although once again, Seth Grahame-Smith’s script doesn’t give her, or the equally compelling Gulliver McGrath, the chance to get to grips with the character. They are awkwardly shoehorned into the action when it is necessary and then forgotten about when it all becomes a bit of a hassle.
What is worse than this hodgepodge of storylines, horribly edited down and squashed together to fit into a more audience friendly 113 minute running time, is the almost schizophrenic tone of the whole thing. The opening sequence is reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow in its gothic and, at times, gruesome brilliance but this is brushed aside to bring in a light-hearted comedic melodrama about a vampire from the 1700s failing to understand television and lava lamps (lol). Then we suddenly go back to a much more serious, dark film about killer vampires and murderous witches. It is a film that doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be and the writer/director combo never quite tie together the comedy, horror, family drama and Gothic romance into a complete picture. This being the main problem with trying to edit down an entire television series into one 2 hour film: having to get across all of the information you need to and creating a complete and exciting story. It is never quite achieved but there are certain moments of brilliance within each of the separate factions.
A brilliance that is mirrored in the films visuals. The thing you can rely on with Tim Burton is to make a visually beautiful film. The sets are fantastically put together and the styling is mesmerising. The fantastic Collins manor has been lovingly created with great attention to detail and is worthy of all the praise that Barnabas includes in his return speech. The vampire himself is a triumph of costume and make-up. With Depp channelling his best Nosferatu complete with pale white face and nails with the handy ability to dig grooves in a wooden floor, Barnabas is in keeping with the traditional Burton style of quirky and partly creepy outsider. Also witnessed in the terrifying Angelique who is decently played by Eva Green, despite her ridiculous accent (unless I’m mistaken and that is actually a great example of an American accent). Green clearly had a great time whilst playing the witch scorned and provides a slight breath of fresh air in the midst of a group of actors who don’t really seem to realise they are in the middle of filming.
So this may not be the film that I had hoped for when I saw the trailer all those months ago but, you know what, it wasn’t bad. (To quote Peter Bradshaw, as I so often do nowadays, it was “whelming.”)  In no way does it come close to Burton at his best but, if you look hard enough, you can certainly find a great deal more in his repertoire that is inferior. There is a lot to like in this film but you can’t help but get the impression that, initially, there was a lot more. Are we viewing the director’s labour of love that simply got out of hand and suffered in order to see a release? I can understand completely. In my second year of university I wrote an essay that ended up being double the word limit. In a mad attempt to cut it down I’m pretty sure my sentences stopped making grammatical sense. So it’s ok Tim. I’ve been there… and do you know what? I still have faith.