Movie Project #46: Dead Man [1995]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Dead Man [1995]

Dead Man [1995]
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Western
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Robert Mitchum, John Hurt, and Gabriel Byrne
Running Time: 121 minutes

“Do you know my poetry?”

Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, shot entirely in black-and-white and labeled a “psychedelic Western” by the director himself, is unlike any film I have seen. What starts out as a familiar Western plotline — a foreigner arrives in an unwelcoming new town and gets in trouble — quickly flips itself on its head and turns into an absurd existential journey.

Johnny Depp stars as William Blake, who we quickly learn is a “dead man” even if he doesn’t know it yet. An accountant from Cleveland, Blake rides by train all the way out to the frontier town of Machine where he has been promised a lucrative new job. It’s clear upon arrival that Blake is woefully out of place. He shows up in a preposterous checkered suit, and he is nearly laughed out of the company building by the business manager (John Hurt). It turns out the job position has been filled, and even after appealing to the company’s truculent owner, John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum, in his final film performance), Blake walks away empty-handed.

Dead Man [1995]

Things only get worse from there. Blake somehow manages to bed a woman, only to have her sulking ex-boyfriend (Gabriel Byrne) show up afterward. In an act of self defense, William shoots the man, getting himself shot in the process. The bad news continues as it is revealed that this was the son of Dickinson, and the wealthy business owner hires a posse of hitmen to snuff out the accountant.

While on the run, Blake meets a large Native American guide, Nobody (Gary Farmer), who attempts to help him come to terms with his impending death. It is from this point forward where the film takes a surreal turn, as Nobody takes Blake on a journey of spiritual enlightenment. They meet some bizarre characters along the way (including an unforgettable group of mountain men played by Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton and Jared Harris), and we are kept up to speed on the hitmen via seemingly random interludes. The film fades in and out of the paths of each side, much like Blake goes in and out of consciousness.

Dead Man [1995]

Quite frankly, there’s a lot to take in, and it can get difficult to piece it altogether. By all accounts, this seems to be a film in which multiple viewings are necessary to get the full effect. Critics were divided upon its release — Roger Ebert famously gave this 1 1/2 stars, while Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote an entire book on the subject — but it has built a cult following since then.

I can’t say I’m entirely on board with the film, but I loved the cast, led by Johnny Depp’s meek protrayal of William Blake. Gary Farmer makes for an intriguing spiritual guide, a more contemporary take when compared to the early Western time period. The supporting cast is nothing short of phenomenal, with memorable performances from the likes of Mitchum, Hurt, Iggy Pop, Thornton, Harris, Alfred Molina, and even Crispin Glover. Throw in Neil Young’s improvisational guitar score and you have all the makings of a bona fide cult hit.

My first impression of Dead Man is mixed, but there are enough ideas in place that make me believe I could enjoy it more on a second viewing. I may need to go on my own spiritual quest beforehand, however.

6/10

Poll Results: Best Tim Burton & Johnny Depp Collaboration

Last week’s poll results are in! The winner for the best Tim Burton & Johnny Depp collaboration was:

Edward Scissorhands

THE RESULTS:
– Edward Scissorhands: 10 votes
– Sleepy Hollow: 3 votes
– Sweeney Todd: 3 votes
– Alice in Wonderland: 1 vote
– Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: 1 vote
– Ed Wood: 1 vote

No contest here. Judging from last week’s comments, it seemed like Edward Scissorhands would be the odds-on favorite, and sure enough it was victorious. I am ashamed to admit that I have never actually seen that movie, but all of these votes make it clear I need to do so soon. Good stuff guys, and it’s nice to see a handful of other films receive votes as well.

THIS WEEK’S POLL: What *two* June movie releases are you most looking forward to? I am making this a multiple choice poll because I have a pretty good idea of what will win this one.

Also, I know how much everyone enjoys a good poll, so I would like to take this time to recommend an exciting new tournament going on over at Journeys in Classic Film. Kristen, the site’s owner, is running the Best Leading Man tournament in which readers are to vote for their favorite actor from each decade, starting with the 1930s. You can head over by clicking this banner:

Movie Review: Rango [2011]

Rango [2011]

Rango [2011]
Director: Gore Verbinski
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

When I first saw the trailer for Rango, I immediately thought it was going to be another run-of-the-mill animated movie for children. Slowly, details started to trickle out and I heard about references to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and the Dollars Trilogy, among others. My interest was piqued, and it turns out that my initial notion was dead wrong.

Rango is a smart movie, one that caters toward adults and film buffs. Sure, kids will love its stylish and unbelievably detailed visuals, as well as Johnny Depp’s charming rendition of the title character, but many of the film references and “adult” level jokes will go over their poor little heads. I think that’s what made Rango so appealing for me — it isn’t “dumbed down” at all.

Rango [2011]

So yeah, Johnny Depp is the voice of Rango, a pet chameleon who accidentally becomes stranded in the Mojave Desert. Scared shitless by being alone amongst red-tailed hawks and other predators, Rango wanders aimlessly and eventually meets a desert iguana named Beans, who takes him into an Old West town called Dirt. It is here where the ever-imaginative chameleon develops his persona of Rango, posing as a tough outlaw who once killed all seven Jenkins brothers with one bullet. One bullet! The townsfolk eat this up, and after Rango accidentally kills a terrorizing red-tailed hawk, he is appointed as the town’s sheriff.

What ultimately unveils itself is a clever homage to the classic Chinatown, with the town trying to figure out what the hell happened to their disappearing water supply. Nods to old Westerns are also frequent, and the movie itself is nothing more than an animated spoof/tribute to the genre.

Not enough can be said of the movie’s visuals. This is one of the best-looking animated features I have ever seen, and it is clear that Pixar now has some competition in the form of Industrial Light & Magic. Do yourself a favor and see this on Blu-ray. It is mind-bogglingly sharp.

Rango [2011]

The voice acting is also quite impressive with Johnny Depp leading the way. Whereas other big name actors have been known to phone in their performances, Depp is on top of the game here and is clearly having a great time. Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Stephen Root and Harry Dean Stanton also lend their talent, to name a few, and the casting overall is quite flawless.

I liked Rango and its eccentricities quite a bit, particularly the beginning and end sequences. The middle portion, while entertaining, dragged on a bit too long, and the overall feature suffers a little as a result. Still, there is a lot to like here. Kids will be pleased with the characters and the stunning visuals, and adults will love all of the references and gags related to other films. A spicier middle segment would have made this one of the top films this year, but it’s still a fun way to spend two hours.

7.5/10