#86 - Good Morning, Angels!
1947 - 2009
How goes it, film fans? Welcome back to another week at the Electric Theatre. I apologize to those of you who checked in hoping that the column had officially become Max Haaga’s Electric Theatre. Rest assured, I’ll try to get the lad back sooner or later. In the meantime, we now return to our regularly scheduled columnist…
NOW IN THEATRES
No one has seriously doubted Johnny Depp’s incredible star power since his days on 21 Jump Street. The camera absolutely adores him. His need to constantly challenge himself by exploring eccentric characters with directors like Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Jim Jarmusch has earned him the unflagging respect of film geeks everywhere. Even when he became the beloved star of a major Disney franchise with Pirates Of The Caribbean, he did it his own way, turning Captain Jack Sparrow into one of the unlikeliest blockbuster heroes of all time. His turn as John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is perhaps the most traditional leading-man role he’s had in years and it may be enough to earn him another Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, both the role and the film are far from Depp’s most compelling work.
The movie’s title is somewhat misleading and may be a holdover from an earlier draft that focused more on G-Man Melvin Purvis (played without much enthusiasm or conviction by Christian Bale). Yes, notorious figures like Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Alvin Karpis are here but they’re glimpsed only briefly. The movie is ostensibly based on Bryan Burrough’s book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave And The Birth Of The FBI, 1933-34 but make no mistake, this is John Dillinger’s show. As such, it’s disappointing that Dillinger remains an aloof and distant figure. Depp’s charisma carries a number of scenes. There’s certainly no doubt about why the public is fascinated by this character. But the inner Dillinger remains an enigma. Least convincing is his relationship with coat check girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). Early on, we get glimpses of what attracts the couple together. But the movie has them apart more often than they’re together, so their relationship ends up feeling like one of romantic narrative convenience. They fall in love simply because the audience supposedly needs to see Dillinger in love.
Bale should be better than he is as Melvin Purvis, although it’s not entirely his fault. The movie doesn’t give him much to do other than express frustration, which he does admirably well. One of the movie’s best performances and most fully realized characters, surprisingly enough, is Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover. At least his motivations are clear and Crudup does a great job transforming the public image of Hoover into an actual human being.
Michael Mann stages some terrific sequences here, from jail breaks to bank robberies to a wonderful moment with Dillinger in a movie theatre while a newsreel about his exploits plays. But in the end, they remain just that: individual moments that don’t add up to a cohesive whole. The movie drags on so ponderously at times that potentially great scenes (like Dillinger calmly strolling through the offices of the Chicago Police Department’s Dillinger Squad) lose all impact.
Throughout Public Enemies, I kept being reminded of two earlier, far superior movies: Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. De Palma’s movie lacks the gravitas and seriousness of purpose of Public Enemies, but at least it moves and is consistently entertaining and enjoyable. Mann was likely trying to make a gangster version of Dominik’s somber western. But Jesse James succeeded in making both James and Ford into relatable, human characters. In that movie, we feel both Robert Ford’s torment and Jesse James’ cloud of impending doom. Here, we feel nothing except that Johnny Depp sure knows how to wear a hat. (* * ½)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
The horror-comedy hybrid has been around for generations and tends to fall into one of two categories. On the one hand, you have outright parodies like Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein. On the other, and this is far trickier to pull off, are those movies that want you to have your cake and choke on it, too. These movies want to have you laughing one second and screaming the next. Done right, you get classics like An American Werewolf In London and Shaun Of The Dead. Do it wrong and you’re stuck with…well, An American Werewolf In Paris. Paul Andrew Williams’ The Cottage doesn’t rank with the likes of Shaun Of The Dead but it’s effective and unique enough to make it worth your time.
Andy Serkis (The Lord Of The Rings’ Gollum) and Reece Shearsmith (UK comedy fans may recognize him from The League Of Gentlemen) star as brothers who have just pulled off a kidnapping of staggering incompetence. They’ve abducted the shrill stepdaughter (Jennifer Ellison) of a strip club owner and plan to ransom her for 100,000 pounds. The scheme quickly begins to unravel and goes from bad to worse when Ellison breaks free and takes Shearsmith with her. They wander the countryside looking for a phone and stumble across a farm where the disfigured owner intends to have them stay permanently.
The first half of The Cottage plays out like a standard heist-gone-wrong flick. Serkis and Shearsmith make a good, bickering team and Serkis proves especially adept at the slow-burn school of comedic reaction. What makes the movie unusual is that the first half gives absolutely no indication of what the film will eventually become. It’s as if the characters simply wandered off the set of their own movie and into an 80s slasher flick. Things kick into high gear in the latter half with some truly imaginative and well-executed gore effects. While the set-up is amiable enough, it’s not all that distinguished, so you may find yourself growing impatient waiting for the climax. But the movie’s concept remains consistent throughout and the payoff, when it arrives, is satisfying.
The Cottage doesn’t have the laugh-out-loud moments that some of the movies I mentioned earlier do…it’s style is more pleasant and lightly amusing than deeply hilarious. But it is entertaining throughout and a change of pace from your run-of-the-mill horror-comedy. If you enjoyed the likes of Hatchet, Fido and Severance, you’ll more than likely have a good time at The Cottage. (* * *)
Thanks to John Wao for this week’s TFTQ recommendation! John has been consistently sending in suggestions for quite some time now, so you’ll certainly be seeing his name again. If you haven’t yet, stop making John do all the work! Send in your unsung favorites for Tales From The Queue and become a close, personal friend of Dr. Jahnke! It’s all the rage with the cool kids, y’know!