Tag Archives: Gore Verbinski

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Johnny Depp Performances

Johnny Depp is known as one of the ultimate chameleon actors, and since he got his start in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street he has been entertaining audiences for over two decades with lively, theatrical and off the wall characters. Sometimes it works wonders (our beloved Jack Sparrow), other times comes across as weird (that lame Mad Hatter) and sometimes it’s downright creepy (oh man his misguided attempt at Willy Wonka). He’s also adept at voice work as well as some gritty, brooding, down to earth character roles and whether the particular performance lands nicely or flounders awkwardly, he’s never not fascinating in some way. Here are my top ten favourites of his work!

10. Rango in Gore Verbinski’s Rango

Depp lends his voice to the titular chameleon and hero of this most unconventional, unclassifiable and wholly brilliant animation film. Set in the Mojave desert, it follows Rango as he encounters a town called Dirt, and just about every western archetype you could think of within it. It’s a dazzling sendup of both the western genre and the medium of storytelling itself, speckled with off the wall adult humour and vivid voice work from a huge cast. Johnny brings obvious physicality to the role and embodies the energy, tone and style of this unique piece flawlessly.

9. Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

In bringing this classic Washington Irving character to life Depp uses a hilariously ironic fear of blood and all things morbid that’s constantly at odds with his fascination, intuition and knack for solving grisly murders. Burton’s flat out gorgeous palette, Depp’s nervous yet strong willed performance and a whole pack of epic supporting actors make this one of the best gothic horror flicks out there.

8. Frederick Abberline in the Hughes Brother’s From Hell

An opium addled Scotland Yard inspector with some serious demons in his closet, Depp’s keen but damaged cop investigates the Jack The Ripper slayings in Victorian London and uncovers more than he wished. This is a sumptuous, gloriously stylized Alan Moore adaption that captures the horror and grim malice of this period of history. His performance finds the haunted notes of the character while still retaining a lucid intellect and trusty intuition, displaying terrific chemistry with Heather Graham as a prostitute he falls in love with and Robbie Coltrane as his salty captain.

7. Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas

Depp was close friends with author Hunter S. Thompson and it’s apparent in his balls out, maniacally dedicated performance as a junkie journalist on a madcap bender through sin city with his trusty and equally deranged sidekick (Benicio Del Toro). This is a love it or hate it experience of mind blowing insanity, but there’s no denying his headlong commitment to character and willingness to go the extra mile and then some.

6. Tonto in Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger

This film inexplicably bombed and got a bad rep, but it’s one of my favourites and Depp’s loony, off kilter turn as Tonto is something to be seen. He’s a nut job with a crow on his head that spouts enough mumbo jumbo to confuse anyone and yet there’s something sad, forlorn and lonely about the work here, which becomes even more apparent as his character arc comes full circle.

5. Mort Rainey in David Koepp’s Secret Window

Channeling his inner wacko, Depp brings a deranged Stephen King character vividly to life in this tale of a depressed writer holed up in a cabin on the lake until he gets an unwanted visitor and things get spooky. He’s always had a great loony side to his work but here he really gets to explore a character who, bit by bit, is completely losing his marbles. Featuring scary supporting work from John Turturro as a bumpkin who comes wandering out of the woods looking for trouble, this is a deliriously fun and very atmospheric thriller, one of the best page to screen King translations.

4. Ed Wood in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood

Ed Wood was considered the worst director of all time, but that’s just an aside to Burton and Depp, who choose to make their film ultimately about a man so in love with filmmaking that he overlooks every flaw in the process, finding beauty in blunder. Wood was a guy who essentially made Z grade junk for less than dimes and soldiered on through rejection and infamy. Depp plays him as a warm and very passionate guy who wants to give everyone a shot, including now washed up and drug addicted Bela Lugosi, played brilliantly here by Martin Landau. Whether perceived as jokester hack artist or dedicated exploitation pirate, there’s no denying that Depp finds all the perfect notes, sad nuances and beautiful aspects of Wood’s life and legacy in a performance that practically comes to life in crisp, gorgeous black and white.

3. Jeffrey Sands in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon A Time In Mexico

Sands is a rogue CIA operative who is so spectacularly corrupt that the agency doesn’t know what else to do but station him way down in Mexico where he can’t cause trouble but somehow manages to anyway. He’s is just so hilariously eccentric in the role, whether he’s wearing a prosthetic arm to hide a firearm, murdering a chef because his slow cooked pork was *too good*, deviously instigating an explosive coup that tears Mexico City apart or reading a biography of Judy Garland in between double crossings and back stabbings, he’s too much fun and steals a film that already stars people like Willem Defoe, Mickey Rourke Danny Trejo, which is no easy accomplishment. He also gets arguably the most badass shootout of the film in a sequence that’s beautifully reminiscent of Sergio Leone in all the coolest ways.

2. William Blake in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man

This haunting, unconventional art house western sees him as a meek accountant from Cleveland who travels out to the Wild West for work and instead finds himself becoming an outlaw, murderer and eventually arriving at his own death, but not in the way you might think. This is one of my all time favourite films, it’s a meditative work of brilliant art with stunning black and white photography, a wonderfully eclectic star studded cast and a hypnotic guitar score by Neil Young. Johnny anchors it with a performance that travels an incredible arc from mild mannered city boy to archetypal phantom of the frontier.

1. Captain Jack Sparrow in Gore Verbinski’s Pirates Of The Caribbean

What can I say, this is the flagship Depp performance, the most inspired piece of acting he’s done and one of the most lovable, roguish, hilarious and perpetually tipsy characters to ever be born of cinema. With roots in Keith Richards’s essence he made specific costume, mannerism and vocal choices in bringing Jack alive, he’s the heart, soul and dreadlocked hair of the Pirates franchise and pretty much a pop culture icon too.

Thanks for reading! Tune in for more content and let me know if you have any requests!

-Nate Hill

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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Christopher Walken Performances

Whenever Christopher Walken shows up in a film you can practically feel the energy and interest go up in an audience, whether they know him by name and are studious of his massive career (raises hand) or they just remember that instantly recognizable face. Whether it’s a supporting role, cameo or star turn there’s something about his electric eyes, steady yet spooky voice and offhandedly eccentric mannerisms that make him something truly special. His career is an epic one that spans comedies, drama, musicals, stage plays, music videos (that Fatboy Slim dance marathon!!), a Bond movie, the odd horror flick and a good dose of obscure indies that I’ve always loved to hunt down. Here are my top ten personal favourites! Please share yours as well and enjoy:

10. Max Shreck in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

With a shock of electric silver hair and a razor sharp pinstripe suit, Walken embodies monstrous corporate evil as Gotham’s most corrupt business tycoon. I’m not sure if Shreck was a villain that ever showed up in the comics or if he’s something Burton dreamed up for the film, but in any case he makes just as much of a morbid impression as Danny Devito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in the baddie department.

9. Gabriel in The Prophecy Trilogy

Walken takes a decidedly darker approach to the Angel Gabriel here, playing him as a rogue operative at war with god and his forces and engaged in casual genocide of the human race to both achieve his goal and simply prove a point. The cool thing about Walken as an actor is that most of his career finds him playing characters in crime dramas, comedies, real people in the real world, no matter how wacky they get. But he also has the deft versatility to pull off something otherworldly and supernatural too, as you can see by this moody, intense characterization that definitely suggests something out of this world.

8. The Headless Horseman in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

I had to. Roger Ebert wrote in his review of this film:

“ Note: No power on earth could drag from me the identity of the unbilled actor who plays the Horseman when he has a head. But you will agree he is the only logical choice. “

Is that not the perfect summation? He looks positively animalistic here as the big bad in Burtons best and most underrated film, sporting rock star hair, teeth whittled down to points and a thunderous roar which is the only actual dialogue he ever has in the role. Walken is a lot of things but one that you could boil his complex essence down to is ‘both scary and funny.’ If there’s one role that reinforces that it’s this, he’s somehow legitimately terrifying and ridiculously hilarious in the same note. That takes skill and charisma.

7. Caesar The Exterminator in Gore Verbinski’s Mouse Hunt

There’s something in the way one observes a crazed Walken crawling along the floor adorned in a headlamp and tactical gear, tasting dried mouse droppings to learn the gender of his quarry. Only he could take a ten minute exterminator role intended as comic relief and turn it into the kind of bizarre, deranged performance art that steals an entire film. I’ll also add that the film overall including his presence is one of the most overlooked of the 90’s and a misunderstood dark comedy/fairy tale that was unfairly billed as a kids film and lost on many dismissive viewers. Time for re-evaluation.

6. Frank Abagnale Sr. in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can

A family man whose reckless decisions lead to a radically different lifestyle and a diminished self image, Walken nails both the fierce pride and detrimental flaws of this character while infusing a deep love for his wife and son. It’s a complex portrayal that despite being a sideline supporting character, fills the film with humanity and humility. Don’t even get me started on the “two mice fell into a bucket of cream monologue.”

5. Paul Rayburn in Tony Scott’s Man On Fire

Another performance filled with subtly sorrowful regret, Rayburn is an ex military man who shares a past connection with Denzel Washington’s John Creasy, and the two share several central scenes of mutual remorse and guilt that land hard. Walken is good at masking deep set emotion with a joke, cloudy half smile or idiosyncratic anecdote, but the intention burns bright beneath whatever deflection tactic he employs, and his work here is no exception.

4. Vincenzo Coccotti in Tony Scott’s True Romance

Like many actors in this film, Chris only gets one scene or so to strut his stuff, but the nasty verbal showdown with Dennis Hopper here is not only one of the most memorable of the film but of cinema itself. He’s an apex predator here, a sociopathic mafia don who’s used to getting his way and accustomed to nobody standing up to him. His simultaneously bemused and aghast reaction at essentially being owned by Hopper’s wily ex cop is something for the ages and provides the film with some it’s best humour and scariest violence. “You’re a cantaloupe!”

3. Brad Whitewood Sr. in James Foley’s At Close Range

Walken has portrayed a lot of villains, scumbags and less than desirable dudes but Brad takes the fucking cake. Leader of a rural band of small time thieves, he re-enters the lives of his two sons (Sean and Chris Penn) he left years earlier and from the moment they become involved with him nothing good comes of it. He’s charming and affable at first but when the heat shows up it becomes very clear this guy will kill anyone, including his own sons, to keep himself afloat. This is a mean, sad and bleak spirited film with a cold, ruthless central performance from Walken. But it’s worth it to observe just how far human nature can go into extremes that all of us hope we don’t ever have to encounter.

2. Nick in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter

One of several young men who go from life in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania to the horrors of the Viet Nam war, he brings all the subtleties of the world into his work here, showing how the darkness out there can smother someone’s soul to the point that they don’t even know who they are anymore. One of my favourite moments in Walken’s entire career is in this film, where a nurse in a military hospital asks him who he is and who to contact in this situation. The actor expertly but unobtrusively displays a quiet, confused and utterly devastating mental breakdown as the reality of what has happened to him sets in. It’s showcase Walken for how believable it is and one of the finest scenes he has ever crafted.

1. Frank White in Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York

The most introverted criminal kingpin ever to show up in cinema, Walken plays a recently paroled crime kingpin who’s ready to take back the territory he lost while in the slammer, with some help from his rambunctious crew headed up by a fearsomely unstable Laurence Fishburne. The performance I picked for top spot isn’t a weird one, a hyperactive comedic turn, a funny scary villain or anything that he’s outright known for. There’s something remarkably compelling and down to earth about Frank, something very ‘street.’ His name is fitting because that’s how he approaches both business and relationships: with a blunt, no nonsense and vaguely sadistic air. Ferrara directs one of the best NYC crime dramas ever made here, he and Walken make the moody final scene ring with unexpected, grim poetry.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s Rango

Gore Verbinski’s Rango is a wonder among animated films. Naturally the colourful, larger than life medium lends itself to the eyes, ears and hearts of children, which is the direction most of them take. But Rango presents a mature, raunchy, surreal, absurd spectacle rife with a mischievous buzz and peppered with laughs just bordering on the inappropriate, even though they’d go right over their heads anyway. This film broke the record for how many times my jaw hit the floor seeing what they could do with the visuals. It’s detailed, meticulous, gorgeously rendered and beautifully crafted, not to mention speckled with subtle references to other films, literary works and themes that Verbinski no doubt holds dear and uses to amplify the story nicely. Johnny Depp gives wit, endearing naivety and a sense of childlike wonder to his creation of Rango, a little lizard in the big desert, violently thrown from a car wreck into the greatest adventure of his life, and the archetypal heroes journey. He wanders through the baking Mojave desert into the town of Dirt, inhabited by sassy, loveable creatures modelled after all our favourite western characters and carefully constructed from the biological blueprint of wildlife in that area. He blunders his way into becoming the sheriff, and leads the whole town on a quest to locate their most sought after resource: Aqua. Verbinski directs with a snappy, take no prisoners sense of humour, throwing joke after joke after one liner after tongue in cheek nod at us, until we feel so bombarded with fantastic imagery, brilliant voice acting and just plain fun, that we more than feel like we’re getting our money’s worth. Each animal is beautifully designed, from the evil Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy having a ball with a mini gun tail and evil amber eyes), to Beans (a fellow lizard and love interest for our scaly hero), to the sleazy mayor (Ned Beatty, that old turtle), to a rampaging band of bank robbing moles led by a blind Harry Dean Stanton. The cast includes everyone from Timothy Olyphant to Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Lew Temple, Ian Abercrombie, Gil Birmingham and Verbinski himself in multiple roles. There’s just so much going on here visually, from a dusty cameo by The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’s Man With No Name to eerie trees that wander the desert searching for water, a cameo from Hunter S. Thompson’s Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo themselves and don’t even get me started on the batshit crazy aerial chase scene set to a mariachi version of Ride Of The Valkyries. The film is so full of detail, beauty and ambitious artistry that it has taken me at least three viewings to feel like I’ve noticed every character, one liner and cheekily brilliant little touch. It’s that good. Among the whacky antics there’s a theme of owning up to ones identity, becoming responsible for people you save, and finishing the work or task you set out to do, lest you leave your legacy unwritten. A classic.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man

It’s always nice when a film as bizarre, unconventional and downbeat as Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man gets approved by the big studio system, but the flip side of that is that when it inevitably gets a wide release and considerable marketing, score of reviewers and audiences are going to talk shit about it because it’s ‘different’ and ‘depressing.’ It is definitely those two things, but it’s also a painfully funny, insightful piece with fantastic work from Nicolas Cage, brilliantly placed dark humour, the briefest glimpses of pathos and an offbeat indie pulse. Cage is Chicago TV weatherman Dave Spritz, a guy whose swanky six figure salary and cakewalk career hide a disturbed, dysfunctional family life and a deep, cultivated self loathing that Cage pours out from every anguished glance and hangdog piece of inner monologue. His ex wife (Hope Davis) can’t stand him, his kids (Nicholas Hoult in an early career turn and Gemmenne De Le Pena, a great find) have a laundry list of their own issues and their interaction with him is strained for starters, while his Pulitzer Prize winning author dad (Michael Caine trying an American accent on for size and kind of struggling with it) frequently points out his shortcomings with measured acidity (“You don’t even have a degree in meteorology”). In short, his life has become one big absurdist joke punctuated by awkward altercations, passive aggressive jabs, misdirected anger, frequent instances of fast food being thrown at him by angry passersby and an overall blanket of deadly hilarious, glumly enlightening moodiness that you can’t decide whether to laugh or cry about. So who would want to watch a major movie filled with such rampant, cheekily deliberate unpleasantness? I would, and I for one totally loved this film for what it is. You could say it’s an acquired taste or you have to ‘get it’ or whatever smug, flavour of the month platitude that well travelled cinephiles like myself are peddling this week, but the plain truth of it is that not every Hollywood film can be a traditional ‘Hollywood’ film and there has to be room for off killer, weirdly staged stuff like this or the recipe is just too boring. Roger Ebert understood that, he gave this a glowing review and made particular mention of how slightly inaccessible stuff like this needs to be given a chance more often. In any case it’s an excellent film thanks to Cage’s reliably hilarious work, he almost seems to have been tailored for this role and you can tell he’s having a blast with every tortured mannerism and inappropriate outburst. I love and appreciate every single film that director Verbinski has made in his eclectic, unpredictable dervish of a career, the guy has done everything from Pirates Of The Caribbean to slapstick period piece to Hammer horror throwback to south of the border romance end even an animated film for adults which you don’t see too often. He always approaches us with something different to offer, and with The Weather Man he’s come up a winner again, I love this sad, self aware, pathetic yet touching portrait of a man adrift in his own inadequacy, his frequent attempts to swim serving as our entertainment, however much we pity or feel for the guy and his oddball family. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Ring

I remember the first time I saw Gore Verbinski’s The Ring back when I was eleven; broad daylight, started it at like ten in the morning, and got so scared I almost refused leave the house to go to the beach later with my family. Some films just stay with you if you see them at an impressionable age, and no matter how desensitized and thick skinned you get as your life goes on, you never lose at least a modicum of the raw terror you felt back then (don’t even get me started on The Grudge). Couple that with how beautifully dark the mood and aura of this film is thanks to nocturnally themed cinematography by Bojan Bazelli that turns Seattle and the surrounding rural areas into an eerie ghost playground, and you get something wholly memorable. By now the story is iconic; Naomi Watts plays a forlorn investigative journalist scoping out an urban legend in which people die seven days after they view a videotape apparently showing an experimental student film, which is tied to the backstory of the mysterious Samara (Daveigh Chase) a young girl with unholy supernatural tendencies. Edited together with a grainy VHS aesthetic contrasted by clearly lit, distinct nature and skyline shots, Verbinski gives the film an unmistakable visual element. co-starring talent is also provided by Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Rachael Bella, Amber Tamblyn, Jane Alexander, Adam Brody and a haunting Brian Cox as Samara’s disconcerted father. I’m not sure how the plot mechanics of the original Japanese film play out, but here they make a wise choice by never divulging exactly *what* is wrong with Samara, just that there is something severely off about her, and it’s that ambiguity combined with Chase’s eerie waif performance that make the character so memorable. Everyone shits their pants at the infamous television scene, but for me the ultimate scare resides in the almost unbearably suspenseful opening prologue, and the quick, blood freezing scene of the aftermath, I’ll never quite be the same after seeing a certain expression on a certain girl’s face. A dime-piece of a fright flick, a fine piece of filmmaking and a horror classic.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s Mouse Hunt

I will never not rave about Gore Verbinski’s Mouse Hunt. Although built around a concept that’s clearly meant to be a kids movie, Gorebinski is a stylistic maverick who whips it up into something weird, warped and at times definitely in the realm of adult humour. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans channel Laurel and Hardy as the Smuntz brothers, two severely idiotic brothers who inherent a creaky old mansion from their deceased father (A spooky William Hickey, literally looking like he has both feet, both arms and several other appendages already in the grave). When the two of them find themselves homeless and the manor turns out to be worth a fortune, luck seems to favour them. Only problem is, the house has one very stubborn tenant, a four inch mouse who not only refuses to leave, but royally fucks up their renovation plans at every turn in a dizzying parade of slapstick mayhem that would have Kevin from Home Alone Running the other way. The concept may seem dumb, but there’s just no denying that this is a smartly written, deftly comedic film laced with all kinds of verbal gags, visual grandeur and wit, disguised as a children’s screwball comedy. All kinds of oddball actors show up including scene stealing Maury Chaykin as a bratty real estate mogul, Michael Jeter, Ian Abercrombie, Vicki Lewis, Ernie Sabella, Debra Christofferson and more. My favourite has to be Christopher Walken as an exterminator who takes his job hysterically seriously, it’s like the twilight zone watching his mental state unravel as the mouse constantly one ups him and he loses his shit. This isn’t your average fast paced comedy either, where every set piece is geared towards specific dialogue and visual details aren’t important. Production designer Linda DeScenna has outdone herself in creating a gorgeous, lived in atmosphere and burnished 1930’s palette full of subtle gimmicks and menacing, almost Tim Burton style visuals, while writer Adam Rifkin fires off wry satirical jokes and jabs every other line and creates a wonderfully off colour, unique script. Some of the set pieces get so raucous you feel like you’re in a Looney Toons vignette, stuff like flying bathtubs, a psychotic cat, a flea bomb with near nuclear capabilities, a vacuum cleaner filled with explosive poo, a room filled with hundreds of mouse traps (done practically without CGI, I might add), an auction that quite literally brings down the house and so much more. Far fetched, you might say? Definitely, but that’s the film’s magic, and it pays off to just go with it’s crazy vibe. It kills me that this wasn’t received well critically, because it’s something fresh, something smart in the comedy genre that doesn’t insult its audience and so much more than just ‘that mouse movie.’ A classic in my book.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Mexican

Gore Verbinki’s The Mexican has always been a huge favourite of mine. It’s sort of a diamond in the rough in the sense that it didn’t meet very explosive box office or critical acclaim, but upon closer inspection is actually a uniquely structured, sexy, dangerous, eccentrically funny romantic black comedy. It’s one of those laconic yet feisty crime flicks, the kind that Elmore Leonard writes and Soderbergh directs, but this one is given the trademark oddball humour and distinct flourish that Verbinski brings to all of his films, the guy is so undervalued in Hollywood. Brad Pitt, in one of his scrappiest turns, plays perpetual fuck-up Jerry, a low level mob package boy who couldn’t deliver a pizza without dicking it up. He’s tasked by his freaky boss (a scary Bob Balaban) to deliver an ancient antique pistol across the Mexican border. Of course everything that can go wrong does, like the Murphy’s law of caper flicks. His high maintenance, wired girlfriend Samantha (Julia Roberts) tracks his course and ends up in quite a bit of danger. It’s all a breezy affair that goes from one episodic, densely written and excellently acted scene to the next, with redundant complexities of plot less important than character development and singular instances of violence and dark comedy. I won’t ruin the surprise cameo near the end but it’s someone who you’d always expect to find in smart ass films like this and shows up like he meant to be there the whole time but got caught in border traffic. J.K. Simmons is hilarious as a slightly odd colleague off Jerry’s, but the best performance of the film by far comes from the late James Gandolfini as Winston Baldry, a gay contract killer with both a soft and a dangerous side who kidnaps Samantha and holds her ransom until he finds Jerry. The brilliant script by J.H. Wyman focuses on and develops their relationship beautifully until we believe both as human beings in full colour and personality, as opposed to just characters on the page. Gandolfini could play a barstool on camera and still have enough depth and human spirit to win over an audience, the guy was just that good and this remains my favourite character he has ever created. There’s always a qualm people have with this film, and it’s that despite billed as a romance, Pitt and Roberts barely share any screen time together, instead running around the southwest and Mexico trying to find each other. Well, perhaps the poster shouldn’t have shown that image of them sharing a moment like that, but to me this story was never about them together, but the journey they take finding each other, all the crazy people they meet along the way and the strange parable of the pistol Jerry must deliver, which gets it’s own black and white aside flashback sequence that has a Robert Rodriguez feel. This one is a charmer, has enough action, wit and warmth to fill it’s leisurely two hour runtime, and languishes in each minute of it like any good, well thought out story does.

-Nate Hill