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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

THE ‘SHOWDOWN’ TRIPLE FEATURE by Kent Hill

This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .

Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.

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These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly,  died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.

The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.

For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky (The man on the rise), Matthias Hues (The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman (the veteran screenwriter).

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Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.

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Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.