Johnny Depp and Amber Heard star in The Rum Diary, in theaters Friday. Photograph courtesy of GK Films
The folks over at IFC asked an interesting question this week: “Is Johnny Depp the next Nicolas Cage?” That may seem cruel, considering the state of Cage’s career these days. But Depp is four movies into a steadily worsening, no-end-in-sight pirate movie franchise. His later Tim Burton collaborations are performances of one-note mania in comparison to what was once nuanced magic. His choices seem less inclined to challenge as they are to maintain a particular air of quirky Depp-ness. It’s a valid question. This week, we get to see if returning for another trip into the fractured, drug-addled world of Hunter S. Thompson might be the thing to shake the beads out of Depp’s braided beard.
Depp stars, as he did in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as the Thompson stand-in in this adaptation of the author’s early novel about a journalist who, feeling stifled by Eisenhower-era stodginess, leaves New York for Puerto Rico. Long-inactive director Bruce Robinson takes the reins, and one hopes he’s able to bring the anything-could-happen energy of his early outings in ’80s cult classics Withnail and I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising to Thompson’s always lively storytelling. One also hopes Depp can step back from letting quirks dominate his characters.
Filmfest DC, which takes place every spring, has a specialized autumn offshoot in the Arabian Sights Film Festival, now in its 16th year. Arabian Sights assembles a group of movies every fall from countries such as Egypt, Palestine, and Morocco, as well as European-produced films set in the Arab world. This year’s festival has a particular concentration on Egyptian films—five of the 11 films on the schedule originated there.
Opens tonight at the Embassy of France, and continues through November 6 with screenings at Mazza Gallerie and the Goethe-Institut. Check the schedule for complete listings.
One of the most anticipated movies of the fall, thanks to continued goodwill at festivals throughout 2011, Martha Marcy May Marlene is the debut feature from writer/director Sean Durkin. It stars Elizabeth Olsen (the much more talented younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) as Martha, a young woman who escapes a repressive cult and flees to her older sister’s bucolic Connecticut vacation home. But leaving the cult isn’t quite the same as leaving the cult behind; Martha finds she has difficulty cutting ties and suffers from the feeling that the cult members could come to retrieve her at any moment. This is a gorgeously constructed psychological thriller, blurring the lines between past and present, reality and paranoia, until we’re just as unsure as she is of what might be happening. John Hawkes, nominated for an Oscar last year for his role as a charismatically frightening rural character in Winter’s Bone, gives yet another unforgettable performance here.
Take a moment to pity poor William Castle. The B-movie producer and director was a showman of the highest order but wanted to be an artist. According to Shock Value, Jason Zinoman’s excellent recent analysis of the birth of the modern horror movie,Castle’s last chance at respectability slipped away when Hollywood mogul Robert Evans took Rosemary’s Baby out of his hands and gave it to a young European upstart, Roman Polanski, to direct.
Don’t pity Castle for too long, though; he may have been a better showman than an artist, but as a showman he was unparalleled, a master of selling movies with schlocky but fun gimmickry. For his 1959 Vincent Price vehicle The Tingler, in which the titular creature attaches to people’s spines and can only be defeated by screams, Castle’s company had theaters showing the film attach vibrating motors to the bottom of some seats. Through the use of these real-life “tinglers,” Castle created a unique early form of audience interaction. The AFI is showing the film on Halloween night with the promise of a “live interactive show.” And if you’re looking to make a night of it at the AFI, you can opt for a double or triple feature by showing up early to see Price in Roger Corman’s adaptation of Poe’s The Raven; or stay late for Price, Corman, and Poe once again with The Masque of the Red Death.
Ever heard the name William Colby? For most of his career, anonymity might have been considered part of his job. Colby eventually did find his way into the public eye as director of the CIA during the ’70s, but before that he was heavily involved in the agency’s covert operations, and was a part of the organization since its post–World War II inception. The Man Nobody Knew—the first feature-length documentary from award-winning filmmaker Carl Colby—paints a portrait of William Colby using archival footage and interviews with his contemporaries combined with the personal search of a son trying to understand an elusive father’s identity.
Like the idea of midnight movies but find the cult faves that dominate E Street’s usual midnight offerings a little too, well, midnight movie-ish? The cinema’s midnight program has been such a success that it’s expanding in an entirely different direction with this series, which shows movies Friday and Saturday at midnight but concentrates on well-worn classics such as Singin’ in the Rain, Citizen Kane, and Modern Times. Kicking things off this weekend is a film that bridges the gap (just a little) between the cult and the classic: the original 1958 version of The Fly.
Some films become cult classics by surprise, over the course of years; others feel destined for that designation the moment you watch them. The directorial debut of British comic Joe Cornish is the latter, and one of the most fun genre flicks of the year, a blend of sci-fi, horror, and social commentary delivered with a deft comedic touch. Taking place during one night in a low-income London housing project, the film examines the effect of an alien invasion on this socially fractured block as a group of miscreant kids suddenly becomes the first line of defense against the invasion, forcing some unlikely alliances. Cornish displays a huge love for ’80s sci-fi and horror, reveling in a low-budget aesthetic that, rather than making the film seem cheap, ends up inspiring creativity—for instance, creating monsters that are essentially muppets with glowing rows of sharp teeth, yet that are no less creepy despite their simplicity. You can read my full review here.
Special features: Three commentary tracks—one with Cornish and the movie’s kids, one with him and the primary adult cast members, and one with him and producer Edgar Wright. Also included are an hour-long making-of film, a separate 20-minute featurette on just the monster effects, and a few more assorted featurettes beyond that. In short, there’s enough to keep fans of the film busy for a while.
View the trailer: