Tuesday, December 20, 2011

See you in 2012!

Hi everyone,

I'm off to spend time with family in Ohio 'til the end of the year. Lily will be here, but she hates using the computer, so....I'll be back in January. See you then!

Happy holidays to you! 



Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sink

In the mornings and evenings as Julie gets ready for work or bed, Ashes waits in the bathroom for some "me" time and a drink from the faucet. If Julie takes too long getting there, she'll start complaining and kicking her water bowl around.

Here, we haven't gotten to that point yet. Just wait.

Sink (December 16, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: December 16, 2011)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Separated?

When Lily lounges on her closet cat climber, her back legs hang over the edge in whatever direction they fancy. Sometimes, it makes me wonder if they're really connected to the rest of her body. (They are.)

Separated? (December 9, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: December 9, 2011)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #15--The Brave (1997)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Rafael and his son Frankie
"We say all the time, 'I would kill for my family' or 'I would die for my family.' But would you really? I always thought of this story as the ultimate sacrifice." Johnny Depp

How brave are you?
As Rafael, Johnny Depp plays a poor, unemployed, alcoholic Native American who is desperate to provide for his wife and two young children. He wants to get them out of their trailer life in Morgantown, a village set among refuse, but having just served 3 years in prison for robbery and assault hasn't helped in his search for a legitimate job in town. He receives word of a different way out: He hears that a man named McCarthy (Marlon Brando) will pay $50,000 for his life. "Watching a painful death can be a great inspiration to those who are not dying, so that they can see how brave we can be when it's time to go," McCarthy says. "It the final measure of bravery to stand up to death." Yeah, he's crazy. But Rafael makes a deal with him. Then, with one week left to live, he strives to do right by his family and regain their respect before he goes.

Johnny takes it to heart.
Based on the novel by Gregory McDonald, Johnny has always been fascinated with this idea. So much so that, aside from starring in The Brave, he co-wrote the screenplay (with writer Paul McCudden and older brother/author D.P. Depp) and directed the film. Johnny later described some unanticipated complications: "As a director, you have to be in complete control of the set and surroundings. As an actor, you have to be--in a sense--out of control and unaware of what's going on on the set and all those really fun production problems." He said that editing scenes in which his friends were doing such good work was a nightmare task.

I don't think it was Johnny's idea to present The Brave for competition at the Cannes Film Festival, but he felt rushed to finish when it was selected. People were visibly moved by the film as the exited the theater at its premiere there, so Johnny was shocked that some critics panned it in the next morning's papers.

I'll take it!
The Brave wasn't available in the United States for a long time. (Now, you can find it, though it's never been officially distributed here.) I first found it on eBay: a weary video copy with yellow foreign language subtitles. Where it exactly came from, I do not recall--I swear. (I've since upgraded to a legit DVD copy without subtitles.)

I don't know what the critics said about The Brave because I don't often read reviews, especially bad ones. But I side with the moved crowd. When I first saw The Brave, it made me cry too.

A visiting friend looked through my Johnny DVD Collection once and asked me about The Brave. "It's for hardcore fans only," I said without hesitation. "It's depressing." I didn't warn her because it's a bad movie: It's just not for the masses, and I don't think it was ever meant to be.

Marlon is mental.
Still, I've never wanted to see or know about a Johnny Movie more than this one! Knowing what I know about Johnny, it's clear when watching The Brave that there's so much of him in every frame (even if I can't exactly pinpoint everything). And, I love that he brought in his friends--Marlon Brando, Frederick Forrest, and Iggy Pop, among others--to help him create this film.

Yes, the story is bleak, but you have to commend Johnny for even tackling this difficult subject, investing his own money into the project to get it made, and exposing so much of himself in every aspect of the film. Overall, there are some really great moments, and there are some not-so-great moments. It's an earnest effort that I love because its Very Johnny. "I really approached the film as if it were a white big piece of paper, and I was just going to draw a picture on it," Johnny said. "And whether the picture was good or bad, whatever people thought of it, what they could never take away was that it was my picture."

The Kitties are pretty brave....
With such a dark subject, it was hard to choose what to draw for this month's tribute. But it occurred to me that the most powerful takeaway from this movie is realizing that situations like this actually exist.

In the opening sequence, backed by Iggy Pop's haunting score, the camera slowly pans over mountains of trash--and a few random scavenger hunters rummaging through it--until it reaches a trailer tucked in a small clearing. It's someone's home. Someone lives there--surrounded by garbage. You can feel the desperation from the start. And, it pretty much goes downhill from there.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #15--The Brave (1997) [September 16, 2011]

What's Next?
There's fear. There's loathing. It's Vegas.

(Note: Except for my drawing, all images © Acappella Pictures.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vanity

I've been watching the new show on ABC called "Once Upon a Time" about Snow White and other fairy tale characters who are under a spell cast by The Evil Queen. She's trapped everyone in a "normal" town where they all have forgotten who they really are and lost their happy endings.

Since the show started, The Kitties have been testing out all the mirrors to decide who is the fairest of them all. The jury is still out.

Vanity (November 26, 2011)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #14--Donnie Brasco (1997)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]


Donnie snags Lefty: "I got him--I got my hooks in the guy."
"The danger of this kind of film is having it categorized a mob film, which this film is not. It's a real absurd kind of love story." Johnny Depp

Johnny goes undercover.
Based on the New York Times bestseller, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia by Joseph D. Pistone, this film gives a realistic account of mafia life. There's no glamour or grandiosity about it: They spend their days meeting on the street corner, waiting for instructions from the boss. They make minor drug deals and steal parking meters. Occasionally, they are unnecessarily violent and kill people (usually within their own organization).

This true story details Joe Pistone's 6-year infiltration into New York's mafia world in the 1970s under the persona "Donnie Brasco." Posing as a jewel thief, Donnie (Johnny Depp) first befriends Lefty (Al Pacino), who takes him under his wing and shows him the ropes of mafia living. Soon, Donnie's loyalty to his work and to Lefty clash, leaving him alone, confused, and in danger.

"Johnny Depp grows up!"
It's the shades.
That's what all the headlines read when Donnie Brasco was released. I suppose, up to this point, most of Johnny's characters were labeled "innocents" or "outsiders." So, signing on for a bio-pic about an undercover FBI agent infiltrating the New York mob scene opposite Al Pacino, may have seemed like a left turn.

I never really saw it that way. This is a different kind of movie, but all of Johnny's movies are different from the last--That's one of the many Joys of Johnny. But, like some of Johnny's other characters, this guy was alienated and lonely. As director Mike Newell notes, he's locked in his own head, saddened and stressed by the pressure.

To prepare for this role, Johnny spent a lot of time with the real "Donnie Brasco," Joe Pistone. "I studied him like he was a science project," Johnny says. "I mean, I really sponged as much as I could from the guy." Mike Newell noticed: "The thing he got out of Joe is this extreme immobility in his face. If you look at him, he almost doesn't move his face at all in the movie. It's like a mask. You can never tell what Joe is thinking." In the end, I think Joe Pistone approved of the performance: "He picked up all the mannerisms, the voice--It's kind of eerie."

"Fuggetaboutit!"
I'm not a big fan of mafia movies--too much glamorized violence--but I had a feeling this one would be different. Every time I see Donnie Brasco, I'm reminded of how brilliantly it's put together. Here's my list of highlights:

1. Mike Newell. I was most eager to see this movie because of its director, Mike Newell, who is best known for his 1994 comedy hit Four Weddings and a Funeral--the movie that made Hugh Grant a star. However, my favorite Mike Newell film, Enchanted April, came two years earlier. That quiet, beautiful movie follows four British women--strangers--who decide to escape the dreariness of London's rainy season and spend a month renting a villa in Italy, where they rekindle romances and find new love. (It will make you think that all you have to do to fix your life is rent an Italian villa with strangers for a month of sunshine and flowers.) "I was sick of charm," Mike Newell says of his decision to direct Donnie Brasco. But I paced the floors waiting to see how he would bring the sensibility of Enchanted April to a movie about the mob.

As I suspected, he brought such a new perspective to Donnie Brasco that it doesn't really fit under the mafia movie label. The story is more about friendship and loyalty than car chases and machine guns. By the end, you feel bad for the "bad guys" and bad for Donnie, who feels bad for them too. Mike Newell said he thought a lot about Arthur Miller's classic play, "A Death of Salesman," while planning to make Donnie Brasco. I totally get it! And, you will too when you see this movie.

2. The script. This is a sad movie, but I love that it has funny moments and how complete and authentic the story is. You'll recognize every character and know what they're about through simple actions or dialogue. Nominated for an Oscar, the screenplay written by Paul Attanasio, captures it all--the language, the differences between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the conflict between Donnie's undercover life and his real one. Best of all, it's given us great words like "fuggetaboutit" and "fugazi."

Al, in even cooler shades.
3. Al Pacino. I mainly knew of Al Pacino as a mafia movie bad guy until I saw his documentary Looking for Richard, in which he explores the impact of Shakespeare on the arts and analyzes Richard III, acting out various scenes from the play. This fascinating documentary shows what an amazing actor Al Pacino is, how he can play any part, and how enthusiastic he is about his craft. Of course, I've seen a bunch of great Al Pacino movies since then, but Looking for Richard made me pay more attention.

So, hearing that Johnny would be playing "Donnie Brasco" opposite Al Pacino as "Lefty Ruggero" was thrilling. "When you look at all the characters that Al has played, there's something inevitable about him playing Lefty," Paul Attanasio

4. The supporting cast. This movie has some of the best mafia guys in it, including Michael Madsen and Bruno Kirby. But the scenes that were brightest for me were all the domestic ones with Joe's wife Maggie (Anne Heche). Anne Heche is only in a few scenes but she makes the most of them all. I think the marriage counsellor scene is my favorite of the whole movie. Anne Heche won the Best Supporting Actress Award from The National Board of Review for work in Donnie Brasco.

5. Johnny. I love everything about this performance; there are so many layers. "Johnny is one of those actors who performs like a long distance runner. In any film, you stay with him throughout in anticipation of the finale," Mike Newell says. "He tells you a story in his own good time. And, more important, you are willing to wait for it." Joe Pistone agrees, "He brought a sensibility to the part. That's a side of my not many people see." In his review of Donnie Brasco, Gene Siskel called Johnny the film's secret ingredient--a big, big talent to watch. (I say that all the time!)

Can you believe they were filming in a card shop in my neighborhood in Brooklyn while I was living there for my internship? (See the Florida gift shop scene.) I felt the vibes but was never lucky enough to discover anything interesting around town. I guess he was working undercover.

The secret is out!
Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #14--Donnie Brasco (1997) [August 13, 2011]  

This is the moment when Donnie's real identity is revealed. (I'm not giving anything away here, am I? You knew they'd all find out eventually, right?) Against his wishes but for his safety, the FBI pulled Joe Pistone out of the undercover operation 6 years after it began. Here, Lefty (B.J.) can't quite believe it, despite the photographic evidence they provided.

Joe Pistone's work led to 200 indictments and 100 convictions. The mob still has a $500,000 contract out on his head.

What's next?
Johnny takes on a tough story that's a tough sell and a tough job--writing, directing, and starring in The Brave.

(Note: Except for my drawing, all images © Tristar Pictures.)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Scary

Scary (November 3, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: October 28, 2011)


When we first met The Mother Kitty, she was going by the name of Ghost. We figured why but offered a different name immediately because she's not that scary.... (Don't bother telling her this: She will deny it.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fuel

Last weekend, I flew to Columbus to celebrate my nephew's 8th birthday with family. I spent this week stuck on drawing last Sunday's scene--sitting on the couch with Norman cradled in my arms, both of us enjoying one of our unavoidable naps. (When I go home, I always think of it as time to refuel.) But drawing was fruitless: My human looked more dead than asleep. And, I couldn't keep from falling asleep after only a few pencil lines (and lots of erasing) each night I attempted to make progress.

Today is the first day I've felt back to normal--a noticeable incremental change that I must attribute to yoga. The first day back to class, it was as though I'd never done yoga before and I may not last the hour. The second day, I felt a little stronger. And, yesterday, I was at about 97%. I took the day off from class today and got back to drawing with a new idea.

Fuel (October 21, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: October 27, 2011)
No wonder Lily greets me like this every time she wakes from a nap (corkscrew tale typically included). Here, she demonstrates what she calls Downward-Facing Cat using my old mat, which she dug out from the bedroom closet. (Is that why she always wants to get in there?)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Contraption

This week's drawing took a while because Simon is meticulous about his projects in the garage. I'm not sure what contraption he's making or its purpose...or even if he's made up his mind about it.

But the music is blasting, and the creative juices are flowing. Last I checked, he was walking in circles, muttering to himself. He could be like this for days.

Contraption (October 7, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: October 7, 2011)

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #13--Dead Man (1995)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

"It's preferable not to travel with a dead man." Henri Micheax
William Blake leaves Cleveland to start a new life in Machine.
© Miramax Films
Dead Man begins with pulsating images of Johnny Depp riding a train--looking out the window, reading, observing other passengers, sleeping. It's your typical ride through the Old West in the 1800s. But when the train fireman (Crispin Glover) starts speaking to Johnny's character, William Blake--a timid accountant headed from Cleveland, Ohio, to a town called Machine, where he's been promised a job--you realize that everyone's a bit off: "I wouldn't trust no words writ down on no piece of paper, especially from no Dickinson Metalworks out in the town of Machine," he warns him. "You're just as likely to catch your own grave."

Dead Man is hard to describe. I'll let writer/director Jim Jarmusch explain it instead: "Dead Man is the story of a young man's journey, both physically and spiritually, into very unfamiliar terrain. William Blake travels to the extreme western frontiers of America sometime in the second half of the 19th century. Lost and badly wounded, he encounters a very odd, outcast Native American named Nobody, who believes Blake is actually the dead English poet of the same name. The story, with Nobody's help, leads William Blake through situations that are in turn comical and violent. Contrary to his nature, circumstances transform Blake into a hunted outlaw, a killer, a man whose physical existence is slowly slipping away. Thrown into a world that is cruel and chaotic, his eyes are opened to the fragility that defines the realm of the living. It is as though he passes through the surface of a mirror, and emerges into a previously unknown world that exists on the other side."

It's true: Johnny gets fatally wounded early on in the film and spends the rest of the movie slowly dying. It sounds really depressing, I know, but it's actually very entertaining! He meets so many unique characters on his journey who are at once comic and tragic, scary and violent, and always captivating.
This is Nobody.
© Miramax Films
  • Robert Mitchum, in his final role, plays Mr. Dickinson, founder of Dickinson Metalworks. He hires bounty hunters to find William Blake and, at their first meeting, turns his back on them to address the giant stuffed bear in the corner of his office. 
  • One of the bounty hunters won't stop talking and sleeps with a teddy bear; another is practically silent, and the third thinks the other two are weirdos.
  • William Blake eventually comes across the campsite of fur traders played by Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jared Harris. Admiring his hair and his outfit, they fight over the new stranger.
  • William Blake's constant companion is Nobody (Gary Farmer), who leads him on his journey to the other side. A fan of William Blake, the poet, Nobody is always quoting random lines of his poetry--much to the bewilderment of William Blake, the accountant.
All the while, William Blake is going through a transformation. The timid accountant becomes a fearless outlaw, who is increasingly weak physically but stronger spiritually.

"Do you know my poetry?"
I always think of Dead Man as a poem. Maybe it's because Johnny's character has the same name as the 18th century British poet whose writings are used and referenced throughout the film. Or, maybe it's because every time I see Dead Man, I discover something new in i. Whenever I watch it, I marvel at it.

I don't think I always felt this way. When I first saw it, I probably left in a daze contemplating it's strangeness and meaning. But this one grows on you.

Shot in black and white, the cinematography by Robby Muller is beautifully crisp. The graphic starkness of the images is exciting. While the story is set in the 1800s, the film is layered with a fantastic soundtrack of acoustic and electric guitar by Neil Young. Despite these mix-and-match elements, the film's surrealist, atmospheric tone, and the nature of the story, I always feel like I'm there, experiencing it.

My Date with a Dead Man.
It was fate that I was in New York for an internship when Dead Man was released in 1996. I doubted the film would ever become mainstream enough to make it anywhere near my home in Ohio, so I was lucky to be in a big city where I could find it. I found the one little theater showing Dead Man in New York and joined six other people in the audience at a weekend matinee. One of my bosses at the time also saw the movie that weekend, and we gave our reviews to our coworkers Monday morning.
Me: "Oh, I loved it! I thought it was really great!"
Boss, shaking her head with a scowl: "I hated it."

Critics took a similar stance. Some claim that Dead Man is one of the best movies of the '90s, and maybe even the 20th century, while others say there is no worse way to waste your time watching this thing. I guess I'm part of the first group, along with at least my mom and my uncle. Dead Man didn't make any money, and it was really expensive to make it historically accurate regarding Native American culture and the Old West of the 1800s. This movie is noted as providing one of the best representations of Native Americans by a non-Native American filmmaker.

© Miramax Films
For his role, Johnny skipped sleeping some nights so that he'd look weary and worn on screen. "He really is one of the most precise and focused people I've ever worked with," Jim Jarmusch said. "The whole crew is kind of amazed by that. That's a side of him that I'm not really familiar with--I'm more familiar with him falling asleep on the couch with the TV on all night. In real life, it's sometimes hard for him to decide where to eat or what to do, but as an actor, he's very precise."

As usual, Johnny was excited for the experience of working on this project. "I did Dead Man so I could work with Jim Jarmusch. I trust Jim as a director, and a friend, and a genius." Watching Jim Jarmusch's movies are always an experience too--good or bad. While I haven't seen them all, my other favorite of his films is called Night on EarthComprised of vignettes about cab drivers and their passengers, it takes you around the world and introduces you to some interesting people doing interesting things--all during the same evening. (Rent it too and have a double-feature!)

The Kitties are on the journey.
When I first thought of starting Johnny Kitties last year, Dead Man was one of the movies that sparked an immediate idea for an illustration. I was sure I'd draw Johnny's meeting with Robert Mitchum and that I had to get the bear in there. But while Mitchum's role is great, it's more of a cameo appearance, and his scene with Johnny is pretty abrupt. Watching Dead Man again recently, I realized that the real star and scene-stealer in this movie is Gary Farmer as Nobody.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #13--Dead Man (1996) [July 9, 2011]

Here, Nobody (Norman) leads William Blake through the forest, on their journey to the spiritual world. In this scene, William Blake doesn't say anything but observes his surroundings. I always imagine he's looking at these gigantic ancient trees that were here before him and will remain here after him. There will always be things out there bigger and wiser than we are.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it's that kind of movie.

Johnny and Jim take a little detour.
Jim, Johnny, and Frank get down to business.
© Rocket Pictures
At the Cannes Film Festival where Dead Man premiered, Johnny and Jim Jarmush participated in another film called Cannes Man, a satire about a producer, Sy Lerner (Seymour Cassel, who--on a bet with a friend--picks a random guy off the street to promote and cons stars at the festival into signing on for his next project. Forget that there's no script, he tells them. It's going to be written by his latest discovery, Frank Rhino (Francesco Quinn), who he claims is the hottest young writer since Hemingway and Faulkner. Johnny plays it up as the typical Hollywood star with his temperamental director. Surrounded by bodyguards, they share drinks, cigarettes, and a bit of meditation amid the madness.

This film is full of cameos, but I think theirs is the best one. My favorite moment? Frank being instantly chummy with Johnny, putting his arm around him while Sy pitches their possible involvement in the project. (So inappropriate, right???) Johnny eventually acknowledges Frank during the discussion: "Hey, you know what? You're touching me. You're invading my personal space."

What's Next?
Johnny makes a miraculous recovery and goes undercover in Donnie Brasco.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Hibernate

After an action-packed weekend in New York -- celebrating with Sting on his birthday, catching the latest scoop from the cast of "Arrested Development," experiencing my first Jon Brion show, and sharing fun times and yummy meals with good friends -- all I wanted to do was hibernate when I returned home.

Luckily, The Kitties made some room for me under the blanket.

(Happy birthday, Sting!

Hibernate (September 30, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: September 30, 2011)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ferocious

Sometimes, Mini is the most ferocious of all of The Kitties.... At least, she thinks she is.


Ferocious (September 23, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: September 23, 2011)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

R.E.M. = Really Excellent Music

I heard the news today that R.E.M. have decided to disband after 31 years of complete coolness!

It's true, I haven't bought any of their music in a while, but it was comforting to know they were around!

Recently, I saw a commercial for their new album, Collapse Into Now, and thought, "I have to check that out!" Then, I saw in a review in the newspaper about guitarist Peter Buck's side supergroup, The Baseball Project, and thought, "How great that they work with other musicians--I have to check that out!" I haven't yet. Did I jinx it?

Ah, well, it's good to end on a high note, I suppose.

In celebration of this brilliant band from Georgia, here's one of my old favorites. (You have no idea how hard it was to pick just one.)

"Fall on Me" R.E.M.
© 1991 MTV Unplugged

So long, R.E.M. Thanks for the music!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mesmerizing

When Lily Cat and I first met, she looked at me just like this.... Wouldn't you have taken her home too? 


Mesmerizing (September 16, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: September 16, 2011)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Boundaries

When Simon first moved in, it took a while for The Mother Kitty to warm up to her new housemate. Some say it's still a work in progress.

Boundaries (September 9, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: September 8, 2011)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Object of Beauty

I've been a fan of Steve Martin forever. Aside from seeming effortlessly funny and starring in some really good movies (e.g., All of Me, L.A. Story, Roxanne, Parenthood, on and on and on....), The Jerk is also a great writer. I've read and loved all of Steve Martin's books--his novellas, his autobiography, and his collection of essays from The New Yorker. 

© Grand Central Publishing
His latest book, An Object of Beauty, is about Lacey Yeager, an ambitious young woman aiming to climb the social and professional ladders of the New York art scene. From her first job as cataloguer at Sotheby's to her rise as an independent gallery owner, this story is like a time capsule. From the 1990s onward, it accurately captures the volatile state of the art scene and the city itself. I know nothing about the art world, its peaks and troughs, and its obsessive collectors, but I found it all pretty fascinating combined with what was actually happening in New York during those years.

I caught Steve Martin being interviewed by Charlie Rose on PBS recently, and he described this story as, "Just, look at what happens here," and Lacey as "tricky." I like Lacey least of all the literary characters he's introduced so far, mainly because I found her ruthlessly ambitious and calculating. I related to her most on those rare occasions when she felt lost or confused, but that's not who she is. 

An Object of Beauty is more than a great novel: It includes color images of artworks and snippets about the artists referenced in the story. I wondered how much research Steve Martin, a long-time art collector, had to do for this novel and how much of it he already knew. 

So, read this book: You'll get little art history lessons throughout an entertaining story. Then, you might find yourself looking at things differently just because the characters in the book are looking at art that way. By the end of it, you'll probably want to shop for new artwork to cover the walls of your home. (I'm still considering it.)

Now, I swear I'm not an obsessive fan who is always seeking Steve Martin out. It's just my luck that, aside from the Charlie Rose interview, I also happened to catch him on Austin City Limits with the Steel Canyon Rangers. (This probably just means I watch too much late-night TV.) And, it's lucky for you because--while completely unrelated to this book--here's a highlight for your enjoyment. I think this song may be almost as good as "King Tut."Almost.

Best,




"Atheists Don't Have No Songs" Steve Martin and the Steel Canyon Rangers
© 2010 Austin City Limits

Friday, September 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #12--Nick of Time (1995)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Johnny is going to be late for his next appointment.
© Paramount Pictures
In Nick of Time, Johnny Depp plays Gene Watson, a public accountant returning from the funeral of his soon-to-be ex-wife with their 6-year-old daughter Lynn (Courtney Chase). Spotted in the crowd in Los Angeles's Union Station, he is chosen by Mr. Smith (Christopher Walken) to assassinate California's governor (Marsha Mason). After snatching Lynn, Mr. Smith gives Mr. Watson 90 minutes to do the deed: Kill the governor, he demands, or your daughter is dead.

Has Johnny gone Square?
Two types of headlines dominated the reviews for Nick of Time: Johnny Depp can't open a movie on his own, and Johnny Depp can't play "normal."

Johnny's always said that his career was built on a series of box office failures. Up to this point, most of his films--whether liked by critics or not--didn't make enough money at the box office for people to notice them for long. Who cares as long as it's a good movie? 

In Nick of Time, Johnny does so many things he hadn't before: With no odd costume, make-up, accent, or fantastical story, he plays a straight-laced accountant and father in an action/thriller. I think it was too much for critics to take, and they translated this move as an attempt to go commercial and become an action star.
  
Johnny never chooses roles based on commercial success. He goes for the experience. Here, he had the chance to work with Christopher Walken. (Yay!) and be directed by John Badham (director of Saturday Night Fever, another good movie). Reading the script kept him on the edge of his seat and reminded him of an old-fashioned Alfred Hitchcock story. Can you blame him for going for it?

My review isn't that bad.
My own family gave Nick of Time mixed reviews: My sister got wrapped up in the story and felt for Johnny's situation, but my dad found the whole thing too unbelievable. I'm somewhere in the middle: It's a respectable movie. Watching it again for Johnny Kitties, I was struck by how tense I felt throughout. Shot in real time before "24" made it popular, the use of handheld cameras amid crowded, busy scenes gives a raw, documentary-like feel, as if you're really there, witnessing what's happening. Marsha Mason's performance as Governor Grant is great, and I love Charles S. Dutton as Huey, the shoe-shine man. (In a key role, he offers some comic relief with some great lines.) And, really, you can't go wrong with Christopher Walken when you need a crazy bad guy. 

Johnny's right: The story does have that old Hitchock feel to it. But, I admit, there are a few corny moments and lines that make it seem more like it was a TV Movie of the Week to me. It's too neat-and-tidy in some places, and there are lots of shots of clocks to constantly remind you of the time. I caught Nick of Time on TV once, and it had an alternate ending that wrapped things up even more neatly than that theatrical release. I can't tell you what it is without ruining it, but it might have solidified my comparison.

"Ninety minutes, Mr. Watson!"
© Paramount Pictures
Maybe the PG-13 rating was the ultimate problem. At one point in the film, Johnny falls 90 feet into a fountain below. Someone asked him which was scarier: Doing the stunt or Christopher Walken? Of course, he responded, "Christopher Walken, definitely!" Really, if you've got Christopher Walken as the bad guy, go for the R. 

While Christopher Walken was my favorite ingredient in Nick of Time, I think Johnny does a fine job as our accountant hero. Like my sister, I found him completely believable--always trying to get out of the situation and ultimately focused on keeping his daughter safe. Johnny has a knack for getting you to care for his characters, whoever they are, without having to do much. Director John Badham agrees, "Johnny has a basic sweetness to him. He's a classic movie actor, like the true greats--Paul Newman, Gary Cooper, even Steve McQueen. Minimalist in approach, but extremely honest. Johnny is that kind of actor. He has this great ability to be in a scene where he may do nothing, yet he establishes his presence on the screen." It's true!

The Kitties get ready to race against the clock.
I picked my favorite scene here: Mr. Smith (Norman) and his accomplice, Ms. Jones (Roma Maffia/Ashes), are scanning the floor of Union Station to find someone to blackmail into committing murder. Meanwhile, Gene Watson (Gordon) is trying to protect his daughter (Mini) from some pestering rollerbladers (B.J. and Simon) who were bothering her while he was on the phone. As he walks away, he knocks over the ashtray can to get rid of them, giving Lynn a valuable lesson, which always makes me laugh: "That's why you should always wear a helmet and kneepads because you never know when you're going to fall down and go boom." The ruckus startles some bystanders (The Mother Kitty, Comet, and Lily) and gets the bad guys' attention.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #12--Nick of Time (1995) [June 25, 2011]

What's Next? 
Johnny's a Dead Man. (Wait, I'm not sure I like how that sounds....)

Monday, September 05, 2011

Mysterious

I'm nearly finished reading An Object of Beauty, Steve Martin's novel about the art world. Because of it, my first thought upon seeing this week's Illustration Friday topic, mysterious, was a work of art with all its interpretations. Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, with her mischievous smile, specifically came to mind.

Only one cat that can rival the mystery of that lady. Scholars are still debating.

Mysterious (September 2, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: September 2, 2011)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Disguise

Disguise (August 26, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: August 29, 2011)


Comet donned this disguise for a while after he saw Superman. He gave it up, saying it only worked 2.7% of the time. He figures he just couldn't match Christopher Reeve's charm. While that is a tall order, we know Comet never lacks in charm. So, I suggested that it was more likely the tail that gave him away. Encouraged, he's back to researching this method.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Influence

A bit under the influence, Simon settles in his sunny window seat for an afternoon nap.

Influence (August 19, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: August 19, 2011)


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Uncle Vanya

Hi everyone,

To go along with my book-related posts, I've decided to add more entertainment value to my blog with some arts-related news. Every once in a while, I put down my markers and make it out of the apartment to attend an event, browse through a museum, or see a movie.

During my sister's visit earlier this month, we did all of that and more. In three days, we visited The Kennedy Center to see Uncle Vanya and Wicked, we toured the Holocaust Museum and the D.C. aquarium, and we squeezed in some Cowboys and Aliens to balance things out.

While I highly recommend all those things, I'll focus on The Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya. Cate Blanchett--one of our favorite, favorite actresses--and her husband writer/director Andrew Upton took over artistic direction of The Sydney Theatre Company in Australia in 2008 and the following year showed up at The Kennedy Center with a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. For that show, we sat four rows from the stage in awe.

This year, they have returned with Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov's classic tale of discontented lives. While we were neither as familiar with this play nor as close to the stage, the production and performances were just as gripping.

Uncle Vanya and Yelena
© Lisa Tomasetti
Set in an old farmhouse managed by Vanya (Richard Roxburgh) and his niece Sonya (Hayley McEllhinney), the story evolves around a prolonged visit from Sonya's father, Professor Serebryakov (John Bell), and his second, much-younger wife Yelena (Cate Blanchett). Love triangles and other personal frustrations are revealed: Vanya worships Yelena. Yelena and Sonya both love the country doctor (Hugo Weaving). And, the professor--who inherited control of the estate from his deceased first wife, Vanya's sister--plans to start fresh by selling the place.

Being a Chekhov play, my sister and I expected it to depress us. Instead, we were surprised by its humor and physicality, aspects enhanced in Andrew Upton's adaptation and under Tamas Ascher's direction. I particularly liked the story's timelessness and modern feel. Despite the play's origin--written in Russia in 1897--time and place are not defined or identifiable in this production. And, all of the characters have fantastic Australian accents.

Following a 6-month break after Uncle Vanya's first run in Sydney, this all-Australian cast reconvened for its exclusive U.S. engagement in D.C. By the time it got here, the director trusted the cast with the material and told them to surprise each other every night. This gives them the freedom to work within the framework of the play and means that each show is apparently a little different from the last. (Now, I kind of want to see it again!)

Catch it while you can! Uncle Vanya plays at The Kennedy Center through August 27.

Cate and Company
Lucky me! When Cate Blanchett was performing in A Streetcar Named Desire here 2 years ago, I attended a lunchtime discussion with her about that play. Repeating the treat, a similar evening discussion with all of Uncle Vanya's major players took place last night. Here are some good comments from satisfied audience members: "I've been coming to the theatre for 40 years, and you, Ms. Blanchett, are the most captivating performer I have ever seen!" and "I know you have your choice of where to take the Sydney Theatre Company productions. You could go to New York--or anywhere--but you chose The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. For that, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart." Right on, brothers.

The final question from the audience was a generic one: What advice would you give a young theatre artist? Richard Roxburgh was last to answer because he took a long time to articulate his response. I think I figured out that he was trying to say you should feel free as an artist. You should feel lucky and  always enjoy the exploration and journey, living life to the fullest. But it came out something like this: "You know, as artists, you have to...you have to....You know, I always think of Pablo Picasso as the ultimate....the ultimate--"
"Philanderer," Cate interrupted.
"Yes! And that's my advice."

While this isn't the same discussion, you can get a taste of Uncle Vanya through this short interview with Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh, which aired on PBS Newshour earlier this week:

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour. (© PBS Newshour)


You can see the full 20-minute PBS Newshour interview here. Enjoy!




Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #11--Don Juan DeMarco (1994)


A note from me:
I know, it's late--technically. While I could go into detail about my frustrating struggles to format this post correctly for the last 4 hours, I'll just say that Blogger does not always cooperate. The spacing will apparently be eternally off, and there is nothing I can do about it. Wait, should I challenge Blogger to a duel now? I don't think I'd win. Oh well--Here's this month's Johnny Kitties....Enjoy!

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Johnny is Don Juan!
"Oh well, now I must die."
© New Line Cinema
Ten days before retirement, psychiatrist Jack Mickler (Marlon Brando) meets his next patient who challenges him to a duel. Dressed in full regalia of fabled Spanish seducer Don Juan DeMarco (Johnny Depp), the broken-hearted 21-year-old threatens suicide over his lost love Dona Ana. Dr. Mickler thinks fast, poses as Don Octavio De Flores, and talks him out of it. They strike a deal: Don Juan had 10 days to tell his story (in a great Spanish accent that Johnny modeled after Ricardo Mantalban by watching "Fantasy Island" reruns--I love that!). Then, Dr. Mickler must decide whether Don Juan's telling the truth or if he should be committed to a mental institution. 

Along with Dr. Mickler, the hospital staff is soon transfixed by Don Juan, his story, and his views on love and life. Who can  blame them? As Dr. Mickler says, "It's a wonderful world that he's in."

Johnny meets Marlon Brando!
Instant pals...
© New Line Cinema
Not only is the thought of Johnny portraying The World's Greatest Lover quite appealing, but this film also reunites Johnny with Faye Dunaway for the first time since Arizona Dream. The most exciting thing about this movie, though, is that Johnny costars with Marlon Brando! Recognizing the importance of this pairing, I was even more thrilled to learn that it was Johnny's idea to cast Marlon as the psychiatrist. (Imagine me nodding here, "Of course he did!") "Everybody looked at me like I was insane," Johnny says, "But he's the one I kept seeing in the role when I read the script." Although writer/director Jeremy Leven assumed there was no chance to cast Marlon Brando, he agreed to try anyway. "The next thing I know, I'm sitting in Marlon's living room, and we're making a movie," Leven remembers. "I think he really liked Johnny." (Imagine me nodding here, "Of course he did!")

The rest of the crew describes the experience as the passing of the torch from the greatest actor of one generation to the greatest actor of another. "I think Johnny is far and away the most talented of today's young actors," Jeremy Leven notes. "He is very much like Marlon on many fronts. They both have a 100% bull detector in that they know what is false and not working in a scene. They both have incredible instinct for knowing what writing is all about. And then, of course, they both have a lot of turmoil inside." Johnny takes a different view: "All the feelings are there--teacher and student, father and son. He's a hero." 


Johnny and Marlon loved working together on this film. "The most important thing I learned from Marlon was to keep a straight face," Johnny says. "That became the objective in a lot of the scenes, to just be able to get through it without exploding. Marlon is hilarious." They enjoyed a similar sense of humor and remained close friends until Marlon's death 10 years later. Can you imagine? Once the film was released, Johnny had to respond to constant questions about his relationship with the screen legend. Early on, he mentioned that his sister heard a phone message from Marlon on his answering machine once. Her comment: "Your life is so surreal...."


© New Line Cinema
Don Juan is contagious.
Don Juan DeMarco will make you happy. This film has a special spirit and sweetness with really funny moments that the whole family can enjoy. (Mine did.) Whether you believe Don Juan's story or not, you can't help but want become part of his world or--at least--appreciate love a little more than you did before.

(Be warned, like Benny and JoonDon Juan De Marco includes another infectious song, Bryan Adams's "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman." It will get--Great, it's stuck in my head.) 

The Kitties feel the love....
My favorite scene in this movie is the one in which Johnny isn't being Don Juan. But I lost the vote to draw that. When your subject is The World's Greatest Lover, you have to acknowledge all of his conquests--despite the daunting task of portraying 1,501 cats. 

So, here, Don Juan is in session with Dr. Mickler (Norman). They are discussing his escape from the harem in which he was enslaved for 2 years.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #11--Don Juan De Marco (1994) [May 30, 2011]

While Don Juan describes bidding adios to his many lovers, I imagine this tale may have sparked other romantic notions in Dr. Mickler. He may not realize it yet, but inspiration is brewing. Soon, he'll learn of Don Juan's true love Dona Ana, and Dr. Mickler will book a flight with his wife (The Mother Kitty) and ex-patient to the Island of Eros, where Dona Ana has vowed to wait through all eternity for Don Juan's return.

Do you think she's still there? Do you see yourselves waltzing on the beach with The Micklers now too? Why not?

Next month, Johnny's late for an appointment.
Johnny loses the accent and plays an accountant. Set your watch for action/thriller Nick of Time.