Thursday, January 09, 2014

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #40--The Tourist (2010)

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

I feel I'm not getting photographed by the paparazzi enough. I figure I'll go and hang out in Venice with Brad and Angelina. - Johnny Depp, joking about why he signed on for The Tourist.

What kind of vacation is this?
When tourist Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) meets a mysterious woman, Elise (Angelina Jolie), on a train through Italy, a chain of events disrupts his travels. Drawn into a web of secrets, Frank is chased by the mob and Interpol who, assuming he's someone else, want him for different reasons. As he races to clear his name, Elise finds herself falling for Frank, and everything may not be as it appears. Based on the 1996 French thriller, Anthony Zimmer, The Tourist is a light, fun ride through Venice.

The first thing I heard about The Tourist was that Angelina Jolie was to costar with Johnny. From that moment, I dreaded seeing the movie. I think Angelina Jolie is a good actress, but I'm not on the Brangelina Bandwagon. I get tired of seeing and hearing about their every move (which I realize may be more the media's fault than theirs). I don't quite understand the fascination. 

I assumed it was because of the Angelina Factor that I ended up seeing so much about The Tourist despite my efforts to avoid the news. I was only more discouraged by what I read: When my dad surprised me with a gift from the grocery store, a tabloid covered with claims that steamy sex scenes between the stars were slated to be filmed for The Tourist, "Ewwwwww!" was my reflexive reaction. (I read it anyway and kept one of Johnny's photos. Thanks, Dad!) I don't want to see that and luckily we don't! Also, people began comparing The Tourist to Alfred Hitchcock's suspense thrillers, saying it was bound to be amazing because of the first-time pairing of the world's two biggest box office stars. I'm no publicist, but making those kinds of comparisons and grand statements before filming even starts is a recipe for disaster.   

Journalists, are you aware that all the articles you wrote that I read leading up to The Tourist's release date had the slant of what it was like when Johnny met Angelina? To be completely fair, why not explore what it was like when Angelina and Johnny met each other? Or, why not write all your articles with me in mind, and find out what it was like when Angelina met Johnny? Let's turn this around to talk about my fascination! 

I got over my reservations about The Tourist pretty quickly. If Johnny was up for it, I'd do my best to conquer my Angelina Aversion and see this movie with an objective eye. I looked forward to the story and seeing how the final product came out. The director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, was new to me, and costar Paul Bettany is always reliably good. I was hopeful. Let's go to Venice!

It's all about casting.
The Tourist seemed to get universal bad reviews. My favorite one came from my friend before the movie was even out: "Have you see the previews for Johnny Depp's new movie?" she asked me. "Did you see his hair? I don't think it's going to do well." I hadn't considered his hair, but something about him did seem different to me. I didn't realize what it was until after I saw the movie and read his interviews about it: he gained weight for the role. All this, I assumed, is how he thought his character, a math teacher from Wisconsin, should look, which was fine with me. 

Reviewers, however, thought Johnny's performance was dumb, boring, and beneath his talent. Did they not catch that his character is an innocent "average guy" caught in a mystery in a foreign land? "He's definitely an everyman who is approached by this enchantress, this unbelievably beautiful, interesting, cultured vixen, and is taken on the ride of his life," Johnny explains. "Frank leaves the country for the first time, and he goes to Venice. He's had no great highs, he's had no great lows in his life, and he's thrown into this absurd and violent horror show and has to deal with it." 

Maybe because I know Johnny never creates boring characters, I assumed when I first saw The Tourist that there were reasons behind Frank's innocent and at times dumbstruck behavior. It's true, I also think Johnny can make drinking a cup of coffee more interesting than most people, but I'm not alone! "There are certain actors who have the ability to play ordinary fascinatingly so that you have this sense of an ordinary man who is trapped in an extraordinary situation," Screenwriter Jullian Fellows says. "That, I think, is what we have in Johnny Depp." Maybe that's why his performance doesn't bother me as much as it does the rest of the world. "Johnny, I think, has always played very unique characters, and I think he always, in pretty much every film he's in, he is likable," Angelina Jolie says. "He's a nice person, and I think that kindness and that fun comes across in anything he does." 

Still, for once, I see where the critics are coming from. Even I cringed at certain moments during this movie. When bad guys are shooting at Frank through his hotel room's bathroom door, he yells into the phone to the front desk clerk (who he'd called for help) that he's "gotta go!" And, whenever flustered in his foreign surroundings, Frank attempts to communicate with Italians in Spanish too often. For me, that running joke gets old quickly. And, is the slow motion used toward the end of the movie really necessary? Usually when I watch Johnny's movies, I get so wrapped up in the story and his character that I forget it's him. But these kinds of moments pulled me out of my suspension of disbelief with thoughts that Johnny wouldn't say or do these things. 

But I forgive these few goofy moments because one of the greatest things about Johnny is that he will always go for what's funny. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck agrees. "He just has such an incredible sense of humor. Straight from the first meeting that we had, I knew that I had to write a lot of humor into the script because he's just an incredibly funny person. He just really makes everybody laugh." His love for improvisation and great sense of humor made some days long but full of giggles. While filmed, the director couldn't use any of it: "It would have made our film an instant NC-17. All of his improvisations are always completely obscene, but it was very, very funny." I guess we'll see this footage on The Tourist's Criterion Collection Edition, right? Right?

I know, I may have blown my objectivity already, but Angelina Jolie bothered me more than Johnny's corny comedy. I felt that she was miscast in the role of Elise, which has nothing to do with the dread I felt about her being in this movie. Hear me out: The movie opens with Elise walking around and pausing with a Mona Lisa smile. She knows she's being watched. She says nothing for quite a while so I focused on her look. While I loved and wanted most of her wardrobe, Angelina Jolie's makeup and hair made her look so much older than she actually is; she instantly reminded me of Dynasty-era Joan Collins. And, even though she uses a good British accent, I could not forget that I was watching Angelina Jolie. I wish they had picked a lesser-known or unknown actress rather than the most famous one in the world. Angelina Jolie is good as Elise, but the character is too cool, mysterious, and untouchable. Elise seems boring to me, yet everyone who sees her trips over themselves in her presence. Because of the huge gap between Frank's naivete and Elise's uber-sophistication, I didn't see much chemistry. After the movie, I started imagining Scarlett Johanssen or Marion Cotilliard in the role of Elise. 

Did you know that there are other interesting people in this movie? As expected, Paul Bettany is great as Inspector John Acheson. But my favorite costar is the real bad guy, mob boss Reginald Shaw, who is wonderfully played by Steven Berkoff (right). In this movie, you also might recognize Timothy Dalton and Rufus Sewell.  

You're in Venice; enjoy it!
Despite the complaints I just unloaded, I don't think The Tourist is nearly as bad as everyone said. In fact, watching it again recently for Johnny Kitties, I really liked it, Angelina Jolie and all. The Tourist is a movie you have to be in the mood for because you just have to go with it and enjoy the scenery. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck concurs, "I really hope that, over time, this will be the film that people turn to when they feel low and just want to spend two hours soaring through the beauty that the world has to offer and when they just want to relax for two hours." 

The Tourist is only his second movie. His directorial debut was The Lives of Others, an excellent German drama about the secret police's surveillance of artists in East Berlin in 1984. It won a bunch of awards, including an Oscar for best foreign language film in 2007. No wonder critics blasted The Tourist as a sub-par follow up. "I think a lot of people, a lot of critics certainly, misunderstood this film when it came out and somehow thought I was going to make another The Lives of Others and, because it turned out to be The Tourist, it must have fallen short of that ambition," the director says. "One thing that was very important to me in this film was to have ultimate clarity at all times. I wanted this to be the kind of film where you could just lay back and know that you didn't have to think too hard or exert yourself, that you could just be enveloped in this world of clarity and luxury and beauty and, hopefully, some suspense. But I wanted it to feel easy." 

When I first saw The Tourist in the theaters, I knew immediately why it was being compared to Alfred Hitchcock's movies. They were aiming to make a glamorous mystery reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Whether they succeeded is debatable, but I saw that spirit in it immediately. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck was researching and writing a script about suicide when Angelina Jolie asked him to direct The Tourist. It was a welcome relief from the dark subject he'd been studying: "I was really looking to do something completely different after The Lives of Others, and The Tourist really seemed to fit that bill because it was really all about beauty and humor and glamour," he says. They talked about bringing old Hollywood glamour back with The Tourist. "When he spoke about the importance of just something luxurious in cinema, and something fun, and something exciting for people to watch, like those old classic movies, it seemed like a perfect match," Angelina Jolie says of her initial talks with the director. Producer Graham King adds, "What Florian wanted out of this movie was the elegance of a European movie with two great American movie stars."

I left the theater feeling like I'd been on vacation. People who don't watch as many old movies as I do may have wanted more action and explosions, but there's nothing wrong with this movie's slow pace; it gives you more time to enjoy the Italian scenery. "Florian and I really wanted the film to kind of speak to the beauty of Venice," Production Designer John Hutman says. Venice is another character in The Tourist and I loved the decadence of it all. "I had the ambition that with every picture that we made here, with every frame, to create a painting," Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck explains. "There's never an excuse in this film not to go for the maximally beautiful. Nothing is easier to create than random ugliness. You can point a camera at anything, but to create beauty, that's really very, very hard." 

Despite all the bad reviews, The Tourist was nominated for three Golden Globes - best actor for Johnny, best actress for Angelina Jolie, and even best picture. Johnny won a Teen Choice Award for favorite male action star that year too.  

Despite all the water, The Kitties can handle Venice.
How can you not appreciate a movie that has Johnny running in pajamas on the rooftops of Venice? Here, we capture some lovely Italian scenery while Elise (Ashes) recognizes someone she a precarious situation. (Yes, in the movie, that's really Johnny running across terra-cotta tile rooftops in Venice. He got bloody feet to prove it! My question is where were the safety nets?)

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #40. The Tourist (2010) [October 19, 2013]

What else did Johnny accomplish in the 2000s?  
Johnny is a busy man. Here are a few more highlights from the decade. 

  • 2002: In April, Johnny and Vanessa Paradis welcomed a son, Jack! In 2004, Johnny explained to Oprah how different it'd been raising his son compared to his daughter: "My daughter, from the first second, was just a little princess - very delicate, very girlie, and incredibly, you know, soft. My son, almost immediately, would volt himself into walls. He runs around with these plastic pirate swords swatting at everyone."
  • 2004: Johnny partnered with producer Graham King to create a production company called Infinitum Nihil. Over the years, this company has snatched up interesting prospects, like adapting Nick Hornby's Long Way Down and Gregory David Roberts's Shantarum. These films have yet to come to fruition, but in the meantime, Infinitum Nihil has supported several of Johnny's own movies as well as Martin Scorsese's wonderful Oscar-winning film, Hugo. Rent it! 

  • 2005: Johnny joined Hollywood royalty, setting his prints in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre!

  • 2006: As you might remember from Johnny's participation in The Source in 1999 and other related activities over the years, Johnny's been a lifelong fan of the Beat Generation writers. He contributed to another documentary called The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg. In this DVD re-release of the 1993 film, he shared his memories about the poet, with whom he was good friends. 

What's Next? Johnny kicks off 2011 as a lizard in a Spaghetti Western cartoon called Rango.   

Image copyright credits: All images from The Tourist: Sony Pictures; Johnny with Vanessa Paradis in 2002: Alex Berliner/BEI/MAXPPP; Johnny's cemented hands: Splash, Johnny with Vanessa Paradis at the ceremony: Paul Smith/Featureflash, Johnny's cement square: Reuters; The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg poster: Docurama Films; When Your Strange poster: Rhino Entertainment 

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