SLASH, Jason Mraz, Richard E. Grant and Terry Gilliam have added music and memories to Johnny Depp's new movie about artist Ralph Steadman. Depp signed on to narrate documentary For No Good Reason about the life and work of the British cartoonist last year (13), and the finished film also features many other famous friends.
Created over 15 years by filmmaker Charlie Paul, For No Good Reason includes footage of Steadman at work and anecdotes from late writer Hunter S. Thompson, who formed a bond with the Brit in the 1970s and used his illustrations in books like Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, which was adapted for the big screen and starred Depp.
Gilliam, who directed the 1998 film, and Grant offer tributes, while Steadman fans Slash, All American Rejects, Mraz, James Blake, Ed Harcourt and Crystal Castles created music for the film's soundtrack.
For No Good Reason opens in limited release in America later this month (Mar14).
Johnny Depp has signed on to narrate a new documentary about the life and work of British cartoonist and artist Ralph Steadman, who often collaborated with the movie star's late writer pal Hunter S. Thompson.
You may know Hunter S. Thompson as a drug fiend. Or a pervert. Or a hero. Or a drunk. Or a great writer. Or a gun enthusiast. Or an extreme leftist. Or maybe even as a friend of Jimmy Buffett. But no matter which descriptor you land on, it’s not a complete picture of the Thompson legend. He was, and continues to be, a deep well of intrigue. It’s no wonder that a man with such a wealth of stories – especially stories in the vein of his own brand of Gonzo journalism – is consistently sought as a subject on film. But at the same time, it’s that wealth that makes it almost impossible to capture a comprehensive representation, though one man seems to have the art of HST down to a science.
It’s fairly easy to see that Johnny Depp is hands-down the best portrayer of Thompson out there, but that’s not to say there haven’t been other valiant attempts; the most notable of which was an undertaking by funny man Bill Murray. In 1980, Murray attempted to fill those infamous aviator sunglasses in a little film called Where the Buffalo Roam. It was based on Thompson’s own writing from works like The Great Shark Hunt, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with an emphasis on an obituary Thompson wrote for his cohort, attorney and activist Oscar Zeta Acosta called “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat.” The film follows very loosely the way in which Thompson rose to fame while delving into his relationship with Acosta (Peter Boyle). While the real Thompson served as “executive consultant” on the film, Where the Buffalo Roam is a bit of a cartoonish depiction of the beloved writer. Not that there aren’t elements of Thompson that are comical and food for a film like this, but the film itself only scratched the surface.
Aside from other iterations like Doonsbury’s Uncle Duke – who was so dedicated a representation of Thompson that his character left the Doonsbury world the same way HST left ours –Depp is the only actor who’s been brave enough to throw his whole being into filling those large, complex shoes. And he’s done it not once or twice, but four separate times. And each time he does it, we see a different facet of Thompson. First – and most famously – Depp starred as Duke, the protagonist and Thompson’s persona in the Terry Gilliam film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s a part that almost went to other actors like Jack Nicholson, John Malkovich and even John Cusack before it landed in Depp’s lap, but it’s a role that seemed to be almost tailored for him.
In preparation, Depp spent four months living in the basement of Thompson’s famous Owl Farm, reading his notes, studying his mannerisms and getting perhaps the most important feature of all: Thompson’s stamp of approval. Depp donned Thompson’s own clothing in the film and displayed the fruit of all his studying: the closest replica of Thompson on film that wasn’t actually Thompson himself. He gives the same manic weight to the script that Thompson’s words evoke as one reads the mind-bending tale. Depp delivers the Thompson fans of his novels always hoped they’d get to see one day – of course the real HST does make a cameo in the film as well.
But Depp’s journey into Thompson’s world proved fruitful again. After his death, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson went into the works. While it’s a documentary, Depp once again lent his ability to channel the good doctor to the film, adding an eerie, but all too real layer to Thompson’s life story. While friends, family, colleagues – if you can call people like the Hells Angels colleagues – tell of their experiences with the legendary writer, Depp provides a deeper connection by reading excerpts from his books and notes in his perfected HST murmur.
Then comes the moment Depp takes all he’s learned about Thompson and uses it to fuel another character: Rango. From the classic Hawaiian shirt to a physique that looks like he stepped right out of a Ralph Steadman drawing onto the screen, Rango is a visual homage to Thompson at the very least. Of course, there’s also the moment in which Rango actually has a run-in with two men driving a “Red Shark” and looking suspiciously like Duke and Dr. Gonzo from Fear and Loathing. Add in the existential, seemingly drug-induced (though it’s a kids’ movie so it’s just dehydration-induced) trek across the highway and through the desert towards the end of the film and you’ve got a character laced with HST. Of course, only Depp, after forging a friendship with Thompson, has the authority in Hollywood to get away with such homages – and he does it so lovingly and accurately, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d complain too zealously.
Of course, that unshakable right to portray his late friend on film made him the only choice for the long-awaited adaptation of Thompson’s most fictionalized novel, The Rum Diary. He stars as Paul Kemp, a thinly veiled iteration of Thompson’s young self, as he moves to Puerto Rico to write for a newspaper – much like Thompson did in 1960. At this point, we’re so familiar with Depp’s ability to deliver our beloved Thompson on film, it’s not even remarkable anymore. The minute he opens his mouth to speak as Paul Kemp, we’re already onboard – we know he’s got this. Besides, he’s the reason any of us even know The Rum Diary. It was Depp who found the manuscript while living with HST in preparation for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and urged him to publish it – and of course, Depp later ushered it to Hollywood and here we are. In a way, with The Rum Diary, Depp comes full circle.
Thompson will continue to intrigue writers and literary enthusiasts for years to come, so I’m sure that the representations we’ve seen on screen won’t be the last, but I’ll bet we’ll never see anything that expresses the fervent, respectful veneration of the representations Depp has delivered. And as a longtime Thompson fan and a longtime Depp fan, that’s perfectly alright with me.
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
Ape descendant Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) gets yanked from the Earth by best friend and alien Ford Prefect (Mos Def) seconds before a Vogon constructor fleet destroys it to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Next thing he knows Arthur is aboard the Vogon ship reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) and wondering where he might get some tea. But he and Ford are not in the clear: the Vogons (some of whom look like the nightmarish drawings of Ralph Steadman come to life in S&M leather) want to throw them into the vacuum of space right after they read some of the third worst poetry in the known universe. Luckily the spaceship Heart of Gold picks up the stranded hitchhikers in the nick of time. Stolen by the dim but groovy President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) the ship has an Improbability Drive that causes certain mischief turning the stowaways into loveseats and later two missiles into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. Also onboard is doe-eyed Earth girl Tricia "Trillian" McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who previously ditched Arthur at a costume party on Earth to satisfy her wanderlust with Zaphod. The crew then embarks on a quest to find the Ultimate Question to Life the Universe and Everything after supercomputer Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) found the answer: 42. On the run and without a home Arthur discovers that life's true meaning comes from the answers found within.
The slapstick antics and sharp dialogue evoke enough laughs to make one forget that the characters are rather one-note. Rockwell's Zaphod is a riot at first but the cheeky smile and devilish winks soon wear thin. Deschanel has little to work with playing Trillian though it's fun watching her wield a point-of-view gun on Zaphod. Mos Def mumbles some lines but does manage to act like someone from another planet. Freeman does an amiable job playing the fish-out-of-water Earthman but neglects to express the grief and bewilderment of someone who just lost his planet. Even John Malkovich as Humma Kavular--the spiritual leader of a cult awaiting the arrival of the Big Handkerchief--fails to make much of an impression in his brief appearance. Only Alan Rickman as the perpetually glum robot Marvin and Bill Nighy as the stammering planet designer Slartibartfast remain funny without becoming routine--though unfortunately Nighy only appears in the third act. A half-cocked romance between Arthur and Trillian is thrown in for good measure with the couple merely going through the motions.
Directed with considerable flair by first-timer Garth Jennings whose frantic visual style blends well with Adams' ironic wit the film looks as good as can be. CGI is used to display Adams' universe in ways never seen before: The massive concrete slabs of the Vogon fleet surrounding Earth the Heart of Gold tricked out in 1960's Formica kitsch the stark bureaucratic world of Vogosphere and the eye-popping factory floor on Magrathea are all vividly brought to life. Although the graphics of the Guide look more like Internet pop-up ads than stellar entries from the best-selling book in the galaxy the exposition from the Guide is clever and amusing though one should brush up on the material prior to viewing. Even with all the stunning visuals however the plot is still thin. Jennings and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) have trimmed the story--and witty banter--to its barest essentials leaving out some of the funnier bits to quicken the pace. Memorable exchanges--like the opening battle of wits between Arthur and Mr. Prosser--are reduced to a few meaningless lines while the always hinted-at love affair between Arthur and Trillian gets the full Hollywood treatment. In the past Adams who died of a heart attack in 2001 has allowed the Guide to change and progress with each incarnation so new additions--like the point-of-view gun and the cult of the Big Handkerchief--are welcomed. But the patchwork of wacky vignettes and neutered banter particularly between Arthur and Ford leave one yearning for something more meaningful.