Land Of The Free And No Home For The Brave
Johnny Depp has only written and directed one movie—The Brave, which was apparently about a poor man who decided to be in a snuff film to save his family. I've never seen it, because Johnny Depp was reportedly so upset with early reviews that he refused to release it in the U.S. What can you tell me about this film, critics' reactions, if it will ever be released here, etc.? And has Johnny Depp ever mentioned trying his hand at writing and directing again? Somehow that seems like a logical progression for him as he gets older.
Nathan Rabin responds:
In addition to being Johnny Depp's directorial debut and one of Marlon Brando's last performances, The Brave is an adaptation of a rather grim novel by Gregory McDonald, better known as the man behind the lighthearted Fletch series. The film received largely negative reviews from the English-speaking press at Cannes (Channel4.com describes it as "peculiar" and "misfiring"), but it's hard to say whether the film's domestic non-release is due to Depp's thin-skinned response to negative initial reviews, or merely a reflection of the almost perversely non-commercial nature of a bleak miserablist movie about an impoverished man waiting to die a hideous, meaningless death.
Depp's post-Pirates Of The Caribbean super-fame makes The Brave a little more appealing from a box-office perspective, but it doesn't seem headed for a domestic release any time soon. Who knows, maybe they'll slap it onto the end of the upcoming Pirates sequel, Grindhouse style, and make it one of the more perverse double-bills of all time. But I wouldn't count on it.
Incidentally, in Killer Instinct, a nasty, dishy little tell-all about the making of Natural Born Killers, producer Jane Hamsher discusses her thwarted effort to bring McDonald's book to the big screen before Depp took over. She seems to derive a distinct schadenfreude from the failure of Depp's project. I don't know how much Depp has discussed The Brave, but given his literary leanings and quirky sensibility, it doesn't seem out of the question that he'll try his hand at directing something else in the future. He is, after all, the kind of guy who tells interviewers, jokingly or not, that he's thinking about doing a porn film to shake up his now-Disneyfied image.
In your review of Eddie Murphy's Delirious, you make it clear that you believe Richard Pryor has the advantage over Murphy as a stand-up performer. Having watched a few of Pryor's performances, I can't understand this. Am I watching the wrong ones? I've watched Live In Concert and Live On The Sunset Strip. Neither of them matches Delirious for the frequency, quality, or delivery of jokes. Even in the cases where Murphy has clearly stolen directly from Pryor, Murphy's version is usually better written and better delivered. And Pryor often interrupts his jokes with extremely bland observations on race relations and other "profound" topics. My hypothesis is that people are so caught up in the authenticity of Pryor—because he was first—that they willfully ignore that Murphy's performance is just much funnier. Or else they saw Pryor first and they were simply too caught up in the fact that Murphy's act was a rip-off to notice that it was a superior rip-off. Also, since Murphy continues to make worse and worse movies while Pryor is safely dead, there's no shame in elevating our estimation of Pryor's talent over Murphy. Are any of these hypotheses valid? And if not, where are the funny Pryor performances?
Delirious-review-author Noel Murray replies:
Humor must be subjective, because if you asked me to point you to the "funny" Pryor performances, I'd start you with Live In Concert; the first time I saw it, it made me laugh harder than just about any movie I'd ever seen. But what makes it a great film—not just a funny one—are all the observations and interruptions you complain about. With Pryor, you get the sense that he's speaking from the heart and of the moment, yet everything comes out perfectly paced and phrased, as he transitions from character to character naturally and astonishingly. Pryor turns the idea of "performance" on its head, because while he's a virtuoso who leaves everything on the stage, his work is honest and apparently unstudied.
Murphy, by contrast, is polished to a fault. When I watched Delirious recently, I didn't see a lot of joy or rich humanity. I saw a man delivering a set of carefully practiced, frequently ugly material, coasting on shock and arrogance. It's fascinating to watch, and I found some of it pretty funny, but it lacks the sense of play that Murphy displayed on Saturday Night Live or on his first comedy album.
By the way, I owned that first album when I was a teenager, years before I saw Live In Concert, and I watched and marveled at Murphy every week on Saturday Night Live. I've revisited both that album and Murphy's SNL years fairly recently, and they hold up well. Back then, he was inspired by Pryor but not derivative of him, and with SNL, Murphy created a body of sketch-comedy work superior to anything Pryor ever did in that field. The problem with Pryor's recorded legacy is that he stuck himself in a lot of movies and TV appearances where his "truth-telling angry black man" persona was reduced to a cartoon, or to a piece of conceptual theater. I'd argue that on film, at least, Pryor is better represented by his dramatic roles, like Blue Collar and Greased Lightning.
But as a stand-up, he was peerless. Yes, some of the material on his comedy albums comes off as dated, or rambling. It's also smart and mesmerizingly alive. Pryor wasn't a joke-machine, he was a monologist who acted funny, and he made good use of the downtime between punchlines. His stand-up routine was like a 20-minute John Coltrane track, while Murphy's was like a pop R&B single. Both approaches are valid, but in this case, I prefer the former.
After The Man Is Over
I was very impressed by ">the last round of book identifications, so here goes: The book I'm looking for is something of a picture book, not unlike a zoological specimen guide from the future. The author has posited that the continents will shift drastically, bats become a dominant species, and I don't recall if humans left Earth or become extinct. Among the animals of the different climate zones are large carnivorous walking-bats reminiscent of and referenced to large prehistoric predatory birds like the moa, a squirrel with all the characteristics of an inchworm, and a pangolin-animal whose armour folds into a perfect geometric shape. There are short explanations about the climate, and a suggestion that evolution in plant development cycles precedes animal evolution. The pictures are similar to Audubon portraits. My questions at the library are met with strange glances, and the Internet has let me down—if you could help me identify the book, I'd be most grateful.
Tasha Robinson craves your gratitude:
Maybe they're looking at you oddly at the library because they're afraid you'll nab their personal copies, Matt. The book you're looking for is Dougal Dixon's After Man: A Zoology Of The Future, and it's out of print and a bit on the pricey side. I remember being fascinated with this book when it first came out in 1982—it was as denser than my science textbooks of the time, with its explanations of evolutionary processes, "cell genetics," and morphological diversification. But it was still kid-friendly, what with all the amazing pictures of what animal life might look like 50 million years from now, long after the human race had died out. Unfortunately, our local library's copy disappeared permanently shortly after the book came out. Angry fundamentalists? (Dixon's work has been controversial.) Or just someone who admired the terrific art? Your guess is as good as mine.
Dixon is a terrifically prolific writer, with a long slate of books, mostly about dinosaurs and the prehistoric world, mostly for kids. But if you can't track down a copy of After Man in your price range, or through the library, you might look for his other future bestiaries, Man After Man: An Anthropology Of The Future, The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution, and The Future Is Wild, which spun out of a 13-episode Animal Planet series about possible evolutionary futures. Granted, those books are apparently all out of print too, though Wikipedia has some impressively detailed summaries, complete with pictures.
They Did It To Themselves
I remember seeing a music video on Beavis And Butt-head that has stuck with me for the past 12 years. A man is lying on a sidewalk, and all these people are asking him why he is lying there. (Since the band is playing the entire time, these conversations are carried out in subtitles.) The man won't tell the growing crowd why he is lying down, because the reason is "dangerous," or something along those lines. The man eventually bends to the crowd and says he will tell them. In the next shot, everyone is lying on the ground, and the video ends. Any ideas?
Josh Modell has your ideas right here:
That's a pretty easy one, actually! Though I don't recall Beavis and Butt-head watching it, the video you're describing is Radiohead's "Just," one of many excellent clips by a band that knows how to do them right. It's just as you describe above, with a man telling a growing crowd that he can't tell them why he's lying on the sidewalk. "I can't tell you, it wouldn't be right," he says. "God forgive me, and God help us all." When the crowd pressures him into finally giving up the answer, the subtitles stop. Speculation abounds about what he says—Radiohead fans nerd out on this—but the band has never explained, other than to say that if they did tell, it would make you want to lie down on the sidewalk, too. Spooky. The video is embedded below.
While we're on the subject, I do remember a great Radiohead appearance on Beavis And Butt-head, in which Beavis says of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees": "I like to mellow out to this song. Sometimes if I have a boner that won't go down, I listen to this kind of music." Then they go on to compare Thom Yorke to Ed Grimley. Genius! It's actually one of the few B&B music-video commentaries remaining on the DVD releases, too—most of them were excised due to the costs of licensing those videos.
Next week: Encores, operas, trailers, and a very gamey edition of Stumped! Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.