Maltin’s Gravitas Matters As Oscar Takes a Powder for Johnny Depp & BLACK MASS – Quendrith Johnson comments

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Although there’s that same engrossing charm in Leonard Maltin these days, a subtle tremor in his hands has advanced as “time goes by,” to quote Casablanca. LeonardMaltin16So much so, he recently released a personal statement via Movie Crazy, his Indiewire blogspot: “People have begun to notice that my left hand is shaking. Out of pride, or stubbornness, I’ve tried to hide it, but I now realize that this was foolish. It all began about a year ago when my left thumb started twitching, and it progressed from there. It’s upsetting to lose control of your body, but the good news is that I don’t have Parkinson’s disease. My neurologist calls it a “benign tremor.” It doesn’t hurt or even affect my ability to type; it’s just frustrating, all the more so because my doctor can’t identify the cause. I know some people were wondering what was wrong. I want everyone to know that I truly appreciate your concern. The good news is: I’m fine and, God willing, will remain so. Now, on with the show…” JohnnyDeppHandThis is why he is still the best loved film critic and historian in America and Hollywood right now. Leonard Maltin just tells it like it is, but with such heart and insight for viewers. So much so that the elder statesman of cinema had a life achievement award renamed after him at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) in 2015: The Maltin Modern Master Award. Last night his legacy was  cemented as A-List actor Johnny Depp, or “John Christopher Depp,” as Maltin called him, came to SBIFF to accept The Other Golden Statuette.

Just Five Slots

Because that’s what happens in Award Season, five guys get tapped for Best Actor. On the red carpet at The Arlington Theater, Leonard chalks up 2016 Oscars for Depp as “there are only five slots.” And then he tips his hand at what the Academy members were likely thinking too when filling out their Nomination ballots, “I mean the man he is playing is a monster.” With his lovely daughter of the distinctive tattoos and the Margot Robbie multi-colored “Suicide Squad” hair, Maltin is hip for sure, but there’s that old conservative streak that has also been revealed as a ripple effect throughout The Academy. They don’t like to laud living people who are serving or have served jail time for heinous crimes or even the possibility that they might be said to endorse criminal behavior (read; White Bulger and his Irish thugs in Black Mass, Easy-E and the boys in Straight Outta Compton.)
WhiteDepp16So this is why brutal The Silence of The Lambs about a true (but fictitious) monster can cakewalk through The Academy voters, but Black Mass can not. Now that we have that settled, as through the myopic lens of The AMPAS inner sanctum, back to The Maltin Modern Master Award. It is more than a balm for Johnny Depp, because everyone in the business knows Leonard is a Modern Master of Cinema, bar none.

The Modern Master Award

To use their boilerplate for clarity, “The Modern Master Award was established in 1995 and is the highest accolade presented by SBIFF.  Created to honor an individual who has enriched our culture through accomplishments in the motion picture industry, it was re-named the Maltin Modern Master Award in 2015 in honor of long-time SBIFF moderator and renowned film critic Leonard Maltin.  Past recipients include Michael Keaton, Bruce Dern, Ben Affleck, Christopher Plummer, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Clint Eastwood, Cate Blanchett, Will Smith, George Clooney and Peter Jackson.”

In 2015, Michael Keaton who was nominated for Birdman, held court here before the Oscar presentation. So there was no pressure, just another accolade, until he ended up shock-losing to Eddie Redmayne. For Leonard Maltin, he hammed it up with Danny Devito, had the time of his life, was loose and easy, thought the Oscar was a shoo-in. It literally was his Award Show, here at SBIFF, and the love poured in. For Johnny Depp, the sharp pain of remaining unnamed for a stunning career high performance is long past. “I don’t do this for awards,” he says, then looks sheepish as if those words need to be retracted. But Depp doesn’t have anything to prove, everybody knows he is not “certifiably insane” like Al Pacino, but “oh yeah, oh yeah, pretty strange yourself,” as Pacino shot back against Depp’s “certifiable” remark once. PacinoManglehorn1Maltin and Depp sit in talk-show host chairs in The Arlington Theater to packed 2,000 full capacity. Depp even allows one “Stoner” in the audience to shout out garbled man-love statements (most of which are unintelligible), which Depp plays on like a virtuoso violinist, riffing off the idiocy. “Chow Yun Fat? Is that what you said?,” Depp wrongly repeats, followed by “Yeah, I grow things. I could be said to be growing a thumb out of the back of my neck.” This deflects a marijuana reference tossed from the crowd, which was triggered by the prominent white outline of a marijuana leaf on his brown socks over black patent leather thick-soled shoes that look like they belong in Young Frankenstein’s lab. But since the Pirates of the Caribbean tsunami of cash that has rained down on him, Depp has taken to dressing above the ankles in bespoke tailored pinstripe vested suits, and wears a black matte charcoal fitted dress shirt underneath that speaks Italian or Savile Row or anything not off the rack.

The Teen Idol’s Track Record

It is hard to believe the “teen idol” as Maltin intro’s him, who “became Whitey Bulger, did 40 films.” It’s even harder to believe he is so well-balanced after so many of Jack Sparrow’s friends, from River Phoenix on, not including musicians, either fell dead from their success or destroyed their authenticity with what disasters nosebleed movie money can bring.

And then it hits you, Kentucky-bred Depp is a Populist, created by these same people out here in the audience who hoot and shout things randomly like they either know or own him. Off the cuff, between Maltin questions, the three-time Academy Award nominee will imitate Donald Trump, Marlon Brando, and Al Pacino in a way that’s so real, you feel like these people are making mini-cameos in The Johnny Depp Show.

The official news release described Depp as “a three-time Academy Award nominee for Best Actor for his work in “Finding Neverland,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”  Over the last three decades, Depp’s diverse range of roles has made him one of the leading actors of his generation including performances in John Waters’ “Cry Baby,” “Benny & Joon,” Lasse Hallstrom’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Chocolat,” Mike Newell’s “Donnie Brasco,” Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Ted Demme’s “Blow,” “The Libertine,” Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and several collaborations with Tim Burton including “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood” and “Sleepy Hollow.”

With the same announcer-voice style of writing, his career pinnacle performance in Black Mass is summed up as a movie that “tells of the unholy alliance between ruthless mobster James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) and childhood friend-turned-FBI agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).  The bond, forged growing up on the streets of South Boston, would test the limits of loyalty in a town that answers to its own, unwritten code.  Blinded by ambition, Connolly convinces Bulger to inform on their common enemy, the Italian Mafia.”JackSparrow16

Career Reflections

Yes, well, that’s the version for the usual suspects in print, but here’s how Johnny Depp, the fey and mercurial Wolfman Jack Sparrow of movies, likes to remember his career. On the set of CryBaby with John Waters wanted “to do a movie called ‘Pecker,’ so that (iconic Movie Announcer) voice would have to say ‘John Waters’ Pecker, Coming… you get, right?” ‘Soon’ is implied, the audience roars. It’s clear why his early years were spilt between band frontman and actor, with his new band Hollywood Vampires fired up again with the likes of Alice Cooper, Slash from Axl Rose’s Guns’n’Roses, and other musician pals like Rolling Stone’s Keith Richards threatening to drop in on tour.

Whether that is Amber Heard who keeps appearing on stage when the lights go down for clips of Depp’s body of work — from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to Blow to Rum Diary to Don Juan DeMarco to his portrayals of Hunter S. Thompson, Donnie Brasco, John Dillinger in Public Enemies, to Willy Wonka to The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland — it’s hard to say. His new bride, star of Drive Angry and most recently The Danish Girl, skipped the red carpet.

He was 47 minutes late for this. It’s almost like Leonard Maltin has coaxed him into this ceremony, being the iconoclast that the Tim Burton protege has become. Depp will dash off 80’s phrases like “Chia Pet,” “Killer,” and “I’m right there with you, man,” that underscore his 52 years. But he also has this hand-through-the-hair, ring-wearing ephemeral quality that is 100% musician, as in Rock Star. When he tells a story about Marlon Brando as a mentor, Depp opens with “they tell you never meet your heroes,” but then goes on to relate that Brando was strictly human, a relaxed guy. But. “There would always be kimonos. I’m not going to twist it around for you,” his words end in a flourish. “There would be Marlon getting out of a car in the morning, in a kimono…” The point is that Brando’s eccentricities were legendary, but he was “a relaxed human being,” who showed Depp that if “you are playing Henry the 8th, you shouldn’t be eating Doritos at the Craft Table.” JohnnyDepp3Depp winces at every clip, except Blow. But it is fake cringing, and you instinctively get how he has survived in Hollywood all these years: this is a “TV actor, I was a TV actor first” on 21 Jump Street who refused to do anything Their Way. “Once I wore a turban and I wouldn’t take it off… I guess I was trying to get fired. I’m always trying to get fired.” Then he segues into how “I tortured Leo on Gilbert Grape, I don’t know why. I told you it was a dark time.” His nightshades come on and off, another time he sincerely twists a thread on his weed-socks, then he rolls and lights a deep brown cigarillo, blows smoke as it nears 10:30 pm, running long because he was late. Maltin makes his promise to show his unreleased Brando film (The Brave) at the festival next year. Johnny Depp shakes his hand, and somehow manages to have completely escaped being defined or answering any probing professional or personal questions. You’ll find out “I’m a fraud,” he jokes. “If you have an ideas,” about acting, “share them with me.” The audience has gone from hormonal screaming on his arrival to rapt attention to “Aww” when he mentions struggling to pay the rent in his early years. But even with Leonard Maltin, the quicksilver that is Johnny Depp and the mists of his various moods haven’t lifted. His true self is hiding in plain sight. Oscar’s gold grip doesn’t have any power here tonight, as Black Mass director Scott Cooper hands Depp an ersatz golden statuette with a speech so flattering, you’d think he was eulogizing Depp rather than praising him.

Cooper, who also brought us Jeff Bridges Oscar-worthy performance in Crazy Heart (2009), recalls tracking down the Santa Barbara denizen Bridges with that script before switching back to Depp. Bridges, in full beard and Dude attitude, was here last night for festival opener Little Prince, the animated version of the classic, in which he plays a voice character. But this is Depp’s night. Depp and Maltin’s night, that is. Oscar doesn’t get a seat here.

The 31st Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival continues through Feb. 13, with honors to be handed out to Sylvester Stallone, Rooney Mara, Brie Larson, and many more. See www.sbiff.org for details.

And check back here for the latest from the red carpet during this 2016 Award Season.

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