DEAD MAN (1995) starring Johnny Depp

I really wanted to like this movie. Reading the reviews on Amazon, I think I should have loved it. I feel like a cretin because it bored the snot out of me. Nothing about it worked, not even Johnny Depp’s soulful eyes in a performance made when he was still really good.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I would have gone all crazy over this when I was in my twenties or teens. The symbolism and the Native American motifs and mysticism would have struck me as innovative, cutting edge, unique, etc. But since I’d never heard of this movie until coming across it on Netflix, I assume that it failed to connect in the box office so it wasn’t just me.

There are plenty who did see a lot in this movie and therefore the comment to those who found it dulling are always along the lines of “You just don’t get it.” Really? Whose fault is that then? Except I do get it, if that means comprehending what the writer/director is trying to say. It’s a “quirky” (I am so starting to hate that word) rite-of-passage story about a dull young man who stumbles through life and winds up on a journey with a Magical Negro, although in this case, not really a Magical Negro but rather a Magical Indian (Native American).

The film’s only strength is in the myriad performance by a large cast of familiar cameo performers. The sequence of scenes becomes mesmerizing as a pattern falls into place: funny, boring, boring, boring, GORY VIOLENCE, funny, boring boring GORY VIOLENCE…

I’ll give some credit for trying. It comes close to being original but came off as slow and pretentious. I’ve come to realize that Johnny Depp has starred in more movies that I dislike than movies I have enjoyed. This one was a definite clunker.

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Terra Nova or Terra Bull?

I apologize for the awful pun but it seems appropriate for such an awful show. But the big question is: Why did I keep watching after the first episode?

Okay, I almost didn’t. But since we have On Demand, that gives me opportunities to watch television when I really shouldn’t. Meaning that there is nothing on worth watching so I could go read a book or do just about anything else. (Since I spend so many hours in front of the computer, I’m not about to log even more time there.)

True confessions aside, I started watching additional episodes of Terra Nova. Maybe I enjoy cataloguing all the things that are wrong with it in my head. Maybe I love dinosaurs so much…but wait a minute, entire episodes pass without so much as a dino head popping up over the trees.

I guess I’m just hooked on watching and thinking about all the things the writers and producers could have done so much better. Here’s another example of where big budgets are misspent on effects with no attention to plot and character.

None of the actors are particularly engaging although the central character, Jim Shannon, is okay. Commander Taylor, the leader of the Terra Nova colony, is probably the most compelling character on the show, or at least he was when he appeared to be complicated in the first couple episodes. Alas, he turned out to an upright good guy, a bit over zealous perhaps but with Good Reasons.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the show is that it devolved into basic good vs. evil plotting. The bad guys are awful in every way with no redeeming features. The good guys stand for everything moral and upright – and never hesitate to make absolute decisions that will affect everybody without consulting anyone else, never mind votes or polls. Worst of all, the only real villain in the show is a whining selfish young man who is utterly unconvincing as someone capable of wreaking havoc on civilization.

First recommendation for this show: Get a scary villain, stat. Find someone the audience will love to hate. A villain we believe will stop at nothing…and is capable and competent. Also charismatic enough for us to believe he or she can attract followers.

In the early episodes, we learned there were rebels among the colonists that were trying to sabotage Commander Taylor. Being an avid reader/watcher, I immediately thought the rebels would turn out to be the right-minded people and Taylor the stiff-necked Facist and ultimate control freak. But instead of playing up that aspect of Taylor, it slowly comes about that he’s a great guy who only does what is best for his colony. Kinda like the Pope, Taylor seems to be infallible. Jim Shannon becomes his lieutenant and right-hand man as they jump into futuristic vehicles and mix it up with various bad guys and occasionally some wild life.

Second Recommendation: More dinosaurs, please. More exotic and dangerous plants. The plots need less manomano combat although I appreciate that running away from T-Rexes would get old. But it so easy to forget this is a prehistoric setting, what with all the future technology and stereotypical bad guys running around.

Really this could be a decent show, even if those two recommendations were followed. There’s still myriad issues though. For instance, the military troops are racially diverse but the colonists themselves appear to be all white with a few medium brown. Very creepy if you analyze what that means except that the colonist are totally background figures with no lines.

Meanwhile, the Shannon family provides all of the domestic drama on the show. The family scenes are excruciatingly painful to watch so they need to go away or be improved. Sadly for the actors, that would mean some recasting or intense acting coaching for all involved. Jim’s wife is charming enough and easy to watch, but she is kept completely unruffled at all times. Her role as a genius scientist/doctor is a solid one, but it is beginning to look like she is the only doctor in the colony, which makes no sense. As a mother, she is understanding, wise, and flawless, and nowhere near human.

As for the kids…the youngest is cute, so annoyingly cute and obviously exists for child-in-peril plots. The teenage daughter is beautiful and as intelligent as her mother, but crushing on a soldier. The teenage son has plenty of angst with his Dad, but the actor playing him must have gone to the same acting school as the villain.

I just had a revelation in thinking about the cast. The women are largely black-haired, brown-eyed and brown while the men are largely steely-blue-eyed individuals. Everyone is ripped of course, but you wouldn’t expect them to allow fat middle-aged or old people into such an ideal community.

From what I understand, it is more likely the show will not return. I can’t think of any good reason to save it but at the same time, I am so disappointed that so much money was wasted on something that could have been solid entertainment.

A Dud

Already GoneAlready Gone by John Rector
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story opens with a shocker, then moves quickly but even with splashes of gore and violence, there is a curious detachment to the proceedings. Eventually, things move into the realm of totally unbelievable. Eventually I stopped caring and finished it only to see how the author would wrap it up. Left me scratching my head.

I’d say this is a fast read for someone who likes action and violence with little regard to plot and character development. The one female character in the book is shallow and inconsistent. The reader is supposed to believe that the main character loves her beyond reason, yet there is no connection or even warmth between them.

I have almost forgotten the book already and by next week, it will be gone from my brain entirely.

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