Jolie is perhaps a marginal case, but of all the high-profile, often younger women climbing the greasy Hollywood pole (that image came out grosser than we intended) -- Jennifer Lawrence, for example, has a Best Actress Oscar and a huge franchise under her belt; Kristen Stewart’s appeal has apparently created a franchise out of the nothing that was “Snow White and the Huntsman” -- Jolie has one thing they don’t have: Brad Pitt. We’re only being partly facetious here, because perhaps as evidence of just how mercurial the Hollywood power thing can be, Jolie’s own achievements -- she too is an Oscar winner (supporting, for “Girl, Interrupted,” aka “Film, Forgotten,”) she had a biggish franchise of her own in the Lara Croft movies, in fact she’s probably the only credible big-time female action lead of the last decade -- are somehow magnified by her status as one-half-of-a-power-couple. This gives the impression that she has a lot more clout than a mere look at her IMDB page would suggest. She’s also quite cannily managed her exposure so that she doesn’t pop up in too many films in one year (she balances live-action and animation gigs quite cleverly too.) But the glamorous image she projects and her extra-curricular interests mean she’s never forgotten about either.
The Way She Wields Her Power for “Good”: In and amongst the “Tomb Raider”s and the “Alexander”s and the kinda samey serial killer thrillers (“The Bone Collector,” “Taking Lives”) there are flashes of the Jolie passion-project ethos. Michael Winterbottom getting the 2007 true-story film “A Mighty Heart” made was largely attributed to her and the film was widely lauded, especially for Jolie’s committed and impressive performance as Marianne Pearl, wife of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. It’s hard to see how Clint Eastwood’s meticulously mounted but incredibly depressing “Changeling” could possibly have gotten made without someone of Jolie’s stature in the lead, and she does turn in another commanding performance, even if the film is maybe not what we might have hoped. Perhaps Jolie’s finer impulses found their best expression in her fiction directorial debut “In the Land of Blood and Honey.” It's a well-intentioned film conceived as a love story across the divide during the Bosnian/Serbian war, and it convinced in some aspects more than others, but was a promising effort overall. In fact, it’s surprising to us that Jolie hasn’t yet mounted a directorial follow-up.
The Way She Wields Her Power For “Evil”: It’s not as impressive a track record as her husband’s in terms of championing new talent and taking risks on otherwise moribund projects, but then Jolie as an actor does not really enjoy the same level of popularity that he does, so maybe she can be forgiven for pouring a lot of her energy (whatever she has left after her family and humanitarian work) into big-budget showcases for her own talents -- “Salt,” “Wanted,” “The Tourist,” the upcoming “Maleficent,” the gestating “Cleopatra.” Though actually no, not for “The Tourist” with fellow greenlight-wielder Johnny Depp -- neither should be forgiven for that shitty, shitty movie.
Future Projects: With “Salt,” kind of without anyone noticing, sneaking up to a worldwide $300 million take, “Salt 2” has been announced. As much as we were pretty meh about the first one, we’re fairly meh about the sequel, but it’s clear that Jolie sees potential in the franchise, if more for her own profile than for, like, CINEMA. With the big-budget, starrily cast “Malificent” seemingly perfectly tailored for Jolie’s slightly scary, forbidding charisma, and the announced, potentially Fincher-directed “Cleopatra” too, the coming few years may see Jolie kick up a league. She is also attached as the lead in a potential Ridley Scott-directed Gertrude Bell biopic, and an as-yet-untitled movie with Luc Besson, which should see her kick some ass again.
In Summary A tricky one really. Jolie certainly is in it for the long haul, but we’d love to see one or two smaller, more personal projects on her upcoming slate than she has at the moment. It’s not that we think she’s slacking off exactly, what with all her ambassadorships and offspring, but she’d certainly be in a position to give some smaller, struggling productions a leg up (her right leg is especially high-profile) if she felt so inclined.
Overview: The whimsical misfit chameleon. He's "Edward Scissorhands" and now he's "Ed Wood!" Then he shaves his head and is almost unrecognizable in "Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas!” This guy’s amazing! Remember when Johnny Depp could do no wrong and was one of the most adventurous actors on the planet creating a body of work that most actors could only dream of? Famous well before he became “A-List Famous” (that only happened circa 2003,) Depp’s career has changed dramatically since he became Captain Jack Sparrow.
The Way He Wields His Power For “Evil”: Oh, Johnny, we know you have kids. And we know those Bahaman Islands don’t pay for themselves. And we know you recently separated from your partner Vanessa Paradis and you’re probably paying some kind of outrageous child support even though you’re not technically married. But what excuse do we have for four “Pirates Of the Caribbean” movies and a fifth one on the way? Granted, the original “Pirates Of the Caribbean” was awesome, or at least awesomely unexpected fun entertainment -- the kind of blockbuster we can get behind. But it’s had grotesquely diminishing returns ever since and Captain Jack Sparrow, once a character as unique and interesting as Edward Scissorhands, has turned into an obnoxious caricature -- the kind that you just want to club on the head and silence for good. "Lazy diminishing returns" should be the title of a book that chronicles the latter half of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton career collaborations. Yes, they are “original” projects (if you consider the Tim Burton Auto-Generating Screenwriting Machine original,) but lord are they becoming more and more excruciating with each successive film (“Dark Shadows” being the most recent aberration, “Alice In Wonderland” being the most financially successful and yet easily worst/most suicide-inducing.) But while on the surface it looks like Depp only uses his powers for evil, he still does some good, albeit, in a lot quieter way, and as for some of his higher-profile passes, I mean, can you fault the guy for not wanting to star in Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” after the disastrous first attempt well-documented in “The Man From La Mancha?”
The Way He Wields His Power For “Good”: Sure, agreeing to star in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and therefore getting it greenlit is not the most heroic act of your star power, but grading it on the late-period Depp curve, it's an absolutely magnificent achievement (minus points for the fact that Depp hated Mann.) So there’s that. And yes, Terry Gilliam’s “The Imagination of Doctor Parnassus” is a near-abomination (not all the director’s fault, his lead actor died mid-shoot), but Depp did agree to step in for Heath Ledger (as did two other actors) and that saved the film from being an unfortunate footnote in history about productions that collapsed midway when the lead actor died. What else has he done in recent years that isn’t loathsome? Playing a younger Hunter S. Thompson in “The Rum Diaries” (ironically, the movie is pretty terrible,) agreeing to a hilarious cameo in “21 Jump Street” (two thumbs up all the way,) voice-starring in “Rango,” Gore Verbinski’s much-less blockbuster friendly, but awesomely bizarre and entertaining animated film, and arguably not a lot else, unless you count agreeing to narrate documentaries on Thompson and The Doors.)
Future Projects: Oh, Johnny. The actor was about to do his first serious drama in quite some time, the “Donnie Brasco”-esque “Black Mass,” but Depp doesn’t get out of bed for less than $20 million these days (unless your name is Bruce Robinson and you’ve coasted on years of outdated goodwill, see “The Rum Diaries”.) So just last week the actor bailed on the project, ostensibly because there’s another “Pirates 5” movie around the corner and hell, it’s easier to just punch in that time clock, no? On the relatively good side is a musical ("Into The Woods") with Rob Marshall, but then we remember “Pirates 4,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Nine” and maybe we’re not so excited anymore. Positively strong is "Transcendence," Christopher Nolan's DP Wally Pfister's directorial debut. Depp is the star and he surely got it greenlit. More importantly it feels like the actor’s first adventurous role in almost a decade. But also coming up next is Verbinski's sure-to-be tentpole hit "The Lone Ranger. It could be massive and if so it'll legitmize Depp's recent choices and you can probably say bye bye to the "Transcendence" films of the world for the next few years while Depp is busy with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th iteration sequels.
In summary: While it’s easy to write off Johnny Depp as the sad clown who went so far off the whimsical charts that he somehow landed in the strange land of predictably evil, the actor has done some good things in the last 7-8 years (“The Tourist” not being one of them; a film so awful we had to mention it again -- see Angelina Jolie). That said, it has been, let’s face it, mostly evil. Let’s hope “Transcendence” isn’t a shit show.