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07 December 2005

From Hell (2001)

Johnny Depp (Abberline), Heather Graham (Mary Kelly), Ian Holm (Sir William), Robbie Coltrane (Sgt. Godley)

Directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society)

From Hollywood Video: "In Victorian London, a killer nicknamed Jack the Ripper is killing prostitutes, one by one. A detective with psychic powers attempts to identify the killer before he strikes again."

(Warning: This review contains spoilers, because no one should need to sit through this film to find out what happens.)

Preposterous! That has to be exclaimed with a stodgy old man's posh English accent to get the full effect. And I would have thought it even more preposterous as a fiction invented by Hollywood had I not spent an hour on Wikipedia this morning reading about Jack the Ripper. Apparently, Alan Moore (from his graphic novel, which surely must have been better than this film!) and the Hughes Brothers were not the first to claim that Prince Albert Victor (Queen Victoria's eldest grandson and second heir to the throne - until his death in 1892 of "pneumonia") was either Jack the Ripper or that his indiscretion led to a massive cover-up which included the slayings of at least five prostitutes in Whitechapel.

Luckily all of this nonsense has been appropriately discredited by various scholars, but the fiction is much more grand and cinematic than concluding, in all probability, that Jack was just a nutjob with a penchant for slashing throats. What I find so charming about this subject matter is Wikipedia's explanation as to why Jack the Ripper has been so difficult to identify: "A major difficulty in identifying who was and was not a Ripper victim is the large number of horrific attacks against women during this era." Lovely!

Enough with history.

Heather Graham is a terrible actress. There, I've said it. Just because she played Roller Girl in Boogie Nights, arguably an "indie" flick when it was released, does not give her enough street cred to make up for the fact that she is wretchedly awful on screen. Her accent, which was supposed to be some hideous cross between Limerick Irish and East End London, was just that - hideous.

Conversely, Johnny Depp could sit in a barren hallway and play solitaire, quietly mumbling to himself about the cards, and I would watch in sexually-charged, transfixed awe. I forgave this movie all manner of ridiculous silliness just so I could see him stare so longingly - possessively - at the massively undeserving Graham. His accent was spot on (for the majority), particularly his use of an "f" sound in place of a "th" sound. For example, "throat" became "froat." Keven still does this sometimes, but it is quite prominent among Londoners. Not that I cared, really. The film could have said his accent was that of a Mongolian fur trader; I still would have thought it was great... because he's Johnny Depp.

However, the script did cavalierly bandy about the fact that Abberline was investigating the Ripper case through the use of opiates, absinthe, and psychic dream visions. I mean, Patricia Arquette's Allison DuBois on "Medium" is highly discrete about her abilities, for fear of being called insane and discrediting her employers' investigations - and her character is based in the 21st century where paranormal abilities, while still highly controversial, are less likely to promt accusations of witchcraft. As Coltrane's character said, referring to Abberline's psychic powers, "They used to burn men like you alive." True! Yet everyone seemed pretty okay with Abberline's rampant craziness running the investigation.

Speaking of Robbie Coltrane, formerly of the fantastic (BRITISH) series "Cracker," he was as charismatic as ever but relegated to Depp's uncomprehending sidekick. The other minor players sounded like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins or Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady - overblown, fake Cockney rubbish. And of course Ian Holm was the baddie - he's an android and never again to be trusted.

One more note: I saw this film on DVD, the packaging for which hyped its "alternate ending." Instead of dying in a grimy London basement (due to an overdose), Abberline checks out in an opium den somewhere in China (due to an overdose). Alternate ending my foot! It still didn't change the fact that this film was a wretched excuse for drama. The only significant difference was one lovely, prominently featured naked ass.

Blogger Fiona Bun said...

Heather was right up there with Diaz in The Gangs of New York.

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Argh!! That's such a perfect comparison!!


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