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Thursday, July 21, 2005 12:13 pm

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When a director finds the perfect actor to personify his vision, it can lead to an interesting collaborative history. The most prominent ongoing director/actor relationship right now is that of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, which has resulted in five films. Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryis their new release, and Depp seemed destined to take on the role of Willy Wonka.

Successful pairings such as this are not as common as one would expect. Frank Capra and James Stewart will be forever linked, but they made only three films together. Alfred Hitchcock apparently had two favorite actors, James Stewart and Cary Grant, and he used each of them four times. George Roy Hill gave us both pairings of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, plus one film separately with each. Hollywood’s longest-running director/actor collaboration has to be John Ford and John Wayne, which spanned 24 years and 14 starring roles; the greatest must be that of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, who made eight incredible films together. It doesn’t get much better than Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull(1980).

Burton first cast Depp in the title role in Edward Scissorhands(1990), a wondrous modern fairy tale that never dumbs down its story to appeal to children. Depp has made a career of playing oddballs and eccentrics, and Edward Scissorhands is one of the most peculiar. The incomplete creation of an inventor (Vincent Price), he literally has scissors instead of hands. Edward leaves his lonely existence in a castle on the hill to carve out a life in suburbia, where he almost fits in. Depp manages to find the right balance between creepiness and pathos.

Ed Wood (1994) is the only Burton/Depp film set in the real world, but it is about a director who has difficulty accepting reality. Edward Wood Jr. directed a small number of laughingly bad cult films, including the legendary Plan 9 from Outer Space, but he honestly believed in his work. This Ed is far removed from the previous Edward, as Depp plunges into the role with enthusiasm and gusto. Ed Woodis one of the best films ever made about Hollywood, even if it focuses on its bizarre outer fringes.

Their third film, Sleepy Hollow (1999), is a far more ambitious project but ultimately the least satisfying of the three. Depp is Constable Ichabod Crane, who journeys to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders thought to have been perpetrated by the “Headless Horseman.” The richness of details and atmosphere just don’t seem to compensate for a lack of emotional involvement. The fifth Burton/Depp project, Corpse Bride, a stop-motion-animation feature with Depp as the lead voice, is set for release this year on Sept. 23.

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (July 26): xXx: State of the Union and The Upside of Anger.

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