REVIEW: Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay), John August & Seth Grahame-Smith (story), Dan Curtis (TV series)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter

Dark Shadows is a film inhabited by the Gothic art direction that has become Tim Burton’s staple in addition to the comic macabre his pale people act out.  Lately Johnny Depp has been the pale muse front and center in Burton’s productions, becoming just as much a staple of his work as those faded worlds. This latest collaboration is nothing really new for either of them; a vampire invading the gloriously tie-dyed era of the 1970s is a perfect example of a Gothic force imposing itself on a world of color.

The crux of the story is fairly simple.  Barnabas Collins (Depp) is turned into a vampire and imprisoned by the witch Angelique (Eva Green) after she kills the other woman he loved.  His suffering is extended for all eternity, so when he emerges from that chained-up coffin nearly 200 years later, he is a very bloodthirsty fish-out-of-water.  He meets up with the present-day Collins family, who happen to live in the same menacing, faded mansion as he did.

Upon arriving he meets the drunken butler (Jackie Earle Haley) and the grouchy matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer).  He explains his situation to her, she agrees to hide it, and they tell the rest of the family that he is a distant cousin.  Dark Shadows is based on a television show, though Burton leaves his distinct visual mark on the material.  He has always been more gifted at creating worlds than telling stories in them, and he does his best with the sloppy, seemingly aimless screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith.  Accenting the comedy was the right way to go here, and Dark Shadows is often very funny.  Depp and Green both give inspired, over-the-top performances as they continue their centuries-long magic duel in the era of Vietnam and hippies.

There is a fantasy much darker than the supernatural one operating beneath the surface of this latest Burton/Depp concoction, though.  The most troubling thing about Dark Shadows is not its sloppy storytelling but its disguised contempt for its plentiful female characters.  Angelique’s thirst for revenge is borne out of that male fantasy that a woman becomes so obsessed with him that she turns delusional and incoherent without his presence.  Then, of course, she must be scolded into submission or death.

This principle is also true for Helena Bonham Carter’s character, the psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman.  She is a boozing, pill-popping psychiatrist who throws herself at Barnabus simply because he pays her one simple compliment.  As in Sweeney Todd, Bonham Carter’s character comes up short in her director husband’s increasingly cruel roles for her.

It’s hard to take such a lightheartedly demented film like Dark Shadows so seriously, but its troubling misogyny travels with Barnabus from the dark ages as well.  There are quips early on by Elizabeth and the new maid Victoria (Bella Heathcote) about women being vastly superior to men, but it’s not long until Barnabus arrives and they all more or less succumb to his various charms.

For a PG-13 film, the amount of sex and death that is hinted at or partially shown is somewhat startling.  In such a finely veneered world it can almost seem barbaric, and yet when Angelique and Barnabus actually do have “sex” they remain fully clothed as they toss each other around the room.  Burton remains in frantic close-up trying to avoid what must be the studio’s worst fear: actually showing something.  He breaks his tradition of well-composed shots because this movie is afraid of the sex it so blatantly wants us to know is going on.  In this respect it resembles the Twilight films more than anything, even if its vampire is more of the Nosferatu variety.

Grade: C-

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Ralph Fiennes

The cheers and tears of millions of fans around the world will signify the end of the era of Potter.  Though the books ended in 2007 (when the fifth film came out), this eighth film installment truly marks the end of J.K. Rowling’s wizard phenomenon.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 abandons much of the atmospheric dread of the past two films in favor of full-on confrontation.  The initial scenes carry that “Calm before the storm” not only narratively but aesthetically as well.  We watch as Snape (Alan Rickman) precedes over fascistic-looking marches at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with a troubled calm settling on his face.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: David Seidler (screenplay)
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, and Michael Gambon

For many, public speaking is a terrifying undertaking by itself.  When you add on the everyday concerns of an English monarch- mounting war, daddy issues, a debilitating speech impediment- it definitely doesn’t help.  The King’s Speech surrounds itself with a plethora of talented British character actors, many straight off the Harry Potter set, and has a go at the story of the stuttering King George VI (Colin Firth).  In the end unfortunately, it cannot escape what it really is: a cooly calculated period drama bred like a racehorse for Oscar season.

The set-up in and of itself sounds like something you’d hear from many of the nominees for Best Picture.  Prior to World War II, we follow the Duke of York as he becomes King of England and tackles a stutter that has plagued him his entire life.  He does this with the help of an eccentric teacher (Geoffrey Rush) and a devoted wife (Helena Bonham Carter.)  I can almost see a half-drunk celebrity reading that synopsis come Oscar night.

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And the winners should be…. 2011 Oscar Predictions (Matt’s Picks)

Best Picture

The Social Network
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
The Kids Are All Right
Inception
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
True Grit

Should Win I’d be the most happy with Social Network, Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right.  There’s no real Blind Side this year, but The King’s Speech is the least deserving… and it’s also one of the front-runners.
Will Win: The Social Network has a real shot, but so does The King’s Speech. Many have already handed it to King George, but I’m leaning toward King Zuckerberg.
Snubbed: There’s really no Blind Side this year among the nominees. However, over The King’s Speech I would’ve nominated The Ghost Writer, Enter the Void, White Material, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Splice or I Am Love.


Best Director

Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky- Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher- The Social Network
David O. Russell- The Fighter

Should Win: Aronofsky.  His direction on Black Swan was the best thing about the movie, which is saying a lot.  Fincher is also great, but so many other elements of Social Network would’ve worked on their own if not as well.  You can’t really say that about Black Swan.
Will Win: Fincher.  Even if The Social Network doesn’t walk away with the night’s biggest trophy, this one is a pretty safe bet.
Snubbed: Yes, yes, Christopher Nolan deserved a nomination  for Inception here over Tom Hooper, but don’t forget Danny Boyle.  His direction on 127 Hours was impeccable and his movie was better than both Inception and The King’s Speech.   I’d also throw in Lisa Cholodenko’s low-key genius in The Kid’s Are All Right, Gasper Noe’s hallucinatory brilliance in Enter the Void, Roman Polanski’s artful storytelling in The Ghost Writer and the mesmerizing work of Claire Denis in White Material.

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REVIEW: The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: David Seidler (screenplay)
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, and Michael Gambon

For many, public speaking is a terrifying undertaking by itself.  When you add on the everyday concerns of an English monarch- mounting war, daddy issues, a debilitating speech impediment- it definitely doesn’t help.  The King’s Speech surrounds itself with a plethora of talented British character actors, many straight off the Harry Potter set, and has a go at the story of the stuttering King George VI (Colin Firth).  In the end unfortunately, it cannot escape what it really is: a cooly calculated period drama bred like a racehorse for Oscar season.

The set-up in and of itself sounds like something you’d hear from many of the nominees for Best Picture.  Prior to World War II, we follow the Duke of York as he becomes King of England and tackles a stutter that has plagued him his entire life.  He does this with the help of an eccentric teacher (Geoffrey Rush) and a devoted wife (Helena Bonham Carter.)  I can almost see a half-drunk celebrity reading that synopsis come Oscar night.

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Ralph Fiennes

And so it begins to end.  Almost ten years after Harry Potter, his friends, his enemies, and his journey began lighting up the silver screen with J.K. Rowling’s magical prose, billions have been made, and countless fans have been enraptured.  The Potter franchise will always be known first as a literary milestone, as it well should be.  To their credit though, these movies aren’t half-bloody bad.

Guiding this now well-known journey to the finish line is the steady artistic hand of director David Yates, who has been with the series since the fifth film.  Giving Hogwarts the dark tonal shift necessary to keep up with the ever-darkening plot was a task he more than lived up to.  In the fifth and sixth films, the setting is another character in the movie.

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Ten to finish out ’10

With The Social Network and Let Me In giving movie-goers some anti-summer entertainment to look forward to this weekend, we thought it’d be a good idea to map out what the rest of 2010 will look like at the movies.  Here is our list of the 10 movies we think will matter the rest of the year.

Black Swan (Dec. 1)– Darren Aronofsky follows up The Wrestler with another behind the scenes plunge into the dark depths of competitive sports.  This time it’s Natalie Portman in the lead, playing a ballerina in a a gruelingly competitive production of Swan Lake. When Mila Kunis comes in as a the new kid on the block, the game is on.  That makes it sound like Step Up, but from trailer, which shows Portman sprouting feathers and red eyes, it will be decidedly weirder.  Aronofsky knows his way around pitch black, and has a knack for turning misery into beauty.  Expect nothing less here.

True Grit (Dec. 25)– What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a Coen Brothers movie?  They team up with Jeff Bridges again, this time to remake the western that won John Wayne his Oscar.  However, the brothers list the novel as their main source of inspiration because of its quick dialogue as well as the premise.  A daughter (newcomer Hailee Steinfield) sets out to apprehend her father’s killer with the help of a stubborn marshal (Bridges.)  The movie also features Matt Damon as a ranger accompanying the two and Josh Brolin as the killer.  With a remarkable cast like this, and the success they had adapting No Country for Old Men, it’s hard not to be excited about this one.

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