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-

SPOTLIGHT: Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard wasn’t very famous when she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2008 for her performance in La Vie en Rose, but after starring opposite Johnny Depp and appearing as a crucial character in a Christopher Nolan film, she began to be a recognizable face among the summer movie crowd even if they still couldn’t quite place her.  Cotillard is one of the most technically proficient actresses working today, using her eyes to level the audience and bring them into the rapture of the fiction that she inhabits.  Not since Catherine Deneuve has a French actress been accessible to American audiences at this level.  Set to appear in a new thriller from Steven Soderbergh later this year as well as next year’s inevitably successful new Nolan Batman film, she most recently captured hearts and minds in Woody Allen’s excellent French-set comedy Midnight in Paris.

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Summer 2011: Here we are now, entertain us

“Why do we go to the movies?” is the film industry equivalent of “What is the meaning of life?”  It’s a question that everyone with varying degrees of passion for the subject has a different answer to.

Often, the meaning of the movies reflect the season they are released in, because people have different desires at the theater.  The summer is often associated with the kind of movie that gets people out of the heat and makes them relax.  Something for the kids to go to while the parents are at work, or the whole family to enjoy when everyone is home.

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Five Awesome Movie Moms

Good movie moms often go unrecognized.  The past two years, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar has gone to two mother monsters (not Lady Gaga) who give the role kind of a bad name.  So, to celebrate Mother’s Day, we take a look at some moms who either kill their children with kindness, or literally kill for them.

The Bride (Kill Bill)- As played by Uma Thurman, The Bride spends all of the first Kill BIll movie thinking her daughter is dead.  The second half of Volume 2 delves more into their relationship and adds some disarming humanity to the story.  Here’s a mom who takes time out of finishing her revenge conquest to lay in bed and watch Shogun Assassin with her daughter.  If that’s not a great mom, I don’t know what is.

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Summer Box Office Predictions 2011

1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Release date: June 29

Plot summary: The Autobots are back in action after discovering a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon. They find themselves racing with the Decepticons to reach it and learn its secrets in order to ultimately save the human race in some form.

Why it will rule: The first Transformers movie was a $320 million hit and the second skyrocketed to a $410 million hit. Both of those movies were without the third dimension however, which is likely to add somewhere near an additional 25% to box office receipts. Dark of the Moon will enjoy a few of the finer luxuries summer has to offer: an IMAX slot and the Fourth of July weekend it usually dons. Director Michael Bay promises to not necessarily make the third film bigger than Revenge of the Fallen, but darker and more emotional, getting into the mythos and character development, something Nolan has faired well from at the box office.

Why it will fail: Michael Bay has never made a dark, emotional movie with character development in his career. Audiences saw what a car wreck Revenge of the Fallen was and it was panned by every known critic. Given what information is known about the plot and teaser, we have no reason to believe Dark of the Moon will be any different from the first two, except that it will be sans Megan Fox, the eye candy that seemed to bring in salivating young males by the droves. Another critical disaster and story-less film may not be a box office pounding for Bay, but it also isn’t going to be the same out of the world hit unless the trailer is another Linkin Park jammed visual trip.

Estimated box office: $120 million OW / $385 million domestic

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Release date: July 15

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REVIEW: Rango

Rango
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: John Logan (screenplay)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, and Bill Nighy

Go ahead, label Rango an animated vehicle for Johnny Depp driven by his Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski.   You wouldn’t be wrong, but you would be guilty of oversimplifying one of the most outlandish and downright weird animated movies to cross mainstream audiences in a long time.

It seems almost mandatory at this point to acknowledge that Rango is indeed not a product of Pixar.  However, it doesn’t come from Dreamworks either, but rather Nickelodeon.  To this end, the bizarre twists and somewhat more mature material seem more at home.  So too does Depp, voicing The Chameleon With No Name who later assumes the identity Rango when he stumbles into an Old West Town.

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Eleven movies to watch for in ’11

Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other.  We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season.  So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.

The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen.  Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible.  With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.”  The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful.  It draws you in without ruining it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations.  It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original.  The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher.  Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.

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Our (Belated) List of Favorite Movie Directors

1. Martin Scorsese- It may seem unimaginable that nearly three years ago director Martin Scorsese had yet to hold an Academy Award in his hands, but it is the disappointing truth. The once would-be Catholic priest entered the film making world with hits like Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets which put him at the forefront of New Hollywood with his violent, audience-specific films. Though Francis Ford Coppola felt he was unfit to helm The Godfather: Part III, Scorsese quickly overshadowed Coppola to become an icon of his own, creating films filled with themes related to violence, machismo, Italian-American identity, immigration, Catholicism and New York City. Five decades of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, Scorsese set a style of quick editing, rock and roll soundtrack and frequent collaboration with actors and editors who claim Scorsese to be a living encyclopedia of film history. The film that did it for us: Though he’s created modern epics including a personal favorite, Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s talents are most apparent in Taxi Driver, a film with some of the most carefully constructed technical detail and powerful themes of isolation, violence, sex and how they are related and lead to destruction.

2. Stanley Kubrick– One of the unprecedented visual artists in all of cinema, it’s hard to not love movies when Stanley Kubrick makes them.  His gift for telling a compelling story is aided by those infamous distant shots, able to encompass the idiocy in The War Room (Dr. Strangelove) or gravity-defying in the great beyond (2001: A Space Odyssey).  He never told the same story twice, but each film carries with it his distinct visual flair,  helping him to create some of the most fully realized worlds the movies have ever seen.  Kubrick is one of the biggest influences on American cinema not only because of his artistic genius, though.  His ruthless dedication to his vision of the material led to feuds with his actors and the writers of the source material (both on The Shining.)  Perfectionism is costly, but with it he created many things that are, in fact, perfect.  The film that did it for us: There’s never been a more beautifully filmed comedy than Dr. Strangelove, and there are few as horrific.

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TRAILER: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush

The third film never exactly left the franchise concluded and satisfied. With a small cliffhanger, another billion in the bank and a chance to make swords swing out at audiences in 3D, Disney brings back the beloved peculiar swashbuckling pirate saga with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Whether there is an audience demand or a creative reason to refuel the franchise or not is not a concern to the studio that is likely to pocket another billion for the fourth installment after worldwide box office gets boosted by 3D. Taking the title from a the 1988 Tim Powers’ novel which shares plot elements with the film, Disney plucks Rob Marshall to take over the Gore Verbinski directed franchise. After coming off of last year’s overhyped flop Nine, Marshall uses his expertise in stylization and glamour seen in Chicagoand Memoirs of Geisha to add a splash to the series. Continue reading

REVIEW: The Tourist

The Tourist
Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Written by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, & Julian Fellowes (screenplay)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, and Timothy Dalton

Slicing through the frame with vintage glamor and movie star sensibility, Angelina Jolie always captures the gaze of her audience.  Whether she be in a feature film like this one or in Africa with her family, we follow her.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, we follow a man who’s been mistaken for someone else on a cross-country journey of suspense with swerving trains, diving planes, and classic automobiles.  Cary Grant, as big a movie star as there ever was, plays that man.  Here it’s Johnny Depp, but you can’t help but keep your eyes on Ms. Jolie.

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