Dark Shadows — Review

DarkShadows_shot

The text on the image isn’t red for blood — it’s because I tried about seven different colors, and that’s the only one that would show over the image.

25Star

by Ken B.

Why was this movie made? Why, in the 21st century, was there a need to carry a motion to create a $150 million blockbuster based off of a 1960s soap opera? While I admit that there is a section of the fan base that is apparently quite devoted, there isn’t a real interest for Dark Shadows, especially in this capacity. Most who viewed it in its original run have only passing memories of it. What we have is a movie that is misleadingly promising in the first 30 minutes, falling into a deep pit of mediocrity, and then coming back up to impressive entertainment in its last 30 minutes.

The film starts in the 18th century, where a young Barnabas Collins departs with his family from Liverpool to Maine, and the family sets up a fishing port successful to the point of a town being named after the family (Collinsport). A witch named Angelique (EVA GREEN) was once loved by Barnabas, and after Barnabas falls in love with Josette (BELLA HEATHCOTE), Josette is cursed into jumping off a cliff. When Barnabas attempts to do the same, Angelique turns him into an immortal vampire. He soon falls into a two century slumber, believed to be dead.

By 1972, the Collins Estate is debilitated. One entire wing of the mansion is never entered, on account of there only being a few inhabitants. The current matriarch, Elizabeth (MICHELLE PFEIFFER) has a teenage daughter named Carolyn (CHLOË GRACE MORETZ) and a younger son named David (GULLIVER McGRATH), who claims to see ghosts. Also living in the house is an elderly maid (RAY SHIRLEY), a drunken groundskeeper named Willie (JACKIE EARLE HALEY), and a psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (HELENA BONHAM CARTER). A woman bearing a striking resemblance to Josette, using the name Victoria “Vicky” Winters, applies to become David’s private tutor (Vicky is also played by Heathcote.). Barnabas awakes in his coffin, and he attempts to decipher the current estate of the family. When news of this reaches Angelique, who is running a rival fishing operation, she takes this an opportunity to finally have him again.

The melodrama within makes it an aware and idyllic reference to soap operas in general, and Tim Burton’s visual style is a perfect match for gothic styling. Danny Elfman’s score is stereotypical of him (parts macabre and wit), but a brilliant fit here (and for an inexplicable reason, a motif within briefly reminded me of Randy Edelman’s score for Dragonheart (Cohen, 1996)). The script, by Seth Grahame-Smith, goes for a horror/fantasy riff in the strong beginning and end, and a more comical middle. That more comical middle is where the film really suffers, dragging the 113 minute film down to a near screeching halt, with mildly unbearable jokes about 1970s culture. The scenes where the story or characters actually progress are the only ones worthwhile within this part of the film. Burton lays off of the fantasy tricks here, bringing the dead zone (no pun intended) to an even more obvious front. Johnny Depp, in the lead role, tries his best and occasionally succeeds in inserting some life into the second act, assisted by the credible supporting actors.

As a whole, Dark Shadows never really finds any footing, constantly cajoling between horror and comedy, and never properly adapting either. While the performances (particularly Johnny Depp’s), the visual effects, and the musical score have the ability to create a satisfying sequence every now and then, Tim Burton’s version of the TV show is just a testament to what happens when money is thrown about without a foreseeable end goal or sufficient energy.

Dark_Shadows_2012_Poster

Advertisements

Edward Scissorhands – Review

Edwardscissorhandsposter
3Star

by Bret W.

Tim Burton is one of my favorite directors.  I love what he’s done for American pop icons such as Batman and Pee-Wee Herman over the years.  In Edward Scissorhands, he stretches his chops in a typically Burtonesque world, somewhere between reality and nightmare, to bring us a new twist on an old story (Beauty and the Beast).

But there are many differences between this story and its fairy tale counterpart.  The Beast was a prince cursed by a witch to become a horrible creature.  Edward was conceived out of love by an eccentric inventor and candymaker.  Belle, the beauty in Beauty and the Beast, was held captive in the Beast’s castle.  Edward was taken out of his castle and held as a willing captive in the home of the girl he loved.  But no matter how you slice it (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), Edward Scissorhands is a beautiful and warm love story and a heartwarming and disturbing film about human nature.

As I said before, I’m very fond of Tim Burton and the films he makes.  He teams up well with composer Danny Elfman.  Danny’s twisted and nightmarish melodies help to cast an eerie shadow on the film, and Burton’s direction and cinematography does the rest to make this a very moving film.  The cast is very good, with Johnny Depp in the title role, fair Wynonna Ryder as the object of his affection, and  Anthony Michael Hall is very convincing as the bullying boyfriend who turns the town against Edward.  Great supporting efforts by Alan Arkin, whom I like in everything he does, and Dianne Wiest, along with the entire cast of characters from the little village at the foot of the castle grounds.  And what can one say about Vincent Price in his final role?  He’s spooky just to look at, and perfect in the role of the inventor who brings Edward to life.

Again, much should be said about Burton’s eye for detail.  The costuming and the set architecture cast a very 70’s look on the town, although it was still apparent that the time frame was supposed to be modern.  Later, when Wynonna was telling the story to her grandchildren, the effect was even more convincing.  Burton has a flair for the macabre, and this is definitely one of his darker films.

All around, I have to say that Edward Scissorhands is a very good film and a very entertaining one at that.  All the elements combine to make it an excellent story-telling.  A new twist on an old story indeed, Edward Scisorhands is a film worth watching again and again.

 

 

The Lone Ranger – Review

TheLoneRanger_screenshot

 

3Star

 

by Ken B.

You’re not likely to be at all disappointed by The Lone Ranger if you knowingly buy a ticket to a movie called The Lone Ranger. If that is your boat, stop reading now and see it if you haven’t. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that’s many of you. While things that people with even the most minimal knowledge of the franchise are aware of, like the William Tell Overture, the basic characters, and the line “Hi-ho Silver, away!” are all present here (well, the third one in part), there really hasn’t been a very high demand for a $200 million movie based on The Lone Ranger. But honestly, it could have been worse. While I still do withhold some complaints about the film as a film, I don’t regret having seen it. There are impressive effects, good acting for a summer blockbuster, and a lovely score as always by Hans Zimmer, who composes a fantastic rendition of the William Tell Overture that blasts on in the film’s ending.

The film switches between 1933 and 1869. In the former, an elderly Tonto (JOHNNY DEPP) relays the events of the latter to a boy (MASON COOK) in a museum that’s part of a fair. The “events” detail the origin of the team of John Reid/The Lone Ranger and Tonto. John, an attorney played by Armie Hammer, is the only survivor of an ambush conducted by a group led by Butch Cavendish (WILLIAM FITCHNER). He, of course, shapes up to be the main antagonist.

As a majority of the movie is set during a time of expansion in American history, the film’s two largest set pieces (they occupy the first and last 20 minutes) are set on newly minted railroads and pristine trains. Because this is an action movie, they are not pristine for long, gleefully destroyed in entertainingly excessive scenes. Truly, The Lone Ranger’s biggest asset is big, fast moving, well choreographed action sequences. Of course, this is what one would expect upon the re-teaming of Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. And, if that’s what you’re looking for, this movie is a mostly solid choice. I say “mostly”, because there are problems. At 149 minutes, the middle portion of the film has a tendency to feel overlong, and there is an annoying tendency of this movie to have an odd switch between comedy laced action and just plain action. Of course, this isn’t the first movie to have problems staying in  a specified genre, but these concerns are usually reserved for dramedies, where there is a jarring split between lighthearted comedy and emotional melodrama.

The Lone Ranger is not likely to be remembered that much in the next couple of years, but I can’t see it fading into obscurity. It has that feeling of coming back into the public mind in two or three decades – it might be re-reviewed, re-considered even. It’s already a divisive film between other critics and the general public, and that could be a future point of interest. I dunno. I just hope people see it, because despite a handful of noticeable errors and shortcomings, it’s still, well, worth seeing.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

TheLoneRanger2013Poster

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – Review

What'sEatingGilbertGrape

Bonnie and Gilbert Grape try to figure out why Arnie is running around on the front lawn rambling about being stuck in multi-layered dreams on the RMS Titanic.

3-5Star

by Ken B.

This movie takes place in a house in the American Midwest. The house is certainly lived in, and that’s apparent from the outside. Inside, things become complicated. There are four kids, all at or close to adulthood. There’s Amy (LAURA HARRINGTON) and Ellen (MARY KATE SCHELLHARDT), but we don’t know much about them. We care the most about Gilbert (JOHNNY DEPP), and how he takes care of Arnie (LEONARDO DICAPRIO), who is mentally challenged and is about to turn eighteen. The father killed himself many years ago, and his wife, Bonnie (DARLENE CATES), fell into depression and compulsive overeating which leads her to be more or less physically unable to leave the house. She doesn’t want to leave, either, she’s too afraid of what people might think.

That’s all you need to know about What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, an efficient, atmospheric drama directed by Lasse Halstrom. It captures a mood early on and doesn’t let go. I like it when a movie can find it’s proper mood and stay there.

The characters are convincing as they are written, no matter how minor, and the acting put into them solidify their existence. DiCaprio’s portrayal of the mentally disabled kid Arnie, is convincing – very much so. The character of Gilbert, which requires a deep understanding of the actor having someone dependent on him, is well played by Johnny Depp. And the morbidly obese mother is played by Darlene Cates, who had little previous acting experience before this. It is clear that when she exits the house at one point and is ridiculed by the residents of her small hometown, the pain she expresses is drawn from personal experience.

According to the iMDB, the music was written by Alan Parker and Bjorn Isfalt. While viewing the movie, I noted that the piece played during the opening credits re-occurred far too many times throughout the rest of the movie. Writing this review a day later, I can hardly remember the melody. I’m going to call that a positive. It could have been worse. Music doesn’t really play a big part here

Regardless, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a very good movie. Well, it’s a different kind of good movie. What I mean by that, is that most good movies you’d have no problem watching again and again. I’ll say that this one is different. It’s admirable drama, but I’m venturing a guess that it won’t work on repeat viewings. It depends on the audience knowing nothing about it from the start. By saying that, it’s not degrading the movie, it’s just pointing out the fact that a story like this works best when you don’t know what’s happening next. Simple as that.

Whats_eating_gilbert_grape_poster