Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012): A Gothic Comedy?

Despite my passion for all things Johnny Depp, I shall attempt to provide an honest review of his most recent collaboration with Tim Burton, Dark Shadows.

As  kid, I remember my grandmother watching the serial soap opera of the same name, and I recall checking out reruns of it later on some television channel that is probably now defunct.  So I have a great understanding of the basic plot here.  Barnabas Collins appears at his family estate to resume his control and to find his long lost love.

When I first heard that Depp had a major interest in the TV series and was planning to headline a theatrical remake, I was in heaven.  After all, I love vampires, I love Johnny.  Perfect, right?  Though I did have some reservations about whether or not Depp could pull off the tall, imposing character of Barnabas.  But he'd went goth before and no doubt could do it again.

I assumed that the re-do would be dark - perhaps even sinister.  The soap opera could only go so far on daytime television, so I really thought the film could get truly gothic and would pull out all the stops.  I had no idea until I saw the trailer that they'd went for laughs instead of frights.  To be fair, the soap was campy.  But after bearing witness to this new version of Barnabas & Co., I'm really not sure what to make of it. And this distresses me a great deal.

Barbabas Collins (Depp) has arisen from the grave 200 years after being imprisoned there by Angelique Bouchard (played with great fervor by the gorgeous Eva Green), a scorned lover who just happened to be a witch.  Making his way back to his family estate, Collinwood, he discovers all that is left of his home is a bizarre assortment of family members and a frequently sloshed shrink, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).

Burton was fortunate to cast some talented actors in his eighth film with Depp.  Michelle Pfeiffer portrays Collins matriarch Elizabeth and seems to enjoy the over-the-top acting required of her in the role.  Jackie Earle Haley didn't have quite enough to do as Barnabas's right hand man, Willie Loomis, but was perfectly cast nonetheless.  Jonny Lee Miller, as Roger, Elizabeth's brother is a bit of an asshole.  His son David (Gulliver McGrath) yearns for his dad to take notice of him and console him after the untimely death of his mother, with whom David claims speaks to him - but Roger is too busy to care.  The other Collins of the quartet is Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), an audacious teenager who has a surprise or two up her sleeve. There is also an elderly maid, Mrs. Johnson (Ray Shirley), who has nothing at all to do here except age.

As stated, Eva Green as Angelique is probably the pick of the litter here, relishing the devious nature of her character. She's just great!
The only person I thought was slightly miscast was the pivotal role of Victoria Winters.  While I will say Bella Heathcote does a fine job with the role (and it's obvious she'd be perfect in something like Jane Eyre), I just didn't feel her in the role of Barnabas's sweetheart.  While I realize Josette/Victoria was supposed to be young, Heathcote just looked TOO young.  I would have liked to have seen someone a bit older in the role so that Barnabas didn't appear to be robbing the cradle and swapping spit with a Justin Beiber fan.  To assume she'd have enough experience of any kind to become a governess for young David was just a bit much.  I do realize that Heathcote is 24 (I have Google, too) - but they had her so dressed down with little to no makeup whatsoever, she looked 15.  She'd be ideal for the next season of Glee, provided she could sing....

I digress.  The film starts out promisingly enough, with a bit of back story into the Collins name and how they made their fortune in America.  Lucky son Barnabas has all the pleasures one is afforded in an affluent lifestyle such as theirs.  He also has the extreme misfortune of jilting a servant girl he had been dallying with.  Angelique thought she had secured Barnabas's love, and when he unceremoniously dumps her, her true nature is revealed.  She is a witch, and not only kills his parents in a freak "accident", she also puts a spell on Barnabas's betrothed, Josette, causing her to walk off a cliff and plunge to the rocks below. Not quite finished, Angelique curses Barnabas to be a vampire, then buries him 'alive', leaving him to rot for two centuries.
Flash forward to 1972.  A young woman named Maggie is on her way to Collinsport to attain a job as a governess to David Collins.  On her way, she decides to conceal her identity and changes her name to Victoria Winters, though we are never to learn why.  As the train travels north to Maine, we are treated to the melancholy tune of Nights in White Satin, setting the stage for what we hope to be a gothic tale of love and damnation.  Um, not so fast.

Barnabas wakes after some construction workers discover his casket.  He quickly disperses of them as only a vampire can (but we are not really treated to the actual killings, very little gore here, folks).  He is certain that the devil has come calling for him, in particular when he sees the giant golden arches of McDonalds and takes it as the sign for Mephistopheles... Seriously.  Product placement like you've never seen before.  It is here where I had to consider that Burton was going to seriously fuck with this film. 

Arriving at Collinwood to discover the house in a sad state of disrepair, Barnabas demands to know what happened. Elizabeth explains that the Collins fortune has been overturned because of Angelique Bouchard, who has made her own fortune in the fishing business by bewitching and hexing the fisherman to be loyal only to her.  (By the way, great cameo by Sir Christopher Lee as an elderly fishing captain. Perfect!)

Barnabas meets and greets the rest of the family, who have been told he is a family relative from England.  He also catches the eye of Victoria, and in doing so he is flabbergasted to see she is a doppelganger of Josette.  And so it begins.

By that I mean the story attempts to keep us interested as it goes along its merry way.  Angelique is now a pillar of the community, and when she finds Barnabas restoring his family's fishing company to its previous glory (by bespelling the fishing captains to do his bidding - two can play at that game!), she demands he join her or suffer the consequences.  Meanwhile, Dr. Hoffman tells Barnabas she can reverse his curse, and begins to give him frequent transfusions. Additionally, Barnabas and Josette Maggie Victoria are getting cozy and getting down to the tunes of Alice Cooper.  No, I'm more than serious.  Barnabas has a big ball (yeah, go there if you want to- the film did) and headlining the entertainment is the shock rocker himself.  This was a ridiculous display of WTF. While I like Cooper as well as the next guy, this segment of the film (along with an unbelievably stupid sex scene) really drug the film further down into absurdity.

More of this please....
Not everything was bad.  A film with Johnny Depp is still A FILM WITH JOHNNY DEPP to me, so I would never say I hated it.  There are elements that are enjoyable, and much of the funny "oh shit, it's 1972??!" shtick was amusing.  But I really felt it missed the mark on a lot of golden opportunities.  Yes, the original daytime soap opera was campy and even inane at times, but let's not forget it held a certain charm in its gothic silliness.

....and less of this.
Without Depp as the star here, it would be much less forgivable and much more laughable.  And not in a good way.  There is a scene in which we are to assume that Dr. Hoffman goes down on of those 'fade to black'-type scenes.  A seriously daft moment in the script, if I do say so.  It had no bearing on the story and when it happened I kind of cringed.  No, I think I totally cringed.
Unnecessary and pointless.  To have it there just for a laugh was inappropriate and way too corny!

So what am I to make of this hot mess that is Dark Shadows?  Well, I will say I was entertained.  I didn't walk out, didn't bitch too loudly, and will probably buy on DVD (as I do with most Depp films).  But as a legitimate remake of the wonderfully campy and unforgettable daytime soap?  Nah.  It falls flat and has too many pedestrian jokes and too much quirky, offbeat humor.  Just when you think they are "getting it", it practically morphs into a stand-up routine or a skit on SNL.  If you've seen the extended trailer, you've seen most of the funny scenes.

It's a beautiful film, as most of Burton's films are, and the musical score by Burton fave Danny Elfman works here.(Though to be honest, some scenes almost felt like they should have cartoon musical interludes instead of legit scoring!)  The set design is gorgeous, the costumes are faultless, and most of the acting is polished.  But somewhere in there is the gothic horror film I wish they'd made.  Maybe they wish they'd made it too.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Accelerated Version Of The 30 Day Movie Challenge, Horror Edition, Part One

I've always wanted to do the "30 Day Movie Challenge" and just never had the time. So instead, I combined a few of the challenges into one and here they are, in two parts.  NO lines, NO waiting.  NO bullshit.

1) Your First Horror Movie :  Friday the 13th (1980) - While I did watch a lot of Vincent Price films when I was a kid, this movie was really the first film that made me say "Hmm....I think I like this stuff!" It was a turning point. I was twelve, and that is when I started actively seeking out horror.

2) The Last Horror Movie You Saw In The Theatre :  The Woman in Black (2012).  Since I started this post, I've actually just seen Dark Shadows just this week.  But I'm leaving this version of TWIB here, because DS was less horror, more camp for me.  This was a pretty good spook film. Not as good as the original, mind you.

3) Favorite Classic Horror Movie :  Psycho (1960). Can there really be any other answer from me? Certainly not. If you'd like an even older film, I'd go with Freaks (1932). But my heart is always with Norman.  No big shocker there.

4) A Horror Movie You Thought You'd Love But Didn't :  Drag Me To Hell.  Not that I hate it, but with Sam Raimi's name attached, I really thought it would be so much better.  For me, it was just Meh.

5) Favorite Horror Remake :  The Thing (1982).  Good remakes are hard to come by, but it can be done. And it can be done very well. Case in point:  Carpenter's stellar re-do of an early 50's classic.  By the way, my runner-up would be Dawn of the Dead (2004).

6) Favorite Vampire Movie :  Let the Right One In (2003).  As a mega-fan of the fanged fiends, it's hard to pick a favorite.  But this film was so beautiful.  So goddamned perfect. I also enjoyed the remake (Let Me In, 2010) from a few years ago as well.

7) A Horror Movie You Think No One Has Seen :   The Locals (2003).  I don't even know how I happened upon this low-budget Kiwi film.  Nor do I recall when I bought the DVD.  But I know it's a creepy little movie that few people saw.  You should remedy that.

8) Favorite Foreign Horror :  I Saw the Devil (2010).  This is an extremely difficult question, as I have a ton of favorite foreign horror (The Devil's Backbone, Cold Prey, Shiver, The Eye, The Orphanage, Profondo Rosso. etc). But this kick-ass revenge film struck a chord with me.  I've already seen it several times since I bought it last year.

9) Favorite Supernatural/Ghost Horror Movie :   The Woman in Black (1989).  I don't know how many times I can reiterate my love for this one, folks.  You're probably so tired of hearing it, but I'm going to say it again - THIS FILM IS AWESOME! My favorite favorite ghost story....evah.

10) Horror Movie Everyone Loves But You Don't :   The Monster Squad (1987).  I guess it was just a little too silly for me, maybe just caught me at the wrong time.  Maybe I was too old when it came out. Had I been ten years younger in 1987 I probably would have loved it. But I just think it's so hokey, and not in a good way. Sorry.

11) Favorite Horror/Comedy : Shaun of the Dead (2004).  It's doubtful that there is a funnier horror film out there, except maybe Young Frankenstein.  It just takes everything that is hilarious about zombie movies and wraps it up with a big red bow.  Oh, you've got red on you.

12) Your Most Disturbing Horror Film :  À l'intérieur a.k.a. Inside (2007). This movie bothered me on so many levels. I may have chosen Martyrs or Irreversible if not this, but just being a woman and having a uterus made this film utterly terrifying.

13) Favorite Zombie Movie :  Night of the Living Dead (1968).  One of my favorite "comfort horror" films, I love to turn the lights off and cozy up on my couch to watch the film that all zombie films are judged by. Just classic, mind-blowing, statement-making horror.  The best.

14) Favorite Indie Horror Movie :  Absentia (2011).  While I'm not as versed in indie horror as some of my blogging counterparts, I know a good one when I see it.  And this film really rocked.  It's a slow burn, but really gets under your skin with its creepy imagery and subtle scares.

15) Favorite Monster Movie :  Frankenstein (1931).  I doubt I have to list the merits of this classic. But with all the monster movies out there, I still come back to this one.  The story is just so chilling and yet has such incredible heart. Runner-up: Gojira! (1954)

16) Favorite Werewolf movie:  An American Werewolf in London (1981).  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  Nahhh, we'd be here all day.  Landis put a perfect mix of panic and humor in a movie that just NEVER GETS OLD!

17) Favorite 80's Horror :  Evil Dead II (1987).  Speaking of humor... Bruce Campbell is simply groovy in the second installment in the Evil Dead series.  While the first one had some comedic moments, this was Campbell's shining moment.  Let's give him a hand!

18) Favorite Horror Movie Filmed In Black & White:  Psycho (1960). Yep, Psycho makes the list twice.  Actually, it could be in several of these categories, but I'm trying to spread the love.  Just to show you I can be fair, I also love 1962's Carnival of Souls.  Great B & W stuff there, too!  But Psycho...'s PSYCHO!

19) Best Use Of Gore :  Frontier(s) (2007).  Table saws. Cut achilles tendons. Ax wounds. Throats torn out. Death by boiler. Knives, shotguns, and impalements.  No more proof necessary for this film to excel in this category.  An NC-17 rating probably helps its case.

             20) Favorite Horror Character (besides Norman Bates, because that's a given with me!) :  Ginny (Amy Steel, Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981).  I love everything about about Ginny! She's so smart and witty and sometimes just a goofball. Which is why she is here.  Sure, I could have picked Ash (Evil Dead) or Quint (Jaws) but would either one of them put on that ratty old blue sweater of Mrs. Voorhees?  I don't think so!

21) Best Horror Franchise :   Evil Dead series (1981-1992) - While I like other franchises, such as Friday the 13th and Halloween, all of the films within those franchises are not created equal.  In the Evil Dead films, they are all quite enjoyable, hence the reason I call them best. 

22) Best Death Scene :  Father Karras falling down the flight of steps and breaking his neck (The Exorcist, 1973).  Might not be the most gory or the most inventive, but for me, it had the biggest impact. My stomach still lurches as Karras is given last rites. Second to that would be Quint's death in Jaws. Yikes.

23) A Great Quote From A Horror Movie :  "You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat" (Jaws, 1975) I've quoted Jaws so extensively I don't know where to begin.  But this is probably the most famous.

                        24)  Horror Film With A Great Soundtrack :   Angel Heart, 1987
Trevor Jones outdid himself on this atmospheric score to the mystery/thriller. The sultry jazz combined with old standards such as the fabulous 'Soul on Fire' by Lavern Baker (heard during the love scene) catapults this soundtrack to great heights.  I could have went with Psycho, Halloween, Jaws, or a hundred other scores, but feel that Angel Heart is sadly overlooked.

25) Favorite 'Holiday' Horror Movie (other than one of the 'Halloween' films):  My Bloody Valentine (1981) It was a toss up for me here between this movie and April Fool's Day (1986). But I went with this one because it's such a classic slasher flick, and is so dated and hokey!  But here, in a good way!

26) Horror Movie For A Chicken :  Fright Night (1985) or Half Light (2006). Fright Night for potential monster fans, Half Light for ghost story buffs.  Both movies are pretty tame by horror movie standards, with Half Light being the more restrained of the two.

27) Your Guilty Pleasure Horror Movie :   Pet Sematary (1989) I can turn this one on and recite the lines with my eyes shut.  For some reason I have always loved it, and feel it is one of the better Stephen King adaptations, even with some of the watered-down acting. Zelda still give me goddamned nightmares. "Never get out of bed again!!"

28) Horror Film You'd Like To See Remade :  The Legend of Hell House (1973). Much as I love this film, I'd like to see what they could do with it these days.  And it's no secret I love a good haunted house flick.

29) Worst Horror Movie :   Borderline Cult (2007. God how I hate this film.  I can't even call it a's such rubbish. Please, don't ever see this film! You've been warned.

30) Favorite All Time Horror Movie :  Jaws(1975).  My love for this film knows no bounds.  Psycho would definitely run a very close second. But you knew that already!  I don't know what I can say that I haven't already said.  It's perfect in every way.

*Next up, films like Suspiria, Jane Eyre, Let's Scare Jessica To Death, and Cropsey all make the list as answers.  So, what are the questions??

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Good Neighbours (2010) : Meh.

After watching Good Neighbours, I checked online to see how it fared on sites like Rotten Tomatoes (67% good reviews?) and IMDB (5.7).  I was actually surprised it rated that high, truth be told. 
It's not an awful film, by any means.  But it kind of felt like a movie you'd watch on IFC on a random Tuesday night. Nothing you'd seek out.

I think they were going for a film noir feeling here, but in my opinion it doesn't quite pan out.  Victor (Jay Baruchel) has just moved into an apartment building in the NDG section (that's Notre-Dame-de-Grace for us non-Canadian idiots) of Montreal, where news is spreading of a serial killer terrorizing the neighborhood. 
He quickly meets neighbors Spencer (Scott Speedman, in a role I'm sure Felicity would balk at!) and Louise (Emily Hampshire, truly the love child of Parker Posey and Ally Sheedy - I actually thought it was Parker for a moment or two in the beginning) and they trade awkward greetings.  Spencer is in a wheelchair after an accident the previous year that ended his wife's life.  Louise works in a Chinese restaurant, has two cats she obsesses over, and is equally as engrossed with the nasty details of the workings of said serial killer.  

Right away, I was a bit turned off by the characters.  While well written, I just couldn't find any of them remotely interesting enough to care about what happens to them.  Victor becomes weirdly captivated with Louise, who in my opinion is pretty much a dull washrag.  She isn't even the best pet owner, allowing her kitties to run wild all day around the complex while she is at work.  This doesn't sit well with Valerie (Anne-Marie Cadieux), an upstairs tenant who screams bloody murder out the window at the cats when they relieve themselves in her tiny flower garden below her window.  Upon further inspection, it's obvious Valerie is a bit off her rocker as well.  Seems her goal in life is to walk around her apartment in lingerie and a robe and shout obscenities into the phone to her lover/husband/doormat. She's throwing F-bombs around like a sailor.

To say this sets up as a quirky morality play is an understatement. While Victor goes over the top trying to impress both Louise (whom he wants to bed) and Spencer (whom he wants to be-friend), both of his objects of affection are too busy hanging out together - sharing a daily newspaper, discussing the serial killer's MO, and wondering how the investigation is going.  I wasn't sure if Louise was more concerned about her own safety or the graphic details of how the killer kills and rapes (apparently in that order) his victims.  The answer appears to be the former, as she does ask Victor to come pick her up from work and walk her home.  (My answer is 'how stupid can you be to have some newbie in your building that you know squat about walk you home through dark alleyways?')  Although admittedly, Victor seems about as dangerous as Steve Urkel.  He does however, have delusions that just because Louise asks for an escort home, it means she is ready to bed and wed her neurotic neighbor.  I just didn't get that feeling from her.  In fact, I didn't get much from her at all.  

While the writer did try to keep us guessing, I'll admit readily that the film felt like something I'd already seen, like on an episode of Forensic Files or perhaps Criminal Minds.  I deduced the killer's identity almost immediately, but stuck around anyway - just to see how it all pans out.  I can say that it made me continue to watch it longer than I probably should have. 

There is a lot of black comedy here, and some attempts that just don't go anywhere.  Some of the film is just downright oddball.  For long periods of time I wanted to shout "stop sitting there bumbling through stupid conversations that make you all look like the incredibly lame and boring people you are!"  Again, I realize they were trying to build the characters' relationships up and set their boundaries - but at times it just seemed forced.  

When it came time to actually dispatch of some of the characters, I didn't feel any remorse with each gruesome death.  Consequently, when two of the three friends (neighbors) work in tandem to try to bring down a serial killer, it was hard to get behind the reasoning and equally as difficult to give a shit about the other person.  Don't get me wrong, I love film noir and black comedies and everything else I think they might have been attempting, I just felt relatively emotionless watching it.  It was just so weird.  Long stretches with random or non-existent talking.  A few stolen moments where you think two out of the three may be getting overly chummy cause to throw a wrench in your original thoughts, but seriously - if you watch this with little to no expectations, you'll probably end up like me, curious as to how it all ends but ready to forget it about ten minutes later. Adding that extra "u" in the word neighbor did nothing for me.  Was it supposed to?
Ahh... you crazy Canadians.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fifty Shades Of Psycho

As many know, Psycho is one of my favorite films.  Recently I just happened to find a pretty cool poster for the film that I hadn't seen before, which got me checking out Google images and I discovered an entire world of Psycho posters I'd never had the pleasure of seeing.  And while I have never had a post here on the blog about movie posters (because there are other sites that do it frequently and I didn't want to be a copy-cat), I couldn't help myself here.

There are all kinds of posters here, I am assuming some are fan-made, so if you see something you created by all means let me know and I will credit you.  It's pretty hard to find out the creators of things sometimes on this world-wide-web.

But I was pretty psyched (sorry, couldn't resist) at some of these designs.