Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dark Shadows

By Sati. Sunday, May 20, 2012 , , , , , , ,
36/100 (113 min, 2012)
Plot: An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection. Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay), John August (story)
Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green

 Burn, baby, burn!

I love Tim Burton's movies. I love his imagination, the beautiful cinematography, Danny Elfman's scores, the bizarre and grotesque world that always hides within the frames of his pictures. Even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland while definitely weren't the best of his movies, were at least coherent, had a consistent style and at least managed to be entertaining. With Dark Shadows I was hoping it will be a good movie till the very last moment, that is until I actually saw it. I don't know what happened to Tim Burton but Dark Shadows is a huge disappointment and worse yet - complete, embarrassing and ridiculous mess that at times is not even watchable.

The story follows....oh wait that's not right. Dark Shadows doesn't really follow any of the characters, it changes the points of view many times and it never makes much sense. So let me start over - once there was a rich playboy Barnabas Collins who fooled around with the girls. That was until he fell in love with Josette, lovely, blond girl. One of the girls he abandoned - Angelique - turns out to be a witch and she decides to take her revenge - she makes Josette jump out of cliff to her death and Barnabas follows. But he doesn't die - it turns out that Angelique turned him into a vampire.
And that's not everything - Angelique buries Barnabas alive so he would be locked with his broken heart in a coffin for eternity. But eternity ends in 1972 when the coffin containing Barnabas is accidentally dug up due to the construction of McDonald's. Barnabas finds his way to the family estate and meets the inhabitants - Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her brother Roger, his disturbed son David, the son's psychiatrist, alcoholic and dismissive Dr. Julia Hoffman, Elizabeth's annoying and rebellious daughter Caroline (Chloe Moretz) and David's governess Vicky (Bella Heathcote) who harbors a secret of her own.

It turns out that the Collins fortune is almost completely gone and that Angelique is now beloved in the town of Colinwood and runs a concurrent business. She is still a witch and she appears to never age - something that is never explained here - but she masquerades herself as a daughter, granddaughter and so on of herself to the oblivious people of Colinwood. Also - she is still mad and madly in love with Barnabas, who vows to protect his family and Vicky, with whom he starts to fall in love with. Vicky looks exactly like Josette, which Barnabas immediately noticed upon meeting her. The connection between and Josette is also, you guessed it, never explained.
Dark Shadows is something that could have gone either way - with a story built on the ideas of love, revenge, honor and loss it could either be a powerful drama with elements of horror or with the complete lack of acknowledgement for profound emotions a slapstick comedy. Burton chose the latter and that's perfectly fine - there is no shame in making a comedy. There is however, a shame in making unfunny, awkward comedy. 90% of the jokes in Dark Shadows falls flat, there aren't many laughs and the jokes that do make you laugh are obvious, stale, cliche, boring and at times even irritating.

Worse yet - Dark Shadows is not even supposed to be a comedy. I have no idea what it was supposed to be. I think even Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, who is also the producer of the film, have no idea what it was supposed to be. There is drama here, family movie, some weird psycho sexual comedy and just plain awkwardness and mess all around. Burton and Depp pay homage to the original TV series the movie is based on, but so what. In this movie, the cameos and homages linking this film to the series play almost like an insult to it.
The film is riddled with fantastic actors who are horribly underused - another reason for Burton's embarrassment should be the fact that this crap marks the second time he got Michelle Pfeiffer to work him. Pfeiffer has of course created legendary performance of Catwoman in his 1992 Batman Returns, which remains one of the best performances in any of his films. Pfeiffer does great here but there is so little of her and her character is so horribly under written I have no idea why she agreed to appear in this movie. It's even more saddening that it appears she was the one who contacted Burton and expressed her desire to be in the adaptation of the series. I'm sure she was expecting something different that this. We also have Jackie Earle Harley and Johnny Lee Miler here and they are both completely forgettable and redundant to the film. There is really no reason for them to be in it.

Then there is Chloe Moretz - she plays annoying teenager and since she is annoying to begin with this just creates a bomb that you hope will explode before your eyes. I kept wishing for someone to slap her across the face three times in the row. Moretz's work in this movie is so bad I think I'm gonna buy a bucket for popcorn and eat it while I will read the reviews for Carrie remake which will hopefully flop. Looking like a little hussy and squinting her eyes, Moretz apparently confused auditions for pole dancing with actual acting.
Now to the good work - Depp is all right here, specifically in scenes where he tries to deal with the strange reality Barnabas has found himself in - those moments create few funny situations, but they are quickly rendered annoying by inept scrip. Still, it's pretty bland performance and I liked his recent cameo in "21 Jump Street" so much more - it had actual spark and charm. Here, as in most of his recent projects, Depp looks like he is sleepwalking, like he is here just to get the cash and get the hell away as soon as he can. Still, at least he is dedicated to his work and does his job.

Then we have Bella Heathcote who actually impressed  me - I have no idea who she is, but in addition to being incredibly beautiful - she has eyes as captivating as Winona Ryder's in Beetle Juice - she actually gets to portray something deeper about her character - the sense of hurt and vulnerability. Mia Wasikowska started to make good movies after "Alice in Wonderland" and I truly hope this will also be a case for Heathcote.
Eva Green described her role of Angelique as "Bette Davis and Janis Joplin mixed together." She is doing her best here, unfortunately the script makes her character into caricature way too many times. Her final scene in the movie, which is very grotesque and too bizarre even by the standards of Tim Brton's films is quite touching, because of her earnest efforts. Prior to this she is quite possibly the only one of two people who are fun to watch in this odd charade. The other one is the always delightful Helena Bonham Carter who plays her part of intoxicated doctor with a lot of wit, charm and a huge dose of sarcasm.

Burton unfortunately uses her character in a cheap attempt to make an opening for a possible sequel. What happens before this, though, is the worst part of the movie - for the first 10 minutes I actually liked it, though the flashback sequences were rushed, the opening that follows, when we see Vicky arriving to the town is mysterious, captivating and unforgettable. But from the moment she knocks on the door of the mansion things start to fall apart fast. And the real disaster comes in the third act of the movie.
What happened there was so ridiculous, chaotic and stupid I could barely look at the screen. There are moronic plot twists there and also the moment when the CGI and Chloe Moretz's work reach rock bottom at the same time. The ending is slightly better, but then before mentioned gate to the sequel happens and the films loses its appeal again. Even with boring, awkward and silly parts it would still be average but the third act seals the deal for film ending up being a disaster.

The things that did work is the visual side of the film which is gorgeous - production designer Rick Heinrichs designed Collinwood to reflect its maritime heritage - ocean motifs like fish and mermaids are present throughout the house and its furnishings, including seahorses in the fireplace along with statues of the sea god Neptune. The town really looks amazing - with the houses built out of wood with prominent red and blue roofs, the blue sky over it and the ocean right nearby. 70's defining elements also find a lot of counterparts in the film with the goofy buses, lava lamps and the clothing.
Tim Burton wanted the film to reflect the era of its setting, and showed cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel several 1970s vampire movies to help him understand the way the film should be shot - while the cinematography even with all the preparation is not impressive, there are many gorgeous shots in the film. Another good element are the costumes - Colleen Atwood designed the 18th and 20th century costumes and then overlaid and blended in elements from both to create a smooth, similar feel that suited the film.
 The music is fantastic - that is when it comes to the choices of the songs in the film with "Nights in white satin" and "Superfly" among others. Danny Elfman's score on the other hand didn't make an impression on me.

Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green and the visual side aided by great music aside there is really nothing worth seeing here. The film, for me, is the worst collaboration between Depp and Burton to date. It lacked good script and director's vision as for what he wants to achieve with this movie. I wouldn't recommend it even to hardcore Tim Burton fans, but if you like Eva Green as I do the film is worth seeing just to see her fun performance.

39 comments:

  1. Reviews have been generally negative, so disappointing...the trailer looked so fun...oh well

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    1. Yeah, I hoped it will be better...

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    2. My sentiment exactly Chris.

      Nice review, Sati. Ah well, initially I wanted to see this on the big screen, but now I think I'll just rent this one :)

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    3. Thank you! I think that's the right call :)

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  2. If Ricky Gervais hosts the Golden Globes again next year, I reckon he'll have dig at Johnny Depp again. A friend of mine said this could even be a Razzie nominee, something that a few years ago was rather unthinkable for Tim Burton. I'm sure there's plenty far worst films than this, but the Razzies do seem to target the higher profile films.

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    1. I think it's possible too, a lot of people seem to hate this movie.

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  3. It was so bad. So so bad. God Chloe Moretz really looked like a hooker- I'm terrified for Carrie now, though I'll still watch it for Julianne Moore playing Margaret White.

    I liked Pfeiffer- she looked amazing. Green was nice, but it got too much. Same goes for Depp (sadly). HBC was so underused, it was awful. It could have been a really interesting character. And yeah, Heathcote was really beautiful. I liked her voice a lot- it was so womanly.

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    1. Yeah she looked and acted like a drunken whore, I had no idea what was going on with that. Pfeiffer did look amazing indeed!

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  4. I thought Moretz was playing a hooker in this film. Thats why I thought she did a pretty good job. ;-)

    This film was bad that we decided not to review a film at the theater this week as I couldn't handle seeing another stinker back to back.

    Nice write up as usual Sati

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    1. Thank you! :) Let's hope new releases that are coming soon will be better than this one.

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  5. The trailer looked like a lot of fun and just a silly little film with a half decent plot and a fantastic selection of actors.

    Sad to see so many negative reviews on Burton and Depp's latest team up. I'll give it a watch when it rolls around to the small screen.

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    1. It's probably the right call, the film looks gorgeous but it's not worth a trip to the cinema.

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  6. Wow... and I actually thought about seeing it based on its trailer.

    Can someone please get the computers away from Tim Burton and have him be separated from Johnny Depp and John August. I think Burton needs to go back to his roots and make a film that is stripped down and to the point.

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    1. I hope Frankenweenie will be good, if not then there may be no hope left.

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  7. Yes, it's bad! I don't think they shouldn't collaborate for a long time, before the script or the concept is really ready. Or, probably Depp should produce now, rather than act. Moretz was annoying but there's a reason for it, and she was scarier than Depp (in the end). Good write-up, Sati!

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, I think they need to rethink their methods.

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  8. Not reading very much good reviews for this

    And personally i think Mortez is a good actress

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    1. She was good in 500 Days of Summer and Let me in, but here she is just awful.

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  9. I haven't seen this yet, I doubt I will until home entertainment relase. I was reading a film club the other day where everyone loved it though!!

    :-)

    Great review Sati

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  10. Everywhere I turn I read bad reviews for it. I was planning to seeing it in cinemas, but I guess I can save my money for Snow White or something else. Great review, as usual!

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    1. Snow White will be a better choice :)

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  11. Wow it sounds wierd. That should be a good thing but evidently it is not in this case! Great write up!

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    1. Oh it's definetly not :) Thanks!

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  12. Not as exciting or as funny as the goofy trailers promised, which is what really bummed me out in the end. I think it's just time for Burton and Depp to take some time apart from one another. Who knows, it may both do them some real good in the future. Good review Sati.

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    1. I think so too, though when they didn't do Big Fish together I ended up being annoyed with McGregor's work.

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  13. Sati -

    What an extensive review! Goodness! I read and reread your summary of what the Hell is going on here and felt overwhelmed. Granted, I'm an idiot, but still. This whole thing seems a bit convoluted when the previews suggested breezy goofiness. Still, I loved the breakdown.

    Maybe this doesn't make sense, but your trashing of it has made me curious. As in...is it really that bad? (it'll be bounced before I get the chance to investigate).

    Oh, and I had no idea that Jackie Earle Harley and Johnny Lee Miler were in this. Underused and redundant? SHAME!

    And great call on MP as Catwoman. That performance mesmerized a young, um, me.

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    1. It really is a mess - waaay too many characters in this flick. It really is bad, I rarely end up disliking the movie of one of my favorite directors with some of my favorite acctresses, truly a huge let down.

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  14. That's an in-depth, very well written review for a movie that granted only a 36/100 score! But sometimes, it's the bad movie that get your writing juice flowing so I'm not surprised ;)

    It's too bad Dark Shadows was terrible. The trailer made it look like it had tons of potential for comedy but with Tim Burton, it's really miss-and-miss these past few years.

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    1. For me the easiest and the most fun reviews to write are either about great or awful films. It's mediocre films that are hard to write about :)

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  15. My fiance still really wants to see this regardless of bad reviews. I keep telling her to remember 'Alice in Wonderland'. I hope I end up waiting out its theatrical run and perhaps catch it as a rental eventually.

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    1. AiW is actually miles better than this one, I didn't think it was going to be possible but sadly it is.

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  16. Oh no, it seems the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp magic has completely warn off. I hated Alice In Wonderland but was looking forward to this one. Perhaps I'll wait for it to appear on TV now.

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    1. That's a good choice, certain scenes are really pretty but not on the level of Sleepy Hallow or Big Fish, so you won't miss out much watching this one on the small screen.

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  17. What mean-spirited and hateful things to say about a 14-year-old. Is it jealousy?

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    1. Of course. We are all jealous, we wish we were behaving like hookers at the age of 14teen when we are hired for a film and we are not supposed to play one. And the horrible performance! Such envy! How did she achieve that, oh my!

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    2. Nobody in their right mind thinks she was a hooker in the film. Her character was obviously meant to be a sultry teenager.

      But you know that she wasn't supposed to play it like that. The director who has worked in the business for decades somehow didn't know, but you do. Why you aren't on movie sets correcting these things I have no idea.

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    3. My God, you are right. It's horrifying - the world is filled with psychos then, because a lot of people in the audiance and among movie critics has misjudged miss Moretz's "efforts" here as playing a hooker. We are saved now, having you - an example of sanity.

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  18. I agree with almost everything you wrote here. The movie was all over the place. I didn't hate Moretz's performance as much as you did (didn't love it, either, but didn't hate it any more than any of the others in the movie.) After I saw this film I looked up the actress whose eyes you were mentioning. It turns out she looked familiar to me because she had a smallish role in In Time as the mother of Amanda Seyfried's character.

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