End of Summer – The Rest of the Movies

Obviously all the summer movies cannot be winners. I missed Snow White and the Huntsman, The Campaign, The Dictator, and Ice Age 4: Continental Drift. Here are the ones I caught that just didn’t work for me.

Dark Shadows: What should have been an ideal setup – revive a gothic soap opera as a movie directed by the man who did Sleepy Hollow – is instead a recipe for disaster. Unsure whether to make a gothic horror story, a fish out of water drama, a 70s redemption story, or a parody, Tim Burton made an unholy fusion of all of these, ineptly scripted by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter: Wow another great director, another epic disaster. Seth Grahame-Smith takes a great idea and totally screws up the script (hint: name-checking is not the same thing as writing). Director Bekmambetov has some nice visuals in the two action setpieces but nice visuals also don’t mean you have a good film.

Battleship: At least no one seemed to expect Battleship to be any good. Guess what? It wasn’t. The word farcical comes to mind.

The Watch: The unfortunately titled Neighborhood Watch got retitled after the Trayvon Martin incident. I liked the Costco setting but I don’t think I had an actual out loud laugh during the whole film. Neither did the three or four other people in the theater.

Total Recall: If you are going to remake a movie then either figure out what made the original tick (Schwarzenegger, the Martian setting, pure cheese) or have something original to say (like Carpenter’s remake of The Thing). Total Recall ditches Mars for an utterly generic futuristic city. The action is generic, the leads are generic, the script is generic – all this seems very odd to me as director Len Wiseman also did the very stylish Underworld series. Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy are wasted here.

The Bourne Legacy: The Bourne Legacy was so close. It had some very intelligent moments, which is what I look for in a Bourne film. I also loved the idea of a side story. Unfortunately the movie came across as more of a set up for future Bourne movies than a film in its own right and the whole exercise came across as a bit crass.

A Tale of Two Visualists – Tim Burton & Dark Shadows

Yesterday I reviewed Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and found it wanting. Today I’ll try Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows.

One-Line Review:  (from my daughter) “That was so boring!”

Dark Shadows (2012) – Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.

“In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. But even an ocean was not enough to escape the mysterious curse that has plagued their family. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet-or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy…until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better… “

I love Tim Burton. He has some misfires (Planet of the Apes, Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) but he makes just as many classics (Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands) as well as a movie that is both (Mars Attacks). His visual style is amazing, even in some of his lesser films.

When I heard that Tim Burton was going to remake Dark Shadows, I thought that would be wonderful as he could return to the Hammer-esque gothic stylings of Sleepy Hollow. When I heard that the majority of the film was to be set in 1972, I thought huh I wonder what he’ll do.

The trailer makes Dark Shadows look like a fish out of water comedy a la Splash. Sadly almost all of the laughs are in the trailer (and those are fairly weak). As with Abraham Lincoln we get a preponderance of plot and almost no development of a stock set of characters. The more I watched, the more the film seemed exactly like Abraham Lincoln: visually stylish but with bland characters and banal dialogue.

The bland characters I simply could not understand. Johnny Depp plays wonderfully quirky characters but just sleepwalks through this. Michelle Pfeiffer, long overdue for a return, is normally radiant but just looks a little embarrassed here. Chloe Grace Moretz, absolutely fantastic in Kick-Ass and Let Me In, is terrible here. Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter puts in her requisite appearance. Jackie Earle Haley, amazing in Watchmen, has yet to come close to that performance.

I take back part of what I said about Abraham Lincoln. I thought a better cast might have saved the picture but clearly Burton has a better cast and does nothing with it. As with Lincoln, there are scenes that are set well but carried off terribly. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Abraham Lincoln scribe Seth Grahame-Smith also penned the story and screenplay for this movie.

Burton’s visual style is apparent here but unfortunately in obvious ways: the fetishization of a lava lamp, the overuse of a disco ball, an out of time Alice Cooper – all set in a magnificent mansion with ample secret passageways.

I enjoyed some of the visuals, the atmosphere, and cameo appearance by Christopher Lee as a ship’s captain but overall this is a forgettable dud.


TV Vampires – Horror Movie Month

Okay perhaps I’ve misnamed Horror Movie Month as my first topic is TV series. For non-anthology horror TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is easily the best on instant Netflix.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2002) – Rated TV-PG

Despite her deep desire to live a normal life, tough-as-nails teenager Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) fulfills her mystical calling to protect humankind from all sorts of supernatural creatures, including vampires, demons and werewolves. Blending fantasy, drama and comedy, Joss Wheadon’s cult favorite surrounds its brave heroine with trusted allies like Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Giles (Anthony Head).

This show, while an obvious pick, is quite a rarity. It is a TV show based on a movie where the TV series is awesome and the movie wasn’t very good. The ensemble cast is excellent and almost all of the episodes are quite good with a few amazing ones such as the musical Once More with Feeling from Season 6.

In fact the only problem with the show was that apparently the network insisted that monster deaths occur in every episode which undercut a few of the more “serious” episodes. Witty and inventive from the first episode, Buffy only deepens in emotional intensity with each season.

All of the Buffy episodes are available on instant Netflix as are all the episodes of the spinoff series Angel. Angel is enjoyable but is not the classic that Buffy is. All the season ending episodes of Buffy are epic conflicts but Angel’s episodes are often indistinguishable from each other. Angel’s ensemble cast is good but not nearly as good the Buffy ensemble.

Set in an old mansion off the coast of Maine, this cult classic television series follows the bizarre exploits of the Collins family, who cross paths with ghosts, werewolves, witches and other supernatural beings over the course of several centuries. Originally conceived as a moody melodrama, this groundbreaking gothic soap found success following the introduction of tormented vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid).

Dark Shadows (1966-1971) – The original Dark Shadows has 160 episodes available on instant play. The series ran for far longer than that but this will give you a sampling of the show. Jonathan Frid is a lot of fun as the vampire Barnabas Collins but the show itself does not hold up very well and, being a soap opera, moves at a glacial pace.

The 1991 remake, Dark Shadows: The Revival Series is also available on instant Netflix. It only runs 12 episodes and I haven’t had the opportunity to watch it but as I’d never heard of it until now, I’m pretty doubtful of its quality. Tim Burton’s movie version should be out next year with the quirky Johnny Depp as Barnabas and Burton’s films are always visually stunning.

My oft-recommended Kolchak the Night Stalker is also still available (and still campy as ever).