Barnabas Collins is the latest in a long line of Tim Burton heroes who are tragically but picturesquely disabled such that they cannot satisfy the ones they love—and also the latest in an only-slightly-shorter line of those heroes played by Johnny Depp. Burton himself has such a disability; in the director’s case, it’s the inability to sustain the imagination required to end a movie as interestingly as it begins. Dark Shadows is yet another Burton movie that goes completely off the rails with an overblown and incoherent action climax that turns the audience’s chuckles into yawns. Tragic.
Burton’s Dark Shadows is based on the cult TV series of the same name, a daytime soap that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971 and is now regarded as a cult classic. In our vampire-obsessed pop-culture moment, there’s vast potential to have fun with the idea of a campy supernatural soap opera. Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith have a tiny bit of that fun, and then they start blowing things up.
In the film, Collins is turned into a vampire in the Colonial era by comely serving wench/witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who he spurns for a woman he loves (a perfectly cast Bella Heathcote). When construction workers unearth Collins’s coffin in 1972, he finds that his family’s fishing empire has taken a turn for the worse due to two centuries of stiff (so to speak) competition from a company founded and still run by the deathless Bouchard. (The Collins family must have good insurance, since it seems oddly laborious for Bouchard to ruin the family by means of market forces rather than by simply—as the witch demonstrates the ability to do—sending their properties up in smoke.)
After an appropriately Gothic prelude, Dark Shadows peaks briefly and early as Barnabas acclimates himself to the Me Decade. Though Grahame-Smith is lacking in the storytelling department, the screenwriter has a lot of fun weaving high-diction dialogue for Depp to spout as he discovers television and hippies and Erich Segal. Soon, though, the vampire falls for the nanny (Heathcote again), and Bouchard looks to repeat her kill-one-and-coffin-the-other trick. Awkward sex and boring violence ensue.
Gene Siskel had an excellent question he’d pose regarding movies: Is this movie more entertaining than a documentary about the same actors having lunch? Dark Shadows suggests another question: Could your local improv comedy troupe do a better job with this material if given the same premise and instructed to riff on it for 90 minutes? I’ll be they could, especially if you threw in that $100 million budget.
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What’s the definition of a “summer movie”? Not an easy question to answer, but most summer movies usually feature big movie stars (Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Bruce Willis, Charlize Theron) in romantic comedies (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), big-budget action explosions (The Bourne Legacy), intergalactic aliens attacking earth (Men in Black 3), superheroes based on comic books or graphic novels (The Amazing Spider Man), sequels, prequels, remakes (Total Recall starring Colin Farrell), films looking to become another franchise with sequels and prequels hopefully to follow (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Or how about a heavily-advertised animated feature (Ice Age: Continental Drift) or an idea based on a popular board game (Battleship)—and that probably is not even close to covering half of the targeted 100+ films being released this summer.
We’ve already been delivered the first blockbuster of the summer, as I’m sure you have heard: Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which I have not seen yet (I am planning on seeing it). You can read Jay Gabler’s glowing review, deeming it “a new superhero classic” with “a plot [that’s] remarkably coherent”—two statements rarely mentioned in summer movie reviews, let alone on the same page. After reading his review, I was sold on seeing it sooner than later.
Since opening on Friday, May 4 on over 4,300 movie screens across the U.S. (not to mention it opened in foreign territories a week earlier), The Avengers dominated the box office this weekend—setting the North American record for a three-day opening, surpassing previous record holder Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 and hauling in roughly $200 million—and if you missed it opening weekend, you may already start to fall behind in the summer movie hoopla.
Opening this Friday, May 11 is Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, with Johnny Depp based on the 1960s Gothic television series. My first impressions are that it looks a bit campy and will have zero thrills in it. Will it be a hit? Probably. Do I want to see it? The best answer I can give is: eventually. It is not on the top of my list of summer movies to see, however the combo of Burton and Depp has worked well enough considering that this is their eighth collaboration, with films ranging from incredible (Ed Wood) to fun (Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow) to mediocre (Sweeney Todd) and horrible (Alice in Wonderland). Where will Dark Shadows fall? This weekend millions of people will go see it and suddenly, The Avengers will be a thing of the past as we continue to look ahead to next week’s big release.
That would be Sasha Baron Cohen’s new comedy The Dictator (opening Wednesday, May 16) and a film I cannot imagine anyone is talking about or is excited to see: Hasbro’s board game adaptation Battleship (opening Friday, May 18) and the big film opening before Memorial Day weekend, the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi comedy Men in Black 3 (opening Friday, May 25 and coming ten years after 2002’s Men in Black 2) and so on and so forth. Those are only five films opening in May; according to the film website Box Office Mojo, there are a total of 29 films opening in wide and limited release in May.
The film I’m most looking forward to in May does not actually arrive in the Twin Cities until early June (it opens in New York and L.A. in May) is Wes Anderson’s new ensemble dramedy Moonrise Kingdom, starring regular Anderson players Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It also features Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Harvey Keitel. Not only does it look like a return to form for Anderson, it might have the most intriguing cast of any film this summer.
My intention on writing this column was to go through the entire summer movie schedule dissecting what I’m looking forward to seeing over the next 100 days of the summer movie season, but if I did that I’d probably be writing all night. And these six films I highlighted are only the beginning of the season of movies that, if nothing else, let us hide indoors from those annoying mosquitoes and to beat the heat.
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