Saturday, May 12, 2012

Littered with Cliche - Burton's Dark Shadows Disappoints Diehard Fans Who Loved Dan Curtis' Show

Fans of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are finally able to see the results of a new take on the gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows" from the '60s and '70s. Together Burton and Depp present a gothic vampire story with 1970s-era pop culture with some class and mainly clash. I question if Burton's fans will a) know the Dan Curtis version of "Dark Shadows" and b) will leave the theatre saying that Burton and Depp deliver a beautifully tragic story they will feel sentimental about in ten years. They have stiff competition in that the soap opera delivered 1225 episodes for the fans to look back on with dedicated love.

We definitely get the iconic Tim Burton themes of his depiction of children as victims, loss of parents, parents misunderstanding children, the mob mentality against or for outsiders, and transcendence of time and old age as a metaphor. We have seen Burton's child versions of main characters suffering at the hands of other adults in nearly all of his films. Here in Dark Shadows, Barnabas Collins as a child is not unlike the innocent boys we've seen in Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Writers John August and Seth Grahame-Smith do well with the creative language of old centuries and spoken with a nod to the original Barnabas Collins played by Jonathan Frid. However, the jokes about adjusting to the new century don't reach a level of hilarity enough to forgive the obvious cultural adjustment angle. We've seen new world vs. the old world in dozens of movies and it is old in five minutes. The aim is to get teens into the humor, but it fails to be funny enough after several scenes of using the same joke in different ways. We see a young and then a grown up Barnabas before being turned into a vampire, quickly thrust into an eternal suffering at the hands of Angelique Bouchard, the witch, played incredibly well by Eva Green. The story is breezing by the audience too quickly while the cliches about cultural nuances take up way too much screen time.

Depp as Barnabas Collins is not a miscast, in fact, he has his physicality in his walking and in his use of his hands as well as the old world speech style. The make-up and hair is a bit exaggerated, but you cannot take your eyes off of him. Depp's Buster Keaton-like subtle slapstick style occurs when Barnabas is exposed to sunlight, when he finds the secret room, when he meets Willie Loomis for the first time (played by excellent character actor Jackie Earle Haley), and when he looks for a place to sleep.

Green's version of Angelique is the best example of an actor doing their homework in depicting Lara Parker's version of Angelique in the TV soap version and making it her own. She runs Angel Bay Fish Company and has portraits of her "ancestors" in the conference room in quite a hilarious array of time periods. She has the right level of OCD for Barnabas Collins and her super powers are exciting to watch. Her villainy is enhanced by a subtle special effect that depicts a weakness which is fun to see progress throughout her attempt to defeat her enemies. It brings to mind the TV show's storylines.

Equally eccentric is Dr. Julia Hoffman played by Helena Bonham Carter. We get small edges of the original character, whom Grayson Hall played, in the way Bonham Carter talks to Barnabas. The liberties taken with HBC's version are not unwarranted. We see her trying to help Barnabas, but the character was never totally without selfish reasons. There's a lot of liberty taken on the doctor-patient confidentiality in a most comedic way. The original Dr. Hoffman did have an unspoken love for Barnabas.

Some storylines are not fully explained and fans of the TV soap will hear hints about David's mother and will have to make assumptions that the film is hinting at the storyline involving the Phoenix metaphor. It is poorly executed as a side story, in the end, leaving out a crucial piece of history involving David Collins' mother.

For some reason Barnabas decides to throw a ball which takes a joke about an outdated kind of party and makes a reference to body parts -- clearly another attempt at humor that teens could enjoy if they haven't grown bored. At the start of the arrivals to the ball, if you blink you'll miss the cameos of four of the original TV soap stars, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, and the late Jonathan Frid. Alice Cooper is the headlining performer highlighted at the party and offers no enhancement to the story. His name is joked about by Barnabas, again with the cultural adjustment.

There are important story points involving Victoria Winters/Josette DuPres, both played by the wonderful Bella Heathcote. Victoria and Barnabas could have a richer story, but the film depends on Angelique and Barnabas a little too much so Victoria and Barnabas' story never feels fully-realized. At a climactic scene, Victoria is nearly forgotten until their side story has to be quickly resolved, though there are liberties taken again. As we've seen in all vampire films where there's a romance between the living and the dead, the common tragedy is one dies and one lives forever. It is disappointing to see the cliche arise out of nowhere. Dan Curtis would definitely had opted for a cliffhanger or tragic plot point. The film resolves the situation to help Burton reach closure, but "Dark Shadows" fans are going to find the ending a bit irritating.

My rating is 3 out of 5 headless dolls with 2-1/2 going mainly towards the performances and 1/2 going towards the fake looking production design, which is a definite tribute to the low-budget sets used in the soap opera.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hearing about a graphic novel named Wednesday with this blog debut halts me in my tracks; teasing me with words of "fast cars, nanobots, sock monkeys. The post-apocalypse as you've never seen it before." World War Wednesday will be erupting from writer John Bergin (From Inside) and artist Alex Riegel. Watch this space for news.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You need a Gomez in your life!

The Poe House and Museum in Baltimore is auctioning off a cartoon painting of Gomez Addams. It is signed by John Astin, the actor who we all know played Gomez in the TV series "The Addams Family". You can find out more at the auction site.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Creepy, Classic Ghosties in The Woman in Black

Hammer Films has come back to classic ghost story (since their return to vampires in 2010's Let Me In, the remake of Sweden's Let the Right One In) with their latest film production of Susan Hill's 1983 novel, The Woman in Black. Starring the ever watchable Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, The Woman in Black, is shot in Essex, England, including exteriors on Osea Island in the Blackwater Estuary. Locations include a few classic railway stations to transport you back to the turn of the century, remote village life in northeast England.

New-ish director James Watkins is not new to horror with having made The Descent 2 and Eden Lake. Watkins honors the novel in giving the film a respectfully ornate, gothic production that creeps under your skin. Art Direction is by Paul Ghirardani known for being the Art Director on TV productions of "Little Dorrit," "Great Expectations," and "Sense and Sensibility". The introduction to the isolated wilderness, the weather, and the haunted Eel Marsh House is a slight nod to gothic classics such as The Old Dark House and The Haunting.

However, the film, as well as Hill's novel, is more geared towards the purpose to which ghosts return and how the living investigate why a ghost obsessively directs them to their history. The ghosts lurk over their shoulders and cause havoc in The Woman in Black and Kipps knows he will get to the bottom of their wrath if only the living don't get in the way of the dead. Watkins' delicate method of showing blood only when it is absolutely necessary makes tragic situations all the more morose. The villagers are terrorized, with the muted colors, no one looks well-rested, nor adequately nourished, and there's a heaviness to all the unwelcome eyes cast down upon Arthur's visitation.

Janet McTeer portrays Mrs. Daily, who has a foreboding presence with a history of becoming hysterical. We are forewarned by her husband, who hosts Arthur Kipps for his first dinner at their home, not to mention children. She slowly unravels as does their story, and as do all the townsfolk's stories of tragedy. The villagers curse Kipps presence, but little do they know how he intends to help them, though all of his intentions do not lift the ghost's need for revenge. Eel Marsh House's ghost is beyond being able to forgive and forget no matter how Kipps understands the truth as he then tries to bury the sorrow and quell the angry spirit.

Five out of five headless dolls; for being creepifyingly excellent.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

REVIEW: First two episodes of ABC's The River

There are spoilers here but I will try to not reveal everything. I will say that my primary reason for watching The River is to see Thomas Kretschmann be a mean bastard. He is kinda mean. Doesn't like to do much without a gun in his hands. He has a bit of character development going on that leads us to believe he knows a lot more about what Emmett Cole was searching for and it is not magic. But don't let son Lincoln Cole know that yet... he's got magic on his mind and mentions it several times. This show is perfect for creating a drinking game. Every time you hear "magic", take a drink. Everytime the shot is messed up by fast camera moves when there is nothing to see, take a drink. It's the only way to get through the dizzying, actionless first 45 minutes. I didn't get giddy drunk, but more of an upset stomach while watching the debut of The River on ABC, created by Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli. Two hours of shaky action sequences with very brief moments of stillness in stationary camerawork. It was as if I drank an Ayahuasca smoothie when the crew, looking for missing naturalist Emmett Cole, arrived at his abandoned boat on the Amazon River. There's no widening of a shot to capture the expression on faces. The jarring motions are so predictable that I usually felt like I could look away and not miss anything during large amounts of dialogue. On that boat is a room welded closed; no pause given to waiting to figure out if it would be safe to enter. Upon entering the room, the crew discovers what looks like voodoo-like ritual tools and a vessel under a blanket that harkens to one of those empty pods from the 70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Immediately, whatever was in that thing, fled the room into the jungle. Seriously, you have cameras rolling and you're not rewinding and slowing down the footage to investigate it? There's a lot of foreshadowing in the mechanic's story of his daughter's ghost friend he encountered when she was a child. It's a good story, listen to it. The camera is steady on the father so you can regain some balance until the vertigo-inducing shaky cam returns. Soon his daughter becomes possessed. Oh, well, we figured with all her "spirit" intuitiveness that this was bound to happen. Papa Cole's disappearance is connected to the "magic" he was seeking. We get it. We had to wait 45 minutes for a clever use of the photography. In hindsight, it seems quite ironic that this entity from the spirit world is really into this shaky style and, while the camera is still in the hands of the man, whom the entity just took out, it gets the man off the ground, spins him before the show cuts to commercial. It was pretty funny to watch. Second episode then airs and there's some interesting moments when the Billy Zane-ish a la Dead Calm producer starts to make me wish Papa Cole's wife, Tess, will sooner than later bash his head in; give it time, I tell myself. He likes to capture moments for his documentary like the forest of hanging dolls in the graveyard. Okay, clever work in having a monkey wearing a doll face. It was creepy, Japanese-style horror in a twisted, funny way. Tess calls, "Little girl," to set up the viewer into thinking that there's a child in the jungle, yet here we are again mystified that the cameraman isn't showing what she's seeing yet. Why is the cameraman in the back of the group all the time?! So friggin' lame. I also wondered: where are the battery chargers for the cameras? They're in the jungle all day and half the night and they are not changing the batteries. It is so unrealistic. Just when you think you'll not hang in for a 3rd episode next week, in the last 30 seconds they reintroduce a plot device involving a necklace given to the son by the father. That same symbol appears on the neck of a character and it hooks the viewer in... though it will not answer any questions if they reveal next week that this character got drunk with Papa Emmett one night and thought it would be a good tattoo to get as a rite of passage. I give the first two hours 3 out of 5 beheaded dolls. It means, watch it but don't worry about rewinding sequences where you think something went too fast by the camera. You won't see anything. It's just a bunch of prop people throwing things across the frame to jar you awake. 

Friday, February 03, 2012

The River debuts February 7 on ABC: I really just want to watch Thomas Kretschmann be a mean bastard

If you are a fan of the Paranormal Activity movies, you should be already aware that The River debuts Tuesday, February 7, on ABC. It is created by Oren Peli who is behind all three movies with a fourth just announced.

One of the stars, Thomas Kretschmann, was interviewed in character as Kurt Bryndilson here. He is a "hired gun" in charge of the boat taking a group of searchers down the Amazon river to find Dr. Emmet Cole who's gone missing while making a documentary, according to ABC's site.

ABC offers some clips to which it is clear that the show will probably never show what exactly is terrorizing people when they start to discover the mystery. If you enjoy shows and movies with plots based on unanswered questions, then The River will be something to watch. I think the concept is overused ever since The Blair Witch Project and The X-Files, but maybe they think fans of Paranormal Activity will get into it.

I've mentioned Kretschmann a few times on the Korner, so I am a fan of his work and will be watching The River. If you watch it, let me know if you liked it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mary Shelley's Frankenhole

To my favorite monsters, ghouls, werewolves, zombies and vampires: Adult Swim has begun airing the 2nd season of the stop-motion, puppet-horror series Mary Shelley's Frankenhole on Cartoon Network, Sundays at 12:15 AM. The series was created by Dino Stamatopoulos (Moral Orel, Star Burns on Community). I first heard of him when he worked on Comedy Central's TV Funhouse. The series revolves around Frankenstein getting crafty with famous historical characters who travel through the "Frankenhole" from other time periods seeking Frankenstein's services.

Frankenhole's voices include Scott Adsit (30 Rock, Moral Orel) as Professor Polidori and Jeff Bryan Davis (Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza, Whose Line Is It Anyway?) as Victor Frankenstein. Both actors are nominated for an Annie Award in addition to the show earning four other Annie nominations. Awards are announced on February 4, 2012.

Here is a feature from Wired and from Animation Magazine about the show. Check out clips and episodes online.