Movie Review: Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS 2012

Movie Review: Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS 2012

Well today I got the chance to see Tim Burton’s 23rd feature film, DARK SHADOWS. Starring Tim Burton’s actor of choice Johnny Depp, the film is a humor tinged send-up of the long running Gothic soap opera of the same name, DARK SHADOWS.

Rather than go for the Gothic horror element of the original, Tim Burton instead crafts a horror tinged comedy set in the 70s. There’s more of TEEN WOLF in this film than of THE WOMAN IN BLACK.

Add a soundtrack laced with the popular songs of the 70s, that seemingly has nothing to do with the film in question, some broad humor that misses rather than hits, and some groan inducing product placement (MCDONALDS, WHEETIES, MS. BUTTERWORTH all three product placements wasted on me, since I don’t like or purchase/patronize any of those) and you have a film that doesn’t exactly scream… hit.

That said, it’s innocuous enough, and works its way eventually to a satisfactory if unremarkable ending.

It’s not a movie you’re going to consider much if at all when you leave the theater, and in that way it’s like more than a few Burton films. I think both Burton and Depp together have gotten into this habit of making films of a type, with Depp playing these increasingly buffoonish and foppish characters, set in fairytale worlds that are variations on a, possibly, overused theme.

But these are the films Tim Burton likes to tell, so you get what you get. However for my tastes when Tim Burton tries to play it straighter and more serious, as in films such as BATMAN and SLEEPY HOLLOW, is when his films are at the most effective.

Also Johnny Depp is too fine an actor to continually play nothing more than the outlandish fool in successive Burton roles, I would love to see him play a role straight, or explore a character without winking at the audience. Watching Depp in these Burton roles is often like watching a sharp blade continually and purposely… being dulled.

I think DARK SHADOWS would have benefited from more Gothic and less comedy. But we have what we have. And even in a weaker effort, Tim Burton’s set design and visuals are always cinematic feasts.

So DARK SHADOWS isn’t necessarily a bad movie, it’s just not one I would suggest paying to see in the theater, or even being in a hurry to catch on rental, unless you’re a Burton fan, then by all means. But for the rest of you, DARK SHADOWS is a film you can afford to leave… in the shadows.

Grade: C-.

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TOP 15 Favorite Comic Book / Superhero Movies!! Updated 2012 list!!


So where does Joss Whedon’s AVENGERS rank on the list of best comic-based movies?

Pretty high actually.

Well here’s my biased list of my 15 favorite Comic based movies. The ones I find… re-watchable.(Only caveat being I tried to list only one film per series, the best film of the series, to leave room for others).And it’s pretty much in order of re-watchability. Which film can I view at anytime because it’s that… good and timeless?

Well it starts with SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, still not just one of the best comic book films, but one of the best… films. My top 5 are movies I can leave on repeat in my house and grow not sick of.

SUPERMAN THE MOVIE
AVENGERS
SPIDERMAN II
BLADE II
300

X2
CAPTAIN AMERICA
THOR
IRON MAN II
WATCHMEN

WANTED
CROW
HANCOCK (horrible title, horrible marketing, horrible poster, saved by a fantastic 2nd half)
DOLPH LUNDGREN PUNISHER (The best of the Punisher Films. Fun, ninja-decimating flick. :))
MATRIX (Has not dated well, but still strong enough to make the list)

And a few honorable mentions, BATMAN (1989), DARK KNIGHT, HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, DARK MAN, UNBREAKABLE. Feel free to suggest any you think I may have missed (me? never! I got all the good ones! :)) in the comments section.

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2012 MOVIE Review : THE Verdict is in! AVENGERS… Avenged!!! :)

You are reading this either because you saw the film and want to compare your experience with others, or haven’t seen the film, and want to get a general idea of what people thought of it. I’ll answer both demographics, without going into details about the film.

I think most of you coming to this blog know, my grumpy persona aside I’m not a contrarian. I’m not one of these IMDB idiots who rate all films either 1 or 5 (on a 5 star system, I use a 4 star system), the concept of grading and gradations seemingly lost on them.

That said neither am I a bandwagon jumper who is going to praise a film when it’s trendy to do so, and eviscerate it when it is trendy to do so.(SUPERMAN RETURNS and TITANIC being two movies with more than their share of flip-floppers).

I often listen to pod-casts, and it is amazing how often you can hear one person excited by a film, but then his friends don’t like the film, so you can hear the person backtrack from his/her position, so they can be in line with the likes of their ‘friends’.

An anthropologist might define it as a clannish race survival technique (“Bubba let’s go lynch that thar 12 year old boy, for looking at that thar white woman.” “Why Bubba Senior, that thar’s a fine idea. Hyuck. Hyuck. Hyuck.”), I’ve always just defined it as cowardice.

I’m saying my good opinion or my bad is not formed by the whims of the mob.

Never has been. Never will be.

So if I give you a review you can be sure it is my review, my considered opinion… and I stand behind it.

So my considered opinion on the AVENGERS movie?

Joss Whedon, whose other film this year CABIN IN THE WOODS I wasn’t a fan of (more due to the first time Director on that film, than to Whedon’s script), here in his role as Director and Writer, knocks this film out of the park.

THE AVENGERS is… I’m trying to avoid hyperbole here, leaving that to everyone else, but it has to be said… it is a FANTASTIC film.

It’s as smart as CABIN IN THE WOODS, but with Whedon behind the camera you also get characters and moments you really care about. You get the pathos to go with the pomp and circumstance.

I mean how do you pull this off? The culmination of all these films, all this planning, all these actors, how do you pull it together and make it work and make it live up to expectations? It is really an amazingly ambitious film, a daunting prospect, and Joss Whedon… does it.

It’s really rare for me to laugh out loud in a film, I laughed out loud numerous times in this film, just because it is so knowing, and so sharp, and so biting, and so friggin fun!!!

I’m so glad I went into this film without watching a bunch of trailers or features, or ruining any surprises because I just had a ball. And along with the fun, Whedon gave space and weight to the tragedy, something that is glossed over sometimes in epic films. The weight and cost of this battle. Whedon never loses sight of the street level view, the common men and women caught in the midst of a war of Gods and Monsters.

The humanity he imbues the attack scene with is reminiscent of Mimi Leder’s phenomenal direction in the criminally underrated Clooney action film PEACEMAKER. Where every loss and every life… was felt.


The Peacemaker (Widescreen Edition)

And going along with that, for a big, loud, blow stuff up action flick on par with Bay’s TRANSFORMERS:DARK OF THE MOON (which the battle scenes bear a resemblance to) everyone gets a chance to actually act and emote in this film. Whedon’s TV/Buffy dialog/experience serving the film well.

Every principal actor really gets a chance to shine, Scarlett Johanson, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo (Who I didn’t think could fill Ed Norton’s shoes, is phenomenal. Both as Banner and the Jade Giant he has some of the great scenes/lines in the film), Downey, they all bring it. And big kudos to Tom Hiddleston who plays Loki as more than one dimensional, but with charm and depth to match his machinations.

Anything more would be me… gushing. Suffice to say, if my math is correct this is the 6th Marvel Studios film, the culmination of half a dozen years, and their shared Universe experiment, and they pull it off. Creating a cinematic climax to this multi-year and multi-film storyline that is actually bigger and better than the films leading up to it.

I’m seldom the guy to tip my hat to MARVEL, but you have to give them their due. STAR WARS couldn’t do it (RETURN not quite living up to the greatness of EMPIRE), STAR TREK every other film is bad and they are all one off stories, BOND also is one off stories, INDIANA JONES no, MATRIX… no, LORD OF THE RINGS … no, but Marvel Studios managed to end their ambitious story… even stronger than they began it (Though it is worth noting that the heart of this whole AVENGERS cinematic concept, starts with one writer, Mark Millar of WANTED and KICK-ASS fame. His vision is what Marvel Studios followed from page to screen. And in the dozen years since his ULTIMATES comics, his involvement is perhaps not credited as much as it should be).

The AVENGERS storyline that began with the first IRON MAN, went out on a high-note with this film. Arguably only Harry Potter could claim to have as effectively told a story over multiple films. Plus they give us a great teaser at the end, can you say…. awww but that would be telling! 🙂

Go see the film. It’s earned its praise. Highest Recommendation A+.

And read more about the Avengers, here [Definite spoilers :)]:

The Ultimates: Ultimate Collection

The Ultimates 2: Ultimate Collection

Ultimate Comics Avengers by Mark Millar Omnibus

Avengers: Kree/Skrull War

And these books will get you up to speed with the teaser at the end of the film:

Essential Warlock – Volume 1

Essential Captain Marvel, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials) (v. 1)

Essential Captain Marvel, Vol. 2 (Marvel Essentials)

Infinity Gauntlet

Movie Showdown: THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS vs GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Movie Showdown: THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS vs GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Rather than the differences of these two films what strikes me is the similarities. Both are 1946 films. Both big budget A pictures for the time, with high profile directors (Lewis Milestone while a forgotten director today, for his time helmed many a top-tier film). Both successes, the films share that theme of young people and the great expectations the adults in their lives have for them, and what becomes of these children because of those… great expectations.

In David Lean’s seminal GREAT EXPECTATIONS the story is told from the boy’s perspective, (Pip played by Anthony Wager and John Mills) who meets a girl (Estella played by Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson)who is also subject to…great expectations. Greater expectations even than his.

[A nice aside about the two young actors who played Pip and Estrella comes from Sean Axmaker of TCM. He writes:

‘The most visually evocative scenes in the film, however, take place in Miss Havisham’s shadowy mansion. [Pip] Summoned by the mysterious matron to her shuttered manor, he enters a Gothic haunted house that time forgot and finds an eccentric, possibly mad dowager in a rotting wedding dress, holding court in a musty throne room dominated by a decomposing wedding cake, a reminder of the day she was jilted at the altar. Havisham has sent for Pip to become a playmate for her ward Estella (Jean Simmons), an impertinent young beauty with whom Pip immediately falls in love. Apparently, young Anthony Wager [the Actor] also fell in love with [17 year old] Simmons (how could a thirteen-year-old boy with stars in his eyes not?) and even played the hero in real life. According to Simmons, her dress caught on fire from a candle she was carrying through a scene up a flight of dark stairs. “Everybody stood aghast, but Anthony came and tore it off me and put it out. This boy was the one who saved me.”]

In Lewis Milestone’s STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS the story is told from the girl’s perspective, who (as in EXPECTATIONS) is molded by the expectations of a domineering matriarch who shapes her to marry for power and money.



“He wanted to make something of his son, and I was tied to them both from that time on… [He used my guilt to make me marry his son]. Sam you’re not going to go away again! I want you here, Sam! I’ve lived so much inside myself. So choked with wanting something else that lives and breathes, so desperate for air and room to breathe it in! Oh, please, oh please… stay here.”
—Barbara Stanwyck as Martha in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS

And in both films the course of those lives are neither easy nor straight, but undulating tales of loves deferred, and tragedies… born.

And both films were the first appearance of two future stars. GREAT EXPECTATIONS being the first film appearance of Alec Guinness, and STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS being the first film appearance of Kirk Douglas.

[Guinness’ performance is little more than a bit part, but Kirk Douglas is revelatory in his first screen role. Imbuing a difficult role, with a suffering that makes him neither hero nor villain… but something more sad, and memorable than both. But everyone gives strong performances in STRANGE LOVE, Heflin an oft dismissed leading man gives, perhaps his best performance here. Barbara Stanwyck adds some rare vulnerability to her tough as nails persona. However, arguably it’s Lizabeth Scott’s performance as Antonia Marachek, the one caught in the crossfire, that lets everything work in this film. That and the script of Robert Rossen (of ROARING TWENTIES and HUSTLER fame) that has to rank as one of his best.]

And finally the ultimate comparison, both films… come highly recommended. 🙂 .

You can view THE STRANGE LOVES OF MARTHA IVERS online here.

And when ready to purchase there is a great Criterion DVD for David Lean’s film, loaded with special features. However, the various DVD versions of STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS are, on the whole, bare-bones affairs, sporting no special features. Check the links below.

Great Expectations (The Criterion Collection)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Strange Love of Martha Ivers [Blu-ray]

Hope you enjoyed today’s selections, and come back tomorrow for the much awaited next installment of… WEDNESDAY’S WORDS! Till then… be good. 🙂

Ridley and Tony: The Scott Brothers! A movie making dynasty! ROBIN HOOD & UNSTOPPABLE! Pt 1 of 2!

Ridley Scott’s ROBIN HOOD and Tony Scott’s UNSTOPPABLE.

The Scotts, brothers Tony and Ridley, are a movie making dynasty. Having really defined the look and beats and high points of cinema for three decades now.

Ridley Scott, in his seventh decade, has over fifty producing credits to his name and has directed over twenty feature films. His influence on cinema, in a variety of genres cannot be overstated. Before Michael Bay (love him or disparage him, you can’t argue that he is technically an innovative and stylish director) or David Fincher he was very much the crafter of this new, innovate, sensory intensive, style of filmmaking.

His best films are his early painterly, saturated, stylish, and somewhat aloof films, particularly THE DUELLISTS, ALIEN, BLADERUNNER (I’ve always preferred the voice-over version myself), SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (his most underrated film, but a personal favorite), and BLACK RAIN.

Going into the 90s, starting with THELMA AND LOUISE, and continuing in films such as GI JANE and GLADIATOR and BLACK HAWK DOWN, and pretty much everything he has done since (with the exception of AMERICAN GANGSTER) the magic of his earlier work tends to be absent. To put not too fine a point on it, I don’t care for them.

I think the quality difference is analagous to the difference in Brian Depalma’s early work to his post 90s work.

I think Ridley Scott’s later films lack true heart, while appealing to the simplest most jingoistic terms of the audience. There’s a slight slant to Ridley Scott’s latter-day work, that doesn’t appeal.

However 2007s AMERICAN GANGSTER was a welcome return to greatness for Ridley Scott, and 2008s BODY OF LIES a good if not great followup. He still uses the camera as good as anyone in the business, and better than most.

So now we have his latest offering breaking on theaters this week, 2010s ROBIN HOOD, reteaming him with Russell Crowe. And that can be a problem. Because I wasn’t a fan of their first teaming, and from initial trailers it really looks like Russell Crowe is sleepwalking through this one. He comes across as very uninterested and uninteresting in the trailers.

But hopefully I’m wrong and the film offers the energy, and interest and vibrancy that seems missing from the trailer.
Hopefully with writer Brian Helgeland, who is known for providing quality screenplays (MAN ON FIRE, THE ORDER, GREEN ZONE, LA CONFIDENTIAL, TAKING OF PELHAM 123) Ridley should have the necessary framework/substance, to apply his visuals to, while maintaining an interesting/rousing story.

Going to see the film in a couple days, so time will tell. Though for my money the definitive Robin Hood will always be the 80s BBC series, ROBIN OF SHERWOOD.

Check back next time as I bring you the review on ROBIN HOOD, as well as the second half of this article, where we take a look at Tony Scott’s astounding body of work and his upcoming UNSTOPPABLE with Denzel Washington.

And speaking of Tony Scott, In many ways I find his arc is in opposition to his Brother. I think Tony’s early films were good, but his later films (starting really with 1998s ENEMY OF THE STATE) are a marked improvement, being brilliant. I think it’s a rare and special thing when the right director and the right actor team up, and together they produce cinema that is more than the sum of its parts. You get that with the pairings of Ford and Wayne and Woo and Fat and Leone and Eastwood and Hitchcock and Grant and Capra and Stewart.

And you get that with the pairings of Tony Scott and Denzel Washington. Together these two make films that get me in the theater and me buying the DVDs ( I love listening to Tony Scott commentaries, outside of Michael Mann’s commentaries they are the most insightful, interesting and brilliant commentaries you’re going to hear).

Wait, I’m supposed to be leaving some of this for the 2nd half. 🙂 . Check back soon for part 2!

THE WOLFMAN 2010 Movie Review or Primal Ids That Howl Again!

2010 with less than a month and a half under its belt is gearing up to be a very good movie year, with films like AVATAR and BOOK OF ELI and even SHERLOCK HOLMES being early standouts. Having just returned from my latest flick THE WOLFMAN, I can happily report that the trend of good flicks continues.

Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt, THE WOLFMAN has had a troubled production history. Losing its initial director, numerous delays and reshoots, seldom is such shenanigans a good portent for a film.

However the preview I found FANTASTIC. Along with the earlier WATCHMEN and OBSESSED, it was a preview that had me very excited about seeing the film. WATCHMEN while impressive, was not without some real flaws in pacing and denouement, so it failed to live up to the greatness of its preview, OBSESSED managed to be every bit as good as its preview, and THE WOLF MAN I’m happy to say… also did not disappoint.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. To put not too fine a point on it, I thought it was pretty darn great.

I’m a huge fan of the original Universal Monster movies in general, and the Wolfman in particular holds a pretty iconic place with me. But I think that is more for what the film was in terms of theme, than how the film was in practice.

It’s more notable for its historic place of being one of the early takes on the wolf man legend, brought to screen. However, I don’t think it is a great film in the way THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN or THE INVISIBLE MAN are great films. Those films are as enjoyable today, as they were when they were made 80 years ago… and that is the hallmark of a masterpiece.

The same can not be said for other Universal films, such as the WOLFMAN. While a good film, the original creaks a bit, and shows and feels its age, and is kind of… long in the tooth if you forgive the pun. It is not as dated, or (forgive the sacrilege) boring as Browning’s Dracula, but it is far from the greatness of James Whales’ best films.

So while no clamorer for remakes, I think if you were to choose a Universal property to remake, the WOLF MAN was a fantastic decision. A property, suitably iconic to make promoting it easy, yet a film that didn’t quite hit it out the park, and leaves room for improvement or reinterpretation. So your new film doesn’t suffer in comparison, as every attempt at remaking a masterpiece ultimately does (examples being KING KONG, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, INVISIBLE MAN, PSYCHO).

So this 2010 version of THE WOLF MAN manages to do what few remakes are capable of, it surpasses the original. From a power house cast, to an inventive script (Andrew Kevin Walker, the writer of Seven returning to screen-writing after a hiatus of almost a decade), to beautiful cinematography and capable direction, to some astounding special effects, to a real romantic heart to the film.

And yet Benecio Del Toro manages to channel some of the hound dog look, and pathos that Lon Chaney Jr brought to the role, while having a much greater range as an actor than Chaney Jr.

Chaney Jr wasn’t his father, his skills were limited at best, but the tortured haunted character of Lionel Talbot seemed to play to those skills, and perhaps more to the point, played to who Chaney Jr actually was. To the shadowed nature of his life.

Benecio Del Toro, makes the role of Lyle Talbot his own, while keeping much of the nature of Chaney’s performance. And Sir Anthony Hopkins, delivers yet another, in a career filled of brilliant performances. There’s not many actors living or dead who can improve on any role worn by the great Claude Rains. But the script allows Hopkin’s character to be fresh and new, and ultimately create a very different, and more iconic take on the role of Talbot’s father.

With the film fresh in my mind, it is just so much to like about it, and applaud about it. The cast, the script, the special effects, the action, and combining all that, the core of the film, the transformation scenes… finally a CGI transformation scene (liberally assisted by Rick Baker’s makeup and Prosthetic wizardry) that I feel stands up to the seminal scenes, from THE HOWLING and AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (without argument the two greatest werewolf movies of all time).

This new THE WOLFMAN is not quite up there with those films, but isn’t too far off. It hits largely right notes. That said it is not perfect. There is a definite sense of the film, pacing wise, being slightly awkward; always very close to going off the track, possibly a sense of the troubled production just kept at bay.

I think the editors on this deserve to take some bows (particularly the uncredited editor of Mark Goldblatt) because you can sense the cuts that just manage to keep the film on the right side of the tracks. But there are moments when you feel the wheels lift precariously.

But the freight train that is THE WOLF MAN holds, and arrives at an enjoyable conclusion. All in all a recommended film, and one I wouldn’t mind seeing in the theater more than once, and one I’ll definitely purchase when available. Rating: B+.