MOVIE REVIEWS |
EDITORIALS | EVENTS |
EXAMINER.COM FILM ARTICLES
Friday, May 11, 2012
Camp, Goth, Androgyny: Burton & Depp Finally Have Fun
Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins and Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard in Tim
Burton's comedy-horror "Dark Shadows". Peter
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Friday, May 11,
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp
collaborate yet again; this time they architect a big screen edition of Dan
Curtis's television horror series "Dark Shadows", a cult hit episodic drama that
ran for six years beginning in 1966 on American television. The film
opened in the U.S. and Canada today, and it is entertaining if not fluid cinema.
"Dark Shadows", a spectacle of Goth and androgyny (in Mr. Depp's Barnabas
Collins) begins in the 1700s in Liverpool, England, and the Collins family and
young son Barnabas journeying to America. An older Barnabas is cursed by
the evil Angelique (a playful, wickedly engaging Eva Green), making him a
vampire after he spurns her for his true love Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote).
Barnabas is buried alive and when he's accidentally set free he finds himself in
1972 at Collinsport, an East Coast town controlled by his kooky relatives, who
may be stranger and more eccentric than he.
Unlike past joint ventures -- those usually self-conscious, brooding, lugubrious
fantasy-tragedies ("Edward Scissorhands", "Sleepy Hollow",
-- Mr. Burton, whose films are always marked by incredibly detailed production
design (here it's Rich Heinrichs' great design work that stands out), this time
goes against his own grain, opting for glam and camp, the opposite of Mr.
Curtis's drama series, to make "Dark Shadows" lots of fun.
At times Mr. Burton's film feels like it is in standstill, awkward on occasion,
a touch stilted and without fluidity. Yet the triumph of "Dark Shadows" is
that it is able to breathe, laugh at itself but mostly sees Mr. Burton and Mr.
Depp parodying their more self-serious films, and here they are near the top of
their creative endeavors. Even better is that the actors in general are
having lots of fun and do well to amuse and keep the audience laughing, even
when there isn't anything especially dynamic going on.
Michelle Pfeiffer, once one of "The Witches Of Eastwick" and in "What Lies
Beneath", marks another rare appearance on the big screen (after last December's
"New Year's Eve") as modern Collins matriarch, the mysterious
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. (There's an anachronism of "Scarface"
referencing in a scene with Ms. Pfeiffer walking down a staircase with a firearm
and a chandelier not far behind.) In one scene we're unsure of Elizabeth's
allegiance or trust of her long-lost relative. Curiously, neither Mr.
Burton nor screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith follow through with her distrust nor
make any further reference to it.
Not unsurprisingly the film doesn't specialize in coherence on a narrative scale
as much as it does confusion, uncertainty and disorientation hence its title:
"Dark Shadows". There are deliberate gray areas here, notably in Barnabas,
who is in a time warp and often feels frozen by time. After all, he's
numb, and dead. Mr. Burton's film operates on that same level but it's a
conscious numbness: a cheeky, comedic, self-aware deep freeze. Full of
expiration and emptiness, "Dark Shadows" is about time standing still for its
lead character even as life spins on for everyone else.
For all its comedy -- Jackie Earle Haley and Mr. Burton's missus Helena Bonham
Carter are terrific here -- "Dark Shadows" does not completely forsake its
television origins, mixing horror into the proceedings vigorously.
Barnabas may be an appealing figure, an object from the past projected on to the
randy free lovers of the late 1960s and early 1970s but he knows when to take a
bite out of a situation. There's some wham bam slam sex, an invigorating
throttle of lovemaking that can only be described as the kind of angry sex most
living humans wouldn't be comfortable having.
[An aside: I wonder what might have been had Mr. Burton set "Dark Shadows" at
the time of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" just a few years later.
It may have been a remarkable and rather interesting film.]
A grateful dead man alive and perhaps not so well, Barnabas, around 200 years
later in the Seventies to protect his newfound relatives from the vengeful
Angelique, gets lost in the future and bumbles the Carpenters (whose excellent,
cheery song "Top Of The World" from 1972) is well placed here (while the great
Moody Blues track "Nights In White Satin" is less so.) Barnabas is
bewildered by Goth metal rocker Alice Cooper, calling him "the ugliest woman
he's ever seen." The music choices here are astute at all times, connoting
a heaven-or-hell existence that fits Barnabas to a tee. The songs
mentioned in this paragraph reflect this perfectly, and in Karen Carpenter's
case, being on top of the world would presumably mean being in heaven.
The savvy of Mr. Burton's film is dependent to an extent on the audience's
knowledge of the time period, and yet the moviegoer who knows that Ms. Carpenter
passed away in 1983 has a great deal more information than Barnabas does, adding
further to the fun at seeing such a doomed yet comedic figure poke around in the
dark culturally and morally blindfolded.
What makes "Dark Shadows" appealing is time and distance. The film has fun
with its awkwardness and by extension the characters' own unease. The
Collins family aren't at home in their own skins even in their own time, with an
adolescent daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) giving her mother Elizabeth and wayward
father (Jonny Lee Miller) all they can handle. Ms. Moretz is one of the
film's weak points but because Ms. Green's work and Mr. Depp's deadpan comedy
and horror bits are solid any weaknesses elsewhere fail to override the film at
Mr. Burton gives time travel a lighthearted approach, and the audience itself,
four decades removed from the 1970s, is more or less where Barnabas is -- being
out of their own time element -- and in a way they identify with him if not with
his existence. The director and Mr. Depp have successfully bridged the gap
between their aforementioned collaborations and their frisky, idiosyncratic (and
creepier) ones -- "Corpse Bride", "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory", "Alice In
Wonderland"-- to make a film that is curious, clever and unceasingly enjoyable.
Finally these two fine talents exhale and have fun.
With: Gully McGrath, Ray Shirley, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper.
"Dark Shadows" is rated PG-13 by
the Motion Picture Association Of America for comic horror violence, sexual
content, some drug use, language and smoking. The film's running time is
one hour and 53 minutes.
COPYRIGHT 2012. POPCORNREEL.COM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
MOVIE REVIEWS |
EDITORIALS | EVENTS |
| PHOTOS |
EXAMINER.COM FILM ARTICLES