Film Reviews, Rants and Opinions

Friday, 18 May 2012

Yet Another "Dark Shadows" Review

Gothic Director Tim Burton teams up with Johnny Depp once again to  resurrect an old supernatural soap, but can they breathe new life into the old Melodrama?

In the mid-18th Century rich playboy Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) has everything he could ever want: loving parents, lots of money, a flurry of beautiful conquests and a big, big house.  When he spurns the attention of beautiful-but-deadly witch Angelique (Eva Green) she murders his parents, drives his true love to suicide and, to top it all off, curses him to live an undead life of vampirism. Nice.  The townspeople, afraid of the monster who now lives at Collinwood Estate, for the obligatory lynch-mob and bury him forever(ish).

Cut to *ahem* "Present Day" 1972. Maggie Evans (Bella Heathcote) heads to the town of Collinsport, fleeing a mysterious past.  She assumes a false name and arrives at Collinwood, still home to the Collins family where she meets with head of household Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) who takes her on a tour of the mansion, introducing Maggie to her feisty daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her layabout brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) and his troubled, loner son (hey, it is a Tim Burton film) David (Gulliver McGrath). Live-in Therapist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and oddball caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) round out the household.  Miraculously that very night the undead Barnabus escapes his prison and makes his way back to Collinwood.  He sees the family in disrepair and vows to restore their name to it's former glory, destroying the immortal witch Angelique in the process.

Dark Shadows isn't a terrible movie. It certainly isn't Burton's worst, but it isn't his best either.  Not by a country mile.  It suffers partially from the same issues as American Reunion in that, for a comedy, it just isn't that funny.  There are some humorous moments but the Laugh-O-Meter* never rises above "warm chuckle".  Coupled with this is the fact that the film seems to take some time in deciding exactly what genre it is.  The prologue is suitably melodramatic, harking back to the movie's Soap Opera roots, but when Barnabus returns the tone takes a U-turn towards comedy.

Attempting to emulate the Soap Opera formula also means that there is just too much going on in this movie.  Johnny Lee Miller's role doesn't really bring anything to the movie, his character could easily have been written out completely.  The same can be said of Helena Bonham Carter's role.  Sorry Mrs.Burton but there is no room for you in this movie.  To top it all off, a third act development for Chloe Moretz's Carolyn feels completely shoehorned in.  Because of everything else that was going on Maggie/Victoria - who began the movie as a strong PoV character - ends up being side-lined, meaning the movie loses any sympathetic resonance with the audience.  It also means that the romance between her and Barnabus feels a little forced.

Though deeply flawed, the movie isn't a total disaster: the performances are all top-notch (though Eva Greens "American" accent is a little suspect) and the film is, for the most part, enjoyable.  Depp's Barnabus is wonderfully OTT in his "stiff upper-lip" English-ness, and he clearly owes a debt of gratitude to Max Schreck's performance as Count Orlok in "Nosferatu".  Fans of Burton and Depp should definitely watch this movie, just don't expect greatness.

The Good: A sequence featuring some Alice Cooper confusion is a definite stand-out moment.

The Bad: Making Barnabus Collins the focal point was a huge mistake: Like Jack Sparrow he would have been better used as a "force of nature" rather than a leading man in his own right.

The Ugly: Bella Heathcote is certainly striking, and a typical "Tim Burton" beauty, but doesn't she look eerily like the Corpse Bride in her final scene?

*NB not a real Laugh-O-Meter

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Yet Another "American Reunion" Review

Way back in 1999, five desperate virgins made a pact to lose their virginity by prom: raunchy hi jinks and depraved hilarity ensued. Now - thirteen years later - they reunite (yes, all of them) in the hope of reliving former glories, can they pull it off?

Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle Levenstein (Alyson Hannigan) are married and have a two year old son. Are they happy? Mostly, except for their sex life.  Kevin Myers (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is also married, and living at home as a House-Husband. Is he happy? Well sort of but, you know, House-Husband. Christopher "Oz" Ostreicher (Chris Klein) is living it up in LA as a pseudo-famous sports-caster, he has a beautiful, supermodel girlfriend and a nice home, but is he happy? You bet he ain't. Steve Stiffler (Sean William Scott) still lives at home with his mum and works a lowly temp-job. Happy? Yaddah-yaddah-yaddah. The only one who seems happy is Paul "Shitbreak" Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), but is he really? No, no he isn't. When the chance to meet up for a High School reunion appears they all jump at it.  The five men meet up in their home town and soon begin to regress to their teenage states. Even the level-headed Oz and Kev are tempted back to their old ways by old flames Heather (Mina Suvari) and Vicky (Tara Reid).

Everybody of my generation has seen the original American Pie movies, FACT. They were a rite of passage, and at the time were very original. Unfortunately there have since been so many knock-off "Gross-out comedies" that the genre has become a little stale; any film in this category would seriously need to up its game to out-do the Hangover movies. Does "American Reunion" pull it off? In a word, no.

I don't want to be totally negative about this film: there are some genuinely funny moments, but unfortunately most of them were shown in the trailers: The opening sequence didn't receive one laugh in the screen I was in because we had all seen it about a dozen times already.  Most of the jokes play off of the original movies (particularly the first movie) and so they don't feel fresh, and this is American Reunion's major problem:  The film's premise is also its downfall. The truth is it is all about nostalgia and longing for former glories, but it spends so much time focusing on that it doesn't work in its own right.

I walked into the Cinema wishing that I would see a film that left me nostalgic for my teen years. Well I got what I wanted, but what's that old saying? Oh yeah! Be careful what you wish for, because if there is one clear message to take away from American Reunion it is this: being an adult sucks, and your High School years were the best days of your life. Seriously, this movie puts a really negative spin on adult life. At no point is this more blatant than in a scene where Jim, Kev, Oz and Finch convince Stiffler to quit his job and join them at the reunion because "all their lives suck too". I actually left the cinema feeling mildly depressed, which surely makes this a failure as a comedy film.

In all fairness, American Reunion is not an awful movie, but it isn't great either. It has its fun moments and should work for anyone who wants a "trip down memory lane", but it will never be anything more than that.