Tuesday, May 15, 2012

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: “Dark Shadows” and “The Raven” Double Review!

Your local googolplex has gotten awfully gothic as of late - but are two recent releases tailor-made for the Hot Topic crowd worthy of your disposable income? 

You know how I can tell the official summer movie season has kicked off? When there are actual lines at the local drive-in theater. 

Around April, the place is a virtual wasteland, with only a few beat up Yugos and station wagons littering the lot…and although you don’t need me to tell you, it’s pretty much a given that most of the people there are in attendance for anything but the movies being screened. 

But this past weekend, the turn-in lane for Atlanta’s best (and really, only) drive-in theater was clogged with more motorists than a Wal-Mart has unhappy white people. And why the hell not, I say? Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a cool Friday evening than by snuggling up with my gal, tossing back a few bottles of black cherry soda and getting yelled at by attendants on golf-carts to “find an actual parking space.” If there’s anything more American than that, I’ve yet to encounter such. 

So, for my first foray to the drive-in this year, I decided to take in a double bill of “Dark Shadows” - Tim Burton’s “re-imagining” of a TV show nobody in my generation has ever heard of before - and “The Raven,” an April holdover starring that kid from “Say Anything” as Edgar Allen Poe. Granted, those may not have been the most exciting of options, but at a $7 ticket price for two movies (not to mention that, unlike at a regular theater, I CAN take my pants off if I feel like it), I guess it’s pretty much a given where I’m going to be spending a majority of my Summer weekends from hereon out. 

Alas, what did I think of the two movies, you may be asking? Well, since you asked, I have a two-for-one review of both “Dark Shadows” and “The Raven” posted below…and let’s just say, yeah, I wasn’t really a big fan of either of them. 

Director: Tim Burton 
Year: 2012

“Dark Shadows” starts off in typical Tim Burton-movie style, with a gloom-and-doom-soaked prologue reminiscent of virtually everything the director has done over the last 20 years, from “Edward Scissorhands” to “Sleepy Hollow.“ However, as soon as the credits start rolling, the film takes a U-turn into parodist waters, with the undead protagonist rising from his New England grave and finding himself staring down a gigantic McDonalds logo right off the…ahem, bat. 

Needless to say, “Dark Shadows” is a particularly goofy movie, and one that bares almost zero resemblance to the 1960s soap opera from which the title is derived. Granted, the characters may have the same name, but that’s just about it when it comes to similarities with the source material. I can’t wait until a good 10 years down the line, when Burton makes a movie about a dysfunctional family of brain eating cyborgs, and calls it “All My Children.”

The plot of the movie is pretty standard, and executed with mixed results. You see, Depp’s character, after being awaken from his slumber, decides to restore his family’s honor and help them get their once prosperous fishing empire up and running again. The problem is, the seemingly immortal witch that transformed Depp into a vampire in the film’s prologue has gone on to head her own fishing juggernaut, and her 200 year plus hatred of the Collins bloodline hasn’t exactly diminished since the John Adams administration. Adding more weight to the story is the sudden arrival of a mysterious young woman, who - surprise, surprise - looks just like  Depp’s former love. And if you think that’s formulaic, just wait until you get to the film’s last 30 minutes. 

There’s not really a whole lot for Depp to do here, although he tries admirably to bring a little bit of absurdist charm to the role. The problem is, he (as well as the rest of the cast) has a noticeably difficult time arising from the chronological constraints of the film’s setting. It’s mildly amusing to hear Depp quote lines from “Love Story” and the Steve Miller Band, but half-hearted sight gags involving Alice Cooper and Operation can only go so far, you know. 

It’s a loaded cast in “Dark Shadows,” to be sure, but no one really turns in what I would consider a “stellar” performance in any regard. Watching longtime Burton stalwarts Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter go through the motions here is particularly distressing, although the work of some of the cast’s lesser heralded stars - Eva Green and Chloe Grace Moretz, especially - certainly makes the film more endurable.  

While there are occasional bits of quirky humor that, effectively, “work” (such as the scene where Depp eats a number of hippies after getting their advice on modern dating), most of the film’s “big” scenes are underwhelming letdowns. There’s a vampiric love scene that, I suppose, is what Ed Cullen and Bella Swan’s honeymoon would have looked like had the producers of “Breaking Dawn” had any chutzpah, but it’s ultimately a silly throwaway. But it’s the film’s conclusion - a paint-by-numbers, burn-the-house-down, cliché-riddled finale -that stands out as my biggest slight against “Dark Shadows.” 

At the end of the film, Burton starts throwing out more skeleton keys than an 8-bit Nintendo game. Out of nowhere, a central character suddenly transforms into a werewolf, and the hitherto-unmentioned spectral mother of another just shows up out of the blue to kick a little bit of ass when things look plum glum for Camp Collins. It’s a climax so overloaded and choppily-structured that you can almost smell the rewrite ink dripping off the screen. 

Granted, there’s a few things working in the film’s favor (for one, with both The Stooges and The Raspberries represented, it has one of the best  mainstream soundtracks in recent memory), but at the end of the day, “Dark Shadows” is a fairly disappointing movie. There’s some fun to be had, but you’ll spend more time wondering when things are going to pick up than laugh out loud…that is, if the film is even able to elicit a chuckle out of you at all. 

Not exactly the kind of thing you want people saying about a “comedy” film, huh, Burty? 


All right, so “Dark Shadows” didn’t exactly tickle my fancy, but compared to our SECOND screening of the evening, the experience was like finding a free copy of  Criterion’s “The Human Condition” set tied to a Sega-CD pressing of “Championship Soccer ‘94” with a hundred dollar bill. 

Abandon hope, all ye that paid your $12.49 plus tax to see this one…

Director: James McTeigue 
Year: 2012

When you read the plot summary of “The Raven,” you might be a little curious about the feature…hell, you might even be fairly optimistic that a story so solid couldn’t result in a massive cinematic train wreck. 

So, there’s a killer going around, offing people in accordance to thematics culled from the work of Edgar Allen Poe. And if you’re even remotely familiar with the work of Baltimore’s most famous citizen not named John Waters, you’d know that covers a wealth of macabre scenarios, from razor-sharp pendulums to burying dudes alive to sending hatchet-wielding gorillas after people. Hell, how could a variation of “Seven” anchored around such a cool plot device end up sucking in any regard, you might ask? 

Well, the producers of “The Raven” found just such a way to transform cinematic gold into silver screen kaka, constructing an absurd, overlong, intelligence-insulting mystery flick out of what should have been a balls out neo-slasher movie. 

So, how do you turn an awesome movie idea like that into such a horribly executed motion picture? Well, for one, you set the movie in 19th century Baltimore…you know, the Maryland of yore littered with drunks, frilly dresses and homicide detectives that still have British accents even though the Revolutionary War was contested a hundred years prior. And for the kicker, you don’t just have Edgar Allen Poe’s works as a central aspect of the flick…you make Edgar Allen Poe the central character of the film himself. 

That’s right, amigos, “The Raven” is a murder mystery movie about a dude killing people with techniques lifted from the pages of Poe, and the only dude that can stop him is old Eddie Al hisself (played with much, much ennui, by the way, by John Cusack.) And trust me, this movie just gets stupider from the already-super-idiotic premise. 

As a thriller, the film is a fundamental failure, as it takes so long to get off the ground that by the time the killer is revealed (and dear lord, can it be seen from a million miles away), the audience is thinking “who cares?” as opposed to whodunit. 

It’s a shame, too, because the material really could have lent itself to a decent movie in some manifestation. How about doing away with the fantastical hullabaloo and making a straight-up biopic about the last days of Poe instead? Granted, it may not have been Oscar bait with the dude from “High Fidelity” in the role, but it most certainly would have resulted in a more interesting flick than watching Edgar drink poison juice as a means of locating his buried alive fiancee. 

“The Raven” is indelibly a bad movie, but it isn’t even a spectacularly bad one. If you’re going to make a sucky movie, you might as well go all out and give us a musical starring the Village People, or propaganda about Sarah Palin’s failed presidential bid, or Bruce Campbell fighting outer space crickets that cut off peoples’ fingers in Oregon. Unfortunately, “The Raven” is the most despised of all forms of bad film, a movie that’s substandard and boring as opposed to being substandard and ironically alluring. If there are any glimmers of intrigue to be found in the film, they are assuredly just that - glimmers, tiny little fragments that give you the indication that, had the producers given half a damn, the movie could have been tolerable, if not mildly enjoyable. 

And there’s not many of those to be found in the movie, as it is. 


Well, there you have it - two films bound to make beaucoup bucks from the black fingernail polish lobby, despite being fairly underwhelming motion pictures (and in the case of “The Raven,” a genuinely crappy one.) 

Although I wasn’t thrilled with either flick, I suppose you could always find worse ways to spend your afternoon (and by extent, your moolah.) After all, Madonna does have a new movie out, you know…


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