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Dark Shadows: Beautiful but Dull Comedy
Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, the owner of a very successful fishing business and namesake of the town of Collinsport. After incurring the wrath of Angelique (Green), a maid whose love he scorned, he discovers that she’s a witch and finds himself on the receiving end of one of her curses. Driven crazy by unrequited love, Angelique turns Barnabas into a vampire to make him suffer for all eternity. Locking him in a coffin and burying it, he stays there for two centuries until some construction workers stumble across him. Remerging in the 70s, he finds that the family fortunes have been reversed and business is floundering. It isn’t long before he finds out the still obsessed Angelique has taken it upon herself to curse his entire family in retribution for his lack of love.
To get camp right, you really have to commit which, unfortunately, isn’t exactly what this film does. The cast is mostly adequate with the only true standouts being Eva Green and Helena Bonham Carter as a psychologist living with the Collins. Green is fantastically over the top and incredibly funny with her desperate love for Barnabas. The question though is why somebody as electric as her would be obsessed with someone as boring as him. Bonham Carter sadly has quite a small role though to make up for it, she’s outfitted with the best wig in the film. She’s wry and eccentric and generally a blast whenever she shows up.
Barnabas with his ye old English accent, his Gothic clothes and pasty white makeup would be right at home in a number of Depp’s previous collaborations with Tim Burton. Because of this, Barnabas seems stale and familiar. That’s not to say that Depp does a bad job, but it’s gotten to the point where he’s become one with his specific brand of eccentric characters; they’ve become second nature to him and it drains a lot of the novelty and excitement out of the experience.
The music is another issue. The cuts themselves, which include some stone cold classics such as Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’, make a pretty great mix tape but there’s something off about their use in this film; the onscreen action doesn’t hold its own against the music. On the other hand though, the film is visually gorgeous. The costumes are beautiful and Collinwood, the family mansion, is absolutely stunning whether decked out in 1700s inspired décor or combined with 70s touches such as lava lamps, furry rugs and psychedelic concert posters.
With a cast this stellar and Tim Burton directing, you’d be forgiven for expecting something far more cohesive than this. The film flops about, never finding its rhythm, and is generally a bit of a mess.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
Returning to the world of wizards and all things magic, J.K Rowling’s screenwriting debut in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has produced mixed results. Following the massive and the enduring success of the Harry Potter film franchise, the story is both magical and visually arresting. However, although definitely entertaining, the fun factor seems to have been squeezed out of the proceedings.
The plot follows ‘magizoologist’, Newt (Redmayne), who travels the world in search of magical animals in order to learn more about their powers. During his travels to New York City in 1926, Newt ends up losing his magical suitcase – a portable zoo of sorts which accidentally finds itself in the hands of an aspiring baker, Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) – setting off a chain of chaos.
The incident soon attracts the attention of Tina Goldstein (Waterston); a federal agent working for the Magical Congress of the United States of America who, after some persuading, reluctantly joins our hero on his quest along with her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Sudol).
Working from an original screenplay penned by J.K Rowling herself and directed by David Yates – filmmaker who helmed previous Harry Potter films – it would be easy to assume Fantastic Beasts to be nothing more than a blatant cash-grab which hopes to profit from long-time Harry Potter fans. However, although not as developed or as absorbing as one might have hoped, Fantastic Beasts proves to be a worthy addition to the fantasy arena which delivers an enchanting premise of eccentricity and magic.
Set seventy years before a boy named Harry Potter first walked the halls of Hogwarths, the film benefits from a degree of creative freedom to expand on its premise, introducing new stories, characters and an array of magical beasts along the way. However, there seems to be too much going on and the film struggles to keep up with the sheer amount of characters and sub-plots, failing to offer any substantial back stories or weight support them. The performances are relatively likable, with Redmayne embracing Newt’s love for magic with an gawky energy, though the rest of the cast – including Collin Farrell and Jon Voight - fail to make a similar impact.
Fantastic Beasts is an entertaining piece of cinema which will more than likely please die-hard fans that have been waiting to return to the world of wizards and magic. However, it’s not exactly what you might call an exciting movie or even a fully developed one; while it has sown the seeds for the films to come, as a standalone piece, it fails to really wow.