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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.
Taking on what’s probably one of the most implausible premises known to man, the latest offering from Training Day director, Antoine Fuqua, goes a little too far on bending the laws of reason and logic in the exceptionally contrived, cheesy and the remarkably violent, The Equalizer.
The story follows the life of one Robert McCall (Washington); a friendly, cautious and an unassuming middle-aged man who spends his days working the floors of a local Home-Mart, before returning home to a tidy one-bedroom apartment to eat his dinners alone. Suffering from a serious case of insomnia – and what appears to be a generous touch of OCD – Robert spends most of his evenings at a local diner, rearranging cutlery, reading books and enjoying the unobtrusive company of other restless souls.
On one such night, he befriends Teri (Moretz); a troubled young woman - and a frequent diner visitor – who earns her cash working as a high-end hooker for anunforgiving Russian pimp, Slavi (Munier). It’s obvious to Robert, who takes an instant liking to the young girl, that she has lost her way and encourages her to change her world and pursue her dreams of becoming a singer. Unfortunately, things don’t go so well for Teri, who - as Robert soon finds out - is landed in the hospital by her employers.
Unable to sit back and ignore, Robert decides to take matters into his own hands and soon finds his way to Slavi – and the rest of his crew - to buy Teri’s freedom from them. However, when the Russians decline, Robert has no choice but to take extreme measures; a move which quickly puts him in the crosshairs of the Russian mob.
The Equalizer is actually based, very loosely, on a little television show from the late eighties. However, the similarities stop at the character’s name; everything else has been changed and tailored to fit Washington’s trademark bad-ass passiveness, which just so happens to echo his character from the highly superior Man on Fire. Taking its time to develop, the first half of the film is dedicated to introducing us to the main character which is actually pretty engaging. However, the script loses its shape the minute the violence is unleashed. It's here that Fuqua, who also decides to channel in every single cliché from the book of revenge, crumbles and the idea of a man fighting – totally unaided - against the Russian mob seems like something that is probably better saved for the Die Hard franchise instead.
One thing is for certain, though, without Washington’s captivating and grounded presence, The Equalizer wouldn’t have amounted to very much.
In 2006, John Carney wrote and directed a small indie-romance breakout hit, Once, and ended up walking away with an Oscar for Best Song, a Grammy for its folksy soundtrack and a Tony for its stage adaptation. In 2014, he returns to direct another musical-drama, Begin Again; a joyful and a moving story of music and lost souls which, despite its subtle corniness, still manages to hit the right notes.
Scripted by the Irish-born director himself, Begin Again is centred on Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo); a down-on-his-luck record label exec and self-described “selfish, depressed pr*ck” who’s just been fired from the very same company he helped build. His drinking problems, brought on by the bitter divorce from his wife, Miriam (Keener), and a strained relationship with his estranged teenage daughter, Violet (Steinfeld), doesn’t help his situation much and Dan – who is growing more cynical by the minute – is in desperate need of salvation.
His luck soon turns for the better when he meets Greta (Knightley); a British singer-songwriter who reluctantly agrees to play one of her songs during an open-mic night. Immediately taken by her performance – a soulful Norah Jones-like guitar solo – Dan soon begins to create his own music by visualising the instruments surrounding her playing on their own and very quickly decides to offer the Brit a chance to record an album together.
Greta, who is getting over her breakup with her rock-star boyfriend, David Kohl (Levine) – a self-centred musician who is slowly beginning to climb the ladder of success – was scheduled to fly out of New York the very same day. However, she too is taken by Dan’s enthusiasm and agrees to stay behind.
As previously demonstrated in his magnificently unassuming Once, John Carney once again allows the story to flow naturally; fluid and full of grace, Begin Again never feels forced. Some of the film’s best moments are the quiet ones, where no words or dialogue is needed. Naturally, the music is one of the film’s major components and, although the songs tend to feel a little sappy in the beginning the playlist of indie-folk and pop tunes slowly begin to grow on you as the minutes go by.
The performances delivered by the two leads are incredibly sincere and organic and for those doubting Knightley’s singing abilities will be delighted to learn that the young actress handles her task well. The chemistry shared between her and the deliciously neurotic Ruffalo is easy, off-beat and, most of all, engaging, while Levine should probably take a few extra acting lessons before deciding to make another big-screen appearance.
There is a sense of vagueness and general unpredictability that follows the story from beginning to end and that’s probably why Begin Again works. Modest, grounded and incredibly uplifting, it’s one of the year’s best feel-good film.