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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.
Adapted from the pages of Lee Child’s eighteenth novel in the Jack Reacher franchise, Never Go Back comes four years after Christopher McQuarrie’s relatively well received Jack Reacher; a movie, regardless of its somewhat predictable and flawed premise, was largely considered an entertaining and above-average crime-thriller. Unfortunately, its 2016 sequel, an action-packed but terribly derivative story of the we-must-uncover-the-truth-and-break-a-load-of-bones-in-the-process variety, doesn’t for make for as good viewing.
Set four years after the events of the first film, the story is once again centred on the ex-military police officer, Jack Reacher (Cruise); a perpetual loner and a man of few words who hitchhikes from town to town, stumbling on corruption and crime which he usually resolves with one smouldering look and a pair of deadly fists.
After doing so in the movie’s opening sequence, Jack soon makes contact with Susan Turner (How I Met Your Mother’s Cobbie Smulders); a woman who has taken over his former position at the Virginia-based military unit and with whom he has, over time, formed a close - and relatively flirtatious - relationship with.
However, when Reacher decides to surprise her with a visit, he soon learns that Turner has been arrested on what appears to be, fake espionage charges. With the case naturally falling right in his field of expertise, Jack soon sets out to uncover the truth and, oh yeah, break a few bones in the process.
While many fans of Lee Child’s series of paperback thrillers – it seems that the British author has been churning them out once a year ever since its beginning in 1997 - are still a little stuck-up about the fact that Tom Cruise – a man of five-foot-and-seven-inches – has been cast to play a man who is his physical opposite. But you have to hand it to Cruise; regardless of his now aging physique, he once again proves why he’s paid the big bucks.
However, while the presence of Tom Cruise - who embraces his character with enough stoic bravado and fighting skills to give Jason Bourne a run for his money – elevates the film, the same cannot be said for the flimsy and often uneven storyline that surrounds him. Attempting to offer a profounder insight into Jack Reacher’s history and life - hinting that he is in fact a desperately lonely man who is looking for a deep and soulful connection to another human being - Zwick’s ill-conceived script, along with a combination of cheap one-liners, and awkward comedic tone and weak action set pieces, is not strong enough to carry its own weight.
Lacking momentum and a presence of an intimidating villain - Heusinger’s cold-blooded killer who refuses to take his gloves off is as exciting as watching paint dry - Never Go Back doesn’t know what it wants to be and even though, fans of the series won’t be too disappointed with the end-result, those with little patience might not want to stick around whilst it figure it out.
For his latest feature film, Woody Allen decides to return to Hollywood and explore his signature themes of love, passion and lost dreams in Café Society; an easygoing yet familiar comedy-drama which, although mostly watchable, lacks focus and is in need of a richer dramatic element.
Narrated by Allen himself, the story opens in 1930’s Hollywood at a pool-side party where Hollywood agent, Phil Stern (Carell), is sitting sipping drinks, looking important and commanding the attention of business associates and other admirers surrounding him. He is soon interrupted by a telephone call from his older sister, Rose (the wonderful Jeannie Berlin) who informs her brother that her youngest son, Bobby (Eisenberg playing what appears to be a younger version of Woody Allen), is headed out to Los Angeles and that Phil should help him get settled in.
After a few weeks of avoiding the initial meet, Phil soon meets with Bobby and lands him with a job at the agency where the young boy from the Bronx soon falls head-over-heels for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (played by the refreshingly expressive Stewart).
See, although Vonnie is interested in Bobby, she can’t commit to the relationship as she’s also canoodling with his uncle, who is trying to decide whether he should leave his wife of twenty-five years or not. Learning about the twisted love-triangle, Bobby begins looking for love elsewhere while, at the same time, dreaming of his home and uncomplicated life back in NYC.
Whilst Bobby and Vonnie’s story is seemingly the centre-point of the film, Allen doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the love birds, instead whizzing the story back and forth between NY and LA, where we also get to spend some time with Bobby’s parents and his terribly clichéd gangster of a brother - played wonderfully by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll. It keeps the story moving, but the lack of focus means neither of the stories really stick.
Set against a glossy Hollywood backdrop, one thing that stands out, however, is the cinematography. With the help of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the employment of the first-ever digital camera in a Woody Allen film, Café Society has that appropriately flashy feel to it, which successfully brings out the lavishness of its surroundings and, at the same time, ends up compensating for the writing’s occasional laziness.
The performances are solid with Eisenberg’s jittery naivety playing wonderfully against Stewart’s subtle nature and quiet beauty. It’s a shame that the rest of the picture couldn’t match their performance with Bobby’s description of life in Hollywood, “kind of half-bored, half-fascinating” serving to be the best assessment of the movie itself.