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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.
Following in the footsteps of the 2014 teen- tear-jerker, The Fault in Our Stars, R.J Cutler’s onscreen adaptation of yet another best-selling young-adult novel explores the perils of young love in the terribly formulaic and melodramatic, If I Stay.
The story is centred on Mia (Moretz); a shy high-school junior who dreams of one day becoming a great concert cellist. Her super-cool, rock-loving parents, Kat (Enos) and Denny (Leonard), are very supportive of her dreams; however, Mia – who constantly doubts her own talent – is not so sure that she will be able to make the cut when she auditions for the Julliard School of Music in New York.
As Mia awaits the news that will determine her future, her relationship with Adam (Blackley), the lead singer of a local rock band, is not doing so well, as his career and schedule begins to take him away from the relationship. Uncertain what her future holds, Mia’s world is soon turned upside down when she and her family are involved in a horrifying car accident that leaves both her parents dead, her younger brother Teddy (Davies) fighting for his life and Mia in a coma.
Stuck in between the two worlds, Mia begins to undergo a lengthy out-of-body experience and soon finds herself examining and questioning her entire life – through a series of flashbacks – and quickly comes to the realisation that it is up to her whether to let go and walk towards the light – literally – or wake up and deal with the fact that her life, as she knew it, will be forever changed.
Scripted by Shauna Cross, If I Stay does very little to break away from the usual patterns of young-adult novel adaptations and once again lends its entire focus on the workings of a romance between two young teens under the burdens of life and big decisions. Weighty subjects are thrown around, but never fully explored and the gaps in the logic – mostly to do with the supernatural part of the tale – are vast and, frankly, a little baffling.
Nevertheless, Moretz proves to be a reliable and capable lead, though the chemistry shared between her and Blackley doesn’t really resonate. As her extra-hip parents, Enos and Leonard, came off as a little forced – and a little hard to take seriously – while Keach, playing Mia’s loving grandfather, is the only one who brings a bit of sincerity to his role.
Told mostly through flashbacks, If I Stay is paced well and there is certain lightness to its step. However, it’s all a little bit too cutesy to take seriously.
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.