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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.
Saddled with an overworked air of mystery that turns into vagueness and a little too much of a sullen atmosphere for its own good, Michael Petroni’s Backtrack finds one seemingly committed and haunted-looking Adrien Brody a little lost for guidance in how to bring about this effectively moody, but not at all frightening ghost-fest fiasco to light.
Set and shot in Australia, Backtrack tells the story of a troubled psychotherapist, Peter Bower (Brody sporting a relatively decent Aussie accent), who has recently moved to a new town for a fresh start with wife, Carol (Baird), after the loss of their young daughter Elvie (O’Farrell) to an incident caused by his own negligence. Unable to come to terms with her death and still very much haunted by crippling flashbacks, it takes some time for Peter to realise that a large portion of his most recent clientele – who all seem to be believe it’s 1987 - are actually ghosts, including one spooky-looking young girl named Elizabeth Valentine.
Unsure whether what he is seeing is real or if he’s having some sort of a mental breakdown, Peter decides to seek advice from friend and fellow therapist, Duncan Stewart (Neill wasted in his role), who thinks that there is a connection between his own personal tragedy and his latest array of patients, especially young Elizabeth, forcing him to go back to his hometown and investigate the repeated reference to 1987.
While the presence of the committed and reliable Oscar-winner, Adrien Brody, adds a note of credibility to proceedings, there is still a deep lack of complexity and originality in Michael Petroni’s derivative script which, unlike Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense which clearly is the main source of ‘inspiration’ here, seems to favour the style-over-substance approach. Predictability and familiarity are also plaguing factors and the fact that the audience can probably work out where the story is headed long before its leading man, doesn’t really leave Backtrack with enough storytelling power to pull itself out of the mess.
In the end, it’s relatively safe to say that Petroni’s second feature film – see 2003’s Till Human Voices Wake Us - leaves a lot to be desired. There is a decent idea in there somewhere and the air of intensity is somewhat effective, but what might have sounded good on paper doesn’t really necessarily translate on the screen. It's as if the film tries so hard to set the mood, that it forgets that in needs the occasional pop.
Many were concerned that Disney’s revisit to the story of Jungle Book would find it hard to be as fun or as magical as the original. Luckily, however, with an excellent voice cast and an impressive array of visuals, The Jungle Book is something of a technical marvel which manages to retain the heart and the essence of the story’s long-established roots.
Mowgli (Sethi) is a young boy - a.k.a ‘man-cub’ - who was found abandoned in the Indian jungle by a panther named Bagheera (voiced brilliantly by Kingsley) when he was only a toddler. Brought up by a wolf pack - led by leader Akela (Esposito) - Mowgli has been accepted as one of the jungle’s own.
However, there’s one member of the jungle who’s not so keen on having a human living in their midst; vicious Bengal tiger, Shere Khan (the absolutely magnificent Edris Elba), worries that the boy will soon grow into a ruthless man who will bring nothing but destruction and devastation to them all. Coming to the conclusion that it’s in everyone’s best interest if he leaves, Mowgli embarks on a journey through the jungle where he meets and quickly befriends a friendly bear named Baloo (the always excellent Bill Murray) who convinces the young boy to stay, as he finds himself returning home to face Khan.
Infusing the story with plenty of heart and an incredible sense of visual grandeur, director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks pull together elements from both the Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation and Rudyard Kipling’s original collection of stories to great effect. In addition, there are refreshingly darker, less happy-go-lucky moments throughout the film, with Elba’s chief antagonist, Khan, being astonishingly affective as the villain of the piece, while Johansson’s Kaa is just as hair-raising.
The brilliant voice performances, which give their gorgeously rendered and astonishingly real-looking CGI-generated characters plenty of personality, charm and wit, is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the story, with Elba and Murray coming out on top as the most scene-stealing of the bunch. Sethi is equally wonderful as the young Mowgli, filling his character with plenty of genuine childlike wonder, while Walken is absolutely superb as the singing Gigantopithecus, King Louie.
Wonderfully told and gorgeous to look at, The Jungle Book is not only a marvellous technical achievement in filmmaking, but a commendable and surprising achievement in storytelling.