Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dark Shadows

Yesterday I saw Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Barnabas Collins (Depp) is a vampire from the 1700s awakened in the 1970s by construction workers who disrupt his coffin. He's also one of the famous members of the Collins family who built the town in Maine where the story takes place.

Elizabeth (Pfeiffer) is the current matriarch of the household, tending to a bratty daughter, a careless brother and a disturbed nephew. They also have a drunken butler and a live-in shrink. Toss in a scorned former lover/witch who placed the vampire curse on Barnabas originally (yet still wants him) and the film is ready to roll.

But really, it doesn't.

Depp is predictably creepy-wonderful as the fish-out-of-water Barnabas, but they don't give him much to do. Aside from reading Love Story and being mesmerized by a lava lamp (mistaking the goo inside for blood), there aren't too many jokes of the era. In fact, the most entertaining scene is the sex between Barnabas and the witch. It's not remotely erotic, but it's action-packed and sort of funny.

Unfortunately, that's about as good as it gets all around. Burton's styling is good, but not nearly as spectacular as his previous films. All of the actors play their parts well; their dialog just doesn't do them justice.

I'm not old enough to remember the soap opera of the same name, but I had high hopes for this film and its players. The director to be counted on for visual brilliance; the cast permeated with actors I love.

Sadly, the whole production fell below my expectations.


Saturday, May 05, 2012


Today I saw Newlyweds, starring Edward Burns and Caitlin Fitzgerald.

Full disclosure: I follow Edward Burns on Twitter and was actively watching/participating in the collaborative Tweets he sent out while scripting and shooting this film.

That said, even if I new nothing of his process, I'd still have walked away from this movie with a smile on my face.

Buzzy (Burns) and Katie (Fitzgerald) are newlyweds. They've both been married before and are determined to get it right this time.

They are close to Katie's sister Marsha (Marsha Dietlein) and her husband Max (Max Baker). Marsha is annoying in an older-sister kind of way; Max is clearly tired of being married to Marsha. It happens, you know.

When Buzzy's younger sister Linda (Kerry Bishé) arrives unexpectedly to stay with the couple until she finds permanent housing, their wedded bliss comes to a screeching halt.

Linda, to put it simply, is a handful. An immature, irresponsible, ungrateful handful. But Buzzy defends her to Katie and vice versa, and soon finds himself embroiled in drama (something he thought he was leaving behind when he married Katie).

As they navigate this storm of external influences, some of the ideals they had about their marriage (as told to us in earlier scenes) begin to dissolve. We see first-hand how fragile relationships really are (not that we didn't know, but...) and how important it may be to define certain "agreements" when making a commitment as serious as marriage.

When you say that you'll tell each other everything, does that include things that you know will hurt your partner?

This is one of the questions the film asks of its characters and it seems like a good one to ask whomever you choose to spend your life with as well.

No union can be perfect, but serious damage can be done by family and friends—even those with good intentions. At the same time, no couple should have to isolate themselves from everyone to enjoy a healthy relationship.

Newlyweds is anchored by sharp dialog and well-developed characters who illustrate this point. Like Burns' other films, there isn't a lot of clutter to get in the way of telling a good old-fashioned story.

There's also an organic method in which the scenes are shot that allows us to feel as if we've just knocked on a friend's door after they've had a fight with their lover. We're there to observe and listen and react as they do in their most raw moments.

Isn't that what great filmmaking should make us feel?


Friday, May 04, 2012

The Avengers

Tonight I saw The Avengers, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.

It will be the topic of the May edition of Cinebanter, so tune in later this month for our review.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

Tonight I saw The Five-Year Engagement, starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt.

Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) seem to be the perfect couple: they make each other laugh, have undeniable chemistry, and make good use of a strong physical attraction. After just a year of dating, they become engaged and joyfully announce their upcoming nuptials.

Then Violet doesn't get accepted to the graduate program at Berkeley but does get accepted to a program in Michigan, so their plans change. They postpone the wedding and leave San Francisco so she can live her dream. Tom, as a result, has to leave his chef job at a big city restaurant and take a position as a sandwich maker in their new town.

Tom becomes miserable, Violet becomes consumed with her academia, and the years drag on without a wedding. This is pretty much the entire movie.

The two core characters are very realistic and well-written; the supporting characters (a token 'crazy' friend for Tom; an irresponsible sister for Violet) not so much.

What's enjoyable to watch are the scenes that truly mirror life: during one spat Tom says he wants to be alone yet when Violet starts to leave the room he tells her to come back to bed; parents of each manage to tell them they're idiots to put off the wedding; some of the most fun each of them has is at work with their respective peer groups.

While Segel and Blunt make a lovely couple, their struggles do remind us hopeless romantics that life will just never be that good. Partners, no matter how kind, will eventually disappoint us, and perhaps instead of looking for perfection we should realize that if we have anyone in our corner for any length of time that in itself is somewhat of an emotional victory.

After several uneven, silly sequences (don't get me started on the hunting bow), the movie does thankfully end in a satisfying, sweet way.

Kind of like a redemption usually reserved for an ex that wasn't so bad after all.