Monthly Archives: May 2012

Casting Some Light on “Dark Shadows”

Not to say I didn’t enjoy Dark Shadows, but if you wanted to be generous, you might say Dark Shadows is a send up of Tim Burton movies, but that might be over-thinking it.  It’s certainly a spoof of something, though, to be fair, what Tim Burton does, he does well.  And that is highly stylized, cool-looking movies and he has a team of people that give him exactly what he wants.  From the makeup to the costumes, to sets to music, Dark Shadows is all about atmosphere, just the way Mr. Burton likes it.  You can see why the filmmaker has taken to animation and stop motion; there is not one iota of reality in this live action flick.  They are essentially graphic novels come to life and there’s nothing wrong with that.

All the same, I was a little disappointed in Dark Shadows.  You can always tell if a movie is really funny by how many scenes make you laugh that you haven’t already seen in the trailers.  In Dark Shadows, the answer is none.  For a fluff flick on a Saturday afternoon, I can’t really complain, but there is a lot of fun that could have been had with a ’70s vampire melodrama and I think Burton missed that opportunity.  The movie looked great, the soundtrack was killer (pun entirely intended), Johnny Depp was hamming it up hardcore, and Michelle Pfeiffer was a firecracker, but the plot was mundane and most of the acting was less than what these actors could bring.  I’m sure they delivered exactly what Burton asked of them, but that was just another opportunity missed.

I never watched the original Dark Shadows, but I know people who did and they’ve said it had a certain credibility because it was, oddly enough, based in a kind of reality, like all good soap operas are.  But the movie chose to spoof the original in an all-too obvious way, which is understandable, but meant I didn’t get what I really wanted; a spoof of the modern “vampires are good boyfriend material” stories like Twilight and the Vampire Diaries.  I would have really enjoyed that.  Although, it occurs to me that maybe that’s what Burton was trying to do.  If that is the case, he missed the mark.  All-in-all, I would say, if you’re looking for a neat-looking movie and a few easy laughs on a Saturday afternoon, you could do worse than Dark Shadows.  Of course, you could just go see The Avengers again and possibly be further ahead . . .

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Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Reviews


Buffy and Wayne’s World–The Conversation

As a part of Project M, where Sarah and Doug cajole each other into watching movies of each others’ choice, we’ll be following up the viewings with conversational breakdowns of the various experiences. Here’s our discussion of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Wayne’s World.

Doug: Buffy!!!

Sarah: Well, you developed a man crush on Luke Perry.

Doug (laughing): Let’s make sure everyone understands those are your words. Luke Perry was awesome in Buffy for his non awesomeness. Or maybe he was awesome for just appearing to think he was awesome. He sold it hard in the whole movie.

Sarah: Don’t you think the moody, motorcycle punk with the heart of gold was just him being what he was told to be, though? I think he was just playing what they told him to play.

Doug: Oh, I don’t criticize the guy. Luke Perry found his thing, he made it work.

Sarah: And probably still living off it to this day.

Doug: And he was one of the most popular guys in entertainment, period, for a good five years there. Around Buffy and 90210 time. Although watching Buffy it dawned on me that this was an example of the last period where a movie that was sort of this bad, with horrible writing, etc, but could still be this big as an entertainment. It seems like from what I’ve seen of the Buffy TV show, that the TV show was miles better than the movie.

Sarah: But I wouldn’t say the movie sucked or anything.

Doug: It was entertaining, but the writing seemed right around sitcom level. I chuckled a few times, but maybe as much at it as with it.

Sarah: But they figured out a way to make this kind of stuff back then. Like Back To The Future or, as you’ve pointed out, Teen Wolf. Even to this day, people love movies like these. Back To The Future came out when I was about four (Doug winces). And I still love those movies.

Doug: Definitely. They’re like marshmallows, basically. You eat them, and you enjoy them, and then they’re gone.

Sarah: But when you happen upon them, like on TV, you latch right back onto them. If I come across Back To The Future, I’m not turning the channel.

Doug: And I feel a little bad with Buffy, because I know how much you like it, that maybe I don’t like it for the best of reasons. I enjoyed it, but in a pretty cheesily campy way.

Sarah: I think it was meant to be campy, don’t you?

Doug: Well, yes. But I think we’re talking about slightly different things. Is there such a thing as good camp and bad camp? I think it was meant to be more spoofy at the time than campy.

Sarah: Yeah. It obviously wasn’t meaning to take itself or anything real seriously. I love the TV show, but the times I don’t like it a lot are the times when it goes too far in taking itself too seriously.

Doug: And we’re coming at it from different perspectives. You saw it at the time at an age when it was probably perfect for you to see. And I never saw it until now, and I’m coming at it from, “Oh, look, it’s Rutger Hauer. That’s great. Ben Affleck. That’s the guy that hosted that dating show Studs!”

Sarah: Pee Wee Herman, who took 20 minutes to die at the end of the movie. Hillary Swank, who is like a real actress, is in it.

Doug: Hillary Swank. And she’s…

Sarah: Bad!!!

Doug (laughing): Really bad. In a way, the funny thing for me watching it 20 years later is that with all these people in it, Kristy Swanson was really good in it. I mean, David Arquette just sort of looked like he had to use the rest room the whole time.

Sarah: That’s his perplexed look. Although one of my favorite scenes is when Arquette shows up outside the window of Luke Perry’s hotel room. And Perry is, like, “You’re floating in the air, man, I’m not going to let you in.”

Doug: OK, that was a good scene. Because Perry wasn’t freaked out by it. It was more like, alright, if you’re going to start doing this sort of deal I’m not going to hang out with you anymore.

Sarah: You mean the floating in the air bit?

Doug: Yeah, Perry was all, “I tolerated you as my wingman when I was going in to the underage clubs all drunk as the young adult motorcycle tough with the heart of gold, trying to pick up 16 year old girls. But now that you’re a vampire…”

Sarah (laughing): “You’re of no use to me anymore.”

Doug: But we have to get to the scene at the end. Perry with the puffy shirt, the oversized puffy shirt, the vest, the big puffy jacket.

Sarah: Ah, 90s style, but before we get to that, I have to say I did love Donald Sutherland as well.

Doug: Good stuff from Sutherland. Just enough slime. When he said, “I train young girls (pause for effect)… to be Slayers.” Solid work.

Sarah: “I train young girls” was a good line.

Doug: But what about the ripoff factor? You had a lot of Teen Wolf rip-offery in Buffy. The other worldly teenager. The emphasis on basketball and the fact that paranormal beings would naturally be spectacular basketball players. The coach is an oddball in both movies. And Buffy  had the incredible Karate Kid training sequence.

Sarah: Oh, yeah!!!

Doug: At one point, Donald Sutherland was doing karate moves and even swept the leg on Kristy Swanson to teach her a lesson. And there were a couple of shots… I mean, most of the time you could tell Kristy Swanson had the obvious stunt double. But a couple of times, they didn’t cut away and she would rock a backflip or a double cartwheel. Cool stuff.

Sarah: And, of course, Joss Whedon wrote Buffy, now out with The Avengers.

Doug: Fill me in a little. From what I read, Whedon wrote the screenplay but maybe they made the movie more campy than he would have liked it?

Sarah: Probably. Obviously, if you go by what he did in the TV show, which he seemed much more involved in, definitely being the series writer, it seems like he was interested in using the vampire as a stronger metaphor for the monsters in teen life. But I also see him as the kind of guy who could have been consciously referencing a movie like Teen Wolf when he wrote the original Buffy. I could see him wanting to reference something I think he would have enjoyed. Joss Whedon strikes me as a fanboy type and it could have been that even back then he was sort of fanboy-ing Teen Wolf.

Doug: Or he could have just been, consciously or unconsciously at the time, copying something that was successful and hot at the moment. That would be a good question for Mr. Whedon.

Sarah: Or maybe Joss Whedon had the basic framework of the story and somebody else put in a lot of the stuff that was Teen Wolf-ish.

Doug: Awesome, fun movie to watch in the end. Even with what I would “criticize” them for, and kind of thinking these aren’t necessarily the types of movies I would always go out of my way to watch these days, and moving on to thinking about Wayne’s World, what’s not to like about the just having fun factor that these two movies have. To me, what makes Wayne’s World work is almost 100% that when I’m watching it, it’s not even any of these actors playing characters. I’m thinking the entire time about the actual people and they’re just constantly having so much fun and winking at the camera, etc, how can you not just roll along with it?

Sarah: Breaking down the third wall, or the fourth wall, or whatever wall it is between the actors and the audience. They’re busting down all the walls.

Doug: And for me, even if they didn’t do the looking right at the audience thing, which was super effective, you could still feel how much fun Dana Carvey and Mike Meyers were having. A lot of the movie isn’t even all that funny on its own, but everyone is having so much fun with it, you have to laugh along.

Sarah: Well, for me, especially watching it now, I can see that you’re watching them just as Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey but you know Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey, especially Dana Carvey, is Garth. I don’t think of Dana Carvey as much else. When I think of him, I just think of him in the blonde wig and big glasses and the satire of the 90s grunge look. That’s not how he normally looks, I’m sure. It’s certainly not how he looks now. And so I don’t know if you’re really thinking of Mike Meyers as Mike Meyers. It’s that he is Wayne. And Dana Carvey is Garth. There’s no distinguishing them.

Doug: And, in a way, I don’t know if you would call this a downside, but for a lot of those that came from Saturday Night Live, a lot of times you don’t think of them as being themselves, you just think of them as their characters.

Sarah: They didn’t seem to have a lot that was fleshed out for the Wayne’s World movie, so some of my favorite scenes were the ones that seemed to be improvised and just sort of, “Yeah, Garth would probably do that or Wayne would probably do this.” Like Garth stabbing the jelly donut and “making it bleed”. It’s like, ok, he’s bored sitting in the donut shop, that’s probably what he would do.

Doug: And I wonder if you could do a movie these days that could be so child-like goofy like they were in Wayne’s World. The humor was so harmless. Could you even put out a movie that, almost innocent, now? The humor you have to do now…

Sarah: Like , you’d have to rape a pie?

Doug (laughing): Nice one. Yeah, American Pie. Good comparison. And I’m not saying that’s not funny. It is funny.

Sarah: A very funny movie. But the great thing for me about Wayne’s World  is that no matter how many times I see it, when I watch it again, it’s still fun.

Doug: As opposed to Buffy, which I had never seen, to be able to see Wayne’s World again, for the umpteenth time, well, like you say it’s just fun.

Sarah: And like you say, Wayne’s World is not always laugh out loud funny, but it also never seems to get old, like you don’t want to watch it. It’s always fun to watch.  And they were living the dream, doing a show that they loved in their basement and living for Saturday night, like another guy in a movie we will get to another time…


The Kid With A Bike

If I told you The Kid With A Bike, the Grand Jury Prize winner last year at Cannes, is the story of a child who has been abandoned by his father and is then taken in by a woman he literally bumps into, I probably wouldn’t blame you if you rolled your eyes and said, “I think I’ll go see The Avengers.” And you might not be wrong, depending on your mood. But you’d be missing a little gem that holds out the radical idea that while the world is not a perfect place, it does hold goodness in it. The brilliance of The Kid With A Bike is that the directors and writers, the Belgian Dardenne brothers, slowly let the story unfold in such a way that the “big” lesson you learn is that it’s OK to believe in kindness. The idea of kindness is not presented in a perfect, tied up in a bow with syrup and cherry on top kind of way. But it is presented as a real, simple thing that doesn’t have to be explained with layers of analysis and back story, or even reasons for it.

It’s not giving away too much, I don’t think, to say that the story revolves a young boy named Cyril who has been abandoned by his father. Cyril won’t accept that his father has left him, and he definitely won’t accept that his father would have sold his trusty bike. Through the simplest of circumstances, Cyril crosses paths with Samantha, a single hairdresser, who recovers Cyril’s bike for him. After she does this for him, Cyril asks Samantha to look after him on weekends so he can get away from the foster home once in a while. Cyril still can’t believe his father would abandon him, but after tracking his Dad down, he is confronted by the harsh reality that his father’s life can’t involve him anymore. This all sounds pretty bleak as I type it, and to an extent it is. But Cyril is accompanied through all this by Samantha. The beauty of Samantha is that she simply comes into Cyril’s life and is there as his support. She is there with him. There is a scene in the film where Samantha’s boyfriend, upset and uncomfortable by the sudden appearance of Cyril into his and Samantha’s life, demands that Samantha choose between him and Cyril. Without hesitating, Samantha chooses Cyril. It’s a simple moment, and the boyfriend is here one moment and then simply gone. It’s a jarring and pretty radical moment in a movie world that would normally feel the need to have several back stories as to why Samantha would make a choice like that. Here, it’s simply put that there are people in the world who would make that choice and Samantha is one of them. There is a short feeling of being slightly disoriented, like you’re waiting for the big explanation. But, again, you realize as the film plays out that the point is that in a world where we readily accept cynicism and negativity, that it’s also OK to accept that Samantha exists.

All doesn’t go smoothly for Cyril, and as he begins to venture outside of his solitary world for more companionship, a series of events leads him away from positive social influences into the waiting arms of the local bad guy. The guy uses Cyril’s newfound willingness to be open and search out companionship against him and lures Cyril into committing a brutal act against a father and son. Here, the Dardennes clearly give a nod to what feels like their likely Catholic side. After Cyril commits this crime, another series of events occurs that explore the ideas of forgiveness, penance, guilt, and integrity, and that while you have to pay a price for your misdeeds, the world can still be a just place. Growing up Catholic, I certainly recognized every one of these themes. My Mom used to tell us a very Catholic thing, which was, “You have to eat a pound of dirt before you get to heaven.” Cyril learns this lesson both figuratively and literally.  But in the end, he comes out of it alright, having Samantha to support him and show him how to love and that it’s OK to be a person who does all of that.

This is not a sappy film, giving off some sort of facile, naïve notion that things magically work themselves out. As the film moves along bad things happen, most of them caused by the constantly changing instincts and decisions of children. For Cyril, it’s not a great hand he’s been dealt. It’s not always a straight line for him and things aren’t always going to be perfect. But with Samantha in his life, it is going to be OK. For the audience, the comfort is in being reminded that there’s no miracle here, nothing needing some sort of radical explanation as to why Samantha does what she does. The radicalness comes in the simplicity of realizing that her kindness isn’t really all that radical at all.

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