Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Darker Still!

Somewhere along the lines Tim Burton has become a dirty word. In certain groups anyway, for the most part his whimsical visuals still make bank at the box office. But our strange friend Tim has gotten a reputation of being associated with mall goths at Hot Topic, and only doing fish out of water stories.
Well, the first one doesn't matter, who cares if teens still love Jack Skellington, the Nightmare Before Christmas is a great movie. And as for the second, well, can you really define any story of an ordinary person achieving the extraordinary in a strange land a fish out of water story? Because you know, that's every story. There are also groans of him always casting his spouse and best friend. However, when those people are Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, why wouldn't you cast them in everything you make?

 Now i must admit, i wasn't really a fan of Charlie and Chocolate Factory or Alice in Wonderland, hell, i even found the Corpse Bride dull. But they did all have interesting qualities. Charlie added the issue of parents and Wonka's daddy issues, which is a thing Burton likes to tackle in his movies, what with Big Fish and Edward Scissorhands, hell i could work Batman, Nightmare, and Sweeney Todd in there easily as well. It was Burton leaving his mark on the story. i also enjoyed the updating of the children and their maladies, and the oompa loompas basically being the new Oingo Boingo. But something feels off,  i don't know if it's the plastic look of the factory, or the the fact that they made Wonka a child that needed to grow up. It just leaves one feeling empty.
 Alice on the other hand almost explored some interesting themes, Alice was a teenager now, she's afraid of marriage, afraid of sexuality, of puberty, this is why she's continually growing out of her clothes, and hiding her nakedness, like some teenage nightmare i'm sure we've all shared. But this never really goes anywhere, it's quickly forgotten in order to have Narniesque kill the dragon quest. There is another neat theme of not knowing oneself, no one recognizes Alice, what if she isn't herself? A frightening prospect, and this does have a payoff at the end, she tells everyone off and says she's going to do what she wants. However, i don't feel like it was earned, i mean, if the jabberwocky was the patriarchy, why does she kills it with a vorpal penis? Is Alice no longer a woman, but now a man? i mean, i guess blood did take her into adult hood there, but still. Why the jabberwocky at all? i've also got issues with the terrible 3D (yeah i know it was post, but some things were thrown in to be come out of the screen), the Hatter not being mad, and the whole "Underland" thing.
Corpse Bride is interesting in that it reads like a modern Grimm's fairy tale, but everything not involving the undead is dull, and things like Peter Lorre worm just seemed out of place.

As for Dark Shadows, let me preface with this: It's Burton's best film since Sweeney Todd (or Big Fish, if you're some weirdo that hates musicals)
 Now, i didn't link a trailer because, well, the trailers are terrible, they do make it look like some story about a 16th century vampire trying to adapt to the whacky 1970s. But that isn't the film at all, pretty much every instance of him not getting things is in the trailer. The film is about him bringing his old fashioned values to modern times.

Not to say he disapproves of all things of modern culture, Barnabas is totally down with feminism.

No seriously, this isn't another Beaton joke about strong women, Barnabas thinks women being equal to men is great. Of course there is the sad joke of the film, all the females characters talk about being post feminist, and how women are free to be equal, and here we are forty year later...

Elizabeth is the matriarch, she's giving it all just to keep her family afloat, she's fighting against a curse, a deadbeat brother and his odd son, her own moody teenage daughter and years of declining business. The fact the Collins still have the house, and enough money to keep a doctor and hire a governess speaks to her dedication.
 Dr. Hoffman is a leech, but she's also an intelligent and skilled manipulator, Her downfalls are being vain and a huge drunk. She's draining the Collins of their dwindling money and Barnabas of his immortal blood.
Angelique is  powerful witch, and beloved local business woman, her only problem is being hopelessly in love with Barnabas.

So yeah, the women aren't perfect, but i like that, they're people. The men are no better, deadbeat Roger abandons his son for money, literally. (Hey look, daddy issues!) And Baranbas is a terrible womanizer, and the film doesn't forgive him for this. In fact, all of his problems are caused by this fact, and his future problems are going to be a result of this as well.

Now when i mentioned earlier that this is about Barnabas bringing his old fashioned values to the modern age, i don't mean anything about bootstraps or any other such nonsense, no, our undead friend brings buried treasure, black magic, and balls.
 One of my favourite moments of the film is when Barnabas is learning about how to woo a modern woman by discussing the philosophy of love with some hippies, who admit that in the 70s, they like him are now a relic. And in by far the darkest joke of the film, Barnabas thanks them for their input, but regrets that he now has to kill them. A guys gotta eat you know. But it is also him symbolically killing off the relic of the past in himself, he's not going to be a damn hippy (fascination with lava lamps aside).

Lets talk about some other characters; Victoria is the the 70s girl that Barnabas hopes to woo, she's also oddly enough the reincarnation of his old love, Josette, go figure! She's actually a really cute character, she's totally 70s chic, really sweet and innocent, but also has a dark past. Her secret however, is terribly depressing, and makes you wonder how much of her is an act, but then her existence is erased by the return of Josette anyway, so whatever. That's the only thing that bothers me about this movie, Victoria lived a terrible life, just so Josette could reunite with Barnabas. Maybe she still exists, and just rembers her past life as well now. Or maybe it's symbolic, she continually lies about her name, maybe this is just who she wants to be now. Continues the blank slate her life must be. It's weird either way.
Next we have David, Roger's son who has been troubled since his mother died, of course his troubles are the same as Victoria's in that he can talk to the dead. Barnabas is the only one who encourages him in this, and other matters.
Lastly there is Carolynn, Elizabeth's daughter. She's moody, dealing with her broken family, discovering her sexuality, and being a werewolf. She also seems to find her only joy in music, so you know, she's a pretty typical teenager. It is always kind of nice to see teenagers portrayed in realistic ways, i hate when teenagers are too smart, too clever, and act like they've never had any angst in their life. Real teenagers only think they're like that. Another surprising joke was David blurting out at the dinner table that Caroylnn purrs when she touches herself, and it's just such an awkward and little brother thing for him to do, that it makes really helps them sell that Collins are a real family.

i've heard people say the plot is all over the place, and while there is a lot going on, it's basically: "Supernatural forces conspire to kill the witch and save the Collins family."
That's pretty much it.

Now i've only seen a couple episodes of the old Dark Shadows, and they were all before Barnabas was a character, so i can't say how true it is to the show, not that it greatly matters. i can however attest that the many characters arcs, side stories, and melodrama do ring true to the soap opera roots, but it doesn't forget that it is a movie.
And movie just works, the story flows, the acting is great, the setting is perfect, the colours are vibrant, the soundtrack is superb, seriously. The opening credits to Nights in White Satin, Carolynn playing Season of the Witch (a bit on the nose, but it's a great song) or Alice Cooper performing the Ballad of Dwight Fry at the ball, it's all amazing. Don't write this film off because of some preconceived hate for Burton or because it's based on some goofy soap opera, Dark Shadows is damn entertaining.

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