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May 21 2012

Review: "Dark Shadows"

This article was originally published at Towleroad inmy weekly column

Chloë Grace Moretz is judging you!

With the world too busy seeingThe Avengers(reviewed) for a second time last weekend,Dark Shadowspremiered to considerably less fanfare and bank than Tim Burton and Johnny Depp collaborations are generally greeted with.So who will even notice that we're one week late to the ball?Young Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Grace Moretz) will -- she's so smugly superior -- but she prefers the word "happening".She's quick to school her out-of-time vampire uncle Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) that no one throws "balls"anymore.

Actually,Carolyn,Tim Burton does...

His movies are less like parties or happenings these days and a lot more like balls: the guest list is expected (Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter always RSVP);the attire is formal (Colleen Atwood gowns and suits preferred and always theme-specific);and the attendees will interact ritualistically in spacious well decorated halls (i.e.soundstages);and you don't arrive expecting a story but a festive visual and physical experience.

Tim Burton has never been great  at "story"anyway andDark Shadowsis no exception.The plot is overly complicated and enormously repetitive,boiling down to this: the evil witch Angelique (Eva Green) and her ex-lover the vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) have been at odds since the 1700s.Centuries later they still lust-hate each other and battle for the soul (and fishing profits) of the village known as Collinswood in the 1970s.As weird as it may be to say,"...in the 1970s"is the important part of that sentence.Burton hasn't cared much about storytelling since the 1990s when he made his two best films (Edward ScissorhandsandEd Wood).As a director he's always relied on his own peculiar aestheticasthe movie.His gothic cutesiness has grown so successful it's now a calcified brand which he can transport with ease (and a hundred million plus budget) to just about any property for a Burtonesque remake.

This Nosferatu gag actually has a decent punchline

So the real question with each new movie is whether he's throwing a good ball or "happening".The answer changes from scene to scene.

Burton can still deliver a great visual hook as he does here with a recurring ghostly reenactment of a woman's hypnotic "suicide".These visitations are beautiful and haunting but the film's climax would play far more impactfully if we had pieced the details together for ourselves and felt the tragedy with an engaging "a ha".He can also still deliver whimsical comedy as in one fine bit when Barnabas' self-pitying dramatics actually cause the scene's chintzy musical accompaniment.

But even in the film's best moments there's a certain clumsiness in the play and inertia in the pacing as if Burton is caught between his new laziness and his old genuine excitement about his chosen material.Is it a comedy,a tragedy,a melodrama,or a horror film?Burton doesn't know so the actors try to hit all the targets with entertaining but mixed results.Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp "get"Tim Burton (as well they should) but their elaborate characterizations feel more effortful and less funny than the movie needs.Even the gloriously welcome Michelle Pfeiffer (come back to the movies full time anytime,diva),moves with a certain careful stiffness through her regal,funny and winning big screen return as the Collins matriarch.Chloe Moretz fares worst with the one note role of the sullen teenager.Two years into her ubiquitous teen stardom she's still burdened by her youth,all pose and no deeper feeling.That's fatal in a Burton film where deeper feeling is the only thing that will differentiate you from the elaborate human statuary just out of focus behind you.

Smiling through the pain.She knows she's "Best in Show"

Only Eva Green,who also played a witch inThe Golden Compass,moves through the gorgeously gothic set and preening 70s affectations with the freeness of inspiration.She's all quick spins,rump slides,and bosomy pride as unwaveringly sure that she owns the movie as Angelique is that she owns the town.Her freakish rictus grin is the perfect cap on the star turn: comedy,tragedy,melodrama and horror all at once.Green also earns the movie's best and most inventive visual effect,her skin-deep beauty cracking like the shell of a hard boiled egg…without the egg inside.She's never been human enough.

In the endDark Shadowsdoesn't cast any of its own.Its mild successes and failures shine no bright light on the director's future (even though the final image is all "Can I be your sequel,please?") If Burton continues to make movies as terrible asPlanet of the ApesandEyesore in Wonderland,Dark Shadowswill be a minor uptick in his creative downslide.If his imagination finds a second wind or purpose,Dark Shadowsmight well be remembered warmly as a turning point… the moment he stumbled back toward the light.

"Is he for real?"

Oscar Chances:Given the tepid box office (as these things go) it doesn't seem likely thoughArt Direction and Costume Designcan't ever be dismissed fully come Oscar time with Burton features.Rich Heinrichs and Colleen Atwood are formidable gold-seekers.

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Reader Comments (15)

That last paragraph sums up Dark Shadows so perfectly that I am in awe.I feel like if Burton and his team had actually settled on one style and/or theme,this would have been a lot better.But as it is it's a bit of a mess - a gothically good-looking mess with some great moments,but a mess nonetheless.

May 21,2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

So is this bias review what we have to look forward to everytime Chloe Moretz is cast in a movie.your obsession with this actress is finally starting to cloud your judgment to a point where Im starting question the credibly of this review.

this anti moretz thing was funny at first but now its just really sad

May 21,2012 | Unregistered Commenterrex

^Couldn't have said it better.Nathaniel,you have a problem.She's a young actress.She may be somewhat typecast,but she's more than competent as an actress,especially for her age.

It's kinda sad that you have a hate-on for a 15 year-old girl.

May 21,2012 | Unregistered Commenterthatguy

Actors are public figures in a public profession.why should i treat her differently than an adult actress and not comment on her work?To me that's silly.Should people not review the work of teenage actors?Should they just say "no comment"?I am actually a little confused about what you think someone should do when reviewing movies that star teen actors.

P.S.I assume that this is stemming from my comments about her miscasting in Carrie.Again,I would say this about any movie star who I thought was 100% wrong for a role through their very persona.

P.P.S.I thought she was good in Let Me In so I don't always hate on her...but this is,to my mind,easily her worst performance.

May 21,2012 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Not everyone was to busy seeing The Avengers for a second time.I refuse to see this insipid movie.

May 21,2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

I don't think Nathaniel's impression of the movie was slanted by his predisposed scorn for Chloe Grace Mortez.If anything,he only talks about her by the end of the review,and he attributes the movie's mediocrity largely to Tim Burton,not Moretz.

P.S.I think Moretz has a similar problem to Kristen Stewart.She's always playing one note throughout an entire film,with the same character expressions that remind us more of an amateur actress still rehearsing than a competent actress who has her character nailed to the ground.I don't hate her,just the fact that studios pick her over worthier but lesser known younger actresses

May 21,2012 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

On a side note,Eva Green was by the far the best thing in the movie.She's clearly having fun with the role and us with her.

May 21,2012 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Love this review!It perfectly sums up my feelings on the movie.

May 21,2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

That's some real internet bravery there,4rtful.

May 21,2012 | Unregistered Commentercam


Would you prefer me to physically assault her?Is that braver for you than expressing a negative opinion anonymously over the internet?

May 21,2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

Neither are brave,both comments are classless.But it's a free country so don't let me stop you.

May 22,2012 | Unregistered Commentercam

Nat echoes my take on Chloë Grace Moretz.I'll give her commendation when she earns it,no sooner.

May 22,2012 | Unregistered CommenterCinesnatch

I'm allergic to her.She just rubs me the wrong way.Amy Adams style.(Yes,Any Adams sucks :p).

May 22,2012 | Unregistered CommenterKokolo

For the record,I'm pretty fond of Chloe Moretz,but I agree with Nathaniel here.She was fine in early scenes,but floundered later.Granted,the script (and probably the director as well) didn't help her,but I don't think she acquitted herself very well here.She played a one-note character,yes,but a better actress could have found something interesting,or odd,or funny to do with it for a few beats.Unfortunately,she wasn't able to do that.

May 22,2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Eva Green should replace Angeline Jolie for Maleficent.She is definitely the queen of dark force.

May 23,2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeremie
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