In the gothic comedy Dark Shadows, chameleon Johnny Depp adds yet another oddball to his eccentric gallery of screen characters, this time a vampire who is a firm believer that blood is thicker – and tastier – than water.
His Barnabas Collins is cursed to be a vampire and his true love Josette killed by a witch named Angelica (Eva Green) he jilted. Nearly 200 years later in 1972, Barnabas is resurrected from a grave and, after quenching his thirst, returns to his family mansion in a Maine fishing village to revive the fortunes of his descendants.
They're a Brontesque dysfunctional lot – matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her moody daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz), Elizabeth's brother (Jonny Lee Miller) and his young son (Gulliver McGrath). As well there's a caretaker (Jackie Earle Haley), a psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) and new governess Victoria, who resembles Josette (both played by Bella Heathcote).
But once again Barnabas – looking like a pale, young, lugubrious Napoleon – has to deal with a covetous and vindictive Angelica, who is still around running a rival fishing company.
Directing this film version of a cult camp American daytime soap opera (1966-71) is long-time Depp collaborator Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland), and his film is visually splendid, features computer effects, has a potentially strong supporting cast and, of course, fascinating Depp front and centre.
But as an entertainment the movie's a clunker – and much of the fault is its anaemic screenplay. It's not funny either as macabre fun or spoof comedy; it's not creepy or scary; and its silliness is without wit. It lacks the inventive, compelling madness of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or the cartoonish, foolish glee of The Addams Family.
Instead, it's a stuttering, meandering, incoherent mess badly meshing together several story strands, including its vampire versus vengeful vamp confrontations, a campfire get-together with hippies, and a frenzied but inoffensive sex scene – all to a 1970s pop soundtrack.
It has jokes about Barnabas' unfamiliarity with roads, cars, television and a lava lamp. Christopher Lee turns up in a cameo, Alice Cooper performs, ghosts appear, a werewolf arrives out of nowhere, and the movie culminates in a fiery, chaotic climax.
While Depp can often be hypnotic to watch, Dark Shadows is unlikely to have Barnabas' mesmerising power on moviegoers. Unlike most Depp-Burton collaborations, it's a movie to endure more than enjoy.What Dark Shadows sorely lacks is sharply evident and forcefully effective in Margin Call, a gripping, tense drama about the beginning of the 2008 financial apocalypse and the instinctive human reaction to it: self-preservation.
It's set in a fictional Wall Street investment bank (loosely based on Lehman Brothers) over 24 hours when it's discovered that projected losses are greater than the company's value (the film title's a stockmarket term relating to that).
With the realisation the party and the good times are over, the bosses desperately seek a way to salvage what they can, no matter what wider harm may be done or how ethically, even morally, wrong such action would be.
Debut writer-director JC Chandor's film provides a microcosmic view of a crisis the Inside Job documentary and Too Big to Fail docudrama covered on a wide scale. Both non-political and non-judgmental, the intimate story is about a corrupting, ruthless culture of money and greed where the No1 priority is looking after No1.
Savvy and insightful, Chandor's Oscar-nominated, somewhat theatrical and talkative screenplay is reminiscent of David Mamet at his best (Glengarry Glen Ross) – and it is brought convincingly to life through solid performances from Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci.
Chandor makes the incomprehensible world of financial wheeling-dealing understandable, with bosses often asking for explanations like those given to a child or dog.
It results in a compelling drama that humanises its players, but makes several searing general observations.
Among them are how taking reckless risks is deemed acceptable when they succeed; that in a numbers-based system the impact on people's lives is forgotten; that money is persuasive (you can bribe people to destroy their own jobs); that saying "it's just money" is easy when you have a lot and can afford loss; and the idea of making money, even out of a disastrous mess of one's own making, prevails.
- © Fairfax NZ News