[Batman Day] Batman Returns (1992)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy

Screenplay: Daniel Waters

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup

 

On this day in which we celebrate the caped crusader, let’s take a look at the strangest, and dare I say, greatest, live-action Batman film, Batman Returns.

It’s Christmastime in Gotham City, and the rich businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can, Irreplaceable You) is showing his holiday spirit by secretly trying to get a power chemical plant built in the city. When he gets kidnapped by the sinister Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito, Matilda, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), a man more known by his moniker, the Penguin, Max sees a way for each of them to get what they want as he attempts to get Cobblepot into public office as Gotham’s mayor. It’s during this time that Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Dumbo) begins looking into Cobblepot’s background and see him as a threat to the city.

There’s a surface-level love for Batman Returns that springs out of the fact that it was my first experience with Batman of any level. I hadn’t read any of the comics when I saw the film, I hadn’t watched the cartoon, I hadn’t seen any of the other films. It was my first and most memorable experience of the caped crusader.

Michael Keaton has always been the actor I’ve most associated with the Batman and Bruce Wayne role, and I think he’s the actor that’s always embodied the conflict of the two roles and the sacrifice that he feels is necessary for him to give to Gotham for its protection. He’s better in this sequel than the previous film because here he’s even more conflicted about his role. He’s put through trials that test his commitment to Batman, most notably through his interactions with Selina Kyle and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray, Avengers: Endgame).

Director Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Beetlejuice) put a lot of himself into this film, more than its predecessor, and it’s especially apparent with the villains. Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman both have some altered history with their origins, and there are liberties taken with a lot of what makes them villains, and part of that is likely from Burton’s very obvious disinterest in comic books. While that can be a death knell for a film, I really like his take here, and I think he is able to juggle multiple villain arcs alongside his hero in a way most superhero films cannot.

There’s another accomplishment to Batman Returns that most reviewers and fans tend to overlook regarding its villains. Returns features a third villain, remarkably made from scratch, in Max Shreck. Yes, he’s just as much a villain in the film as Penguin or Catwoman, perhaps a little less zany, but a villain all the same, made by a terrifically unhinged performance from Christopher Walken. Without Walken, the film may not have worked at all. In fact, I would say that I remembered Shreck more than the other two as a child. He was frightening because he was very real, and the role he plays in both the Penguin’s master plan and Catwoman’s origin makes for an effective creepy character.

After the success of his first Batman film, Tim Burton was able to really explore his version of Gotham City and its inhabitants with his special visual blend of gothic and supernatural influences. This is a very arty Batman film, and that’s mostly due to Burton being at the top of his game here. He’s playing with his cinematography, he’s exploring the sound and music of Gotham, and he’s relishing in a classical costume design within the confines of this world.

Batman Returns is perhaps the most unique of all the Batman films in that it is really experimenting with its tone, look, feel, and world. It’s hard to find a flaw, but if there’s one, it’s that the film does take a little pushing at the beginning to get it moving, and in the modern superhero landscape, some of its zanier elements might seem laughable, but revisiting this film in honor of Batman Day has reminded me of how rich an experience Batman Returns is. I highly recommend a rewatch if it’s been awhile.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dumbo, click here.

Dumbo (2019)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

112 mins. Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements and brief mild language.

 

Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Beetlejuice) seemed like an odd choice for Dumbo, right?

When Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell, The Lobster, Widows) returns from the war, his job at the circus is gone, and circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito, Matilda, Twins) assigns him to the elephants, where he meets baby Dumbo, an adolescent elephant ridiculed by many for his unusually-sized ears. When Holt’s children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), discover that Dumbo is able to fly with the aid of his ears, they set forth to save the failing circus, attracting the attention of the sinister salesman V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton, Birdman, American Assassin).

I want to start by saying I love it when Disney actually takes a property and updates it for a live-action release. As much as I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast, I would rather have a different take on the film, like what Cinderella and Aladdin did. This is done again here, but it doesn’t work as well. Dumbo 2019 is a different film than its predecessor, and I respect that, but the results are hit-or-miss. It all boils down to the screenplay by Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Ghost in the Shell), which doesn’t really revive as much magic from the source material as one would like. It feels very straight-forward and, in that process, loses some of the magic and soul that a film like Dumbo should have. Events just kind of happen, and with a more muted Burton directing the film, it feels hollow at times.

Now there is magic, particularly to the central relationship between Farrell, Parker, and Hobbins, who are trying to reconnect after war and tragedy have decimated their family. I also really enjoyed DeVito’s Max Medici. At this point in his career, DeVito knows how to play to the circus performance character, and he really collaborates with Burton quite well.

Michael Keaton’s zany performance as Vandevere starts out strong but really never goes anywhere. He is quirky because he’s in a Tim Burton movie and not for any particularly villainous reason. He’s unlikable, and maybe because he’s a villain, that’s a good thing, but it didn’t really work entirely for me.

Now, the scenes involving Dumbo are crafted very nicely by Burton. His visual take on the CG elephant works really well, and it makes for some truly captivating moments. It’s here where the film shines, and in that way, it is quite similar to films like Godzilla and Transformers in that the CG stuff works better than most of the human characters, but not to that extent, I suppose.

Dumbo is a mish-mash of elements, some that work really well and some that don’t. It’s uneven in this way, with a screenplay that doesn’t reach the heights a flying elephant should be able to rocket it, a director who feels somewhat asleep at the wheel or possibly incorrectly hired, but a group of performers and a cute-as-a-button flying elephant make for an enjoyable experience. It’s a scathing critique of Disney culture made by Disney that doesn’t always know who it should be appealing to; kids will like the Dumbo stuff but the rest of the plot mostly services adults. Still, I enjoyed myself and find the film to be a rather fair addition to Disney’s live-action shelf.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

The New Batman is Here, and He is Sparkly

Okay, okay, okay…

So we finally have an announcement as to who is taking up the mantle for the next entry in the Batman series, currently titled The Batman. The film, to be written and directed by Matt Reeves, is scheduled to begin production later this year for a September 2021 release.

The new Batman is Robert Pattinson.

The internet took it pretty well actually. No wait, I didn’t say that right. Let me correct…The internet lost its collective shit because the internet hates everything, and as I said about Game of Thrones recently, no one hates Batman casting picks as much as Batman fans do.

Early reports claimed that Reeves was searching for a younger Batman, and upon reading everything I’ve read about the film, I still believe it will be tangentially related to the larger DCEU, set some time before Batman looked like Ben Affleck. There will likely not be any reference to the larger DCEU, but that would be a smarter thing than forcing it in or confusing the general movie-going audience by adding another separate Batman franchise next to the standalone Joker movie and the DCEU proper. It’s just messy.

As far as Battinson (see what I did there?) goes, I’m rather excited. No, he wasn’t a very good sparkly vampire, but his work in the Twilight franchise was a decade ago, and he was working from a not-great screenplay and source material. Compare the Twilight books to the larger Batman comic books. If you agree that Batman’s source material is better, then you have to assume that a better screenplay and director at the helm can only help.

If you’ve seen Battinson in films like The Rover or Good Time, then you’ve seen a range that will separate him from his Twilight days quite effectively. Hell, he wasn’t half-bad in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

To put it simply, and to paraphrase Spongebob Squarepants’s thoughts on Krabby Patties, the only people who don’t like Battinson have never tried him.

I think I’ve made my point.

 

UPDATE: Just as this was set to be published, as with all news stories from DC, it appears there is more to this than previously thought. It would seem that Nicholas Hoult, known for his work as Beast in the X-Men films and also playing J.R.R. Tolkien in the new biopic, is also in the mix for Bruce Wayne/Batman. Now, I don’t have any funny nicknames for Hoult as with Battinson, so that’s one strike.

On the other hand, though, Hoult has proven himself time after time to be an excellent actor with a wide range similar to that of a Michael Keaton. Keaton was a controversial choice back in the 80s to play the Caped Crusader, but with turns from Beetlejuice to things like Mr. Mom, he proved he had the right mixture of professional acting and insanity, something I would argue Hoult also has. Don’t believe me? Check Mad Max: Fury Road to see that level of Let’s-Get-Nuts that a Keaton would have. There are indeed similarities.

So what it boils down to is that both of these choices would be inspired, and in Matt Reeves I trust, so whatever he decides, I’m down for the ride.

So what do you think? Who should play Bruce Wayne/Batman? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 2 – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Director: Chuck Russell

Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, Priscilla Pointer, Craig Wasson, John Saxon, Dick Cavette, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Robert Englund

Screenplay: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell

96 mins. Rated R.

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street was a huge hit, and while its sequel, Freddy’s Revenge, was financially successful, New Line Cinema realized that the second installment of this popular franchise missed the mark in more ways than one. So, they went back to the creator, Wes Craven , for help. He reluctantly answered. The next installment would have to be one that honored the roots of the series while adding a fresh spin. It’s something more franchises should hope to achieve.

Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette, Boyhood, TV’s CSI: Cyber) is experiencing horrible nightmares at the hands of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda, The Funhouse Massacre). When her mother fears for her safety, she is admitted to Westin Hospital, a psychiatric ward run by Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson, Body Double, Akeelah and the Bee). There, she meets several other teens being tormented by Krueger. They soon learn from Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp, Hellraiser: Judgment, TV’s Just the Ten of Us), a survivor of Freddy’s slayings, that Kristen and the others are the last of the Elm Street children, and Krueger has plans to rid them once and for all. But Nancy has a plan using an untested sleep disorder drug and bit of practice, she plans to turn the tables on Krueger using his very dream power against him. But can they stop him?

Dream Warriors takes the high-concept premise of the original Nightmare on Elm Street and stretches it into new directions. There’s a more fantastical element in this sequel that would permeate through the rest of the series, especially seeing the “Dream” version of our core characters. Director Chuck Russell (The Blob, I Am Wrath) expertly flitters between horror and fantasy in a really special way.

It’s great to see Langenkamp return in the role of Nancy. It adds a feeling of returning to this installment that the previous film was lacking, and when you include John Saxon (Enter the Dragon, From Dusk Till Dawn) reprising his role as Nancy’s father, it feels like wrapping up loose ends. I get the sensation that this was intended to be the final film of a trilogy, and it works in that way while continuing on.

Newcomer Patricia Arquette shines as Kristen. I just loved watching her perform (it isn’t hard to believe, everyone on set was in love with her). She has an innocence that she adds to the role and a nice character arc as she struggles with finding the strength to defend herself from the horrific Krueger.

What’s really kind of amazing are the cameos from Dick Cavett (Beetlejuice, River of Fundament) and Zsa Zsa Gabor (Queen of Outer Space, Moulin Rouge). These kinds of cameos don’t ever really seem to work, but perhaps it is the sheer absurdity of it all (Cavett said he wanted Gabor to appear with him as he found her so annoying and would never actually interview her in real life) that seems to work. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of magic.

Dream Warriors was also a product of the 80s with its very own song performed by rock group Dokken. It’s a forgotten piece of marketing that I wish would come back. Lines like “Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!” (Robert Englund famously improvised the dialogue) and the song “Dream Warriors” firmly plant this film in its time period.

I also have to credit the film for its incredibly unnerving special effects. There’s a sequence involving puppetry that, though it hasn’t aged perfectly, still works just as well. I have to mention the Freddy snake as well, phallic though it may be. This is an effects film done very well on a tight budget.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors forges a new path for its mythology and franchise trajectory, and it is one of the better installments in the series. Rooted in myth, horror, and fantasy, Chuck Russell’s film tortures its youthful cast of characters while developing each of them, even if some fall back to archetype as opposed to dynamism. It boils down to a film that is more fun the more you watch it, and it doesn’t lose its thrills for the sake of its more mystical elements. It’s a hell of a ride over 30 years later.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.

For my review of Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, click here.

For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, click here.

For my review of Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 17 – Beetlejuice (1988)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder

Screenplay: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren

92 mins. Rated PG for adult situations/language and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup

 

I remember really enjoying the animated Beetlejuice television series as a kid. When my mother finally introduced me to the idea that it was preceded by a live-action film, I just about went crazy. When she told me that it was going to be on television that night, I lost it. I saw it. I loved it. I still love it.

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Meet the Maitlands: Adam (Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Aloha) and Barbara (Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise, In a World…). They just died and now confined to an afterlife in their home. But when Charles (Jeffrey Jones, Sleepy Hollow, 10.0 Earthquake) and Delia (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) Deetz move in, accompanied by outcast daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder, Black Swan, Homefront), they are forced to go to extreme situations to haunt the Deetzes into moving out. In steps Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Minions), a bioexorcist who specializes in getting people to move out of their dwellings, but the self-described “ghost with the most” has an agenda of his own, and the Maitlands have just gotten in too deep.

Beetlejuice came after director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) greated great success as director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and used his clout to reveal his true genius with the visual medium as a gothic director of merit. Beetlejuice is an excellent exercise in tone, cinematography, storytelling, and excitement.

It seems as though everyone knows their place in this film, from Baldwin and Davis playing the timless Maitlands to the big city quirky Deetzes, and especially an often overlooked performance from Glenn Shaddix, who plays the smug and cynical Otho (after Shaddix’s death in 2010, the famous Day-O from the film played at the end of the funeral). Otho’s role in driving the plot with his hubris-filled attempts at showing his wide array of skills gives the story so much flavor.

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From a storytelling perspective, Beetlejuice proves that you don’t have to explain away the mysteries of your film. The script from Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren was rewritten from being a straight horror film with several cliché plot points into the afterlife character study that it is today. It is arguably one of Tim Burton’s finest works, and is easily viewable to any audience in any time, even if some of the effects have not dated well.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

[Batman Day] Batman (1989)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

 

Happy Batman Day! I think, in honor of the legendary Caped Crusader’s special day, we should look back on the 1989 Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) film, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton (Birdman, Minions) as the tycoon-turned-hero.

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On the dark criminal-filled streets of Gotham, tough guy Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Shining, How Do You Know) has been betrayed by his boss, villainous gangster Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, The Swan Princess, Tango & Cash) and now, disfigured by a vat of toxic chemicals, he has donned a new persona, the Joker. Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle, The Land Before Time, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fanboys) are powerless to stop him, but there is hope in the guise of the near-mythical masked vigilante Batman (Keaton) to stop the incoming crimewave.

Batman is a strange but not entirely out of line choice for director Tim Burton, who had previously worked on dark horror-comedies like Beetlejuice and the short film Frankenweenie. Burton had a very tall order to deliver on, having a pantheon of stories to honor is his depiction of Bruce Wayne and his story, and fans were not too thrilled with the decision to cast Keaton in the role.

I think I can say wholeheartedly that fans were proven wrong. Michael Keaton kills it in this role. His decision to play Bruce as an unhinged man, fully committed to his insane lifestyle is what drives his performance home. He fits perfectly in Burton’s over-the-top occasionally overtly-goofied version of Gotham.

Add to that an absolutely bonkers portrayal of The Joker given by a perfect casting choice in Jack Nicholson. Nicholson almost passed up the opportunity to play the villain, but thankfully, due to a considerable offer, he signed on. This is also the first time ever that viewers received a Joker origin story. Up until that point, and in many subsequent versions of the character’s tale, we do not get the answers to why he is the way he is. This origin is perhaps not as powerful as the mystery surrounding the character, though.

Now, from a technical perspective, Batman is hit-and-miss. The set decoration, for which the film won an Oscar, is incredible, but from a sound perspective, I believe the film mostly misses the mark. The sound mixing is a real loss, and the idea of jamming a great theme from Danny Elfman (I can’t believe I just said that) with original music from Prince was a huge mistake.

I should point out that I do love the opening titles. How about that fantastic theme? Am I right? Another interesting tidbit from this film is in the sequence where an underground doctor is fixing up Napier after the incident with the toxic chemicals. The tools used to operate actually came from the Little Shop of Horrors props, which was remade from a 1960 film featuring Jack Nicholson way before being famous. Movies are fun, eh?

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Batman wouldn’t have worked if it were made in a different time period. It is darker than the overtly campy 1960s iteration and yet still embraces the silliness more so than Christopher Nolan’s self-contained trilogy. I still find the film, despite its shortcomings (seriously, how do people not know who Bruce Wayne is), to be an interesting and enjoying piece of pop art, and it was a ton of fun to revisit.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

  

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

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Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden

Screenplay: Kelly Marcel

125 mins. Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language.

 

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you my review of the highest grossing adaptation of a rip-off of a bad book series…of all time perhaps, Fifty Shades of Grey. No contracts to sign for this one, folks, so let’s jump in.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, 21 Jump Street, Cymbeline) has been tasked with interviewing the mysterious entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, TV’s The Fall, Marie Antoinette) for her friend’s school newspaper. When Grey starts to follow Ana and takes an extreme interest in her personal life, she begins to see that he has wants for more than she may be able to give. As Christian’s sexual fantasies take flight with Ana as a passenger, she questions what or who she really wants in the film from director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy).

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Let’s discuss our leads here. Dakota Johnson acts to the character well enough, but the character isn’t any good. She doesn’t give her character a path or any catharsis to lead to. Then there’s Jamie Dornan, who is absolutely dreadful as the billionaire playboy. Not only is the character completely unlikable, but Dornan plays him as a whiny baby. His character is a selfish prick, he doesn’t give anything to Ana in terms of her relationship needs. It is all take-take-take. Who would find him an enjoyable character to follow?

The only thing worse than the leads here is the chemistry between them. It is a shame to have some of my favorite character actors given so little screen time to bolster this film as they are squandered in the background. I’m referring specifically about Marcia Gay Harden (TV’s The Newsroom, Into the Wild), Andrew Airlie, and one of absolute favorite people Callum Keith Rennie. Our leads are incapable of driving this story forward, and it really doesn’t end.

So how good is the rest of the film? It isn’t particularly well shot, especially the poorly-shot initial love scene. It is almost as if the director didn’t watch the dailies, because the scene breaks even the simplest of guidelines around how to shoot a scene (I can hear my filmmaker friends telling me that there are no guidelines to shooting a scene, but I even they would agree with me). The film has a tonally broken look to it, similar to the book itself.

Then there is the sound and music editing. There are scenes with Anastasia typing on her new computer and she finishes typing before the sound stops. It is blaringly noticeable. Not to mention Danny Elfman trying his best to not be Danny Elfman, and he fails. The best decision made in this film is not using his score for the sex scenes and opting for some more sensual tracks from major artists. Can you imagine the Beetlejuice soundtrack during the lovin’?

Another great decision by the filmmakers is to avoid using the phrase “inner goddess” which E.L. James’ novel put into the triple digits. They still get away with the wretched “laters, babe” which made my breakfast churn in my stomach.

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Eventually, Fifty Shades of Grey makes its way into classic romantic cliché and shtick with a side order of complete boredom. The film is somewhat slightly better than the original tome it is based on, but that doesn’t make it any good. Perhaps the adaptation that Bret Easton Ellis wanted to write would have been better. As too with less input by the dreck that is E.L. James. It takes a special kind of bad for me to wish for Twilight over this fan-fiction slop.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So have you seen Fifty Shades of Grey? What did you think? Was it so “Crazy Right Now” or did it reach your hard limits? Let me know!

 

31 Days of Horror: Day 19 – Dark Shadows (2012)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote

Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.

 

For horror fans, the 1966 television series Dark Shadows is a pretty big deal. For soap opera fans, it is also a big deal. A dark brooding and eventually supernatural based soap opera, Dark Shadows was so far ahead of its time that it didn’t really take off during its initial run. It didn’t really take off during its revival either. In 2012, director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Frankenweenie) brought a reimagining to the big screen from a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (TV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). It, too, did not take off. So how does a movie with this much going for it, a new and promising screenwriter, a talented director behind the camera, and explosive leading man Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Into the Woods) as a lead, fail so much? Truth be told, I rather enjoyed it for all the reasons you should.

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Depp portrays Barnabus Collins, a privileged man who took too much for granted. He loved and left women like the voluptuous Angelique (Eva Green, TV’s Penny Dreadful, Casino Royale), and he paid dearly for it, for unbeknownst to Collins, Angelique was a witch who cursed his beloved Josette (Bella Heathcote, In Time, Not Fade Away) to walk off a cliff and turned Barnabus himself into a vampire and had him buried for all eternity. Around 200 years later, Barnabus is awakened by random happenstance and returns to his beloved home of Collinwood Manor to find distant relative Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer, Scarface, The Family) and her family residing. Collins’ family name has been tarnished by the still living Angelique who has taken the town of Collinsport for herself. As Barnabus tries to put the pieces of his afterlife in order and bring his family back to their stance in the community, he is bewitched by the Collins’ new family tutor and caregiver Victoria, who bares a striking resemblance to Josette.

This movie succeeds at what it is trying to be. Much like the adaptation of Rock of Ages from a few years ago, this film is not rounding the bases to Oscar glory. All it wants is to remind you of cheese from which the original Dark Shadows bore and is what it is so beloved for today. Dark Shadows was not a great television series ever, but we love it. Why? Because it is so much fun. Exactly. Not because it was filled with nuanced performances, but because it was filled with such lovable (or unlovable) characters. I think people didn’t do their research for this film (surprise, surprise, those same people didn’t expect Sweeney Todd to be a musical) and they expected something dark and brooding, perhaps for akin to Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, when really this is more attuned to Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, being dark comedies with dark undertones.

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Now the film is far from perfect. Some of the performances are wooden, while others come off as over goofy. The cinematography is nothing particularly special. The music and visual effects are rather fun, but the film isn’t going to be remembered or rediscovered as perfect, but it is just a good time. This is a movie I should have expected to fail, but I had faith in moviegoers. If you saw this during its initial release, I advise you to give it another go, because it wasn’t all that bad. It is, ironically, rather lively.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 13 – The Fly (1986)

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Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Screenplay: Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg

96 mins. Rated R.

 

I’m so happy that I am able to include this film on the 31 Days of Horror this year. David Cronenberg’s The Fly is and will always be one of my favorite horror films. I love the cautionary tale mixed with genetic experimentation and the effect of playing God on human sanity.

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The Fly, a remake of a 1958 Vincent Price horror gem, is the story of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, The Grand Budapest Hotel), a brilliant man of science who has just invented a teleportation device, but due to a horrific accident in which a fly gets into the teleportation pod with him, his DNA is forever altered. Seth chooses to document and study his terrifying metamorphosis into a creature he calls “Brundlefly” as his relationship with the beautiful reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis, Beetlejuice, In a World…) is forever scarred.

I’m not the greatest Cronenberg fan. I don’t love everything he touches. I wasn’t really a fan of Scanners, and Eastern Promises made me very bored. On the other hand, I absolutely loved A History of Violence and find his adaptation of Stephen King with The Dead Zone to be particularly creepy. So I went into The Fly with mixed possible feelings. I didn’t know much about the film, except that funnyman Mel Brooks produced it, which was odd. I later read that Brooks tried to not discuss his involvement in the film due to its genre being something he isn’t usually associated with. When fans discovered he produced the film, he thought “to hell with it” and showed up the premier with fly antennas to give out to fans.

When I saw the film, it shocked me. But more than that, it broke my heart. I was so terribly saddened by the emotional journey between Seth and Veronica throughout the film that as I exited the theater, I couldn’t even speak. I had to words. The film just destroyed me.

From a physical aspect, the film is gorgeously oozing with feeling and ambience. The creature effects by Chris Walas are so good that I was happy to see his name first in the credits due to his excellent work in the film. I’m not surprised by his Oscar win for the either.

The film bothered me, and I suppose that it because of how perfect it is. I sometimes wonder how the film would have turned out under the steady hand of master-of-oddity Tim Burton, who the project was originally envisioned for. I just think that Cronenberg understood the cerebral which was inlaid with all the fantastic out pain. He injected this film with plenty of inner pain. I also think about The Fly: The Musical, a stage musical version of the film, and wonder how this movie would translate in such a way.

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From the opening titles (I love the fly vision as the film comes into focus at its intro) to the heart-wrenching finale, The Fly is a masterpiece, a wholly realized vision of terror that few could ever berth. David Cronenberg was definitely not the choice I would’ve had for director, but I can honestly admit I would have wrong in that decision. This film is perfect.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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