Dark Shadows by Tim Burton

Dark Shadows by Tim Burton

 

Barnabas Collins, a 200-year-old vampire who was imprisoned in a coffin but is unearthed and makes his way back to his mansion now inhabited by his dysfunctional descendants. He soon runs into trouble revitalising the family’s canned fish business, as his jealous ex-flame and imprisoner Angelique Bouchard, runs the rival company.

A screenwriting teacher of mine used to stipulate that for each scene you write in a screenplay, you must ask yourself, “What is the goal of this scene? How do I want the audience to feel in this instance?” For Dark Shadows, I imagine it would be a difficult question for the screenwriter to answer and he would end up thinking for a long time the right combination of words to describe the specific feeling.

The story structure of Dark Shadows is an issue common amongst TV-to-Film adaptations. It reminded of Andrew Lau’s 2005 cinematic adaptation of the Japanese anime Initial D, where they tried to cram the first season into one cinematic film experience. Dark Shadows has a meandering TV show-like storyline where it plants several subplots that it doesn’t have enough time to develop within the span of a theatrical film. There is a delayed sense of driving action in this enclosed world. For instance, considered that all the evil things she has done to him, Barnabas has a lot of patience with Angelique. It would have made complete sense if Barnabas set out to kill her on a quest of revenge right after he is unearthed in the 70’s. They stylistically choose not to do that, which explains this heavy sense of TV pacing in this movie.

The ephemeral tone is what really drives the movie. It’s tongue-in-cheek at times with the 70s, there are fish-out-of-water jokes and people are murdered at the drop of a hat. There is a very “anything goes” tone and the weirdness of it all kept me entranced, anticipating where it was going to go. It was very funny, but not in a laugh out loud sort of way, but in a cerebral way. It’s hard to describe but there is structure in its chaos and it’s existence alone is something to be marveled at.

The cast and performances were noteworthy, mainly because of how specific they were to building the tone of the film. Johnny Depp plays Barnabas completely straight, much to many of the movie’s fish-out-of-water gags. Maybe because he looked so much like Nosferatu in his appearance and in some of his physicality (notice how he wraps his arms), if they ever made another post-modern silent movie like The Artist, Depp would fare well in a silent film performance.  I really liked the amount of humanity Eva Green was able to inject into Angelique Bouchard. She finds a human center to such an evil character and we see the motivation behind her irredeemable actions. I’ve complimented her performances three times now and she’s slowly becoming a favorite. Lastly, it was nice seeing Michelle Pfeiffer in a film again.

I do wonder what people who have seen the original series would have said about this movie. I’m too young to know. Personally I  had no prior knowledge of the original television series and for anybody who aren’t ready to put in the effort and fill the gaps mentally, they will probably be disappointed by the film adapation. It’s a very odd film operating on an obscure frequency and it wouldn’t have been made without the prior financial success of Burton-Depp collaborations. In a sense, they’re both getting weirder together.

If Tim Burton’s goal was to adapt the original Dark Shadows tone to film, then he accomplished it. Is that a worthy justifiable goal? Does it justify the TV-like tone? I can’t say but I would rather see Burton experiment with something than just slapping the usual “Tim Burton Brand” onto something.

The film worked on me, but I honestly cannot say I’d watch it again. As a movie about a vampire, it might not have longevity.

Womb by Benedek Fliegauf

Womb (film)

A woman’s consuming love forces her to bear the clone of her dead beloved. From his infancy to manhood, she faces the unavoidable complexities of her controversial decision.

There is a dark intensity to Eva Green’s face. I always thought this since Casino Royale, and it’s well utilized in the film. Rebecca is a character who simply cannot let go of her grief and move forward with her life. In some other film, there would be a new man who’s romantically available for her (she’s Eva Green after all) but the film does not even go there. She embodies a unrelenting stagnant pain under a quiet demeanor, and trying to move forward by progressing backwards. The love story takes a while to set up but is truly touching, and feel Rebecca’s loss when Tommy is taken away from her. Oddly that’s two science-fiction films she’s done this year that were pretty good.

Set in a unspecified barren location and minimally populated setting, Womb strongly operates in a fairy tale-like setting. Nature acts as a character in the film. There are numerous wide shots of the ocean with the actors as little specks off looking off into the ocean. The scenery evoked a looming feeling of nature, possibly to imply that nature is bigger than all of us.  Eventually it made me think about how man prehistorically came from the sea.

It’s impressive how Womb immerses the audience into its world. The outside world beyond the town is never shown. It’s a world where cloning exists but we never cut away to some cloning protest in a religious country elsewhere or spend too much time watching a news anchor give Basil Exposition on TV. The workings of the world are shown through scenes within the town where parents discuss whether they should allow their kids to play with clone kids (“copies”, a sort of slur for clone). That’s something really artful about Womb. It slowly gets creepier and creepier as the story progresses, especially when Matt Smith shows up again as the new adult Tommy. There is a scene where the new young Tommy (played by Tristan Christopher) and Rebecca playfully wrestle, Tommy pins down Rebecca and Rebecca just eyes him lovingly in a romantic way. You dread the idea of incest. I found myself really afraid for the new Tommy as the slow-burn tension arises to him finding out the truth. After all, what is the meaning of his existence? He’s her son but treated like her love underneath.

Womb proposes some challenging questions about cloning, but it does not run too far with it. It stays with its story and characters and moves towards its inevitable conclusion. It doesn’t tap out and give up on its own convictions. It does not end up being a piece of anti-cloning “issue-tainment”  and it remains a tale about someone not being able to let go of a loved one.

Perfect Sense by David Mackenzie

Perfect Sense by David Mackenzie

A chef and an epidemiologist fall in love just as a global epidemic begins to rob the world’s population of their sensory perceptions.

Perfect Sense presents the idea of the apocalypse in a more personal (and lower budget) way. What are the sensations that make up your life? What does each sense mean to you? What triggers a happy memory? A sad memory? As each human sense fades away one by one, human joys and memories fade away, society crumbles, the way we connect goes away and people start to lose touch with humanity. Or do we really lose joy and memories at all? Are we capable of surviving through it?

The disease in the film is quite ridiculous if you think about it. That does not matter. It’s working as a metaphor and we see how the epidemic affects the world. In another movie, they would focus on solving the origin of the epidemic and save mankind before all our senses go away (like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion). Perfect Sense focuses on the apocalypse through the relationship between its two protagonists Michael and Susan (played by Ewan McGregor and Eva Green) and how they’re reacting to the situation. Their professions allow us to peek at what’s going on in the outside world. Michael’s job as a cook deals in giving people sensation but restaurants have become obsolete after people lose their sense of taste. We see how his restaurant deals with it. Susan’s job shows the science side of the investigative process of the epidemic. However, the melancholic  gloom in the film gives you the feeling that they’ll never really know.

The romance between Michael and Susan is not random. It’s more than he is handsome and she is gorgeous. What makes it romantic is that Susan’s scent was the last thing he smelled on the night they both completely lost their sense of smell. The movie doesn’t over-punctuate that to make it cute. No, what I appreciated about this stroke was that the collapse of the world pushes them together into a genuine connection. Michael and Susan both fight against the loss of their senses together, trying to enjoy what they can out of life.

Ewan McGregor gives a very natural performance as Michael who starts off as a disconnected person and later comes to appreciate life.I always thought there was something naturally dark about Eva Green. There’s something brooding beneath her cold stare (even when she was Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale) and I’m glad director David Mackenzie utilized that to tell this story. I’m about to review Womb next and I’ll probably have the chance to elaborate more on Eva Green later. I liked this romance and how it developed in the context of the story. There’s a scene where the couple reveals their deep dark secrets to each other that was rather noteworthy.

You can practically watch this back-to-back with Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. (I’m saying this for comparison’s sake, I would not suggest this as a double feature. Unless you like your gloom, then carry on.) Perfect Sense accomplishes what good science fiction does – it made me think about the human condition. I thought about the limits of man, what we are capable of, how we wake up to appreciate the little things after they have been taken away from us and how the human spirit strives to survive even in the worst hopeless moments.

And yeah, I really do not want to lose my eyesight, hearing, sense of taste, smell or touch. Not even if Eva Green was my lover. Well…

Mr. Nobody by Jaco Van Dormael

Mr. Nobody by Jaco Van Dormael

Life is full of choices. Every choice you make leads you onto a different set of choices. You never can possibly know what the best version of your life can be. That’s scary, after all, how do you make your life a worthy one?

A family is broken. A father and mother bring their son Nemo to a train station. Nemo is presented with a choice: should he board the train with his mother or stay with his father? Nemo ponders on this. The film proceeds to play out all the possibilities, showing twelve different lives of Nemo’s life spawning from this one choice.

The film functions on dream logic. We move from the physical into the imaginary, the metaphysical and dream states. It sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Yet the most noteworthy accomplishment is that each transition  is completely intelligible. Director Jaco Van Dormael constructs an inner logic for the audience. As the story progresses and branches out into new stories, we completely know where we are at and it all makes perfect sense. This all makes me realize one thing. This story could not have been told in another medium other than film. It incorporates every bit of film language possible: crosscutting, time transitions, spatial transitions, camera focal length etc.. Even a goddamn crane shot had a legitimate narrative reason for being there. And damn, that impresses me.

It’s not overly cerebral either. Nemo’s potential paths are centered around three women: Anna (played by Diane Kruger), Nemo’s potential one true love, Elise (played by Sarah Polley), a woman that Nemo loves but does not reciprocate and  Jean (played by Linh Dan Pham), as a woman who loves him but Nemo does not care for (this one really broke my heart). Much of the film is an examination of love and happiness. There’s a scene where the teenage Nemo rejects Anna’s invitation to swim with her on the beach. Anna leaves and we see them later as adults bumping into each other in a train station awkwardly years later. Nemo then ponders why he rejected her that day. And the film proceeds to play the alternate scenario, where he tells Anna the truth: Nemo does not know how to swim and did not know what to tell her.

I am a Jared Leto fan (I like his band 30 Seconds to Mars as well). Sometimes it’s possible to like an actor for his choices and he is certainly that case. It’s admirable that he takes smaller roles in art film projects that he respects rather than milk his looks to be famous (which he can totally do). He was great in Requiem For A Dream and Chapter 27 and also the most heartfelt part in Alexander and Lord of War. This is a challenging role and he takes it head on. He plays a convincing 117 year old man and it is fun to watch him play Nemo in the various versions.

Other noteworthy performances are Sarah Polley, who in one version is suffering chronic depression from an unhappy marriage, which she played very dimensionally. Watching her made me think how easily one-note the role could have been. Also Toby Regbo and Juno Temple as the teenage versions of Nemo and Anna falling in love was very endearing and they really sell the innocent sweetness of first love.

One bit I take issue with was the use of “Where is my Mind?” by The Pixies, which is eternally attributed to Fight Club, a film in which Jared Leto is in. There could been other songs to put in that scene. However that’s a minor complaint at best.

This film was released in 2010 and I saw it at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Though in my opinion, this film is not talked about enough and definitely needs to be seen by more people. Mr. Nobody took me away. It broke my heart, touched me and made me ponder about life’s ironies. By the end I left the theater reflecting on my life and how I should live it.

I recommend everybody see it.