Archive for the Based on TV Show Category


Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on TV Show, Cinema Knife Fights, Garbage, Johnny Depp Movies, Masks, Period Pieces, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2013 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

loneranger(THE SCENE: The Interior of a steam locomotive. The year is 1896. In the saloon car, L.L. SOARES sits back in his seat and lights a cigar, as MICHAEL ARRUDA arrives and sits down across from him)

MA: Ahh, we finally have the chance to travel in comfort. This is pretty sweet.

LS: And I’ve already ordered our drinks.

(Waiter brings a tray over to their table and puts a glass of whiskey down before LS, and a pint of ale in front of MA)

WAITER: Will there be anything else?

LS: I think we’re fine for now.

MA: Can we have some pretzels?

WAITER: Certainly.  (leaves)

MA: You picked a nice place for us to review THE LONE RANGER. Usually when you start things off, we end up on the roof of a tall building or in the middle of a gang war. Nice to be able to relax for a change.

LS: Drink up, my friend. I’ll even begin the review for you.

MA: Please do.

LS: As you said, this week’s movie is THE LONE RANGER, based on characters who go all the way back pre-television radio serials. Although Michael and I are more familiar with the popular TV series starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his sidekick, Tonto. We saw the show in reruns when we were kids, and while I didn’t exactly love it, I remember it being enjoyable enough.

This new movie version of the story features Armie Hammer as the titular ranger and Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick, Tonto. I think it’s safe to say that the new movie takes a lot of liberties with the concept.

MA: Yeah, it’s a “little” different from the old TV show.

(WAITER returns with a basket of pretzels)

MA: (looks at LS) That’s it? Pretzels?

LS: Whatever do you mean, my good man. You asked for pretzels.

MA: No surprise ambush of bad guys? No tribe of angry Indians? Usually when you start these things, I’m in for some kind of shish-kebobbing.

LS: Nothing of the kind.

WAITER: Will there be anything else?

LS: Not for the moment.

Basically, THE LONE RANGER is an origin story, as we meet John Reid (Armie Hammer, who played both of the Winklevoss twins in the movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010) in 1869. He has just come back after going to law school in the East. He’s returned to Colby, Texas to be the town’s new District Attorney. His first case is going to be the trial of outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, who played Alex Mahone in the Fox TV series, PRISON BREAK). Reid’s brother, Dan (James Badge Dale, who also had roles in this year’s IRON MAN 3 and WORLD WAR Z) is the town’s sheriff, and is known for being pretty heroic. The make things more complicated, Dan’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) has strong feelings for John and it seems like she married the wrong brother.

Anyway, the train bringing Cavendish to town is hijacked by Butch’s gang of outlaws, and he escapes the law. John is on the same train, and barely escapes with his life. John also meets a Native American prisoner named Tonto (Johnny Depp), whose face is painted chalky white like death, and who wears a hat made out of a dead crow. Who is this guy? And why is he also captive in the same train car as Cavendish? It’s never really clear why he’s chained up beside the outlaw in the first place.

MA:  And that’s a problem—one of many—that this movie has.  There are a bunch of things that are never clearly explained.

LS:  In a really good movie, I don’t feel the need to have everything explained to me. The problem is, this is not a really good movie.

Anyway, Tonto also gets away after Sheriff Dan and his boys stop the runaway train (which was sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang).

John insists on going along with brother Dan and his men, and Dan deputizes John for the job (even though, John, stupidly, refuses to carry a gun – this is the wild west after all).

MA:  I liked the fact that John refused to carry a gun.  But this disdain for firearms doesn’t last throughout the whole story, which is too bad.  I seem to remember that Lone Ranger fought his battles without guns, but maybe I’m wrong.  I think he didn’t shoot to kill, that’s what it was.  I think he tries to shoot to kill in this movie, but he’s such a bad shot it doesn’t matter.

Have I said yet that I thought this movie was stupid?

LS:  No, but I’ll say it as well. It’s stupid and a waste of time!  Now let me get back to my plot summary so we can finish this review and enjoy our train ride.

The good guys track down the outlaws and there’s an ambush, where just about everyone is killed. Tonto arrives on the scene after the outlaws have taken off to bury the bodies, and ends up taking part in the strange resurrection of John Reid when a wild white stallion comes and stands by John’s grave.

MA:  Which is another thing that isn’t explained properly, how does Tonto get out of his prison cell and be free to discover John and the bodies of the slain rangers?

LS: I just stopped caring early on. Must have been some sort of magic, I suppose.

Revived from death (it’s never clear if he was every really dead), John seeks revenge on the men who killed his brother, with shaman-like Tonto at his side. Meanwhile, Cavendish and his men have teamed up with a corrupt railroad baron named Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who also has a U.S. Calvary captain, Jay Fuller, in his back pocket (Capt. Fuller seems to be an awful lot like historical figure, General George Custer). So it’s basically Reid and Tonto up against a whole bunch of corrupt individuals.

Oh yeah, and Tonto gets Reid to wear a mask that covers the top part of his face, because the bad guys think he’s dead. I’m not sure why this matters. If people think he’s dead, wouldn’t it be scarier if he didn’t wear the mask? Wasn’t it Batman who said something about striking fear in the hearts of criminals? I guess the Lone Ranger missed that lecture.

This one is directed by Gore Verbinski, who also collaborated with Johnny Depp on the wildly popular PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN films.

I have to admit, I really didn’t find a lot about this movie to like. One of my biggest problems is its length. At 149 minutes, THE LONE RANGER is just about two and a half hours long. And with the exception of the train being sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang early on, the first two hours crawled at a snail’s pace for me. I didn’t care about these characters, and there are long stretches were nothing seems to happen but backstory, and I found myself struggling to stay awake a few times. Hell, let me be honest, I was bored out of my skull for most of the running time! This is pretty odd, considering THE LONE RANGER is a big budget action blockbuster. The key word being ACTION. There didn’t seem to be an awful lot of action for most of the movie. In the last half hour or so, things suddenly get interesting again, and we get treated to some major action and happenings, but it takes us about two hours to get there! What the hell was Verbinski thinking?

You can’t make an action movie where it doesn’t really hit its stride until the last half hour!

MA:  True, but I had many more problems with this movie than just its lack of action.  I didn’t even like the action sequence at the end, even though parts of it are pretty cool.

LS:  There’s also a framing story that involves a young boy, Will (Mason Cook) who is visiting a wild west show in 1930s San Francisco and who comes across a very old Tonto, who seems to be living in one of the exhibits (called “The Noble Savage in his Native Habitat”). Tonto then tells the story of the movie as an extended flashback. I normally hate framing devices, and this one didn’t change my mind. I have no clue why so many directors love the idea of having framing scenes at the beginning and end of movies of characters who are telling us the tale in flashback. Just start things off with a bang with the actual movie, for chrissakes!

MA:  I hated this framing story.  It gets the movie off to such a slow start, which as you said, in terms of pacing, the film never really recovers from, and every time they return to this framing story, all it succeeds in doing is slowing things down even more.  They could have cut all these scenes and easily shaved 20 minutes of the running time.

LS: They could have cut a lot more than that.

Things don’t get interesting until two hours into the movie, and by then I had pretty much given up on it as a long, drawn-out, snooze. Armie Hammer has about the same charisma as a mannequin here, which is too bad, because he’s normally not a bad actor.

But, really, there aren’t many characters worth caring about in this movie.

MA:  By far, the character of The Lone Ranger was the worst part of this movie for me.  It wasn’t so much Hammer’s performance, although I agree with you he has no charisma here and isn’t interesting, but the way writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio constructed the character.  He’s pretty much a joke in this movie, and as a fan of the character, this new interpretation left me feeling very disappointed.  He’s kind of a bumbling goofball which isn’t the way I remember the character at all.  What these folks did to the Lone Ranger reminds me of what Johnny Depp did to Barnabas Collins in last year’s DARK SHADOWS remake.

LS: All I can say is, don’t hold any shows or movies from your childhood too sacred, because someone is going to come along and screw them up for a new audience eventually. It’s only a matter of time.

MA: I liked Hammer at the beginning, and I liked how John Reid was this innocent lawyer who didn’t really understand the workings of the Wild West, but after his brother is murdered, I expected him to change, to have a revelation and come back as an avenging force.  But this isn’t what happens.  He becomes sillier.  It just rubbed me the wrong way.

LS:  You would think that Depp took the role of Tonto as some meaningful attempt to tell the true story of Native Americans in the old West, but his performance isn’t that insightful. His Tonto is really little more than comic relief.

MA:  I actually didn’t have a problem with Depp’s performance here, and I liked him much better as Tonto than as Barnabas Collins.  I thought he was pretty funny throughout THE LONE RANGER.  He’s certainly the dominating character in the movie.

But you know what’s wrong with this?  The movie isn’t called TONTO.  It’s called THE LONE RANGER.  The way this entire story is presented in this movie is a real mess.  I kept thinking, why make a movie about the Lone Ranger if you really didn’t want to focus on the guy? Because that’s what’s going on here.  He’s simply not the main focus of the story, which makes no sense to me.  I mean, his friggin brother gets murdered in front of him.  He has all the reason in the world to become this really interesting dynamic character, but instead he acts like a buffoon.

LS: I agree.

MA: And even though he is a buffoon he’s not funny.  He’s actually the straight man to Depp’s Tonto.  Hey, let’s make a LONE RANGER movie and cast Jerry Lewis as Tonto and Dean Martin as The Lone Ranger.  Actually, Martin would have made a more interesting Lone Ranger than Armie Hammer, even if he sang a few songs.

LS:  I always liked Dean Martin, and he was in some westerns when he was alive. Believe me, he would have been an improvement. But Jerry Lewis as Tonto? Sadly, this isn’t too far from that.

I also found things like a running gag where people keep asking the Lone Ranger “What’s with the mask?” to be pretty useless.

William Fichtner, who is usually pretty good, starts out pretty well as Cavendish, who has a harelip that reveals a silver tooth, and who isn’t adverse to eating human flesh now and again, but it’s not long before he turns into just another one-dimensional bad guy (actually, he’s little more than a henchman for Latham Cole, which is really too bad).

MA:  I liked Fichtner well enough, but the problem with his character is, they make him really evil early on— he actually eats a guy’s heart, for crying out loud!— but this is a Disney movie, and so he can’t get progressively more evil as he normally would in a well written movie, which means he gets stuck with nothing to do because if he did anything, it would probably be too horrifying for a Disney flick.

LS: Agreed. They painted themselves in a corner with that one. Cavendish gets less scary as the movie goes on, not more.

Tom Wilkinson is okay as railroad baron Latham Cole, but the problem is we’ve seen this character—or ones just like him—in dozens of movies before, and Cole just doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Another corrupt businessman in the early days of the railroad? Haven’t those been done to death by now?

MA (yawns):   I’ll say.

LS:  Helena Bonham Carter, as a brothel madam named Red, has some inspired moments, with her colorful clothes and a prosthetic leg made out of scrimshaw (and that doubles as a gun!), but she’s not in the movie enough to keep the boredom from setting in for long stretches. The scenes she’s in, though, are improved by her being there.

MA:  I agree.  Not that I really liked her character, but she was far less boring than most of the other folks in it.

I liked Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid.  I thought she was sufficiently sexy and voluptuous.  I wish her character had been more important in this movie.  It would have been nice to see her do more.

LS: Yes, she’s completely wasted. She might as well have been part of the scenery.

You know…I just really hated this movie!

MA:  I started out liking it— once it got past its silly framing story— but as it went on it gradually went downhill for me until, like you, I ended up not liking it at all.

LS:  It was overlong, boring, and had characters that did not keep me interested. What little action there is, mostly amounting to a big chase involving locomotives, comes too little too late, and I felt like I was being tortured for most of the movie’s running time.

How can you mess up a mindless action movie? By trying to give it more smarts than it really has, and by dwelling way too long on aspects of the story that just aren’t that interesting. Oh yeah, and forgetting to put enough ACTION into the damn thing.

Depp’s version of Tonto is just another in a long line of eccentric characters, like Captain Jack Sparrow. Between one-liners, mugging for the camera, and pretending to feed bird seed to the dead crow he wears on his head, this Tonto comes off more as a silly jester than an attempt to provide a realistic Native American character from this era. Tonto is humorous enough – not anywhere near as irritating as Depp’s take on Barnabas Collins—but he’s certainly not some great, iconic character here, either.

Armie Hammer plays Reid/the Lone Ranger as a one-dimensional good guy, which might have worked in the 1950s, but who just seems superficial and dull today.

MA:  I don’t even think he would have worked in the 1950s, unless he was co-starring with The Three Stooges, maybe.

LS:  I give the movie half a knife, for the half hour at the end when THE LONE RANGER finally remembers it’s supposed to be an action film. And for the times—which couldn’t have been more than once or twice—when Tonto elicited a chuckle from me. But overall, I had no use for this movie and considered it a waste of two and a half hours of my life.


What did you think, Michael?

MA: That’s it? What do I think? Where’s the falling chunk of mountain to conk me on the skull? Or maybe the train will suddenly derail and cut me in half.

LS: You’re being paranoid, my friend. There are no surprises planned for you. It’s just two guys sitting around with drinks, discussing a movie.

MA: It’s never just two guys sitting around discussing a movie with us— I don’t get it.

LS: Look, the movie this time was so awful, I figure I’d make the review as painless as possible. Why do we need gags, when the movie itself is a joke?

MA: Well I certainly agree with that.  And I can’t say that I’m disappointed.  I’d rather finish this review than be sidetracked thinking of ways to get you back.

I didn’t like THE LONE RANGER either.  I also didn’t really like the last half hour.  I’ll admit, the concluding action sequence at times is pretty impressive, and reminded me of some of the action sequences in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but you know what really ruined it for me?  The music.

The film actually has a decent score by Hans Zimmer, a guy who has an incredible list of credits.   He just did the music for MAN OF STEEL (2013), and he wrote the scores for THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, to name just a few.

And his score here for THE LONE RANGER is also very good, but in this concluding sequence, they finally introduce the William Tell Overture, the classic piece of music that used to accompany the old Lone Ranger TV show, and the radio show before that.  So, I guess they had to put it in the movie, but man, it seems way out of place.  It just makes things so silly.  I almost expected the action to switch gears and be shot in fast motion here.

Did I say this movie was silly?

That’s the biggest problem I had with THE LONE RANGER.  It’s way too silly.  I saw this film over the July 4th holiday with a bunch of family members, and they all loved it, and they told me one reason they liked it was it was so funny, but I tried to explain that there’s a difference between funny and silly.  Johnny Depp as Tonto was funny.  But the rest of the film was goofy, and to me, it ruined the character of the Lone Ranger.

(LS calls the WAITER over)

LS: We’re almost done with our review here. How about bringing over the special drinks.

WAITER: Of course, sir.

MA: Special drinks?

LS: Do go on.

MA: I liked how this one opened.  I liked the ambush scene.  I liked how villainous Butch Cavendish cuts out Dan Reid’s heart and eats it.  This was some potent stuff.  I expected the Lone Ranger to become this really cool character after this, to avenge the death of his brother.

Granted, I wasn’t expecting an R rated action film, but I was expecting a PG-13 rip rousing action adventure that had me cheering, not groaning.  Not cringing, or wincing, or otherwise rolling my eyes in disgust.

It’s obvious they were going for a repeat of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN formula.  Now, Johnny Depp did his part, creating a rather memorable Tonto, but unlike Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES movies, Tonto is not the main character here.  He can’t carry the movie.

And in PIRATES you had Orlando Bloom as a rather serious character who offset and gave balance to Depp’s shenanigans as Jack Sparrow.  You don’t have that balance here in THE LONE RANGER.  You have Armie Hammer doing his best Zeppo Marx impersonation.  Which Marx Brother is Zeppo?  Exactly!  He’s the one no one remembers!

I liked the ambush scene, I thought Johnny Depp was enjoyable as Tonto, but that’s it. The rest of the film I found to be a foolish goofy mess that I wish I hadn’t seen.

I give it one and a half knives.

WAITER:  Here are your drinks.

MA:  Thanks.

LS:  Drink up. A toast to making it through this one alive. Or rather, awake.

MA: (looks at glass) What is this, anyway?  There’s something moving in my drink.  Is that a scorpion?

LS:  Haven’t you ever had a scorpion bowl before?

MA:  Yeah, but they’ve never had real live scorpions in them!

LS:  This is the wild west.  Be a man! Chug it!  It’ll put hair on your chest!

MA:  I’ll pass. Waiter, another glass of ale, please.

LS: (drinks his glass, and pushes a scorpion leg back inside his mouth):  Mmmm. You don’t know what you’re missing.


© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE LONE RANGER ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives THE LONE RANGER ~ half a knife.


Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Ghosts!, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Johnny Depp Movies, Paranormal, ROBOTS!, Samurais, Superheroes, Supernatural, Westerns with tags , , , , on July 5, 2013 by knifefighter

JULY 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The wild west.  A group of masked OUTLAWS on horseback wait by a train track.  A train whistle shrieks in the distance.)

OUTLAW #1:  Here she comes.  Right on time.

OUTLAW #2:  I can’t wait to see the look on the conductor’s face when our man Willoughby guts him like a pig!  (snorts and spits tobacco).

(Train approaches.)

OUTLAW #2: Here she comes.  Look fast for Willoughby!

(The outlaws hoot and holler as they see Willoughby with a knife to the conductor’s throat. 

OUTLAW #2:  Stick him, Willoughby!  Stick him!

OUTLAW #3 (points):  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is that?

(A man in black appears behind Willoughby and pummels the outlaw over the head with a sledge hammer.  The man in black faces the camera— it is L.L. SOARES.  He continues to pummel Willoughby with the sledgehammer, stopping only to give the outlaws on horseback the finger.)

OUTLAW #1:  What the—?

OUTLAW #2 (points):  Lookee there

(MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed in white with a white 10 gallon hat, walks on the roof of the train.  He smiles for the camera and lifts a submachine gun which he uses to blow away the outlaws on horseback in one swift sweep.)

(Dissolve to the train station)

CONDUCTOR:  That was friggin amazing!!!  Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping the Whippersnapper gang.  That was terrific!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shucks, it was nothing.  What we’re really good at is reviewing movies.

CONDUCTOR:  You don’t say?

L.L. SOARES:  He does say!

MA: In fact, right now, we’re about to do our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, where we preview the movies we’ll be seeing in the month ahead; in this case, July!

CONDUCTOR:  You guys are better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

MA:  That remains to be seen, but wouldn’t you know it, our first movie in July, opening on July 3, is THE LONE RANGER (2013), Disney’s big budget production, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Lone-Ranger-PosterNow, as much as I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger character, going back to my days as a kid when I used to watch reruns of the old LONE RANGER TV show from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto— I even had a Lone Ranger toy— I simply wasn’t all that excited about this movie.

LS: Hey, I remember that old TV show, too!

MA: I used to be a big fan of Johnny Depp, and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but lately I just haven’t been into his roles as much.  His Barnabas Collins in the recent DARK SHADOWS (2012) disaster may have been the last straw.  So, the idea of seeing Depp play Tonto does nothing for me.

Now, all this being said, I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the trailers for this one, and although I won’t go so far to say that I’m looking forward to it, I will say that I’m not dreading seeing THE LONE RANGER as much as I was a few months ago.

It’s directed by Gore Verbinski, by the way, the guy who directed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, as well as American remake of THE RING (2002).

LS:  Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m a Johnny Depp fan from way back, in the days when he mostly appeared in independent movies. I understand him going for the big bucks now that the first PIRATES movie made him a bankable star, but I haven’t been excited to see a movie starring him in a long time. And yeah, DARK SHADOWS was pretty horrible.

The trailers for LONE RANGER don’t look completely awful. I’ll certainly go in hoping it’s a decent movie. But I don’t have a lot of hope.

On July 12 we’ll be reviewing PACIFIC RIM (2013).  This is one of the movies I’ve been wanting to see most this year. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies, among others, this one has real potential. And what a cool cast. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, even Charlie Day from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

Pacific-Rim-movie-bannerPACIFIC RIM looks like a cross between TRANSFORMERS and CLOVERFIELD, as giant monsters rise up from the Pacific ocean to terrorize mankind, so the humans build giant robots to fight them. If anyone else made this movie, I’d think it was a pretty goofy idea, but with del Toro involved, I think it has a real shot at being an enjoyable flick, and smarter than it sounds. At least I hope so. Like CLOVERFIELD, it looks like it’s trying to make giant monsters scary again.

MA:  You have more faith in this one than I do, and you know what?  I hope you’re right!  Because I would be really into a cool giant monster movie!

But for me, the problem is the trailers just remind me too much of the TRANSFORMERS movies, and that’s not a good thing.  But like you said, del Toro’s involvement should lift this one to a higher level, and I certainly like that Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are in the cast, but I’m guessing in a movie like this, they probably don’t have large roles.

I just think this one’s going to be a monstrous flop.

LS:  Oh, give it a chance! It might surprise you.

MA:  I hope so.  I certainly would be happy if this one turned out to be more like CLOVERFIELD than TRANSFORMERS, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  The horror movie THE CONJURING opens on July 19, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo.  This could be interesting, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a pair of paranormal experts who investigate a haunted house where Lili Taylor lives with her kids.

The-ConjuringMA:  I’m sorry I’m going to miss this one.  The trailers look really creepy, and it’s directed by James Wan, who directed one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years, INSIDIOUS (2010), a movie that I like even more now than when I first saw it a couple of years ago.

I also like the cast, led by Patrick Wilson, who played the dad in INSIDIOUS, and Vera Farmiga, who’s currently starring as Norman Bates’s mother on the TV show BATES MOTEL.

LS: Yeah, I enjoyed the first season of BATES MOTEL, and I’m a big Farmiga fan.

MA: We finish July with THE WOLVERINE (2013), which opens on July 26.  Now, I’m a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies, and I like the character of the Wolverine a lot, and I especially enjoy Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-MEN movies, so why aren’t I all that excited about this one?

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-2-For one thing, the title is about as blah as you can get:  THE WOLVERINE, especially considering the title of the last Wolverine movie, X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009).  Here’s a look at some future titles as the series continues:  THIS WOLVERINE, THAT WOLVERINE, WTF WOLVERINE, and THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINE

There you go.

It’s directed by James Mangold, who directed the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2009), a movie I liked a lot. 

I’m not all that excited about THE WOLVERINE, but strangely, I am looking forward to seeing it.

LS:  Yeah, I’m a Wolverine fan from way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were the creative team on The Uncanny X-Men comic books. So it’s cool to see the character doing so well in movies. However, while he’s been good in the X-MEN movies, I wasn’t a big fan of his last solo outing in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, which I felt was kind of a misfire.

MA:  I actually liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. 

LS:  You would!

Hopefully James Mangold can get the character back on track. This adventure takes him to Japan, where the character had a lot of storylines in the comics. There’s been a kind of “modern samurai” take on Wolverine for a long time, and I’ll be curious to see how this translates to film.

But man, you’re right, that title is incredibly lame.

MA:  And that wraps things up for July.  (turns to Train Conductor)  So, how did we do?

TRAIN CONDUCTOR:  A very entertaining column.  But I still wish you’d consider catching outlaws on a full time basis.

MA: Sorry.  No can do.   We have too many movies to review.

LS:  And I have a new novel to write.

MA:  Me, too.

LS:  A writer’s job is never done.

(MA & LS ride off into the sunset).


SHERIFF:  Who were those masked men?

CONDUCTOR:  Sheriff, those men were Cinema Knife Fighters, the toughest, meanest, sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi.  And when they’re not hunting down outlaws, they review movies.

SHERIFF:  What’s a movie?


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Alien Worlds, Based on TV Show, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, JJ Abrams, Plot Twists, Science Fiction, Space, The Future with tags , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2013 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

0506100402startrekintodarkness (THE SCENE: The vastness of space. Drifting among the stars, we see the space ship the U.S.S. Enterprise. Camera moves in closer, and then we find ourselves on the bridge. L.L. SOARES is dressed in a gold shirt, sitting at the control chair, while MICHAEL ARRUDA stands nearby, wearing a blue shirt and pointy rubber ears)

LS: Engines full thrust. We have to get to Jupiter by dinnertime.

MA: Flying a starship in search of food is highly illogical.

LS:  Hey!  Stop taking your role too seriously!

MA:  Well, perhaps if I were playing Captain Kirk right now, and you were Mr. Spock, you could handle things differently.

LS:  No way.  I should be Kirk.  I’m the captain. Stop whining, Spock. You’re supposed to be cold and logical.

MA:  It’s illogical to assume that you would play the captain and I the first officer based on—.

LS:  There you go again! Stop with the logic crap!

MR. SULU: Gentlemen, can you please stop your bickering and review the new STAR TREK movie already?

MA: Sure. Why don’t you start us off, Captain.

LS: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is the new movie in the Star Trek franchise by director J.J. Abrams, who gave us such previous films as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) and SUPER 8 (2011), as well as television shows like ALIAS and LOST.

His previous Trek film, simply called STAR TREK (2009), was something of a calculated risk. By rebooting the original series with a new generation of actors, Abrams somehow was able to give us a movie that could please both original fans and people who were new to the franchise. While it had its flaws, I thought Abrams’ STAR TREK was a pleasant surprise, and the casting of younger actors to play these characters was pretty good.

MA:  I agree.  As a fan of the original series—the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and company remains my favorite—I had my doubts about the 2009 film, but it was just good enough for me to put aside my affection  for the 1960s TV show and buy into what J.J. Abrams was selling.

I liked the alternate universe idea in that film very much, in that it allowed Abrams to basically play with the characters and stories in a way that would be refreshing and new, and hardcore fans wouldn’t be able to complain about things being “changed” since in this parallel universe things are expected to be changed.

It was a brilliant plot device, and Abrams uses it to full effect here in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

LS:  In this first sequel by Abrams, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS brings back Chris Pine as Starfleet Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the character made famous by William Shatner in the original Trek series in the 1960s, and Zachary Quinto as his First Officer Mr. Spock, the role originally made famous by Leonard Nimoy.

MA:  And once again, they are both excellent in these roles, which is a key reason I’ve enjoyed these new STAR TREK movies.  The cast, especially Pine and Quinto, is very good.

LS:  The new movie starts with a bang as Kirk and his ship’s doctor, “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) are running through an alien red forest, being pursued by eerie, white-painted primitives, as an active volcano is on the verge of erupting them in the background.

MA:  Great opening scene.  A rousing way to start the movie.

LS:  They are there to prevent the volcano from killing all life on the planet, and giving the inhabitants a second chance to advance as a species. During this cultural rescue mission, however, Kirk has to make a desperate decision when Spock’s life is put in danger, and makes a choice that puts him in hot water with his superiors back on Earth. As a result, Kirk and Spock are both demoted, and Kirk is “relieved of duty” as captain of the Enterprise.

But, as any fan of the series knows, this won’t last long. And while Kirk accompanies the  Enterprise’s new captain (and the guy who was in charge of it before him), Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to a meeting of Starfleet elite, they are attacked by a man in a small, but heavily-armed ship, which results in several casualties. Kirk is called upon to hunt the murderer down, and in the process gets reinstated as Captain of the Enterprise (and Spock is reinstated as his First Officer).

Along for the ride are the usual cast of characters, including Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana from AVATAR, 2009) , who is also Spock’s girlfriend; Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg from SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004), John Cho (Harold from the HAROLD AND KUMAR movies) as Mr. Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Russian crewmember Chekov (Yelchin was also in movies like the FRIGHT NIGHT remake from 2011, that you liked a lot, Michael, and TERMINATOR SALVATION, 2009). There’s also a new crew member, Carol (Alice Eve) who looks great in her underwear and who just happens to be the daughter of Commander Marcus (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP himself back in 1987), the man who sent Kirk and his crew out to get the murderous bad guy dead or alive, preferably dead. This is former Starfleeter James Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who you can also see as the Necromancer in the recent HOBBIT films) who just happens to really be a classic villain from the original TV series using an assumed name.

MA:  Carol Marcus is the character from STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) who, as was revealed in that movie, is the mother of Kirk’s son.  So, we know where this relationship will go.  Then again, it’s a parallel universe, so maybe we don’t know.  Perhaps this time around she’ll end up with Dr. McCoy.

(Door slides open and DR. MCCOY enters the bridge.)

MCCOY:  Dammit, Jim!  Why is that Dr. Marcus always parading around in her underwear?  The crew’s distracted!  We can’t get anything done!

LS:  Maybe I should go down there and settle things down.

MA:  No, captain, you’re needed here on the bridge.  I’ll go.

LS:  Shut up, Spock!  I’m the captain!  I make the decisions! It’s only logical!

SULU:  Don’t you both have to stay here to finish the review?

LS:  Dammit.  He’s right.  McCoy, you’re just going to have to handle things yourself.

MCCOY:  Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a customer in a strip club!  But if someone has to lay down the law, quiet the crowd, and set that woman straight, it might as well be me.  (checks his wallet) I think I have just enough for a lap dance. (Smiles devilishly and exits.)


MA:  Moving right along.

As far as the baddie in this one being a classic villain from the original show—.

LS:  Shh! No spoilers here!

MA:  I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but carry on.  I’ll comment on this later.

LS:  Along the way, Kirk and his crew are used by villains on both sides as the Enterprise tracks Harrison down to a supposedly uninhabited area on the planet Cronos, which also happens to be the homeworld of the warlike Klingons.

Can Kirk bring Harrison to justice without setting off an intergalactic war? You’re going to have to see INTO DARKNESS to find out.

Like Abrams’ first TREK film, I found this one likable enough. Everyone is good in their roles, even if they can’t be developed anywhere near as in-depth as they were in a weekly TV series. In a way, a lot of these characters seem more like recognizable nationalities and familiar catch-phrases from the past than real people. And while I like the new cast, I don’t think they’re half as good as the originals.

MA:  I would have to agree with you here, but in the new cast’s defense, they’ve only been together for two movies, where the original cast starred in 79 episodes.  They had more practice.

But that being said, I prefer the original cast, too.

LS:  Also, the plot of this one is a little convoluted at times. At 132 minutes, it’s a little long, and they take their sweet time revealing who bad guy Harrison really is (see if you figure it out way before the big revelation, like I did). Also, there are lots of scenes, especially in the middle, that just seem like a lot of loud noises and giant spaceships and not a lot of substance.

MA:  Yeah, it’s a little long.  I didn’t mind the revelation about the villain coming later in the film though.  It added a nice boost to the movie, and I liked this.

LS:  Yeah, it’s worth the wait. Toward the end, things get better, and I found myself caught up in some genuine suspense as Kirk tries to make the right moves in this gigantic game of chess. The movie goes out of its way to include inside information that will make hardcore fans of the series very happy, while drawing in a new generation of fans.

MA:  I agree again.  The film gets pretty suspenseful towards the end, and I was certainly caught up in it.

LS:  While I liked STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, I didn’t love it. It still seems like a pale imitation of the original 60s show, even if Abrams does give it a solid try. Then again, even the original cast had a hard time translating the best aspects of the television show into feature films. Of the original movies in the series with the original cast, the only one I ever liked a lot was STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), which is kind of significant, as that was the second film in the first franchise and INTO DARKNESS is the second film in Abrams’ reboot.

I thought there was a lot to like about the new STAR TREK film, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the series, but there was also something about it that left me cold. I can’t put my finger on it: it’s like there were all these bells and whistles, but it lacked real depth. Maybe if I didn’t grow up with the original show, I would feel differently, but I give the new movie three knives. It’s well made and capable, things we’ve come to expect from Abrams, but I guess I didn’t walk away from it as emotionally satisfied as I thought I would be.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I liked it a lot too, but like you, I didn’t love it.  It’s kinda how I felt about the first one, and I think it’s because I like the original series so much.  I know my teenage sons love these new movies more than I do, and I’m sure it’s because I’m a bigger fan of the 60s show than they are.

One difference between these new films and the original series that I have trouble getting past—although it’s not necessarily a bad thing—is that these films are much more action oriented.  In terms of cinematic entertainment, that’s fine. It’s probably why they’re so successful.  They’re slick, they’ve got great special effects, and they’ve got some cool action scenes.  I can’t deny that I like this.

For example, the chase near the end where Spock pursues Harrison is one exciting sequence.  It’s as riveting as anything you’d see in a James Bond movie.  I don’t think the previous STAR TREK movies could make this claim.  So, in terms of cinema, this is a good thing.

But in terms of STAR TREK, it troubles me.  Gene Roddenberry’s vision of STAR TREK was science fiction based, and it was a forum where he hoped to explore social issues of the day but in a science fiction format.  This new TREK is much more action oriented than any STAR TREK before it.

LS: Yeah, I think you’ve touched upon my problem with it, too. There’s a lot of action, and Abrams is great at that. But there’s only enough time to delve into the characters in a superficial way, by playing on personality traits we know all too well. And that wasn’t enough for me. The original series was more about ideas, and the new series is more about dazzling us with action and explosions.

MA: Exactly. While I’m not necessarily knocking this, there are times where I wish the action would just slow down and take a back seat to some ideas.  It would also help us get to know these characters more.  I can’t fault Abrams for this, really, as even the original STAR TREK films edged towards action.  After all, the STAR TREK film which Roddenberry had the most control of, the first one, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) had no action at all and for most viewers was boring, although I do like this movie a lot, believe it or not.

LS: I remember being pretty disappointed with that one when it first came out, which is why WRATH OF KHAN, the film that came after that one, was such a big deal. It felt more like the original show, and had a great villain, which STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE lacked.

MA: I agree.  I was disappointed with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE when it first came out as well, but over the years, it’s really grown on me.


Getting back to today’s movie, although I prefer the original cast, I do like this cast a lot.  Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy might be my favorite.  He nails the character, and he reminds me so much of DeForest Kelley it’s uncanny.

LS: Yeah, he’s great. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s since way back when he played Julius Caesar on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

I also really liked Zoe Saldana as Uhura. She’s a strong woman and is given some significant things to do this time around. Although I didn’t believe her relationship with Spock for a minute – and thought it was one of the few missteps here.

MA:  Yeah, they don’t exactly share much onscreen chemistry.  I’m not sure a love story involving a Vulcan is such a hot idea.

LS:  And Simon Pegg as Scotty is another big highlight. He’s a scene-stealer here.

MA: The same can be said for Zachary Quinto as Spock.  And while there’s nothing wrong with Chris Pine as Kirk—in fact, he’s very, very good—he has the most difficult job of the entire cast.  He’s sitting in William Shatner’s captain’s chair, which is no easy task.  Shatner is just one of those larger than life personas.  He’s hard to replace.

LS: I agree with you. They all have big shoes to fill, and do a very good job. Whoever did the casting for these movies did a terrific job. And I do think Pine has the hardest job. Shatner was one of a kind.

(Door slide open and WILLIAM SHATNER steps onto the bridge.)

SHATNER:  I am— Kirk.  Did you hear me, Spock?  I— am Kirk.

MA:  Are you talking to me?  I’m not really Spock.  I’m just playing him for purposes of this—.

LS: Hell, Arruda doesn’t even look like a convincing Spock…

SHATNER (ignoring them):  To be first, to be the original, it’s all part of the human condition.  It’s what makes us— human, Spock, what gives us our identities.  We are unique.  We are hu-man.

LS:  What the hell is he talking about?

SHATNER:  What the hell are you doing in my chair, Picard?

LS:  Picard?  I’m Kirk.

SHATNER:  You have no hair.  How can you be Kirk?

MA:  He makes a good point.

SULU:  Gentlemen, the review, please?

MA (to Shatner):  Don’t you have some green women to chase?

LS: Or girls with tails.

By the way, Captain, you should see the new Carol Marcus in her underwear.  She’s hot.  And, she’s on Deck 9 right now. If you want, I could go check on her while you resume your captain duties…

SHATNER: Deck 9 you say? On second thought, as you were, gentlemen,. You’re doing a fine job.

(SHATNER exits without another word.)

MA:  Where was I?  The cast.

The rest of the cast is fun as well, and probably what I like most about this cast is that they succeed in capturing the essence and spirit of the original characters without coming off as caricatures.  I never feel as if they’re trying to impersonate the characters.  They make them their own.

LS: I don’t know. It’s not their fault, but there’s so little time here for character development among all the giant space ships firing at each other and buildings crashing. Sometimes they do come off as caricatures. But it’s not their fault. A movie that really explored each of the main characters’ personalities would run about five hours.

MA: I hear you, but a lesser cast would make it seem more obvious, I think.

I also thought Benedict Cumberbatch made a nice baddie here.  He was very convincing and was a formidable foe for Kirk and company.

LS: Yeah, at first he seems kind of like a cold fish, but as we get to know him, he’s a pretty strong bad guy.

MA: Again, the parallel universe concept worked for me here, although there were times in the movie where I wasn’t so sure.  For example, regarding the true identity of the villain, at first, I liked this, but then, when I saw where the plot was going, involving a certain sacrifice by a key character, I thought it was too soon in this new series for something so dramatic.  I mean, these characters haven’t been together for as long as the original characters had been together when a similar event occurred in one of the STAR TREK movies.  But then, the writers saved the day by tweaking this event yet again, and by the time it was said and done, I liked it.

LS: Yeah, one thing about this movie, I thought, was that it all comes together by the end. The way things are resolved make sense based on information that came earlier. It’s well thought out at least. Even if it does tie up loose ends a little too neatly.

MA: Which is a roundabout way of saying I think the writers—Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof—do a great job here.  They successfully breathe new life into classic characters and situations, and change just enough to keep things interesting without ruining the history from the older series and movies.  That’s no easy task.

LS: Like I said, it’s a formula meant to please old fans and new. Which is why these movies work so well.

MA: I liked the new-look Klingons, although I did wonder why they looked different.  I guess it’s all part of the parallel universe, but I’m not quite sure how the changes made in the first movie would affect the way the Klingons looked.

LS: They didn’t look that different.

MA: Really?  I thought they looked a lot different.

The special effects are also excellent.  There were some really cool shots of the ships, and I especially liked the shots where we see the ships first from the outside and then the camera tracks into a close-up of a crew member inside.  Those shots looked authentic, as if the camera was really filming the exterior of a real spaceship before zooming into a real person on the inside.  It was smooth and seamless.

I did see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS in 3D, it looked good, but again, I think it would look just as good in 2D, and it’s cheaper.

LS: Yeah, I saw it in 2D and it was fine. I doubt it lost much of its spectacle, and I’m just sick of paying extra for 3D effects that are almost always disappointing.

MA: All in all, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is a very entertaining movie.   It’s sure to satisfy fans of the series, and it’s good enough to please folks who aren’t familiar with STAR TREK as well.

I also give it three knives.

LS:  Perfect timing.  We’ve reached Jupiter.  Okay, Spock, you can have the captain’s chair now while I beam down for dinner. I’ve got a couple of gals from Ganymede waiting for me.

MA: Oh, that’s what the hurry was about. Do they have tails, by any chance?

LS: Actually, they do.

MA:  Well, I’m feeling a bit hungry myself (takes off pointy ears). I think I’ll join you. We’re done here anyway, and I’m done with this character.

LS: Sorry, three’s company, four’s a crowd. You’re no fun. I thought you’d be happy to be Spock!

MA (lifts hand and separates fingers in Vulcan greeting):  Live long, and prosper.

LS:  Gee, thanks.

MA:  That was for the rest of the crew.  This gesture’s for you.  (Flips him the bird.)

LS:  No, you’re doing it wrong.  It’s like this.  (Uses both hands to make an even more violently obscene gesture to MA.)

SULU (turns to camera and rolls his eyes):  It was never like this in the old days.


© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

LL Soares gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~three knives.

Michael Arruda gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~ three knives, too!


Posted in 2012, Based on TV Show, British, Comedies, Exotic Locales, LL Soares Reviews, R-Rated Comedy, Sex Comedies with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L. L. Soares

THE INBETWEENERS was a British TV show that aired from 2008 – 2010. It’s about four high-school age guys who are trying to get laid, basically. The new British movie version of THE INBETWEENERS is much of the same. Not that it’s all that original a concept. Here in America, we’ve had our share of like-minded movies like the PORKY’S series in the 1980s and the AMERICAN PIE films (from 1999 through several sequels, including this year’s AMERICAN REUNION). But hey, what the hell. We’ve copied enough British shows over the years. In fact, MTV currently has an Americanized version of THE INBETWEENERS as part of their new television line-up.

The clips I’ve seen of the British version of the TV show look pretty funny, but I can’t say the same about THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE (made in 2011, but now showing in theaters in America a year later). My biggest complaint about the movie is that it’s just not that funny. But more on that in a moment.

THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE gives us four misfits about to graduate the British equivalent of high school and heading off to “university.” They are Simon (Joe Thomas), a good-looking bloke who is obsessed with his girlfriend Carli (Emily Head); sleazy Jay  (James Buckley), who is obsessed with sex and always talking in innuendos, when he’s not lying about his “exploits;” dim bulb Neil (Blake Harrison) who is the only one of the four who has actually had sex with a girl, even though he’s clearly an idiot; and Will (Simon Bird), a very uptight, nerdy guy who looks like a young George Costanza with a British accent. He’s always overdressed and always looks uncomfortable. He’s also the funniest of the four.

When Simon and Carli break up because they’re going away to different schools, the other guys seek to cheer him up by bringing him on a fun summer getaway to the isle of Crete in Greece. Of course, all the guys can think about on their way there is sex, drinking, and more sex. But they’re so awkward, you know they aren’t going to be getting much action.

Early on, they meet a quartet of British girls in a (mostly abandoned) night club. Of course, as the movie goes on, the two groups will get closer, but it’s clear none of them are having the wild old time they expected, except for maybe Alison (Laura Haddock) who is having an affair with a Greek waiter named Nicos. But of course, before the guys can realize these are the girls they want to be with, they have to have lots of misadventures and there have to be several misunderstandings. Otherwise, this would be a short movie.

So we get lots of drunken escapades, and lots of missed opportunities with the opposite sex. There’s even some nudity (mostly the guys) along the way.

If a comedy is only as good as the amount of laughs it pulls out of you, then THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE isn’t much of a success. I only laughed a few times. Most of the jokes were either stuff I’ve seen before, or just not that funny, which is too bad, because these are talented guys.  I just think the script was rather weak.

The saving grace here– like most “bromance” comedies these days  –  is that the movie has heart. It may not be the funniest thing you’ll ever see, but some of the characters are likable enough. I especially liked Simon Bird as Will. He’s so obviously uncomfortable most of the time that you can practically feel it, but he’s also the most human of the four leads, and the most sympathetic. I actually found myself wishing the movie was more about him.

Blake Harrison as Neil is also pretty likable. Although he seems to have the best luck with girls (especially old biddies looking for some “young stuff”), he also seems to have the tiniest brain of the bunch, and runs around with spray-on tan for most of the movie. Jay (James Buckley) has his moments as well, but he is so sex-obsessed and pervy that he comes off as creepy at times. But hey, he’s a horny kid, so he’s supposed to be like that.

I actually liked Simon (Joe Thomas) the least of the bunch. All he talks about is his ex-girlfriend Carli and how he wants to get back together with her. While this is obviously the point, and he’s supposed to be annoying, especially when he goes on and on about Carli when he’s supposed to be paying attention to new girl Lucy (Tamla Kari), it just reaches a point where you want to knock him out and shut him up. He crosses the line from being funny to being downright annoying. He’s just a one-note character. Of course, his beloved Carli is in Crete on her holiday, too, and turns out to be kind of a bitch by the movie’s end.

The Inbetweeners are (from left to right): Simon (Joe Thomas), Will (Simon Bird), Neil (Blake Harrison) and Jay (James Buckley).

The girls come off better, even if they aren’t the main characters here. Laura Haddock as Alison, who I mentioned before, is a real highlight and her banter with Will is some of the best dialogue in the movie. And it’s interesting to see them get closer as the movie goes on, and she sees the real Will under all that awkwardness. Tamla Kari is cute and likable as Lucy. Jessica Knappett as Lisa isn’t given much to do while Neil chases after cougars (well, they’re a little old even for cougars), although, once we finally get to know her by the end, it turns out she’s as dim as he is (big surprise). And Lydia Rose Bewley is quite good as the overweight, self-deprecating Jane, who the obnoxious Jay slowly starts to warm up to, after first rejecting her.

The characters really aren’t that bad. It’s just that they’re not given an awful lot to do that’s all that interesting or funny. Writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley could have given us a punchier script. It would have been nice to have some real laughs here – and the attempts at outrageous humor (male nudity, etc.) just aren’t all that outrageous. The direction by Ben Palmer is adequate. He also directed the television show, so doing the movie wasn’t much of a stretch, especially since the movie doesn’t seem to really give us a lot more than we would have gotten on television.

I went into this one really hoping to have a good time, and I was ready to do a lot of laughing. But there were long waits between any really funny scenes, and I left feeling kind of cheated. I’m surprised this movie got released in American theaters, even if it’s in limited release, and I’m not sure if  it will win the characters any new fans. Maybe we should seek out the original TV show instead.

I give THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE  two knives. The characters are okay, but there are too few laughs.


© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE ~two knives.

Cinema Knife Fight Coming Attractions for SEPTEMBER 2012

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Based on a Video Game, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Science Fiction, The Future, Time Travel with tags , , , , , on September 7, 2012 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  A carnival.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are standing in front of various trick mirrors that make them look incredibly short, amazingly tall, exceedingly fat, and with humongous oversized heads.)

LS:  So, what’s with all the trick mirrors?  (looks at his reflection which gives him a huge head.)  Are you trying to tell me I have a big ego or something?

MA:  Too obvious.  No, these mirrors symbolize this September’s movies.

LS:  How do you figure?

MA: Well, there seems to be a lot of deceit and trickery in this month’s movies, so I thought this carnival would be the perfect setting to have us tell the folks what we’ll be reviewing in September.

LS:  Really?  Well, there’s no trickery in the month’s first offering, THE IN-BETWEENERS, which opens on September 7.  At least I don’t think so. It’s based on a British TV show, and is about four nerdy kids who will do anything to have sex while on vacation. It looks like it will try to push the envelope like the HANGOVER movies. I can’t really tell if it will be funny or just plain embarrassing. The teen protagonists look incredibly annoying.

MA:  I like British humor, and I’m looking forward to this one.  I’m just not sure how wide a release this one is getting, and so it may not be playing at a theater near me.

If this proves to be the case, I will most likely review something else, as there are a couple of other movies opening this weekend.

There’s THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, a new thriller starring Henry Cavill, the star of IMMORTALS (2011) and the next Superman in next year’s MAN OF STEEL, as a young man whose family is kidnapped while they’re on vacation, and he learns that his father (Bruce Willis) works for the CIA.  It doesn’t sound all that exciting to me, mostly because it doesn’t seem all that original.

The one thing that I am looking forward to regarding this one is that Sigourney Weaver is playing the villain, so that might be worth something.

It also has a pretty bad title.

The other film of interest that opens this weekend is the science fiction thriller BRANDED (2012), another conspiracy story, this one about a futuristic society in which people are deliberately brainwashed by product ads by an evil corporation, and one man’s attempts to buck the system and fight back.  This one stars Max Von Sydow as the baddie.  Could be good.  Could be unoriginal and uninspiring.

LS: I remember seeing the trailer for that awhile back. Once again, a movie that might be in limited release. I think I’d rather see BRANDED over THE IN-BETWEENERS. But I guess it’s possible we might see neither the weekend of September 7th. I’m getting sick of movies only being in limited release. So it may be a surprise which ones we end up reviewing this weekend.

I wonder how many movies we’ve announced in COMING ATTRACTIONS that we said we were going to review, but never did because the movies never played anywhere near us.

MA: I’d say quite a few.  It’s a pain.

On September 14, we’ll be reviewing the latest RESIDENT EVIL movie, RESIDENT EVIL:  RETRIBUTION (2012).  And it’s in 3D.  Oh joy!

While I like the RESIDENT EVIL movies, I’m hardly excited by them.  Why?  I find their stories to be a bit of a bore.  For instance, in this one, what do we have?  We have Alice (Milla Jovovich) once again fighting the evil Umbrella Corporation.  Ho hum.

Granted, Jovovich is very good in these movies, and she’s the main reason I like them, but she can only carry them so far.  The trailer for this one makes it seem like a rip-off of TOTAL RECALL as it goes on about everything she ever knew in her life being fake, an implanted memory, blah blah blah.

It’s written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.  This is the third RESIDENT EVIL movie he’s directed, and he’s written all five of them.

LS:  I remember liking the last one okay. That was in 3D, too. But it ended in such a blatantly obvious way—right in the middle of the story—that you knew a sequel was already in the works. Talk about flogging a dead horse. End this damn series already! It’s starting to get tedious. Even if I agree about Jovovich—she’s the only reason to see any of these movies—I really don’t understand why anyone continues to go see them.

MA:  On September 21, I’ll be reviewing DREDD (2012) solo, since L.L. will have that weekend off.  I can’t say that I’m looking forward to this one either, but it’s an action movie based on the comics’ character, so there’s hope for it I guess.  And not to be outdone by RESIDENT EVIL, it’s also coming to us in 3D!

It stars Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, and I have to admit I’ve enjoyed this guy’s performances in recent years.  He was excellent as Dr. McCoy in the J.J. Abrams reboot of STAR TREK (2009), and he was the only good thing in the awful horror movie PRIEST (2011) as he played the villain Black Hat.  So, if he’s allowed to act and not just be a special effect in one fight scene after another, this one just could be good after all.

LS:  I actually want to see DREDD, since the character (who originated in British comic book 2000 AD) is pretty cool. Unlike that lame Sylvester Stallone movie from the 80s. I bet you the new movie is a big improvement, if they stick to the source material. Maybe I’ll see it afterwards and provide a follow-up review to yours, if it’s worth seeing.

And then, on September 28, I’ll be reviewing LOOPER solo as it’s Michael’s turn to have the weekend off.  This one could be interesting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hit man who kills people for the future who are sent back in time for elimination. But what happens when the guy he’s supposed to kill is an older version himself? With Bruce Willis as Levitt’s older self. This might be one time travel flick worth seeing. I hope.

MA:  As much as I like time travel stories, based on the previews, this one doesn’t excite me, so I’m not unhappy I’ll be missing it.  I do enjoy Bruce Willis though, who seems to be popping up in a new movie every couple of weeks these days!  So maybe— maybe I’ll see this one afterwards and then write my own follow-up review to yours.

LS:  Copycat!

MA:  So, that wraps things up for the month of September.  Sadly, none of the movies this month do much for me.

LS:  Yeah, it’s sounds like a mediocre month at the movies.

MA:  Personally, I could be just as entertained by these goofy carnival mirrors.  And I wouldn’t have to pay extra for 3D glasses!

LS:  That’s just like you to suggest something boring and then think it’s fun!  What are you going to do?  Sit around here all day and watch people look at themselves in these mirrors?  That’s creepy!

MA:  No, what’s creepy is when someone looks into one of those mirrors and sees something they’re not expecting to see.  Hmm.  That gives me an idea.  (whispers in LS’ ear.)

(CUT TO: Several little kids laughing at their images in the carnival mirrors, but when they get to the fourth mirror, they scream and run away.  Camera reveals the mirror is missing, and in its place, in the center of the empty frame, stands LS in horror make-up with blood dripping from his lips.  Camera pulls back to see MA wearing a top hat and speaking into a megaphone.)

MA:  Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and see the hideous monster in the mirror.  More hideous than Freddy Krueger, scarier than a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie, one look and you’ll scream in terror!  (aside to camera) We have to earn a living somehow!


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Remote Outpost looks back at the original DARK SHADOWS

Posted in 1960s Horror, 1970s Movies, 2012, Based on TV Show, Classic TV Shows, Ghosts!, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Supernatural, Vampires, Werewolves, Witches with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2012 by knifefighter

Written by Mark Onspaugh

Welcome to Collinwood.

“You can’t watch everything.” – either Marshall McCluhan or George Orwell

The above quote, which is most certainly apocryphal, was especially true in the 1960s, when the only small screen was the television and there were no DVD’s, videotapes, bootlegs or endless carping by fans on websites.

I missed the original DARK SHADOWS (1966 – 1971), partially because I was in school and partially because I was oh-so-serious when it came to monsters, especially vampires and werewolves.  (Little did I know that twinkly vampires and basketball-playing werewolves were just down the road, so to speak.)  Shows weren’t endlessly promoted and marketed, because there was so little competition for certain shows, what with only three major networks and no cable.  Since I had no close friends who watched DS, I figured it was stuff meant more for my Mom, like ONE LIFE TO LIVE (1968 – 2012) and ALL MY CHILDREN (1970 – 2011) (two shows that had long lifespans before recently being canceled by ABC~editor).

DARK SHADOWS was the brainchild of Dan Curtis, who would later bring us such tasty fare as TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975), BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) and DEAD OF NIGHT (1977).  Curtis based the show on a dream he had about a mysterious woman on a train.  His TV track record was such that he was able to pitch that premise and sell it to ABC.

Initially, the show was about this young woman, named Victoria Winters, an orphan who becomes stranded in Collinsport, Maine, and ends up working for Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her brother Roger Collins.  The show had no supernatural elements, at first.  In fact, I was surprised to learn that Barnabas Collins did not appear for the first year of the series.  The series was labeled “slow,“ “a bore,” and “confusing” (actors would play multiple characters and also reappear in parallel timelines and flashbacks) by some critics.

The turning point came six months into the series, when ghosts were introduced.  Because the series appeared at a time when kids were getting home from school and moms were off making dinner (4pm Eastern), teens claimed it as their own, and it began dominating its timeslot, leading to cancellation of the original MATCH GAME and the variety show ART LINKLETTER’S HOUSE PARTY (both fare aimed at older viewers like Gramma, and your annoying Aunt Beatrice with the mustache and cheese breath).

The original cast of DARK SHADOWS.

Con-men come to Collinswood to search for the family jewels, and inadvertently release Barnabas Collins from imprisonment in a mausoleum.  Once Barnabas was introduced, the show would, in its five year run, also feature ghosts, werewolves, witches, warlocks, zombies,  monsters, time travel and a parallel universe.  (I missed a lot, it would seem!)

DARK SHADOWS had some notable cast members, all except Frid playing numerous roles of contemporary characters, ghosts, doppelgangers and ancestors.

Jonathan Frid, of course, played Barnabas Collins.  Frid died just this year, which is sad and ironic, as the movie version has just debuted.  Surely as iconic to television vampires as Lugosi was to movie vampires, Frid was a Canadian actor who did little beyond the DARK SHADOWS franchise.  As far as I can see, he did two other films, THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER (with Shelley Winters in 1973) and SEIZURE(1974).  Of  Barnabas, he said, “I love to play horror for horror’s sake. Inner horror… I mean, I never thought I created fear with the fang business of ‘ Barnabas.’ I always felt foolish doing that part of it. The horror part I like was ‘the lie’.”

Jonathan Frid, the original Barnabas Collins.

Joan Bennett (Elizabeth Stoddard Collins and several other Collins women) had a long and varied career in film and television, doing such diversely different projects as GIDGET GETS MARRIED (1972) and SUSPIRIA (1977).  (Note to self: remake of Suspiria with Gidget?)

David Selby (Quentin Collins, everyone’s favorite werewolf) did a lot of TV and found some happiness in nighttime soaps like FLAMINGO ROAD (1981-1982) and FALCON CREST (1982-1990). He was also in a movie based on a New York Post headline, HEADLESS BODY IN A TOPLESS BAR (1995).

David Selby as Quentin Collins. He needed a bit of a haircut when the full moon arose.

Grayson Hall (Dr. Julia Hoffman) also did a lot of TV work including NIGHT GALLERY (1970) and the TV movie GARGOYLES (1972).

During the run of the series, Curtis directed two features with many members of the television cast: HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971).  HOUSE follows the arc of Barnabas pursuing a woman he believes is his reincarnated love, Josette, while NIGHT involves a family moving into a house filled with ghosts of witches who are not at rest.

In 1971, it became illegal to advertise cigarettes on television.  This huge loss of revenue led to a large purge among the networks, replacing some soaps (like DARK SHADOWS) with the much-cheaper-to-produce game shows.  DS was particularly vulnerable because its main demographic—teens—were not the purchasers of food and household goods, the main advertisers on daytime television.  Also, the early 70’s (say it ain’t so!) saw a decline in interest in shows dealing with horror or science fiction.

Because of its rather abrupt cancellation, several plotlines were left unresolved, though the shows producers tried to compensate for this with a one minute voice-over at the end of the final episode that tied everything up with a (fairly) neat bow.

The original run of 1,225 shows never ran fully in syndication until on the Sci Fi (now SyFy) channel from 1992 to 2003 (which I also missed—I hang my head in shame).

Barnabas and the love of his life, Josette.

Besides its melding of the soap opera and monster/horror genres, DARK SHADOWS was believed to be a live production.  This was because the rigorous shooting schedule often demanded one take of most scenes, so errors in dialog or continuity (wobbling sets, stagehands in the background) were left in.  Fans delighted that they were seeing a “live” production, and the producers played into this belief by having a clock in an episode precisely coordinated with the clocks in one time zone—viewers of that time zone thought they were seeing events as they happened.

In 1991, the show was revived on NBC with a much more lavish budget.  Ben Cross played Barnabas, and Joanna Going was Victoria Winters.  Cross would later appear in movies like EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) and STAR TREK (2009). Also appearing in the revival were veterans like Roy Thinnes (THE INVADERS 1967-1968) and Barbara Steele (BLACK SUNDAY, 1960, CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964, and SHE BEAST 1966).  The coverage of the Gulf War led to the show being preempted many times, and it could never recover its footing.  It was cancelled after running just three months.  Plans to revive this version with this cast led to a pilot being written by Dan Curtis and Barbara Steele, but it never went forward.  Another pilot with a new cast was shot in 2004 but was never picked up.

DARK SHADOWS also spawned a line of novels, a newspaper comic strip, comic books, audio plays, coloring books, View-Master reels, two board games, a jigsaw puzzle and trading cards.

DARK SHADOWS is often credited with introducing the concept of a “compassionate vampire” to a wide audience—a vampire who is troubled by his hideous appetites and longs for a cure.

DARK SHADOWS (the original series) is now available on DVD – ain’t technology wonderful?

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh



As I mentioned briefly in the CKF review of the new DARK SHADOWS movie, I’ve been a fan of the original TV show since its initial run. Mark asked me to add some of my thoughts here, since he didn’t see DS in its first incarnation.

I remember coming home from school, eager to see the newest chapter of the Collins family (from the start, I was obsessed with all things horror and “monsters”). This must have been toward the end of the show’s run, in the early 70s, since I would have been around 7 or 8 years old. The fact that so many episodes are still so vivid in my mind is a testament to its effect on me.

Storylines I particularly remember involved Barnabas and Victoria Winters/Josette; Quentin Collins’s struggle to overcome being a werewolf (I don’t know if I’m sad or happy that the character of Quentin was left out of Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS movie); a FRANKENSTEIN-like storyline where a monster was being made from parts of dead people in a lab beneath a graveyard crypt; and the time-jumping episodes set in the past, where one particular Collins ancestor was involved in experiments much like the ones performed by a certain Dr. Jekyll.

Quentin and Barnabas Collins clash in a scene from the original DARK SHADOWS TV series.

For some reason, everyone of my generation who watched the show remembers it with great fondness, and I’m sure that Burton didn’t give much thought to the original show’s fans when we made his recent film version. He probably just saw the concept as something he could recreate in his own “special” way, disregarding the fact that the show still has a loyal following.

The fact that the “real” Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid, died recently, just makes the new movie (which I think is awful) seem all the more tragic. Ahhh, what it could have been in the right hands!

~L.L. Soares


Posted in 2012, Based on TV Show, Campy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Gothic Horror, Johnny Depp Movies, Just Plain Bad, Tim Burton Movies, Vampires, Werewolves, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on May 14, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: a cliff overlooking the ocean, below, large waves crash against the rocks. L.L. SOARES stands at the edge, looking down, when MICHAEL ARRUDA approaches.)


LS (turns) Don’t do what?

MA: Don’t jump.

LS: I wasn’t going to jump. I was just looking out over the ocean. Nice view.

MA: Are you sure? I know you just came back from seeing the new Tim Burton movie, DARK SHADOWS! If that doesn’t make someone want to jump off a cliff, I don’t know what does!

LS (puts a hand to his heart): But it’s not as tragic as all that, is it? I certainly don’t feel the desire to end it all.

MA: I guess you liked the movie more than I did. If you’re not jumping, why don’t you start the review then?

LS: Certainly…

DARK SHADOWS is the new Tim Burton movie, starring his frequent leading man, Johnny Depp. This time Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a tragic hero turned into a vampire by a jealous witch and condemned to spend two centuries chained inside a coffin beneath the earth.

It doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? The truth is, based on the trailers for this one, I wasn’t expecting any of this movie to be that much fun. The commercials make it look like an all-out comedy, and a bad one at that. The thing is, the opening sequences of DARK SHADOWS, telling us how poor Barnabas becomes a vampire, are actually played pretty straight. This gave me some hope that maybe the movie might be a pleasant surprise.

MA: A lot of the movie is played straight. In fact, if you pay careful attention to the script, the story itself is rather serious. Too bad Tim Burton wasn’t interested in making a serious movie.

LS: So two hundred years ago, wealthy Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) has a dalliance with his servant girl, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). When Barnabas tells her he can never marry her because of his station in life (besides, he never loved her anyway), Angelique vows to make him pay. First, she uses witchcraft to have a giant stone gargoyle fall upon his unsuspecting parents. Then, when Barnabas falls in love with another woman, Angelique puts the poor girl, Josette (Bella Heathcote), under her spell, and has the girl walk out to a cliff—much like this one we’re standing on—and throw herself into the sea. In horror, Barnabas throws himself in after her, intent on dying with his love if he cannot have her. But no such luck. Angelique has also cursed Barnabas, turning him into a vampire who cannot die. So the swan dive into the waves and rocks doesn’t kill him.

MA: So much drama, so quickly, I don’t know if I can stand it!

LS: When Barnabas quenches his infernal thirst for blood, Angelique then gathers the townsfolk together to capture Barnabas and force him into his coffin, which they chain up and bury deep in the ground. Unable to free himself, Barnabas waits. For two centuries, he waits, until some workmen stumble upon his resting place and inadvertently set him free.

MA: More drama!

LS: The movie then shows us Barnabas as a man lost in time, arisen in 1972 in a world he never made. He tries to adapt, returning to the mansion he once called home, Collinwood, and reuniting with what’s left of his family – a motley crew of descendants who have fallen on hard times, with the fishing industry not what it once was, and the family fortune dwindling away to nothing.

The family actually accepts their “Cousin Barnabas From Across the Sea” pretty easily. And he goes about restoring the family to its former glory, using a secret stash of jewels and gold hidden beneath the house, to renovate the mansion, and bring the abandoned family canning factory up to modern times. Barnabas even uses his powers of hypnotism to convince the local fishing boat captains to work for him instead of the woman who is the Collins family’s main rival, a woman who turns out to be Angelique, the very same witch who put Barnabas in the ground to rot!

MA: Barnabas Collins saving the fishing industry— suddenly, no drama!

LS: The rest of the movie revolves around Barnabas’s attempts to protect his family, and break the curse that Angelique has placed on him (and doing his best to spurn her advances). At the same time, the new nanny, who just joined the family, Victoria Winters (also Bella Heathcote), is also the spitting image of Barnabas’s beloved Josette . Is it a coincidence, or has his love been reincarnated in this new version to come back to him?

MA: How many times do we have to suffer through this tired plot point of the reincarnated love? I could just throw up.

LS: As I said earlier, the movie starts out fairly serious as Depp provides narration to the tale of how Barnabas ended up as a vampire beneath the ground. And then, during the opening credits, the young Maggie Evans decides to change her name to Victoria Winters as she rides a train to Collinsville, Maine, intent on becoming the nanny to the young David Collins (Gulliver McGrath).

MA: And she does this because..? I think she changes her name from Maggie Evans so the writers have an excuse to use the name, which of course, is the name of a character from the original series.

LS: How many names does this girl need? It gets confusing. Is she Maggie, Victoria, or poor Josette?

I thought it was interesting that during the train scene, as the opening credits role, the music we hear is “Nights in White Satin,” the classic tune by the Moody Blues. Despite being a love song, it’s rather somber, and sets a definite mood. I think it works quite well, even though I was very disappointed that the original music from the DARK SHADOWS TV show isn’t used at this point (or at all in the movie, for that matter).

The original DARK SHADOWS ran from 1966 to 1971. It started out as just another soap opera until, a couple of years into its run, the character of forlorn vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced (played by Jonathan Frid). Suddenly, the show became something of a phenomenon for several years. I remember when I was a kid, rushing home after school to watch DARK SHADOWS on TV. As the show went on, it introduced lots of other characters, including some that were ghosts, werewolves, and witches, as well as giving us storylines that took place in other time periods. It really was an exceptional television show for its time, and was created by the great Dan Curtis, who also gave us another one of my favorite TV show, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER (1974 – 1975), as well as the two Kolchak TV-movies that preceded it.

DARK SHADOWS, the TV show, has become a cult classic since then. And yes, there is a certain tongue-in-cheek campiness to it. Like most soap operas of the time, it’s very melodramatic. But it also had an incredibly small budget, which means that things went wrong a lot. Sets, often made of cardboard, would collapse. Actors flubbed their lines and it was kept in (either the shows were aired live, or they simply did not have the money to do more than one take). Sometimes the actors themselves even laughed at a particular mishap. But the majority of the time, they played it completely straight. If they’d only had better sets and a bigger budget, the show would have been much more effective in delivering chills – which was its true intention. How do I know this? Because during the height of the show’s popularity in the 70s, Curtis made two theatrical films based on the show, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971), featuring the same actors from the soap opera reprising their roles, this time with a slightly bigger budget, and certainly not played for laughs. The two films are definitely intended to be serious horror films.

For those of us who grew up on DARK SHADOWS, it’s a very fond memory. They even tried to reboot the show in 1991, when series creator Dan Curtis brought it back, this time in prime time, with Ben Cross as Barnabas. Unfortunately, that incarnation of the show only last 12 episodes.

And here is Tim Burton, trying to bring it back another time. And it really makes me yearn for the touch of Dan Curtis, because I think Burton gets it all completely wrong!

MA: You think?

LS: Perceived as a starring vehicle for Johnny Depp, an actor who I normally like very much, Tim Burton’s version of DARK SHADOWS seems a lot like a failed experiment to me. There were moments where I thought it was working, where I could see what Burton was up to. Unfortunately, these are few and far between. Because, for most of its running time, DARK SHADOWS is pretty awful.

MA: I’ll say! DARK SHADOWS is every bit as awful as I feared it would be. It’s horribly dull, and strangely, unimaginative. For a movie about vampires, witches, and family curses, what the hell is it doing spending so much time on the Collins family business and the fishing industry? Do I really care whether the Collins family business survives or not? What is this, DALLAS? It’s like a— soap opera. Which might be the funniest thing about this movie, that its plot inadvertently does play out like a soap opera. But guess what folks, it’s not a soap opera this time—it’s a movie! You don’t have five days a week to tell your story. You gotta get it done in two hours!

Jonathan Frid as the “real” Barnabas Collins in the original DARK SHADOWS TV series. “Look Ma, No Camp!”

DARK SHADOWS is a movie in desperate need of an identity. It doesn’t seem to know what it’s supposed to be. It’s not a good comedy, as the laughs don’t come anywhere near often enough, and it’s too over-the-top to be a serious thriller. It’s stuck in the middle, and as a result, it’s not a good movie.

I kept thinking, it’s as if Burton decided that no one’s ever going to take this story seriously, so let’s play it for laughs. I wish they had made a serious horror movie. It would have been much better. I was bored throughout most of DARK SHADOWS. It’s up there with Burton’s other misfire, the PLANET OF THE APES (2001) remake.

LS: While I do have problems with DARK SHADOWS, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as horrible as the APES remake. For fans of the original PLANET OF THE APES, Burton’s version is an insult.

But DARK SHADOWS is fatally flawed, and a big part of it is the cast. All of the actors here are quite capable, and yet, they all seem to be acting in different movies, even though they’re all here, in the same one. Some people, like Michelle Pfeiffer as Collins matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, play it completely straight, and do a good job of it.

MA: I agree. Pfeiffer plays it straight and is quite good as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, but it’s such a dull, boring role. Elizabeth Stoddard is about as interesting as a can of tuna.

LS: Other performances I liked included Chloe Grace Moretz (“Hit Girl” from KICK-ASS and she was also in LET ME IN, both from 2010) as Elizabeth’s teenage daughter, Carolyn and I liked Bella Heathcoate a lot as nanny Victoria Winters.

MA: I agree about Moretz. It’s amazing how terrific an actress she is at such a young age! Up there with Depp as Barnabas, she delivers the best performance in the movie, but Carolyn Stoddard is a small role, and she’s not in the movie enough to have much of an impact.

LS: With what little she has to work with, she does just fine. There are several actors here who have a lot more screen time, and who aren’t as interesting.

MA: But Bella Heathcoate? I found her terribly boring and unconvincing as Barnabas’s love interest. He might as well be in love with a painting, that’s how much personality she doesn’t have.

LS: And yet she seems perfect for Barnabas. A reserved, elegant woman with the manners of an earlier time. To everyone else she seems “square,” but to Barnabas she seems to be a dream come true.

Helena Bonham Carter (Burton’s real-life wife and a familiar face in all his recent films) also plays it mostly straight as the Collins’ live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman. Although she does have a few scenes where she “camps it up.”

MA: Really? I thought Carter hammed it up throughout. I found her Dr. Hoffman incredibly irritating. I think she’s supposed to be a funny character, an eccentric doctor, but she comes off as a harsh medic in need of a drink every few minutes.

LS: However, Johnny Depp, as the main character of Barnabas, who is in almost every scene, plays the role in such an over-the-top and often silly way that he’s the elephant in the room that everyone else pretends not to notice.

MA: I disagree. I actually found Depp’s performance more subdued than I expected it to be.

LS: Are you kidding me? With his silly accent, his face glowing with white powder, and his incredibly silly mannerisms, it’s like he’s in a completely different movie.

MA: Well, I agree that his look is silly, but that’s Burton’s fault, not Depp’s.

LS: Everyone around him acts as if everything Barnabas does is completely normal (except for Chloe, who keeps telling him how weird he is). No one blinks when it is revealed he is a vampire. No one has a problem with the fact that he is completely unfamiliar with the modern world (well, the modern world of 1972). He sleeps upside down like a bat and brushes his teeth in a mirror that doesn’t show his reflection. How funny….well, not really. And his dialogue often includes several groaner jokes that are just painful to sit through.

MA: All true, but these are flaws in the script, and not Depp’s fault.

LS: But the script is a major part of what we see on the screen before us. And Depp, an actor who has proven in past films that he can transcend his material, instead wallows in it here.

Depp hams it up so much, I found myself really disliking him, which is a rarity for me. I get that Burton is going for complete campiness here. But the thing is—and this is something I’ve said many times about movies that try to be funny in a campy way—truly campy movies do not give us that nudge and wink that something funny is going on. The best campy movies play it completely straight and do not show us they are aware of the campiness at all. And Depp’s performance is so self-aware, so purposely out of step with everyone else, that he’s more annoying than humorous. Which makes the few scenes where Barnabas has to kill to get his precious nourishment of blood all the more bizarre. Why is this silly man suddenly slaughtering people?

MA: I have to disagree with you here, but only about Depp. I’m with you in terms of how this movie just doesn’t work. Believe it or not, I actually liked Depp as Barnabas. To me, he was acting exactly the way a person would act stepping into the 1970s for the first time after having lived in the 18th century. To that end, I actually found Depp playing it straight.

The problem is with Tim Burton’s interpretation of all this. If everyone else in the movie is dead serious, and the film actually looks like real life 1970s, then what Barnabas is saying and doing would be quite funny. He’d be a fish out of water—heh, heh— and he’d be believable when slaughtering people. He’d be a deadly vampire, with some of his scenes—because of his unfamiliarity with the 1970s—being funny.

But that’s not what we get at all. Burton might as well have remade THE MUNSTERS, because that’s what this movie looks like, but Johnny Depp is no Herman Munster.  He’s actually much more serious than that.  With just the right amount of tweaking, Depp would have made an excellent dramatic Barnabas Collins.

LS: Good observation, there. THE MUNSTERS is exactly what this movie reminded me of, a lot of the time. In that show, the monsters think they are completely normal, and yet the outside world is terrified of them, and reacts accordingly. In the DARK SHADOWS movie, Depp’s Barnabas is equally unaware of how strange he is—which is ironic as hell since Depp’s actual performance is incredibly self-aware.

MA: But I still liked Depp in the role. I feared it would be Captain Jack Sparrow with fangs. It’s not.

LS: He’s not the only one, but he is the most blatant one here who is constantly winking at the audience. Eva Greene, as Angelique, fluctuates between trying to be a straightforward villain, and being as silly as Depp is.

MA: I didn’t like Eva Greene as Angelique at all. Greene was so memorable as Vesper in the first Daniel Craig Bond film CASINO ROYALE (2006). Here, her Angelique is just annoying. She’s supposed to be driven by an insane love for Barnabas Collins. Insane is the operative word here. There’s a scene early on in the movie, where Angelique and Barnabas are children, and she’s looking at him with longing even then. That’s love? That’s insanity!

LS: Haven’t you ever heard of puppy love?

MA: As a result, Angelique is just a cardboard cutout of a villain without any real motivation.

LS: And Jackie Earle Haley is pretty much the Collins’ court jester as servant Willie Loomis—but that’s the one role that is forgivable, since Loomis was just as goofy in the old television series.

MA: No, he wasn’t! Willie Loomis was one of my favorite characters on the old DARK SHADOWS TV show. He was a tragic, tortured character. Haley plays him like a drunken dolt. He completely ruins the character.

LS: Some characters seem completely lost. Especially Jonny Lee Miller (who I first noticed as an actor back in 1996, in Danny Boyle’s TRAINSPOTTING), as family ne’er do well Roger Collins, who really doesn’t have much to do until he leaves half-way through. Roger’s young son David (Gulliver McGrath) is perhaps the most cheated character of all. His David seems to have some serious issues, not the least of which is the ghost of his mother, who drowned years before, and he has a lot of potential for a serious storyline, and yet, for most of the movie, he’s pretty much ignored. Another oversight is Bella Heathcoate as Victoria. Early on it’s evident that she’s supposed to be an important character. She is, after all, the reincarnation of Barnabas’s great love and he is determined to win her over anew. And yet there are huge chunks of the movie where Burton just seems to forget about her for awhile, in order to focus on more silliness.

The soundtrack is actually quite good, being loaded up with great songs from the late 60s and early 70s by the likes of the aforementioned Moody Blues, Iggy Pop, Donovan and Marc Bolan’s seminal band T. Rex, not to mention Barry White and the Carpenters, whose music is used to good effect.

MA: Yes, the soundtrack is one element of the movie that I actually really liked!

LS: Even Alice Cooper shows up to perform at a ball thrown by the Collins clan for the local townsfolk. Despite the fact that Danny Elfman is credited as composing the score for the film, his original music isn’t very memorable and doesn’t flex its muscles in the soundtrack, which might be a good thing, since many of his scores seem to sound very similar to each other, especially in Tim Burton movies.

MA: I liked Elfman’s music here. I thought it had some nice haunting elements to it.

LS: Nothing as haunting as Bob Cobert’s very atmospheric and spooky theme music from the original TV show. There really was no way Burton could have included it here somewhere?? I find that hard to believe!

MA: He probably thought it would be too spooky for this movie! I missed Cobert’s music, too.

LS: There are some interesting cameos. The great Christopher Lee plays an old sea captain – it’s always good to see Lee in a film.

MA: Absolutely! And his deep booming voice is still present, even as he nears 90! I am so absolutely impressed that Lee continues to work even today. Loved seeing him.

LS: And the end credits mentioned a scene featuring cameos by some of the original show’s actors as “guests” – including Jonathan Frid (the original TV Barnabas, who died a few weeks ago; as well as original Angelique, Lara Parker; and David Selby who had played Quentin Collins, another favorite character of mine from the original series). But, despite the three of them being credited at the end, I did not remember seeing them in the film.

MA: That’s because their cameo lasts all of two seconds. It’s the scene at the ball. The door opens and they’re in the doorway about to enter. As soon as I saw them I was like, “there they a—,” and then the camera cuts away, and they’re not seen again. It’s literally about two seconds long. Kathryn Leigh Scott, the original Victoria Winters, is also supposed to be there. I only had time to recognize Frid, and then they were gone.

LS: The script was by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the novel and script for the upcoming ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER as well as the novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. And he certainly has some responsibility in the script’s uneven tone.

MA: I’m going to disagree with you on that point. If you pay close attention to the dialogue, you’ll notice something interesting. It doesn’t really play like a comedy. It plays like the story of Barnabas Collins.

I blame director Tim Burton for this one. He purposely filmed this story like an over-the-top cartoon.

In another director’s hands, and with the same script, this could have been a serious horror movie with comedic overtones. Seeing Barnabas struggle in the 1970s would have been funnier if the rest of the movie had been played straight.

LS: I’m confused. Earlier, when I attacked Depp’s performance, you blamed the movie’s weaknesses on the script. Now you say it’s Burton’s fault. Which one is it?

MA: I agree that the script does have some problems, but Burton’s the main reason this one feels all wrong. The Collins mansion looks like something from THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Barnabas’s make-up looks like he belongs on a Walt Disney Halloween Special. And the characters look like they’re in an old Carol Burnett Show skit, but without the laughs.

LS: The “CAROL BURNETT SHOW (1967 – 1978)?” What an obscure reference that will be for most of our readers.

MA:  They’ll live.

LS:  As for Barnabas’s makeup, I’m assuming that’s supposed to be funny, but I found it completely distracting and stupid. Jonathan Frid never looked so asinine in the original DARK SHADOWS show. It is like a cartoon.

And, I want to know, can Depp’s Barnabas move around in sunlight or not? There are several scenes where sunlight makes him spontaneously combust. And yet there are other scenes where he is walking around in the light of day with a hat and sunglasses. What about the exposed skin of his face? Is he suddenly immune? Or is this just bad writing? Shouldn’t he be in his coffin during the day, and only available to deal with business matters at night?

MA: I was so bored, I didn’t care.

LS:  As for Burton, I know some people idolize him, but his output has been uneven for decades now. While I still think movies like ED WOOD (1994) and SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) are terrific, this is the same guy who also gave us the equally flawed MARS ATTACKS! (1996), as well as the completely abysmal PLANET OF THE APES remake from 2001. Which just goes to prove that, while Burton is certainly a very talented director, not everything the man touches turns to gold.

All in all, I thought DARK SHADOWS had an awful lot of potential, if Burton had simply not let Johnny Depp run wild. Burton seems to bring out the worst aspects of Depp’s acting, here and in roles like Willy Wonka in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and the Mad Hatter in ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010). Enough with the hamming it up already!

And where the hell did the “surprise” werewolf in the last big showdown scene come from?

There were a few things I liked about DARK SHADOWS, but a lot more that I didn’t care for. I give it one knife.

MA: I didn’t laugh much, so it didn’t work as a comedy, and it’s certainly not even close to being scary, so it’s not a good horror movie either. What is it, then? It’s like I said. It’s as if Burton set out to make a DARK SHADOWS cartoon, because that’s how it plays out. It more closely resembles the SCOOBY DOO cartoon seen briefly on TV at one point in the movie than the original DARK SHADOWS TV show, except that the SCOOBY DOO cartoons of yesteryear were better. They got the humor right.

LS: Yes, when Barnabas is watching that episode of SCOOBY DOO, he dismisses it as a “silly play.” And yet, the DARK SHADOWS movie has no more meaning or substance. In the end, it is also a “silly play.”

MA: I give DARK SHADOWS one knife, as well.

LS: We usually add a lot more jokes to our columns, but this one’s running kind of long. Besides, we don’t need any extra jokes this time, DARK SHADOWS is a bad joke all by itself.

MA: Care to jump now?

LS: I’d rather get a pizza.

MA: Me, too. Where’s the closest pizza joint?

LS: Down there. (Kicks MA off the cliff.) Life’s a bitch. Then you— fly. (Leaps off cliff.)

(CUT to MA and LS, hanging on to a floating pizza, slowly rising back up through air towards the cliff.)

MA: Gotta love these new pizzas with the self-rising dough!

LS: I wanted extra cheese!

MA: We’ll add that after we land.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives DARK SHADOWS~ ONE KNIFE!