Archive for the Johnny Depp Movies Category


Posted in 2013, Johnny Depp Movies, Quick Cuts, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2013 by knifefighter

Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Kelly Laymon, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to the latest edition of QUICK CUTS.

We just suffered through—er, watched—THE LONE RANGER, which featured Johnny Depp as Tonto; this following upon the heels of his playing Barnabas Collins.  So, here’s this week’s QUICK CUTS question:  Who’s the next TV or movie icon that Depp will play? 

KELLY LAYMON:  The only answer is, “The character who wears the craziest costume!” 

ARRUDA:  Liberace?

L.L.SOARES:  How about Lady Gaga?

LAYMON:  I smell a remake of THE ADDAMS FAMILY with Depp as Gomez.  And, as with every other Johnny Depp film for the last decade, I’ll skip it. 

Will Johnny play Gomez Addams??

Will Johnny play Gomez Addams??

ARRUDA:  You and a lot of other people.

LAYMON:  But he could do a remake of HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL or THE BRADY BUNCH and I wouldn’t blink an eye as I buy a ticket to the latest “Vince Vaughn Is A Cool Boozy Guy, Man” flick.

ARRUDA:  I pegged him in a BRADY BUNCH remake.

Yep, THE BRADY BUNCH is coming to the big screen, starring Jim Carrey as Mike Brady, Cameran Diaz as Carol Brady, Ellen DeGeneres as Alice, and Johnny Depp will play Alice’s boyfriend Sam. 

With Depp playing Sam, the story of the Brady household will now be told through his perspective.

“With their parents working all the time, it was almost as if Alice and I were second parents to those kids—.” 


SOARES: Wouldn’t it be more of a challenge for Depp to play Alice, the true heroine of the series? Alice is the glue that keeps the family together, and it’s exactly the kind of odd character role that Depp would jump at. But he would demand that Alice be the main character and the Brady family be supporting characters.

ARRUDA: Depp would make a great Alice.

Who would Johnny Depp play in a new BRADY BUNCH reboot? Alice? Sam the Butcher? Or Cindy?

Who would Johnny Depp play in a new BRADY BUNCH reboot? Alice? Sam the Butcher? Or Cindy?

PAUL MCMAHON:  Let’s jump ahead a couple of years.  Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are about to announce plans to make a feature film reboot of the 70’s TV show WELCOME BACK, KOTTER.

SOARES:  Ugh! I hate the Sweathogs!

MCMAHON:  As an added thrill for fans, he and director Tim Burton are planning to use only two actors to complete the picture. Depp will be using CGI and makeup effects to play the Sweathogs: Vinnie Barbarino, Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, Juan Epstein, and Arnold Horshack. He will also be portraying the loveable Mr. Gabe Kotter.

Would Johnny Depp play Mr. Cotter, just to teach us a lesson?

Would Johnny Depp play Mr. Kotter, just to teach us a lesson?

The pair is trying to interest Helena Bonham Carter to take on the roles of Mrs. Julie Kotter, Rosalie “Hotsie” Totsie, a feminized version of Cavelli, the Sweathogs nemesis, and Mr. Michael Woodman, Vice Principal.

SOARES: Martin Landau would make a great Mr. Woodman.

ARRUDA:  Why involve Carter?  Depp could play all the roles!

SOARES: Why not a movie where Johnny Depp and Eddie Murphy compete to see who can play more wacky characters?

MCMAHON:  It is noted that theaters are already experiencing a massive rush of patrons who are NOT buying tickets for this feature

L.L. SOARES:  Well, I think this one’s a no-brainer. Johnny Depp could play Yoda in the upcoming reboot of STAR WARS. They could use CGI to shrink him and give him little stumpy arms and legs, and he would relish the chance to deliver his lines in Yoda-speak. I can’t think of a better role for him to make his own!

"Play me, Johnny Depp might!"

“Play me, Johnny Depp might!”

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  Rumor has it that Johnny Depp will be playing Dr. Phibes in Tim Burton’s remake of the 1971 classic starring Vincent Price.  All I have to say is WHY?!

ARRUDA:  I hope that’s not true.  On the other hand, since Dr. Phibes was high camp to begin with, it might be a good fit for Depp.

MCMAHON:  Tell me you’re not serious.

ARRUDA:  I actually like Johnny Depp.  I just haven’t liked his recent roles.

SOARES: Same here.

ARRUDA: Okay, to finish things off, I have a couple more.

In the new film version of THE MUNSTERS, Johnny Depp has signed on to play Grandpa, with Helena Bonham Carter as Lily, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Herman.

Johnny Depp play Granpa Munster? You must be batty! Then again, he did already ruin Barnabas Collins!

Johnny Depp play Granpa Munster? You must be batty! Then again, he did already ruin Barnabas Collins!

And last but not least, in the latest re-imagining of TV’s LOST IN SPACE, Johnny Depp has signed on to play the Robinson Robot using CGI technology to morph his entire body into the shape of the Robot.

SOARES: With Lady Gaga as Judy!

ARRUDA: That  I’d pay to see!

That’s it for now. Thanks for joining us everybody, and let’s hope that none of our re-imaginings tonight come true!


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Kelly Laymon, Paul McMahon and Colleen Wanglund



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 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!



Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Johnny Depp Movies, Pirates, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2011 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and John Harvey


(The Scene: The pirate port of Tortuga. Pirates are everywhere. Some are singing, others are drinking, while still others are battling each other with swords and knives. MICHAEL ARRUDA walks into a tavern just as pirate is stabbed in the gut beside him.)

MA: Well, we don’t call this column CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT for nothing! Today we’re reviewing the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, the fourth film in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise. L.L. Soares is off tonight, so I’ll be reviewing this one with John Harvey, as soon as I find out where he is.

PIRATE: Did ye say ye were looking for John Harvey?

MA: Yeah. Do you know where he is?

PIRATE: Aye-yi, I do. He be in shackles downstairs. Ye see, we don’t take too kindly to yer kind around here. Ye movie critics might give our movie a bad review. If I were ye, I wouldn’t stay in this town too long, if ye know what I mean.

MA: Well, you’re not me. (Suddenly, a sword is plunged into the pirate’s chest, and he falls to the ground with a groan.) And that’s a good thing. Anyway, I’d better rescue John.

(MA walks further into the tavern, looking for the stairs to the cellar. Instead, JOHN HARVEY is seated by the bar leading all the pirates in songs about dead men and bottles of rum.)

MA (to JH): They told me you were in shackles.

JH: Like that was going to happen. I just had to introduce these fellas to the joys of dark ale, and the rest was easy. Watch. (shouts) ANOTHER ROUND! (the pirates cheer).

MA: And who’s paying for all this?

JH: Nobody. It’s a pirate town. There’s no actual economy.

MA: But then, how—-? Never mind. Ready for our review?

JH: Never been readier, matey!

MA: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (2011) is the fourth film in the Disney PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, and I have to say at the outset, it felt like a fourth film in a series.

It opens with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) rescuing his old friend Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from the hangman’s noose. Their escape is short-lived, as they are quickly apprehended by the king’s men, but rather than sentenced to death, they are hired to help the king find the elusive Fountain of Youth (à la Ponce de Leon). Sparrow’s not interested in working for the king, and so he promptly escapes again and sets off to find the Fountain of Youth on his own.

His search reconnects him with a former love, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and her father, Blackbeard the Pirate (Ian McShane). Also searching for the fountain of youth is Sparrow’s former rival, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush.)

So, that’s the plot in a nutshell. Everyone is looking for the fountain of youth, which is all just an excuse to have Jack Sparrow up to his usual shenanigans, and for a bunch of pirates to strut their pirate stuff.

JH: That’s actually the plot of the first three films as well. Everybody’s after a MacGuffin … pirate wackiness ensues. The difference is that in the first movie this material was refreshingly new. I mean, certainly not groundbreaking, but truly fun. With this installment, it definitely feels like the Disney ride on which it’s based. We’re just seeing the same thing over and over again. And at a two-hour and seventeen minute run time, that’s a freakin’ long amusement park ride.

MA: I thought I would like this one, but frankly, it put me to sleep. There are lots of reasons why this film didn’t grab me.

(A huge, ZOMBIFIED PIRATE grabs Michael and throws him over his shoulder.)

ZOMBIE PIRATE: I’ll grab ye, matey! And take ye back to Blackbeard’s ship to swab the decks.

MA: I don’t think so.

(The ZOMBIE PIRATE runs out the door with Michael bouncing on his back.)

JH: I’m really unhappy that this review is going to take me away from the grog.

(JH grabs a cutlass and runs out the door. He chases the ZOMBIE PIRATE and MA through Tortuga, which basically looks like a cross between a frat party and a low-level riot.)

MA: This review is taking me places I didn’t expect. (shouting at a pursuing JH) Let’s look at the number one reason why I thought I would like this movie: Jack Sparrow. I love Johnny Depp’s performances as this character, and honestly, Depp’s great here again. The problem is, in spite of the many scenes Sparrow’s involved in, he doesn’t really have a whole lot to do. There are not a lot of scenes of clever humorous dialogue, and the action scenes involving Sparrow are nothing we haven’t seen before.

JH: Good point. Sparrow really isn’t driving the action here. Barbossa and Blackbeard do most of the heavy lifting in terms of plot, while Jack Sparrow capers around like a rodeo clown wearing guy-liner. He’s always been the class clown of pirates, but in the first movie (and perhaps the second) his buffoonery seemed to be more of a cover for a truly cunning and mercenary brigand. But in this movie? Not so much.

(The ZOMBIE PIRATE trips on a loose cobblestone and both he and MA tumble to the ground. The ZOMBIE PIRATE rises and draws his sword. JH draws his own sword and throws another cutlass to MA)

MA: Hey, where did you get another cutlass?

JH: Dude … pirate movie.

(MA nods and the swashbuckling sword fight begins.)

MA: One of the fun things about Sparrow in the first two movies was how he would get himself out of trouble, and how he was always playing both sides of the fence, and you never quite knew what he was up to or whose side he was actually on. You don’t have that in this movie. The character just isn’t as intriguing here. This is not Depp’s fault. He IS Jack Sparrow at this point, but it’s the writers fault for failing to put Sparrow in clever situations.

(John and Michael fight off several crushing blows, but get knocked into a nearby crowd of malingering pirates. That’s all they need to draw their cutlasses and join the fight.)

MA: PIRATES IV also falls into the “cookie cutter video game” type of movie, you know, that film where the movie almost plays like a video game. It’s high on action, low on story, and after a while, battle scenes one after another begin to grow tired and repetitive, which is the case here.

JH: You can also tell that the franchise is running out of steam because they’re tossing in trendy new accessories that do nothing for the film. Like zombie pirates. Blackbeard having zombie pirates on his ship felt like something that had been tossed into the script as the result of a producer’s note and nothing more. They’re not interesting, they don’t bring anything to the movie, and they don’t do anything we didn’t already see in PIRATES I from the original “undead” crew of the Black Pearl.

(The ZOMBIE PIRATE stops fighting, drops his sword, and a single tear weaves its way down his sore-crusted cheek. He hangs his head and shuffles away.)

JH: Sensitive zombie pirates? Who knew?

MA: I would have to agree with you. The zombie pirates were so ineffective I almost forgot they were even in the movie! They provided such little impact.

(The crowd of sword fighting pirates rush MA and JH and back them in to … a brothel.)

JH: That’s more like it.

(From a swinging chandelier, MA fights off ten pirates.)

MA: It’d be another story entirely if these action scenes were terrific. They’re not. They’re standard and ordinary, and so, we’re inundated with ho-hum average action scenes. You need something more, and director Rob Marshall doesn’t give anything more. For all the action scenes in this movie, I can’t think of one that I really liked. Marshall also directed the well-received CHICAGO (2002). I guess he should stick to musicals.

(MA looks down to check on JH and sees him standing in a desperate sword battle with ten … hookers.)

JH:…. Oh come on! Everybody hated SHOWGIRLS! (They scream in rage and charge at the bar. John grabs a rope, swings across the room, and lands on a staircase … to fight more pirates.) Anyway, it should be noted that director Gore Verbinski bailed on PIRATES IV. So did Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. The producers should perhaps note that the smarter rats are abandoning the ship.

(Somehow, Michael has found himself in a sword fight with JACK SPARROW himself.)

JH: Through the heart, Michael! It’s the only way we can stop PIRATES V!

JACK SPARROW: Listen mates, it’s not my fault PIRATES IV feels so worn out. I can only be as good as my writers. Savvy?

MA: Good point. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio wrote the screenplay, and they also wrote the screenplays for the previous PIRATES movies. Going in, I thought this would be a good thing, but I didn’t find the writing in this one anywhere near as sharp as the first two movies (the third film was already growing tired), and the situations the characters found themselves in here just weren’t as interesting. Perhaps it’s time new writers took over?

JACK SPARROW: Every ship needs a new crew member every so often, my good man.

(JACK SPARROW takes three steps back, and drops through a trap door into the ocean.)

JH: I thought we were over dry land?

MA: Dude … pirate movie.

Anyhow, I can’t really fault the acting here, but then again, people don’t see PIRATES for the acting. In other words, the film is not going to be saved on the merits of its actors alone. That being said, Johnny Depp is terrific once again as Jack Sparrow. I really like this character. It’s just too bad he’s not in a better movie.

But the best performance in this one belongs to Ian McShane as Blackbeard. McShane is quite dark and evil as Blackbeard, and as movie villains go, he’s pretty effective. I wish this film had been more about Jack Sparrow vs. Blackbeard as opposed to some silly search for the Fountain of Youth.

JH: I’m in total agreement. McShane makes a fantastic pirate. I hope he gets to play one in a good pirate movie someday.

(The pirates force John and Michael through a set of doors and they find themselves in a room filled with huge barrels of gunpowder.)

JH: Okay, I know it’s a pirate movie. But a brothel with its own powder keg room? Really?

MA (spying receipt attached to keg): Here’s your answer. Someone sent the wrong order. (Hands JH receipt which reads “Blow Up Job Supplies.”)

Penelope Cruz is OK as Angelica, and she was sufficiently feisty, sexy, and tough, but strangely, I didn’t find much chemistry between her and Depp’s Sparrow. Geoffrey Rush is back once again as the pirate Barbossa, but I was disappointed with his character this time around. He wasn’t much of a threat to Jack Sparrow in this one.

JH: I agree with you completely about Rush. The reason that he wasn’t a threat was because both he and Sparrow had a common enemy, Blackbeard. They really weren’t at odds, but they also weren’t really allies. So, there’s no real tension between them. Penelope Cruz? … meh. For most of this film she did nothing and looked like a stripper that had fallen into a ditch. She was the perfunctory love interest and not much else.

MA: Astrid Berges-Frisbey made for a stunningly beautiful young mermaid Syrena, but aside from her beauty, the Syrena character didn’t do much for me.

The film once again boasted a lively music score by Hans Zimmer, but the best music here were all the same themes we heard in the previous films. Nothing new on the music front.

And that really is the main problem I had with the entire movie. It wasn’t anything new, and it seemed really, really tired to me. For me, the experience of watching PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES was like sitting down to watch the first Pirates movie, loving it, and then moving on to the second, enjoying that one too, and now it’s on to the third movie, and at this point things are starting to get repetitive and as a result less fun, and now here comes the fourth movie, and yep things are still repetitive, and now I’m getting flat out bored because I’ve seen all this before and it was much better the first time around. Get the idea? It just was tired.

Sure, one scene that was new and that I did enjoy was the mermaid scene, but even this wasn’t a complete success. The scene begins, and it’s full of atmosphere and some sensuality, as the mermaids are beautiful, but then, when they turn vicious and nasty, CGI takes over and the scene goes down the toilet.

And yes, PIRATES was in 3D, yet ANOTHER 3D movie! I thought the 3D looked terrific in scenes where we could see some depth, like the early scenes of the crowd assembling for the hanging, but other than this, I wasn’t impressed. For the majority of the movie I simply stopped noticing and forgot I was even watching the film in 3D until I threw my ticket stub away and was reminded that I had paid more money for the 3D ticket!

(Michael and a pirate clash swords and a spark arcs across the room. They both watch it land in a small pile of gunpowder on top of the largest keg.)

MA: Uh oh.

(The massive explosion sends Michael, John, and dozens of sooty pirates flying high into the air. As luck would have it, John and Michael share a similar trajectory.)

JH: I totally agree about the 3D! Like THOR, there was no really good reason for this movie to be in 3D, except that it soaked me for an extra $5.

MA: And even though PIRATES IV was rated PG-13, it really seemed aimed at younger audiences, more so than the first couple of movies.

(Michael and John land in a crowd of people. Though the impact should have killed them, some unfortunate soul cushioned their fall. As they roll off, we see L.L. SOARES lying on the ground with two cutlasses in his chest.

LS: You scalawags! Is it really going to be like this every time you two review a movie?

JH: (helping LS up) It’s alright. Didn’t you hear the man? It’s a PG-13 film. You’ve been stabbed twice in the chest, but you won’t die, or even bleed.

LS: No blood? What a rip-off!

JH: But there’s booze, and lots of it. Let’s get some grog!

MA: Hold on. We need to finish up this review.

So, all in all, while the entire package for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES isn’t bad, in that it’s technically well-made and anchored by some pretty strong actors, I just couldn’t get all that into it, as I found it tired, repetitive, and not at all captivating. I could have fallen asleep.

I give it two knives.

JH: This franchise has fallen so far from the first movie, that I think I liked it a little less than you. I give it 1.5 knives. There, now we can get that grog.

(Michael, John, and L.L, with two swords still protruding from his chest, walk back into the pirate town.)

– END –

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and John D., Harvey


John Harvey gives PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDESone and a half knives