No, I didn’t read the book. I know, shame on me. How else can I make the standard exclamation of “the book was better!” if I haven’t actually read it? Who really cares, though? I think this is the sort of thing that should have gone direct to screenplay anyhow. It is the sort of B-movie concept that I feel can’t truly be captured and exploited as literature. But then again, I could be wrong. Because I didn’t read the book. On the plus side, it does allow me to have a completely unbiased review of the film. That’s a good thing, I think.
The film is everything you think it is. As ridiculous as you may think it is in your mind, it is every bit of that and more. There is no subtlety to this movie in the slightest. Everything is hammered home in loud bombast and with the firmest tongue-in-cheek attitude. The only reason this film is able to function as well as it does is because it plays everything 100% straight. There is no *wink wink* to be had here. By doing so, the film becomes incredibly fun. Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter is melodramatic and dumb in ways that most people would struggle to fathom. This is a film in which a vampire throws a CGI horse at the titular character in the midst of a stampede. He literally grabs the horse by the hooves and chucks it at the man who freed the slaves. Reading that line should tell you everything you need to know about the tone of this movie. Whatever manner of true sincerity this film may ever hope to put on screen is trampled underfoot by scenes of horses being thrown at the president of the United States or someone power-sliding a horse drawn carriage into the manor of a slave plantation. In short, this film has the same depth of vision as a child playing with action figures in a sandbox.
Don’t think I’m slamming the movie though. This movie is my kind of stupid. The fact is that everyone involved sells the premise so hard that you can’t help but enjoy it. Benjamin Walker is an excellent Abraham Lincoln. I suspect he may have gotten the part because he looks so much like Liam Neeson, who was the frontrunner to play the president in Spielberg’s take before Daniel Day Lewis took over. Jimmi Simpson, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Marie Elizabeth Winstead, and Alan motherf##king Tudyk as Stephen Douglas all round out the cast and do a superb job of selling the insanity. I suspect that Cooper is going to break out as a big star pretty damned soon. If I’d had my druthers Mary Elizabeth Winstead would be a leading lady ten times over. She’s beautiful, confident, and even in a film like this she manages to sell us on her character with very little material to work with.
I know there are going to be many people who trash this movie, some without even seeing it. Yes some of the action scenes are overly muddled by the CGI as well as the editing. Yes you may feel a little guilty for how this film treats the subject of slavery. The fact of the matter is that this is not a great film, but as a pure piece of popcorn entertainment you really can’t ask for more. The difference between this film and many like it is this film’s ability to sell its own ludicrous nature. While the film is played completely straight you can tell the intent was for the audience to walk out with a smile on their face asking themselves what they just saw. This film does exactly that. Let’s just hope the producers don’t get too bold and try to hoist a sequel on us. That my friends, would be going too far.
I have never watched a single episode of the original series on which Dark Shadows was based. That’s not to say I have no familiarity with the franchise, as I own a dvd copy of the 1990’s revival series that came packaged with a DVD set of another television show that I bought at a discount at Wal-Mart some time ago. That particular series did not seem horrible, but nor was it in any way good enough to make any sort of impression. I am informed by my sources on the internets that the original series is far more beloved, because of its groundbreaking introduction of genre elements into the mainstream soap opera trappings of television as well as the spectacularly bad effects that made early Doctor Who episodes look like Michael Bay set pieces.
Why then did I bother to see this film adaptation when Burton’s last outing, Alice in Wonderland was so generic and blah that I felt the director had lost all of his creative spark? Because I sure as hell did not want to sit through Battleship. This film was at its very core the lesser of two evils. Tim Burton should thank his lucky stars for that. Because while the trailer for this was abysmal, it still looked like it would drain less of my soul than Peter Berg’s overly bloated and poorly conceived board game movie. That may set the bar incredibly low, but I’m not looking to be overly compassionate here. This is as middle of the road a movie as you can get.
The first ten minutes of the film, where we are introduced to a young Barnabas Collins transplanted from England to the Atlantic northeast of America, works well as a gothic tragedy that feels well within classic Burton’s wheelhouse. It is overblown and melodramatic in a way that seems consistent with everything I’ve come to associate with Dark Shadows in its previous incarnations. In fact, this tone is somewhat well maintained until the instant that Barnabas is unearthed in 1972, where the tone shifts and the film goes off the rails. The shift from tragic melodrama to quirky comedy is so abrupt that it is almost physically shaking. I can say with absolute certainty that this film would have been far more effective if it had played the bombast straight faced and not tried so hard to constantly be winking at the audience and demanding that they acknowledge how clever the writing is. If Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay were anywhere near as witty as the film thinks it is it would be one amazing ride. As it stands, it’s the very definition of a shiny well-produced mess. The costume work, the visual direction and the cinematography are all top notch. I will give it that much credit, as I seem to do with everything Burton does. But there is no cohesion to the story and it seems to bounce everywhere with regard to what it wants to be. Once it goes all gonzo-quirky, the moments where we are expected to accept moments of horror with a straight face fall flat and the film goes down with them.
Johnny Depp never fully melds into the role and its hard not to see him as we’ve come to know him. He overshadows the character almost entirely. On the other hand, newcomer Bella Heathcote does well as the doe-eyed love interest and Eva Green masterfully chews the scenery, as she seems to get what sort of movie she is in. Helena Bonham-Carter is just as distracting as Depp and the rest of the cast seems to simply exist. Johnny Lee Miller is especially passive and exits the film in a manner that seems like he suddenly remembered he had something more important to do elsewhere and considering that he’s starring in that ill-advised American take on Sherlock with Lucy Liu, that should give you some perspective on how badly he must have wanted the hell out of this picture.
So it’s a mess. It has some moments that work, but more of them don’t and the final product is just sort of a waste of time. I think the script needed to be more consistent in every department and I think the film could have worked better had the cast been people who Burton hasn’t essentially claimed as his own little puppets. I want the Burton who made Ed Wood and Beetlejuice back. I want something impressive. I know he can do it and that’s why films like these are so damn depressing.
Anyhow, here’s some hot pictures of Eva Green to cheer you up.
Yesterday while working in the shop, a discussion formulated about this blog and my attitudes toward certain writers or characters. The conversation inevitably led to the question, if I were writing for DC or Marvel, what character would I most like to write and who says I could do any better than the people writing that title at this very moment.
The real truth is that while I absolutely adore the characters of DC and Marvel, I don’t have any true aspiration outside of perhaps a childhood fantasy wish fulfillment scenario to write those characters. I don’t think I’m particularly well suited to writing in that particular field. Not because I dislike serialization or don’t think that I have stories that fit the characters, because I do, but moreso because I would rather self-publish a book entirely of my own design in the mold of fellow Houston writer/artist Terry Moore, or have an original creation published through Image or some other publisher.
I am in fact working on the script for such a series, though I don’t know how I plan to publish it. Either through the same company that I used to print my first novel or to shop it around to publishers like Image. I suppose I need to get an artist on board first, as that would be a major part of getting the thing published in the first place.
But back to that original question, if tomorrow I got a call from the people at Marvel or DC and they said they wanted me to pitch them a story for a character of my choosing, who would I choose to write? Everyone here should know how much I absolutely love Batman. I mean, the first film I can remember seeing was the 1989 Batman movie with Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton. I’m currently wearing my “lucky” bat-symbol boxers as I type this. But I don’t think that I would be able to take the reins of Batman either in his main book or even in an ancilliary mini-series due to the fact that there’s too much hovering over my head in terms of expectations, and I fear that immediately following my run some big name writer would erase my work with the stroke of a pen and all my writing would have been for naught. And were I to do a mini-series it would likely be regarded as insignificant and passed over.
The same goes for characters like Captain America or Spider-Man over at Marvel. I’d be so intimidated by the legacy of those characters that putting my name on the book would render me into a quivering neurological mess.
So who would I like to write?
Over at DC, there’s only one choice:
That’s right damnit, Power Girl.
Why? Because I love fun characters, and PG is one of the most fun DC has to offer. I feel like she has been written extremely well by some really talented people, especially the current creative team, whom I will be sad to see depart with this week’s issue # 12. That having been said, there is plenty of room for expansion on the character. I think that there are many writers who are two quick to see what’s been done with her and reduce the book to a one note joke or they don’t know what to do with the character at all.
I would like to take hold of Power Girl and expand on the great work that Jimmy and Justin have done, and bring her to prominence in a way that makes it hard for her to be ingnored in the grander scheme of the DCU. Essentially do for her what Marvel has done for Ms. Marvel lately. Her book may not have been a mega-seller but it did raise her level of recognition and ingrain her into the rest of the shared universe, making her a central character. PG may be a member of the JSA but she’s not popping up in other books simply because she’s such a public figure in the whole of the DC universe.
In the grand scheme of things I suppose most of the characters I would most enjoy to write would be the ones who have been written well in the past but aren’t really very prominent when you look at the progression of the shared universe as a whole. Over at Marvel I’d love to write She-Hulk, Wonder Man, and I’d really like to try my hand at The Runaways even though I know that the internet would condemn my writing before a page ever hit the stands.
Will any of this ever come to fruition? Probably not. I think my teeth gnashing towards Geoff Johns has essentially black-listed me there at DC, and I’ve been fairly vocal about my displeasure with Marvel from time to time. I’ll have to publish my own horse-crap from here until the end of time.
Such is life.
I had intended to see this film in IMAX 3D but the only reasonably timed showing had already sold out by the time I showed up, so I had to settle for the regular screen format though I was able to get a 3D theater. With movies like this one, where the production was geared toward that format, I felt like if I saw a 2D rendering of it, somehow I would be missing out and not able to enjoy the movie to its full potential. I’ll grant you that Alice in Wonderland isn’t some unmissable piece of cinema, but I’m not going to see something where half the formula has been stripped.
As for the movie itself, I’ll begin by stating that if you like Tim Burton movies this is one that you can’t pass up. All his signature flares are here from the humour to the art design. This is practically porn for Burton enthusiasts, as the things that endear him as a director to that crowd are on full display here. For those of us who don’t think of Burton as some sort of godsend, the film is enjoyable in its own right. The cast is absolutely superb, playing their parts full bore, completely immersing themselves in character. Helena Bonham Carter is quite good as the Red Queen and Johnny Depp nails the schizophrenic lunacy of the Mad Hatter. The voice casting for the CG characters was spot-on as well, with Stephen Fry as Cheshire Cat being particularly entertaining. Not to mention Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpillar. That man can do no wrong.
Tim Burton has pointed out in interviews that his goal in putting out this film was to add structure to the Alice in Wonderland tale. He contends that previous versions felt like individual scenes placed along a central timeline with no real connection to each other and that his goal was to add cohesion to the overal arc. He has actually managed this, somewhat. With a story and setting so mind-bogglingly askew, everything has to feel slightly disjointed if only to aid in setting the tone. Luckily, the two forces at work here in the film tend to balance each other out.
Mia Wasikowska does an admirable job as Alice, playing sweet and demure with courageous zeal. She’s also endlessly adorable. I couldn’t help but think she bore a striking resemblance to porn starlet Aurora Snow. But then again, I’m kind of a pervert. But here’s a picture of Aurora as Alice anyway.
Really, my one thought coming out of the movie was that the 3D was well done and that it certainly enhanced the film viewing experience, but that none of it felt integral. I hate to even bring it up, but Avatar used 3D in such a manner that you felt like without it the whole movie would feel drastically different. It was part of the movie. With Alice, that feeling isn’t there. The 3D is simply there. Which may help it in the long run, as I doubt I’ll ever watch Avatar again and feel the way I did while watching it on that IMAX screen.
In the end, this is a film worth seeing. Especially if you’re a fan of the Lewis Carroll material. It’s most definitely a different take, but the tone feels right and the movie works on all the necessary levels. It’ll definitely have a place in the heart of thousands of Hot-Topic teenagers for years to come.