Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows”: A Movie Review

Last week, Tim Burton’s newest film Dark Shadows was released and opened to a modest $30 million domestic at the box office. But it is Burton after all, and the perfect opportunity to welcome another guest post by William Buhagiar, a connoisseur on all things Burton. Of course, William went to see it the first chance he got. Here’s his very favorable review:

When I first reached the age in which I was capable of reading the opening credits of the films I loved, I noticed a recurring component in a significant handful of the movies I watched obsessively: each one, prior to the revealing of the film’s title, featured the words: “A Film by Tim Burton.” My six (or maybe seven?) year-old curiosity inspired me to wonder who this guy was and why his name seemed to pop up in the majority of the movies I would play, rewind and play again. I’ve always been a passionate film buff, and as long as I have been, I’ve been a wildly outspoken, consummate Tim Burton fan: obsessively, repeatedly, studiously seeing his films, defending his work to infuriatingly-cynical skeptics, spending all but my limbs on ludicrous amounts of Burton-related merchandise and movie tickets – but also, much to everyone’s great shock, admitting that occasionally, Tim Burton doesn’t always make a great film. Despite the fact that he is undoubtedly my favorite filmmaker, I’m not delusional – he is not perfect, nor is he the best.

Mars Attacks! (1996) and Planet of the Apes (2001) are prime examples of Burton features that woefully missed the mark. His 2010 adaptation/re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland was also a brutal, sobering deflation of my arguably unreachable expectations; a breathtaking movie to look at, but ultimately a flavorless, generic Disney casualty that felt less like a movie and more like a product.  To prevent myself from experiencing the same bitter disappointment Alice in Wonderland slapped me across the face with, I put as much effort as possible into limiting my expectations for Dark Shadows, an adaptation of the 1960’s-70’s gothic afternoon soap opera chock full of vampires, witches, werewolves and poltergeists – a show that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were devoted fans of during its original 5-year run on ABC. Admittedly, I was rather anxious about Dark Shadows, (Burton and Depp’s now 8th collaboration) and much of my apprehension came from concern that the supernatural vampire genre has been exhausted in pop culture recently, and the source material was, to put it as kindly as possible, a tad ridiculous. I was terrified of another disappointment.

Alas, I can say with a blessed elation, when the end credits began to roll after Dark Shadows, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Any and all previous cynicism vanished, and I found the movie to be enormously entertaining, and an instant classic, featuring everything I seek in Burton/Depp collaborations. Many non-believers mistake their excessive collaborations for overblown repetition, an argument that frankly, I’ll never understand. Sure, I’ll admit that their films are often bizarre, dark in tone, and feature a lonely, isolated and eccentric protagonist. However, if you properly examine each of the individual characters and stories they’ve created for two decades now, they’re all wildly original and unique.

Dark Shadows opens with a wonderful prologue narrated by Barnabas Collins, whose parents brought him from Liverpool to America in 1760 and established a fishing business in Maine and built their home, Collinwood Manor. (The production design is superb and all of the set pieces are magnificent.) When Barnabas breaks the heart of the Collins family servant, the witch Angelique, she places a curse upon the family and turns Barnabas into a vampire and with the help of an angry, god-fearing mob, buries him alive.

Two-hundred years later, in 1972, Barnabas is freed from his tomb by a construction crew and violently drains each of them, courteously taking a moment to apologize to one of them: “I am terribly sorry, but you cannot imagine how thirsty I am…” The following sequence is hilarious – Barnabas wanders about the town of Collinsport, Maine in a state of intense confusion, trying to make sense of gas stations, pay-phones, cars and paved roads, among many other puzzling fixtures of the 70’s. When Barnabas returns to Collinwood, he finds his beloved mansion in a state of disrepair and the family business run into the ground. The mansion is now home to his distant descendants: Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard, (The stunning Michelle Pfeiffer, reuniting with Burton for the first time since their genius creation of the greatest Catwoman portrayal ever), Elizabeth’s daughter, Carolyn (Chloe-Grace Moretz), her brother, Roger, (Johnny Lee Miller) and his son, David (Gulliver McGrath).  It wouldn’t be a complete Burton movie without the always-glorious presence of the goddess that is Helena Bonham Carter, playing Dr. Julia Hoffman, the Collins’ live-in psychiatrist, a pill-popping alcoholic.

The real stand-out performance here is Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard, the witch who cursed Barnabas and is now running her own seafood business in Collinsport, consequently responsible for the collapse of the Collins family business. She is an extremely compelling villain and her performance is explosive and her motivation intriguing – she chillingly purrs to Barnabas, “If I can’t have you, I’ll destroy you.” There is real menace and fury in her eyes, and we, the audience, believe every furious word.

Burton recruited Bruno Delbonnel as cinematographer, whose previous work includes Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a stunningly-photographed film for which he deservedly received an Oscar nomination. In Dark Shadows, Burton and Delbonnel aimed to shoot the film in a style reminiscent of 1970’s films (horror films, specifically) for the sake of authenticity and atmosphere. Delbonnel’s work here is equally as stunning as in “Harry Potter,” and the cinematography will most likely earn him another Oscar nomination. I’m never surprised whenever a Tim Burton movie is visually pleasing (they always are), but the achievement in photography here is particularly impressive – especially when taking into consideration the accomplishment of the 70’s feeling.

Dark Shadows has moments of wild, over-the-top camp and many of the dialogue-driven scenes are over-acted to perfection. If the film wasn’t tongue-in-cheek, self-aware or took itself seriously, the camp and the soap opera tone would ultimately render the movie a failure. The film isn’t meant to do anything but provide entertainment, and it truly is a piece of good old blockbuster escapism; and I was delighted during the film to perceive it as precisely what I seek in Tim Burton’s films: you will never see another movie like this anywhere else. His greatest movies are always the most unique – Frankenstein-like men with scissors for hands, a barber singing beautiful melodies while viciously slitting open his customer’s throats, an eccentric, cross-dressing filmmaker, and now, an out-of-place 18th century vampire struggling to re-adjust to his new surroundings. Burton and Depp’s critics can say whatever they like, because regardless of their excessive cynicism, after twenty-two years of collaborating, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp continue to inspire.    — William Buhagiar

William’s Rating:

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’: Final Cast Breakdown

Well, this is it…the final posting of our in-depth look at the tremendous ensemble cast of the Harry Potter series. This also marks the end of The Lantern’s special “Harry Potter Retrospective” which has been tackled quite impressively (if I may say so) by William Buhagiar, film buff and self-proclaimed Potter nerd. I hope all of you Harry Potter fans will read these articles and, of course, share your own opinions on how the films honored (or dishonored) Rowling’s books. Of course, the final film is set for release on July 15th — and once again, I would like to remind you that Buhagiar’s movie review will be posted here that weekend. I am still hoping to be caught up by then (as I have just recently started watching the films). Thank you for reading — and thank you, William…for an amazingly thorough job! — P.E.

Bellatrix Lestrange

Played by: Helena Bonham Carter
Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A

I find Bellatrix Lestrange to be one of the most fascinating characters Jo Rowling created, as she is the only witch in the series who is almost as obscenely evil as her beloved master, the Dark Lord. Rowling sums her up accurately in the seventh book as “a witch with prodigious skill and no conscience,” when she ravenously takes down four men with a stroke of her wand. She is, to put it mildly, an absolute lunatic; a bloodthirsty sadist and a woman who commits horrifying crimes, such as the torture and permanent incapacitation of Neville Longbottom’s parents, Frank and Alice. After the first downfall of Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix, ever the fanatic servant, set out to find her master and suspected the Longbottoms knew of his whereabouts. She tortured them so brutally and severely that they lost their minds permanently, and remained at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries for the rest of their lives – forgetting that they even had a son together. Bellatrix is one of the very few Death Eaters that are among Voldemort’s ranks purely out of devotion to his cause, and throughout the series built a reprehensible body count, torturing and killing many characters that we had grown to love.

Although I had never seen her in a film prior to this series, when Helen McCrory was cast as Bellatrix prior to the release of Order of the Phoenix, I was thrilled, simply because she resembled Rowling’s description of Bellatrix so well. She dropped out soon after due to pregnancy and for a few weeks I waited patiently to see who would replace her. Despite the fact that she is a repugnant character, she certainly ranks among my favorites. When Helena Bonham Carter, my absolute favorite actress, accepted the part, I was beside myself with excitement. Although I knew her role in Order of the Phoenix would be minimal, I couldn’t wait to see her portrayal of the psychotic Death Eater.

The movie was a disgrace, but her performance was spectacular. It was wild, explosive and very unpredictable. In Half-Blood Prince, she was given a significant amount of additional screen time, and totally topped her Phoenix appearance. She very artfully tore through the castle, blasting away windows in the Great Hall, setting Hagrid’s cabin ablaze and savagely screaming as she released the Dark Mark into the sky. I thought it impossible for her to deliver anything new in Deathly Hallows: Part I but alas, I was quite mistaken. In the fifth and sixth movies, she was insane in an almost comical way – her anarchy and cackling lacked any real menace, but in the seventh, she introduced us to a completely different side of Bellatrix that we had not yet seen in the films, and added a new (and very disturbing) layer to the character’s insanity.

Overall, I find Helena Bonham Carter to be the most enjoyable part of the movies, and this might be a biased opinion. Her performance as Bellatrix Lestrange is wickedly intoxicating, and it is truly impossible to take your eyes off her while she is on screen. Her role in Deathly Hallows: Part II will be her most prominent out of any of the movies, and I am beyond amped to see what she comes up with next.

Draco Malfoy

Played by: Tom Felton
Performance: A
Screen Treatment: C+

Tom Felton is probably the best of the younger actors in the series. He seems to have a very good understanding of the character and always aces the scenes he is in. In Half-Blood Prince, his role is more prominent than in any of the other installments, and his performance was admirably parallel to the behavior of the book’s Draco Malfoy.

Sadly, Draco’s treatment in the films is watered-down and disappointing. Jo Rowling’s Draco Malfoy cannot only be irritating, but also vile and cruel at times. Whenever Malfoy was on the page, readers were infuriated by his bigotry, his cruelty and his constant tormenting of Harry, Ron and Hermione. In the films, however, Draco is nothing more than an irksome bully, occasionally inconveniencing our heroes with a snide remark and providing comic relief whenever his cowardice is showcased.

Draco’s storyline in the seventh film, though very rarely on screen, is properly established, as his family is now being degraded and humiliated by Lord Voldemort. This will ultimately serve the viewers in Deathly Hallows: Part II with (hopefully) one of the most satisfying character arcs in the series, as Draco’s newfound reluctance to take part in the Dark Lord’s new regime is a fantastic route for the misguided youngster to take.

Remus Lupin

Played by: David Thewlis
Performance: B
Screen Treatment: C-

Lupin, though a frequent and bold presence in the books, is sadly nothing to rave about in the films. He is given much leg room in Prisoner of Azkaban, during the many Patronus charm lessons he gives Harry, and his general role in that particular entry was the most prominent out of the seven. After the third film, however, he is pretty much nowhere to be found, popping up in the occasional scene maybe to provide a little exposition, remind us he’s a werewolf, and that’s about it.

Thewlis’s performance as Harry’s third year Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in Azkaban was certainly adequate, and though he didn’t resemble the Lupin I pictured, that does not give me license to complain about the casting choice; if the filmmakers were to satisfy every fan’s mental image of the characters, then the films would obviously be impossible to make.

As previously stated, Lupin’s presence in the books is certainly more frequent, which is frustrating considering he is the subject of major events that unfold in Deathly Hallows: Part II, and in the previous film he has barely any screen time. I’m hoping that the filmmakers will find a method of compensating for Lupin’s very heavily-sacrificed prominence in the films by somehow inserting a Lupin-related something in the beginning of the finale. This will most likely not be the case, as there’s already so much back-tracking and revisiting that must be done in order for the audience to have a vague comprehension of the main plot alone – therefore I assume that poor Lupin’s story will be left unattended to.

The Trio (Harry, Ron & Hermione)

Played by: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson
Performance: B, A- and A
Screen Treatment: A (for all)

Now that they have played the parts in each of the eight films, it’s difficult for us to picture any other actors playing the parts of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Each of the three beat out thousands of others for the parts and were all plucked from obscurity to play the central heroes of the Harry Potter series.

I feel there is not much to be said for each of them. They have played their parts to the best of their abilities, and very little was sacrificed to bring them to the screen. Hermione (Watson) was a dream come true for the screenwriters, as she was constantly utilized to explain every bit of exposition required for the stories. Rupert Grint served us well as the permanent source of comic relief, and whenever the films aimed to get the audience giggling, Ron was always there with a goofy remark. Daniel Radcliffe was, at times, a bit dry in his portrayal of the Boy Who Lived, but his dramatic improvement was heavily evident as the films progressed, and his last performance in film seven was his best yet.

I must admit, I’m glad that the three actors were featured in each film. I’ve had my issues with their performances at times, but considering their age, I’d say they did an adequate job and certainly improved gradually with each movie. If there were ever any problems with the characters, it was more in the writing and less a product of the actors. Ron’s goofy sidekick quirks were sometimes misplaced and inappropriate, Hermione seemed less a character at times and more a secret weapon for the writers to get information across, and Daniel Radcliffe, given the daunting task of carrying all seven films, was an occasional bore.

To execute each role to absolute perfection for eight films would undoubtedly be impossible, and these three have done their best to respect their characters. They’ve brought Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger to life over the course of a solid decade, and like I said, suggesting anyone else for the roles would not only be difficult, but impossible.

Other Supporting Cast Members:

Molly Weasley (Julie Walters)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A+

Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson)

Performance: A-
Screen Treatment: B-

Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson)

Performance: A
Screen Treatment: B-

Mr. Ollivander (John Hurt)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A

Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall)

Performance: A+
Screen Treatment: A-

Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent)

Performance: C
Screen Treatment: C-

Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch)

Performance: A-
Screen Treatment: C+

Fred & George Weasley (James & Oliver Phelps)

Performances: B
Screen Treatment: C+

Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis)

Performance: B+
Screen Treatment: C-

‘Harry Potter Retrospective’ (Part 5): A Look at “Deathly Hallows”

This is the last mini-review in the ‘Harry Potter Retrospective,’ as contributing author William Buhagiar takes a personal & discerning look at last year’s Deathly Hallows: Part I. Of course the final installment of the mega-franchise is set to release in a few weeks (July 15th) – a bittersweet event for fans of the books and films, I am sure. I would bet my rent money that Mr. Buhagiar will be there to see it at the scheduled midnight screening — or any time on its first day of release — and he’s graciously committed to writing a full review for Magic Lantern that very weekend. In reading his very positive commentary on Part I, I can only hope that he is not severely let down with Part II as I fear that a squad of firemen may have to spend a few hours trying to talk him off a 10-story ledge. This special Retrospective will wrap up with Buhagiar’s astute analysis on many of the actors who have appeared in the Harry Potter films. A special “Thank You” to him for dedicating himself and writing such a thorough Series. Kudos to you William!!! — P.E.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:              2010
I Saw It:                   Four Times
William’s Rating:  

I cannot stress enough how anxious I was entering the IMAX theater at midnight to see this film. Never before had I been as tense about a movie, silently hoping with the desperation of a true nerd that once the lights came up at the end, I would not be tempted to blow up the theater. Deathly Hallows: Part I is undoubtedly my favorite of the books, and I don’t believe I would have been able to tolerate a treatment of the material that did not do it justice.

When the film ended and the credits began to roll, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Of course, it is not the book, but it is by far the finest of the films yet. Audiences unfamiliar with the original material were also satisfied – the only complaint I have yet to hear is that, at times, the film is a bit slow. (This is not at all an issue with readers; of course, we eat up every miniscule detail they include.)

Very few events are cut, and those that did not make it into the film are essentially trivial, not nearly as vital to the story’s progression. This, the seventh installment, finally embraced the tone of the books properly; the film is very dark and violent, with a constant sense of danger and fear throughout. As this is the first of the movies that does not take place at Hogwarts, the three principles are (for the most part) alone, and the supporting adult characters have very little screen time. I believe that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint give their finest performances yet in this installment, and they did an admirable job of carrying the movie.

One scene in the film did infuriate me, however, and I’m sure if you’ve seen the film and read the book you know precisely what I’m referring to. There is a moment when Harry and Hermione are alone in the tent. The atmosphere is grim and Hermione is listening to a radio, looking morose. Harry, in an attempt to cheer her up, silently invites her to dance – and they very revoltingly do just that. I’m willing to overlook this, as this was the only maddening part of the film.

The Tale of the Three Brothers,” a sequence which I believed would be extremely difficult to adapt and explains the legend of the Deathly Hallows, was so ingeniously staged that I must admit, was even better than what I had envisioned in my head during the reading of the book, using a unique blend of computer animation and shadow puppetry. The destruction of the locket in the Forest of Dean, following the appearance of the mysterious silver doe, was another masterfully staged scene that far surpassed my expectations.

As in the book, the events that take place in Deathly Hallows: Part I are the most intense and severe. The film opens with a statement by Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (played by Bill Nighy): “These are dark times…” The Dursleys pack up and leave Privet Drive to go into hiding, Hermione “obliviates” her parents to protect them from the Death Eaters, performing a spell that makes them forget their daughter and leave the country – and the tearful Hermione watches sadly as she disappears from the photographs on the walls. After this brief opening montage, we arrive at the home of the Malfoys, which Lord Voldemort has decided to use as his headquarters. He sits at the head of a long, ornate table, and is holding a meeting with his Death Eaters, and the scene explores the situation of the war: the Dark Lord has infiltrated the Ministry, he is getting stronger by the minute, but there is one last barrier he has yet to overcome: Harry Potter is still alive, and Voldemort himself must be the one to kill him. Throughout the scene, a bruised, bloody and tortured woman is suspended above the table; a Hogwarts professor passionately teaches students that Muggle-borns, witches and wizards with no magical relatives, are equal to “pure-bloods.” Lord Voldemort, obsessed with blood purity, begins his reign of terror (essentially genocide) in eliminating any witch or wizard born to Muggles. This very disturbing scene ends with the Dark Lord murdering the professor, and feeding her to his snake, ultimately setting the stage for the rest of the film.

Like the book, the film is suspenseful, dark and even harrowing at times. The heroes are truly pushed to the limit as the circumstances in the war against Voldemort reach astonishingly desperate levels. Nowhere is safe for Harry, Ron and Hermione, there is a Death Eater attack around every corner, and the body count far surpasses any of the previous entries. Voldemort is no longer featured solely in the climax, giving Ralph Fiennes a generous amount of screen time, and he appears much more often, sans-nose, than he has before. Helena Bonham-Carter boldly leaves her mark on the audience and provides a very different side to Bellatrix Lestrange than what we had seen in the previous films (in “Order of the Phoenix and “Half-Blood Prince,” despite being murderous and destructive, her insanity was entertaining in a more harmless, almost laughably crazy way). In Deathly Hallows: Part I, however, the diabolical witch’s sadism is brutal, disturbing and chillingly cruel – especially during a scene towards the climax, which she targets Hermione and mercilessly tortures her, and carves the unforgivable prejudiced term for Muggle-borns, “Mudblood,” into her skin.

As the film comes to an end, and we mourn the death of a beloved, heroic character, not only are we grieving for the tragedy, but also for the fact that we must patiently wait for the subsequent chapter of the story. After my first viewing of the movie in November, Part II was a frustratingly-tedious eight months away, and now it is less than one. As much as I cannot wait to see the final showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, and watch the phenomenally gargantuan, epic battle between good and evil that will ensue (though I am bound to shed a few tears, as we lose so many beloved characters here), there is also the inevitable consequence of the series coming to a close that I’ll have to face. I sincerely hope that Part II is as satisfying as this film was, but considering the major events that are to take place towards the climax, I have my doubts, and fear that these scenes, some of which are my favorite of the entire series, will be radically under whelming. Hey, you never know, maybe my current cynicism will all be in vain, and Part II will pleasantly surprise me. I will simply expect the worst, but hope for the best.

Here’s a trailer for Deathly Hallows: Part II

‘Harry Potter’ Retrospective (Part 4): Films 5 & 6

It’s Back!!! — Part 4 of Magic Lantern’sHarry Potter Retrospective” by contributing author William Buhagiar. Here, Buhagiar looks at Films 5 and 6 in the series — and doesn’t hold his tongue in the process. Clearly, he has major issues with these two particular films, and tells us why. Do you agree? Are these films as poorly executed as he says – or is William being too harsh on them? As someone who has not seen these two (just yet), I would love to read your thoughts & feedback. Our next Part will feature William’s review of the 7th film, followed by a commentary on select actors from the all-star cast. — P.E.

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Michael Goldenberg
Released:               2007
I Saw It:                   Twice
William’s Rating:  

This is not just my book-devoted, frenzied biased speaking – “Order of the Phoenix” is simply not a good film. And as far as an adaptation of a novel goes, it is the most gruesome two hours I’ve had the grave misfortune of wasting. (Note: I do in fact own the DVD, because years after my first nightmarish viewing I decided to revisit it and give it another shot.)  This was the ‘Potter’ movie I was the least excited to see, as I had known prior to seeing it that the 860-page book had been trimmed massacred to a mere two hours, making it the shortest out of any of the ‘Potter’ films. Does this make sense to you? I think not. I was also far too distracted by the fact that the final book, Deathly Hallows,” was to be released the same week.

Unlike the previous movie, “Order of the Phoenix” had a very sloppy, disjointed script and strayed far from the crucial points of the story that created a brilliant climax – a climax that essentially never even takes place in the film. Considering this installment was not written for the screen by Steve Kloves, who had penned each of the previous scripts (and the ones that followed), the movie suffers the serious consequence of being written by an extraordinarily incapable writer.

Visually, sets such as the Ministry of Magic, the Department of Mysteries, and the Room of Requirement were satisfying and accurate. Imelda Staunton, though she looks nothing like the fat, toad-faced Senior Undersecretary described in the book, delivered an adequate performance of Dolores Umbridge’s false sweetness. The film did not, however, accurately convey the cruelty and inhumanity of the appalling and power-crazed Professor Umbridge, who Rowling made us loathe.

There is one aspect of the film, and the following films, which always stays with me when I finish viewing them. Helena Bonham-Carter’s performance as the sadistic psychopath Bellatrix Lestrange is one of my absolute favorite parts of the movies. Bonham-Carter is my single favorite actress — I find her a wickedly intoxicating performer whom I cannot takes my eyes off whenever she is on screen. Her fearless performance soars, explosively, in each of her scenes – and unfortunately she is only given a few minutes of screen time in the film.

This is by far my least favorite of the movies, as it completely neglected such wildly crucial elements of the story that are key components in many following events. This was such an insanely important part of the story, and not only were the filmmakers robbing fans of beloved material, but also leaving audiences unfamiliar with the novels terribly confused.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince

Director:                 David Yates
Writer:                     Steve Kloves
Released:               2009
I Saw It:                   Twice
William’s Rating:  

Why, why, why did the filmmakers take the story of “Half-Blood Prince,” one of the finest volumes of the series, and decide to make the movie a romantic comedy? Anyone who has seen the film knows I am not lying, nor am I exaggerating this sentiment. It was a Goddamn romantic comedy — a showcase of comical teenage relationships that was barely a footnote in the novel. And what are the consequences? Elements of the story which are actually relevant, that have no reason to be left out, are nowhere to be found. (I’m referring, fellow nerds, to the memories we see in the Pensieve, among other things.)

Also rather agonizing to stomach is the film’s reluctance to actually focus on the titular character (whose name I will not reveal…I think I’ve delivered enough spoilers so far). During the climax, when the identity of the Half-Blood Prince is revealed, I sensed a heavy feeling of “nobody gives a shit,” because this mystery was speculated on for about thirty seconds on screen.

Mercifully, this was nowhere near the caliber of the unforgivable “Order of the Phoenix” tragedy. Steve Kloves returned to write the script and in his original draft, each of the memories featured in the book (nerds know what I’m talking about) takes place. I don’t know whose decision it was to remove them in order to show the audience that wizards have hormones too, but I would love nothing more than to provide that person with a swift dropkick right in the teeth. Once again, I have no complaints about the visuals — the film is shot beautifully and each new set piece is as authentically Rowling-esque as ever. Helena Bonham Carter pops up to steal the show as Bellatrix Lestrange a few times, cackling madly, being chaotic and destructive, and setting nearly everything in her path aflame.

I suppose, considering this was their very last chance to be humorous and charming with the world of Harry Potter (as everything that follows is nothing but grim), they seized the opportunity and ran with it, leaving us not only furious, but also confused as to how exactly they intend to tie up loose ends in the final episode, when vital information contained in “Half-Blood Prince” was not just watered-down, but left out of the film entirely. No, the movies cannot be the books – but there’s no excuse for them to lose focus on what is important in the story.

Oscar Nominations 2011: My Thoughts

The nominations for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards were announced early this morning and, like most years, it seemed to be quite the ho-hum affair – very few surprises, many who were snubbed, and even more who won a nomination thanks in part to fervent studio campaigning and “bandwagon word-of-mouth” via the blitzkrieg that is the media. Though it doesn’t lead the pack in nominations garnered, David Fincher’s The Social Network looks to be the early odds-on favorite – and though I thought it was a very good film, I can’t help but think how lucky it is to be released in what was yet another weak year in motion pictures. I look at the titles of the 120+ films I have screened so far this year (and still a few I must soon see) and see many good films that made their way to movie screens in 2010. What I fail to see are many great films released. One, two….three? Does anyone see three? Can I get a three? Anyone? [insert cricket noise here] It seems to me, to be indicative of last year and the recent years that preceded it – a bunch of solid, quality films and very few truly remarkable ones.

In any case, I thought I would share with you my immediate reactions to the list of nominations for this year’s Oscar. Please feel free to comment and leave your own thoughts on the Oscar race.

And let’s be real. All of these Awards ceremonies, the gluttony of presentations we see with each new year are just fodder…they really don’t mean very much at all…To be honest, it is all just meaningless filler – that is, until my own prestigious Magic Lantern Award nominations are announced! The most distinguished always makes the final entrance – and, if I may say, that holds true here as well. I will make sure to post the 1st Annual Magic Lantern Awards noms within 7-10 days. Sorry for the delay – I just need to make sure and see a few more select films.

OK, enough. My quick reactions to the Oscar noms:

What is the point of having a category for the ‘Best Animated Feature’ if you are just going to consider these films for the ‘Best Picture’ category? It seems to me that nominating Toy Story 3 for ‘Best Picture’ is an absolute waste – and completely unfair to a number of films that were very deserving of the 10th slot. We all know how this plays out anyway – no chance in hell of winning ‘Best Picture,’ but a shoo-in to win the Animated category.

I was afraid that Jesse Eisenberg would win a ‘Best Actor’ nom and sure enough, he did. Eisenberg did what he always does in the very same manner. He just happened to do it in a critically acclaimed film. What’s next? Michael Cera gets a nod for the one role he doesn’t wear a hoodie for?

Kudos to the voters for remembering and honoring much smaller/lesser seen films that deserve recognition such as: Jacki Warner’s chilling performance in Animal Kingdom, John Hawkes’ terrific work in Winter’s Bone, the intriguing documentary Waste Land, the very nice costume designs in the otherwise lackluster I Am Love, the impressive art direction and costumes in Alice in Wonderland.

Did Robert Duvall do or say something to piss Hollywood off at some point? His performance in Get Low was one of the year’s best and I thought, a shoo-in for a ‘Best Actor’ nom. Seems a shame that James Franco and Eisenberg get these slots. Don’t worry, Bob…there’s always the Magic Lantern nomination soon coming.

Speaking of James Franco – it has crossed my mind that if he were not co-hosting the Oscars this year, he would not have been voted in for ‘Best Actor.’ So he cut off an arm. Big deal. Not many stand-out performers by lead actors this year, but I can think of 5 better right off the bat. And while on the topic of hosts – this odd experiment of Franco and Anne Hathaway has boring flop written all over it.

Thank you voters for not encouraging the pretentiousness of Christopher Nolan with a ‘Best Director’ nomination. It’s bad enough the film is nominated for Picture (though certainly deserving of its Cinematography and Art Direction nominations). Thank God it was left out of the Editing category too – because that could have used some chopping up.

I saw Rabbit Hole (good) and Blue Valentine (not so good). Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams give good performances. That’s it. Good. So many others are far more deserving this year – we nominate male leads in foreign films…why not Hye-ja Kim (Mother) or Noomi Rapace for giving the year’s gutsiest performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The omission of Rapace is this year’s biggest snub. And, Annette Bening surely deserves a nomination here – they just picked the wrong film to nominate her from.

I am thrilled to see little-seen The Illusionist nominated in the ‘Best Animated Film’ category. But where the hell is the absolutely charming and intelligent My Dog Tulip? The film has received nothing but praise and they only nominate three films anyway. Seems to be a glaring omission from here. Gorgeous animation, wonderful narration by Christopher Plummer and one of the year’s smarter films.

Jeff Bridges. That is all.

Looks like comedies get left out in the cold again. It’s tough to squeeze them in, I understand – but in looking at all of the nominations – there aren’t a lot of laughs going around. City Island, Kick-Ass, Wonderful World, Please Give are all fine films…just couldn’t break through here. I know I piss all over the Golden Globes, but maybe the Oscars should start thinking of having a ‘Best Comedic Film’ category. Something to mull over, at least.

I still strongly believe there needs to be an award for “Best Performance by a Child.” There always seems to be a few solid performances given by actors under the age of 16. It is my belief that the work of a young child of say, 12 should not be compared to the work of an actor with years of experience and training. This would also avoid the whole Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin disasters. The Academy made the smart step in creating a category for animated films – this needs to be the next step. Chloe Moretz was too good this year to be excluded and Ms. Hailee Steinfeld (who was wonderful in True Grit) should not be going up against the multi-layered talents of Helena Bonham-Carter and Melissa Leo.

We’ll see how the race takes shape over the next few weeks. The King’s Speech made a mighty statement by winning the most nominations, perhaps putting a small dent in the momentum of The Social Network. Right now, it seems like a 2-horse race, but again…we’ll see how the media’s influence starts to shape the outcome.

As always, I am looking forward to watching the telecast, despite the inane choice in hosts and predictable ‘Best Picture’ nominations.

Next Up – The Magic Lantern Award Nominations!!!

You know…the real shit!

The Top 5 Films of Tim Burton

I am excited about this particular posting, because it is the first one on the Magic Lantern Film Blog by a contributing writer, William Buhagiar. Last week, I posted a review of Alice in Wonderland and in it I mentioned that Tim Burton’s films are hit-or-miss with me. Of course he remains one of America’s most visually stylistic directors and there are certainly a number of his films which I greatly admire and enjoy. However, in my opinion, there are too many that miss the boat and I personally cannot put him in the upper echelon of today’s filmmakers. Mr. Buhagiar though feels quite differently, as Burton remains his most favorite film director, which is why I am so thrilled that he decided to write a list of the Top 5 Tim Burton Films. He certainly can speak to Burton’s films better than I can, so it makes complete sense that he’s the one creating the list here and not me.

Buhagiar is a film student (New York Film Academy) and is a serious movie buff of films both past & present and in a variety of genres. I am also pretty sure he knew more about film than his own H.S. film teacher, as I’m not entirely sure how much you can learn about cinema from reading Us Weekly. In any case, I always enjoyed speaking and debating with William about movies, actors, & directors. I hope that he will enlighten us with another film List or article in the near future. Here it is….Tim Burton’s Top 5 Movies from contributing writer, William Buhagiar:

#5. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Two words that immediately make me shudder: horror movie. At this point, it’s common sense that the genre is a barren wasteland overflowing with generic and repetitive cinematic trash. Yet Sleepy Hollow actually accomplishes what a successful horror film ought to: it startles, haunts and thrills the audience. Johnny Depp gives yet another brilliant (and highly amusing) performance as Ichabod Crane alongside Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon and a stellar ensemble cast. With a clever script written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en), Burton’s gift for projecting psychological phobias in visual fantasy ultimately delivers a wonderfully entertaining, eerie and unforgettable story. And believe it or not: it’s a horror movie.

#4. Big Fish (2003)

Many critics argued upon its release that this was Burton’s finest. With great performances by a strong cast, (Albert Finney being the terrific lead) Big Fish is another Tim Burton classic; a story of father-son relationships that balances all of the fantasy elements you would anticipate in a Burton feature along with contemporary family drama that had previously been a genre he hadn’t yet ventured into.

#3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Considering the more recent stage-to-screen musical adaptations, Sweeney Todd is arguably one of the most unique. Burton couldn’t have been a more appropriate candidate to bring the story of the murderous, revenge-obsessed barber and his cannibalistic meat pie-baking Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter, one of modern Hollywood’s finest scene-stealers) to the screen. Naturally, the title role went to Johnny Depp, who was subsequently nominated for an Oscar for his haunting performance. For the many movie-goers who are biased against the typical dull cinematic musical, and prefer to spend their $10 on films sans show tunes, Sweeney Todd is a picture that may shift their perspective. Surprisingly thrilling, highly entertaining and visually gorgeous, Burton’s artistic vision was well-executed for this project. Let’s face it: what other movie features throat-slitting and human meat pies accompanied by song?

#2. Ed Wood (1994)

Tim Burton’s biggest failure, and also his greatest triumph. Ed Wood was a box-office disaster and yet the critics raved. Why Burton chose to create the biopic of Edward D. Wood, Jr., unanimously considered the worst film director of all time, is obvious. Burton grew up on his movies. He describes Wood’s films as “incredibly dreamlike…personally, I wouldn’t call them ‘bad,’ they had a very unique otherworldly quality about them.”

Johnny Depp (naturally) plays the wide-eyed and relentless Ed Wood, who continues to pursue his artistic dreams despite a series of absolute failures. During one particular sadly-comical scene, Wood stands at a payphone waiting for feedback regarding his directorial debut, Glen or Glenda, (an homage to Wood’s actual affinity for dressing in women’s clothing) and Depp, with a madly enthusiastic smile on his face, states: “Really? Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!” The most astonishing aspect of that scene is Wood’s smile is never erased, despite the critical opinion of his film.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking and inspiring focus of the story is that of the relationship between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau, who scored the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for his performance. When Wood and Lugosi coincidentally meet while Lugosi is shopping for his ideal coffin (“This is the most uncomfortable coffin I’ve ever been in!”),  Wood is beyond star-struck, pestering him with questions, offering him a ride home, constantly expressing his admiration and discussing the roles Lugosi played that captivated him as a child. (Allegedly, Burton’s focus on the Lugosi-Wood friendship was an homage to the relationship between Burton and his own childhood hero, Vincent Price.) Wood constantly wrote roles (in putrid B-movies) for Lugosi, who was, at the time, considered by Hollywood to be a washed-up has-been heroin addict. He was removed from rehabilitation numerous times due to his inability to pay for treatment. Ultimately, Lugosi’s addictions led to his death, which Burton couldn’t have depicted with any more respect.

Although Wood holds the reputation of being the “worst film director” of all time, Burton crafted a film that ultimately pays great respect to the man rather than mock him. Sure, his eccentricities are showcased in comedic fashion, but really, don’t they deserve to be laughed at?

#1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands is the closest we’ll ever come to a Tim Burton autobiography. Burton has very often described growing up in Burbank, California as being a desolate, lonely and frustrating environment. He claims to have had a certain disability in properly communicating his twisted, fertile imagination to those he was surrounded by with mutual understanding from others. The adolescent Tim Burton spent most of his time in complete solitude, privately viewing marathons of sci-fi B-movies, old Hammer horror movies, along with the 1930’s Universal horror classics dominated by Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., among others. Despite his efforts, Burton could never quite get his message across to the prim, “Crabtree & Evelyn” suburbite residents that he was surrounded by. He was certainly a misunderstood outsider, unable to communicate, and desperate for acceptance. But he was an extraordinary artist. And thus, Edward Scissorhands was born. Beginning as a sketch drawn when he was fifteen, Burton conceived the idea of a man with scissors for hands, an obvious symbol of his communicative handicap (the original sketch is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art).

In a suburban world parallel to the one Burton was raised in (only dramatically cartoonized into a visual environment of pastel houses, perfectly trimmed lawns and neighbors who spend the majority of their days gossiping about others), a kind Avon saleswoman, Peg Boggs, (Dianne Wiest) seems to be having a difficult morning selling her make-up products. Dismissed by a housewife who is in the midst of seducing a plumber and a teenage girl who happily applies toenail polish then admits to having no money, she decides to drive up to a ghoulish mansion atop an enormous hill out of desperation.

Here, Peg discovers a timid, lonely “creation” named Edward (Johnny Depp), who to her great shock has scissors for hands. When she inquires about this, he quietly whimpers, “I’m not finished.” Peg asks about his mother…and receives no response. When asked about his father, Edward once again barely gets the words out, “He didn’t wake up.” So Peg decides to take Edward home and introduce him to civilization – with an ultimately heartbreaking outcome.

The film is no tear-jerker; it’s not a melodramatic “Nicholas Sparks” story where an over-the-top tragedy is inevitable. And yet I can remember being 4 years-old and openly weeping by the end of the movie. Sure, it may be a bit ridiculous, but this is simply one of those movies that are guaranteed to generate a few tears from me every time I watch it.

Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s magnum opus. Burton created a story that perfectly channeled his feelings of isolation and of misunderstanding. Essentially, Tim Burton is Edward. The film remains a universal classic to those of us who grew up watching it. Such a unique piece of imaginative artwork is absolutely unforgettable, and when it comes to the best of Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands has the market cornered.

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Alice in Wonderland” (***)

I recall that there was so much anticipation to this film — ‘The film that Tim Burton was born to direct’ was what everyone was saying. Then, when it was released earlier this year, I hadn’t heard many positive things about it at all (despite its massive box-office intake), so I decided to stay away from it. Sadly, I did not get to witness this gorgeous looking film on the big screen, but I am glad that I did get around to watching it as I found it to be a pretty enjoyable film.

Tim Burton is hit-or-miss with me. Though certainly a great visual director who has his own unique style, I always felt he needed better screenwriters to collaborate with as many times it is the screenplay that I find to be weak, though he has made terrific films in “Sweeney Todd,” “Big Fish” and “Ed Wood.” Here, he re-creates his own bold interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s seminal work with an adapted screenplay by Linda Woolverton. Rather than having an Alice trying to figure out who she is not (as in the book), this Alice (a fresh young face in Mia Wasikowska) is seeking to find out who she is as a 19 year-old budding woman. In the process, Burton gets to explore the complex nature of dreams as Alice is never quite sure if she is awake or will wake up at any moment.

Alice is betrothed to an idiotic fop of an English nobleman who she really has no love for. The first few minutes pretty much beat you over the head with showing you how independent and unique she is — too much so. At her engagement party where she is debating whether or not to say “Yes” to this clod, Alice escapes and falls down the proverbial rabbit hole, entering the magical world of “Underland.” Filled with strange and unique characters – a tyrannical queen, talking animals, bandersnatches, knights and such – Alice finds that she is there for one reason…to slay the treacherous Jabberwocky and restore the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to her rightful place on the throne.

The film is a visual delight filled with wonderous art direction, make-up, and computer effects in addition to Colleen Atwood’s imaginative costume design for these surreal characters. Danny Elfman’s score, though fitting, is quite easy to point out, as much of his work for Burton’s films sound very much alike. While in Underland, the movie is a treat to watch — it’s the beginning and end of the film, when Alice is in “the real world,” that the film falls short.

The performances here are wonderful and fun to watch.  As the despotic Red Queen with the enormous head, Helena Bonham Carter is deliciously fun. She is incredibly bossy here (“I need a pig!”) and barks her orders in quick, firm fashion. Though quite villainous, Carter does display a great sense of insecurity and envy towards her sister, the White Queen. You almost feel bad for her…almost!  Hathaway does a fine job as the White Queen who is committed to her altruistic vows. She doesn’t get to chew the scenery like her co-stars, but does an admirable job and has the right look/air of playing the good queen. The voice work of Alan Rickman (the Blue Caterpillar) is superb, which should be of no shock to anyone. His baritone voice is smooth and melodic and creates a great sense of mystery here. Stephen Fry plays the voice of the magical Cheshire Cat and he too is wonderful to listen to.

Of course the highlight here is Johnny Depp playing the infamous Mad Hatter. I’m not sure what to say about Mr. Depp other than the fact that I find him to be one of the handful of actors working today that truly immerses himself in a role and commits to the craft of performance in full force. A close friend and “student” of the late Marlon Brando, you can tell that much of Brando’s approach wore off. Depp has an uncanny chameleon-like ability and here, he comes up with his own unique interpretation of the Mad Hatter. He is sweet and gentle one moment, and forceful and a bit sinister the next. His lispy voice and eccentric manner (as well as his make-up and costume) fit the legendary character very well. He also plays a great protector to little Alice and there is a very sweet scene between the two when Alice has to say good-bye to her new friend. I found myself feeling great empathy for him throughout the film. There is also an incredible scene between Depp and Carter when he is brought in to her as a shackled prisoner. Great fun to watch!

This is a very engaging coming-of-age story where Alice has to figure out who she is, what she wants and has to find her “muchness” that she has apparently lost. Wasikowska, an actress I was not familiar with, does a nice job at playing the very demanding role where much of her work is done against a green screen – and her chemistry with Depp is strong.

All in all, I was upset that I didn’t get to witness this event on the big screen and I don’t see where all the negativity comes from — unless it was that expectations were set so high that Burton had to create a masterpiece in order to satisfy everyone. This film is not a masterpiece, but it is a very entertaining film that takes on its own interpretation while keeping the tone and feel of the book everyone knows. And though it does have a few flaws, I enjoyed it immensely.

Rating:   
Director: Tim Burton
Year:      2010

To watch the film trailer, please click here

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