A Look Back: Dark Shadows

When some infants are born, those present may make prophecies, although this mostly just happens in fairy tales. But I suspect that when Johnny Depp came into this world, the doctor examined him briefly and proclaimed, “One day, this lad will play a vampire on the big screen.” So far in his career, Johnny has portrayed a Jesus figure with scissors for hands, several real-life criminal masterminds, the current POTUS, a sad sack small town guy with the world’s most dysfunctional family, and the owner of a magical chocolate factory, not to mention a pirate with an over-fondness for eyeliner. He began as an undercover cop/high school student on a popular eighties’ TV show, but by 2012, he was ready to fulfill the prophecy and play Barnabas Collins, a time traveling vampire on “Dark Shadows,” the titular soap opera made into a Tim Burton movie. (Like many vampires, Johnny is rather gentlemanly – except of course, when he gets thirsty, and then the manners go out the window.)

If you wish to flee a curse, as young Johnny’s parents attempt to do in the 1700’s, traveling a fog-filled route from England to America probably won’t achieve the desired effect – particularly if a little girl is eyeballing your son, and she grows up to be Eva Green, a witch with an undying crush on him. However, Johnny is more bewitched by a young maid (Bella Heathcote), although he is the scion of a wealthy, influential Maine family. This upsets Eva to the point where she forces Bella to leap off a cliff, enchant and entomb Johnny but not before (she’s on a roll) turning the entire town against his family. Fast forward a couple hundred years, and Johnny’s resting place is disturbed, so he awakens in the seventies. Not the best era to awaken in, but Johnny makes the best of it, returning home to his family mansion, (after performing an enchantment of his own on the groundskeeper, Jackie Earle Haley), which is now headed by Michelle Pfeiffer and Jonny Lee Miller. Also present is the new governess (Bella again) for Jonny’s son (Gully McGrath) who sees dead people and as a result, has a live-in psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter, like Johnny, playing yet another resolutely not normal person). In addition, Chloe Grace-Moretz plays Michelle’s rebellious daughter who has a hair-raising secret of her own. Thus the stage is set for wacky high jinx galore.

Unfortunately, Eva is also still very much around, and soon tangles with Johnny, who manages to get the family business back in gear, and have both a sexual encounter with Eva and a chaste but charming meeting with Bella on the cliff. To celebrate, the family holds a ball featuring (yes really) Alice Cooper. (“Ugliest woman I’ve ever seen,” quips Johnny.) However, the course of love is never smooth, resulting in a series of unearthly encounters, attempted murder and entombing, escape from a drastic house fire, villains receiving their comeuppance, and Bella making an extreme deal so that she and Johnny can be together forever. The soap was before my time, so I can’t say how well it’s replicated, but “Dark Shadows” certainly serves up a healthy helping of cheese. Offhand, I would say Velveeta.


Movie Review: The Neon Demon

“Are you high?” the motel manager (played by Keanu Reeves) demands in ‘The Neon Demon,” when Elle Fanning runs up and insists that there’s “something” in her room. He might well ask because although Elle has been in movies where she plays a believable, multi-faceted human being, here she acts from start to finish like she’s just woken up from a coma or perhaps is a mannequin who has magically come to life. Her “character,” if you can call it that, is Jesse, a small-town girl living in a lonely world, who dreams of becoming a professional model in the Big City, so she heads to California. There is a brief backstory, involving deceased parents and (so far) a virginal existence, and we also learn that she is underage, although Christina Hendricks’ character, a modeling agency head, persuades her to boost her age to nineteen. However, the audience does not need to be told point blank about the virgin part, as Elle’s initial wardrobe consists of long, flowing pastel gowns. One even appears to be a floral-patterned shower curtain, but it doesn’t matter because the actress is pretty enough to pull it off – and that’s certainly the opinion of everyone she meets in the movie.

Right off the bat, Elle is befriended by a makeup artist (Jena Malone), who takes her clubbing and later provides her phone number in case Elle needs it in an emergency. She also meets seasoned models, Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee, who are not exactly thrilled to have competition. Elle does have one friend (Karl Gusman), who helps her put together a portfolio, but she quickly ditches him, although it’s clear to anyone with half a brain watching the movie that he is the only who isn’t using her for something. There is a lot of symbolism: moons, a triangle made of four smaller triangles, tigers, roses and blood, which appear on a regular basis. There is also some floral wallpaper in Elle’s motel room that comes in for close-ups of its own, so I assume that was symbolic, too. Or perhaps it was there on the set to begin with, and they decided to feature it, like in “The King’s Speech” (a vastly superior movie).

As well as lots of shots of the actresses making out (when they’re not trying to slit each other’s throats), there is an actual demon in “The Neon Demon,” who does pretty much what movie demons do. There are many scenes with constantly flashing lights and lots where the boundaries between life and death, sleep and consciousness are blurred. The movie requires Elle to behave like most heroines in horror movies, i.e. completely oblivious to danger signals around her, whether it’s a tiger or someone trying to seduce her. Perhaps it is a challenge of sorts for an intelligent person to play someone without a grain of commonsense.

I initially guessed that “with Keanu Reeves,” meant that Keanu would play the director of a modeling shoot or someone similar, which would be amusing, considering he was pretty enough to model as a teen actor. But instead he plays the motel director, hides behindĀ a lot of facial hairĀ and even looks a little like Ben Affleck. I have seen all the actresses in other movies where they did a decent job, but here, they don’t seem to have any coherent plotline to follow. However, all the models and would-be models certainly look the part, and if you have ever harbored a secret desire to see Jena Malone make out with a corpse, this is the movie for you.