Video Verdict: ‘Dark Shadows,’ ‘People Like Us’

Johnny Depp plays the vampire Barnabus Collins in director Tim Burton’s cinematic take on the classic television show “Dark Shadows.”

The latest collaboration between actor Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton leads this week’s crop of home video releases.

Dark Shadows

2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

One can always count on director Tim Burton to deliver movies dripping with atmosphere, and his film adaptation of the 1960s and ’70s soap opera “Dark Shadows” is eerily beautiful to look at. Unfortunately, the storytelling elements don’t keep pace with Burton’s visual craftsmanship.

The “Dark Shadows” TV show ran five years, and vampire Barnabus Collins wasn’t in early episodes, but his eventual appearance created a ratings spike, making him the face of the series. Likely for that reason, Burton and company put the focus squarely on Barnabus (Johnny Depp). The movie starts by explaining the character’s past, most importantly how he was transformed from a powerful 18th century businessman into a bloodsucking demon that got buried alive. The action then moves forward to 1972, when construction workers unwittingly free the vampire.

The now-ancient Barnabus returns to his estate, finding his family business in disarray. The current head of the household is Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), and she is kept company by her troubled daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz); her ne’er do well brother, Roger (Johnny Lee Miller); Roger’s son, David (Gulliver McGrath); David’s psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter); and the family housekeeper (Jackie Earle Haley). It’s a dysfunctional group, and Barnabus struggles to fit in not only because he’s a man out of his time, but because each of his descendants has issues.

Slowly, he ingratiates himself to the family, pledging to return their fishing business to its former glory. This won’t be easy, however, because one of Barnabus’ old enemies, a witch named Angelique (Eva Green), has established a successful rival company.

As vampires go, Barnabus is an interesting character in that he is neither good nor evil. As portrayed by Depp, he is often brutal and animalistic, yet he is just as frequently kind and considerate. This is a difficult line to walk, but Depp does a reasonably good job.

Unfortunately, Burton isn’t as skilled at walking the tightrope. Just as Barnabus is an odd mix of good and evil, “Dark Shadows” is supposed to be a mix of humor and horror, and Burton never gets the formula right. There are laughs to be had in chronicling the exploits of a 200-year-old vampire discovering the modern world, and Burton attempts to mine this territory, but never very successfully. That’s probably because many of the comedy scenes are immediately followed by sequences dripping with genuine horror. Alas, they too suffer because of the strangely lighthearted bits that come before.

As good as Burton is at creating atmosphere, “Dark Shadows” suffers from an inconsistency in tone. The upshot is a movie that feels like it could have been great with a few minor adjustments. Since they were never made, viewers are left with a film that looks terrific, but feels long, dull and uneven.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature centered on the movie characters and the actors who portrayed them.

People Like Us

3 stars
Rated PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality
DreamWorks
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

With “People Like Us,” writer-director Alex Kurtzman has crafted a compelling drama that speaks to the power of familial bonds, even when removed from a traditional setting. The movie focuses on Sam (Chris Pine), a smooth-talking salesman who had such a poor relationship with his father that he considers it an imposition when he’s called home for the man’s funeral. Nevertheless, he and his girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde), make the trek.

Upon arrival, Sam consoles his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) and attempts to reconcile his bitter feelings toward his father. The process isn’t going well, and his dad’s attorney (Philip Baker Hall) makes things more complicated when he hands Sam a shaving kit filled with $150,000. The money isn’t, however, for Sam. There’s a note asking him to take care of the sister he never knew he had.

Shocked, Sam secretly gets to know the woman, a recovering alcoholic named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) who is raising a son (Michael Hall D’Addario) on her own. Even more disappointed in his father, Sam must decide whether to pursue a relationship with his newfound sibling or take the money and run.

Pine is a fine young actor, and he anchors the film nicely, instilling Sam with subtle complexity. It helps that strong supporting players surround him. Banks, Pfeiffer and Wilde are solid throughout, making this particular family crisis seem plausible and real. Much credit is also due D’Addario, a young TV actor who maskes a great transition to the big screen.

Kurtzman co-wrote the screenplay with Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert, and they were able to keep the material relatively fresh despite the crowd of family dramas that have come before. To his credit, Kurtzman also moves the film at a pleasant pace, allowing the characters to properly develop while consistently pushing the plot forward. He also allows viewers time to think about what they might do in similar situations, and that’s the most valuable benefit of a film like this.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary featuring Kurtzman, Pine and Banks.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Peace, Love & Misunderstanding”: When a serious-minded Manhattan lawyer (Catherine Keener) learns that her husband wants a divorce, she packs up her two kids and goes to stay with her hippie mother (Jane Fonda). The experience changes the entire family. Directed by Bruce Beresford.

“Cinderella”: Disney is opening its vaults and bringing this beloved 1950 fairy tale to Blu-ray for the first time. Fans have several purchase options, the most elaborate being a six-disc boxed set that also includes “Cinderella 2” and “Cinderella 3.”

“The Lady”: Director Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita”) tells the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the real-life Burmese politician who faced personal hardship in her struggle to bring democracy to her country. Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis star.

“Hart of Dixie” – The Complete First Season: This CW dramedy follows the life of a young, New York surgeon (Rachel Bilson) who goes to work as a small-town general practitioner after her career aspirations are smashed. Jaime King, Wilson Bethel and Cress Williams also star.

Universal Classic Monsters – The Essential Collection: With Christmas approaching, movie studios are rolling out some impressive boxed sets. This collection includes eight Universal horror films on Blu-ray: “Dracula” (1931), “Frankenstein” (1931), “The Mummy” (1932), “The Invisible Man” (1933), “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), “The Wolf Man” (1941), “Phantom of the Opera” (1943 and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954).

“David Blaine – Decade of Magic”: This multi-disc set collects all three of magician David Blaine’s television specials, allowing fans to relive his amazing feats.

“Iron Sky”: Science-fiction feature imagining a world where the Nazis constructed a space station on the moon in the waning days of World War II. Their goal? To regroup and take over the Earth in 2018. Christopher Kirby, Udo Kier, Gotz Otto and Julia Dietze star. Directed by Timo Vuorensola.

“Tom and Jerry – Robin Hood and his Merry Mouse”: New animated film in which Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse offer a new twist on the Robin Hood fable.

“Pet Sematary”: Blu-ray debut of the 1989 Stephen King film about a family that moves to a country home next to a pet cemetery, eventually releasing great evil on the world. Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne and Denise Crosby star. Directed by Mary Lambert.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Video Verdict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s