Shadow Man

Dark Shadows

At this point I’ve seen every Tim Burton movie. Since Mar’s Attacks in 1996 I’ve also seen them all in theaters. So more than anything I went to Dark Shadows to keep the streak alive. I enjoyed Burton’s gothic, fairy tale-like, movie for many years, but I’ll admit he’s not as cutting edge as he once was. I’m disappointed that Burton’s latest film is yet another adaptation. I’ve also never had any interest in the Dark Shadows Soap opera series. Still, as a guy who loves monsters and the macabre I was somewhat curious. So what I got was an occasionally entertaining if not messy monster mash of vampire jokes, pokes at 70s culture, and muddled direction.

Dark Shadows begins with the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) in the 1760s. Moving from Liverpool to a Maine fishing port as a boy, we learn about the Collins families rise to power, but more importantly their demise. As a popular young bachelor, Barnabas breaks the heart of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green) who in turn kills his parents and turns Barnabas into a vampire. Additionally, she puts a curse on Barnabas’ true love Josette (Bella Heathcote) leading her to commit suicide. Flash forward to 1972 and we are introduced the modern Collins family. Once a respected family with a successful fishing business, the Collins family is now but a mere shadow of it’s former self. So a young woman calling herself Victoria Winters (also Bella Heathcote) is hired by the family to teach the spooky, 10-year old Collin’s boy David, blah, blah, blah, Barnabas is conveniently unearthed from his coffin by construction workers, yadda, yadda, the evil witch is still around and still mad at the Collins family. Oh my god, so much boring plot! That’s the problem when you try to cram a whole TV show into one movie .

Dark Shadows has interesting characters, even some good good jokes, but it doesn’t know where to go from there. The Fact that we are first introduced to Barnabas as the protagonist, then Victoria as the protagonist, and then back to Barnabas shows that they really didn’t know where the heart of the story was. There are so many different plots and subplots to focus on; Barnabas’ love affairs between Angelique and Victoria, the attempt to revive the family business, the personal woes of each member of the Collins family, it’s a mess. Stick to one plot point and make sure it’s something that is genuinely interesting and compelling.

I went in hoping this would be something around the lines of Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family movies. Say what you will, I think those movies did a fantastic job of blending the macabre with modern america. Did you know Caroline Thompson who wrote The Addams Family movie also wrote Edward Scissorhands? Dark Shadows has a few good gags, but the humor is more or less gone by the third act. Johnny Depp provides the most laughs in a very committed performance. I’d of much rather preferred a flat out comedy about Barnabas readjusting to modern life than whatever this is supposed to be. I liked the humor, but whenever it tried to be serious or insert action I was bored to tears.

Tim Burton’s always been a style over substance kind of guy, so I’m not surprised he’s been so hit or miss most of his career. I’m not even sure if Tim Burton ever knew what a good story looked like, so really it’s all just dumb luck. Burton’s next film will be a stop-motion remake of his original 1984 short film Frankenweenie. Hmm, possibly intriguing but definitely unnecessary. I also recall hearing that he had some interest in making a stop-motion Addams Family movie… Nooo! The horror! The horror!

Avengers, Assembled

The Avengers

This is what we’ve all been waiting for. The bulk of super hero movies from the past four years, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, all lead to this. One movie, six super heroes. It’s exciting to think about, and even more exciting to watch. It took a lot to get here, but The Avengers was certainly worth it.

Earth’s mightiest heroes are all where we left them; Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is living large, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo now) on the lam, Captain America (Chris Evans) is alone in a strange new world, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) are off being badass agents, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is off in a magical kingdom. One person isn’t where we left them: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s scheming brother who fell off the rainbow bridge in that movie. He’s not taken exile well, and he’s got an army to help him get revenge. And so a plan is set in motion to begin an interplanetary war, a plan that can be stopped by no lone super hero. Fortunately, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has been putting a team together.

A lot of the credit for The Avengers has to go to Joss Whedon, who co-wrote and directed the film. As someone who not only loves comics, but has written his own, he is able to deftly handle these larger-than-life characters, delivering satisfying closure for all the Marvel movies leading to this one. Iron Man learns to be less selfish. Captain America finds a place for himself and becomes the leader he never quite was in his own movie. Hulk finally makes progress on controlling himself, his main concern from when he was Edward Norton. Whedon pays due diligence to all of these beloved characters, and it really pays off.

The ending of The Avengers is Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Straight up: a once-divided team fights a seemingly endless army of invading aliens pouring out of the sky while trying to get to the one skyscraper that isn’t being knocked down. Only, it’s a million times better because the action’s easier to follow, it’s not 400 minutes long, and I actually care about the characters. Even Black Widow, who I know basically nothing about, is fleshed out as a great character, with some of the best scenes in the whole movie.

Of course, this is in part due to the cast as well. I particularly want to point to Mark Ruffalo, since he’s the best Hulk yet and please Mr. Ruffalo, if they want to do another Hulk thing, you should be the one to do it. Robert Downey, Jr. continues to dominate every scene he’s in, but the rest of the cast tries their damnedest to rise to his level, and pretty much succeed. I hope Tom Hiddleston had as much fun playing Loki as he seems to be having on screen, because he made for an absolutely great villain and also I hope he’s not in another of these movies for a while. Too many super hero movie sequels have been ruined by villain repetition.

If you haven’t seen the movies leading to this one, if you don’t care about this stuff at least a little bit, this might not be the movie for you. I think The Avengers does well enough introducing each character, but it would be a whole lot of information to process very quickly just to keep up as a newcomer. And certain things just would never make sense. But for those of us that have been keeping up, in all just a huge payoff. I can think of a handful of scenes that fanboys will be chatting about with each other for years to come. It’s hard not to believe that this is the peak of super hero cinema.

The Avengers is almost certainly my favorite of the Marvel super hero movies. I’d like to say it’s my favorite super hero movie full stop, but Chris Nolan’s Batman movies exist. It’s almost not fair that the last trailer they showed before The Avengers was for The Dark Knight Rises, as if to remind me that super hero movies can achieve a level of greatness beyond a gigantic nerdgasm. The Avengers exists in a different world from Nolan’s series, a much, much more fun world, where there’s snappy jokes and the thing closest to a theme is ass-kicking. I like being in this world almost as much.

T3 16: Top 10 Super Heroes

Hark! Up in the sky, it’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Top Ten Thursdays! In honor of the imminent release of The Avengers, we narrowed down our favorite super heroes for your enjoyment. It’s pretty selfless, kind of like Superman. It’s kind of crazy, kind of like Batman. It’s a great responsibility, like Spider-Man. Up, up and away!

Check out our rogues gallery after the jump.

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R.I.P. Adam “MCA” Yauch

I know we don’t do RIP’s as frequently as we used to, just because well, a lot of celebrities die all the time.  But I figure it’d be a shame for me to not at least pay some kind of tribute to a guy who was at the heart of a band that I like so much that I’ve listened to all their albums.  Adam Yauch, or better known as MCA, died earlier today at the age of 47 as the result of a long battle with cancer that started back in 2009.  I had been aware that this was something he’d been dealing with, but it’s still a surprise when anyone so young and full of tenacity succumbs to such a thing.

Yauch started the Beastie Boys in 1979 with Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock Horowitz as part of New York’s underground punk scene.  They eventually made the leap to another then-burgeoning form of underground music, hip-hop, and the rest as they say is history.  The Beasties burst on to the scene with the multi-platinum License To Ill in 1986, and never missed a beat from there.  Each album was a new adventure into some new sound, as these guys always seemed primed to re-invent themselves.  And that’s basically why these guys always have been, and probably always will be my favorite hip-hop artists of all time, because they never confined themselves to the passing trends of a genre that sees so few artist that last 5 years, let alone 25 years.  MCA always struck me as the wise elder statesman of the Beastie Boys, and I can’t imagine Mike D and Ad-Rock carrying on with the Beasties name with out him, so I really have no idea what’ll happen with them.  What I do know is I’ll probably be listening to Paul’s Boutique more than a few times over the next day or so.

Home is Where You Make It

Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

I’ve noticed a handful of artists these days brandishing some very nostalgic R&B sounds. Raphael Saadiq and Fitz and the Tantrums come to mind as two acts that not not only play old school soul, but sound like old school soul. British singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka is the latest artist to go for that nostalgic feel, and listening to his debut album Home Again was just like listening to oldies radio.

First off, Kiwanuka has a great voice. You shouldn’t mess with soul if you don’t have the vocal chops, but chops Kiwanuka has. On Home Again Kwanuka already sounds like a matured artist, which is amazing considering he’s twenty-four years old. Often equipped with an acoustic guitar, Kiwanuka’s fusion of heartfelt soul and acoustic guitar has drawn comparisons to Bill Withers. The big difference being Bill Withers was an amazing songwriter and Kiwanuka is just an okay songwriter. Where Kiwanuka pens some tracks highly reminiscent of the good old days, there’s not a lot that really jumps out at you.

The impressive “Tell Me a Tale” leads off the album with a jazzy soul exploration (flute included). The song eventually builds to a Temptations like chorus that’s hard not to like. After that, my attention wanders as Kiwanuka breezes through slow acoustic numbers that never seem to go anywhere. “Bones” a possible homage to 60s doo-wop is my second favorite track on the album. If only Kiwanuka focused his energy more on the style of those two tracks I’d be sold. The acoustic stuff is nice enough, but it gets real old real quick.

I feel bad that wasn’t as taken with Home Again as I was hoping to be. I love whole retro feel of everything but it all comes down to the quality of the songs. Kiwanuka should learn to shift his focus more towards catchy R&B/Pop songs as opposed to slow, bittersweet, ballads. He has a better chance of excelling as 60s-esque soulman than a brooding singer-songwriter. Either way, I look forward to where his career could possibly go down the road.

Favorite Tracks: “Bones”, “I’ll Get Along”, “Tell Me a Tale”

Something Ugly

Screaming Females – Ugly

With recording technology and the internet making it so easy for bands to get their music out there, it seems weird that I don’t hear about more bands refining their sound in this way before gaining more attention.  Anyways, Screaming Females have more or less been doing this for a while with a D.I.Y. aesthetic that saw them releasing their own albums independently and thriving in New Jersey’s underground scene.  Now it seems that this trio is just starting to really hit it’s stride with a growing knack for songcraft in addition to their unabashedly hard-rocking sound.

It seems pretty apparent that I’m always going to be drawn to that scruffy post-punk sound that continues to occasionally reverberate throughout indie rock, and that’s certainly at the backbone of Screaming Females’ sound.  However, there’s also this affinity for the kind of guitar pyrotechnics that you find in the classic rock of Zeppelin or Sabbath as well.  Really, the star of the album has undeniably got to be Marissa Paternoster, who’s guitar work here establishes her as a first rate shredder of the highest order, yet there’s still an ear for melody that aptly compliments her wailing guitar solos.  And in addition to that, Paternoster’s a real howler of a vocalist, which I suppose could be a bit polarizing for some people, but I really dig the way her unhinged vocals play off of her equally unhinged guitar work.

The only knock I have against Ugly is that it’s a little on the long side at 53 minutes, considering that the band never really strays too far from it’s distinctly sludgy sound.  The one real exception to this is the album’s closing track “It’s Nice”, a more introverted acoustic number that slowly builds itself into a full-on power ballad.  The song shows that this band can do beauty just as well as abrasiveness, and thus leaves me with hope that this band could give us even greater things in the future.

Favorite Tracks: “Rotten Apple”, “Help Me”, “It’s Nice”