Monday, February 25, 2013

"Dark Shadows"...The Movie...

(Johnny Depp as "Barnabas Collins"; Michelle Pfeiffer as "Elizabeth Collins Stoddard")
Ya know, there are some movies that I am critical of before I even see them. Most of them are the films based on television shows that are already established and successful in their own right.  TV series that, however outdated and flawed, have a fan base to this day. I have already written a post or two about this particular TV show to film translation. Now available on DVD, I finally viewed the movie…Tim Burton’s production of “Dark Shadows”.

From the get-go, I saw the use of creative license. Granted, the opening credits did say the film was based on “Dark Shadows” created by Dan Curtis. The first glaring use of creative control was with the characters of Maggie and Victoria. In this film adaptation, they are one in the same person. On the train to Collinsport, Maine, Maggie Evans decides to change her name to Victoria Winters. That change is small beans compared to many of the happenings through the course of the film.

In no way can I color myself surprised that the movie was a big goose egg. Did it have the patent look of a Tim Burton production? Yes. Did it star Burton’s two staple actors, pal Johnny Depp, and longtime ‘significant other’ Helena Bonham Carter? Yep. Was it over the top to the point of camp and beyond? Uh-huh. I’m a Burton fan, as well as a Depp and Bonham Carter fan. I also appreciate a bit of the ‘over the top’ and the camp. But…

Have you ever watched a production, whether it be stage, television or screen, where the jokes fall extremely flat even though the actors are giving it their all? I have no doubt that there are a group of people who laughed their proverbial asses off at this movie. That group is made up of everyone attached to the production itself. While I forged ahead on watching it in its entirety, I had visions of the cast and Burton sitting around a table having their first read through. I could see them laughing raucously at each other as they delivered their lines, totally in on the “joke(s)” at hand. My thought was, “I bet they thought this was outrageously funny, but did they really think about how it would translate to the audience? To the people who weren’t in on the initial joke?” It doesn’t seem to me that they did.

("Barnabas" tries to catch a nap...)
(Top Left:  Chloe Grace Moretz as "Carolyn Stoddard; Top Right:  Bella Heathcote as "Maggie Evans/Victoria Winters";
Bottom: Jonny Lee Miller as "Roger Collins", Helena Bonham Carter as "Dr. Julia Hoffman)
("Elizabeth Collins Stoddard" gets her Ma Barker on...)
As for comparisons between this remake and the original, I can’t help but make them as I am a die-hard fan of the "Dark Shadows" of the 1960’s. I’m sure Burton and Depp (a producer on the 2012 project) might say that comparing the two is pointless since they didn’t intend to keep the original elements intact. To take the overall story where they did, I agree. But to make Maggie and Victoria one in the same bugged me…both are important characters in their own right. They could have easily taken Maggie out of the picture altogether. As the film progressed, we would learn that Maggie/Victoria/Josette (Bella Heathcote) was disowned and put in a mental institution at a young age because she ‘could see dead people.’ Then there’s the character of Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is 15 years old, and a werewolf.  Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) is portrayed as a womanizer, theif, and terrible role model for son David, and is basically banished from Collinwood by Barnabas…he is hardly present in the film and could have easily been left out. I could go on, but you get the picture. Most of the characters of the ensemble don’t compare much to the originals (which is actually pretty criminal considering the cast Burton had).  The whole film doesn’t really compare. Aside from character and place names, it wasn’t really “Dark Shadows”.

What did make the “Dark Shadows” of 2012 truly unmemorable was the script. It was the flat jokes that beat the audience over the head. Depp is fine as Barnabas, but he lacks the presence of the original Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid. Surprisingly, really. Depp is an accomplished actor, and known to be a huge fan of Frid's Barnabas. Yes, in the scope of the newer production, Barnabas is presented in a more anachronistic fashion. His old ways are primary fodder for the joke writing pen. Sadly, it is ink wasted as most jokes illicit an eye roll and/or a groan…if even that. There is a section of the story where Barnabas holds a grand Ball and invites the whole town to Collinwood. At Carolyn’s sarcastic suggestion, Barnabas gets Alice Cooper to headline. The ‘my what an ugly woman’ jokes proceeded to bash me over the head. Yes! Okay! I heard you the first time! Such a waste of a fine actor such as Depp…but then he is a producer…he obviously approved.

(Original Cast Members:  Lara Parker~"Angelique", Jonathan Frid~"Barnabas Collins",
David Selby~"Quentin Collins", Kathryn Lee Scott~"Maggie Evans"; and Johnny Depp as "Barnabas Collins" 2012)
(Kathryn Lee Scott, Michelle Pfeiffer as "Elizabeth Collins Stoddard" 2012, David Selby, and Lara Parker)
As a rule I avoid reviews of movies I plan to see. Many times I disagree with them, liking that which has been panned, and vice versa. “Dark Shadows” was no exception, and I stayed away from its reviews. There was one tidbit of info I did get while it was still in production, and that was the appearance of surviving members of the original cast in a cameo. I thought that was pretty cool, and looked forward to seeing them after all these years. Actually, a chance to see them in the film made me stick with it to view it in its entirety. I watched, and watched………and watched. Then the end credits began to role. What the…? I sat through every frame and didn’t notice them at all. Did it not happen after all? I hopped on the computer to Google about it, and there it was. A still frame of the original cast members. They were presented entering Collinwood to attend the ball. There was also apparently a quick flash of them chatting with Collins family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer). The two moments were such throwaways; if you blinked you would miss them. Christopher Lee had a longer appearance as a boat captain (another one of Burton’s staple actors). If Burton was going to give the original actors and production a nod, he should have given them a nod. Not the feeble onscreen flashes they got.

(Alice at the Ball...)
No, I wasn’t expecting much when I pressed the ‘Play’ button on the remote. Optimistic I wasn’t. However, there was a tiny molecule of ‘I hope I’m wrong’ in there. But I wasn’t wrong. Burton’s batting average hasn’t been that great in recent years. “Sweeney Todd” is brilliant, but Sondheim was involved…he is known to be a stickler and I doubt he would have allowed the movie to be less than superb. On the other hand, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was awful. Another remake that flunked…and Burton was quite outspoken about how he was going to do the book justice, as the Gene Wilder “Willy Wonka” was crap.  

By what I have said in this post it may not seem that it pains me to give such a review, but it does. I’m a Burton fan. Have been for years. I have great appreciation for his artistic attention to detail, and for his original works. If I could give Tim some advice it would be to stick to his own original brain children, and stay away from reworking already established productions that have solid cult followings. That’s seriously shaky ground that he’s fallen on more than once.

I decided to skip my usual Readers’ Digest breakdown of this film. I’ll save the time for a movie I do like. Do I recommend “Dark Shadows” the movie? In the broad sense…not really. Burton fans will see it anyway as that’s what fans do. I did. I can’t say, “You must see it to see how plodding and disappointing it is.” I can say, “If you’re at home with nothing better to do, and can see it for free then by all means do.” 

Now, THIS...

...THIS has interesting possibilities...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Full Moon In Virgo...February 25, 2013...

("Virgo", Artist: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

For those of you who read my monthly moon postings, I had to take a break from them. I started a new gig just before the holidays, and my free time was cut into considerably while I made the adjustment. Have had a few people ask me if I was going to start back up again, and I think I have my time balanced a bit better now, so…
February’s Full Moon falls on the 25th of this month at 3:28 PM/EST, and is positioned in the sign of Virgo. This lunation is a chatty one. Most people will have a lot to say, and won’t hesitate to say it. This moon is also set to illuminate some of the finer details of your life. If there are any areas of your life that need some adjusting and/or improving, expect them to bubble to the surface. Full Moons not only resemble a celestial spotlight, this Virgo Moon will act as one shining on personal projects already in motion. This revealing light will make areas that need correcting more obvious.

A Mars-Mercury conjunction in the sign of Pisces is the culprit behind the free flowing communication during this cycle. Mercury became retrograde as of February 23rd (and will remain so until March 17th), so that’s where the communication push begins. Mercury and Mars putting their heads together can be tense, and things said can be sharp and intended to wound. The fact that they are conjoined in the sign of Pisces tempers that quite a bit…a good situation for some mellow Piscean vibes. Even though you may get sick and tired of hearing about some issues over and over, it’s good to tough it out. The seemingly endless chatter could be leading to a light at the end of the tunnel, and a resolution.

Virgo is a perfectionist, and can be quite analytical at times. The Virgo Moon speaks to organization and keeping an eagle eye on details. Don’t go halfway on things leaving them incomplete. See things started through to their conclusion. There is great potential for some breakthroughs during this lunation. Jupiter signals they could very well be big, while Pisces and Virgo say they could be emotional or intellectual respectively.

("Virgo", Artist David Palladini)
The Piscean Sun conjoins the Moon and Chiron, both in Virgo. This aspect represents the potential for purification. It’s a time to heal wounds that have been festering for some time. Also a healer, Saturn in Scorpio and Pluto in Capricorn are in harmonious aspect to the lunar axis. This adds to the healing energy with emphasis on older issues. Be patient in letting them go.

Still sextile to Jupiter in Gemini is Uranus in Aries. In addition, Aries is semi-sextile the Pisces Sun and inconjunct the Virgo Moon. We have all heard the saying about patience being a virtue. Uranus will most likely try that patience. Don’t be surprised if others seem too demanding, and want to move forward on certain things without any discussion. It’s advised to at least think about their way of doing things, and to not throw it all away just yet. You may find that it holds weight and can be of use down the line. When others are ‘gung-ho’ about something, we might let it rub us the wrong way without giving things a fair shot. Try to not be overly critical of others (yourself included). Try to keep your perspective no matter what.

Still in need of some romance this month? Shortly after the Full Moon, Venus will exit Aquarius to move into Pisces to conjoin Neptune in Pisces. It’s a perfect time to play the romance card with your significant other.

For the Virgo Full Moon lunation, work on cleaning up your act and refining your life. With balance comes serenity. Always stay focused on the big picture, and look forward – not back. Also, make some time to do something for will only add to the enrichment of your own life.

(Photo: h. koppdelaney)
The following excerpt is from the Farmer's Almanac:

  • Full Snow Moon - February  Since the heaviest snow usually falls during this month, native tribes of the north and east most often called February's Full Moon the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes also referred to this Moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since harsh weather conditions in their areas made hunting very difficult.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Art is a form of self-expression, and the concept of art is a many faceted stone. Each facet of said stone represents a different form of art. Drawing, painting, sculpting, weaving, photography, writing, and so on. The artist may have a specific focus when pouring themself into a creation. They may hope to evoke a specific mood or emotion in viewers of the finished product. They may hope to express what they have found to be difficult to express by any other means. Yes, art is indeed a form of self-expression.

The art of film making is yet another form of art which is exemplified in the world of the independent film. I have a deep appreciation for independent films, as they tend to take more risks and try to actually put forth a movie that has substance. Subjects and plot lines that aren’t necessarily cut and dry, but that cause the movie-goer to think. They try to touch something within the audience.

All that being said, it is not under the control of the movies creator as to how the viewers will react…as much as they try, it’s not always possible. The deeper and darker someone travels within themselves to pull out a story, the more mixed the resultant reactions will be (in many cases). In the end some movies are just a crap shoot. The film has been made, released to the masses, and it is then out of the director’s hands.

I recently watched a film that many would consider to be an “art film”. I will agree that this film is worthy of the label “art film”, and go one further by calling it an “esoteric art film.” I have ventured into a number of those thought provoking worlds. Some have left me feeling satisfied in one way or another, and others have left me feeling cheated or even bored. So where did this latest film leave me?

(Willem Dafoe) 
Before I continue, the name of the film is “Anti-Christ.” I had wanted to see it for some time as the little I had read about it intrigued me. The fact that Willem Dafoe is in it was also a positive selling point. He has occupied a place on my favorite actors list for some time. The film was painted to have a supernatural side. A therapist and his wife travel to a secluded cabin in the woods to deal with grief caused by the tragic death of their young son. I am paraphrasing, but that’s what I got from the short blurbs I read.  That description is true enough, but what I ended up seeing is far removed from what I was pre-conditioned for.

Before I sat down to start writing my impressions on this film, I decided to not do any surfing on the net in preparation. Director Lars Von Trier wrote and directed “Anti-Christ”, and I didn’t want to read any interviews with him. I also didn’t want to see what other views were on what the film is actually about. I would say that “Anti-Christ” is a film that best falls under the category of “up to individual interpretation.” From the moment the film started, I felt plunged into a place of…discomfort.

The structure of the film is laid out in chapters, beginning with the epilogue. Shot in black and white, and running in slo-mo, the two characters at the core of the film (Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as wife/mother) are in the shower. This scene evolves into close-ups of rather graphic sex. These close-ups are interspersed with shots of their young son climbing out of his crib, and walking into the room to watch his parents in action. The young boy sees an open window in the room, crawls up onto the table by it, and proceeds to walk out and fall to his death. As for the construction of the epilogue section, I kept feeling like Von Trier was trying too hard to be David Lynch…and failing. Maybe Von Trier did want to project feelings of distaste, but the switching back and forth between shots of the boy walking to his death and the parents twisted bodies and contorting faces was unsettling. All of this was set to a soundtrack of an aria (Lascio Chi'o Pianga) from Handel’s, ‘Rinaldo’.

For the remainder of this post, I will be calling the two primary characters “He” and “She”…those are the monikers given them by Von Trier when he penned the tale. Both parents are grief stricken, the mother doubly so. After a collapse at the boys’ funeral she is hospitalized and prescribed drugs which her therapist husband is against. “He” decides that she is better off without the pills, and he feels he can treat her in a more healthy way by having her face her grief. From this point forward, I’m not going to get into a detailed blow-by-blow account of the film as it is extremely convoluted. To do that would be far too tedious…and confusing, really. Before sitting down to watch “Anti-Christ”, I had expectations of a horror movie in a paranormal vein. That’s not completely off  the mark in terms of my interpretation of things. This film is truly an example of interpretation being directly seated in ones head space at the time. There were noticeable hints here and there about where Von Triers wanted to take me on his journey, but they were not strong enough to carry me down his path. “She” was scared of the forest where the cabin is…the cabin where most of the film takes place. “She” spent time alone there with her son. It was during that time that she seemed to slip into madness/go crazy. “He” takes her back to the cabin in the dreaded forest to face her fears. Once there, the film takes off into a world of symbolism, and nympho-maniacal and masochistic sex. “She” seems to exhibit a split personality (which feeds my initial impression of her going crazy), and goes in and out of having to sleep, and/or mount her husband in brutal/angry fashion. My distaste during this film grew exponentially. It really went over the edge when she became enraged because she thought he was going to leave her. The physical abuse she inflicts on him is hard not to empathetically feel…even as a female. Then there is the act of female circumcision she performs on herself with a pair of scissors. Before the end of it all, we see a replay of the epilogue from the perspective of "she" who remembers watching her son crawl up on the table and fall to his death...and she said nothing. "He" does end up killing her in the end, but from everything I saw in the film it appeared she had it coming. From where I sat she was an unstable maniac who would kill or be killed. 
The only symbolic thread I could see (and it didn’t turn up until about the middle of the film) was reference to “The Three Beggars”, depicted in the film as a fox, a deer, and a crow. A phrase that “she” says, “when the three beggars arrive, someone must die,” was heralded by the appearance of the three beggars. I felt there must be some deep meaning in the story unfolding that concerns the ‘beggars’, but it wasn’t computing clearly enough for me.

“Anti-Christ” is dark, brutal, and couldn’t get out of its own way long enough for me to try to understand what the whole point of the film is. Is there a point? I kept thinking there had to be…but it was hidden in a hard to watch and tangled storyline.

I took some time and stepped away from this review. During that break I did some of the surfing I veered away from before. I received confirmation about my thought on it being a piece that is open to individual interpretation…there were a number of them to be found. Some views are based on allegorical links to the book of Genesis, the Garden of Eden, and the guilt of woman-kind. Nature did play a role in the film, so there were some pagan based interpretations. Even Von Trier, who penned the script, doesn’t know where the story came from. He wrote it during a time of deep depression, and says it saved him by making him write ten pages every day. In an interview he said:

  • "Truthfully, I can only say I was driven to make the film, that these images came to me and I did not question them. My only defence is: 'Forgive me, for I know not what I do.'" This precipitates a bout of giggling. "I am really the wrong person to ask what the film means or why it is as it is," he says finally, "It is a bit like asking the chicken about the chicken soup.”

So, after writing everything I wrote above, after reading other reviewers opinions, after reading an interview with Von Trier…can I now see the forest for the trees? Is a clearer focus and plot line emerging in my mind? Am I able to take more from the film and flesh out a clearer understanding of what the film means?


I can still say that I found it hard to follow. It was disturbing to watch. It was complicated and felt gratuitous at times. If I can’t see a plot, or a point, then maybe there isn’t one to be had.  

(Charlotte Gainsbourg; Willem Dafoe)
Why did Dafoe do it? He clearly saw something I don’t. I would be curious to know what thoughts were going through his head by the time he reached “The End” on the final page of the script. I’m assuming that he saw something, as I have never considered him a “dim bulb”.

Would I recommend this film? To anyone? Good question. My immediate response is ‘no’, but then I think…maybe? It’s just one of those films where the viewer’s reaction is linked directly to their state of mind at the time. It’s going to have a different effect on each person that watches it. Maybe someone else will find something relatable in it (as scary as that seems to me), and it will touch them in a way that it didn’t touch me. It left me with a bad taste from the get-go, and proceeded to get darker, stranger, and more brutal.

As far as a recommendation of ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ for the movie “Anti-Christ”, I am going to quote a friend and say, “I’m Switzerland”. Interpret that as you will.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hearts & Flowers...

Today is Valentine’s Day. A day on which people the world over are professing their admiration for those closest to them. It’s lovely that there is a day set aside each year that everyone can count on for sending and receiving messages of amour. For my dad and step-mother the day has added meaning as they were married on Valentine’s Day. It’s truly a day of romance for many.

Valentine’s Day is just another example of using a past event, person, or place, to found a day on. In this case a person (St. Valentine) who has little to do with the rampant expressions of love we see these days. The following quote is from one Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the television show “The Big Bang Theory” (a show I make a point of tuning into each week), and it kind of sums things up:

There are a few schools of thought as to why “Valentine’s Day” is situated in mid-February. One of them is that it was the Church’s way of trying to take the wind out of the sails of the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, and “Christianize” it. (I think some would be surprised at the fact that most, if not all, of the religious holidays throughout the year find their origins with the pagans.)

(Left: Romulus & Remus; Right: Faunus)
The fertility festival of Lupercalia makes more sense when trying to historically link this date with today’s Valentines shenanigans. It was a Roman fertility festival dedicated to the founders of Rome (Romulus and Remus), and the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus (the Greek counterpart being Pan). After sacrificing a dog and a goat to the cause, the priests (a.k.a. Luperci) would cut the hides of the animals into strips, dip them in the sacrificial blood, and travel the streets marking the faces of the city’s women. The women welcomed the marks as it was believed to make them more fertile over the coming year. The Luperci would also tag fields for potential crops with the blood.

The second half of the festivities really speaks to the concept of Valentine’s Day. (Well, I think it does.) All of the single women would add their name to a large urn, and later in the day the city’s single men would draw a name from the urn, pairing up with the gal named for the coming year. It is said that most of those pairings would end in marriage. Whichever side of the Valentines history coin you place yourself on, I wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day & Lupercalia.

The second part of this post is in regards to some recent photos I took that have a Valentine’s Day flavor. No, they aren’t of roses, but the Camellia is a rose-like bloom. These particular photos involve a newly discovered tool for my interest in nighttime photography. I have said it many times when posting my photos…I am not a fan of the camera flash. It takes all of the ‘mood’ out of a photograph. There are elements of dimension that are lost with a flash. Yes, it is much more difficult to do at night, but when I snap a picture of something, I want to capture the image as close to how I see it with my naked eye. Often I will end up with something even more artful than what I saw to begin with. These surprises are only achieved without the use of a flash. When I take a picture I want to capture shadows. I want to capture recesses. I want to keep every nuance that gives a shot depth and mood.

(My trusty flashlight)
A flashlight. That is my newly discovered tool, and night time photography friend. A couple of nights ago we had rain. (Which we need.) Just to the right of the front porch is a Camellia bush. I had noticed a bloom earlier in the day, and decided to experiment with some photos. (Putting a new job into my daily schedule mix has kept me from my daily picture taking jaunts…I was experiencing some heavy withdrawals.)

The porch light was on, but that was not having any real effect. When the light was off nothing was registering at all. That’s when I grabbed the flashlight I had with me. With the camera on the tripod, and the flashlight in my hand, I could angle the light any way I wanted. This might seem like a ‘so what’ moment to some, but it has opened up a whole new avenue for me to explore. Obviously it won’t help when I photograph the moon, but as far as those things that are on ‘my level’, it has changed things in an extremely good way.

Here are some of the fruits of that photo session. I quite like them. The accompanying quotes aren’t so much in the Valentines vein, but involve the color red.

"The true color of life is the color of the body, 
the color of the covered red, the implicit and not 
the explicit red of the living heart and the pulses. 
It is the modest color of the unpublished blood."

~ Alice Meynell

"He liked to observe emotions; they were like red 
lanterns strung along the dark unknown of
another's personality, marking vulnerable points."

~ Ayn Rand

"Out of the ash I rise with my red hair
and eat men like air."

~ Sylvia Plath

"Make a remark," said the Red Queen, "it's ridiculous 
to leave all the conversation to the pudding!"

~ Lewis Carroll

"Perhaps the old monks were right when they tried 
to root love out; perhaps the poets are right when
they try to water it. It is a blood-red flower with
the color of sin; but there is always the scent of 
god about it."

~ Olive Schreiner