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Movie Review: Dark Shadows

Mike Finkelstein is a vampire. (You couldn’t tell by his white skin?) He went through some bad stuff back in the 1700s thanks to an old flame, but now that he’s awoken in 2012, he thinks he should get used to the times. To prepare, he went to the movies and after accusing the theater owners of witchcraft, he sat down and watched a new Tim Burton film. Here is his review of “Dark Shadows”.



Mike Finkelstein is a vampire. (You couldn’t tell by his white skin?)  He went through some bad stuff back in the 1700s thanks to an old flame, but now that he’s awoken in 2012, he thinks he should get used to the times.   To prepare, he went to the movies and after accusing the theater owners of witchcraft, he sat down and watched a new Tim Burton film.   Here is his review of Dark Shadows.

PLOT: After telling a chambermaid/love interest he has no real feelings for her, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) finds out the hard way that she is a witch, and a very jealous one at that.   Transformed into a vampire and buried in a casket for almost two centuries, Barnabas wakes in the 1970s, where he returns home to find his home and family business (both crippling) run by his descendants.   With their help, Barnabas must adjust to the new time, save his family legacy, and figure out a cure for himself, all while battling the former flame that just won’t go away.   (We’ve all been there¦)

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  DARK SHADOWS is a bit of a conundrum for me.   The idea of a remake is something that usually makes me shudder, especially when it comes to a show/film that wasn’t necessarily worthy of one.   However, over the last few months, we’ve gotten some remakes that were pretty damn good (21 JUMP STREET, GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE).   Combine that upswing with the usually reliable teaming of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, and I was on board to see what the two had in store.

I shouldn’t have let my guard down¦

Based on the 1970s long-running soap opera, DARK SHADOWS follows one Barnabas Collins (Depp), an 18th century aristocrat changed into a vampire by jealous former flame, Angelique (she happens to be a witch¦).   After being buried in a casket for almost two centuries, Collins is finally freed in the 1970s.   Cue the fish out of water funnies.

Soon, with the help of his dysfunctional descendants, including matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her lying screw up of a brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) her angst-ridden teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), and innocent but emotionally haunted nephew David (Gulliver McGrath), Barnabas has to learn to deal with the new time period and restore the decrepit family business to glory.   Oh yeah, and remember Angelique?  She just keeps coming back¦

When you hear of a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration, you know exactly what you’re going to get: a well told, albeit strange (and possibly animated) story with some of the most bizarre, fantastically beautiful set pieces you could imagine.   It’s important to point out (before I tear the film down) that most of those lovable elements are ready to go.   The scenery and costumes are absolutely marvelous to look at in all their gothic and/or 1970s glory.   Depp, as usual, melts into his eccentric performance with no effort at all, and both Burton regulars (Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter, Pfieffer, Christopher Lee) and newcomers (Eva Green, Moretz, McGrath) give him some great support.

However, all those pros are diminished when the remake machine made the most basic of mistakes: trying to cram too much into the film.   The original Dark Shadows” series ran for over 1,200 episodes.   Burton had two hours.   It almost seemed as if he lost his vision as a director and became an excited, overzealous fan, not sure of what to cut out because he wanted to keep every aspect of the series in.

The fallout is three-fold.

First, too many sub plots concerning dead mothers, vampire transformations, and werewolves”among other things”start to pop up with no real back story or explanation.   We get the sense of in-jokes or self referencing, but without the full knowledge of the series or at least a little more detail, we’re left feeling a little lost.

Second, most of the relationships become either undefined or bi-polar.   Don’t get me wrong…every actor did a great job with what they were given, but David, Roger and Carolyn only have a few lines each and are pretty one-dimensional (as is Dr. Julia Hoffman, but at least she has her two minutes to shine).   And while Barnabas and Angelique keep switching between love and hate faster than you could flip a light switch, Barnabas and Victoria (David’s new governess) are only given a few minutes to make us feel like they’re star-crossed lovers. (She’s supposedly the reincarnation of Barnabas’ lost love…)  I could understand focusing on Barnabas and Angelique as the most exciting storyline, but at what cost to the rest of the cast?

And then, there’s Barnabas, himself.   Despite starting off with some cute/sweet moments, he frankly does some despicable things that are just too conflicting.   In one scene, he speaks about the importance of family, and in the next, he’s brutally murdering a group of innocent teen hippies.   Again, I could see such actions being done over numerous episode arcs with the excuse of character growth, but I really didn’t know if I was supposed to love or hate him.   By the end, if he died, I didn’t care, with my only real excuse being he was a prick anyway¦

At moments, DARK SHADOWS was a cute little fish-out-of-water comedy.   At other moments, it was a nice little drama, or a PSA on family, or an all out horror movie.   (To be fair, the visuals Burton used during creepy moments blew most of today’s horror movies out of the water.)  But when you mix all of those factors together in one two hour time period, all you get is a melting pot of uncertainty.   If you’re a fan of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, then yes, you will like DARK SHADOWS by default, and rightly so.   For everyone else, the lack of consistency throws it back in with the rest of the missed remake attempts over the last few years.   And for a team that you usually can’t go wrong with, that’s just disappointing.  


Mike’s LIKES:

1) JOHNNY DEPP: Depp falls into his usual comfort zone here, melting into the skin of Barnabas Collins.   There is no better pairing than him and Burton, and while the movie falls short, the performances are anything but.

2) SCENERY: We have the usual stunning scenery and sets that Burton is known for.   If the film is remembered for nothing else, I have no doubt its scenes will be in a number of montages for the visuals alone.

3) GO WATCH THE COOPER WOMAN: Oh, Alice Cooper¦the few laugh out loud moments came at your expense, and I am so grateful that you allowed all those jokes to be made¦


1) NO ONE FLESHED OUT: With only a few minutes of screen time each, we never got a chance to really enjoy the backstory of any of the supporting characters.   If we did get more than a few lines out of them, it was usually forced and/or rushed.   Disappointing for such a talented cast.

2) DO WE LIKE/HATE BARNABAS?: For every cute or funny thing Barnabas Collins did, there was a horrible, gruesome thing he’d do as well.   By the end, did we know how we felt toward him?  I, myself, was disappointed.   You decide on your own.

3) SEE-SAW EFFECT: Trying to fit in too much in a small amount of time, the result is the see-saw effect: going back and forth on how characters act, how the movie plays out, and how we feel.   Too disjointed to stay focused and invested.

4) ENDING: No resolution, everyone’s worse off one way or another, and the little shock moment just didn’t work for me at all.


1) Johnny Depp undertook a weight-loss regime and a diet of green tea and low-sugar fruit for the role of Barnabus Collins, getting his weight down to 140 pounds.

2) This was Jonathan Frid’s last film, who, along with original cast members Lara Parker, David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott, appear in Collinwood Manor ball.


REVIEW: “Sing Street” Will Put a Song in Your Heart… and Your iPod



“I have just seen an instant classic.”

That’s what I said to myself as I left the theater, with the music and adrenaline of “Sing Street” still coursing through my veins.

It’s the kind of movie you want to turn around and see again, immediately. Right after you download the soundtrack. Yes, it’s that good.

Haven’t heard anything about it? I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t have known about this film either, except that my Regal Crown Club card finally paid off in the form of free tickets to an advanced screening. (Never mind the $25 popcorn.) Anyway, let’s watch!

Hooked yet? You will be.

Irish writer/director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”) has conjured a nearly perfect coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Dublin. Think “The Commitments meets “Sixteen Candles meets “Footloose,” but all in one glorious package that manages to be both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Drawing from his own teenage years at the real Synge Street school, Carney avoids the trap of creating a pure fluff piece by infusing the story with real heart.

A large part of that is due to the breakout talent and hero of Sing Street,” 16-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. As “Connor Lalor” navigates the tricky currents of a new school, family drama, and first love, Walsh-Peelo is heartbreakingly earnest, predictably awkward, and unexpectedly optimistic. Everything about his performance rings true. No small feat, considering that this is his acting debut.

Thanks to Carney’s non-actor, open casting approach, Walsh-Peelo is also joined by some equally promising new faces. Lucy Boynton is luminous as his love interest, “Raphina,” and Mark McKenna is quietly compelling as Conor’s songwriting partner, “Eamon.”

One of the most satisfying pairings, though, is anchored by the more experienced Jack Reynor (“Transformers:Age of Extinction”).  He shines as Conor’s older brother, “Brendan.”  Dealing with the angst of his own stalled dreams, Brendan tackles his brotherly mentoring role with gusto. Conor soaks up the advice like a ruddy-cheeked sponge, then begins to find his own way as his confidence grows.  Rarely do we see the underlying affection between two brothers played so simply and honestly,  so the relationship between Conor and Brendan is a lovely surprise.

The other undeniable star of “Sing Street” is the music.  While the story could have easily been told with the band only performing covers of ’80s hits,  Carney had a bigger vision for the film.  He collaborated with Scottish songwriter Gary Clark to craft 8 original tunes that not only add layers of light and shade to the storyline, but could be stand-alone chart toppers today.  From the gleefully retro “The Riddle of the Model,” to the Cure-tastic “Beautiful Sea,”  to the EMO ballad “To Find You,”  there’s something for everyone. Welcome to your summer soundtrack, people.

There are few darker notes to the plot, and the ending feels slightly of place, but in general “Sing Street” will leave you feeling as light and fizzy as a packet of Pop Rocks.

The movie poster reads: “Boy Meets Girl. Girl Unimpressed. Boy Starts Band.”  That’s it in a nutshell, of course, but happily, this film is so much more.

SING STREET opens in New York April 15th, and is in theaters nationwide on April 29th.






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Celebrate The Fourth With Our Picks For Great American Movies!

What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?



What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

It’s impossible to list them all… this is just a handfull! Scroll down and tell us what your favorites are!!!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you have what it takes to watch a black and white classic? (Don’t break my heart by replying if the answer is no.) Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 classic starring James Cagney – telling the story of the great entertainer George M Cohan. He’s the man behind the songs “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”  A true classic with distinctly American music and showmanship. Watch the trailer!

There’s something about the fifties and sixties that still plucks at the nostalgic heartstrings of America. And yet, two of the most iconic movies about that period were actually shot decades later, with a heartfelt look back at those times.

Both American Graffiti and Grease come to mind. While American Graffiti can take bragging rights for bringing us more breakout stars, (and being written and directed by George Lucas), Grease seems to enjoy more clout as a family friendly favorite.

1986 was a  good year for Tom Cruise, and a good year for movies. Top Gun starred Tom Cruise stars as a student at Top Gun Naval Academy. It sparked a sense of patriotism, and the continued ascent of Cruise’s career. (If you’re watching with your kids, you might wanna skip ahead once you start hearing the song “Take My Breath Away.” Love scene ahead! Still, some might argue it’s pretty tame by today’s standards.)

Forrest Gump (1994) proved not only to be an excellent movie, but also an impromptu history lesson.
The story follows an unlikely hero (played by Tom Hanks) as he journeys through life, finding himself witnessing (and sometimes even influencing) a series of historic events, but is largely unaware of their significance. A true classic.

Before the luster of Mel Gibson had worn off, he portrayed Benjamin Martin, a man who becomes embroiled in the Revolutionary War. The late Heath Ledger plays his son, who fights in the Continental Army.

The most recent of patriotic classics is 2012’s Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis delivers a flawless performance as our 16th President under the directorial brilliance of Steven Spielberg. A new classic for the ages.


For more movies updates, follow @BrianBalthazar on twitter!

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Movie Reviews

MOVIE REVIEW- WORLD WAR Z Is a Messy, Relentless Zombie Horror Flick That Really Works

Check Out Steven’s review for one of the biggest surprises of 2013, the epic zombie flick WORLD WAR Z.



world-war-z-posterWORLD WAR Z

Paramount Pictures

Director- Marc Forster

Starring-Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale. Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, David Morse, David Andrews.

Steven’s Quick Review- Yes its production was messy, but WORLD WAR Z might be the biggest surprise of the summer movies in 2013. Thanks to relentless action, a number of good scares, and an on-target performance from Brad Pitt, WORLD WAR Z is an excellent zombie film. Even though it is barely based on its source material, Damon Lindelof’s rewritten third act will keep audiences guessing and add some scares to your summer movie slate.

Steven’s Review- Brad Pitt has become the kind of actor who now only does movies he truly wants to do, and only takes roles that challenge him. So when Pitt and his Plan B studios initially won the rights to Max Brooks bestselling novel WORLD WAR Z the options were endless. Yet from the start of production the movie had issues, between the initial script lacking invention, a director in Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) who was found it difficult to make important decisions and the very public spat between Pitt and Forster that nearly sidelined the film indefinitely.  There were also the on-set issues, besides the arguments between the actor and director, there were problems on set in Hungary when government officials stormed the set and removed live weapons. Also, forced re-shoots that moved WWZ from a winter release to a summer tentpole. It’s easy to assume WORLD WAR Z was doomed from the start. But something happened along the way, something that shocked plenty during our screening of the film in May. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Pitt, Forster, and crew actually made a darn good zombie flick. With help from Damon Lindelof (“Lost”, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) who came to the rescue and reworked an ending  after the studio deemed the initial conclusion was not good enough for release.  Following Lindelof’s changes and a massive marketing campaign Brad Pitt’s newest pet project was ready to show the world.

WORLD WAR Z the book takes place in a post zombie war setting, when a journalist and U.N investigator goes all over the globe talking to survivors and getting their stories.  The film adaptation written by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS), Matthew Michael Carnahan (STATE OF PLAY), J. Michael Straczynski (THOR) and Damon Lindelof  has little to nothing to do with Brooks acclaimed novel. We begin meeting Gerry Lane(Pitt) , a former UN investigator who lives with his family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  Within 5 minutes of the opening credits, we are thrown into a full on zombie invasion, with riots in super markets and speedy zombies chasing people down. WWZ Starts off with a bang. Gerry’s wife Karin(“The Killings” Mireille Enos), and his daughters Constance(Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) desperately leave the city and head towards New York, finding themselves in the streets of  Newark, New Jersey where they pick up supplies and await a helicopter pick-up thanks to Gerry’s old friends at the United Nations.

WORLD WAR Z is in no way a perfect movie; every now and then it finds itself deep into horror cliché, only to drag itself out with one big sequence after another. Pitt carries the film as he finds himself in worse situations every moment, but without being totally indestructible (meaning as an audience you never quite know whether Gerry Lane will make it out alive). Pitt’s performance feels dressed in reality, while he searches the globe for reasons why this zombie apocalypse is happening, worries for his safety and hopes to return to his family.

WORLD WAR Z is a suspenseful zombie flick that contains a few scares, but has the advantage of almost never slowing down.  The filmmakers found a way to protray a lot of violence and still receive a PG-13 rating – they show you enough death and destruction without maimed bodies and severed limbs. I enjoyed the fast paced nature of WWZ and the fact it never drags, it allows characters to develop and story to move forward without forsaking the zombie action fan in all of us.

As far as adaptations go, WORLD WAR Z could be considered one of the worst, it barely contains any connection to Max Brooks brilliant novel, other than a few characters names and one or two plot points. As far as summer surprises, WORLD WAR Z is a welcome break from comedies and super hero flicks that take up most of our time. But the pressure is on: it needs to bring in $500 million dollars to turn a profit for everyone involved. I enjoyed WORLD WAR Z and hope they can find a way to make some cash, so we can get more zombie action just like it.

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