24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Tim Burton

‘Dark Shadows’: Has America fallen out of love with Johnny Depp?

May 14, 2012 |  7:45 am

Vampire movies are fading. Tim Burton has taken an odd left turn. “The Avengers” was going to be an unstoppable force no matter what opened against it.

There are no shortage of reasons why “Dark Shadows” sputtered at the box office this past weekend, grossing just $28.8 million. (To put it in context, it was Burton’s lowest total ever for a wide opener — even “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” took in nearly double that amount. Or as my colleague Amy Kaufman put it, chalking up the movie's failure at least partly to things Marvel, “‘Avengers’ sucked the life out of ‘Dark Shadows’ … [leaving] the vampire comedy looking pallid.”)

Certainly it was hard to ignore the halo effect of the Downey-fest on any weekend comer. But equally conspicuous was the sight of Johnny Depp in yet another domestic disappointment. Since overperforming in “Alice in Wonderland” more than two years ago, Depp has been involved in seemingly one misstep after another.

He signed on to an art-house actioner in “The Tourist,” which flopped at the U.S. box office and became known mostly for its cringe-worthy Golden Globe nomination for best musical or comedy. He followed that up with what appeared to be a reliable breadwinner in a fourth ”Pirates of the Caribbean” movie last summer — only to see it become the lowest-grossing domestic performer of the franchise.

A new Hunter S. Thompson stab, “The Rum Diary,” was a flop even by the author’s modest standards, tacking in just $13 million at home.

And now there’s "Dark Shadows," a dismal movie for reviewers — its 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes was 15 percentage points below “Transformers,” to give you an idea — and an equally bad performer by commercial standards. Even “Public Enemies” nearly matched its opening-weekend total.

But Depp isn’t completely faltering. International audiences seem to love him more than ever.  Though it flopped here, the most recent “Pirates” was the second-highest-grossing film of the franchise internationally. “The Tourist” was a downright smash overseas, tallying  $210 million, three times as much as it grossed at home.

“Dark Shadows” didn't blow international audiences away when it opened in more than three dozen markets this weekend. But with about $37 million, the remake of the campy American soap has tallied more abroad than it has here.

It may be premature to say that Depp is turning into a kind of Oscar-friendly Steven Seagal, a man more popular overseas than at home. But America certainly seems to have gotten over its obsession with Depp (who now of course spends a lot of time in Paris), an obsession that during his "Edward Scissorhands" / "Gilbert Grape" heyday made him either a box-office force or a teen pinup, or both. At 48, he's clearly making choices that international audiences are responding to a lot more than American ones.

Next up for Depp is “The Lone Ranger,” which hits theaters in May 2013. it will be the ultimate test of Depp's appeal. Few stories get more American than that. And Depp has never  seemed like less of a U.S. favorite.


 'Avengers' crossed $1 billion worldwide; Depp has soft debut

Dark Shadows is short on storytelling, not style, critics say

Is Tim Burton losing his touch?

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Johnny Depp in "Dark Shadows." Credit: Warner Bros.

'Dark Shadows' is short on storytelling, not style, critics say

May 11, 2012 |  3:30 pm


Dark Shadows
"Dark Shadows," Tim Burton's adaptation of the cult 1960s soap opera of the same name, features many of the director's trademarks, including a gothic setting, an offbeat sense of humor and Johnny Depp sinking his teeth into the lead role, this time as the temporally displaced vampire Barnabas Collins. Critics' reviews have been mixed, with an underlying current suggesting that one's appreciation of the film will depend on their taste for Burton's idiosyncrasies.

The Times' Kenneth Turan, who calls Burton's filmmaking style "very much an acquired taste," writes that "Dark Shadows" is "an uncertain combination of elements that unsuccessfully tries to be half-scary, half-funny and all strange." The production design, by Burton collaborator Rick Heinrichs, is "wonderful," and "Depp's performance is so unwavering in its commitment to eccentricity that it is hard not to be fitfully entertained." On the other hand, Turan says, the film is tripped up by Burton's "woeful lack of concern with story and drama."

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Around Town: Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock, Rita Hayworth and more

May 26, 2011 |  5:00 am


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Tim Burton exhibit opens May 29, and the museum's film department has planned its own tribute, "The Fantastical Works of Tim Burton." The series begins Friday evening with 1990's "Edward Scissorhands," which marked the first screen collaboration between Burton and actor Johnny Depp. Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest and Vincent Price, one of Burton's earliest supporters, also star.

Burton will be on hand Saturday evening to introduce 1994's "Ed Wood," his biopic of the eccentric director of such truly bad films as "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Depp plays Wood opposite Martin Landau's Oscar-winning turn as actor Bela Lugosi. The film will be preceded by 1982's "Vincent," Burton's stop-motion tale narrated by Price.  http://www.lacma.org

The "Suspense Account: The Films of Alfred Hitchcock" retrospective at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood features a Thursday evening screening of the director's Academy Award-winning 1940 thriller "Rebecca." Based on the classic novel by Daphne du Maurier, the film stars Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson as the evil housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. Also screening Thursday is Hitch's 1935 British thriller, "The 39 Steps," with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.

Friday's offerings are 1960's "Psycho," with Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, and 1963's "The Birds,"  with Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. Scheduled for Saturday are two Cary Grant-starrers -- 1955's "To Catch a Thief," with Grace Kelly, and 1946's "Notorious," also starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. The festival concludes Sunday evening with the 1958 masterwork "Vertigo," starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.

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'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' star Anthony Mackie: Our movie will be educational

March 2, 2011 |  4:35 pm


It was a bestselling book that's now a highly anticipated movie, but can "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," a story that has the 16th president exacting revenge on the vampires who killed members of his family, also be a teaching tool?

Anthony Mackie, who stars in next year's Fox film opposite Benjamin Walker, says the tale will contain plenty of nutritional value. "It's not so much fictional as it is a recontextualization of history," Mackie, who plays Lincoln valet and friend William Johnson, told 24 Frames. "There are actual moments and things that happened in the annals of time. Abraham Lincoln's friend William Johnson really was a freed man of color."

Like Seth Grahame-Smith's book, the movie -- which will be directed by Timur Bekmambetov and produced by Tim Burton --  assumes the existence of vampires in the 19th century as the nation was on the brink of Civil War. As the story progresses, we learn that the creatures have a sinister investment in keeping slavery legal. Lincoln's personal animus toward the vampires for what they did to his family drives him to hunt them down, a crusade he continues even from the White House as he pursues an abolitionist agenda.

"This movie will tell us what pre-Emancipation Proclamation America was like," Mackie said. "It puts you in a position where you want to go back and read a book about 1860-1925 America." (More on the up-and-comer, who stars as an angel with a conscience in this weekend's "The Adjustment Bureau," coming shortly.)

Mack Mackie said that despite the whimsical premise, "Vampire Hunter" doesn't take the liberties with history that skeptics might expect. "It's not like Abraham Lincoln is going to have a top hat and dreadlocks. No, he's going to look like Abraham ... Lincoln."

The actor added that there a lot of misconceptions about how much the book was inspired by true events. "It's interesting reading the blogs, saying 'Look at this token thing -- they're going to put Abraham Lincoln with a black guy.' No you dumb ... one of his best friends was a black dude."

Mackie is set to shoot the movie shortly in New Orleans opposite his Juilliard classmate Walker, who plays Lincoln. While the film was, of course, conceived as entertainment, Mackie says he feels a responsibility to turn it into something more.

"We as entertainers have to make this stuff interesting," he said. "We have to give kids in the next generation a reason to go and do the work. Otherwise they wouldn't want to."


Zombies replace vampires (again)

Vampire movies miss their John Wayne moment

A new 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' takes a small step toward the big screen

--Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Book jacket from "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." Credit: Grand Central Publishing. Anthony Mackie at the Vanity Fair Oscar party on Sunday. Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Will Angelina Jolie wake Sleeping Beauty?

March 26, 2010 |  7:35 am


With "Maleficent," the postmodern take on "Sleeping Beauty," gaining momentum at Disney, there's also a star who could be surging with it: Angelina Jolie.

Earlier this week, the news broke that Disney had hired its longtime collaborator Linda Woolverton ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King") to work on the screenplay for the live-action take on the 50-year-old hit. (Maleficent is the evil fairy godmother in the Disney film; this story would be told, "Wicked"-like, from her perspective.)

Both Tim Burton and Angelina Jolie had last spring been rumored to join the project, which Disney has been kicking around for a while as a way to mine its library, among other things. Burton's involvement remains unclear as he contemplates several projects. But sources say that, as of the last few weeks, Jolie is keen on the film and would like to sign on to play the titular villain.

There's no deal (or, for that matter, script) yet. And it's unclear if Jolie's involvement would be conditional on Burton moving forward with it too. But it's nonetheless notable that Jolie -- who has no new movie after shooting the international thriller "The Tourist" -- is actively engaging with the material and could, according to sources, very well star in the film when all is said and done.

A Disney spokesman this week said the company would not comment on anything "Maleficent"-related. Jolie manager Geyer Kosinski could not be reached for comment Thursday.

A quick primer on Maleficent: The wicked fairy godmother is the character who casts the original spell on Sleeping Beauty (a.k.a. Princess Aurora, quoth Wikipedia) that the young girl will prick herself on a splinter and die; Maleficent is an archrival of sorts to the good fairy godmother, who casts a counter-spell that says the girl will sleep for a century and then be awakened by the kiss of a prince. The original versions of the fairy tale don't name Maleficent; the character was named and shaped by Disney for its 1959 film, and would of course be deepened and amplified for this one.

What would Jolie's involvement mean for the property and her career? Telling a classic story from another perspective would certainly fit with the trend of putting a new spin on the standby classics. And casting Jolie in it would certainly broaden the audience for a Disney fairy tale (read: bring men in to theaters).


Of course the choice to make a villain the main character instead of a secondary one could impact Disney's ability to bring in younger audiences. And the studio would need to contend with far less pre-awareness for a single, lesser-known character than it did for a timeless classic such as "Alice in Wonderland." But there are also plenty of reasons that Disney, whose new production chief Sean Bailey is said to hold the project close to his heart, would push "Maleficent" forward.

With "Alice in Wonderland" a monster hit, it's hardly a secret that Disney is looking to reprise more classic material. That's especially true for a movie that, like "Alice," centers on the battle between two opposing sovereigns.

As for Jolie, she's not really done much kid-centric over the course of her career, "Beowulf" perhaps excepted -- and that's not exactly full-on kiddie material. The idea of taking on a role that's both live-action and actor-friendly, but still whimsical and delicate, could mark a refreshing change of pace after her recent action-movie kick that has her in "Tourist" and Phillip Noyce's international thriller, "Salt." Sometimes the desire is there. It just needs to be ... awakened.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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Upper photo: Maleificent in "Sleeping Beauty." Credit: The Walt Disney Company

Lower photo: Angelina Jolie. Credit: Ariel Marinkovic / AFP/Getty Images

Asking the un-askable: Is Tim Burton losing his touch?

March 4, 2010 |  6:30 am

There's nothing worse than pronouncing a director in a slump before his new movie even comes out. And by nearly all barometric measures, "Alice in Wonderland" is going to be a monster hit this weekend no matter what any critic or pundit says; the tracking among young girls alone is more insane than admissions day at Bellevue.

Al But with Tim Burton, there's always something else, some higher, more ethereal standard that makes all form of evaluation, from gushy praise to head-shaking disapproval, seem not just fair but also necessary. Maybe it's the way he tries -- sometimes effortlessly, sometimes laboredly -- to return us to childhood, a high-stakes proposition since it’s such a transporting feat when it works  and such a ripoff when it doesn’t.

Or maybe it's that he set the bar so high earlier in his career with "Edward Scissorhands" and the first two Batman pictures. No director engenders more goodwill but also such great expectations. More than with almost any other filmmaker, with Burton it feels different -- more consequential, more urgent, more personal.

And so maybe, after seeing “Alice in Wonderland” earlier this week and reading some of the lukewarm reviews (see Kenneth Turan's "Alice" review here), it's not unfair for us to ask whether the director has let us down and whether, more dispiritingly, it’s becoming a pattern.

Let’s actually leave "Alice" aside for the moment. Consider the movies Burton has released this last decade. There was, in our opinion, one creative bull's-eye, 2005’s “Corpse Bride,” a movie macabre, touching and inventive in all the right ways. We’ll also give him a pass  on  "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Talking to colleagues these last few weeks about their expectations for “Alice,” we’ve been struck by the cool attitude toward Burton’s Willy Wonka interpretation.  Sure, some of the reverie felt forced, but the picture was about as imaginative a rendering you can give a work that many of us felt like we already had seen plenty of times before, in our mind’s eye, thanks to an evocative work of literature and a vivid, pre-effects-era screen version. At worst, Burton was dwarfed by the material or our memory of same.

But that still leaves several howlers. "Planet of the Apes" was probably the worst of the bunch. In the 2001 remake, Burton tackled an iconic movie. But with a mishmash of biblical references and sluggish exposition, he did a very un-Burton (but very Hollywood) thing -- took an imaginative piece and turned it into recycled ephemera. The director did stick closer to the novel's ending, which won him some bravery points, but that’s about all it earned him; the movie scored a dismally low 44% on Rotten Tomatoes (even lower than the dismal “Mars Attacks”).

Next, he tried something a little more adult in “Big Fish,” but this too was largely a failed experiment. The ending packed an emotional punch, but the flashback-y pilgrim’s progress of the rest of the film became discursive, a kind of Forrest Gump with more self-conscious visuals and a less compelling through line. The attempt to meditate on the nature of family and memory from the point of view of an adult dealing with an elderly parent was a nice conceit, but the marriage of Burton-esque whimsy with earnest emotion  fell flat.

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