Review: Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Dark Shadows”

I have spent the better part of the past fortnight railing against the utter lack of creativity in Tim Burton’s most recent films. I even posted several videos parodying the fact that Burton seems satisfied to plagiarize his older work in order to churn out the next in a line of increasingly disappointing releases. Things got so bad that I began to bear Burton a level of video vitriol that I normally reserve for such schlockmeisters as Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay. OK, it wasn’t that bad, but still.

I’m not entirely sure when I turned my back on Burton. After all, I can say without the slightest hint of sarcasm that he was the creative force behind several of my most favorite movies. “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” is, of course, a classic. His “Batman” is one of the best comic book movies of all time, and easily the second-best movie depiction of the Caped Crusader (if you don’t know what the best one is, you are missing out. Big time.) “Ed Wood” is one of my all-time favorites, and, though I don’t count them as favorites per se, I thoroughly enjoyed “Big Fish” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Then this happened.

Pictured: Average.

Followed closely by this.

Pictured: AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

As time went on, it appeared that Burton was allowing himself to be M. Night Shyamalan’d by public opinion. Much as M. Night fell into the habit of always making his films have a twist (since that was the popular perception of what kind of filmmaker he was) Burton has allowed himself to become a parody, someone so interested with bringing the darker aspects of light-hearted tales to the forefront that he’s forgotten what made some of his work so special. Now it’s nothing but Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter co-headlining a never-ending march of mediocrity.

Which brings us to “Dark Shadows” and, whew boy, this one hurt. This is easily Burton’s weakest film, and one of the most unenjoyable experiences I have ever had at the movies. Even my mom, who likes everything, turned to me when the film ended and said, “That was awful.”* It’s every bad aspect of Burton’s work rolled into a two-hour odious opus that overstays its welcome by … about two hours.

The performances are what makes the film virtually unwatchable. I haven’t seen this much overacting since my last high school drama camp. Every other line someone is wheeling dramatically away to deliver a line, usually one that doesn’t justify such heavy blocking.

The movie also suffers from an inability to properly distill its original episodic format. Plot points are introduced and then promptly dropped. Characters either do things without proper motivation, or react disproportionately to the events surrounding them. In short, it’s horribly directed, which I should have expected.

Bonham Carter’s performance is particularly necessary to single out because of how pointless her character is. Seriously, she does nothing aside from drink (get it? It’s funny because she drinks too much!) and participate in an erroneous, and quickly resolved, subplot. Oh, and she appears at the very end for an equally erroneous “shocking” end. How very fitting.

Depp, too, has allowed himself to become nothing more than a series of caricatures. He’s no longer an actor, not by his own standards set in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Ed Wood,” or “Secret Window,” anyway. He’s the equivalent of a community college student doing character creation exercises. If he’s not Captain Jack Sparrow, he’s … a character in a Tim Burton movie. It’s truly disappointing to see someone who is obviously so dramatically gifted fall into such a relentless and joyless rut. He chews scenery so thoroughly you would think he just came from a seminar on proper table manners. His mannerisms are so completely over exaggerated it’s like … he’s in a Tim Burton movie. Well, walked right into that one.

And while we’re on the subject of Depp, let’s take the opportunity to send a message to all filmmakers: The whole “he’s from the past and knows nothing about modern technology … I smell shenanigans!” plot device isn’t funny. It needs to stop. Like now. I’ll wait.

(A short time later)  

The best word to describe this film is joyless. It falls into the unfortunate rift where it isn’t campy enough to be enjoyable, but the source material isn’t strong enough to justify how serious the film takes itself. Overacting is overabundant and the film as a whole takes an unnecessarily overwrought tone and tries to be an enduring love story fraught with the cliche “what makes a man and what makes a monster” plot. And, in doing do, it fails by every conceivable standard of entertainment.

If you’re curious about the subject matter at all, do yourself a favor and just watch the original television series on Netflix. I caught a few episodes immediately after this drivel and was pleasantly surprised. I recommend giving it a watch.

Preview Review

And now a new addition: a recap of some of the trailers that preceded the film. Needless to say, with the extraordinary exception of “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter,” they range from average to awful. Of course there was the obligatory barrage of upcoming Burton works, featuring both the aforementioned adage to awesome Abe and the painful-looking “Frankenweenie.” Come to think of it, what was the last good animated film Burton had a hand in making?

There was also Ben Affleck’s new film, “Argo” which tells a story of trying to rescue some American refugees during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It looks like it could be interesting, especially after Affleck’s last directorial work (“The Town”) was surprisingly strong. Of course, it will probably fall into the ever-common trap of misrepresenting the complexity of the Iranian Revolution and making it a matter of “Iranians bad, bad Iranians kill good Americans, must save good Americans” but it might be interesting. Here’s the trailer if you’re interested.

*Note: I only put this in specifically because she asked me not to. What can I say? I’m a contrarian.  

Archives fully updated

After a long and arduous process of thinking, linking, rethinking and drinking … lots of coffee, I now have links up for every article I have ever had published at the Arizona Daily StarArizona Daily Wildcat and the Tombstone Epitaph. My articles from the Star also have their PDF versions uploaded, which I hope to do for the Epitaph ones soon. I also have fixed the weird formatting on my Wildcat page, which has been a problem since I launched the site.

I will be tinkering throughout the next couple of days to revamp the look of the site. Please feel free to give me feedback on how I can make it more visually appealing and easier to use. If you happen to notice any links that are broken or not accurate, shoot me a message via email or on Twitter.

My first foray into role playing (no, not like that)

I remember then first time I ever saw a Scantron sheet. It was third grade and, being a student in Arizona, I was taking a test that would prepare for me for the vigorous testing I would subject myself to in order to prove that I was learning.

Pictured: Learning.

Needless to say, the first time I ever sat down to one of these formidable forms, the only thing blanker than the sheet in front of me was my expression when I thought about how I had to fill it out.

Pictured: Freaking the eff out.

However, even more than a decade after that initial testing trepidation, I have yet to come even close to replicating that initial, sinking feeling.

Until yesterday, when I sat down to fill out a character sheet in Dungeons & Dragons.

Oh ... oh god.

Of course, this monstrous sheet was step two in the initial role playing process. First, I had to come up with a character, its background, personal and family histories, religious affiliation, nature, class, race, and how I fit into the larger campaign as determined by the Dungeonmaster. And that was all before I even looked at the character creation sheet.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover how you have to equip weapons and armor, buy items (including things ranging from horses to quill pens) and “buff,” or strengthen those aforementioned weapons and armor … yeah, it’s kind of a lot to take in.

Pictured: My feelings on the process up to that point.

Of course, then we started to play.

The best thing I can say about my brief experience with Dungeons & Dragons is that, for how downright bureaucratic they can be, they are incredibly freeing. The idea that you can do virtually anything, though undeniably intimidating because of its lack of direction, allows you to integrate yourself into both your character and the game. If that sounds nerdy, well, it’s because it kind of is.

But it’s the best kind of nerdy, the kind where you can get caught up on all of the most recent sci-fi shows without watching a single one of them. The kind where you do about 1 minute of actual, meaningful role-playing to 10 minutes of game time. The kind where you drink mead and don’t have to worry about being a total n00b, or any pwnage thereof.

Granted, I may be coloring myself as a tremendous dork (which, for anyone who knows me at all isn’t that big of a stretch) but I thoroughly enjoyed my first gaming session and look forward to more in the future.

Top 25 Favorite Songs of All Time (10-1)

It’s been about two months since I first embarked on this endeavor of musical self-discovery, and about a month since the last entry into that aforementioned endeavor. When I first started this, it was supposed to be an activity to keep me occupied over Winter Break, a distraction from the doldrums of vacation.

What it turned into, however, was an undertaking.

It’s hard to describe what makes a song good. Oh sure, it’s easy to single out songs you like, songs you dislike, and to judge songs against others. But to sit down and hash out what actually makes a song good, let alone what makes it a favorite, was far more difficult than I could have imagined. I started out with 50 candidates to this list and all the confidence in the world that I could trim it down into 25. But as I trimmed, more candidates appeared. Even as I released installments in the countdown, more candidates came to mind. And as I approached the final 10 that I would label as my favorite of all time, I began to realize just how difficult this whole shindig was turning out to be.

After all, music isn’t just something you can tap a foot along to or belt out in the shower. It’s a mood, it’s a tone. It’s something that is constantly evolving and effecting people in an array of different ways. Many of the songs on my list are on here specifically because they evoke some sort of powerful memory or emotional response. Does that make them the best songs ever? Certainly not, but it does make them something special to me, a criterion I hadn’t even considered when starting out.

But here they are, a top 10 list that I can say with 95 percent certainty is accurate, at least at this current juncture. I’m sure in a month or so I’ll look back and wish I could’ve changed some things, maybe reordered a few or added some others. But one thing I know is that if I only had 10 songs to listen to for the rest of my life, this would be them. So as to not besmirch the moment (or give myself additional work) here are my top 10 favorite songs of all time:

10. “Let Her Cry” by Hootie and the Blowfish

 

9. “Hammering in My Head” by Garbage

8. “Welcome to Bucketheadland” by Buckethead

7. “Americana” by The Offspring

6. “To the Moon and Back” by Savage Garden

5. “Black Friday Rule” by Flogging Molly 

4. “Tribulations” by LCD Soundsystem

3. “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” by Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip 

2. “Born of a Broken Man” by Rage Against the Machine

And my favorite song of all time is… 

1. “All I Really Want” by Alanis Morisette

 

Review: Harry Potter and The Woman in Black

Quick question, what scares you? Is it something classic like bugs, spiders or snakes? Something more abstract like failure? Or maybe you’re still haunted by the time you saw mommy and daddy “wrestling” in their room.

Well, hopefully it’s not windows, toys, or children, otherwise “The Woman in Black” is going to terrify you.

AAAAIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!!

It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly this movie goes wrong. The acting isn’t bad, actually Daniel Radcliffe is relatively solid. It’s not the writing, which, though not Orwellian, is passable for a film of this genre. Honestly the worst part about this film is the pacing and the editing, both of which are so jarring that they rob the film of any real tension or drama.

“Oh glass, no one can know of our forbidden love.”

“The Woman in Black” also languishes under the delusion that well-dressed little girls are scary, because … I dunno, hygiene?

Pictured: The last time little girls were scary.

The movie also suffers from a lack of consistent tone. 99 percent of the film is a morose broodfest that is more sultry than scary, but it tries its darndest to have an uplifting ending. Yeah … it doesn’t work out.

And it’s about as subtle as this.

Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, an employee at a law firm who is sent to the Eel Marsh House to try and settle the affairs of the late owner so the house can be sold. If that sounds like the plot to any horror movie featuring a haunted or possessed house, it’s because it kind of is.

Now that’s not to say the movie is completely unoriginal, after all, it decides to make Kibbs a widower, who is trying to do right by his son. That’s super edgy and original … right?

Basically from there, it’s exactly what you would expect. The house is in a small town where the people are distrustful of outsiders, ones who blame Radcliffe for all of their problems since, you know, that’s logical. As a quick aside, though, it’s a shame that Radcliffe has been typecast as a pasty man who constantly travels throughout England by train.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot of the movie, one, because it’s a relatively new release and I don’t want to spoil anything, and two, because there’s not much plot to be had. Seriously, three-fourths of the movie is Radcliffe looking around wildly for the source of some strange bump in the night.

Thus.

Now to be fair, the movie isn’t terrible, but it has the unfortunate distinction of being too bad to be good, and too competent to be funny. But I’m sorry, any movie that elicits laughs at any of its … ahem … tense moments isn’t worth paying upwards of $10 to see.

Top 25 Favorite Songs of All Time (15-11)

Well, I fell off the scheduling wagon in a bad way, didn’t I? Oh well, better late than never I suppose. As always, let’s start with a few honorable mentions.

“Beyond the Stars” by Oh Snap It’s Luke! 

Besides having one of the best artist names in history, songwriter Lucas Hogg knows how to make, in his words, “fun music for fun people.” His music is electro-pop, undeniably catchy and undoubtedly danceable. This is easily my favorite song by him.

“Making Me Nervous” by Brad Sucks

Another awesome name for another awesome artist. In stark contrast to his moniker, Brad Turcotte is able to combine his low, off-key and atonal vocal stylings with well-developed electronic hooks meshed perfectly with more traditional instruments. I highly recommend checking him out if you’ve never heard of him.

“I Had You Wrong” by Love You Long Time

I decided to make this edition of the honorable mentions all electro-pop, since I had to strongly resist the temptation to populate the list with such songs. Anyway, this song is the same drill as above. Great beat, and a great song to dance to. Honestly, this one would have made my list if it weren’t for the random outro, which lasts far too long and detracts from the overall feel of the song. Oh, and this is yet another of my favorite group names.

Now, on to the list.

15. “When the Doves Cry” by Prince 

Much like “Funkytown” this is a song that has fallen quite a bit in my mind recently. Once my unquestioned #2 favorite, it now finds itself far down the list. But, again like “Funkytown” it’s not so much that I like it any less than I used to, I mean, how could I not like a work from the most hip Jehovah’s Witness in recent memory?

And that is saying quite a lot.

This song is amazing. The guitar, the beat, even Prince’s vocals all come together to create a perfect love song. I’m not the biggest fan of Prince’s voice, since a lot of time it sounds like he’s constantly doing the high end of vocal warm ups in a choir class.

While doing this.

But here his vocals are a bit more subdued, and even when he does reach his highest, most grating levels, it seems to fit the tenor of the song. It’s a song of longing, of heartbreak, and you can almost hear the emotion in Prince’s voice, an emotion that is almost oxymoronic when compared to the upbeat tempo.

All in all, it’s great. Definitely my favorite Prince work.

The artist formerly known as Machiavelli notwithstanding.

14. “All There Is” by Bad Religion 

Bad Religion is one of my all-time favorite groups, and definitely in the running for my favorite punk group of all time. The thing I like the most about them is how they are able to so effectively and completely break the mold of traditional punk music, eschewing overly simplistic lyrics…

Well...

Mindless guitar thrashing in lieu of more complex melodies…

Uh...

Or a lucky set of circumstances that have led to a band becoming incredibly overrated with time.

Ahem.

This song best represents what makes Bad Religion so good. The melody is distinctly punkish, but has several intricacies, including a slowed portion near the end that is easily my favorite part of the song. The lyrics are great, the vocals fitting, and the overall offering is simply fantastic. Despite the band’s name, this song is anything but bad.

Waka, waka, waka!

13.  “Ghost ‘N Stuff” (Hard Intro Version) by Deadmau5

Those of you who have hung out with me, or worked anywhere close to me at the Daily Wildcat, probably know this song. There was a period where I listened to it almost constantly, or at least several times a day. While the original version is great, and easily deserving of a spot on this list, the “Hard Intro” version, which features a narration taken from the film “The Brain from Planet Arous” takes this song to a whole new level.

And honestly, anything related to this has to be awesome, right?

There’s not much else I can say about this song. It’s techno at its very best. My only critique is that this song has nothing to do with ghosts. Or stuff, for that matter.

The aptly named Sheet Not Appearing in this Song.

12. “Overkill” by Men at Work 

There are several reasons this song appeals to me. First, the song is superficially about not being able to sleep which is something I have intimate experience with.

Pictured: Not me.

This song is one of the most well-constructed I’ve ever heard. Every single aspect of it comes together perfectly. The low-tuned guitar, Colin Hay’s vocals, and even the mournful sound of the trumpet gives the song an incredible melancholy feel that suits the gloomy lyrics perfectly.

Colin Hay doing his best skeleton impersonation helps too.

I know there are some people who prefer the acoustic version (otherwise known as the “Scrubs” version) of this song better, but I honestly can’t see why. Then again, I’ve never felt that somebody diluting a song down to an acoustic guitar and whining into a microphone makes a song any more powerful or deep.

Ahem.

Bottom line, this song is awesome. Especially when considering some of the other offerings from the Men at Work.

Aaaaaaaaaaaahem.

11. “Feeling This” by blink-182

Blink-182 has been one of my favorite bands for as long as I can remember. One of the first songs I downloaded off Napster (back when it was free and a computer got Internet from a hole in the wall) was “All the Small Things.” I was immediately hooked.

Hooked on a "Feeling This"! Get it? Huh? I'm done now.

But for the longest time, I didn’t know what my favorite song by Blink-182 was. “All the Small Things” is classic, “Dammit” is turn of the millennium punk incarnate. But it’s when I finally got to see Blink-182 in concert a few months ago that I realized how much I loved this song.

The call and response vocals, the up and down melodic structure, the incredible drum backing from Travis Barker. It all coalesces into a song that is so much greater than the sum of its parts that it’s kind of stunning. But I won’t drag this out. You know the band, you probably know the song, and so there’s nothing else I can really say about it. It’s fantastic, and I love it.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment of my top 25 favorite songs of all time.

Top 25 Favorite Songs of All Time (20-16)

Honorable Mentions: 

“Kisses of the Sun” by ATC

It’s catchy bubblegum electro-pop at its finest, but lacks enough substance, tonally or otherwise, to make the list.

“Hella Good” by No Doubt

One of my all-time favorite guitar licks, and an overall composition good enough for me to forgive them the use of the word “hella.” Plus, the music video is No Doubt messing around on a boat, how can you go wrong? Much like above, it’s a great song, and another that I would blast at parties if I had my druthers, but there’s not enough here to merit a place on the list.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

20. “Baba O’Riley” by The Who 

This is one of the songs on the list that makes it almost entirely out of nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome song, with one of the most memorable synthesizer loops of all times as its intro. But what truly makes this song is just how complex it is. Now, many songs by The Who are complex in their own right (“Boris the Spider” notwithstanding) but “Baba O’Riley” has movements that rival any symphony. The gradual buildup from the synthesizer to the full band, with the guitar hitting full force just as the vocals come in. Simply put, it’s a powerful and memorable song. Hey, it was my ringtone for about a year, so it must be doing something right.

"Hello? Whoooooooooo are you?"

19. “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. 

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. What once was my undisputed, hands-down, no-holds-barred favorite song of all time now barely cracks the top 20. How can this be? I mean, the song hasn’t changed, though I’m sure it’s been sampled to death by increasingly desperate rap artists.

"Meet me at the club, it's goin' down ... to Funkytown!"

I think it’s that I listened to the song so much over the last decade (yes, it was my favorite song for about that long) that, while I haven’t gotten sick of it necessarily, it no longer has the same effect on me it once had. It’s still infectiously catchy, danceable and, yes, funky, but it’s just not the same for me as it once was. Does that make the song any worse? Nope. And you can bet that if I’m at a party and have control over the music, you’ll hear it sooner rather than later. It may have fallen down my list, but nothing will ever stop this song from taking me down.

You're welcome.

18. “Black is Black” by Los Bravos 

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of songs that have a more reserved, even melancholy feel to them. I know that sounds like a baldfaced lie coming from somebody who just talked about how much he loves “Funkytown” but it really is true. I’ve also always liked the sound of ’50s and ’60s era boy bands, like The Zombies, The Kinks and … there’s one more that I seem to be forgetting.

Not quite...

But there’s something about this song I find undeniably appealing. Maybe it’s the way the song begins, slowly building until the atonal vocals come in, maybe it’s the lyrics, which have a distinctly lonely and longing feel to them. Or maybe I just find it funny that a Spanish beat group would have a lead singer named Michael Volker Kogel.

Not the first time a band's name would hold such a contradiction.

What else can I say? It’s atmospheric, it’s meaningful and its message is poignant. If that, combined with a nice bass groove, isn’t enough to earn it a spot on my list, I don’t know what is.

17. “Stan” by Eminem

I know that it pretty much makes me a colossal stereotype to say that Eminem is my favorite rapper, but it’s true. While he’s fallen off the wagon as of late, and through several miles of the Earth’s crust, (seriously, “Love the Way You Lie” is horrible) his older work is a unique mix of comedy, brashness and observational pondering. In this song, Eminem expertly displays a narrative, broaching topics such as suicide, obsession and the overwhelming price of fame, and does so masterfully.

This is also one of the best examples of sampling I’ve ever heard in a rap song. Dido’s “Thank You” provides the perfect complement to the song’s morose vibe, and combined with the steady sounds of a thunderstorm in the background creates an atmosphere that is dark and foreboding, a teaser to the song’e inevitable conclusion.

And hey, any song that could make Elton John agree to collaborate has to be good, right?

This is still one of the most surreal things I have ever seen.

Actually, I probably prefer the version with Elton John to the original, but I disqualified it from inclusion, since it’s a live-only version. But regardless of who joins Eminem throughout this tale of woe, it remains a powerful work. The only reason it’s so low on this list is that it’s one of those songs that I really have to be in the mood to listen to. But when I am, it blows me away. Hmm. What does that say about me, I wonder?

16. “Aerodynamic” by Daft Punk

This song is freaking awesome. There’s no other way to describe it. Daft Punk truly outdid themselves when they crafted this masterpiece.

The solemn opening bells, the rocking synthesized guitar riff, the calming, almost contradictory outro … it’s all awesome.

But, unfortunately, it places this low on the list for one simple reason. It could be better. In fact, it is better already. On Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 CD, there’s a remix with this song and “One More Time.” To be succinct, it blows the original version out of the water, though I couldn’t include the remix since it’s a live version. Maybe I’m being a bit too sonically shallow on this one, but I just can’t place the original any higher when I’ve seen its full potential realized in another song. It’s still awesome and I still love it, but my forbidden remix love will always take precedent

Check back tomorrow for the next installment.