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Dark Shadows Casts a Long Shadow

Johnny Depp delivers a memorable, Van Winkle-esque performance

Has Johnny Depp ever turned in a poor performance? If so, I’ve never seen it.

Whether he’s channeling Keith Richards (Pirates of the Caribbean), Hunter S. Thompson (), Ed Wood or even Edward Scissorhands, Depp always turns in a wonderful performance, and in Dark Shadows he again demonstrates his remarkable acting prowess.

Depp is easily the best actor of his generation, sporting the intelligence and depth of Laurence Olivier, the suave charm of Adolphe Menjou and the humorous potential of Charlie Chaplin. He does whore himself out with the endless Pirates train of sequels, but hey, in some ways, we all have to sell out somehow. Even Orson Welles pimped wine (when it was time).

I arrived at the Cinemark Louis Joliet Theater a little later than I intended and I was shocked at the crowd of moviegoers already seated on Mother’s Day morning (9:45 showtime). There were probably 250 people there; usually at that hour I have the place to myself.

As a result of the large audience, I was unable to view the movie from my usual perch in the last row. Therefore, out of respect for my fellow moviegoers, I didn’t take notes on my mobile device, which can be a disturbance, but also left me at the mercies of my sometimes-distracted memory.

This is Depp’s eighth collaboration with director Tim Burton, who has brought us whimsically dark classics like Corpse Bride and Mars Attacks! Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a vampire who is accidentally exhumed in 1972 in the New England village of Collinwood, where his family launched a successful fishing and canning company back in the 1700s. Collins has been entombed for 200 years, so he has no idea about the muscle cars, macramé and Marc Bolan he’s about to inhale. It’s a plotline as old as Rip Van Winkle, but that’s OK. Archetypal storylines are sometimes forgivable.

Collins discovers that the family business has fallen on hard times: A rival fishing and canning company in the same town, run by a witch contemporary of his from a few centuries back (Angelique Bouchard, played by Eva Green), has cornered the market. He also arrives back at the family estate and finds it in disrepair, left at the hands of hard-drinking caretaker Willie Loomis (acted sublimely by an emaciated Jackie Earle Haley, who played the rebellious Kelly Leak back in the original The Bad News Bears).

Once again, we are treated to a darkly charming haunted house (), but this time the ancient abode is hilariously cluttered with banana-seated Schwinn Sting-Rays and Operation board games. Yes, I’m a sucker for any kinds of throwback 1970s pop culture, and this one is littered with plaid suits and natty shag carpeting.

The dialogue here crackles with charm and sophistication, as Depp’s 18th-century vocabulary and diction weave beautifully into the (what we can assume) early 1970s slang of the Collins family.

Will County residents will make some unmistakable parallels to current events as well: Collins’ accidental exhumation recalls the recent, high-profile grave-digging , third wife of Drew Peterson, who is currently in the slammer awaiting his trial on murder charges. Local sartorial enthusiasts will also make comparisons between Depp’s fine wardrobe here and the hairsprayed tastes of mustachioed Will County State’s Attorney James “Jimmy the Hairdo” Glasgow, captaining the charge against Drew Peterson without evidence to speak of (his court-time clothing choice is completely Saville Row, but off-camera, he prefers black, sleeveless T-shirts, weight belts and Zumba pants).

Horror-rock enthusiasts will be thrilled with the appearance here of Alice Cooper, although Burton really should have given him Jackie Earle Haley’s role for more props to rock snobs. Cooper could surely have carried it off.

Dark Shadows is loads funnier than , which could have used a lot more humor. It’s a fun update on the sleep-for-years plot that has permeated American literature and film.

Other observations at the moviehouse

The upcoming Argo, featuring Ben Affleck as a bearded, Carter-era CIA agent seeking to free six American hostages from the 1979 revolutionary crisis in Iran, looks to be promising, with beards, bad glasses and big lapels documenting an attempt at a hostage rescue. I hope they have the soundtrack right.

Flora Dora May 15, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Johnny Depp is like Cindy Sherman - all his pictures are himself in a costume but it always looks like him.
Dave Wilson May 15, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Haha thanks Flora Dora!

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