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Dark Shadows - Starring:
as Barnabas Collins

Michelle Pfeiffer
as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard

Eva Green
as Angelique Bouchard

Chloe Grace Moretz
as Carolyn Stoddard

The Dictator - Starring:
Sacha Baron Cohen
as Aladeen / Efawadh

Jason Mantzoukas
as Nadal

Ben Kingsley
as Tamir

Anna Faris
as Zoey

Written by Seth Grahame-Smith

Directed by Tim Burton

Running Time: 1:47

Rated PG-13
for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking

B-
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer

Directed by Larry Charles

Running Time: 1:27

Rated R
for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images.

B-


THE OPENING

Both Dark Shadows and The Dictator were decent films with moments of comedy but not enough to make them truly memorable. One looked better than the other, while the other was certainly more outrageous.

THE REVIEW

When I first read that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were teaming up to remake Dark Shadows I was excited because I had been a big fan of the short-lived 1990 remake of the original TV show. I figured with these two together we'd get a really deep and dark take on the original subject matter. Instead what we got is a pseudo-comedy that wasn't funny enough to be a real comedy, nor dark enough to be anything else. The movie certainly starts off seriously enough, when we meet young Barnabas Collins as he lives his happy life until he crosses a witch who turns him into a vampire, cursed to live underground in a coffin for all eternity. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and he's unearthed into the 1970s, which turns the movie into a fish out of water story, except the fish is a vampire with a score to settle. What's interesting is that Depp and the entire supporting cast were great in their roles except other than Depp, no one gets enough screen time to do anything with it. It was sort of like, here's Depp with Michelle Pfeiffer, now here's Depp with Helena Bonham Carter, ooh and now he's with Chloe Grace Moretz. He would just bop from one person to another so much that you never got a good sense of who anyone else was. The primary story was either Barnabas getting the old business back in order, or fighting the witch who cursed him in the first placed (played by the hot to trot Eva Green). Yet the movie couldn't decide which story was more important and focused on neither. Basically, this movie was about Johnny Depp seeing how much of the screen he could control, along with Tim Burton making things look spooky. Did it make for a bad movie? No. Did it make for a great movie? No. It's one of those films where you watch it because you like something about it (Depp, Burton, vampires, goth) and then you forget about it and move on.

And move on I did straight into the waiting arms of The Dictator. Now I'm a big Sacha Baron Cohen fan, and Borat is one of my all-time favorite comedies, and might very well be at the top of that list. With this film, you've got him playing a hated dictator named General Aladeen in a fake foreign country who comes to the U.S. where one of his trusted aides manages to swap him for a look alike. Aladeen now must try and survive in New York while getting back his country. He falls for a local girl and his whole world view changes, blah blah blah. The story isn't the real reason you go and see this film. You go hoping for a lot of laughs. You'll get a few laughs but not nearly enough. I thought Cohen was trying too hard to be shocktastic with some of his comedy. None of it felt very natural, especially early on. As the movie progressed it got funnier, and there's one scene that involves him helping to birth a baby on the floor of a store that was as off-the-wall as you're going to get, but those kinds of scenes were few and far between. There was perhaps one line in the entire film that the audience really got behind (and it coincidentally happens at the end of the baby scene). The rest of the movie got a few laughs here and there, but nothing sustained. Maybe we were all hoping for too much, but knowing the kind of comic he is, I don't know if that was wrong. This is another movie where you go because you want to see a comedy or you've liked Cohen's past films. You won't have a bad time, but you won't really think about it afterwards.

During the summer, movies come fast and furious. Most of the time they're going to be big-budget action films so there aren't a lot of comedies to choose from. I honestly couldn't tell you which of these two films were better because while they were different, I felt the same way about both of them when I left the theaters. Eh. Dark Shadows was by far a more visually striking film which featured Johnny Depp doing what he does best, but the story never connected with the audience and left me wanting more. The Dictator has Sacha Baron Cohen trying to do what he does best, but falling a little short. While there were some decent laughs, there was only one truly memorable scene and that wasn't nearly enough for me.

THE BOTTOM LINE

So overall, I liked both Dark Shadows and The Dictator, but they weren't what I had been hoping for. You'll get some enjoyment out of them, but you might be better off waiting for DVD instead of paying big bucks to see them on the big screen.

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Reviewed 05/13/12

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