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Movie Review

Tim Grierson Reviews 'Dark Shadows' and 'Girl in Progress'

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Tim Grierson Reviews 'Dark Shadows' and 'Girl in Progress'
Photo Source: Warner Bros. Picture
Of late, Johnny Depp has had a monopoly on playing eccentric characters, whether it's Captain Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka. Not surprisingly, then, he pulls out more weirdness in "Dark Shadows," portraying Barnabas Collins, a melancholy, centuries-old English vampire freed from his buried coffin and trying to cope with life in 1970s America. Mostly squandering a gifted cast that includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, and Christopher Lee, director Tim Burton (Depp's frequent partner in crime) tries to meld culture-clash comedy and spooky foreboding. It's frequently effective, but Depp's deadpan monster is more memorable than the uninspired story around him. The impressive visuals notwithstanding, the film's best effect is Eva Green as a slinky, evil witch who seduces Depp right along with the audience.

Sadly, there's nothing remotely seductive about the comedy "Girl in Progress," which stars Cierra Ramirez as Ansiedad, a model student who decides to orchestrate her own coming-of-age teen rebellion so she can graduate to full-fledged adulthood and leave her harried mother behind. Unsurprisingly, Ansiedad's meticulous plan to become a bad girl doesn't go so well, but even worse, it forces us to watch a bright young woman act like an idiot just so she can learn obvious lessons about personal responsibility. Eva Mendes plays her adulterous, overworked single mom, and like Ramirez she's been given an impossible task, trying to elicit sympathy for a character who's been designed to be insufferable.

Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait's "God Bless America" has little patience for the world's most insufferable people, including vacuous reality stars, and this jet-black satire plans to do something about it. Starring Joel Murray as a disenfranchised divorcé who teams up with a vengeful teen (Tara Lynne Barr) to murder everyone they can't stand, this bloody, rude film has a cleansing anger. But while Goldthwait's actors gleefully express the bottomless rage that many of us know better than to vent, "God Bless America" mostly takes aim at easy targets, such as windbag TV commentators. Still, if you've ever suppressed the urge to open fire on people who talk in theaters, this movie might be on your wavelength.

By comparison, "I Wish" is such a gentle, unassuming drama that at first it seems to be merely drifting along. In the film, Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda masterfully explores the world of children -- just as he did in his terrific 2004 drama, "Nobody Knows" -- presenting us with two brothers (actual siblings Koki and Ohshirô Maeda) separated by divorce and now living in different parts of the country. "I Wish" quietly observes as these brothers plot their reunion, and the sweet, unhurried tone is tempered by a wistfulness about the delicate bonds of love and family. Koki and Ohshirô are thoroughly natural performers, but when the unexpectedly emotional ending comes into focus, their understated poignancy reveals real artistry beneath the effortlessness.

Fans of high-octane action films such as "The Raid: Redemption" would do well to seek out "Sleepless Night," a French thriller about a dirty cop (Tomer Sisley) who has to free his son from a crime lord after a drug deal goes bad. In practical terms, this requires Sisley to run around the crime lord's swanky dance club during one anxiety-inducing evening, contending both with detectives out to bust him and with criminals who want to ice him. The film's relentless pace and shaky-cam feverishness can get taxing after a while, but Sisley owns this role of an ethically conflicted cop who transforms into a galvanic antihero.

Love is in the air, although certainly not at first, in "Tonight You're Mine," a comedy-drama set at Scotland's popular summer music festival T in the Park. Luke Treadaway plays Adam, the singer for an up-and-coming California band, who accidentally gets handcuffed to Morello (Natalia Tena), the leader of a British group. You get no points for guessing that after first hating each other, these two will start to form a bond. But despite its predictability, "Tonight You're Mine" manages to evoke the feeling of being immersed in an all-day festival, with its moments of drunken bliss, euphoric tunes, and sweaty exhaustion. Treadaway and Tena make for a credible, sexy couple, but I ended up wishing the rest of the film didn't feel so slapdash or hit so many bum notes.

A failure of execution also hamstrings Lebanese actor-director Nadine Labaki's "Where Do We Go Now?" That's particularly disappointing, as the comedy wields an intriguing concept: The women of a small village that consists of both Christian and Muslim families (including Labaki's strong-willed widow) band together to keep the town leaders from going to war with one another. Sort of a "Think Like a Man" of Middle Eastern relations, "Where Do We Go Now?" wants to satirize the stupidity of male pride. Unfortunately, Labaki and her cast operate in such broad strokes that the sincere messages about religious tolerance and gender equality get lost amid the Ukrainian stripper jokes.

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