Movies out today: Darkness and drama settle on SA cinemas

Five new movies open in South Africa today, and they all bring the drama in some form or another - even if it's tempered by quirky comedy.

Dark Shadows:
Director Tim Burton and leading man Johnny Depp reteam for the eighth time on Dark Shadows, a supernatural comedy-drama based on the cultishly popular soap opera. Depp is Barnabas Collins, a 18th Century playboy turned vampire, who, cursed by a witch (Eva Green), wakes in 1972  and immediately sets about reversing his family's ailing fortunes... all while coming to terms with the era in which he finds himself. Dark Shadows' all-star cast of secretive oddballs includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, ChloĆ« Grace Moretz and Jonny Lee Miller. Trailer Tuesday profile here.

You can read my full Dark Shadows review here. In a nutshell, the film is very uneven but until its overblown ending it's one of the more genuinely fun Burton-Depp collaborations, with lots of style and a great soundtrack. For the record, overseas, Dark Shadows is currently sitting with an aggregated Rotten Tomatoes rating of 49% Fresh. Split critics are either calling it a lazy mess or a quirky, ghoulish blast. Fans of the TV show will likely hate it.



Shame:
Given the number of awards that this second directorial effort from artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen received, it was strange that leading man Michael (X-Men: First Class) Fassbender - one of the biggest acting names in 2011  - didn't receive an Oscar nomination. Then again, the conservative Academy was probably scared off by Shame's explicit subject matter: sex addiction. Yup, Fassey plays a successful 30-something New Yorker who struggles every day with his compulsion. Then his dysfunctional sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to visit, forcing him to face his destructive behaviour.

By all accounts, Shame isn't a film that you'll enjoy in the conventional sense. It certainly ain't a turn-on! Instead, it's a harrowing, intimate drama, with painfully convincing performances. The film's critics have also pointed out it's a slow art circuit release that frustratingly offers little in the way of explanation. 80% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.


Otelo Burning:
This South African coming of age drama debuted at the 2011 Durban International Film Festival. After a couple of national release date changes, the movie finally opens wide today locally. Inspired by real life events, the work-shopped production of Otelo Burning is set in Durban during the late 1980s and centres on a couple of township teens who, in the turbulent dying days of Apartheid, discover escape from political violence through surfing - an activity previously associated with white privilege. In Zulu with English subtitles.

Otelo Burning has screened at various film festivals around the globe, and while it hasn't been reaping in mass accolades it has been praised for its performances, cinematography and soundtrack. The film is apparently solid and crowd-pleasing, but doesn't quite do enough to distinguish itself from hundreds of other "life improvement through sport" tales.



The Vow:
Moviegoers looking for a bit of romance this weekend need look no further than The Vow. In this drama - which came out for Valentine's Day in the US, and is inspired by a true story - Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum play lovey-dovey newlyweds whose happiness is shattered during a car accident. McAdams's memory of their relationship is erased and frustrated hubby Tatum has to remind his amnesiac bride of their love... even though she's drawn to her ex, Scott Speedman.

The Vow is just 29% Fresh. Evidently it's a passable date movie, and the leads have genuine chemistry (Tatum even acts!). However, the film's sweetness and surprising wit is counteracted by its refusal to veer from genre formula, and push out of its comfort zone into something more affecting.


First Night:
Showing in limited release at Ster Kinekor cinemas is this musical comedy-drama, starring Richard E. Grant and Sarah Brightman. Grant plays Adam, a wealthy industrialist with aspirations of being an opera singer. So, tired of being jokingly dismissed by his friends, he decides to stage Mozart's most popular opera, the sexually charged Cosi Fan Tutte, at his country manor house. Soon life is imitating art, as Adam tries to win the affections of the production's gifted conductor (Brightman), while the rest of the opera troupe is out to bed each other.

Apparently First Night is saucy, eccentric silliness. There's a fun, over-the-top performance from Grant though, even if the film continually veers between entertaining and embarrassing.

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