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May 18, 2012

Reel Advice:
“What To Expect..." and "Dark Shadows"

BY
GREGG SHAPIRO

“What To Expect...
"What To Expect When You're Expecting" (Lionsgate): There's so much wrong with rom-com "What To Expect When You're Expecting," it's difficult to know where to begin. Often tasteless and offensive, "WTEWYE" feels immediately dated and tired. In spite of a few timely references (i.e. food trucks and reality TV shows featuring competing dancing celebrities and competing obese people), this movie could have been made in the 1980s or 1990s. The irresponsible screenplay by (surprisingly) "Whip It" scribe Shauna Cross and Heather Hach seems to exist in another time period. It's 2012, doesn't anyone have safe sex anymore? It's 2012, where are the sane same-sex parents?

Couples Jules (Cameron Diaz) and Evan (Matthew Morrison), Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and Gary (Ben Falcone), Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford), Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) and Remington (Dennis Quaid), and Kara (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Craig (Thomas Lennon), all muddle through the perils of pregnancy (planned and unplanned) and potential parenthood with various degrees of success. Banking on the frank humor of "Bridesmaids" (as well as some similarities in cast members), it would appear that some suit was hoping to cash in on the irreverence trend, but the comedy is stillborn.

Not even pretty Crawford or a usually shirtless Joe Manganiello (as single Davis, through whom a few of the fathers live vicariously) can resuscitate this fiasco. If ever a movie functioned as a strong argument for keeping abortion safe and legal (if not mandatory), it's this one.

“What To Expect...
"Dark Shadows" (Warner Brothers): The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp creative partnership is not always a sure thing and "Dark Shadows" is proof. Not campy enough, not scary enough, not funny enough, not dark enough, not really enough of anything but 30 minutes too long, In short, "Dark Shadows" bites.

Loosely based on the pop-goth soap from the mid-1960s/early-1970s, Burton takes more than a few liberties, beginning with modifying the story into a wacky comedy. Too bad it's not funnier. Beginning with Collins family background, how they left Liverpool in the late 18th century and arrived in Maine where they established a successful fishing business, got the town named after them and built their beloved castle Collinwood. But the failure of young Barnabas (Depp) to return the affections of servant/witch Angelique (Eva Green) leads to a series of curses, including Barnabas' transformation into a vampire.

Unearthed in 1972 after being buried for almost two hundred years, Barnabas finds his way to Collinwood where he meets distant relatives Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), Elizabeth's ne'er do well brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Roger's depressed and recently motherless son David (Gulliver McGrath), David's live-in shrink Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), groundskeeper Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) and the newly arrived governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote). In addition to being startled by Victoria's resemblance to his deceased love Josette, Barnabas must adjust to modern life and once again face his ageless nemesis Angelique, whose successful seafood biz has all but put the Collins out of business.

Sight gags abound, but like every ounce of on-screen talent, all is wasted. A muddle and a jumble, complete with required fight to the death finale and the threat of a sequel, "Dark Shadows" is a mere shadow of its former self. Jonathan Frid, the original Barnabas Collins, who passed away in April 2012, must be spinning in his grave.

“What To Expect...
"The Perfect Family" (Variance/Certainty/Present): According to Catholic Woman of the Year nominee Eileen (Kathleen Turner), her family is anything but perfect in "The Perfect Family". Her fireman husband Frank (Michael McGrady), sober and in recovery, spent 20 years of their marriage drunk and unfaithful. Daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel) is a pregnant lesbian who, to Eileen's chagrin, is planning to marry her partner Angela (Angelique Cabral). Son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) is leaving his wife and kids for manicurist Theresa (Kristen Dalton).

The only person who appears to have any faith (so to speak) in Eileen's abilities is Monsignor Murphy (out actor Richard Chamberlain), who showers her with words of encouragement. Eileen is considered a shoe-in over longtime nemesis Agnes (Sharon Lawrence), although the home visit by the Monsignor, the Bishop (Hansford Rowe) and unpleasant Sister Joan (Rebecca Wackler) is causing her great anxiety.

Eileen is intent on make her, and the Church's, stance on the way her children are living their lives known to them. But before long, Eileen realizes that she is fighting a losing battle, although her own faith never falters. This is what makes watching "The Perfect Family" such an illuminating performance. What starts out as a borderline fanatical performance by Turner soon undergoes a transformation of heavenly proportions. Eileen's struggles are written all over her face and in her body language and Turner makes this patently unlikeable character worthy of our concern. When Shannon is hospitalized with a near-miscarriage, Eileen is able to set aside her religious devotion long enough to be a mother. The same thing occurs at Shannon and Angela's wedding, as we watch a whole range of emotions wash over Eileen in a matter of seconds. Not a perfect movie, "The Perfect Family" deserves to be seen for Turner's near-perfect performance.

 
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