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by Bill Gibron

7 Dec 2008

Johnny Depp is in (supposedly). So is his own personal Goth guru Tim Burton (reportedly). If we are to believe trade tattletales like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, the provocative pairing, currently working on a big screen adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (the former as the Mad Hatter, the latter as filmmaker), will follow up such spectacle with a re-vamp of Dan Curtis’ seminal horror soap opera, Dark Shadows. That’s right, Depp is lined up to bring tortured romantic and resident neckbiter Barnabas Collins to Twilight tweaked fan girls (and boys) everywhere. And given their exemplary track record - Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - expectations have a right to be high.

Yet, oddly enough, Shadows is not a solo gig. Sure, Barnabas resurrected the series when creator Curtis’ House of the Seven Gables goof was tanking in the ratings, and he’s an integral component to its lasting legacy and success. But without an accomplished cast around him, actors who can understand the dynamic that drove Shadows to classic cult status, the whole thing could turn out rancid. We’re not talking retro here - we don’t want to recreate the original players. But Curtis knew how to play to his company’s strengths, and if Burton is smart, he’ll do something similar with the cinematic version. Anyway, with Depp out of the way, here are our picks for the rest of the troubled Collins clan and their merry band of employees, enemies, and hangers-on:

The Men

Roger Collins - as played by “Big” Louis Edmunds, Roger was one of several Shadows’ characters of questionable conviction and perplexing personal ‘orientation’. The “was he/wasn’t he” argument rages on, even with subplots involving phantom wives and hateful offspring. So a modern actor of equal ambiguity needs to be found, and though he’s poised as a leading man, Jude Law could easily fill the (wo)man-crush character perfectly. Besides, being whiny and desperate are practically trademarks for the slight UK stud.
Quentin Collins - this one’s tough. David Selby walked the fine line between seduction and insanity for so long he appeared both romantic and ridiculous at the same time. When he wasn’t making cow eyes at anything in a skirt, he was battling his own inner lycanthrope (the character was cursed to be a werewolf, you see). We suggest Cillian Murphy, the amazing Irish actor who was Scarecrow in Batman Begins. If anyone can manage both real and ethereal animal magnetism, it’s this enigmatic, slightly askew actor.

 

Willie Loomis - ahhhhh…..Barnabas’ own sycophantic whipping boy, a character who literally feels the wraith-like wrath of the vampire’s pent up passions whenever the mood struck his master. If you’ve ever seen John Karlen whimper like a wounded pup, you’ll immediately understand why Paul Giamatti is the man to replace him. Willie has to be both resilient and weak, easily manipulated but frequently stricken by a strong moral code. The Sultan of Sideways could definitely bring that to the role - and much, much more.
Count Petofi - every good thriller needs a villain, and NO, the living dead lothario is not the bad guy here. Shadows was subversive in frequently making the monsters the protagonists of their surreal story arcs. So this crazed warlock with a missing magical hand would be the perfect Burton-like nemesis. He’s flamboyant yet ferocious, evil with just enough irony to make him both loathsome and loveable. And who better than Phillip Seymour Hoffman to essay the role’s many maniacal complications.

Aristede - in the TV series, this character was nothing more than a well dressed dandy with murder on his mind. He did the dirty work while his master Petofi took all the glory. Plotwise, he makes a perfect parallel and juxtaposition to Willie. As for casting, the current Aristede would have to be someone with a piercing stare and a “Hello Sailor” aura. We go with Twilight‘s Rob Pattinson. He’s got the broody menace and undead façade down pat.

The Women

Elizabeth Collins - as the moldy old matriarch of the Collins clan, Joan Bennett added a little Golden Era Hollywood glam to Curtis’ serialized spook show. She even got some good subplots now and again. For this go around, another grand dame would be suitable, and one imagines that Judy Dench would be just peachy. If you want to go American however, and a tad more hysterical, how about Meryl Streep? She’d look amazing in a black wig and widow’s garb.
Victoria Winters - the eternal victim at Collinwood, this nanny turned plot necessity has to have hidden strength and outward helplessness. Maggie Gyllenhall showed both when she took over the role of Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight (replacing another left-field possibility, Katie Holmes). Equally important, Jake’s older sister can easily act as the center of the storyline. Fans will never forget how original star Alexandra Moltke began each episode with the immortal lines, “My name is Victoria Winters…”
Maggie Evans - as one of two ingénue parts in Shadows, you just know Burton will be bucking to have his current sweetie (and mother of his children) Helena Bonham Carter as with Victoria or Maggie. While she’d probably make a better Angelique or Dr. Julia Hoffman (GOD forbid!), here’s hoping nepotism is cast aside, and someone like Kate Beckinsdale or, going less glamorous, Michelle Monaghan, is given a shot. Either one would make an easy, breezy interloper within the Collins family circle - and, even better, represent the Earthly presence of Barnabas’ long lost ghost love Josette.
Angelique - in her prime, Kathleen Turner would have been perfect in this part. Our witch (wickedly essayed by Laura Parker) with a memory and vengeance-oriented mind like a steal trap had to get tongues wagging and spines tingling with her certifiably insane sexiness. With Ms. Body Heat well past her prime, a current crazed coquette needs to be found. And while Angelina Jolie would seem like a box office given, we’d prefer to see someone like Naomi Watts chewing up the supernatural scenery. Or how about Elizabeth Banks. She’s beautiful, and can play batsh*t!
Dr. Julia Hoffman - it is literally impossible to replace the gaunt gal gravitas of Grayson Hall. She was all nicotine-stained bone structure and maiden aunt magnificence. Poised perfectly between early middle age and post-menopausal, Hall made Hoffman’s romantic lust for Barnabas into the most unique of unrequited loves. Taking her place would be tough, but here’s betting that someone like Joan Allen could handle the part brilliantly. She’s the right age, and carries the same combination of glamour and almost gone to seed as Hall.

The Kids

David Collins - the natural inclination here is to pick one of the many overused faces in the contemporary wee one’s talent pool (Freddie Highmore, we’re looking at you). But we’d prefer to see someone who has been relatively overlooked since stinking up the place as the post-millennial Damien in the awful Omen remake. But looking at him now, almost three years since that flop film, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick would make an excellent David. He already knows how to play evil. It’s all the other wimped out facets of the Collins kid that might cause him issues.
Amy Jennings - with a lineage that’s as confusing as any character’s in the show (she’s the child of ancillary personnel in the Collins’ legacy, yet then maintains a direct relationship to the family…huh), Amy is David’s partner in high-strung crime. While Abigail Breslin could probably handle it, we’re looking for someone a little more haunted and inherently spooky. And as big Sis Dakota is looking a tad awkward these days (and way too old), we’d go with her pint-sized sibling Elle Fanning. 

 

by Mike Schiller

7 Dec 2008

Say what you will about Sony, it is nothing less than a major technical achievement that they created when they put out the PlayStation 2.  I, along with millions of others, bought that thing in 2001.  It’s almost 2009, and here we are, looking at a release week in which a game for the PlayStation 2 towers over everything else on the list of releases.

Granted, it’s a slow release week.  Also granted, the game we’re talking about is a niche title for a devoted, but comparatively small audience.  Still, there are few games that I’ve waited for with such anticipation this year as I have waited for Persona 4.  Having played and enjoyed the third installment in the franchise, particularly with the FES add-ons that came with it, Persona 4 has looked like a shoe-in for game-of-the-year consideration since it was announced to be coming to American audiences in December.  I’m happy to have already had the pleasure of reading some positive reviews of the game, so I’m anticipating a fantastic, engrossing time sink much like the last game.  If you’re not playing Persona 4 this week, I hope you don’t consider yourself an RPG fan.

Dungeon Maker II

Dungeon Maker II

As for the rest of the release list…did I mention that it’s a slow release week?  I did?  Um, good.  Well, the DS has a couple of…well, they’re games, I know that.  Slingo Quest sounds fun, right?  I mean, it combines gambling and adventure gaming! How can you go wrong with that?  The PC and PS3 are a bit late to a couple of parties, with Prince of Persia and Sonic Unleashed respectively, and the Wii will be getting the Neopets Puzzle Adventure, which as I mentioned when it game to the DS version of the game is surprisingly good.

Oh!  And the PSP actually has something coming out this week!  Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War may not actually convince anyone that the PSP’s not dying, but it’s something, right? 

A trailer for Persona 4, along with the full release list, is after the jump.  Give it a look, and tell us all about your adventures with the Persona series in the comments, won’t you?

by Bill Gibron

7 Dec 2008

It’s the most hair-raising horror story ever. It’s enough to keep the most jaded adult up at night. The mere scope of the subject is so outrageous, so far beyond the capacity of most human imagination that an “out of sight, out of mind” response becomes an easy way of dealing with it (“it’s somebody else’s problem” coming in a distant second). Yet when one looks at the headlines or listens to the news these days, there’s no escaping it. It shaped the last election and threatens to undermine everything this country has created for the last 232 years. If you believe the terrifying documentary I.O.U.S.A., America is headed for a financial crisis of monumental proportions - and apparently, we are probably too late to keep it from happening.

Centering around the Fiscal Wake Up Tour, initiated by former United States Comptroller General David Walker (with substantial support from The Brookings Institute, The Concord Coalition, and the Heritage Foundation), director Patrick Creadon proposes four reasons - or “debts” - for our current capitalistic meltdown. The first is obvious - National Debt. The second, Savings Debt, puts the spendthrift credit addicted citizenry directly in the line of fire. The Trade Debt deals with our dependence on foreign investment, goods, and jobs to keep our country moving, and the last item - Leadership Debt - places much of the blame at the doorstep of post-modern politics. In essence, we’ve lived in a “too good to be true” system since Watergate wiped out our faith in government - and we’ve been unwilling to change it. 

As a point man, Walker is wise, articulate, and engaging. But at present, he appears to be playing to a jaded, jingoistic crowd. According to Creadon, Americans are still locked in a sense of entitlement. Like Veruca Salt, or Freddie Mercury and Queen, we want it all and we want it now. We don’t think about socking something away for the proverbial rainy day (unlike the Chinese, who take their $10 a day salary and still manage to save 50% of their earnings yearly) and overreaching in all aspects of our life - McMansions, overstuffed SUVs, crass creature comforts. But I.O.U.S.A. also illustrates how this relatively minor portion of the population ruins it for everyone else. By failing to restrain their own purse strings, there is a ripple effect down to the mired middle class and the working poor. That’s because, just like their elected representatives, the inferred wealthy wield power, and as a result, they dictate the kind of “voodoo” economics that got us in this mess in the first place.

One of the most fascinating elements of this documentary is the timeline explaining the US debt since 1776. There has rarely been an era when we’ve run at zero, and the Clinton surpluses are explained away as tagged-on treatments of the always available Social Security Trust Fund excesses. But with the Boomers about to hit retirement, and the current state of the economy balanced on the backs of policies that propose “spend now, pay later…much, much later”, I.O.U.S.A. argues that a breakdown is inevitable. Walker and his primary co-conspirator Bob Bixby (of Concord) seem exasperated in their conclusions, and the tour hopes to alert the country to the problem. But even with alarming statistic that would disturb even the soundest mind ($57 TRILLION debt in 20 years?!?!?), it’s apparently ‘head in the sand’ time.

As an entertainment, I.O.U.S.A. is occasionally confounding and always jaw-dropping. Creadon piles on the problems with such relish that the potential solutions get some incredibly short shrift (a musical montage? That’s the way to explain our potential path to escaping penury?). There’s also one too many ‘nobody’s listening’ moment, opportunities where Walker and his wise men are shuttled aside for more “audience friendly” news stories. The reliance on the next president seems prophetic, since the recent campaigns offered a clear contrast between business and usual and outside change. Yet I.O.U.S.A. argues that no quick fix is available. Tough times will call for equally harsh remedies - and the talking heads are convinced that Americans won’t cotton to such sacrifices.

Indeed, there’s plenty of blame to go around here, arguments pro and con regarding the realities of the world vs. our need for instant gratification and material satisfaction. When a skit from Saturday Night Live spoofs an infomercial offering a one page book entitled Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford, the clueless responses from the fake couple contain too much truth to be completely satiric. Clearly, the situation here is so bad that it’s almost impossible to laugh at. And don’t let left wing arguments about Bush’s War/Tax Cuts or Neo-Con criticisms of Pork Barrel spending throw you off. Together, they make up less than 10% of the overall budget and problem..

No, in 2008, the US is stuck paying service on an already massive debt, maintaining Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, and waiting for the fateful day when our foreign investors decide to pull rank. Like the old cliché says - it’s never fun to say ‘I told you so’ - but Walker has been pitching that party line for almost a decade. Oddly enough, one of the few Cabinet members to carry his torch - Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill - was fired by the President (via Vice President Cheney). Under the current administration, no news was not only good news - no bad news was great. For decades, propaganda and ineffectual policies have brought the nation to the verge of collapse. As I.O.U.S.A. argues, it may be too late to save this flat-lining patient.

by Karen Zarker

7 Dec 2008

The writers’ strike-shortened season left fans with fewer episodes in the fourth season than they may have hoped for, but it didn’t leave them stranded.  Ha, ha. Tangled up in mysteries, baffled by some serious time-zone changes, and casting about between changing hostilities and allegiances, yes—but not stranded. For fans who must watch the show in present-time, they’ll want this collection for return at a future date. For those are willing to wait to see what the future holds in a DVD set, so that they might skip commercial interruption and other incongruous interference and fully indulge in this perpetually twisting, turning adventure, their wait is over. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

Lost - The Complete Fourth Season
Lost: The Complete Fourth Season [Blu-ray]

by Charles A. Hohman

7 Dec 2008

So you’re at the bar and suddenly, the jukebox cranks out a song that inspires a fellow imbiber to passionately assert some band’s superiority over another tangentially related band. Rock and Roll Cage Match is the ideal book for such opinionated pontificators. In cogent, lively essays, stellar writers decide 30 musical feuds, some real (Jay-Z vs. Nas, Blur vs. Oasis, Lennon vs. McCartney), some creative (Simon & Garfunkel vs. Hall & Oates, Bob Dylan vs. Bob Marley). Through thoughtful execution of a risky premise, Cage Match offers semi-definitive answers for rock-geek know-it-alls, while igniting as many arguments as it settles.

AMAZON

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