Tag Archives: Tim Burton

Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton)

Ed Wood is a biopic of the unsung. The “misfits and dope addicts” of impossibly low budget American filmmaking. The film’s epilogue, following up with the characters, puts the film on the same level as all other big Hollywood biopics. Except this one is about someone who really didn’t do anything (and didn’t even get famous until after his death).

I remember around the time the film came out–I still have fond memories of seeing it at a sneak preview–the screenwriters talked about how difficult it was to turn Plan 9 from Outer Space into the momentous event in Ed Wood’s life it is in the film. Glen or Glenda, for obvious autobiographical reasons, was the better choice, but it wouldn’t have worked as a film (and certainly wouldn’t have gotten Martin Landau an Academy Award, though I doubt anyone was seriously considering the film for awards season at that point). Their solution is an interesting one. After Wood goes from funny to dramatic (the introduction of Patricia Arquette and the death of Landau’s Lugosi), the last act goes back to funny. But in a strange overdrive, best described by Bill Murray in the film–“How do you get all your friends to get baptized just so you can make a monster movie?” It isn’t just the characters in the film, it’s the viewer too. The lunacy has to encompass the viewer to get the picture to end right. And it works beautifully.

The film portrays Wood as a bit of a dope, but also filled with such unbridled, infectious enthusiasm, he can get anyone to do anything. Of a certain age, anyway. One of Wood‘s funniest running jokes involves the older members of the film crew, who are either perplexed by the director’s actions or resignedly amused.

The whole show actually isn’t Johnny Depp, which is kind of surprising, given the enormity of Depp’s presence. He’s so big it’s hard for him to fit in the frame. I remember during one early scene with Mike Starr, I forced myself to notice Depp’s twitching eyebrows. It was the only time during the viewing when I thought about his approach to the character as an actor. The rest of the time I was transfixed.

It’s all about Tim Burton really. Breaking down the dialogue, it’s better than average, but nothing earth-shattering. It’s Burton’s approach to the characters and to the story itself. Watching Ed Wood and thinking about what careful and deliberate steps Burton took in making it… is a little strange. Especially during the third act with the reenactments of the Plan 9 scenes. Burton convinces the viewer to stick around for the guy who made Plan 9, then goes and shows the film in all its awfulness.

The supporting cast–from Sarah Jessica Parker to Max Casella–are all excellent. Parker’s got some of the meatier scenes in the first half with Depp–Arquette’s basically just playing the dream girl, she’s good, but she doesn’t get to do much–and she’s got a wonderful exit. Landau’s Lugosi performance is something to behold… especially given Lugosi was a terrible actor himself, only to be portrayed as beautifully as Landau does. He really does some amazing things with Lugosi, borrowing the film from Burton and Depp.

Somehow, Burton manages to make the film feel good at the end–it must be the silliness–and it’s an exquisite experience. The deft handling of comedy, drama and practically fetishized filmmaking suggests Burton’s capable of great things. It’s just a shame he doesn’t try to attain them anymore.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, based on a book by Rudolph Grey; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Tom Duffield; produced by Denise DeNovi and Burton; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ed Wood), Martin Landau (Bela Lugosi), Sarah Jessica Parker (Dolores Fuller), Patricia Arquette (Kathy O’Hara), Jeffrey Jones (Criswell), G.D. Spradlin (Reverend Lemon), Vincent D’Onofrio (Orson Welles), Bill Murray (Bunny Breckinridge), Mike Starr (Georgie Weiss), Max Casella (Paul Marco), Brent Hinkley (Conrad Brooks), Lisa Marie (Vampira), George ‘The Animal’ Steele (Tor Johnson) and Juliet Landau (Loretta King).


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Batman Forever (1995, Joel Schumacher)

Joel Schumacher once commented he was first credited with saving the Batman franchise (with Batman Forever), then destroying it (with Batman & Robin). I think I’d watched his second venture (or tried to watch it) more recently than I had seen Forever… anyway, it isn’t like Schumacher made one good one and one bad one. He made two bad ones and the second one just happened to be worse, but Batman Forever is atrocious in its own right. When Drew Barrymore gives a film’s best performance, it’s trouble.

The problems with the film are a list of its cast (with the except of Barrymore, Val Kilmer–who isn’t good but isn’t bad either, it’s not like he could do anything with the role–and maybe Alfred Gough), its crew (whoever did the composites should be blacklisted and Elliot Goldenthal’s score is an offense to the ears) and particularly Schumacher and the writers.

I’ve long been under the impression the Batchlers worked on “Batman: The Animated Series,” explaining some of the more cartoon-like elements of the plot (particularly the Statue of Liberty stand-in), but I can’t find that credit on IMDb so they’re probably just Warner Bros. in-house writers… Forever’s other credited writer, Akiva Goldsman, is, of course, the guy who has somehow gotten respectable in modernity, though it’s probably because he helped dumb down theatergoers so much in the 1990s… I’m not sure who is responsible for each of the terrible scenes–Batman Forever’s most interesting in its inability to have a single honest frame of celluloid, and it might be my new candidate for the turning point of Hollywood, when everything started its descent into garbage (I need to admit, right now, I used to like Batman Forever, but I was a teenager and apparently a dumb one).

Another possible reason for a genial defense of the film is Jim Carrey. People used to love him, though it’s hard to remember those days. He’s absolutely terrible, as is Tommy Lee Jones (Nicole Kidman and Chris O’Donnell are as well, but no one should expect anything from either of them). But Jones… it’s painful to watch him. I thought he took the role for his kids (but, again, can’t find any online citation of it).

Schumacher’s direction of the film is both incompetent and incredibly interesting. Besides the terrible composites (I sort of remember them always looking poorly lighted), Schumacher appears to have been shooting unfinished sets. Or it was stylistic–a bad style–never shooting any establishing shots, never setting up anything in the film (with the possible except of Wayne Manor) as believable. But, it’s still interesting how he can keep up such a visually unintelligible film.

Schumacher got a lot of crap for making the next one as a toy commercial, but this one is just the same… it even looks like an old toy commercial, the kind with the toys shot as though they were life-size, which pretty much sums up Batman Forever… It’s so bad, I’m surprised I–as the teenager who thought it was good–was literate.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; written by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman, from a story by Batchler and Scott Batchler, based on the characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Dennis Virkler; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Tim Burton and Peter MacGregor-Scott; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Val Kilmer (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face / Harvey Dent), Jim Carrey (The Riddler / Dr. Edward Nygma), Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian), Chris O’Donnell (Robin / Dick Grayson), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Police Commissioner Gordon), Drew Barrymore (Sugar), Debi Mazar (Spice), Elizabeth Sanders (Gossip Gerty), Rene Auberjonois (Dr. Burton) and Joe Grifasi (Bank Guard).


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