Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994) Film Review

Catch a falling star and put him in your movie. “What a picture.” As many horror and horror-adjacent movies I’ve seen over the years, I am still finding those that I am familiar with–yet–have never taken the time to watch. And Ed Wood is one of those movies. Even if you know the story, and have even seen clips of the movie in your cinema studies class, believe me, you want to seek out this brilliant motion picture about the dark side of show business. There is perhaps no greater example of posthumous notoriety and success in cinema than the late filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr., most famously known for Plan 9 from Outer Space and casting the great Bela Lugosi in his final screen appearance. While his Z-grade movies were laughed at during their day, these movies provide inspiration to artists everywhere that you can pursue your dreams even when your harshest critics and financiers dismiss you. Ed Wood was a creator with a passion for bringing joy through entertainment into people’s lives. Perhaps his films were poorly produced, written, directed, and virtually everything else, but what this films demonstrate is a love of filmmaking and respect for great talent that flew in the face of a “town that chews you up and spits you out.” Ed Wood was in motion pictures for the art and love, not for the business. Tim Burton’s quasi biographical film about the production of Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space, and the relationship between Bela Lugosi and Wood is a beautiful portrait of love and respect. Of all the fantastic performances in this film, Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi is a command performance that rightly earned him an Oscar for Supporting Actor. If you’ve ever had a dream, this film serves as inspiration and provides darkly comedic anecdotes that shine a light on the lengths independent filmmakers have to go in order to find a way to finance and produce films. This film is a sort of ode to all the misfit creatives out there, and probably the most sincere and personal film that Burton has ever made.

Because of his eccentric habits and bafflingly strange films, director Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is a Hollywood outcast. Nevertheless, with the help of the formerly famous Bela Lugosi (Landau) and a devoted cast and crew of show-business misfits who believe in Ed’s off-kilter vision, the filmmaker is able to bring his oversize dreams to cinematic life. Despite a lack of critical or commercial success, Ed and his friends manage to create an oddly endearing series of extremely low-budget films. (IMDb)

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All the technical elements scream classic Tim Burton! From the moment the movie opens, even if you did not know that this was a Burton film, you would instantly identify the stylistic opening as quintessentially Burton. And not just the choice to make the movie grayscale, but the production design has a gothic poetry to it. Burton was able to successfully capture the look and feel of 1950s Hollywood. He was careful to recreate the world of Ed Wood, all the way down to the character blocking in the movies within the movie. For example, you can compare the recreated Ed Wood movies within this biopic to the real deal, and many are practically carbon copies. I appreciate this because it makes the filmmaking we see in the movie feel all the more real when what’s being shot in the movie is the same as was shot in real life. Perhaps Burton didn’t shut down Hollywood Boulevard like QT did for OUATIH, but he painstakingly transports the audience of the then 90s and even today’s audience to an era of independent film production that produced movies that look like they belong on an old UHF station.Most of the scenes are set in dank, warehouses or the empty streets of a nondescript section of the city. Other scenes are simply in a humble home. The filmmaker Ed Wood never shot a frame that he didn’t like; moreover, this practice was so extreme that he would ignore complete technical blunders and horrendous acting that was so bad that it achieved a kind of grandeur or cult status that can be appreciated decades later because Wood’s love of movies and movie making shines through in every frame of his masterful disasters.

Just as Ed Wood loved every frame of everything he ever made, the visual design of this film has got to be loved by Burton. His signature is on every scene. No mistaking it, there is more to the reasons for recreating Ed Wood’s Hollywood than just making an accurate biopic. Much like Norma Desmond took audiences on a journey into the life of a faded once-great(est) star of the silent era, It’s in these very dark corners and abandoned places where the true love of motion picture making lives, where the only reward for wrapping a picture is the love of the work itself and the cheers of those whom stood by you and helped take the idea from concept to screen. Ed Wood represents geek culture of the 1950s, future icons of horror and science-fiction are featured as unappreciated in their time. Fortunately today, geek culture is alive and well, and even celebrated. Yeah, there are obnoxious stans out there, but most of us movie and horror geeks simply love the medium and enjoy having fun with movies that still capture our imaginations. The director Ed Wood was not unlike many of us; he had a dream, and stopped at nothing to realize it. While I do not care much for Burton’s work after the 80s and 90s, he is a filmmaker that showed audiences through BeetlejuiceBatman Returns, Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks, and Ed Wood that he loves the art of motion pictures. When you went to a Burton picture in the 80s and 90s, you knew that you would witness the hand of the artist. In both Ed Wood’s and Tim Burton’s films, there is an effervescent life, a joy in their films that technically and critically “better” pictures only wish they had.

We cannot talk about Ed Wood without spending some on Landau’s Oscar-winning performance as Dracula himself Bela Lugosi! I was blown away by how sincere the performance was. What we saw Renee Zellweger do with Judy Garland in last year’s Judy, Landau did with Lugosi in Ed Wood. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said that I was watching Lugosi in this film. Both vocally and physically, Landau transforms into the famous Hungarian actor. From the moment we first see him laying in the coffin (creative latitude on Burton’s part), Landau captures our imaginations. Landau delivers a performance of a faded film star that Gloria Swanson would be proud of. In many respects, the characters of Bela Lugosi and Norma Desmond are similar. While Norma wasn’t living in near poverty, she was living in a world in which the parade of fans long sense passed her by; likewise, Lugosi fell into such obscurity that even people in the business thought he was dead. Landau embodies the mind and soul of someone that feels completely abandoned by the world and the fans that once loved to see his pictures. And it wasn’t the fame or money that Lugosi missed per se, but bringing joy to millions and simply the feeling of being wanted or needed is what Lugosi missed most. While Landau received negative criticism from the family and friends of Lugosi because his family said that Lugosi never used profanity or slept in coffins, there is no doubt that this is one of the finest performances of Landau’s career and in biopics.

Everything about this motion picture works brilliantly! I’m only disappointed that it took me this long to finally make time to watch it. Even though there is something in this movie for everyone, I feel that it impacts cinephiles and filmmakers the most. Though, there is a high degree of relatability for anyone that has ever had a dream and stops at nothing to continue to pursue it. Amid the recreation of all the tacky filmmaking and notoriously bad acting, there is a warmth and charm that will stick with you long after the credits role.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” movie review

missperegrinneSurprisingly exciting! Twentieth Century Fox brings another YA novel to the screen. Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (from here on out noted at Miss Peregrine) is both a fish out of water story combined with a magical adventure that mildly comments on the human condition. Of all the YA movies that have been produced over the last few years, this one provides a much more dynamic experience than many of the others. Burton delights audiences with the classic Burton style that many of us have grown up with. In more recent years, I have often commented that he is essentially a parody of himself–a.k.a. Burt Porn (as coined by my friend Leon in Germany)–not true with Miss Peregrine. Get ready for a return to the class Burton that brought us timeless movies such as A Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands. The great cast is supported by the appearances of Samuel L Jackson and Dame Judi Dench. From Florida to Wales, this movie is sure to whisk you away to daring adventures requiring rather peculiar abilities to defeat those who would seek to take what isn’t theirs to have.

All Jake (Asa Butterfield) knew was his ordinary life. He had a rather blah home life, an eccentric grandfather, and a job that he hated. Until one day, something peculiar happened. In his grandfather’s dying breath he told Jake to find the island. With his parents finding his sports of what he saw at his grandmother’s death to be quite bizarre, they forced hi to visit a psychiatrist. Upon finding a mysterious letter, Jake is determined to find the home in which his grandfather grew up. Accompanied by his cynical father, Jake returns to the island where his grandfather grew up. Only he could never have expected the adventure and run of this life that he will soon find himself. Stumbling across the children’s home ran by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), Jake teams up with the most unusual but fascinating people who are in a rush against time to defeat those who are out to destroy them.

If I had to name one takeaway from this film, it would be that it reminds me of the 1980s/90s Tim Burton before he “went down the rabbit hole.” It combines his surreal and gothic filmmaking style juxtaposed against his flare for the colorful and bizarre. Although it is not an original concept by any means, if you’re a fan of Fox’s film adaptations of or the animated series X-Men, then you will likely enjoy this movie! Not having read the book, I cannot comment on the film’s alignment and commitment to the literary work written by Ransom Riggs; but, from what I have read online–even the author himself–is pleased with Burton’s translation from page to screen. Very few directors would have been so successful at bringing this story to life more than Burton.  Despite an apparent successful translation from book to movie, the film suffers from an overload of mythology, exposition through dialog, and lacks the thrills to completely balance out the former two elements. Although this movie may feel like one that you have seen before, it does offer a glimpse into Burton’s prime years and perhaps offers a hope that the acclaimed visionary director can once again impress us with his fantastical but highly effective cinematic storytelling.

One of the most successful elements to the X-Men’s plight as individuals born with peculiar abilities is the fact that they are human. They hold onto their humanity (the good guys anyway). Miss Peregrine’s children do not appear to offer the same level of humanity as their X-Men counterparts. The impact of the X-Men’s abilities is felt not only by the X-Men themselves but by the community at large. For the most part, Miss Peregrine’s children’s abilities largely leaves no impact upon themselves or others. Almost plays off more as a convenient plot device than character attributes. Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield’s fake American accent does not really suit his character of Jake. In a world of fantastical dynamics and depth, he plays off as a boring, flat character. In screenwriting, it is vitally important for the writer to cause the reader/audience to love the protagonist and/or love to hate the antagonist. I found it hard to love Jake or truly hate Barron (Jackson).

So, the movie may not have the amazing principle cast that we are accustomed to in a Burton movie; but, it does still contain Burton magic and some exciting and beautiful visuals. It is also a lot of fun to watch! In addition to being fun to watch, it contains some rather disturbing imagery and cringeworthy moments. But that’s par for the course with classic Burton. One of my favorite parts in the movie is the action-packed climactic sequence accompanied by dark humor. It’s a great combination of humor and visceral conflict. If you’re looking for a fun movie to watch this weekend, then this one is a solid pick! Furthermore, if you desire to get a glimpse into a more classical Burton film, then you’ll find utter delight in this one as well.

The Art of “Batman Returns” (1992): a retrospective movie review

BatmanReturnsBy far, still the sexiest Batman movie! With the reviews from fans and critics alike regarding this weekend’s release of the highly anticipated Suicide Squad ranging anywhere from horrible to moderately enjoyable, I decided to rewatch and review the Batman movie that is still considered by many, and yours truly, to be the most Batman out of all of them. Released in 1992, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns boasts a star-studded cast complete with the German expressionistic filmmaking style and gothic production design often associated with this iconic superhero franchise. The brilliance of Batman Returns can be witnessed in recognizing that Tim Burton provided audiences with an art house film masquerading around as a superhero Hollywood blockbuster. From the architecture to the costumes and cinematography, this Batman movie has more in common with art than a movie. Not that movies lack artistic appeal, quite the contrary–after all cinema is the art of visual storytelling; but there is a certain artistic charm that surrounds Batman Returns uncommon in other superhero movies. In other words, the focus was more on the art of a Batman story than the plot. Many comic book enthusiasts also regard this installment (as well as its predecessor) as very close to the comics in plot and visual design. Furthermore, hands down, the most memorable element of the movie is Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and with good reason. Incredibly sexy, seductive, slightly psycho, playful, and conniving. Juxtaposed against Danny DeVito’s monstrous Penguin, Michael Keaton’s timeless Bruce Wayne/Batman, throw in the self-centered and ruthless Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, and you have a brilliant cast bringing to life iconic characters under the direction of a then-visionary director before he became a parody of himself.

Beneath the streets of Gotham City lies a world of water, waste, and The Penguin. Abandoned by his wealthy parents, Oswald Cobblepot is raised by the Penguins of the former Gotham City Zoo. He grows to resent the world above and the blue bloods of society that cast aside those who they deem as undesirable. High above the sewers, Selina Kyle is nervously tending to her boss’ every need. Not the most meticulous secretary–oh sorry, assistant–she has failed her ruthless boss Max Shreck for the last time, and gets shoved out a window to be nursed back to life by cats. Both abandoned and left to die, but return to life with revenge and warped justice on the mind. During the annual tree lighting ceremony, The Penguin and his henchmen thwart the celebratory atmosphere with gunfire, looting, chaos, and violence. Valiantly defending the good citizens of Gotham, Batman fights off the havoc that The Penguin with which The Penguin is enveloping the city. However, all the public knows is the good, kindhearted Penguin with a love of public service? Although initially setting out to kill Batman, in an ironic twist of fate, sparks begin to fly between Batman and Catwoman AND Bruce and Selina. Revenge, love, violence, and trademark gadgets. This Batman movie has it all.

Even the most dedicated Batman fans will admit that this film certainly has cinematic problems. But why are the flaws in this movie somehow forgiven but the flaws in Batman v Superman or this weekend’s Suicide Squad held against them respectively? Rewatching this Batman movie reveals that it is likely held is such high regard by superhero movie buffs and fans of the comics alike due to of the A-list talent and the artistic or stylistic approach to this story. Because the focus of the film is definitely on the art versus the plot, narrative flaws can easily be overlooked as the experience of this film rests upon the feel and look of everything more so than the plot in and of itself. It is rare for a superhero film to also be so incredibly artistic. And that is why this particular Batman movie stands unique amongst all the others that have been produced over the decades. The passion for visual design is seen in every shot, every costume, and in the sexiness of the interpersonal relationships between the characters. Just like with interpretive art, various interpretations of tone, feel, message, and impression can be found throughout Batman Returns. Regarding the tone of the film, it repeatedly switches from a campy melodrama to tragic love story to action/adventure. In many ways, this film is representative or even self-reflexive of cinema from the 1930s to the 1950s. Paralleling the film’s repeated switches of tone and pace, the characters also change personalities, demeanors, and motives. Moreover, control over situations constantly changes hands throughout the movie. Whether as the audience or a bystander in the movie, it is difficult, at times, to discern the villain from the hero. The magic of this Batman movie is that it bridges the boundaries of so many different interpretations of the Batman universe over the years into a film that embodies the art of filmmaking.

Not a direct follow up to the successful 1989 Batman, this installment is often celebrated as the most Batman of the Batman movies; it’s the one that somehow manages to reflect more about the hero and his world than any other on-screen representation he’d enjoyed before or since. It’s a celebration of the Dark Knight that succeeds, in large part, by its refusal to go too dark, but remains off-kilter and uncomfortable, just enough, all the way through. Likewise, the villains are psychotic, larger than life, and legendary. From the tragic character of The Penguin thrown into the river in a warped Moses fashion on Christmas to the beaten down mousy secretary turned bondage clad 1990s feminist Catwoman, Batman Returns is a quintessential Tim Burton film before he just went way too bizarre in recent years. Both The Penguin and Catwoman can be seen as two different mirrors for our caped crusader. Penguin represents a child of wealth who was abandoned by his parents (not unlike our Bruce Wayne) and Catwoman represents the sensual side of Batman that we seldom get to see but we know it’s there because he is human. The combination of characters, settings, and behaviors makes this film a fun, erotic, and entertaining Batman movie. The stratified emotions, experiences, and interpretations provides audiences with a dynamic story that plays out beautifully on screen. In fact, the film is so entertaining to watch that you will likely forget that the pacing, plot, and structure of the film lacks critical value.

If you are leery about spending money to watch Suicide Squad this weekend, I suggest rewatching–or for some of you watching for the first time–Tim Burton’s artistic masterpiece Batman Returns. If for no other reason, you will enjoy the brilliantly sexy Catwoman, tragic monstrous Penguin, and the definitive Batman/Bruce Wayne as played by Michael Keaton. Such fantastic actors and characters!

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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Big Eyes

Big EyesOver the decades, there are movies produced that act as commentary on the state of politics, socio-economics, and sometimes humanity itself. And that is exactly what visionary director Tim Burton has done with the artful film Big Eyes. If you have ever had your creative work stolen by someone else, or taken part in or perpetuated a lie for so long that you begin to believe it yourself, then this is a movie for you! Although not blatantly “Burton” production style, the subtleties of his genius are meticulously woven throughout the film. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz are brilliant together and genuinely sell their respective characters. For fans of Don’t Trust the B!&@h in Apartment 23, Krysten Ritter makes several cameo appearances that are reminiscent of Chloe. Not a deep story, but this is a narrative that is extremely well executed, funny, and is a testament to authenticity and honesty. For those who have ever felt vulnerable or helpless, then you will likely find inspiration in this film.

Based on a true story, the movie Big Eyes depicts the the evolution of one of the most popular art empires during the mid 20th century. “In the late 1950s and early ’60s, artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) achieves unbelievable fame and success with portraits of saucer-eyed waifs. However, no one realizes that his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), is the real painter behind the brush” (IMDb). A double-edged sword, Walter’s discovery of Margaret’s works would be both a blessing and a curse. Although Margaret is first horrified to learn that Walter is passing off her work as his own, she is too meek to protest too loudly; but she actually helps to perpetuate the lie and even begins to believe it herself. It isn’t until the the Keanes’ marriage comes to an end and a lawsuit follows that the truth finally comes to light. Follow Margaret on a journey that takes her from vulnerable single-mother to protective mother and finally proud artist.

When coming to the theatre to watch a Tim Burton film entitled Big Eyes, one might expect that there would be crazy big eyes throughout the film and the production design would reek of abstract impressionism. But, that is definitely not the case with this movie. There is only one scene that reeks of the classic Tim Burton style we have all come to expect most of the time from such a visionary. The overall production design is quite simple and typifies what middle and upper class life was like in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. Everything from the Edward Scissorhands neighborhood in the opening to the retro A-frame house design later on in the film is reminiscent of architecture in the mid 20th century. The use of vibrant colors in the production design helps to set the artistic mood of the narrative. The colors also assist the visual storytelling of the film by matching the mood of various scenes.

Probably the best parts of the film are the casting and acting. Adams and Waltz are absolutely perfect for their respective roles. The degree to which Waltz sells his charming, manipulative, manic, psychopathic character is outstanding. There is even a moment in the movie where he totally goes “Jack Torrence” on his wife and step-daughter. This moment is right out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But, my favorite scene has to be the one in which he is both the defendant and attorney in the court-case that is the center of the movie’s showdown. His antics are crazy, funny, and extremely entertaining. Adams plays her mousy, meek, vulnerable, motherly role with excellence. Although her character lacks the charisma of Walter, she plays her character so convincingly. She possesses the skill to both communicate her acceptance and reluctance to perpetuate the lie that is the crux of the film. Krysten Ritter shines as Margaret Keane’s best friend DeeAnn. She really was the perfect choice for the role that harkens back to her character of Chloe in Apartment 23. All the characters have amazing chemistry on screen, and it truly supports the creative narrative.

The movie is also a strong depiction of commentary on humanity in and of itself. It shows the audience how a small and innocent lie can snowball into a lie so large that it is eventually the undoing of an entire empire. Often times, a lie has to be told to cover up a previous lie, and if one does this long enough, one can very well begin to believe the lie to be true and lose sight of reality or the truth. Interestingly though, it is easy to see and understand why Walter does what he does in the film. It can be argued that if he hadn’t stepped in to sell Margaret’s artwork, that she would still be an undiscovered artist underselling her art on the sidewalk. At one point in the movie, it is quite apparent that even with celebrity, Margaret still cannot sell her artwork and is dependent on Walter’s smile, charisma, and brilliant sales mind. I still find myself thinking about character backstories, rationale, and decisions long after the movie is over.

Perfect for art lovers and anyone who loves to create, sell, or critique. This movie is a wonderful addition to the list of movies you may want to see this holiday season.