Tag Archives: Tim Burton

DARK SHADOWS (2012)

Tim Burton will go down as an artist who peaked early. Dark Shadows (2012) continued the autopilot fatigue that has plagued this director for the past twenty years. Burton’s quasi-religious fan base has a tendency to erroneously dress him up as a “dark” auteur. Rather, his has muted into a one-note style with increasingly few exceptions. The bulk of his post Ed Wood (1994) films are “Disneyfied” and actually jettison the darker, complex nuances in favor of what he imagines to be audience accessibility. Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) are lucid examples of this syndrome. Gene Wilder’s Wonka projected far more interior disturbance than Johnny Depp’s silicone interpretation. In Burton’s Alice Lewis Carroll’s twitchy surrealism gave way to a Disney-paced narrative with yet another cartoon pseudo performance by Depp at its center.

Many critics harp on Burton’s narrative shortcomings. Like Mario Bava (an epic Burton influence), Burton has admitted he wouldn’t know a good script if it bit him. However, Bava, never quite making it to the level of  an in-demand filmmaker, retained enough independence to keep his oeuvre fresh. Burton’s aesthetic decline is a sharply dramatic one and the problem doesn’t necessarily lie in scripting. The films of Luis Bunuel refute the lie that three-dimensional characterizations are absolutely wedded to orthodox narratives. Burton’s early films evoked a strikingly fresh milieu with characters who, on the surface, seemed to be flying the freak flag high. Yet, Burton’s initial cannon of freaks really weren’t so different than the rest of us. If Pee Wee Herman, Adam, Barbara, Lydia and Beetlejuice, Bruce Wayne & Selina Kyle, Edward Scissorhands, Kim, and Peg, along with Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi were, perhaps, not immediate family, then they were most certainly extended family or close friends with whom we felt affinity, kinship, and admiration.

Then, something happened. Shortly after the backlash of Batman Returns (1992), Burton lost his mojo, and Depp followed suit in an even more pronounced obvious way. At one point, Depp promised to be the new Brando, offering a fresh alternative to the plasticity of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Whoever would have guessed that Cruise would eventually prove to be a smarter, riskier, more clever actor? Nothing in Depp’s later career has the nuanced depth of Brando’s Don, Paul, or Jack Mickler. Cruise’s Bill Harford, Frank Mackey, John Anderton, and Colonel Claus resonate far more intelligence and commitment to craft than anything Depp has committed to celluloid in the last decade. Instead, in his non-Burton films, Johnny Depp has become a parody of Errol Flynn’s late career parody. Doused in increasingly thick make-up and mascara, Depp’s offerings have amounted to flaccid drag (perhaps Ed Wood’s hooks dug too deeply into Depp). If Depp’s lethargic, dumbed-down Flynn-esque caricaturization increasingly amount to a dull train wreck then, in Dark Shadows, we witness the actor’s de-evolving slide into Bela Lugosi drag, which sounds more interesting than it actually is.

Depp’s phlegmatic Barnabas Collins all but evaporates inside a movie that sees Burton imitating Burton, disguised as a Gothic soaper that only worked as a product of its time and place. It would seem obvious, to anyone with an iota of artistic or pop culture instinct, or even to anyone who remembers the original “Dark Shadows,” that the series simply cannot not be duplicated. The short-lived, early 90s remake only served to reiterate how delightfully dated the original series had become.

Burton’s big screen treatment, some fifty years after the fact, is even further removed. Burton attempts to stylize Dark Shadows with his sophisticated, big budget stamp, never once realizing that the rudimentary quality of the original is its sole staying power. But even in his lampoon take, Burton plays it safe, and the film never rises above a ho-hum investment.

A vapid lead character, made strictly of cardboard with a cut-and-paste performance, is the sleepwalking ringmaster in a cookie-cutter ensemble. Even Eva Green, who proved herself a remarkably complex actress in Casino Royale (2006), fails to register. She is given no direction in a flatly written character. Chloe Grace Moretz, another promising talent (who did very good work in last year’s Hugo), is simply placed in front of a lens and told to snarl. Helena Bonham Carter screeches as Dr. Julia Hoffman; she seems like a character lifted out of a second-tier Hanna-Barbara cartoon. Only Michelle Pfeiffer, who can be a stoic actress, briefly manages to generate any living flesh from the printed script.

On the surface, Burton and Depp should have been as interesting a collaboration as Tod Browning and Lon Chaney, but the former team was composed of genuine malcontents coming from an actual freak circuit. Burton and Depp were birthed by Disney and “21 Jump Street.” It shows. Dark Shadows is yet another failure in the Burton/Depp cannon. Burton and Depp’s Dark Shadows comes across like a lecture from two stuffy, aging academics, who might have been genuinely weird at one time, failing to convince us how hilarious the original series now seems. In the last 20 years, the most interesting film Burton has himself directed was 2005’s The Corpse Bride and it would be difficult indeed to convince a millennial that, at one time, both Burton and Depp generated authentic excitement among alternative film lovers.

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016)

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-by-ransom-riggs

Novelist Ransom Riggs and Tim Burton should have been an ideal match, but Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016) is yet another verification that this director is at the end of his tether.

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-2016-tim-burton

Burton can’t take the sole blame. He shares that honor with screenwriter Jane Goldman, who previously scripted two of the better X-Men sagas. This is part of the problem: they treat the material as if it’s the initial entry in a new and potentially profitable X-Men-styled franchise. For a director who has long made claims to specializing in films for the peculiar, Burton shows no genuine enthusiasm for his newest project and, with Goldman, sucks all the peculiarity out of its source material. This has been Tim Burton’s modus operandi for a long time, apparent to almost everyone (the director’s zealous, in-denial cult excepted). Burton likewise neutered all the surrealism of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Disneyfied Barnabas Collins, Sweeney Todd, and Willy Wonka. Even Disney itself, teamed with Bing Crosby, was more adept at interpreting Washington Irvin’s Ichabod Crane. There’s a problem when two paragons of artistic conservatism have a better feel for the kooky-souled than a self-proclaimed specialist.

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-2016-tim-burton

Burton came closest to a return to form with The Corpse Bride (2005), which he co-directed with Mike Johnson, along with Big Eyes (2014), the story of Margaret Keane. Despite being a personal project, the latter film eventually faltered in focusing on a kitsch suburban artist who simply wasn’t as interesting as the working relationship between the world’s worst director and one of the world’s worst ham actors of all time in Ed Wood. Still, this is the director who took a pre-existing pulp character (Batman) and managed to produce two comic book-inspired masterpieces stamped with highly personalized weirdness. He probably would have done the same for Superman, or at least that appears to be the case from the fascinating documentary Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015).

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VINCENT PRICE ON BLU-RAY

Vincent Price

The first Vincent Price Blue-ray collection has already gone out of print and now requires sacrificing a mortgage payment to purchase a used copy. So, if the second collection is a must buy to you, snatch it up quick in time for Halloween.

Vincent Price II Blu-Ray collection

For many genre fans,Vincent Price is the epitome of classic horror star. That is partly because he is more contemporary than his predecessors and many of his films are in color. While undoubtedly a genre great, Price’s performances often fall into the whiny, overtly fruity category, and we see a lot of them in “The Vincent Price Collection 2.” Price was best when he did not succumb to self-parody. Of course, all the genre stars had their share of clunkers and if Price’s screen persona seems somewhat derivative of Karloff, or if he lacked the edgy screen persona of Lugosi, he still made a few good, near classic films and managed his career well enough to become an authentic horror icon. While this collection includes welcome additions to the Blu-ray format, it does not necessarily represent Vincent Price at his best.

Vincent Price House On Haunted Hill Blu-Ray

House On Haunted Hill (1959) has become a cult favorite. Directed by William Castle, it is a campy example of the “old dark house” genre. Jokes are balanced with the usual Castle gimmickry, including Price’s pitch-perfect performance as the ringmaster of the carnival-like milieu, gleefully at odds with wife Carol Ohmart (Spider Baby). Castle’s pacing may seem dated to modern audiences, but it is much preferable to the 1999 remake.

Vincent Price Return Of The Fly Blu-Ray

The Return Of The Fly (1959) is a pedestrian rehash of the 1958 original (see below). More crime thriller than sci-fi, Return‘s sole saving grace is black humor supplied by Edward L. Bernds (a veteran of multiple Three Stooges shorts). Price collects a check here and nothing more.

Comedy of Terrors lobby card. Peter Lorre, Vincent Price

The Comedy Of Terrors (1963) is part of AIP’s popular Roger CormanEdgar Allen Poe cycle. Unlike the majority of those, this was not directed by Corman, but rather by Val Lewton/RKO star director Jacques Tourneur. Written by Richard Matheson (“The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “I Am Legend,” “Duel,” “The Night Stalker,” “The Legend Of Hell House”) and helmed by the director of Cat People (1942), I Walked With A Zombie (1943),  Out of the Past (1947), and Curse of the Demon (1957), The Comedy of Terrors was initially seen as a disappointment and argued to be more the work and style of producer Corman. Regardless, it has since been reassessed in some quarters and has developed a minor cult reputation. Co-stars Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff easily outclass Price. Joyce Jameson[1] is even given something to do other than brandishing her cleavage (although she does plenty of that as well).

Boris Karloff, Joyce Jameson Comedy Of Terrors Blu-Ray

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25TH ANNIVERSARY: TIM BURTON’S BATMAN (1989)

BATMAN (1989) lobby card. Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger

A quarter century after its debut, Tim Burton‘s Batman (1989) is still among the brightest of the comic book genre films; an odd thing, given how dark it is. However, Burton’s Batman has a glamorous darkness. Burton was young, energetic, and at the top of his game in 1989. His interpretation of the caped crusader remains groundbreaking and is more astute than Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight (2008). Nolan went the mile to distance the avenger from his comic book origins. Burton embraces the source material.

BATMAN (1989) lobby card. Michael Keaton

Upon Batman‘s monstrously hyped release, many critics lamented the dominant personality of Jack Nicholson‘s Joker as compared to the title character. In hindsight, Nicholson’s killer clown seems less innovative than Heath Ledger’s radically different interpretation. Today, it is easier to recognize Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne as the eye of Tim Burton’s hurricane: he inhabits the quintessential capitalist fantasy. In a case of shrewd casting, Keaton’s Batman has no extraterrestrial powers, nor does he even look like he has spent his life in the gym. Rather, Wayne is fabulously wealthy and it is all those “wonderful toys,” bought by all that wonderful money, that makes him an all-American noir Superman, free to wreck vengeance upon a fascistic Gotham’s lower criminal element. Like Humphrey Bogart and Gary Cooper before him, Keaton went through the script, pruning his dialogue down to the bare essentials, making this an internalized performance.

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TIM BURTON’S “BIG EYES” (2014)

TIM BURTON %22BIG EYES%22 (2014)Big Eyes (2015) is probably Tim Burton‘s most satisfactory film since Ed Wood (1994). Alas, that is a minuscule compliment. Burton began as a refreshing original working within a tinseled industry, but formulaic demands soon rendered his later work imitative and an example of style over substance.Burton was once the hip auteur for the perennial college and goth crowds. Now, he is the butt of their humor: a cautionary warning of a sell-out losing all originality and vitality.

He went the distance in proving the cynical naysayers correct, reaching his nadir with Alice in Wonderland (2010), which jettisoned authentic Carrollesque surrealism in favor of populist fluff and a cringe-inducing slice of Johnny Depp ham.

In vain, one hoped Burton had nowhere to go but up, but he only continued his slide, proving nostalgia is fleeting with an ill-advised and execrable update of Dark Shadows (2012). He followed this with a pointless, self-plagiarized feature, Frankenweenie (2012), which predictably worked better in its original version as a compact short.

Burton is certainly not immune to critical fallout. Of course, it has hardly affected his box office standing, but popularity with aesthetically illiterate masses is only salt to the wound.

With Big Eyes, Burton belatedly responds to critics by playing the narcissistic victim, projecting himself onto the figure of artist Margaret Keane. In doing so, he damn near kills the film, but, surprisingly, his opus (barely) survives him.

AMY ADAMS BIG EYES (2014)
Burton’s epic misstep is in subduedly addressing Keane’s art as kitsch. It is kitsch. There is nothing original about her mass-produced  art for the Walmart home spread. Her illustrations are a kind of synthetic parody of Modigliani.  Yet, Burton is a Keane fan, and fan is short for fanatic.  Naturally, he takes the fanboy approach in identifying with his object of adulation. Undoubtedly, Burton can find affinity in Keane’s strategical marketing to a bourgeoise public.

In pedestaling Margaret Keane’s gimmicky, one-note cartoons, Burton casts the art critics and gallery dealers as two-dimensional, jealous predators. It’s the equivalent of a cinematic exclamation point, or a big bang at the end of a pedestrian symphony. The homogenous Tim Burton/Margaret Keane hybrid becomes a much put-upon martyr. Cue big, puppy-eyed closeup.  It is the kind of manipulative choice that Spielberg used to be so goddamned guilty of.

Big Eyes would have been a far better film had Burton made a smarter choice by avoiding the topic altogether, or in taking either an objective or idiosyncratic approach (as he did in Ed Wood). In many ways, Big Eyes serves as little sister to Ed Wood, but in that earlier film, a younger, fresher director did not succumb to tomfoolery. Wood‘s art was also kitsch, but it was his hopelessly desperate naiveté and inherent weirdness that unintentionally redeemed his work as something more than the sum of its parts.  To this day, Wood still belongs underground and remains a malcontent, misfit failure in marketers eyes. Keane’s art, or lack thereof, is not blessed with such weirdness. Rather than being an object of derision and shame, she is a patron saint of sorts; a success story in an evil empire. That glove of acceptability prohibits Keane’s work from being the driving force of Big Eyes, and the film comes dangerously close to overdosing on banality. Its good points are nearly derailed by Burton’s junky choices.

Rather, the nexus of Big Eyes is a broader, meatier topic, but even in that, the writing takes a sketchy approach. Burton leaves it  up to the two leads to propel the film into something grander. Fortunately, Amy Adams and Christopher Waltz deliver what they can, in spite of the script’s limitations.

BIG EYES (2014-BURTON) CHRISTOPHER WALTZ AMY ADAMS

Patriarchal domination and misogynistic abuses are the legitimate themes. The Rush Limbaughs of the world, who prefer the 1950s ideal of complacent housewives, will dismiss this as feminist claptrap. Certainly, there is validity in the “propaganda” label. Waltz, as Walter Keane, is not given much of a character arc to work with. He is a charismatic sleaze. The narrative problem is his being portrayed as such from the introduction. It bespeaks Margaret’s lack of depth and intuitiveness that she is wholeheartedly and complacently wedded to his Elmer Gantry-like sales pitch, only divorcing herself from it when she trades n his spousal domination for a religious one.  Unfortunately, Burton and writers are hardly up to multifaceted psychology.

Today, some members of the Keane family claim that Big Eyes misrepresents Walter. While his abusiveness towards Margaret seems to be acknowledged, the fact that he did indeed develop the conceptfor the “Big Eyes” motif is avoided altogether in Burton’s film. Whether that is true or not is primarily irrelevant, but opening the possibility might have made for a more compelling story.

Given the rudimentary characterizations (big bad patriarchal wolf vs maternal deer-caught-in-headlight victim), Adams and Waltz go the distance in giving substantial flesh to celluloid cardboard. Burton is to be commended for giving them the freedom to do so. It has been a long time since this director holstered his self-made auteur crown and genuinely collaborated with actors, evidenced in a decade of Burton films populated with phoned-in Depp performances.

The chemistry between Adams and Waltz works best in the quieter moments. His pathetic desperation in contrast to her steely reserve creates a compelling Gunfight in the OK Courtroom, awash in Hitchcockian colors. The film’s more histrionic burning-down- the-house moments unwisely channel Jack Nicholson’s  performance in The Shining (1980), and we are as disconnected now as we were thirty-five years ago.

Too little is made of Margaret’s post-marriage conversion to the Jehovah Witnesses, which might have made an interesting postlude. When the Artist Formerly Known As Prince also went that route, his work undeniably devolved, producing a blithering musical idiot. For Margaret Keane, who, unlike Prince, never possessed an iota of genuine artistic talent, the conversion (which is erroneously, subtly skirted over) resulted in a style like a watered-down Salvador Dali (for the John  Ward Home Interiors crowd who cannot handle Dali).

Big Eyes could have benefited from a healthy dose of Woodian weirdness, but the disparity found between heroin addiction combined with transvestism, in opposition to a paint-by-number version of “Taming Of The Shrew,” is simply too big.

Regardless of  the film’s flaws, Burton almost seems alive again here, as does composer Danny Elfman, who produces his best work in years.

It remains to be seen whether this will be a baby step toward Burton reclaiming his spark. A promising note might be discovered in the announcement that he will be reuniting with Michael Keaton for a belated Beetlejuice (1988) sequel. Of course, it could equally prove a disaster.

If Keaton and David Lynch can resurrect themselves, then Burton too may finally put his artistic bankruptcy behind him.

 

ED WOOD (1994): HOLLYWOOD’S ICONIC OUTSIDER ARTIST AND TIM BURTON’S GREATEST FILM

ED WOOD (1994) poster

In 1980 , two years after Ed Wood`s alcohol related death at 54, film critic Michael Medved and his brother published “The Golden Turkey Awards” and gave Wood the award of being “The Worst Director of All Time” and naming his film Plan 9 From Outer Space “The Worst Film of All Time.” The forever constipated Mr. Medved must have had the biggest bowel movement of his life when he discovered that he and his brother unintentionally put the wheels in motion for the cult celebrity status of Wood who, to Medved, was little more than an object of derision.

Ed Wood (Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi)

Quite simply, Ed Wood was an outsider artist, whose medium was film. He managed to create two highly personalized “masterpieces” of naive surrealism; Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) with “star” Bela Lugosi, who was clearly at the end of his tether.

ED WOOD (1994) DEPP & LANDAU

In between these two films Wood made Bride of the Monster (1955) , also starring Lugosi (the only one of the three Wood films in which Lugosi actually `starred’), but that film was more of a concession to the genre and lacked the pronounced Woodian weirdness found in either Glen or Glenda or Plan 9 From Outer Space. Continue reading ED WOOD (1994): HOLLYWOOD’S ICONIC OUTSIDER ARTIST AND TIM BURTON’S GREATEST FILM

25TH ANNIVERSARY : TIM BURTON’S BATMAN

Batman 1989 poster

A quarter century after its debut, Tim Burton‘s Batman (1989) is still among the brightest of the comic book genre films; an odd thing, given how dark it is. However, Burton’s Batman has a glamorous darkness. Burton was young, energetic, and at the top of his game in 1989. His interpretation of the caped crusader remains groundbreaking and is more astute than Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight (2008). Nolan went the mile to distance the avenger from his comic book origins. Burton embraces the source material.

Batman (Keaton 1989)

Upon Batman‘s monstrously hyped release, many critics lamented the dominant personality of Jack Nicholson‘s Joker as compared to the title character. In hindsight, Nicholson’s killer clown seems less innovative than Heath Ledger’s radically different interpretation. Today, it is easier to recognize Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne as the eye of Tim Burton’s hurricane: he inhabits the quintessential capitalist fantasy. In a case of shrewd casting, Keaton’s Batman has no extraterrestrial powers, nor does he even look like he has spent his life in the gym. Rather, Wayne is fabulously wealthy and it is all those “wonderful toys,” bought by all that wonderful money, that makes him an all-American noir Superman, free to wreck vengeance upon a fascistic Gotham’s lower criminal element. Like Humphrey Bogart and Gary Cooper before him, Keaton went through the script, pruning his dialogue down to the bare essentials, making this an internalized performance. Continue reading 25TH ANNIVERSARY : TIM BURTON’S BATMAN

BATMAN RETURNS (1992): A SUPERHERO BURLESQUE

BATMAN RETURNS POSTER

In 1992 some damn silly, so-called Christian organization threw a bullying hissy fit at McDonalds for its Happy Meal deal tie-in with Tim Burton‘s Batman Returns. McDonalds, true to form, prematurely withdrew its merchandising. Rumor has it that McDonalds issued a stern warning to Warner Brothers not to tap Burton for the next Batman film. For whatever reason, Warner Brothers caved into the golden arch and, consequently, put its franchise into a decade long grave with the unwise hiring of director Joel Schumacher.

BATMAN RETURNS KEATON AS WAYNE

Only the fundamentalist mindset can associate Big Macs with a certain brand of morality. Looking at Batman Returns (1992), one wonders what the Christian organization was bitching about. The Bible is all throughout the film and, actually the good book itself has far more sex and violence than Batman, Tim Burton, Warner Brothers and McDonalds combined.

BATMAN RETURNS KEATONBATMAN RETURNS MAYHEM Continue reading BATMAN RETURNS (1992): A SUPERHERO BURLESQUE