An October Film Review: Ed Wood (dir by Tim Burton)


From start to end, the 1994 film Ed Wood is a nearly perfect film.

Consider the opening sequence.  In glorious black-and-white, we are presented with a house sitting in the middle of a storm.  As Howard Shore’s melodramatic and spooky score plays in the background, the camera zooms towards the house.  A window flies open to reveal a coffin sitting in the middle of a dark room.  A man dressed in a tuxedo (played to snarky and eccentric perfection by Jeffrey Jones) sits up in the coffin.  Later, we learn that the man is an infamously inaccurate psychic named Criswell.  Criswell greets us and says that we are interested in the unknown.  “Can your heart handle the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood, Jr!?”

As streaks of lightning flash across the sky, the opening credits appear and disappear on the screen.  The camera zooms by tombstones featuring the names of the cast.  Cheap-looking flying saucers, dangling on string, fly through the night sky.  The camera even goes underwater, revealing a giant octopus…

It’s a brilliant opening, especially if you’re already a fan of Ed Wood’s.  If you’re familiar with Wood’sfilms, you know that Criswell’s appearance in the coffin is a reference to Orgy of the Dead and that his opening monologue was a tribute to his opening lines from Plan 9 From Outer Space.  If you’re already a fan of Ed Wood then you’ll immediately recognize the flying saucers.  You’ll look at that octopus and you’ll say, “Bride of the Monster!”

And if you’re not an Ed Wood fan, fear not.  The opening credits will pull you in, even if you don’t know the difference between Plan 9 and Plan 10.  Between the music and the gorgeous black-and-white, Ed Wood is irresistible from the start.

Those opening credits also announce that we’re about to see an extremely stylized biopic.  In the real world, Ed Wood was a screenwriter and director who spent most of his life on the fringes of Hollywood, occasionally working with reputable or, at the very least, well-known actors like Lyle Talbot and Bela Lugosi.  He directed a few TV shows.  He wrote several scripts and directed a handful of low-budget exploitation films.  He also wrote a lot of paperbacks, some of which were semi-pornographic.  Most famously, he was a cross-dresser, who served in the army in World War II and was wearing a bra under his uniform when he charged the beaches of Normandy.  Apparently, the stories of his love for angora were not exaggerated.  Sadly, Wood was also an alcoholic who drank himself to death at the age of 54.

Every fan of Ed Wood has seen this picture of him, taken when he first arrived in Hollywood and looked like he had the potential to be a dashing leading man:

What people are less familiar with is how Ed looked after spending two decades on the fringes of the film business:

My point is that the true story of Ed Wood was not necessarily a happy one.  However, one wouldn’t know that from watching the film based on his life.  As directed by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp plays Ed Wood as being endlessly positive and enthusiastic.  When it comes to determination, nothing can stop the film’s Ed Wood.  It doesn’t matter what problems may arise during the shooting of any of his films, Wood finds a way to make it work.

A major star dies and leaves behind only a few minutes of usable footage?  Just bring in a stand-in.  The stand-in looks nothing like the star?  Just hide the guy’s face.

Wrestler Tor Johnson (played by wrestler George “The Animal” Steele), accidentally walks into a wall while trying to squeeze through a door?  Shrug it off by saying that it adds to the scene.  Point out that the character that Tor is playing would probably run into that wall on a regular basis.

Your fake octopus doesn’t work?  Just have the actors roll around in the water.

The establishment won’t take you seriously?  Then work outside the establishment, with a cast and crew of fellow outcasts.

You’re struggling to raise money for your film?  Ask the local Baptist church.  Ask a rich poultry rancher.  Promise a big star.  Promise to include a nuclear explosion.  Promise anything just to get the film made.

You’re struggling to maintain your artistic vision?  Just go down to a nearby bar and wait for Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) to show up.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s best film.  It’s certainly one of the few Burton films that actually holds up after repeat viewings.  Watching the film, it’s obvious that Wood and Burton shared a passionate love for the movies and that Burton related to Wood and his crew of misfits.  It’s an unabashedly affectionate film, with none of the condescension that can sometimes be found in Burton’s other film.  Burton celebrates not just the hopes and dreams of Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson and Criswell but also of all the other members of the Wood stock company, from Vampira (Lisa Marie) to Bunny Breckenridge (Bill Murray), all the way down to Paul Marco (Max Casella) and Loretta King (Juliet Landau).  Though Ed Wood may center around the character of Wood and the actor who plays him, it’s a true ensemble piece.  Landau won the Oscar but really, the entire cast is brilliant.  Along with those already mentioned, Ed Wood features memorable performances from Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette (one playing Wood’s girlfriend and the other playing his future wife), G. D. Spradlin (as a minister who ends up producing one of Wood’s films), and Mike Starr (playing a producer who is definitely not a minister).

For me, Ed Wood is defined by a moment very early on in the film.  Wood watches some stock footage and talks about how he could make an entire movie out of it.  It would start with aliens arriving and “upsetting the buffaloes.”  The army is called in.  Deep delivers the line with such enthusiasm and with so much positive energy that it’s impossible not get caught up in Wood’s vision.  For a few seconds, you think to yourself, “Maybe that could be a good movie…”  Of course, you know it wouldn’t be.  But you want it to be because Ed wants it to be and Ed is just do damn likable.

As I said before, Ed Wood is a highly stylized film.  It focuses on the good parts of the Ed Wood story, like his friendship with Bela Lugosi and his refusal to hide the fact that he’s a cross-dresser who loves angora.  The bad parts of his story are left out and I’m glad that they were.  Ed Wood is a film that celebrates dreamers and it gives Wood the happy ending that he deserved.   The scenes of Plan 9 From Outer Space getting a raptorous reception may not have happened but can you prove that they didn’t?

I suppose now would be the time that most reviewers would reflect on the irony of one of the worst directors of all time being the subject of one of the best films ever made about the movies.  However, I’ll save that angle for whenever I get a chance to review The Disaster Artist.  Of course, I personally don’t think that Ed Wood was the worst director of all time.  He made low-budget movies but he did what he could with what he had available.  If anything, Ed Wood the film is quite correct to celebrate Ed Wood the director’s determination.  Glen or Glenda has moments of audacious surrealism.  Lugosi is surprisingly good in Bride of the Monster.  As for Plan 9 From Outer Space, what other film has a plot as unapologetically bizarre as the plot of Plan 9?  For a few thousand dollars, Wood made a sci-fi epic that it still watched today.  Does that sound like something the worst director of all time could do?

Needless to say, Ed Wood is not a horror film but it’s definitely an October film.  Much as how Christmas is the perfect time for It’s A Wonderful Life, Halloween is the perfect time for Ed Wood.

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Music Video of the Day: Ed Wood by Howard Shore (1994, dir by Tim Burton and Toni Basil)


Hi, everyone!  Lisa here, filling in for Val.

In 1994, Tim Burton released Ed Wood, a film that I consider to be his best.  (In fact, it’s one of the few Tim Burton films that I feel actually improves with repeat viewings.  Don’t start yelling at me about Beetlejuice.)  The score, which so evocative of Wood’s style of filmmaking, was composed by Howard Shore.  This video features the actress Lisa Marie (who played Vampira in Ed Wood) dancing to Shore’s theme music.

Before anyone says it, I did not pick this video just because it features a dancer named Lisa Marie.  I’m not the egocentric … well, actually, I am.  In fact, I’m so egocentric that I’m shocked that I have yet to dedicate an entire post to just listing words that rhyme with Lisa.  (Sadly, there’s not many.  Visa is a good one.)  But still, I did have other reasons for picking this video than just the fact that I am also named Lisa Marie and I also enjoy dancing in cemeteries.  Those reasons will hopefully become obvious as the day develops here on the Shattered Lens.

Anyway, both Tim Burton and Toni Basil are credited with directing this video.  I’m going to assume that Burton’s directorial credit is largely due to all of the scene of Ed Wood that are spliced into the footage of Lisa Marie dancing.  Toni Basil, who also did the choreographed this video, is one of our favorite people here at the Shattered Lens.  Just check out my review of Head and Val’s review of Slaughterhouse Rock.

Enjoy!

Never Nominated: 16 Directors Who Have Never Received An Oscar Nomination


It’s a sad fact of life that not everyone who deserves an Oscar gets one.  For instance, Alfred Hitchcock received five nominations for best director but never won once.

That said, at least Hitchcock was nominated!  Some of our greatest directors have never even been nominated!  This list below is hardly exclusive but still, these 16 directors have somehow never been nominated.  Ten of them could still be nominated in the future.  Sadly, for six, the opportunity has forever passed.

  1. Dario Argento

Sadly, Dario Argento will probably never be nominated for best director.  None of his films — even the early, acclaimed work — were typical Oscar films.  But, consider this: Argento is one of the most influential directors of all time.  Regardless of what might be said about some of Argento’s more recent films, his earlier films are classics of their genre.  Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae — his work on any of these films would have been worthy of a nomination.

2. Andrea Arnold

This British director is responsible for two of the best films of the past ten years — Fish Tank and American Honey.  She deserved a nomination for both of them (and a win for American Honey).  Hopefully, she will be recognized in the future.

3. Tim Burton

I’m not the world’s biggest Tim Burton fan but he has a fan base that will follow him almost anywhere.  It seems like every year, we hear that Burton has finally made the film that will win him some Oscar recognition.  Remember Big Eyes?  As I said, I’m not a huge Burton fan but, if I was to nominate him, it would probably be for his work on Sweeney Todd.

4. John Carpenter

Carpenter deserved all sorts of nominations for his work in the 70s and the 80s.  Being the rebel that he is, Carpenter will probably never get the Oscar recognition that he deserves.  (He did win an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short.)

5. David Cronenberg

It’s hard to believe that this Canadian director has never been nominated.  While it’s obvious that the Academy would never recognize Cronenberg’s earlier work (even if he did deserve some recognition for that exploding head in Scanners), it still seems like he’s destined to be nominated eventually.

6. Terry Gilliam

Much like Tim Burton, Gilliam sadly seems to be destined to be one of those directors who will have to be content with a devoted fan base.  Sadly, as of late, Gilliam’s become better known for the film projects that were canceled than the ones that were actually produced.  I would have nominated him for Brazil.

7. Werner Herzog

How has Werner Herzog gone his entire career without receiving at least one nomination for Best Director!?  I would nominate him for the chance to hear the acceptance speech alone.

8. Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan is another director who I’m shocked to realize has never been nominated.  He certainly deserved a nomination for Inception.  Maybe, just maybe, he’ll finally get some recognition for Dunkirk.

9. Lars Von Trier

With his controversial aesthetic and his talent for offending the masses, Lars Von Trier will never be nominated, no matter how much he might deserve it.

10. Joe Wright

Personally, I think that Joe Wright is responsible for two of the best films of the past ten years, Hanna and Anna Karenina.  Unfortunately, both were left out of their respective best picture races.  Even when Atonement was nominated for best picture, Wright did not receive a corresponding nomination.  Fortunately, with Darkest Hour, Wright will have another chance this year.

Best Director Joe Wright

And here are six directors who are no longer with us.  Sadly, these six will never have a chance to receive their first Oscar nomination:

  1. Mario Bava

Much like Dario Argento, there was never really any chance that the Academy would actually honor Mario Bava.  That’s a shame because Bava truly was one of the greatest directors of all time.  Check out Black Sabbath and Shock for proof.

2. Stanley Donen

It’s hard to believe that Donen wasn’t even nominated for Singin’ In The Rain.

3. John Frankenheimer 

It’s also hard to believe that Frankenheimer never received a nomination.  While he directed his share of bad films, he also directed Seven Days in May, The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, and Ronin.

4. John Hughes

Not even for The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!  Hughes may have been snubbed by the Academy but his films practically invented an entire genre.

5. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

This directing team was a major influence on Martin Scorsese.  Black Narcissus remains one of the most visually stunning films of all time.  The Red Shoes was nominated for best picture but Powell/Pressburger were snubbed.

6. Nicholas Ray

Everyone knows that Ray directed Rebel Without a Cause.  Personally, I think his work on Bigger than Life was even more worthy of a nomination.

Here’s The Trailer for Mrs. Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children!!!!


Is Tim Burton ever going to make another good film?

That’s a good question.  For whatever reason, we are always expected to get excited whenever Tim Burton announces that he’s directing a new movie.  Every year, someone says that Burton’s latest movie is going to be an Oscar contender.  Somehow, Burton has gotten a reputation for being one of our greatest directors, despite the fact that it’s been a while since he’s really done anything that memorable.

(I did like Frankenweenie but both Dark Shadows and Big Eyes put me to sleep.)

(Tim Burton probably should have, at the very least, received several Oscar nominations for Ed Wood but that movie came out a long time ago.)

Anyway!  The latest Tim Burton film that people are getting excited about is Mrs. Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.  This is being called Tim Burton’s X-Men.  It’ll probably be better than Apocalypse.

You can watch the new trailer below!

Here’s The Trailer For Alice Through The Looking Glass!


Mia Wasikowska (who was so great in Jane Eyre, Only Lovers Left Alive, and Crimson Peak) returns as Alice in the trailer for the upcoming film, Alice Through The Looking Glass!  Johnny Depp will be waiting for her.  However, Tim Burton (who previously directed Alice In Wonderland) will only be producing this installment.  Directing duties will be handled by James Bobin.

The film will be released on May 27th, 2016 but until then, watch the trailer below!

 

Christopher Lee, R.I.P.


Jinnah

The picture above is Christopher Lee in the 1998 film Jinnah.  In this epic biopic, Lee played Muhammad Ali Jinniah, the founder of modern Pakistan.  Up until yesterday, I had never heard of Jinnah but, after news of Lee’s death broke, Jinnah was frequently cited as being Lee’s personal favorite of his many roles and films.

Consider that.  Christopher Lee began his film career in the 1940s and he worked steadily up until his death.  He played Dracula.  He played The Man with the Golden Gun.  Christopher Lee appeared, with his future best friend Peter Cushing, in Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning Hamlet.  He played Seurat in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge.  He appeared in both The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.  He appeared in several films for Tim Burton.  He even had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  He appeared in two Star Wars prequels.  He appeared in the original Wicker Man (and reportedly considered it to be his favorite of his many horror films).  He appeared in Oscar winners and box office hits.  And, out of all that, Christopher Lee’s personal favorite was Jinnah, a film that most people have never heard about.

Unless, of course, you live in Pakistan.  When I did a google search on Christopher Lee, I came across several Pakistani news sources that announced: “Christopher Lee, star of Jinnah, has died.”

And really, that somehow seems appropriate.  Christopher Lee was the epitome of an international film star.  He worked for Hammer in the UK.  He worked with Jess Franco in Spain and Mario Bava in Italy.  He appeared in several movies in the United States.  And, in Pakistan, he played Jinnah.  And I haven’t seen Jinnah but I imagine he was probably as great in that role as he was in every other role that I saw him play.  Over the course of his long career, Christopher Lee appeared in many good films but he also appeared in his share of bad ones.  But Christopher Lee was always great.

It really is hard to know where to begin with Christopher Lee.  Though his death was announced on Thursday, I haven’t gotten around to writing this tribute until Friday.  Admittedly, when I first heard that Lee had passed away, I was on a romantic mini-vacation and had promised myself that I would avoid, as much as possible, getting online for two days.  But, even more than for those personal reasons, I hesitated because I just did not know where to start when it came to talking about Christopher Lee.  He was one of those figures who overwhelmed by his very existence.

We all know that Christopher Lee was a great and iconic actor.  And I imagine that a lot of our readers know that Lee had a wonderfully idiosyncratic musical career, releasing his first heavy metal album when he was in his 80s.  Did you know that Lee also served heroically during World War II and, after the war ended, helped to track down fleeing Nazi war criminals?  Did you know that it has been speculated that Lee may have served as one of the role models for James Bond?  (Ian Fleming was a cousin of Lee’s and even tried to convince Lee to play Dr. No in the first Bond film.)  Christopher Lee lived an amazing life, both on and off the screen.

But, whenever one reads about Christopher Lee and his career or watches an interview with the man, the thing that always comes across is that, for someone who played so many evil characters, Christopher Lee appeared to be one the nicest men that you could ever hope to meet.  Somehow, it was never a shock to learn that his best friend was his frequent screen nemesis, Peter Cushing.

Christopher Lee is one of those great actors who we assumed would always be here.  The world of cinema will be a sadder world without him.

Legends together

Legends together

Here is a list of Christopher Lee films that we’ve reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Admittedly, not all of these reviews focus on Lee but they do provide a hint of the man’s versatility:

  1. Airport ’77
  2. Dark Shadows
  3. Dracula A.D. 1972
  4. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
  5. Dracula, Prince of Darkness
  6. Hercules in the Haunted World
  7. The Hobbit
  8. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  9. Horror Express
  10. The Horror of Dracula
  11. Hugo
  12. Jocks
  13. The Man With The Golden Gun
  14. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
  15. Scars of Dracula
  16. Scream and Scream Again
  17. Season of the Witch
  18. Starship Invasions
  19. Taste The Blood of Dracula
  20. The Wicker Tree

Sir Christopher Lee was 93 years old and he lived those 9 decades in the best way possible.  As long as there are film lovers, he will never be forgotten.