film

Old School Review: “Ed Wood” (1994)

Written by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, and directed by Tim Burton, “Ed Wood” is a comedic biopic about the famed cult film director who infamously made the worst film of all time in “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. This film is partly adapted from the book “Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr.” by Rudolph Grey. Admittedly, this is a film that I hadn’t heard of until I caught an episode of “re:View” on the youtube channel Red Letter Media in which they thoroughly discussed the Tim Burton adaption and the filmmaker Ed Wood himself. This might be my favorite film from Tim Burton, I’ve enjoyed his work before- but since the middling 2000’s Burton has seemed a bit passionless with most of his work, slowly trending towards parody with films like “Dark Shadows” and I wasn’t particularly impressed with his two “Alice in Wonderland” movies if I’m being honest. Here, you can tell that he had a fondness for the atomic-era Z-list filmmaker, and he treated the subject with great care and respect as a fellow filmmaker.

Now, Ed Wood was a very unique character to say the least. Not only did he put out a series of films (unsuccessful as they may have been), he surrounded himself with Hollywood’s rejects, weirdos, and the forgotten to craft together whatever kinds of ramshackle films that he could. He also had a very strange relationship with angora sweaters, only finding comfort and confidence while wearing them and other such women’s clothing. In fact the whole first quarter of the film rests on this strange fetish- but the film never struck me as mockery or slander, but rather towards a more truthful reveal of who Ed Wood was. Granted, this film dances between a heightened and glamorized tone when it comes to some of the performances, most notably with Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the eternally optimistic Ed Wood. However the film also lets dark real world issues creep into it’s plot over the course of the film, especially after Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) enters the picture. Once Ed scrambles together his small theatrical crew and morphs it into one that can tackle his first feature “Glen or Glenda”, the movie kicks up the pace. Even through every scrap and white lie needed to get in the door, Ed Wood’s journey is an inspiring and relatable one, especially if you have any experience trying to get a movie made. He never gave up- even when all common sense suggests that might have been for the better.

After Ed’s been around the block with a couple small features he ends up crossing paths with veteran monster movie actor Bela Lugosi. Ed Wood’s relationship with the former Count Dracula actor is the emotional crux of the film, and its an excellent pairing between the pre and post war remnants of Hollywood. Lugosi’s an aging and out of work actor when Ed meets him, starstruck, Ed can’t believe that the original Vampire himself isn’t being signed onto multiple pictures- so he takes every and any opportunity to get Lugosi involved in his movies. After befriending him when the world had forgotten him, Lugosi accepts the adoration from Ed and agrees to work with him on several films. It’s slyly mentioned early on that Lugosi’s a washed up actor, and it isn’t until he’s on set when the make-up artist silently notices the track marks on his arms representing decades of drug abuse. Lugosi only makes eye contact with the make-up artist momentarily, and knowingly, and then they move on without mentioning the obvious.

This film may have been a financial loss for the studio, but it was well received by critics and it won two Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Landau and Best Makeup for Rick Baker. The cast was excellent, Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Wood meshed 1950’s caricature with genuine earnestness and the film was all the better for it. You also don’t have to twist my arm to get me to watch a movie shot in black and white- but the film’s cinematography was exquisite, there’s a lot of really beautiful compositions throughout the film. “Ed Wood” is a love letter to even the lowliest of filmmakers and it suggests that an unflappable and passionate love of the craft can get you places in life- just maybe not the places you expected.

Final Score: 2 Vampires, 1 wrestler, and 1 motivational speech from Orson Welles

*Check out the re:View that youtube channel Red Letter Media did on Ed Wood for further fun and analysis:

**And, just for fun, check out this episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast where he talks with legendary special effects master and prosthetic make-up artist, Rick Baker:

film

Review: Isle of Dogs

Written and directed by Wes Anderson, “Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion animated film set in Megasaki City, a fictional Japanese city in the not so distant future, where a virus known as ‘Dog Flu‘ has devastated the pet populace and threatens to transfer to humans soon. In the face of this threat Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) declares an emergency order, exile all dogs to trash island. He begins with the public exile of his young nephew Atari’s (Koyu Rankin) dog/bodyguard Spots (Liev Schreiber). Six months later the decrepit isle is populated by every dog from Megasaki City and we focus on five particular pooches looking for food amongst the scraps, Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and King (Bob Balaban). After a quick scrap over the available morsels with another gang of roving dogs they spot an incoming small plane that’s about to crash land. After they drag Atari from the wreckage and dub him, the little pilot, they figure out that he’s looking for his lost dog, Spots.

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This little film was a joy to watch. I already have a proclivity towards stop-motion animation, so the film had already piqued my interest- but I really did enjoy the story of “Isle of Dogs” as well. At the heart of the film the story is about friendship and doing the right thing, but there were darker shades of conspiracy and a more realized threat for all of the four-legged companions than I was expecting. I won’t get into spoiler territory, but the film was more clever than I had expected and that was a nice surprise. The stellar voice cast cannot be ignored either as each dog had a major name behind their voice and their stylized performances, written for each celebrity, fit their larger than life personas which only added depth to their characterization. There’s also the visual treat of the film as a whole, the blocking and movement was tight and tactile while maintaining Anderson’s well worn Symmetry (with a capital S!) in all frames. This film might fall more on the niche side of his works than say “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but it won me over and I’ll definitely be adding it to my collection once the physical copy is released.

 

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Now, to discuss the elephant in the room; the fact that Wes Anderson made a creative choice to have all human characters speak in their native tongues and deciding against subtitles. There are also translations through interpreters at events or machines that perform the same function. The untranslated Japanese speakers didn’t bother me in this film’s context, it felt more like a quirky choice that was an example of the difficulties with translation as a whole as used in the dogs versus humans, but yes this was clearly made for an English speaking audience. Personally, I’m of the mind that ‘cultural appropriation’ and those who like to throw the term about wildly, aren’t nearly as bad or mean-spirited as people might immediately assume. Obviously context matters here, ‘blackface‘ for example was not okay and we all understand that. However, today’s outrage culture seems poised to sniff out any little tidbit of possible offense and use it to lambaste those who might simply be fascinated by other cultures and their traditions. Just so long as the Japanese voice actors’ speech wasn’t derogatory or insensitive to the culture, which after doing some mild research- it seems to be a fairly innocent tactic, the filmmaker seemed invested in playing with a motif of Japanese culture while also attempting to do so respectfully.

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I just don’t understand the effort that goes into being that upset consistently. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds about this here as this is just a review for “Isle of Dogs”, but its relevant to the film. Injustice is important to seek and stamp out in society if possible, but if you’re so narrowly focused that you’re actively protesting a Wes Anderson film- well, there are more productive ways you could be helping society as it relates to injustice. As an example, I don’t get that incensed when I see a white person wearing dreads, however, I am upset by government agencies destroying the environment and further ruining the last patches of land and water left to our Native American peoples. Anyway, that’s the end of my miniature lecture.

Final Score: 5 guide dogs and 1 determined boy

*Below are two articles that further discuss the translations, and lack thereof in “Isle of Dogs”, and I encourage you to give them a read if you’re invested in the topic.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/what-isle-of-dogs-gets-right-about-japan

https://slate.com/culture/2018/04/what-its-like-to-watchisle-of-dogsas-a-japanese-speaker.html