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: DeathWish (2018)

Written by Joe Carnahan and directed by Eli Roth, “Death Wish” is the 2018 remake of the Charles Bronson led 1974 crime/revenge movie. It’s also a heaping pile of poorly timed garbage. Have you ever seen a revenge movie? Generally speaking, the hero usually loses his family or loved ones-or is simply wronged in some form, and he then pursues vigilante justice after the legal system fails him. That’s this whole movie. Which, I could forgive if the film was either, A) comically over-the-top with it’s violence and tone, B) had something important to say- at all, or C) if the film wasn’t as rote, banal, and as bland as it turned out to be.

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To be fair, going into this showing I had zero expectations. In fact the whole point of going to see this film with friends was to ‘go see a bad movie’ together. Whew, well by that metric, the film was a success. Which is a shame in all honesty, Bruce Willis used to be a Movie Star-with a capital M! Now he’s relegated to shoehorned and forced ‘action titles’ that rank among this film’s quality. The last ‘Die Hard’ was a travesty and the man’s been sleeping-walking through bad films ever since. The only hope I had going into this film was that Eli Roth, as a well known horror director, could bring a sort of tongue in cheek levity to the film’s untimely subject matter and make it comedically palatable. I was quite wrong with that hope.

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If it had been tackled with any sort of imagination instead of the tired ‘been there, done that!’ filmmaking tactics that gave way to this film, there could have been something worthwhile there. In my opinion the most significant problem with the film was it’s lack of confidence. It felt as if there was a tug-of-war between wanting to craft a shoot ’em up gore fest grindhouse flick, and a serious gritty crime film with a glaze of nostalgia for those left wanting after the finale of ‘Breaking Bad’. Speaking of which, Dean Norris and Vincent D’Onofrio both make attempts within the margins of this script to elevate the films status- even if only for a moment- but they too fail in this effort. The material is weak, the direction was left wanting, the script was mind numbing, and Bruce Willis was dead-eyed from the opening scenes to the credits roll. Trust me, you can skip this one. In fact, if you’re looking for some so bad it’s good content I’ll leave a link below to an episode of ‘Best of the Worst’ from Red Letter Media on YouTube. In this particular episode they discuss the third ‘Death Wish’ with Charles Bronson, among other equally bad movies, which is far more entertaining than the current remake in theaters.

Final Score: 1 Wish… FOR DEATH(!)

film

Review: The Magnificent Seven or “Welcome back Cowboy”

This autumn’s western “The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of the 1960 title of the same name, which just so happens to be a reimagining of Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” in 1954. Whew, that’s a lot to live up to. So, does our modern reimagining of this story live up to the lofty heights of its predecessors? Not quite, but it is a damn fun western movie in a time when the genre is receding out of the collective memory.

This film has an overall basic plot that allows the style choices of the creative team, and the actors, to shine through. Antoine Fuqua knew this and wisely focused on the characters and action sequences in play. Don’t get me wrong, this film won’t be an award winner by any means, but that doesn’t matter here, what matters in my opinion is that the film is competently made and good escapist fun. The movie succeeds in those merits in spades. We don’t get an even amount of focus on all of the seven titular characters, but this is expected in a one off title with such a large main cast. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt get the most screentime, with Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio capturing enough character moments spread throughout while Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier get introductions and solid action sequences, but the least amount of character development, but enough is done with them to earn them merit within the gunslinger tale.

The story is that of a small valley town out west overtaken by a mining mogul with violent tendencies. After the town is met with an ultimatum with grisly implications from Bartholomew Bogue one freshly widowed woman, Haley Bennett’s Emma Cullen, rounds up a gang of skilled fighters to help defend the town from the mogul’s wrath. From there the film follows the gathering of the seven titular warriors and the build up to the final showdown between Bogue’s army and the seven, with help from the townsfolk and freed miners. The final showdown is worth the buildup with excellently directed and shot cinematography that gives you the action satisfaction, and justice, that the film initiates for the audience from the beginning. As a plus the film’s score does a lot to encourage the emotions required of the story throughtout, truly great stuff as this was the final score partially created by Oscar Winner James Horner. If you want great escapist fun at the movie theater, you’ll find it within The Magnificent Seven.

Final Score: 3.5/5