Friday, May 11, 2012

Burton Call: Ranking Tim Burton’s Films in Anticipation of Dark Shadows

1) Edward Scissorhands (1990)  It’s a clichéd choice I realize, but is there a film any more Tim Burton-like than this story of an artificial man (is he a robot or what?) who is inexplicably placed into the pastel-riddled world of suburbia? The man, unfinished, has sharp blades where his hands and fingers should be, but he still has a heart. Johnny Depp’s first (of many) collaboration with Burton remains his best as he embodies the character so well, it’s hard to think Burton didn’t just hire some socially awkward outcast instead of the teen heartthrob he was at the time. If you see just one Tim Burton film (and if you haven’t seen any you might as well plummet off a covered bridge) this is the one to see. It features all the Burton trademarks: the social outcast, exquisite set design, a wonderful Danny Elfman score, and the perfect amount of strangeness. GRADE: A

2) Beetle Juice (1988) If there’s any other Tim Burton film that completely defines the aueter it is certainly Beetle Juice, everyone’s favorite cinematic bio-exorcist. Burton created such a bizarre film it’s amazing to think he didn’t write or produce it, yet it feels so very much Tim Burton-like. He obviously had free reign to do whatever he wanted after the success of Pee Wee. A wonderful tale of a dead couple dealing with not only the afterlife but the annoying yuppies who move into their suburban Connecticut home, it’s filled with deliciously macabre humor and some jaw-dropping (and Oscar winning) makeup work; all highlighted with a delightfully comedic performance from Michael Keaton, not to mention a scene-stealing Catherine O’Hara. A


3) Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) I’m almost tempted to say that Pee Wee Herrmann is one of Tim Burton’s most bizarre characters he’s ever directed. Paul Ruebans created such a wonderfully strange personality. The “manchild” would never be the same. In fact, I don’t even think it’s a character that could even remotely be attempted today. This guy lives in a house full of toys and strange inventions (Tim Burton trademark alert!) sort of a precursor to Burton’s version of Willy Wonka. Absurdist humor abounds as Pee Wee embarks on a wild adventure to find his stolen bicycle. And the greatest life lesson learned here: remember, there is no basement in the Alamo. A


4) Batman Returns (1992) I go back and forth trying to decide which Tim Burton Batman movie is better. Batman started the whole thing and was the bigger hit, but “Batman Returns” is way more Tim Burton-like (he had a producer credit on this one) and therefore to real Batman fans this flick didn’t really live up to their expectations. But you know what? This movie is so freaking awesome with two of the greatest comic book villains – Penguin and Catwoman – you can’t deny the wacky awesomeness of it all. Burton’s trademark Gothic imagery is in full force here and even continues with the snowy theme established in “Edward Scissorhands.” Who cares if this movie is hardly even about Batman? It’s all about the Burton if you ask me. A


5) Batman (1989) Tim Burton delivered a surprise phenomenon back in 1989 which helped relaunch the “summer movie franchise” with studios making big budget movies in hopes of raking in lots of dough. People turned out in droves (much like they did with “The Dark Knight”) to see everybody’s favorite comic book villain: The Joker. Jack Nicholson did such an awesome job you kind of forget that he’s practically playing himself in clown makeup. There are great action set pieces – one set in an art museum no less – and so many great moments you can practically recall yourself watching with glee as a kid. Michael Keaton, while not necessarily the most obvious choice to play the Caped Crusader – makes a great Batman and plays well off of Nicholson’s maniacal performance and Kim Basinger’s sultry photojournalist Vicki Vale. A


6) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) And here we have yet another remake done by Burton – although I still consider this to be just another adaptation of the source material. Sure no one can replace Gene Wilder, and why should anyone want to? But Johnny Depp certainly holds his own as the super weird and quirky Willy Wonka – the creepy manchild who has serious daddy issues this time. Burton’s candy factory is a wonder to behold, full of colors that almost overwhelm the senses. The best part is the film is also funny and features terrific performances from its entire cast. Danny Elfman’s theme is one of my favorites and Burton presents us with another wonderful trademark opening title sequence that is as scrumdiddlyumptious as the movie itself. The movie is certainly weird; I’m sure Roald Dahl would be happy with it. A


7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) Burton’s first foray into live-action music (after getting his toe wet with “Corpse Bride” and producing “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) is one of his most accomplished works. Johnny Depp and Helen Bonham Carter have great chemistry as the revenge seeking barber and the pie maker respectively. Steven Sondheim’s macabre musical gets the appropriate Burton touch with dark humor, a dark look and appropriately pale characters. Yet it’s all so much fun. The staging of the musical numbers are really well done and the story flows rather nicely, as does the blood. The film features more Oscar-winning art direction and it certainly deserved it. This is one Burton’s overall best made films. A


8) Sleepy Hollow (1999) Sleepy Hollow is sort of the non-musical version of Sweeney Todd. It’s a lavish period piece with violent, absurd murders and Burton’s trademark quirky humor. Burton opens up Washington Irvin’s short tale of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and turns Ichabod Crane into a forensic scientist who is summoned to the tiny hamlet of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of gristly murders. The entire film has a wonderful Gothic, yet campy feel that can only be the product of Tim Burton. Even if it has some rather odd flashback sequences (Tim Burton trademark alert!) it feels so much like something he’s wanted to do for years but never did for some reason. A-


9) Big Fish (2003) Ahh, the Tim Burton movie for people who don’t really like Tim Burton movies aka Tim Burton’s Oscar Bait. This is really only half a Tim Burton movie as it features some very normal characters. Mainly a guy who has a strained relationship with his father because of all the tall tales he used to tell him as a child. But now his father is dying and he wants to try and make amends but he can’t quite take his dad seriously. These tall tales are recounted by Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor plays his younger self. Here is where the movie really shines in its Tim Burton-ness. Super quirky and weird characters abound and it’s all wrapped up in a wonderfully tearjerker way. It’s “Terms of Endearment” Tim Burton style. B+


10) Mars Attacks! (1996) The summer of 1996 saw two alien invasion movies. The other one was a little movie called “Independence Day.” This was however an Irwin Allen style campy disaster flick with purposely shoddy effects. After all, one of Tim Burton’s greatest inspirations was the horrible director Ed Wood who was the subject of the film before this one. There is an unbelievably impressive all star cast, most of whom end up as green skeletons. The Martians are hilariously weird and there are some rather shocking moments of gruesome violence. But it’s all done in trademarked Tim Burton fun. Don’t take this one too seriously. Love that Danny Elfman score! B


11) Ed Wood (1994) “Ed Wood” probably remains Tim Burton’s best critically received film. It won two Oscars (including one for supporting actor Martin Landau) but it didn’t receive a warm welcome at the box office. It’s possible the black and white photography had something to do with it – but it remains one of Burton’s most well-made films. It’s one that’s sort of eluded me over the years, as it’s one I’m probably least familiar with. And there’s no Danny Elfman score, for shame! It’s a great film but not one of my favorites. B


12) Corpse Bride (2005) I was originally disappointed with Burton’s second foray into stop-motion animation (his first time directing) as nothing could ever top the wonderful brilliance of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The songs didn’t seem that particularly memorable as did the characters, but a second viewing changed all that. It’s undoubtedly Tim Burton through and through and remains an enjoyable if not overly memorable blip on Tim Burton’s filmography. B


13) Alice in Wonderland (2010) Most people hate Tim Burton’s sometimes garish treatment of the Alice in Wonderland story. Rightfully so, it does rely a little too much on gaudy visual effects and its story is actually a sequel rather than a remake. If you dig deep enough there’s enough things for a Tim Burton fan to like here. There’s plenty of eccentric characters and humor. And let’s just face it the world Lewis Carol created was meant to be seen through the eyes of Tim Burton. It’s not one of his best, but even die hard fans can find something to enjoy here. B-


14) Planet of the Apes (2001) And last, and kind of certainly least, we have Tim’s notorious version of “Planet of the Apes.” This is one of his films that eluded me for many years, and I only caught up with it a couple years ago. And I have to say it’s not horrible by any means. It’s only last on this list because it’s the film I’m least familiar with and overall doesn’t quite feel much like a Tim Burton movie to me. Even Danny Elfman’s score seems rather different, although it’s really grown on me and now I like it. Mark Wahlberg, like most people say, seems out of place. This is also the movie where Tim met his love and muse Helena Bonham Carter, which was no small feat seeing as though she was in ape makeup most of the time. The makeup effects, costumes, and set design are all top notch. Heck even Paul Giamatti, who I’m not a big fan of is pretty good here. There’s nothing really that wrong with the film, it just doesn’t quite click, and like many a Tim Burton character it just sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s the outcast film in a film director’s repertoire that’s filled with outcasts.  B-

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