TIM BURTON’S ED WOOD — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Other than Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is my “favorite” film from this phenomenally adventurous and eccentric filmmaker, but I think it clearly stands as his “best” piece of work to date. Working with the invaluable screenwriting duo of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Man on the Moon, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, the upcoming original FX series American Crime), Burton was able to craft a black and white ode to a Hollywood of yesteryear, and because the ingenious screenplay bucked the traditional notes of the conventional biopic, the film takes on a more layered feel and structure, examining not only Wood the director but Wood the man and Wood the mystery, as well as stopping to consider all of the colorful people who surrounded his bizarre life. Shot by the great cinematographer Stefan Czapsky (Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands), it’s one of the rare modern movies to get the studio approved monochrome treatment (after switching homes from Columbia Pictures to Disney/Touchstone), but let’s be honest, there was NO other way to present this material; this is one instance where the content dictated the style, and not the other way around. Johnny Depp was marvelous in the picture, easily giving one of his greatest performances as a man caught in eternal confusion, both personally and professionally, never truly understanding his place in society or how to grasp all of the straws around him. Some of these themes would be later explored by Burton and Alexander and Karaszewski in last year’s underappreciated (at least by theatrical audiences) art world exploration Big Eyes, which featured a splendid lead performance from Amy Adams. The dynamic supporting cast includes Oscar winner Martin Landau, giving an unforgettable performance as screen legend (and notorious drug addict) Bela Lugosi, and also featured terrific turns from a pensively hilarious Bill Murray, the always awesome Patricia Arquette, an exasperated Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Starr, Vincent D’Onofio, Max Casella, Lisa Marie, and G.D. Spradlin. The film opens with a charming and creative opening credit sequence evoking all of Wood’s disasterpieces, with Danny Elfman’s imaginative and playful musical score setting the tone early on. The film would receive overwhelming critical praise and also garner two Oscars, one for Landau for Best Supporting Actor, and the other for make-up artist Rick Baker. Alexander and Karaszewski would receive a WGA nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Despite not attaining box-office success in theaters, Ed Wood has lived on as one of Burton’s most respected and mature films, a piece of work that feels extremely personal and incredibly generous in spirit.

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