There are so many ideas, myths, motifs, vignettes, episodes, characters and ideas swirling around in Tim Burton’s Big Fish it almost feels like several movies collided together to make their own sweet, sunny mixture and I love that feeling. It’s like a postcard perfect funhouse where you never know what you might get and some people saw a pacing problem or lack of focus in that regard but for me it’s this wonderful wellspring of creativity, visual audacity and fairytale lyricism. It’s also told from the perspective of a rascal who is notorious for making up wild stories so the narratively kaleidoscopic nature of the film seems very appropriate. Edward Bloom is one of the strangest Tim Burton characters to ever grace the screen, a magnetic individual played as a young man by beaming, idealistic Ewan McGregor and as an old fellow by wisecracking, lovable Albert Finney. Edward loves to tell stories, larger than life anecdotal adventures that he regaled his young son with throughout childhood, stories that couldn’t possibly be true.. right? As Edward grows up he leaves a town that just wasn’t big enough for him and meets many wonderful and strange characters along the way including a giant (Matthew McGrory), a poet turned bank robber (Steve Buscemi), a mermaid (Bevin Kaye), a reclusive witch (Helena Bonham Carter) a circus ringmaster (Danny Devito, scene stealing like nobody’s business) with a supernatural secret and eventually the love of his life Sandra, played as a young woman by the excellent Alison Lohman (whatever happened to her?) and later by Jessica Lange. The story finds an emotional core in the relationship between Edward and his son Will (Billy Crudup), a realist who resents being brought up amidst a bunch of tall tales and just wants, along with his wife (Marion Cotillard, lovely), to finally get to know his father as he is passing of terminal illness. The stories are besides the point here and as one character notes, at some point a man becomes the legends he tells simply by embodying them, and when it comes time for the narrative to tell us whether or not these tales are even true it hardly matters because the film has been so honest with us in the human connections we see unfolding. This film sits apart in Burton’s career because of how emotionally affecting it is, not largely focused on effects and makeup like he often chooses but crafted with its heart firmly planted on a bedrock of believable humanity. There’s whimsy, style and special effects galore mind you, all excellently, wonderfully done.. but the core of what makes this film so special lies in the final twenty minutes or so where we see a rich, cathartic final act that always brings me to tears. Edward Bloom may have told wild tales his whole life and Will must reconcile that they were just a part of who his father was, and that the greatest story in his life was the family he raised. It’s a beautiful, oddball, postcard pretty, occasionally surreal yet ultimately down to earth and deeply felt piece of storytelling.
I’d love to have been in the studio executives office to hear the pitch for Bubble Boy: “Okay so basically Jake Gyllenhaal is this kid who lives in a plastic bubble, he’s on a road trip and there’s also a travelling freak show owned by Mini Me from Austin Powers, a singing cult led by Fabio, Asian mud wrestling, twin incontinent geriatric pilots named Pippy and Pappy, a motorcycle gang headed up by Danny Trejo, an Indian who drives a food truck serving ‘Ice cream… and curry’” …if I were the exec in charge I’d have no choice but to green light the thing just for the balls they had to bring it to me. Like how do you say no to all that? Real talk though, this film was actually pretty special, and I mean that sincerely. Yes, it’s this kind of surreal, John Waters-esque parade of uproarious and seemingly arbitrary commotion anchored only by Gyllenhaal’s naive, oddball hero but there’s a message sewn into all that madness too that’s actually really sweet and astute. Born without a self generated immune system, Bubble Boy is kept at home in a pristine plastic environment by his overbearing, Jesus freak mom (Swoosie Kurtz), until he falls in love with the girl next door (Marley Shelton). When she runs off with plans to marry a preening douchebag (Dave Sheridan), he constructs that amazing bubble suit and and it’s off on a bizarre cross country race to find her and fix the misunderstandings of their relationship before she gets married. Things get a little… random along the way and his mom takes hot pursuit with his dad (John Carroll Lynch, excellent) in tow. It may all seem like noise and confusion but there’s a real theme of escaping one’s own personal prison going on beneath the surface. Gyllenhaal has left his eternal quarantine and headed out into the great unknown but in a sense each character he meets is in their own bubble of sorts, stunted by belief, circumstance, past trauma or just lunacy. Trejo is terrific as the rambunctious biker who pines for his lost love and will do anything for Bubble Boy, who he considers his ‘Vato.’ The circus show and all its members (which include the varied likes of Matthew McGrory and Lester ‘Beetlejuice’ Green) are a self ostracized bunch who don’t value their own worth until put to the test. Hell, even a cross country bus ticket vendor played by Zach Galifinakis sits resolute and awkward inside his booth, perplexed at sights he observes around him and unable to engage with the world. When mom catches up to Bubble Boy just when he’s about to reach Niagara Falls and wants to yank him home, Carroll Lynch as his dad gets the subtly subversive, beautiful line of dialogue: “What if Neil Armstrong travelled all that way just to *not* walk on the moon.” This is a balls out comedy peppered with delightfully weird shit but it’s also a film about questioning one’s reality, breaking boundaries imposed by whatever system governs you and finding a place in this world, which I promise you is far more strange than anything any screenwriter could ever dream up. Absolutely great film.
Rob Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses is a lot to sit through, and at times is a victim of its own overly zany ambition. Nevertheless, it’s the first stepping stone in the path of one of the most fascinating and talented directorial careers in the industry, and is a completely batshit mental curiosity in its own right. Zombie sprung onto the scene with this one and has since been a controversial, much talked about and frequently hated voice of horror. Let’s get one thing transparently clear: No one can be blamed for not enjoying his films, they’re incredibly niche and not everyone’s thing, but you are simply lying to yourself if you won’t concede what a hugely talented writer, director and all round filmmaker he is. I’ve had to get quite stern in conversations with people whose tunnel vision stubbornness supersedes their ability to logically analyze his work, and I simply won’t put up with it. Alright, scolding done, over to the film. I’ll be the first to admit that House is a splattered mess at times and goes about six light years over the top, but the sheer grungy scope of production design is really something to see. In deepest backwoods Americana, the murderous Firefly clan preys on, terrorizes and murders pretty much anyone who gets in their path. Bill Moseley is a Manson-esque dark angel as Otis Driftwood, renegade bad boy brother, Sheri Moon Zombie is like Harley Quinn on bath salts as Baby, who is definitely the scariest, while gargantuan Matthew McGrory, walking decrepitude grandpa (Dennis Fimple) and giggling slutwhore Mama (Karen Black doing her very best freaky Betty Boop rendition) round out the rest of the brood. They live in some cluttered rural dump right out of Hoarders™, luring unsuspecting travellers off the road and murdering them in really over elaborate, exhaustive looking ways. Oh and we see the birth of one of cinema’s most jovial and sleazy killer clowns, Sid Haig’s motor mouth Captain Spaulding, who bookends the film in uproariously raunchy comic relief. It’s a neon fever nightmare of relentless commotion, visual excess, metal music, retro Americana pop culture bliss and sadistic gore, Zombie going all out to solidify his storytelling aesthetic that would continue, in augmented, evolved ways, over the course of his brilliant career. This is certainly as obnoxious a film as you’ll find in his stable, and while it ranks in the southern end of my Zombie favourites list, there’s just no ignoring the raucous, depraved celebration of all things gross, gooey and grotesque that parades by. Not to mention the whip-smart, trashy and endlessly funny dialogue, writing being skill that the man excels in on another level.