Film Review: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Release Date: December 6th, 1990 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Tim Burton, Caroline Thompson
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Oliveri, Kathy Baker, Vincent Price, Alan Arkin, Conchata Ferrell, Caroline Aaron, Dick Anthony Williams, O-Lan Jones, Nick Carter (uncredited)

Twentieth Century Fox, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Hold me.” – Kim, “I can’t.” – Edward

This movie came out around my 12th birthday. But I didn’t get to see it in the theater because I was a kid that didn’t control his own life and it was also the holidays and back then, that meant lots of travel to see cheek-pinchers and older rotund family members that wanted to force feed me into a sugar coma. That’s not a snarky complaint, I actually miss those simpler times and those people, who have mostly passed on.

Anyway, I really wanted to see Edward Scissorhands but I didn’t get to check it out until it was available to rent at the video store. Once I did see it, I was blown away by it and even as a pre-teen, I remember thinking that Tim Burton had truly created something special and evolved really quickly as a filmmaker with this being just his fourth feature film after the previous year’s Batman, as well as Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

As much as I had loved Burton’s previous work, especially Batman, it was this movie that really cemented him as my favorite director of this era behind Steven Spielberg.

This also cemented Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder as two of my favorite actors of the era, as both of them really transcend the screen and put in such beautiful and believable performances that it’s impossible to watch this film and not be emotionally effected.

Furthermore, this also features my favorite performance by Dianne Wiest, an actress I have loved for as long as I can remember. But in this, she really turns up the matriarch persona she is so well at playing. She’s so lovely, kind, has a tremendous heart and you find your own heart breaking, as she comes to realize that as much love as Edward deserves, maybe she made a grave mistake in trying to bring him into her world so quickly. And this realization is where the movie takes a turn and gets much deeper, much darker and much more meaningful.

At its core, this is a Grimms’-style fairytale set in the modern world. However, the modern world is presented in a way that’s sort of timeless. While it features things that were modern for 1990, the look of suburbia is done in a colorful 1950s style. This is one of the things I love most about the movie, as it takes the things that influenced Burton’s development and sort of blends them together. It gives the film a dreamlike, fantastical quality that couldn’t have been achieved had Burton just set this in a place that was blatantly contemporary for the year it was filmed in.

The film is also populated with so much talent and great performances from everyone involved like Alan Arkin, Robert Oliveri, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, Conchata Ferrell, etc.

For me, though, seeing Vincent Price in this was truly special. He was a huge inspiration to Burton and myself, as well. This picture provided him with the perfect role to go out with honor and grace. And while he did a television movie after this, Edward Scissorhands was the legend’s true exit from film and his few moments in this were just beautiful and brilliant.

Edward Scissorhands is a close to perfect film. Sure, as I’m now older and hadn’t seen this in a long time, I do see some minor flaws, here and there. However, they’re not worth nitpicking over, as the film has held up tremendously well and the things it does perfectly far exceed the small things that might have been lacking.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Release Date: November 17th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, Kevin Yagher
Based on: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Marc Pickering, Christopher Walken, Ray Park, Lisa Marie, Peter Guinness, Martin Landau (uncredited)

Mandalay Pictures, American Zoetrope, Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Villainy wears many masks, none so dangerous as the mask of virtue.” – Ichabod Crane

This is one of my favorite Tim Burton movies and every time I watch it, it just makes me wish that he did more straight up fantasy horror films.

This is Burton’s take on the famous story by Washington Irving but it takes the Sleepy Hollow legend and makes it a lot darker and more badass than other adaptations. For many, the classic Disney animated version is probably the one they’re most familiar with. This Sleepy Hollow is very different.

I love that this is gothic horror at its core and you can see the influences of Hammer Films, as well as those Edgar Allan Poe movies with Vincent Price. In fact, Burton does more than homage Hammer, here, as he also includes some Hammer legends in the film: Michael Gough and Christopher Lee, to be specific.

This also features Ian McDiarmid and a visually obscured Ray Park, making it the only movie to feature Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and Darth Maul: Star Wars can’t even claim that.

Anyway, the film is led by Johnny Depp and I love him in this. He plays a sort of whimsical, awkward character and his version of Ichabod Crane shows early signs of what Depp would later create as his most famous character, Captain Jack Sparrow.

I love the humor in this movie and I don’t think that it would’ve worked quite the same way without Depp. Here we have a great investigator that has to get down and dirty… and often times bloody. The humorous bit is that he’s a germaphobe and winces every time he has to do something unsettling or gross. It’s a reoccurring gag throughout the film but it works every time and it isn’t overused.

Depp also has Christina Ricci to play off of and I always like when these two are together. I honestly wish that they worked together more often, as they have real chemistry and always tend to accentuate each other’s performance.

The rest of the cast is padded out with some immense talent between Christopher Walken, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Lisa Marie and Casper Van Dien, who had just come off of the cult classic Starship Troopers.

I enjoy the look and tone of the film and my only real complaint about it is that it seems a bit too drawn out. The story is too complex and should have been refined and tweaked to bring the film down to around 90 minutes. It doesn’t really need more than that but at the same time it could’ve also used a bit more head chopping and action.

Apart from that, the only other negative is that the CGI looks cheesy in two parts but both of those moments happen really quick and it doesn’t wreck the film. I just found it a little bit jarring in those split seconds and it does pull you out of this period piece setting.

In the end, this is still pretty solid and it’s one of the highpoints of ’90s horror, as the decade came to a close and gave us a new millennium full of subpar, mostly shitty horror.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other gothic horror films around 2000, as well as other Tim Burton films with Johnny Depp.

Film Review: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Also known as: The Visitor, Return of the Apes (working titles)
Release Date: July 26th, 2001 (Hong Kong, Puerto Rico)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Based on: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren, Paul Giamatti, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, David Warner, Lisa Marie, Glenn Shadix, Erick Avari, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston (uncredited)

Tim Burton Productions, The Zanuck Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 119 Minutes

Review:

“Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty human!” – Attar

I feel as if I was one of the few people that didn’t seem to mind this film when it came out. It certainly deviated greatly from its source material but I liked some of the ideas that were explored in this picture and I liked that it took a well-known concept and tried to create something new out of it without rehashing things we’ve already seen five times within its own franchise and a dozen times over with all the ripoffs of it.

This hasn’t aged well, however, and it is pretty apparent that the movie just seemed to be aimless without much meat to chew on. It honestly feels as if the film wasn’t completed and it’s missing an entire act.

There’s just a real lack of story and context and while you can follow the simplicity of the narrative, all the characters come across as paper thin and there is obviously a history between many of them that needed to be expanded upon.

However, the film did have production issues, as its start date was delayed and one of the major locations was suffering from a drought and needed water pumped in. There have been other issues alluded to in interviews with those involved, over the years, but a lot of that could be brushed off as hearsay.

One thing I like about the movie is that it used practical, physical effects for the Apes. Everyone in the film wore prosthetics and it gave the film an authentic sense of realism where most movies were already reliant on CGI in just about every regard.

Additionally, I like the visual tone of the film and its general style. It looks cool and the world feels lived in and legit.

Still, it’s just lacking a real sense of plot and character development and because of that, it feels soulless and flat.

Also, while I liked this initially, it’s kind of a boring movie once you look passed the very distracting and alluring visuals. I honestly feel like I have a love/hate relationship with this film as there are many things that went wonderfully right but there are major things that didn’t deliver.

In the end, the film feels half-assed, rushed and like a wasted opportunity. This could have been the start of a new, exciting version of the Planet of the Apes franchise but instead, it’s a disappointing dud that left a pretty harsh blemish on Tim Burton’s career, which was still damn solid in 2001.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Planet of the Apes movies, regardless of era, as well as late ’90s/early ’00s blockbuster science fiction.

Film Review: Vincent (1982)

Release Date: October 1st, 1982
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Tim Burton
Music by: Ken Hilton
Cast: Vincent Price (narrator)

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 6 Minutes

Review:

As far as I know, this is the earliest thing that Tim Burton directed that’s been officially released. I never got to see this as a kid but I eventually saw it in the ’90s when a friend showed it to me.

Burton had some other shorts he did before this and he also worked in animation at Disney but this was the creation that got his career moving forward at a pretty rapid speed, as he got to make the original Frankenweenie short just after this.

This is a stop motion animated short but the techniques Burton employed here would go on to serve him well in The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride.

This short film is also significant in that it opened the door for Burton to work with his childhood idol, Vincent Price. They would work together again in one of Burton’s most iconic films, Edward Scissorhands.

Vincent is just a hair under six minutes but it is simple, sweet and effective.

The story is about a seven year-old boy named Vincent Malloy. He obsesses over trying to be like Vincent Price to his mother’s dismay. His mind runs wild and the short film gives us a lot of great vivid visions of Vincent doing heinous acts to those he cares about. The whole thing is narrated by the real Vincent Price, who delivers his words in the form of a poem written by Burton.

The animation is fabulous, especially for the time and for what I’m sure was a scant budget and limited resources despite being made while Burton was employed by Disney.

Vincent is a great homage to the man who narrates it and from a stylistic standpoint, it shows us that Tim Burton already had a clearly defined vision of what he wanted his work to be, specifically in regards to tone, atmosphere and overall visual design.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Tim Burton animated works: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, etc.

Film Review: Frankenweenie (1984)

Release Date: December 14th, 1984 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Lenny Ripps, Tim Burton
Music by: Michael Convertino, David Newman
Cast: Barret Oliver, Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, Joseph Maher, Paul Bartel, Sofia Coppola, Jason Hervey

Walt Disney Productions, 29 Minutes

Review:

“I guess we can’t punish Victor for bringing Sparky back from the dead.” – Ben Frankenstein

There was a time when Tim Burton was my favorite director. That was mainly due to a string of movies from the mid-’80s through 1999’s Sleepy Hollow. Things went a bit sideways in the ’00s but I still have a lot of love for his first few decades as a director, especially his two early short films: Vincent and this one, Frankenweenie.

This would go on to be remade by Burton, years later, into a feature length animated film. While I’ve never seen that one, I can’t imagine it captured the magic and charm of this original live action short film. I’ll probably give it a watch in the near future though, as I’ve been meaning to for quite some time.

Focusing back on this film though, it’s a lighthearted and heartwarming piece that showcases how damn good Barret Oliver was as a child actor. While he doesn’t get as much time in this as he did in The NeverEnding Story and D.A.R.Y.L., this is my favorite performance of his and he’s definitely the glue that keeps this movie together, even though Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern are also wonderful in this.

The story is an homage of the classic Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley. However, in this, Frankenstein is a boy and he uses the power of lightning to resurrect his bull terrier, who was hit by a car in the opening of the film.

Initially, this was made to be paired up with the theatrical re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but upon seeing it, Disney executives thought it was too dark for little kids. They were wrong, as I would have loved this as a kid just as I had loved Gremlins earlier that same year. I was five years-old at the time but I think us ’80s kids weren’t total pussies like the kids today… but I digress.

Frankenweenie plays like an episode of an anthology television series; Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories immediately comes to mind. It’s a really good length, covers a lot of ground but also has enough time to develop these characters in a way that makes you care for them.

Tim Burton showed tremendous talent with this short film and I’m sure it played a big part in him getting his first feature film gig, directing the original Pee-wee Herman movie, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the feature length animated remake, as well as the Tim Burton short film Vincent and his animated feature The Corpse Bride.

Documentary Review: The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)

Release Date: April 30th, 2015 (limited)
Directed by: Jon Schnepp
Written by: Jon Schnepp
Music by: Frederick William Scott
Cast: Nicolas Cage (archive footage), Tim Burton, Kevin Smith

Super Skull Ship, 104 Minutes

Review:

Superman Lives was a film that never happened but I have always been intrigued by what it could have been.

Years ago, there was a picture of a long haired Nicolas Cage in a Superman costume with his eyes half shut; it looked really bizarre. Most fans of superhero films have probably seen this famous picture at some point or another. But that really set the stage for what this bizarre interpretation of Superman was.

Hearing that Tim Burton was working on the movie and that Kevin Smith had written a script for it, made this project even more bizarre. Burton had a falling out with the studio after issues arose during the production of what would have been his third Batman movie and Smith was a comic book fanboy that was mostly known for his stoner comedies that featured Jay and Silent Bob.

No one seemed to know much else about this strange project though. So once I heard about this documentary, I had a very strong desire to check it out, especially since we got to hear the details from the mouths of Burton and Smith.

On one hand, this was a truly strange motion picture but on the other hand, it wasn’t as insane as one might think if they saw that photo of Nic Cage.

This documentary was pretty solid and it covered a lot of ground from a lot of different angles. Everyone has their own version of the events and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle but this was an interesting story, nonetheless.

I’m actually glad that the film didn’t get made and that we got Superman Returns instead of this, even if it’s far from a perfect film. Superman Lives wasn’t really in tune with what Superman is. It could have been an insane and awesome motion picture in its own way and maybe the creators should revisit this concept as a movie for a new character that isn’t one that already comes with 80 years of his own lore built in.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about superhero filmmaking or films that never materialized: Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four or Jodorowsky’s Dune for instance.

Film Review: Singles (1992)

Release Date: September 18th, 1992
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Music by: Paul Westerberg
Cast: Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Sheila Kelley, Jim True, Bill Pullman, Matt Dillon, Tom Skerritt, Jeremy Piven, Eric Stoltz, Tim Burton, Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Peter Horton

Warner Bros., 99 Minutes

Review:

“Look, Debbie, I’m kind of having a bad sugar crash. Do you think you could just, you know, hold it down?” – Pam

Since I revisited Reality Bites a few weeks back, I figured that I would also look at the film it is most often compared to: Singles.

Reality Bites didn’t hold up well to the test of time but Singles does, as it works much better as a time capsule to a bygone era that features the Seattle grunge movement just before it became a huge thing that overtook American culture for a little while. Also, it just feels more authentic than Reality Bites and doesn’t rely too heavily on one-dimensional archetypes and Gen-Xers’ philosophical and hypocritical ramblings.

As a motion picture, this is a much better body of work than Reality Bites but it also features a veteran director in Cameron Crowe, where the other film was the directorial debut of a very young Ben Stiller off of the script of a teenage girl. Not to knock Reality Bites, but it does seem much more juvenile than Singles and is full of mostly unlikable characters. Singles, on the other hand, has mostly likable characters, even in the form of this film’s version of its rock star wannabe.

All that being said, I still think that Reality Bites has more value on repeated viewings. Yes, Singles is better but it is also a bit drab at times and even with a large ensemble of characters, the film plays things really safe and there isn’t enough tension to make you feel much of anything. You just see the characters as nice, mostly boring, young people confused about things like love and life because they still lack experience. With Reality Bites, even if the two main characters are selfish and pretty unlikable, there is enough tension and magnetism between them that you feel something.

Where Singles excels is in the fact that it is shot better, directed better and has actors that are able to feel like real, genuine characters. And this film just feels more mature, even if it is about young people finding their way into adulthood.

This also has a cool factor because of the real world legendary musicians who appear in this before they even reached greatness. You have Chris Cornell, Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder before his band was even called Pearl Jam. You also have an acting cameo from the it director of the time, Tim Burton.

I still liked Singles. It isn’t a film I will want to go back to anytime soon but everyone was good in it and it felt more like a social semidocumentary than an actual fictional film, which Crowe was probably going for and succeeded at achieving. This felt like one of those earlier seasons of MTV’s The Real World, before producers realized that manufacturing fights created big ratings. You know, back when The Real World actually seemed real.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Reality BitesSubUrbiaEmpire RecordsS.F.W. and Clerks.

Film Review: Mars Attacks! (1996)

Release Date: December 12th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Jonathan Gems
Based on: Mars Attacks by Topps
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Jack Black, Christina Applegate, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker, O-Lan Jones, Ray J, Joseph Maher, Frank Welker (voice)

Tim Burton Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“They blew up Congress! Ha ha ha ha!” – Grandma Florence Norris

While this isn’t one of Tim Burton’s most popular films, it is one of my favorites and I feel like it missed its mark because it’s not the type of film that would resonate with most people.

Mars Attacks! came out in late 1996, not too long after Independence Day ruled American culture that same summer. Maybe people were confused that this was a ripoff of it or that one big alien invasion movie was enough to digest but either way, I don’t think people realized that this was vastly different and sort of a parody of the genre while also being an incredible live action adaptation of the Mars Attacks trading cards that Topps put out in the 1960s. It’s like those who were kids in the ’60s no longer cared and the teens of the ’90s didn’t know the reference.

Still, this is a hilarious romp starring dozens of top notch celebrities where not a single one of them is actually safe. I mean, these Martians murder Congress, the President and even try to crush a troop of Cub Scouts with the Washington Monument. They are sick, sadistic and really, just friggin’ awesome. They are also voiced by Frank Welker, the guy who gave life to Megatron from the original and still greatest Transformers cartoon.

By the star power that this movie has, it’s clear that Hollywood got the joke and appreciated it even if audiences didn’t flock to see this. Still, it wasn’t a massive failure, by any means. It did fairly well but not as well as what Warner Bros. was probably hoping for with Tim Burton being a mega earner for the studio. While it took some time, the film did earn back the $100 million that was put into it. It was considered a box office bomb in the United States but it fared much better internationally.

This is one of the most hysterical films of the ’90s put out by a major studio. The humor is perfect, the tone is great and it pokes fun at so many different facets of Americana that it almost feels like it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The special effects look dated but they looked sort of cheesy in the mid ’90s. The film was supposed to have a hokey, old school vibe to it though. Really, the effects are great and they work for what this picture is. It’s not Independence Day and didn’t need to take itself as seriously in the visual effects department.

From a stylistic standpoint, the film really has a timeless feel to it. It merges modern style with ’50s and ’60s style in a seamless way that gives this film a magical quality.

Additionally, this picture boasts one of my favorite Danny Elfman scores of all-time. The theme is powerful and perfect and really fits that old school Elfman sound. Frankly, watching this film makes me appreciate and miss the quality of Burton and Elfman’s old school collaborations.

What really resonates with me is how this film balances comedy with how dark it actually is. It’s an absurd picture in the best way possible and shows that Tim Burton really has a dark sense of humor. Well, Beetlejuice was really effective in showing that aspect of Burton as well.

Mars Attacks! was underappreciated when it came out in 1996. It is still underappreciated today, as people that like to list out their favorite Tim Burton films always have this near the bottom of the list. Like I said, it isn’t for everyone but Burton fans, who understand Burton’s influences, should really love this picture.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Joe Dante’s Matinee and alien invasion B-movies of the ’50s.

Ranking the Films of Tim Burton

Tim Burton was one of my favorite directors in the ’80s and into the ’90s. Things went downhill once we got to the ’00s but there were still some gems after the turn of the new millennium.

He was the first director to really tackle Batman and he gave us beloved characters like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. His style is unique and all its own, even if it has become a caricature of itself and a hindrance in recent years.

Here are all the films he directed, ranked. The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t here because although he created it, he didn’t direct it.

1. Ed Wood
2. Edward Scissorhands
3. Batman
4. Sleepy Hollow
5. Mars Attacks!
6. Beetlejuice
7. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
8. Batman Returns
9. Big Eyes
10. Corpse Bride
11. Big Fish
12. Frankenweenie (animated)
13. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
14. Planet of the Apes
15. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
16. Dark Shadows
17. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
18. Alice In Wonderland