31 December 2010


So it's been a mental year for me in terms of film watching. The final number came out at 151 films watched this year. This doesn't include repeat watches of course, because who cares? 151 is over twice the amount I watched last year. Various reasons there. I had 2 months where I watched 30 films (or more). In April I vowed to watch a film a day or at least the equivalent (some days I had to miss one so I caught up within a day or two). In October I vowed to watch all the Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street films that I hadn't already seen in order to somehow understand... or at least to... fuck... ok... just to watch them. Progress had to be made on my horror sequels article! As well as that I vowed to only watch horror films apart from new releases, for obvious reasons. Somehow I managed to stick to all my vows and it's left me with that hefty number.

This came up when I Google image searched "151"
Now there are some things to be pointed out here. Of those 151, only 52 of them were new releases in the cinema. (I'm counting Metropolis here as a new one because it was my first time seeing it and it had a new 25 minutes of footage which appeared to me to be absolutely essential to understanding the plot.) Anyway, those new releases were as follows:

Sweet mother!
Rather than doing some sort of top 5 bottom 5 thing I think I'll just mention some films worthy of note. Be it bad or good. Then I'll make an attempt at a favourite and least favourite. Starting from the top I think it's funny that the first 2 films I saw this year were the fascinating, haunting and plainly beautiful piece of art that was The Road & the utter shit bollocks that was It's Complicated. I don't really need to say much else, that sums both of those movies up really. Some other nice ones were Ponyo, I Love You Phillip Morris, Kick-Ass, Cemetary Junction, Perrier's Bounty, Four Lions, Splice, Piranha 3D and Buried. Some bad news now with The Wolfman, Alice in Wonderland, Repo Men, Whatever Works, The A-Team, Devil, The Town, Paranormal Activity 2 and Saw 3D. Let's not forget the mediocre The Lovely Bones and Extract.

There were some surprises along the way too. Legion was far more fun than was expected (or should've been) and Shutter Island was far more disappointing than I thought. Amazing soundtrack aside, I saw the twist coming from the trailer. Not good. How to Train Your Dragon was far far better than Dreamworks' back catalogue had caused me to expect but they managed to resolve that hiccup with Shrek Forever After. The Killer Inside Me left me cold while Easy A threw me for a loop and put a huge smile on my face. Could be a future classic! For me anyway, I don't care about the "real world".

They don't care about me either
I mean, obviously there are some big boys to mention here. The Social Network pretty much scored top marks and is appearing in many best of 2010 lists. It's obvious why, there's not a huge need to go into it. It's just a very good film. Inception the same. I feel both of these films have had everything said about them so I can leave it here. The same goes for Toy Story 3 although I will say that I was weeping like a full grown baby behind those 3D glasses. That's the real reason that movie was in 3D because it certainly didn't do much for the film. Harry Potter 7a was a pleasant journey leaving me itching for the final chapter while TRON: Legacy tickled me far more than it appears to have done for most people. And of course A Nightmare on Elm Street taught us all how to hate again!

Oh and Resident Evil: Afterlife prompted me to run home and make this comic:

If you saw the movie it would make sense... possibly
But yes, finally for my top and bottom of 2010.

Starting with the bottom:

No it is NOT
 Odds are that a lot of you didn't see this film. Count yourselves lucky. Jesus fuck... where to begin. This film fell somewhere between trying to be a zany comedy and trying to be a parody of a zany comedy. Basically, whenever the atrocious setups and bad characters began to reach a point where you felt you had to leave the room, the film would give a sly wink and nod as if to say "don't worry... we know it's shit" only to not offer anything good to back it up with. As well as all that, it felt like a bad kids movie with lots of adult gags thrown in for no reason leaving it somewhere lost in between. Useless to anyone.

And my top film of 2010:

Hardly surprising really
I'm sorry if this was predictable but come on! I can't help what I like! And what was yooooouuur favourite then?! Inception?!?! Oh please, how ORIGINAL!! Ahem. Anyway, yeah I really dug this. Now, being a big fan of the comic and the director Edgar Wright I came to this a little biased. The comics really speak to me and I relate to them in a way I haven't experienced with anything before. The film doesn't have as much of that personal poignancy but it retains the strength, charm and wit of the source material. Yes, there are some weak points but I feel like this movie highlights a corner of culture untapped by cinema effectively until now. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was always going to be a movie for me so of course I loved it. But I don't think that diminishes my need to say so. Also it has an opening credit sequence that's transcendental. I enjoyed

Ok that's it. Watch the good ones. Avoid the shit ones.

Or don't, whatever.

Happy new thing.

14 September 2010

Explode with Kermode

Now I'm not normally one to stick something like this on the blog but I felt this was an exception as it's relevant and is about films and my comments on them:

In case you didn't spot it, at 1:36 Mark Kermode reads from my comment about the top and bottom 5 films of the year so far (this was mid August). From my post he picks out Four Lions and Ponyo. Both of which I liked a lot. I guess I'll talk about my list a little while I'm here.

My full top five were as follows:

5. Four Lions (review)
4. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (review)
3. Ponyo (review)
2. Toy Story 3 (review)
1. Inception (review)

My bottom five were:

5. Alice in Wonderland (review)
4. The Wolfman (review)
3. The A-Team (review)
2. A Nightmare on Elm St (review)
1. Zonad (review)

Oh and also:

The original Kermode thread I posted the lists on: The Year in Review
The new Kermode thread including my comment reading: The Year in Review Reviewed

Now as I said earlier that selection is a month old so it's not exactly what I'd pick now. It'd mostly be the same but I can be certain that if I picked it now, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would be in there somewhere as I really loved that.

 I guess I'll say a few things about all these movies and why I picked them.

Four Lions - I've been a big fan of Chris Morris for years. I think that everything he's done has a certain poignancy and truth to it and Four Lions may be the strongest example of this. I was really moved by the characters and how it was nothing but a few mates simply getting in way over their heads. As I imagine the majority of people in their situation are.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Terrible title aside, this really surprised me. When I first heard about this remake/reimagining/removie and then saw the trailer I had no idea what to think. On the one hand it looked like some sort of Wicker Man remake type disaster, on the other it seemed like it might be deliriously fascinating. Fortunately the latter was true. This is what I get for doubting Herzog.

You can trust me

Ponyo - It took me a while to go see this one but when I finally did I was captivated. I haven't seen many of Miyazaki's films but from what I've seen I've gathered that there's an honest simplicity to them. Ponyo felt very much like the characters were just allowed to behave and live comfortably and we just happened to be watching. It also has the distinction of being a Japanese anime film that's cute without being irritating.

Toy Story 3 - It's hard to believe it's been 15 years since I first saw Toy Story. It's had a profound effect on my over the years. Towards the end of this one I had tears literally streaming down my face. While I've often cried at moving moments in the cinema, nothing has ever hit me like Toy Story 3 did. What was running through my mind at the time was how these characters were a family who I felt a kinship with, seeing as they'd been there at key points in my life when I was growing up. Powerful stuff!

Inception - As Kermode puts it, Inception is proof that big budget massive blockbusters don't have to be dumb as nuts to succeed. Inception was dazzling and interesting. Any who claimed to be confused or lost by it were simply not paying attention and there is no excuse for that. If nothing else, seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a shifting gravity fight scene will always be a cinematic highlight for me.

Alice in Wonderland - For all the barking that this wasn't a remake, it was in fact an original story conceived as a sequel to the Lewis Caroll novels, no one seemed to notice that it was just a weak adaptation of Jabberwocky with the Wonderland characters thrown in for good measure. Far too long, far too over-designed, far too dull. Also, did anyone else burst out laughing when the Jabberwock opened its mouth and Christopher Lee's voice boomed out? Just me? Ok then.

The Wolfman - Half moody and serious costume psychological horror, half giant monster fighting b-movie. One look at the wolfman design and the film collapsed instantly.

The A-Team - Half the film I couldn't hear what anyone was saying, the other half I wished I couldn't hear it. Excrutiatingly bad dialogue, action and characters. A lovey dovey bit of rubbish shoved in for good measure. Utter crap really. Well, Sharlto Copley was pretty funny I have to admit.

The Nightmare on Elm St - Any sort of subtlety that existed in the original is thrown straight out the window and we spend the whole film building up a long boring backstory only to have it shattered at the end. Useless. I guarantee there'll be a sequel though... and another... and another...

Zonad - Everyone involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

So yeah, that's a thing. I felt I had to make a mention of this as I can promise you this blog wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for me listening to Kermode's unique take on cinema for a few weeks. He serves as an inspiration for this blog and for that I salute him. If you don't follow his show (I usually download the podcast) or his blog I highly recommend it. Oh, and I should probably get round to reading his book.

02 September 2010

The D Stands for Dickhead

James Cameron likes his films.

Who'd have thought these things'd be so controversial?

Hello all. It's been a while since I waffled. I feel bad about it. I apologise to the 6 (on a good day) of you who read this. You guys are great.

Anywho, I've been musing over doing a waffle about 3D in film for a while but haven't really felt the urge to really go for it until now. This is sparked by hearing the comments by some Canadian guy named J.F. Cameroon or something. I don't know who he is, I think he's up and coming. Either way, he was shooting his mouth about the recent film Piranha 3D (here's what I thought), saying that it "is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3D horror films from the 70s and 80s."*
Dammit James!

Now, it's clear that this is mostly just mean spirited and frankly rude. James Canton, a producer on Piranha 3D has responded by saying that "His comments are ridiculous, self-serving and insulting to those of us who are not caught up in serving his ego and his rhetoric".

There are many things to be said here. Clearly James F. Cameron (the F stands for Fuckin'... at least... that's what he wants you to think) is taking a shot at the idea of using 3D as silly fun rather than something more artistic. The problem here of course is that he's ignoring the building blocks that allowed him to reach the point he's at now. If it weren't for the 3D of the 70s and 80s, would he have thought to pursue the technology to create what he wanted to create in Avatar?

Not only that, but was the 3D in Avatar all about creating an immersive environment to help pull the audience into the world and become more engaged in the emotion? Is that why the dialogue was so bad? Was none of Avatar intented to be fun, popcorn entertainment? The big robot at the end, was that artistic expression or was that adrenaline pumping action?

This one represents my father

The big problem here is that Cameron has been mislabeled as a master storyteller so has now started to believe this himself, despite his stories almost always being terrible or at the very best based on old reliable formulas. Do people return to Terminator 2: Judgement Day for the (hamfisted) emotional ending where Arnold Schwarzenegger gives the thumbs up? Or do they return for the scene where Robert Patrick chases a motorbike with a giant truck? Do we remember the relationship between John Connor and his mother? Or the really cool bit where the T-1000 gets shot in the face?  There is no doubt that James Cameron is a spectacle based filmmaker. If he has a problem with rollercoaster 3D then why did he make T2 3-D: Battle Across Time? Yeah that's right, the one that essentially IS a rollercoaster! (The only place to see it is a theme park.) I saw it James... and the story was shit. Even by your standard!

This part always makes me cry

I hear you all saying "What about Titanic eh? That was more emotion and story based!" Now, that's a fair point and one worth raising. There's no doubt that what people remember about Titanic is the love story between Jack & Rose and not the action shots of the ship sinking. I'd be happy to let that slide if it weren't for this. That's right, he's converting Titanic to 3D. Seems the spectacle is taking hold again.

There are cases to be made for 3D. For example, Mark Kermode has recently said of Toy Story 3 that he forgot he was watching a 3D film but was unsure if this meant the 3D was effective or just that the story was engaging enough. Either way, I felt the same and I felt that the 3D certainly didn't remove me from the film. The same cannot be said about Avatar. A goal of any film should be to cause the viewer to become so immersed in it that they forget that they're watching a film and think only of what's happening on screen. Now of course it's a rare film that does this fully but when a film's effects make you stop and think very strongly that you are watching a film I think that this is a failing. In Avatar, when flakes of ash fall down around the characters and they appear to be very close to your face, do you feel like you are there in the scene with them, or do you think "ooh, wow it looks like it's very close to my face"? For me it's certainly the latter. That's one of the more pleasant examples, I won't go into how often I went crosseyed and got a headache, further removing me from the film.

Oh no does Neytiri still love Sully???

Another mistake made with 3D films these days is the attempt to have actions lunging towards the audience. Like an arm reaching out or a car tyre bouncing towards the camera. I have never seen this done successfully and here's my theory why: When you're watching this happen, you're eye can see that there's a big frame around the action and cops on to what's happening, ruining the illusion. I imagine in an Imax setting these actions are far more effective but it's still a failing of any film screened outside of an Imax theatre. 3D on regular cinema screens is far more effective when it's used to add background depth rather than foreground reach. Avatar is full of this.

Another point raised by Canton in his response is how Cameron is ignoring genre cinema as an important area of filmmaking. He says "Shame on you for thinking that genre movies and the real maestros like Roger Corman and his collaborators are any less auteur or impactful in the history of cinema than you." He goes on to say that "Not everyone has the advantage of having endless amounts of money to play in their sandbox". Yes, I absolutely agree. I'm far more impressed by Roger Corman types who can work and find creative ways of working with a small amount of money, making something from nothing than someone who needs to make the most expensive film ever made (twice) to get his vision across. You'd think with the amount of money spent on Avatar he could have afforded to hire a better scriptwriter than himself. As well as all that, some of the best cinematographers in the world started off in low budget genre cinema. Some examples include Wally Pfister (Inception), Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) and Mauro Fiore (Avatar).

Ok now make her boobs explode

Cinematographers are of course not the only people who get their early starts in genre cinema. There are many directors who started there too. Some examples would include David Cronenberg, Peter Jackson and of course... James Cameron. Now, I've held off mentioning this because he did bring it up in the original interview and Canton mentioned it too but it can't go unsaid that James Cameron directed the sequel to the original Piranha, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. Now he says he was fired off of working on it after a few days and I believe him. I can understand why he'd have bad feelings towards it and he doesn't consider it as part of his official filmography but it can't be denied that his name is on it. Seems more like Cameron has a grudge against the Piranha franchise rather than having a problem with the new film's utilisation of 3D. Doesn't stop what he said from being rude and assholey though.

In the end I think the problem here is that Cameron seems to see himself as above it all and as an artistic soulful fimmaker when in reality he is more on the popcorn entertainment scale of things. Clearly he has a problem with being labeled as this but if that's the case, maybe he shouldn't make those kinds of films. It's not like he has problems getting a budget together. Really I have 3 words of advice for Cameron. If he abides by this simple phrase I think he can take steps towards making more interesting films and saying less callous comments about other filmmakers: James... get over yourself.

* Cheapens the medium eh? Kind of like how Aliens cheapened Alien? Cough.

Cameron source
Canton source

18 May 2010


Adaptation is tricky business!

That's not what I meant... but that's pretty tricky too

I don't know about you but I'm very excited about the upcoming Scott Pilgrim adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There are a number of reasons for this.

First and foremost I'm a fan of the original comic. For those who don't know Scott Pilgrim is a series of (currently 5, soon to be 6) books written by Bryan Lee O'Malley. They feature a Canadian twenty-something who, in order to date the girl of his dreams (literally), must fight her seven evil exes. It's great! Read it tomorrow!

Secondly, I'm a big fan of the film's director: Edgar Wright. Who's previous films are Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and also directed the sitcom Spaced among others. All of which are excellent, not just in terms of humour either. They're brilliantly put together.


Thirdly and lastly, it appears from the trailer that the film has been faithfully adapted from the source material. Take a look for yourself actually:

Looks well good eh? Anyway, this got me thinking about adaptation, the various successful examples and the numerous unsuccessful examples. Some aren't faithful enough. Some are too faithful. Some are downright insane. I want to  waffle about it so listen up.

You're an idiot

Now I'm not against adaptation. Hey some of my favourite films are adaptations! (See what I did there?) But neither am I always for it. I think one issue I have with the whole thing is that Hollywood seems to think that film is the be all and end all medium. That everything needs "A Film" made from it in order for it to be a thing. This I don't agree with and I doubt any right thinking person does. There are many things that just do not work as films. What's worse is, along the way, filmmakers seem to admit that the project they're working on doesn't work in the cinematic medium, yet they press on. Example you say? Oh alright then!

Back in 1995 someone made a Judge Dredd film. Again, for those not hooked up to the cool information machine like me, Judge Dredd is an English comic character who lives in a dystopian future America and is a crazy strict cop. Well that's the basic description, anyway he's really cool and the Americans wanted to make a movie (despite it being a British creation, but hey). They made a thing with Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider (Oscar bait) and it was abysmal. Shocking!

Derp De Der

Now there were many reasons for this film being terrible, the inclusion of Deuce Bigalow notwithstanding. One thing stood out though: Judge Dredd takes his helmet off. Now this may seem like a small thing but it is representative of the entire approach of the film towards faithfully delivering the message and atmosphere of the source comic. These people did not get it. There are a million things you can change, adjust, remove, invent in every piece of work that's being adapted. Most of which won't be a problem but there are fundamental things that must stay, this is one of them. I've read a certain amount about the making of this particular film (this book) and the filmmakers seemed to believe quite early on in the process that there was no way they could keep Dredd's helmet on for the entire duration of the film as without the eyes, an audience cannot properly emotionally connect or relate to a film character. Ok, fair point... why are you making the film then? It seems like they immediately admitted that this character does not work in the cinematic medium, yet seem insistant on forcing him into it. (Incidentally, I disagree completely and feel an interesting and visually arresting film could definitely be made without removing Dredd's helmet. His character rarely arcs anyway which is usually left to any of the numerous characters around him who remove their helmets regularly.)

Fuck yeah, I'd go see it!

Now Judge Dredd is just a prime example of something that happens a lot in the adaptation process. Someone with a fleeting interest in the source material who can't see the forest for the large box office gross gets their hands on the project and starts missing the point. I've already talked about Tim Burton's Batman films suffering from this. Of course the whole box office fixated executive is such a bizarre thing because if you look at the various celebrations and bastardizations of different works, the celebrations tend to win out, box office wise. Judge Dredd was a flop to say the least and while Burton's Batman films were hugely successful they ain't got nothing on The Dark Knight.

We got a lot in common bro

While we're at this poor example malarky, let's mention something that's likely to make anyone sensitive to poor adaptations buckle at the knees: Video Games. There are absolutely 0 examples of good films that have been adapted from video games. Don't believe me? Go ahead name one. I'll wait... hmm?... anything?... Resident Evil? Fuck off!... yeah I didn't think so! This I don't fully understand because a video game is something that's not as sensitive as a book or a comic. Video games aren't usually as nailed down with their canon or even their stories, it should be very easy to strip down a video game's universe to the bare necessities and build from there. I think what the problem may be is that the reason you think your favourite video game would make a great movie is because it's emulating the style and atmosphere of about ten movies that have already been made. Usually with pride, such as the Metal Gear Solid series and their clear love for James Bond and Kurt Russell. And it's really awful for any genre to have the Super Mario Bros. movie as their cultural milestone, the one that began it all. Have you ever actually sat down and watched that thing? I mean really watched it? It's insane.

Seriously, this happens

But it's not all bad! And it's not all comics and video games! (Or as my ex-girlfriend called them "gay nerd shit you're an asshole") Let me tell you a brief story:

When I was 16 I found myself in Nantes, France for six weeks. Being alone in that land and not exactly being a whiz at French I spent a lot of time reading. Most of my material was given to me before I left by my parents. One particular book was called The Children of Men by P.D. James. I enjoyed it, it was a strong idea but was flawed by a weak ending that didn't really go anywhere. But I always remembered it. A number of years later I'm sitting in the cinema waiting for some movie or other to begin (I don't remember which) and a trailer starts rolling with Clive Owen on a train. His voice over mentions something about "ever since people stopped having children" and I jumped in my seat. "I know that story!" I exclaimed and I watched the trailer, interested. It was clear from the trailer that some artistic liberties had been taken for this adaptation and the whole atmosphere had been given an overhaul. Nevertheless, the initial strong idea remained. Not long after Children of Men (apparently the "The" in the title was problematic) was released and I went to see it and I was blown away. Dudes and dudettes, that is one great movie.


I realise that a lot of people didn't like it and if you happen to be one of those people, I'm sorry but, you're wrong. Yes that's what I said, your opinion is wrong. But anyway, the point is that while Children of Men wasn't faithful to the source material, it was still good. In fact, it was an improvement on the original. So it's not pure faithfulness I'm arguing for.

For more proof in the pudding (or something) let's jump back to comics! Watchmen to be more specific. There's a lot to be said about that whole thing and I won't bore you with the details because they're all over the place and it gets very into the nitty gritty and such and boo. What I will say is, one of the main flaws of the film adaptation of Watchmen (and there are many) is the fact that it spends far too much time insisting that it's faithful. So much effort is put into recreating the comic visually that they forgot to make sure it works as a film. By the way, it doesn't.

Also this was awkward...

This brings me back to something I touched upon earlier when talking about Judge Dredd. Why do Hollywood filmmakers insist that films be made of everything popular? There seems to be some assumption that film is the ultimate and definitive medium and all other works aspire to reach that level. If something is perfectly good in its own medium and doesn't work as a film, why force it into working? I'm all for adjustment and nurturing an idea but sometimes it just becomes ridiculous.

What it comes down to is that usually the big picture is more important than the details. By all means adapt. Adapt away! But do it because the work inspires something great, not because it's purely bankable. As I said before, as much as 'The Rules' are brandished as a business model, the films that stick to the truth of the source generally tend to win out financially anyway. Even if they stray from the beaten path. Try and stay faithful to the work but only when it serves the message/atmosphere/idea, don't do it just for the sake of doing so. And most importantly, keep Michael Bay the hell away from it.

How about
Shia LaBeouf as Leopold Bloom?

25 March 2010

We Need to Talk About Timothy

Let's take a look at the film-making career of Tim Burton shall we?

I'd rather we didn't

This is the first in a series of waffles dedicated to the career of an individual director who I'd like to talk about. The focus will be on their directed features rather than any television, short films or producing work they may or may not have done.

So I thought I'd talk about the ups and downs of Tim Burton and the films he has made. This particular bit of waffle will focus mostly on his work as a feature director rather than his production work. Partially because it's the rules, and partially because The Nightmare Before Christmas is the best thing he's put his name to bar none and to compare his other work to it is a silly exercise so we won't.
Let's move on yes?

This guy likes it too

To begin...

Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)

Now, I have to admit I didn't see this until very recently. Well, not entirely. I saw a chunk of it when I was younger but never really got around to sitting down and watching the full film so I finally did it. And guess what, I loved it!

Oh stawp

Pee Wee's Big Adventure by all accounts should not work. Or at least, should not have such wide appeal. It's very rare that a manchild character (especially one as giggly, energetic and gurning as Pee Wee) is not irritating and annoying to the core. Pee Wee manages to be fun and hilarious and silly in a completely enjoyable way. I don't know what the formula is but Burton and Reubens (Pee Wee) cracked it with this movie.

Thumbs up for Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

Beetle Juice (1988)

Funny, IMDB seems to insist this is called "Beetle Juice" but I've always thought it was "Beetlejuice". I usually tend to trust IMDB with stuff like this so I took a look at the cover:


Ok...hmm... well then. Still, I'll stick with IMDB on this. It's usually best to trust it as an authority.
Anyway, yes! I think this might actually be my favourite of Burton's works. Aside of course for the aforementioned Nighmare Before Christmas. I watched the animated series a lot when I was a kid. (I notice IMDB has gone with "Beetlejuice" for that! Hmmm.) This was the early 90s though, when everything seemed to have an animated series based on it. I really liked that show as a kid. I haven't seen it lately, I wonder if it holds up. Anyway, I was aware that there was a film version and one day the TV started advertising that it would be on. So of course we taped it and I watched it endless times.

I really like Beetle Juice! (That still looks wrong to me.) The signature Burton spooooky German expressionist influenced design feels very natural here. It's actually tied to the plot quite well. The atmosphere and music compliment each other perfectly, far more successfully than any of his other films I think, except perhaps Batman. And of course Michael Keaton is on fire as the title character. It's rare that a zaaany eccentric character like this makes a film as much as the producers would like to think. But here it really works. He's funny, hypnotic, intriguing and sinister. Completely lovable without ever losing his status as the villain. That isn't to say the film would survive without the rest of the cast. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are brilliant as the innocent leads. Winona Ryder gives a great mopey performance. Glenn Shaddix is hilarious, Jeffrey Jones is a great as the suffering husband and Catherine O'Hara is BRILLIANTLY obnoxious. This is a great cast!

Oh, and let's not forget...


Thumbs up for Beetle Juice.

Batman (1989)

Let me start with a metaphor:

If I take this image of Batman...
...and then lighten it...
...and then decide to darken it again...
...it is not the same image I started with.

This is how I see Tim Burton's version of Batman.
Hey, look. When I was young I did like it. I actually saw Batman Returns first believe it or not. Videos and TV and the like. I watched this film many times. But I've grown up now, and I've learned plenty since.

Looking at it now, I like a lot of the imagery. I like the music, I like some of the design. I think Jack Nicholson did a really good job and I quite like Michael Keaton's performance too. But guess what. It ain't Batman. I'm sorry, but it's not. You can argue preference, success, enjoyment etc. until your face turns blue. But if you tell me that is Batman up there you're wrong. There is one big reason for this. Batman doesn't kill people. Burton's Batman does. You could argue that I'm being picky here. That I'm not jumping on the difference of design from comic book to screen. I'm not against the origin stories changing, or the fact that the Joker's past is clearly defined. But I really think my problem is a fair one. I consider it to be a fundamental aspect of the character. When he's boiled down, this is what he's about. As fundamental as Superman flying or Spider-Man climbing walls. If you're not including them then why make the film?

For me it comes down to arrogance. It feels that Burton has not followed the two Rs of comic book adaptation: Research & Respect. (Yes I just made those up.) He seems to have followed some Rs of his own: Rudeness & Relentless getting Batman wrong. To me, it appears that Burton was never a reader of the comics. Which is fine, but upon being given the film to direct he made no effort to research and get to the bottom of the character and instead relied on his own experience which was the 60s Adam West TV series. Rather than exploring the darkness of the original source material, he opted to darken the lightened image from the TV show. No research of the character and no respect for the fans.

If you could fit a few
puns in here that'd be great

Thumbs down for Batman.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

The one that started his relationship with Johnny Depp. A good start it was! Edward Scissorhands is top stuff. Frankenstein meets suburban America meets Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari. A lot of Burton's work meets The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari though.

I think he likes this movie

While Edward Scissorhands does feature Tim Burton's story telling flaws. In that, he has trouble holding a story together. Think about it for a second. His films tend to be quite fragmented and don't have a strong story arc to them. Some of them flourish in this environment and some of them die. Edward Scissorhands doesn't flourish as much as some of his other work, but it certainly holds up.

Despite story problems, I really love this. The painted skies and pastel colours work really well against the inky black context of Edward. Depp's broken innocent performance is heartbreaking and again, everyone here is bringing their A game. I particularly like Dianne West as Peg and Vincent Price's brief part. The scene of his death and the ending of the film are both truly beautiful. Really great.

I was in it too

Thumbs up for Edward Scissorhands.

Batman Returns (1992)

Let me start with a metaphor:

If I take this image of Batman...
...and then lighten it...
...and then decide to darken it again...
...it is not the same image I started with.

Well, this may be the first Tim Burton film I ever saw. Possibly... who knows, I can't actually remember for sure. It's definitely one of the first. I borrowed the tape from my cousin and I liked it back then and there's elements I like now. It still contains (and magnifies) the big problem I have with his first Batman film. It's not Batman. You might say I'm being too harsh with this but really I don't think I am. Anyway, this movie is a weird one I think. I probably prefer it to the first one. Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman is very good and very close to the character. I like Danny DeVito's Penguin despite him being horrifying and twisted beyond belief. Most bizarre really is probably the inclusion of Christopher Walken playing a character named after this guy:

Wait... are you telling me
Tim Burton is a fan of
German Expressionist film?!

Now I like Christopher Walken a lot (who doesn't!?) but I find his character in this film a little bizarre. Mostly because his costume and hair are so unbelievably ridiculous he's impossible to take seriously as a scary villain.

I'll eat your fucking children

And this brings me to my main issue with this film. Burton's German expressionist film influences are far too overstated here. It's dizzying to watch. Also the whole penguin crap makes no bloody sense. There are things I like and things I don't. And also Batman jokes about killing people. Not cool.

Thumbs shaky for Batman Returns.

Ed Wood (1994)

Edward Woodenhands

Edward D. Wood Jr. Affectionately called the worst filmmaker of all time. His most famous work is the science-fiction horror Plan 9 from Outer Space. A classic in awful ridiculously bad cinema. But charming nonetheless.

Burton's tribute to his legacy is great. While it provides giggles (it's hard not to laugh at some of the crazy notions Wood had) it never looks down on its central character and depicts him as a character of pure optimism. Johnny Depp returns and does a good job as the strange man but the real star here is Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. Some of Landau's scenes are genuinely moving and the film acts as a loving tribute to a true horror legend who was cast aside when Hollywood had no more use for him.

Bela Lugosi's Dead

Also Bill Murray's always a good idea.

Thumbs up for Ed Wood.

Mars Attacks! (1996)

Burton's love of Plan 9 from Outer Space is clearly influencing the design of this film. The Martian spaceships and gadgets are heavy with inspiration from 1950s and 1960s science-fiction. I find that people often don't like this film. Not really sure why. Sure it's got Burton's classic story problems. After the Martians arrive, the story stops. But hey, there's a lot to like. The Martians themselves are hilarious, as is Jack Nicholson. I love Michael J. Fox and Annette Bening and the fact that they're eventually destroyed by horrible country crooning is just the right amount of silly. Yes!

I had nothing to do with it

Interesting trivia. I read somewhere once. I can't guarantee it's true but I still like it. Supposedly the original plan for Mars Attacks! was to give it a Christmas release and this is why all the human skeletons are either green or red when they're killed. Adds a festive touch don't you think?

Thumbs up for Mars Attacks!

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

I saw this thing years ago and to be perfectly honest. I barely remember it. It's hard for me to tell you if it's good or not because of how little memory I have of it. Maybe the fact that I have such difficulty remembering anything says something about its entertainment value.

The main thing I remember is that Christopher Walken didn't look scary at all in the flashback sequences when he had a head. Christopher Walken is scary on his own. When he's done up to look like a monster that scariness is diminished. He just comes out looking silly.

I'll eat your fucking children

Thumbs uncertain for Sleepy Hollow.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

Or as I like to call it "Planet of the Terrible Fucking Film"
Seriously, I hate this. As far as I'm concerned this is Burton's worst film. I saw this before I saw the original film so no claim can be made that while watching it I was forever comparing it to the superior classic. I just felt the ball was dropped on every level. So much of this makes literally no sense. The story and characters are a complete mess, the dialogue is laughable and the ending is a supreme moment of pushing a mystery too far.

I found it offensive

Speaking of the ending actually, this video should be watched. I obviously don't think Burton stole the ending but it gives a good insight into his arrogance and foolishness (especially when it comes to Batman.) Watch:

Eh? Eh!?
But yeah, while I do like Mark Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter I do think they sucked in this. The only person not dropping the ball is probably Tim Roth but even still it's so badly written it doesn't make a difference. As well as all this, I think the amount of work put into teaching the actors move like real apes worked in detriment to the final piece as a lot of the characters just seem silly the way they move. It doesn't work. Maybe this time Burton did too much research. Who knows.

The worst part though, by a long shot, is the inclusion of this asshole:

Dammit Chuck!

Charlton Heston has a brief cameo in this film. Now, I'm not against giving him a cameo per se but it turned out to be one of the most offensive things in it. He plays the Tim Roth's old dying father whom Roth approaches for advice. What does Ol' Chuck suggest? Oh, take this amazing super tool that is brilliantly powerful and fantastic and will help you win:

It's a gun

This is wonderful considering at the time of filming, Charlton Heston was the president of the National Rifle Association of America.

Apparently so

Thanks Chuck. Thanks a bunch. I'm glad you're dead.

Thumbs down down down for Planet of the Apes.

Big Fish (2003)

More entertaining than this thing,
believe it or not!

First time I saw Big Fish was for an essay on utopia in college. I knew a little bit about the film and knew it had certain utopian themes so I gave it a rent. My essay was terrible but the film was great! I really like Ewan McGregor and the visuals were strangely reminiscent of Pee Wee's Big Adventure. This is a good thing.

What you get here is a prime example of Tim Burton using his weaknesses as well as his strengths well. His story telling problems are catered for by structuring the film in such a way that it doesn't matter and, in fact, helps the film breathe.

I honestly don't have a whole lot to say on this one except that I really like it and consider it an exception to my general view that Tim Burton's later work is not as interesting as his earlier work.

Thumbs up for Big Fish.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

As we're getting closer to the end I'm finding I have less and less to say. partially because I don't think these later films resonate nearly as much as the earlier ones, and as well as that I have far fewer personal stories to go with them. I went to the cinema. Wahey!!

And then I got popcorn!!!

Which brings me to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Earlier I said I don't remember Sleepy Hollow well. With Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I do remember most of it, it just doesn't interest me much. This film is very unremarkable. Oh look there's the Oompa Loompas. There's the bit with the blueberry. Oh he fell in the chocolate river I remember that. It's just a film that begs the question of its own existance. The book and the original adaptation are so much more exciting and interesting to experience, this just sits as a sub-par version of both.

Part of the problem is that Burton's design elements are too unwieldy. It makes sense that Wonka's factory is full of wonder and fantastical rooms and crazy goings on. So when the outside world is all quirky and bizarre and strange, Wonka's factory just feels like more of the same. Why are the characters so taken aback by it? Their lives are like this all the time.

Oh great, another
Oompa Loompa song

I both like and dislike Depp in this one. I see what he's doing but it gets old pretty fast I must say. Also there's the huge plothole of his teeth. If he ran away from hom when he was a small boy because he hated his father's dentistry then how come his teeth are so perfectly veneered? Surely he'd have avoided dentists since? Eh? Think about it!

Thumbs down for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Corpse Bride (2005)

So yeah I remember this one coming out and all. There was some buzz about it due to it being animated and as previously mentioned, The Nightmare Before Christmas is the best thing he's ever done. The difference is though, he didn't directe The Nightmare Before Christmas, and he was directing Corpse Bride... I guess that difference matters.

I don't think it matters

Now, I did enjoy it to some degree. There's some fun to be enjoyed and Richard E. Grant is perfectly pompous as the villain. The problem here is the charm seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. Yeah the animation is incredibly adept (apart from the running, I mean, man) but that's not enough. A rough edge goes a long way and the edges of this are smoothed to a fault. Not only that but the story is all over the place. A complete mess! At the end of the day I think the mark was admirable but was still missed.
Thumbs down for Corpse Bride.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

This one took me a while to see. When it came out all the advertising just made it seem so Tim Burton by numbers. You have your kooky haired lead (played by Johnny Depp). You have Helena Bonham Carter playing a spooky lady and you have darkness and fancy design. Bob Byrne once wrote a comic talking about how much he hates when pop-punk bands cover classic songs as the whole process is redundant. If you think to yourself "Green Day covering House of the Rising Sun" you automatically hear it in your head. You don't need them to make it, you know how it sounds. A friend of mine who saw Sweeney Todd before me used that comic to describe it. "Just think to yourself 'Tim Burton directing Sweeney Todd' and you know what it's like." So I watched it. And he was right.

That isn't to say it's a wholly bad thing. It's just, predictable. The only real surprise for me was Sacha Baron Cohen's performance as the rival barber. But only because he was far more comical and bizarre than I thought he would be. I expected Sacha Baron Cohen to defy expectations... but he didn't. It was unexpected.

Have you ever seen
Ali G Indahouse?

It holds together though and I wouldn't put it as a black mark on his career. Just not a particularly interesting mark.

Thumbs sideways for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

And finally we come to Tim Burton's adaptation remake reimagining version of Alice in Wonderland. This one I saw on the day of release and there was (and still is) a lot of buzz in the air (and on the sides of buses) about it. So of course I rushed to see it.

The only word to describe Burton's Alice in Wonderland is underwhelming. I found it overdesigned and lacking a necessary substance. It felt to me to be a showreel for costume designers and visual effects artists. But allow me to explain some other issues I had...

The biggest one is the title. If you've watched the film you'll know that the narrative takes place after the time of the original story. Whether it's referring to the book or original Disney film as canon is unexplained, but also unimportant. The film is essentially and adaptation of the poem Jabberwocky re-appropriated as a sequel to Alice in Wonderland. So, with that in mind, why is it called Alice in Wonderland?! It almost implies that the intent is to replace the original story and/or film and if that is the case it's just plain offensive. A different title is needed. Thanks.

The other small issue I had was toward the end when Alice prepares to face the mighty Jabberwocky (incorrectly named I might add) he flies towards her in a big scary way, ready for the epic battle that the entire film has been leading up to. And then... he speaks!? With Christopher Lee's voice...? This completely jarred me in the cinema, I burst out laughing because it felt completely out of place for the creature to suddenly show such clear consciousness and intelligence. Why is he fighting her physically? From the way he speaks it seems like he'd destroy her in chess. Ill-advised I must say. Although not as ill-advised as the dance the Mad Hatter performs right afterwards. What was that? That jarred me further.

But hey it's not all bad. The cast I quite liked, apart from Crispin Glover's poor English accent. I really like him but that accent was dire. All the voice cast were great especially Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat. In particular I liked Alice. I've been a fan of Mia Wasikowska ever since her role in the first season of In Treatment. She was darn good. I really liked her performance as Alice. She gave it just the right amount of distance to keep us intrigued but was engaging enough to keep our trust. Brillo.

But that's not enough to save it. All in all I felt the film never really justified itself to me.

Thumbs mostly down for Alice in Wonderland.

That's the last guy who
dissed him on the internet

So that's all the films he's already made. But what about the future. There's talk of a film called Dark Shadows, an adaptation of the gothic soap opera of the same name. There's also been mention of a feature length animated adaptation of his short film Frankenweenie that has been circulating for years. I began writing this believing that Burton was planning to make a new film of The Addams Family but these rumours have since been proven false. So never mind all that.

You can put those away

What needs to be said though is, when you look at this overview, Burton is clearly far stronger when working on either original screenplays or working with something that's not as well known/liked/loved. I don't think it's simply a case of the inevitable comparisons that arise when a remake or adaptation of a classic occurs. I truly feel Burton's skills have lacked at these projects. I look forward to Dark Shadows because it is his first film in a while that the audience isn't expected to have a certain amount of knowledge about the source material. I'm also interested in Frankenweenie but that could be just because I have a soft spot for animation (could be something to do with having a degree in it, I don't know.) It also helps when he's not so damn arrogant.

Burton, I haven't written you off completely yet... but be careful alright?