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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: Pick Six- The Essential Tim Burton


Pick Six- The Essential Tim Burton

Good morning, HAL. Ries here, checking in to tackle a Pick Six on this beautiful Saturday morning. Nick and I were talking last night about what could be a fun Pick Six for me to try and type up, and we decided that it was long past due that I tackled a director who incurs my wrath (and admiration) in about 50% of all my film-talks. In an effort to really challenge myself, I'm gonna go ahead and do a Pick Six of my Favorite Tim Burton Films.

I myself have always had a love-hate relationship with the man's work, and was pretty excited to actually devote some time to picking out my favorites of his films. On a more personal note, this will be my first time publishing here on the Katz as myself. It's a momentous occasion. Here's to hoping I don't set a pixel-fire that burns down the site in one heinously written post.

And now, as Hannibal Lecter once said - "Okie dokie. Here we go."

Nick recently recently wrote a review on the strange (mostly shrouded in childhood myth) film Batman. It's not a very good movie. Neither is Batman Returns, the film's sequel. However, it warrants a place on my list because it is one of my favorites. Childhood films have a horrible knack of falling in quality when we revisit them in later years. This is a perfect example of that. Batman Returns inspired me (like I imagine it inspired a lot of dark-imagined children) at an age when Batman was not the best hero, he was the only hero. As a child, I didn't find the bizarre humor off-putting at all, and was instead delighted and terrified by DeVito's Penguin. Actually, the scene where Penguin dies coughing up (ink?) black fluids has got to be one of the top 10 Most Traumatizing Scenes from my younger years. That's right, kids. The Death of the Penguin, the Fall of Shadow (Homeward Bound) and the death of Mufasa (The Lion King) on the same list. Only...I still can't watch the death of Mufasa. Or the Fall of Shadow, for that matter.

Moving on, before I think about it and weep.

Favorite Quote: "The heat's getting to me. I'll murder you momentarily." - The Penguin

I enjoyed Planet of the Apes. I didn't think it was necessarily as good or unforgettable as the original film, of course (You blew it up!) but I did like it. I thought it was interesting to see Tim Burton handle such a large budget and a genre utterly unlike what we've come to expect from him. He did the Sci-Fi turn well, I thought, and his work with makeup here was really something great. Though the film has more than a few flaws, it earned a place on my list for its action, its tone and its awesome fight scenes. It also paved the way for that infinitely better film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

The soundtrack is great too - and Tim Roth is genuinely threatening in a monkey costume. The late Michael Clarke Duncan is wonderful, as always, and whenever I see a movie with him in it I get a little sad that he's no longer with us. But he was a gentle giant, capable of terrifying us with his size and inspiring us with his genuine character. When you can exude likability as a giant warchief ape, you know you're a complete and total bad*ss.

Favorite Quote: "BOW YOUR HEADS!" - Attar

FOUR: Ed Wood

Ed Wood is a film dedicated to film. Movies like this make me happy, mostly because they offer a real insight into the mind of the director in question. We see through this film at least a glimmer of how Burton's mind works. We see through his perception an portrayal of infamous director Ed Wood what Burton admires most in a fellow filmmaker. Johnny Depp's performance is unforgettable and refreshing. It's nice to see him act in a role that isn't down the "Mad Hatter" route.

I love movies about movie magic. Ed Wood is a great homage to Hollywood while being honest about the hardships a lot of filmmakers face when trying to survive there. One story-line in particular (involving morphine addictions and rehab) provides a real-life-spooky undertone to the film. It sounds odd to say this film is inspiring, but it is - in a backwards way. Plan 9 From Outer Space is widely considered the worst film ever made, and watching it come into existence is a hilarious and somewhat motivating experience.

The best part of Ed Wood is the characters that surround the titular character. The acting that went into portraying this eccentric, fantastic, lovable and at times hilarious cast of characters is spot on. I had fun seeing this movie, but a lot of times I found my attention wandering. That's the sole reason this film didn't break into my top 3 on this list - but it's a close fourth. (Also - the black and white noir feel works so well here it's scary.)

In the end, Ed Wood is not so much a tribute to a man as it is a tribute to an idea and to an era of films that we long for. We miss Hollywood at its most outrageous and bizarre - we miss the dogged determination of men like Ed Wood, who clawed their way into infamy with the conviction that what they were doing was important. The film is one of Burton's most visually "simple" and is definitely worth a look.

Favorite Quote: "Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your time making someone else's dreams?" - Orson Welles

THREE: Sweeney Todd

It was hard to decide between Sweeney Todd and Big Fish, but I guess I'll cop out and say these two share a pedestal in my mind. I put Big Fish as number two because it has a beautiful message and leaves me feeling hopeful about life when I finish watching it. Sweeney Todd is sort of like Big Fish's dark brother. It's an unforgettable film adaptation of the character first presented in The String of Pearls, a Victorian penny dreadful from the 1800's and later made accessible by Steven Sondheim's bloody wonderful musical.

Sweeney Todd leaves me feeling crushed. It leaves me slightly queasy (in fact, I once watched this film with a fellow who had to lie down after the film) greasy and horrified. The film is uneasy, the blood is absurd enough to allow for a sense of disconnect yet real enough to make me distinctly uncomfortable. The death scenes are brutal and hard to watch, yet we cannot look away. The film is beautifully filmed, the musical numbers adapted almost perfectly. I heard complaints about Johnny Depp's singing, which I found passable at worst, and Helena Bonham Carter is wonderful here as always.

Whatever violence lurks just behind most Burton films is splayed out in spectacular fashion here and bleeds from a slashed jugular all over the screen. There's something wildly disconcerting about seeing someone sing a beautiful song while cutting someone's throat. While I was staying in Boston one summer, I had the fantastic misfortune of having a straight edge shave scheduled an hour or two after I saw this film (best move ever on my part, right?). As you can imagine, that was a fun experience.

Favorite Quote: " 'Don't I know you?' she said . . . " - Sweeney Todd

TWO: Big Fish

Movies like Big Fish are the reason I can't find it in my heart to forgive Tim Burton. I say forgive because Big Fish (as well as Sweeney Todd and Edward Scissorhands) are physical proof that the man can create films that are truly and utterly spectacular. Based loosely on a collection of short stories by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish is not only one of my top 3 Tim Burton Films, it's probably also on my top 15 films of all time. This is a film that highlights everything I wish Tim Burton would do more often. It's a movie that is strange, it's bizarre, it's weird, and it's absolutely magical.

There's a sense of delicate wonder in a film like Big Fish, not to mention a real story with real characters facing real problems. This isn't to say that I don't like silly films. This is to say that somehow in this flick, Burton navigated the waters between the absurd and the gritty with a flawless sense of purpose. Big Fish feels less like a masquerade of make-up and silly acting and more like memories of childhood make-believe brought alive on the screen.

The darkness that flits around in most of Burton's films is apparent here, as is the comedy. What moves me most about Big Fish, however, is the emotional side of the story. This film was made with an at times overwhelming sense of love. The love of parents, of story, the love of courageous people who harbor the defiant belief that imagination can preserve and protect us - these messages are what make Big Fish such a powerful film. Two scenes in particular replay in my head long after the flick is over - one involving sheets on a clothesline and the other involving a congregation at a river. It's the kind of film I simply can't watch with a dry eye or leave uninspired by.

Favorite Quote: "Everybody's there, and I mean everybody. And the strange thing is, there's not a sad face to be found. Everyone's just so happy to see you." - Will Bloom

At long last, we arrive.

The essential Tim Burton wouldn't be complete without the most essential of his films. Edward Scissorhands earns the top spot on this hack-dash list by being the most fantastic blend of Big Fish, Sweeney Todd and even showing signs of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The result is Tim Burton's best film, one that I could easily devote pages to its praises. Heart breaking, funny, magical and mysterious, Edward Scissorhands is a fairy tale brought to life and empowered by a nervy undercurrent of suburban horror. The movie brushes with adult themes (the quasi-rape scene, anyone?) and asks unpleasant questions about unpleasant people.

Johnny Depp is at his top form here, his Edward the best thing this side the Caribbean. His character is tender, loving, loyal and frightened, like a lamb with knives for fingers. The film's soundtrack by Danny Elfman is also worth mentioning, as it puts forward Ice Dance, arguably one of the most haunting themes in any film anywhere. I first came across Edward Scissorhands very late - I was a freshman in college, on a movie marathon that lasted for...well, weeks on end. I remember when I finished watching the film, I went outside and watched the snow fall for a few minutes.

It's not a perfect movie, but it's my favorite of the Tim Burton's. If you haven't seen it, do. If you have, perhaps the day is just right for another reviewing.

Favorite Quote: "I can't." - Edward


Here are a couple flicks that Burton was involved in that didn't make the list.

Sleepy Hollow - A fun movie. Not great, but fun. It's incredibly violent (at times, disturbing) and yet never takes itself too seriously. I wish there were more movies with this style of horror; the Sleepy Hollowesque American legends need more screen time, but only done if well. I wish someone would adopt this story into film in better fashion, but this was a fun way to waste a couple of hours.

The Nightmare Before Christmas - One of my favorite Christmas/Halloween movies. Probably the quintessential holiday movie, one that my kids will definitely be raised on. Unfortunately, Tim Burton didn't direct this film. Phooey.

James and the Giant Peach - Another childhood favorite. A wonderful film, but again, not directed by Burton.

The Fox and the Hound - Double take. Wait - Tim Burton was involved in this flick? Why yes, yes he was. (Mind. Blown.)

Vincent - Were this only a feature length film. Available online, and very brief, it's definitely worth a peek.

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At October 6, 2012 at 2:48 PM , Blogger Nick said...

Interesting list, buddy.

My six would have to be Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Ed Wood (Burton's best film on a technical standpoint), Peewee's Big Adventure, and Batman Returns.

At October 6, 2012 at 8:56 PM , Blogger Richard Kirkham said...

1. Ed Wood
2. Big Fish
3. Edward Scissorhands
4. Sleepy Hollow
5. Pee Wees Big Adventure
6. Sweeny Todd

Any list that has the Burton Planet of the Apes listed among the best of anything is highly suspect. The only thing it had that made it worth seeing once, was a brief uncredited cameo by Charlton Heston.

At the bottom of the list , right after the Apes Reimagining, would be the 3-D ugly Alice in Wonderland.

I like the visuals of his movies but the aesthetic is so repetitive at times that the material gets swallowed. Sleepy Hollow was entertaining as hell and it had real horror elements to it as well as a bucket of funny. Why all the love for Batman Returns? It was all over the place, overlong, started the trend of too many villains spoil the pot(or plot), and put Danny DeVito biting fish heads and noses into the story for comic relief.

Ed Wood was really his best straight film. The weirdos were real and by not having to invent them, his movie had so much more tangible heart to it. Martin Landau and Johnny Depp were perfect together.

At October 7, 2012 at 3:26 AM , Blogger Ries said...

I agree that Burton's films do feel quite repetitive. Sometimes I wonder what I'm actually seeing. When it comes to films like Planet of the Apes and Batman Returns, they're just favorites. Movies that hold a place in my heart...unaffected by their quality. That's the fun thing about favorites lists - they can't be suspect. ;)

At October 8, 2012 at 9:26 AM , Blogger Jess said...

I haven't seen Ed Wood unfortunately but I would have to put Beetlejuice on my list! That film is Burton's style at its best although I agree Edward Scissorhands is his best film overall.

At October 8, 2012 at 10:44 AM , Blogger Nick said...

You need to see Ed Wood!!!

At October 9, 2012 at 4:53 PM , Blogger Ries said...

Beetlejuice was great! Perhaps if I re-watched it, it might have fought its way aboard...maybe I will. :)

At October 17, 2012 at 10:27 AM , Blogger Jess said...

I actually have seen Ed Wood playing on one of the premium cable channels recently so I'll have to check it out soon!

At October 17, 2012 at 10:28 AM , Blogger Nick said...

Highly recommend it!

At November 8, 2012 at 12:03 AM , Blogger TheVern said...

I would put BeetleJuice instead of Planet of The Apes remake. That did not look like a Tim Burton Flick at all

At November 8, 2012 at 6:50 PM , Blogger Ries said...

There's a lot of love for Beetlejuice. I need to re-watch it, I think...


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