ED WOOD (1994) 

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Johnny Depp
Martin Landau
Sarah Jessica Parker
Patricia Arquette
Jeffrey Jones
Bill Murray
Vincent D'Onofrio
Max Casella
Juliet Landau
Lisa Marie

Tim Burton



Time: 127 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy

Won Academy Awards for Best Makeup and Best Supporting Actor (Landau).

I never got around to seeing this movie in the theater mainly because it fairly disappeared soon after its' release. I can now understand why. It's certainly well-acted and funny in parts, but overall, it's a little too strange for words. The main thing Ed Wood had going for him was his passion for movies, which this film conveys fairly well. Unfortunately, Burton casts him too much on the weirdo side, which makes him extremely hard to relate to. Are you happy that he's making movies, even bad ones, fulfilling his life's dream? Yes, but that doesn't mean I want to spend 2 hours reliving his sad and unfulfilled life. Which is the film's main problem. Burton finds Wood fascinating and I'm sure believes he's a hero for going after his dreams. I don't think the audience agreed with his accessment.

I love the fact that he shot the film in black and white, which really gives the story a 50s horror movie kind of look and feel. It certainly sets the tone of the film as a classic Hollywood piece. Color would have given the film a modern air and made the sets and costumes look more tacky and unbelievable. The fact that Burton got the studio to let him shoot the film this way, speaks volumes about his power in the business. I think the reason he's still making movies is because he brings a unique visual and storytelling style to all of his movies. Some are more successful than others, but you always know which ones are his. Most of Burton's films star a naive outsider who just wants to fit in and be successful in their lives. ED WOOD is no different.

After EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, Ed Wood is definitely next in the unusual hero line. There must be something that greatly appeals to Johnny Depp about Burton's characters as he's been his leading man 3 times. In this incarnation, he places all vanity aside to play the cross-dressing director obsessed with movie-making and angora sweaters. Not much happens in Wood's career until he accidently meets horror film star Bela Lugosi (Landau). Wood is beside himself with joy at being able to talk to such a talented man. Lugosi, at the end of his life in the throes of a heroin addiction, hasn't made a real friend in years and is thrilled to meet a young director who appreciates him and his cinematic gifts. Especially since everyone thinks he's dead.

"Eddie, we're in show biz. It's all about razzle-dazzle. Appearences. If you look good, and you talk well, people will swallow anything."

They form an unusual partnership, that deepens into a bond of true friendship. Wood has big plans for Lugosi. He's going to get his career back on track. Unfortunately, the only one excited to see Lugosi on the big screen again is Wood. He convinces a small time distributor to let him direct a piece about a confused transvestite called GLEN OR GLENDA. Lugosi has a small role, as does Wood's girlfriend, Dolores (Parker), who finds out about her lover's secret life when he walks onto the set in full drag. At least she knows what's been happing to all her sweaters. Unable to deal with Wood and his obsessions, Dolores leaves the small troupe of actors and crew. Despite the outright failure of GLEN OR GLENDA, Wood and his ragtag group of disciples continue to try to find success in Hollywood. He refuses to rest until Bela is again a star, drumming up money from the most unlikely places and writing the best stories he knows how. Things never go smoothly, but Bela shows up whenever Ed asks because at least he's still working. No matter how silly or strange, he plays his parts professionally. It's the least he can do for such a good friend, even if he has absolutely no talent.

When Bela's health takes a turn for the worst, Wood stands by his side. While visiting Lugosi, Wood meets the girl of his dreams, Kathy O'Hara (Arquette). She becomes his biggest supporter, no matter whether he's in pumps or pants. In the end, Wood's name does become famous within the industry, just not exactly the way he planned. Depp and Landau are wonderful together and are the main reason this film is at all watchable. Depp brings so much honest enthusiasm to the role of this filmmaking underdog that you can't help but want him to succeed. The fact that he knows nothing about real filmmaking is both immensely funny and horribly sad. Landau won an Oscar for this role and it's easy to see why. Despite his frailties, Lugosi never loses his dignity. The film might have been better if he'd had more screen time. It loses its basis in reality when he's not there. The rest of the cast does a good job with what they're given, but no one really stands out of the pack. Murray as Bunny Breckenridge does have his moments, but he's not in the film enough to make a huge impact.

There's not much of a plot, which causes the film to drag a bit towards the middle. Wood just keeps plugging away without much success, which starts to become depressing towards the end. The friendship is the main thrust and once Lugosi is gone, the film loses momentum and peeters out. As a study about the intricacies and difficulties of actually getting a story onto celluloid, ED WOOD isn't bad. Unfortunately, it doesn't have enough of a cohesive story to be really great. If you like the actors involved and are a fan of Burton's off-center sensibility, you will probably enjoy this film. Otherwise, I'd stay away or watch one of his more conventional films like BATMAN RETURNS or SLEEPY HOLLOW. ED WOOD definitely is not a film for everyone.

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