Due to the extreme lack of films in 2008 that I would refer to as...good, I believe is the word, I thought I'd review a couple of classic films you might have missed. First up is "Ed Wood," Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's second, and best, pairing. I'm always amazed by how many Depp and Burton fans have missed the best movie either of them has made.
The second is "Charade," which paired the two biggest stars in movie history, Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.
Ed Wood- After his death in 1978, Edward D. Wood, Jr. was crowned the “worst director of all-time.” This hardly seems a fitting tribute to a man with imagination, ambition, and optimism until one remembers he had no talent to speak of. As bad as his movies are however, one cannot help but admire Wood. His love of film and his childlike innocence shine through “Glen or Glenda” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” widely considered his “masterpiece.” Wood’s work endures because unlike most bad movies, his are never boring. They’re completely awful yet absolutely mesmerizing. He also managed to influence generations of filmmakers, most notably Tim Burton.
It’s only fitting that Burton was the man to tell Wood’s story. Guided by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s wonderful script, Burton’s film has the structure of a standard biopic but the tone of a comic fantasy, aided in no small part by the beautiful black and white cinematography and Howard Shore’s musical score (my favorite ever).
“Ed Wood” opens in the early fifties when Ed (Johnny Depp) is a struggling playwright. Thanks to an unlikely friendship with screen legend Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), he’s able to convince film producer George Weiss (Mike Starr) to let him into the director’s chair. The resulting film was “Glen or Glenda,” a shamelessly autobiographical film about Ed’s love of angora and dressing in women’s clothes, something that his girlfriend, Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker) has a problem with. Still, Dolores stands by Ed to play the female lead in the movie.
Due to the complete disaster of “Glen or Glenda,” Ed must finance his next film himself. Through making “Bride of the Monster,”- probably the least incompetent of Wood’s movies- Ed assembles a crew of loyal friends who help bring his visions to life. They stay with him through “Plan 9,” “the ultimate Ed Wood movie.”
While watching “Ed Wood” you know deep down that events didn’t really unfold the way they’re presented in the film, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. Burton’s film is a loving ode to a man who probably really wasn’t the worst director of all-time. It is to the film’s credit that we stay on Ed’s side throughout. Depp (in his best performance) infuses Ed with wonder and optimism. No matter how bad his movies are, we wish him the best and hope that things will work out. Sadly for Ed, they never did, but the movie ends before his life really goes downhill.
Burton’s track record is not the most stable but when he’s good, he’s great. “Ed Wood” is the finest example of this. Landau deservedly won a 1994 Oscar for his work as the aging Lugosi. There are also great performances from Bill Murray and Jeffrey Jones in small roles. This is one of my favorite movies and one I enjoy watching regularly. For fans of Burton and Depp “Ed Wood” is essential.
Charade- It’s been called “the greatest Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made.” This is actually a great disservice to Stanley Donen’s 1963 film, as it’s a lot more fun than anything Hitchcock ever directed.
“Charade” opens with a dead man being tossed from a train which leads into the sort of colorful opening credits sequence films of the sixties are known for. We then meet Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn), an unhappy American living in Paris with plans to divorce her husband, Charles. Upon arriving home one afternoon she discovers everything is gone and as it turns out Charles was the man thrown from the train.
Much to Regina’s surprise Charles had several identities and had unsuspectingly left her in possession of $250,000 which belongs to the U.S. government. When she explains to CIA man Mr. Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) that she had no idea the money existed, nor does she have any idea where it could be, he tells her to look for it as she will be in grave danger until the cash is back in the government’s hands.
The men coming after her aren’t the least bit shy about threatening her life. Played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass each brings menace to their respective roles. Her greatest ally becomes a man who calls himself Peter Joshua (Cary Grant). But there may be more to Mr. Joshua than he’s letting on.
“Charade” is about as entertaining as a movie can be. It boasts a script by Peter Stone that genuinely keeps you guessing and that features some of the sharpest and funniest dialogue ever written. Director Stanley Donen (“Singin’ in the Rain”) keeps things moving along, trusting his actors to bring the film to life. It doesn’t hurt that Hepburn and Grant play the leads. As movie stars of any age go, you really couldn’t do any better. Regina is a character who’s completely vulnerable yet never loses her head and Hepburn plays it perfectly. Cary Grant meanwhile shows once more why he is still one of the most beloved stars in movie history. No actor before or since has shown a greater ability to instantly win an audience over simply by walking into frame. Soon after “Charade,” Grant retired from acting and film became poorer for it.
Young or old, for a fun night in with a movie you can’t top “Charade.”
Let's hope 2008 picks up, but if it doesn't I'll be back with a few more of these.