Tim Burton

Vincent 65
[ A 7 year old daydreams about being Vincent Price, alone and tormented in a mansion full of spider and bats. The narration in rhyme (by Price himself) instantly calls to mind the original “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” cartoon, but this early Burton short still possesses much of his unique style. The amusingly macabre stop-motion animation is like a demo for “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. ]

Frankenweenie 62
[ A suburban Frankenstein homage (not unlike “Edward Scissorhands”) with a touch of “Lassie”, this is further proof that Burton found his voice right away, balancing heartfelt sentimentality with offbeat humor and gothic atmosphere. ]

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure 27
[ This was the overgrown hyperactive kid’s jump from TV to the big screen, and it was a hoot… emphasis on WAS. I don’t know if it’s the movie that has aged badly or if it’s me, but I’m no longer finding Paul Reubens’ schtick funny. In fact, the dude can get pretty darn obnoxious! As for Burton, his presence behind the camera can barely be felt amongst all the hysterical silliness. I guess one could enjoy this – hey, I did myself at some point – but it left me bored and slightly annoyed. ]

Beetlejuice 76
[ Now we’re talking! This is as silly and hysterical as “Pee-Wee”, but it’s also dark and twisted and funny, too. Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin play a couple who are really protective of their home – even after they die! With the help of a sleazy ghoul played with delirious glee by Michael Keaton and plenty of amusingly gruesome special effects, they will try to scare away new house owners Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder. This is the rare movie that leaves you wanting more: more bizarre make-up jobs, more bump-in-the-night Danny Elfman music, more gothic chic production design, more Harry Belafonte “possessed” sing-alongs and a LOT more of Keaton’s demented performance. ]

Batman 24
[ I never liked “Batman”. Never, not even when I was a kid. Sure, the Danny Elfman score is perfect and the art direction is pretty good… But we don’t really get under the Dark Knight’s skin, there’s no drive to the narrative, it’s just “boo-hoo, they killed my parents, I’m so pissed…” and then nothing. Michael Keaton looks constipated, Kim Basinger does nothing but be blonde and bland, then you’ve got an annoying loser reporter and Billy Dee Williams talking politics (???). There’s a lot of wandering around, a lot of standing and “meaningfully” looking off into the distance… There’s not a single action scene that gets the adrenaline pumped up, it’s just a couple of kicks and punches and gunshots. You never feel the rage that must push Batman to go out every night and beat up criminals, he’s just this dull rich guy. And then there’s the ugly all-black rubber-muscles costume, the inexplicable use of Prince songs and Jack Nicholson’s unbearable performance. Nicholson totally takes over the movie, hamming it up like there’s no tomorrow… Which is okay I guess, considering he’s playing an insane clown killer, but this is supposed to be “Batman”, not “Joker”! Give me any of the Marvel flicks over this any day. ]

Edward Scissorhands 93
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Batman Returns 68
[ Almost right away, you just know this is gonna be a lot better than the first film. You recognise the great score and art direction, but the winter/Christmas motif enlivens the dark atmosphere and you feel that Burton is more confident with the material. The Bruce Wayne character is still barely sketched, but Michael Keaton is more imposing in the part and while Danny DeVito can be as obnoxious as the Penguin as Nicholson was as the Joker, Michelle Pfeiffer is incredible sexy badass fun as Catwoman and Christopher Walken is his usual oddball self. This is still not on the level of most of the Marvel movies, but it might be the best DC adaptation yet. ]

Ed Wood 94
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Mars Attacks! 65
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Sleepy Hollow 58
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Planet of the Apes 65
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Big Fish 72
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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 60
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Corpse Bride 46
[ Here’s another stop-motion extravaganza from Burton, following in the footsteps of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” which, contrary to popular belief, he didn’t actually direct – Henry Selick did. Maybe that’s why this new flick, co-credited to some Mike Johnson dude, isn’t as exhilarating. That, or the fact that it revolves around an arranged wedding and the rehearsal of vows and other boring stuff, or that the protagonist is a bumbling nerd instead of a badass singing skeleton. It’s still a well crafted, moody little picture, but it comes short in laughs and wonder, the songs are forgettable and, well, it’s just not that good. ]

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 74
[ Aww, so close! This could have been Tim Burton’s third masterpiece (after “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood” which, not so coincidentally, also star Johnny Depp). In fact, in many ways, this is one of the purest doses of Burton ever delivered: fanciful art direction, stylish cinematography, dark and twisted motifs, an alienated protagonist who gets to express himself through his art (here, the art of shaving!)…

I loved it all but somehow, it left me wanting more. Maybe it’s the Stephen Sondheim source material that’s the problem. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like musicals (love em!), I just find this particular one to be a hit and miss affair. I’ve seen the 1982 Broadway version on DVD and I had even more problems with it, as I found the songs to sometimes lack melody and the story to be a bit thin. Barber gets everything stolen from him, returns under a new identity, gets his revenge (but at a price), the end. To fill it up, Sondheim added this whole romantic subplot about Todd’s long-lost daughter and a young sailor, but that felt like just that, filler. Thankfully, the film skims that part, keeps its focus on the Demon Barber most of the time and plays up the horror angle; Burton could have easily borrowed the title of PTA’s latest, There Will Be Blood!

So we got this rather simple revenge story, which is ultimately kind of a Grand Guignol Count of Monte-Cristo, and it works fine, lean and mean as it is but… Again, something’s missing and, again, I think the songs are it. I can vouch for My Friends and especially Epiphany (it’s been stuck in my head since I saw the film yesterday), but that’s about it. Maybe further viewings will make other numbers stand out, but so far most of the music kinda blends together in my mind, and some tunes downright bored me. But in spite of this, that sheer Burtonity really thrilled me, as did the performances by Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen. ]

Alice in Wonderland 70
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Dark Shadows 23
[ It starts out pretty rough, with nearly 10 minutes of dry exposition about how Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was turned into a vampire by witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) and locked into a coffin for some 200 years. Then in 1972, we follow a young woman (Bella Heathcote) who is to become the new governess of the Collins, now constituted of matriarch Elizabeth (Michell Pfeiffer), her teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his son David (Gulliver McGrath). Oh, and there’s a doctor lady living with them, because there needs to be a role for Helena Bonham Carter, I guess. When Barnabas is freed and returns to the family manor, he’s a bit of a fish out of water, which is played for laughs a little… But this is hardly a proper comedy. It’s rather dark, gothic, really, with touches of campiness, yes, but not enough for this to be anything close to a rowdy romp. In fact, I found it rather dull. It’s not funny, it’s not scary… It’s got a good cast, sure, but no one makes much of an impression (Eva Green comes the closest). It may just be the most pointless thing Burton has ever made. ]



The Coen brothers

Blood Simple. 87
[ More “straightforward” than most of the Coen’s subsequent films, there’s still a sardonic streak to their debut. Then there’s the virtuoso cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld, juicy dialogue and solid performances by Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, John Getz and M. Emmet Walsh. “Blood Simple.” is a shrewd, powerful noir thriller. Great use of The Four Tops’ It’s the same old song, too. ]

Raising Arizona
[ Possiblement les 10 meilleures premières minutes de l’histoire du cinéma : un bijou d’écriture, de réalisation et de montage, sans compter l’interprétation immédiatement irrésistible de Nicolas Cage et Holly Hunter, et la musique si enlevante de Carter Burwell. Pendant les quelques 80 minutes suivantes de cette comédie des frères Coen, le rythme demeure incroyable, avec une caméra hyperactive et des gags fusant de toute part. Hilarant, Raising Arizona est également aussi excitant que bien des films d’action, notamment lors des scènes avec le motard de l’apocalypse sorti tout droit d’un film de Mad Max! ]

Miller’s Crossing 43
[ Thick plot, thick dialogue, thick characters… There’s hardly any room left to breathe! Oh, the Coens mix in some deadpan humor, stylish shoot-outs and colorful supporting players (Polito, Turturro and Buscemi are great), but overall the film feels to me like a well designed toy that’s not actually all that fun. You want to enjoy it, but it’s like it won’t let you. ]

Barton Fink 86
[ While concocting the Byzantine plot of “Miller’s Crossing”, Joel and Ethan Coen hit a bad case of writer’s block, out of which came out “Barton Fink”. John Turturro stars in the title role of a New York playwright who dreams of “a new living theater OF and ABOUT and FOR the common man”, but ends up selling out to go work in Hollywood. Writer’s block engulfs him as his hotel room becomes his own personal hell, with John Goodman’s brutish salesman as the damned-next-door. Alternately a hilarious satire of the 1940s movie biz and a surreal character study, “Barton Fink” is one of the Coen’s most expertly crafted and engaging films. ]

The Hudsucker Proxy 87
[ That’s right. New York, 1958. A seemingly imbecile mailroom clerk is promoted to president of Hudsucker Industries by the board directors, who what the company stock to crash so they can buy it back and take over, but the plot thickens when their proxy’s crazy idea of a circle-shaped toy (“You know… For the kids!”) turns out to be a huge success! This is generally regarded as the Coen’s worst film, which makes no sense to me. How can you dislike such a delightful throwback to the cynical yet high-spirited screwball comedies of the ‘40s and ‘50s? Tim Robbins is irresistible as the innocent puppet-president, Paul Newman is a hoot as a scheming fat cat, Jennifer Jason Leigh does her best Katherine Hepburn and Bruce Campbell, Jon Polito, John Mahoney, Steve Buscemi, Peter Gallagher and even Anna Nicole Smith all make amusing appearances. Then there’s the endlessly witty screenplay by the Coens and Sam Raimi and the superb work by cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Carter Burwell, going for a retro feel but with a twist of Tim Burtonesque gothic. I love this movie! ]

Fargo 95
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The Big Lebowski
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O Brother Where Art Thou 39
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The Man Who Wasn’t There 71
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Intolerable Cruelty 61
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The Ladykillers 68
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Tuileries 65
[ The Coen’s contribution to “Paris, je t’aime” is further proof of their virtuoso visual sense and their perfect comic timing, with an hilarious silent performance from Steve Buscemi. ]

No Country for Old Men 77
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World Cinema 64
[ I’m not sure what to think of the Coen’s contribution to “Chacun son cinéma”… I mean, I definitely liked it, but I’m not sure why. You got Josh Brolin, still with the shitkicker hat and mustache from “No Country for Old Men”, going into this arthouse theater and having a chat with the clerk, and it’s amusing and alll… But at the end, you feel this bittersweet vibe that I can’t quite explain. Oh well. ]

Burn After Reading 87
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A Serious Man 86
[ Here’s yet further proof that the Coen brothers, like very few other filmmakers, can make just about anything interesting by their mere auteural touch. Which is not to say that every movie they make is great, but that even when they make what I feel is a lesser picture, even when I downright don’t like it, there’s still no denying the power of their voice and their style. Take this here “A Serious Man”: in other hands, this rather dull milieu (a Jewish community in the Midwestern suburbs circa 1967), these rather dull characters (a mild-mannered professor of physics, his socially inept brother, his unhappy soon-to-be-ex wife, his obnoxious teenage children, various rabbis, etc.) and this rather dull story (which can pretty much be summed up as: “God works in mysterious ways” or “shit happens”) could have been, well, dull. But the Coen’s sly sense of humor, the way they (and cinematographer Roger Deakins) have of framing things, their astute use of sound and music (Carter Burwell’s haunting score and Jefferson Airplane songs, notably) and the way they direct actors (Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Amy Landecker and others) to always be just a tad offbeat all add up to making everything in the film seem somewhat surreal. If this were a mere exercise in style, “A Serious Man” might have still felt like a wank, but what’s fascinating in this film is that one of its central themes just happens to be how through a slightly skewed persective, what usually seems ordinary and routine can suddenly fill one with wonder and awe. Well played, sirs. ]

True Grit 47
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Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis 84
[ Even though I’m a big fan of most of the Coen brothers’ filmography, I didn’t rush out to catch their latest. I saw the trailer plenty of times and it just didn’t attract me all that much. The story of a down-on-his-luck folk singer, it seemed a bit too low-key and depressing for my taste. And those desaturated colors? I don’t know, man. These days, it’s like I need more brightness and liveliness, both in my life and in my cinema. That being said, I was still curious to see it at some point and now that I have, I feel silly for not doing so sooner. “Inside Llewyn Davis” has many things going for it, notably a loose yet assured sense of storytelling, an awesome folk soundtrack and the Coen’s typically sly sense of humor. I also grew to greatly enjoy Oscar Isaac’s performance as the talented but unsuccessful titular character, who’s a bit of a loser and an asshole, among other flattering things. Early on, there’s not much of a plot going on, we just follow Davis as he couch surfs his way through life, somehow getting stuck with a cat, trying not to further anger a lady friend (Carey Mulligan), cutting a session with a buddy (Justin Timberlake)… Then at the halfway point, we’re suddenly thrown into a road movie of sorts, as Llewyn decides to take advantage of an offered ride to Chicago with the quiet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) and the loudmouthed Roland Turner (John Goodman). And then… Well, the film remains unpredictable until the end, it’s just this thing and that thing and this thing, the only constant thread being that almost nothing seems to work out for our poor Llewyn Davis. The Coen do find a clever way to wrap things around. ]

Hail, Caesar! 86
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]