Where To Start With... Tim Burton
Ask somebody to describe one of Tim Burton's films and there are a number of adjectives you're almost certain to hear in response - 'dark', 'gothic', 'Johnny Depp' – ok that last one isn't an adjective, but the point we're trying to make is that few directors have such a visibly identifiable style as the one normally associated with the man from Burbank, California.
Getting his big break with 1988's Beetlejuice, Burton has directed some of the most stunning and imaginative films we've seen over the last 25 years or so, but where many of his films take place in spooky fictional settings, his latest offering, Big Eyes, is something a little different.
Set in the 1950s and based on the true story of American artist Margaret Keane, Big Eyes stars Amy Adams as the titular artist alongside the brilliant Christoph Waltz as her driven but deceitful husband Walter. The film charts her unlikely rise to success thanks to both her distinctive painting style and some clever – if ruthless - marketing by her husband.
When Walter meets Margaret and discovers her obvious talent, they fall in love and he offers to help the artist sell her work, something he is better equipped to do given his knowledge of the art dealing world. However, Walter tells her that nobody will want to buy art buy a female artist and that it will be worth more if they let people think the paintings are his. She agrees on the basis that he sells every single painting she creates, but the artist soon begins to realise that Walter has more selfish reasons for wanting to take the credit for her work.
Given the real-world setting it's no surprise that Big Eyes doesn't quite look the way you might imagine one of Tim Burton's films would, but it does still retain a very Burton-esque feel thanks to the lighting, sets and particularly some of the subtle costume and make-up choices. The story however is exactly the type of real-life tale that Burton would pick up on and there's no doubting his passion for the subject and his desire to shine a light on one of the most under-appreciated artists in modern times. Thanks to some fantastic performances from Waltz and Adams – earning the latter a Golden Globe for her efforts – Big Eyes really brings to life this account of Keane's fight for recognition.
The new film arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray next week (April 20th) and you can watch the trailer below, in the meantime though we've picked five of our favourite films from the mind of Tim Burton...
Big Eyes Official Trailer #1
Throughout Burton's career, the one thing besides the visual appearance of his films that he is always associated with is his habit of finding an actor he likes and sticking with them. Johnny Depp and Burton's former wife Helena Bonham-Carter are probably the two most memorable examples of this, each having worked on several of Burton's productions, but before they came along there was Michael Keaton.
Enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment thanks to his brilliant, Oscar-nominated performance in Birdman, Keaton's partnership with the director began with this weird and wonderful film from 1988.
Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin star alongside Keaton as the recently deceased couple who find that their afterlife is being ruined by some new and highly obnoxious owners moving into their beloved home. Enter 'Betelgeuse', a 'bio-exorcist' who offers to get rid of the unwanted inhabitants, but at a price. Keaton delivers a properly unhinged performance as the manic Betelgeuse and the world was introduced to Burton's terrifying imagination.
It's probably not an exaggeration to say that Tim Burton basically reinvented the superhero genre with his 1989 reimagining of DC Comics' famous caped crusader. Doing away with the camp, lycra-clad Batman that Adam West made so popular in the 1960s, Burton's incarnation brings back the sinister atmosphere to Gotham City that was so prevalent in the comic books and influenced a generation of superhero flicks in the process. Michael Keaton brings some comedy to this dark atmosphere to balance the mood, but throw in an iconic score by Danny Elfman and we're talking 'all-time classic' material. Still one of his best.
Although it's not one of Burton's biggest hitters in terms of box office success, this love letter to the man often described as the worst film director of all time is great fun to watch. Johnny Depp stars as the man in question and the film follows the lovable but ultimately inept Wood on a journey through a highly unsuccessful Hollywood career, typified by his ill-fated attempts to cast horror movie legend Bela Lugosi in one of his films. If you've never had the pleasure of watching Ed Wood's films, such as the so-bad-it's-brilliant Plan 9 From Outer Space, this is a perfect and lovingly assembled introduction to his life and work.
This quirky stop-motion animation from 2005 saw Burton collaborating with animator Mike Johnson (James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas) to produce this strangely beautiful film. Featuring voice acting from usual suspects Depp and Bonham-Carter, the film follows a young man who inadvertently winds up married to a dead woman after practising his wedding vows over her nearby grave.
It's probably one of the most off-beat things Tim Burton has done, but it's huge fun to watch and if you enjoyed films like The Nightmare Before Christmas you should really add this charming film to your to-do list.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
It seems a little odd now, but when it was announced that Johnny Depp would be playing the lead in this musical adaptation about Fleet Street's most notorious resident (with the exception of Rupert Murdoch), people were unsure. “Can he sing?” they said. “Has Tim Burton lost it?” they said. Thankfully, Depp nails it and the result is one of the funniest, most unique and, it has to be said, best looking musicals we've seen on the big screen in a long time.
As good as Johnny Depp is in this film, he is completely upstaged by an even better Helena Bonham Carter in the role of Mrs. Lovett – purveyor, you will remember, of the 'worst pies in London' – or at least they are until she stumbles on her macabre new recipe. There's love, there's injustice, there's regret and there's redemption, but there are also some brilliant show tunes and plenty of belly laughs to this oddball musical. Highly recommended.