Tag Archives: roald dahl

Strange Characters: The Cinematic Pairings of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp

Photo taken from MTV.com – all rights reserved to same – click through to read an interview with Tim Burton

Photo taken from MTV.com – all rights reserved to same – click through to read an interview with Tim Burton

In anticipation of Tim Burton’s Big Eyes coming out on Christmas Day, I’ve been having my own Burton retrospective and recently watched Edward Scissorhands for the umpteenth time.  With this film, Burton found a kindred spirit in Johnny Depp that has survived over two decades and has resulted in some of Burton’s best-known films. While he isn’t in Big Eyes, Depp has starred in eight of Burton’s seventeen films. That is, when he isn’t busy making drunken appearances at awards shows or getting fossils named after him.

Below is my much mulled-over ranking of those eight Burton/Depp cinematic pairings.

8. Dark Shadows (2012)

This film had the potential to be a hit.  On paper, a film about a dysfunctional family with a vampire patriarch is right in Burton’s wheelhouse. And besides, he and Depp both had a fondness for the soap opera from which the movie was based.   Sadly, that passion is never present on-screen.  While Burton has previously struck a wonderful balance with macabre humor and black comedy, he falters and stumbles here.  Perhaps it was the audience’s vampire fatigue or the overwhelming presence of the juggernaut known as The Avengers, but the film only grossed just over half of its production budget.  This film, along with the next one, really made me question whether or not Burton and Depp’s artistic relationship had grown stagnant.

7. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The movie that grossed over a billion dollars worldwide also has a 51% rating on Rotten Tomatoes so make of that what you will.  One would think that it would be a visual treat, but it’s apparent the actors are acting against a green screen for most of the film. The backgrounds look flat and lifeless and that’s exactly how I’d summarize the entire film—flat and lifeless.  It’s truly saying something when the scenes that take place before Alice falls down the rabbit hole look more vibrant than the scenes in Wonderland Underland.

Giving a plot to a story that famously had no plot could have worked, but Linda Woolverton concocted the most generic chosen-one-must-fulfill-a-prophecy-and-vanquish-evil plot imaginable.  It was doubly disappointing for me because longtime musical collaborator Danny Elfman’s score was one of the best he’s done in recent years.  I listened to the score before I saw the movie and it conjured up images of fantastical epics.  Sadly, the only thing fantastic about the movie is that someone thought it would be a good idea to commit this to film.

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

I remember freaking out when that trailer came out and loved the movie when I saw it, but have since reassessed my opinion of it.  There’s nothing really technically wrong with it, nor is it a bad film; it’s just an unnecessary remake.  Then again, I don’t have an intense fondness tied to the original, despite Gene Wilder’s wonderful turn as the eccentric chocolate maker.  Still, this interpretation is closer to Roald Dahl‘s book and I actually prefer Elfman’s songs to the ones written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse.  Wilder’s interpretation was, and still is, iconic, so it was important for Depp to do something completely different in the role.  And, sure enough, he did.  I always felt that it was unfair that Depp’s performance was compared to Michael Jackson.  If you’ll recall, Michael Jackson loved kids.  Willy Wonka hated them and turned them into candy.  Get your facts right, Internet.

What are the top five Burton/Depp movies? Click through to find out!

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Celebrate Good Times!

This week is National Library Week! 

Here are some reasons to celebrate. 8 Reasons to Hang Out at a Library. 9 Reasons Why Librarians are Awesome.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is celebrating library books that change lives. Visit our website and tell your story. Here is mine!

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The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

MistsofAvalonI knew the tales of Camelot and King Arthur when I was a kid. They didn’t appeal to me then and they didn’t appeal to me as a young adult. I was a feminist before I knew it and all of the tales were dominated by men, which did not interest me. All the chicks in the traditional tales are either dimwits (Gwenhwyfar) or evil, ball-busting witches (Morgan le Fay). None of them have any personality or power; they are boring one-dimensional stereotypes. The Mists of Avalon tells the tales of Camelot from a woman’s point of view. And what women they were! Morgaine (Morgan le Fay) isn’t an evil sorceress, she’s misunderstood and wants to be loved! But her aunt Morgause sure is a jerk. Gwenhwyfar has a three-way! Igraine was a secret bad-ass who fell in love with a not-so-secret bad-ass and produced Arthur! Lancelet isn’t so gallant. King Arthur is wonderful, but sometimes spoiled and petulant. If you’re a reader like me, you’ll also appreciate the boatload of prequels and sequels.

James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl

JamesWhen I first considered what books changed me, this is the first book I went to. I don’t necessarily relate to James: I’m not an orphan, no mean aunts abused me and unfortunately, no one has ever given me a sack of magical, glowing-green, crocodile tongues. What James and the Giant Peach did do was make me realize the potential for storytelling and fiction and OMG books are amazing. This is the first “chapter” book I was exposed to, thanks to my third grade teacher (shout out to Mrs. Cypher nee Garrett.) This is also the book I chose to read from for the library’s 24 Hour Read Aloud.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

CountOh, Edmund Dantes, how could Mercedes give up on you? Thanks to a very good friend (looking at you, DWR) I was more or less forced to read this book. There was some cajoling involved (“C’mon, you’ll love it. Honest!”) All I knew about Dumas was The Three Musketeers movie- which, no.  Again, being contrary means saying sorry because I loved- devoured- this book. It introduced me to a new genre (ADVENTURE!). I moved on from The Count of Monte Cristo to the rest of Dumas and then to books about pirates and prison breaks. The biography about Alexandre Dumas’ father (the son of an African slave and French nobleman) called The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss shows that many of Dumas’ characters were inspired by his own pops.

The Bachman Books, Stephen King

BachmanYou know the movie The Running Man? It came from this book of short stories. And it’s the worst story of the four! The other three stories, Rage, The Long Walk, and Road Work would all be amazing movies. I was probably too young to read this, but whatever. This book inspired me in two ways. First of all, as a budding writer, it introduced me to the idea of short stories. I mean, I was 11 and wanted to write a novel. There’s not much to go on at that age. But a short story? Oh yes, that could be done! Second, it was the first time I was ever emotionally invested in a character. I loved Peter McVries (The Long Walk) and his scar and his sub-conscious death wish (which honestly was just a preview of coming attractions for me).

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

AtlasAny time I mention enjoying Rand books, I immediately get flamed for being an egoist, an elitist, or a Republican. I’m none of those things. Not too many elitists work for the public library (I’m just saying). Like any book, you should take what you want/need from it. I didn’t swallow her philosophy whole, but you know what? She had some smart things to say about the nature of happiness and joy, and valuing yourself. I’m not going to push an old lady into the street and I donate to charity, but there is something to be said for being aware of your worth. Self-confidence is sexy, yo. It’s also simply a good story, especially if you like heavy industry, politics, and trains. And for readers that object to Objectivism (see what I did there?) as a philosophy, read this awesomeness.

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

WarDuring my final semester as an undergrad, I took 19th Century Russian Masterpieces (I was there a long time, it was slim pickins’ at that point). The reading list was intense. Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky), Chekhov plays, Dead Souls (Gogol), Pushkin, and of course, the granddaddy of Russian novels, War and Peace. I was dreading it. I was intimidated by it. The name alone hurt my stomach. But since I wanted to graduate from college before I was 50, I sucked it up and opened it. Oh. My. Word. Four days later, I finished it, crying. It’s the Russian Gone with the Wind and don’t let anyone tell you different. Go Team Andrei!

I could write about a ton more books that have made a difference in my life. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything taught me how to make a perfect hamburger and boil an egg. I have a line from a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem tattooed on me, so I’ll include him, too.

What books made a difference in your life?

happy reading!

suzy

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April 18, 2014 · 5:00 am

Scar(r)ed for Life

Image from Labyrinth from the site: labyrinthfilm.com

There are few modern horror movies that I find truly frightening—sure, a few have made me jump now and then, but most don’t stick with me once I’ve left the theater. Rather than rehash a list of spooky movies for the Halloween season, I’ve decided instead to focus on that most sinister of genres: the children’s movie. If you grew up in the 1980s as I did, then you may also have endured some of the bizarre and frightening children’s movies that were made in that era, often involving creepy puppets. Come with me now, on a journey through time and space…

The Neverending Story

Bastian Bux finds a storybook about a magical world called Fantasia, and soon realizes he’s the only one who can save its inhabitants from a cruel fate. What could be scarier than a flying dragon, a killer wolf-beast, and a swamp of sadness? Why, nothing of course! Even creepier than the actual creatures in this world is the realization that their biggest threat is something called The Nothingness, proving there’s nothing more frightening that existential dread.

Labyrinth

A young Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) must rescue her baby brother after he is kidnapped by the Goblin King (aka David Bowie!) Sarah is led through a horrifying labyrinth full of sinister goblins, the Bog of Eternal Stench, and a gang of creatures who try to remove her head. Plus, David Bowie wears tights, and it’s kind of inappropriate.

Return to Oz

Did anyone else accidentally watch this movie as a kid? Although I can’t completely remember the plot, I do recall: little Dorothy is in a mental institution where she’s scheduled for electroshock therapy, creatures named “Wheelers” have roller skate wheels for feet, there’s a man with a pumpkin for a head, and an evil witch keeps people’s heads in cases so that she can switch her own noggin out anytime she wants. Who thought this was a good idea for a children’s movie?

The Dark Crystal

From the mind of Jim Henson, this is the story of a race of grotesque birdlike lizards called the Skeksis. A prophecy tells of a Gelfling (a small elfin thing) who will destroy their evil empire, so in their reign of terror they commit genocide and have the entire Gelfling race exterminated. The orphaned Jen embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of the Dark Crystal (which gives the Skeksis their power) and restore the balance of the universe. Some characters die. Kind of heavy stuff for a little kid.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Although not technically released in the 1980s, Willy Wonka was on TV a lot when I was a kid, and I thought it was pretty great. As the story goes, our hero Charlie wins a magic ticket to tour the candy factory of the great (and somewhat sinister) Mr. Wonka. The film is based on a Roald Dahl book, and so it is a bit of a morality tale: good kids are rewarded, and bad kids are severely punished (or turned into giant blueberries). As Charlie tours the factory with a gang of other lucky winners, the kids are picked off one-by-one until Charlie is the last kid standing and inherits the Wonka fortune. Along the way there are trippy boat rides and oompa loompas. The remake is also creepy, but doesn’t hold a candle to the insane original.

Of course, traumatic children’s movies are not exclusive to the 1980s, as I’ve neglected to mention the ultimate trifecta of depressing animal films: Old Yeller The Yearling, and of course, Bambi

Lest you fear that strange children’s movies are an American thing, here’s proof that Australians also like to traumatize their children with creepy movies:

What about you? What movies do you remember from your childhood?
-Tara

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