From Michael Keaton

Beetlejuice: The Afterlife and Raunchy Ghosts

Beetlejuice. 1988. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Michael McDowell & Warren Skaaren.
Starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Annie McEnroe, Glenn Shadix, Patrice Martinez, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Dick Cavett, and Susan Kellermann. The Geffen Company. PG. 92 minutes.
Comedy/Fantasy/Horror

★★★★1/2
beetlejuice-posterTim Burton doesn’t always appeal to everyone. His style, as far as I’m concerned, makes him an auteur. Even in his less cartoony, gothic-styled films, there is always an ever present sense of Burton and his unflinching vision of the stories he tells. Most of his movies I do enjoy, though, some I’m not huge on. Either way I can’t help deny my major love for a few of his movies.
One such title is the 1988 fantasy, quasi-horror, full-on comedy Beetlejuice, which later toned down into the 1989-1991 cartoon series of the same name. This is one strange piece of work, at the same time it’s amazingly near perfect in other ways. With a refreshingly innovative take on the afterlife, hauntings, the “life” of ghosts on the other side and tons of fun Burton-like imagery and makeup effects, this is one hell of a fun film. Beetlejuice has a bit of everything: death, suicide, laughs, calypso music and dancing, and Micheal Keaton.
beetlejuice-beetlejuice-the-movie-30941820-1920-1080After a tragic car accident, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin/Geena Davis) find themselves back at their house… only a little removed from reality. They find a book in their attic – The Handbook for the Recently Deceased – and then eventually discover a way into the waiting room of the afterlife, where a case worker named Juno (Sylvia Sidney) explains they’ve died and are contracted to remain in their old home for many, many years. Tasked with scaring out the new owners – Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones/Catherine O’Hara) along with their young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) – Adam and Barbara eventually come across an unethical ghost named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) who would much rather kill the new owners than just scare them out. And once Betelgeuse sets his sight on Lydia to be his wife, the newly deceased couple have to decide whether they’re ready to give up their home, or give up the life of an innocent young girl.
tumblr_npbu2xlhfu1uq538fo9_1280So much to enjoy about this slice of Burton work.
One of my favourite sequences of the film happens early on when Adam (Baldwin) and Barbara (Davis) try to scare the new owners, before they’re initiated into the world of being dead. First, Barbara hangs herself in the closet, then rips the skin off her skull when Otho (Shadix) and Delia Deetz (O’Hara) look inside, yet to no avail. Then, Barbara stands – knife in hand – with Adam’s bloody, decapitated head in the other, trying to look sinister. Nothing works! But the kicker is when Adam tries to run up and lock the attic door, with no head, and he’s banging into things, bumping every object nearby. Riot, love it. Awesome few scenes here, especially in terms of makeup effects and horror imagery; the skin off skull bit is nasty and cool.
The waiting room scene is another perfect bit. We see the various dead people sitting around until their name is called: one man is a hunter of sorts, his head shrunken to a prune; another merely charred remains of a man smoking a cigarette; a guy who choked to death, chicken bone still sticking through both sides of his neck; an attendant showing patients in whose body is hung on strings, flattened out from tire tracks; and a man hung by the neck, on the same track as the other attendant, passing files off to a secretary while he’s carted about the office building. What a great and also tragic sequence. This is also part of why I’m so in love with Beetlejuice; because of its unique charm in the face of death.
winona-ryder-beetlejuice-2Lydia: “My whole life is a dark room; one… big… dark… room.
BEETLEJUICEWhat I dig most about Beetlejuice overall is its take on the afterlife. On one hand, you’ve got all the “regular” ghosts who are merely regular people moving onto another plane. On the other hand, there’s Beetlejuice himself. But it’s the little handbook, for the recently deceased, the waiting room, the giant sandworms, and so on, which intrigues me. Such a neatly cartoonish and macabre world for Burton to play around in. At the same time, I find the way it portrays ghosts pretty unique. So underneath all Beetlejuice’s gnarly exterior and vulgarity, beneath the story of a haunting, there’s a genuine attempt here to dissect what a true afterlife might be – instead of the idealized heaven or hell, Burton’s film taps into a more satirical approach to being dead and trying to move on. Plus, seeing things from the side of the deceased doesn’t hurt either. While we’re right alongside the Deetz family, even in the scarier moments after the Juice runs loose, much of our perspective comes from Adam and Barbara, as well as later a similar yet different perspective from the still-living Lydia. All in all, the way this movie presents death and the afterlife is both hilarious and fresh.
vlcsnap-2013-11-14-04h25m48s120 391ccd14f69e49feacc3502aa1857b63 393689There’s plenty of creepy horror stuff going on, but the dark and sometimes raunchy comedy is very much happening here. For instance, even in the morbid scene where Lydia (Ryder) contemplates her suicide writing a note for her family to find later, there’s a downright funny, laugh out loud moment as she rearranges the words, choosing better ones to put in place to make the note sound more appealing. The whole character of Lydia is fun and funny at once. She’s simultaneously deep and gothic while also playfully satirizing the whole goth lifestyle.
When it comes to comedy, though, obviously Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice is the centrepiece of this entire thing. Clearly, right? Even more than you think. For those who don’t remember properly, Beetlejuice is a dirty dude, both physically and in his speech. In the original screenplay, the character was much darker and more violent; he wanted to rape Lydia, here it’s toned down slightly to a creepy crush. But the darkness all around, from his actions to his comedy, is still quite present. Keaton brings Beetlejuice to life from one moment to the next. He’s mostly hilarious, yet always with the chilling side directly under the surface, every now and then coming out into the open fully. Some of my favourite bits are when Beetlejuice is still stuck in the tiny model town, in its cemetery; Keaton did a nice bit of improvisation, if I’m not mistaken, which is awesome because he did a great job with the character.
BeetlejuiceBeetlejuice: “I’m the ghost with the most, babe.

Even with the changes inflicted upon the original screenplay, the toning down, the film’s finale remains pretty dark. Regardless of the cartoon-ish, at times, quality Burton gives the story and its visuals, there are equal amounts of very macabre and eerie sequences. When Beetlejuice is called back into reality by Lydia the final time, in order to try and save Adam/Barbara, the movie turns into a dark carnival. This section starts out in a sort of lighthearted horror-comedy way. Then, slowly, it moves towards treacherous territory, as Beetlejuice attempts to take Lydia as his bride. I mean, it’s sketchy! Very creepy, unsettling stuff. Delia’s sculptures come alive to hold the witnesses in place for their impromptu ceremony, which are super weird and gothic through Burton’s eyes. Just cannot get enough of this effective finale. Also, the very last couple scenes are a whole ton of fun capping things off on a more lighthearted ghost story note.
lbf-bettlejuice-jambeTotally a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. Always loved this and truly feel it’s an effectively dark comedy using shades of horror in the best way. Plus, it’s a satirical look at the traditional ghost, which makes the comedy work that much better. Combining the eccentric talent of Tim Burton with a couple of great performances, namely Michael Keaton as the titular ghost with the most, Beetlejuice elevates itself from just another comedy to something near legendary.
I’m beyond excited there’s going to, hopefully, be a sequel with Burton, Keaton, and Ryder all supposedly onboard for the ride! With that team, as well as the spirit of the original at heart, I bet a sequel could be almost as spectacular this time around as it was the first. Watch this for Halloween; great to put on any time, but even better around the fall season as the 31st approaches on the calendar.

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Tim Burton’s Batman. The Best Batman.

Batman. 1989. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Sam Hamm & Warren Skaaren; based on characters created by Bob Kane & Bill Finger.
Starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall, Tracey Walter, Lee Wallace, and William Hootkins. Warner Bros./The Guber-Peters Company/PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
PG-13. 126 minutes.
Action/Adventure


★★★★★
54748a_lg Tim Burton is the sort of filmmaker people either love or hate, I think. There’s no real halfway marker between sentiments with Burton’s movies, which is fine. Personally I think he’s a great, innovative, and influential filmmaker. In essence, he’s an auteur. You can say he’s no good, or whatever, but at the end of the day you cannot deny he has a style that is VERY MUCH all his own; nobody else does dark and weird in the cartoonish sense like him. From Beetlejuice, to both the Batman movies, Edward Scissorhands, the incredibly strange and fun adaptation of Sleepy Hollow, to Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! (brilliant and overlooked), Big Fish, Corpse Bride – I think Burton has made enough films that are of a high calibre I’m able to count him among other great filmmakers of his generation.
While Burton himself has said his Batman is boring and that it’s more of a cultural phenomenon than anything, I feel he’s shortchanged himself. I’m a massive fan of the Batman character, have been for years. I’ve read comics, graphic novels, seen all the films – including the original television series and the movies of which I’m a big fan honestly for their campy style. So don’t hate on me for saying this, but at the base of all this Batman is still a superhero, and superheroes are a tiny bit silly. You’ve got to admit it. When David Cronenberg expressed his distaste for Nolan’s trilogy, or at least his “I don’t care” attitude about superhero movies, he wasn’t trying to be a dick: it’s the truth. While you can try to make a superhero film as gritty and realistic as possible, at the end of the day Batman – or any other comic book superhero – is still a guy running around dressed in tights, fighting zany, megalomaniac villains with their own equally foolish-looking getups. Again I repeat – I love Batman, in all forms. But I think the ultimate thing I love, above the darkness and the style and the wildness of so many moments from the Joker’s laughs and horror to the action scenes, is that Tim Burton treats his Batman in the way it’s meant to be treated: part serious and dark, part campy and fun. If you can’t recognize that, fine. But don’t say this is a bad adaptation, it’s just not. It is a classic and it helped lead the way for more action films to come in the 1990s and long after.
Batman-1989-batman-2687182-1024-576In Gotham City, the criminals have been running scared: rumour has it some giant, human-like bat has been roaming the streets and taking care of the underbelly of society. While reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) teams up with star journalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) to get to the bottom of the story, other things are brewing in the dark city.
Mob boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) has a bit of trouble with his… right hand man, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), who winds up in a bad spot all due to Carl’s backstabbing. Things get really bad when Napier runs into Batman during a shootout with police; Jack ends up disfigured after falling into a vat of chemicals. Remerging, after a bit of off the books surgery, Jack becomes the Joker. Hellbent on tearing Gotham to pieces, as well as rooting out Batman, Joker becomes a powerful force of terror in the hearts of the citizens and nobody is safe.
And Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) keeps on working hard, day and night, trying to conceal the biggest secret of all: he’s Batman.
batman-1989-wallpaper-movie-897The first time we actually see the Joker’s face in the shadows is actually creepy. Even before, not seeing his face was almost creepier, as he smashes the mirror, laughing, walking out of the basement leaving behind his terrified doctor. Numerous scenes involving the Joker, as well as his henchman in various shapes and forms, are incredibly dark. Which brings me to one of my major loves about this 1989 Batman as opposed to even the Christopher Nolan films (I’m a fan by the way).
All the darkness of Burton is present here. Even more than that, he keeps the cartoonish nature of the comic books and also brings the dark nature of Batman/Bruce Wayne himself into the mix. While Nolan’s films have a sort of dark side, it’s not near the same as what Burton presents. The plot of the film, everything happening with the story in this adaptation, isn’t even the best of it – Burton uses his auteur style in order to infuse this film with something spooky, something full of idiosyncrasy and madness and chaotic mayhem.
For instance, the scene where the Joker meets Vicki Vale at the museum and shows her his latest art project – living, breathing art created with nastiness, a young woman named Alicia with her face disfigured underneath a Phantom of the Opera-style mask. That part always creeps me out, right to pieces. Even the oddly chipper, upbeat commercial by the Joker for Joker Brand products, with all the women sporting a Joker face, it’s SO UNSETTLING! There’s a campy side to it, yes, there’s no denying that. Though, Burton has the talent to take those saccharine sweet looking visuals and lean them into the dark pit of the human heart. Again, it’s why I say he’s an auteur; only the best are able to make the darkness look and feel so utterly compelling.

Y’ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
batman-1989-c-030People will rail on and on about how Michael Keaton is no good as Batman.
Whatever, man.
Think what you will, I found him excellent. There’s even more to that sentiment in Batman Returns, as the darkness I love and crave so much in Bruce Wayne comes out further than it does here in the first (though I love this movie a tad more).
Keaton is solid. So what he’s not jacked? That’s honestly, basically, the opinion of some: his physique isn’t particularly muscular enough to portray Batman. Why does someone have to be huge in order to be a good fighter or intimidating? Was Bruce Lee huge? Nope, yet I’d have been mortified to have to fight the man. The whole point to Bruce is that he learned to fight and combat villains in the way of a ninja, so it’s not like he has to be this massive man. For those purposes, the suit does its work, and looks great.
Above all, I love the way this Batman – and in part this is due to the writing and Burton’s presentation of the material – not only fights crime, he actually wants to scare the criminals. Yes, Nolan goes for that in his newest trilogy. Not in this way, though. There’s something extra creepy to the opening sequence where those two robbers sit atop the building, counting their cash, while also talking about the supposed Bat Man lurking about Gotham – how Batman slips in behind them, frightening them, terrorizing. It’s very dark and grim. The way the movie started out always creeped me to the bones when I was a kid. I’ve been watching this movie since I was like 6 years old, probably about two years after the original release, and one of the parts I always found myself fascinated with was the very beginning because it has this ominous, terrifying feel, but in the most excellent sense. Works wonder for the tone of the film. Also, a big part of this is in the way Keaton plays Batman with a quiet, calculated performance in the right moments.
It’s the rawness of Wayne which comes out of Keaton. He has an awesome presence as Batman, particularly aided I think by the fact he couldn’t hear much of anything (if anything at all) while in the suit. I love what Bale did with the Batman voice, regardless of how anyone else might feel to the contrary – I think there’s a necessity to the voice, you’d have to disguise it or else someone would absolutely make the connection between Bruce and Batman. But more subtlety in the voice comes in Keaton’s performance. He doesn’t go to the length Bale does, which again I thought was good, yet there’s a slight change in his voice here when you listen to him carefully from one scene to the next, Bruce to Batman; it’s a good touch. Plus, there’s just an introverted quality all around to Keaton as Bruce: from the moment he pretends not to be Bruce Wayne when Vicki Vale asks about him at the party near the film’s beginning, to the solitary (and obligatory) Bruce moments brooding in the Bat Cave. I’ve always loved this aspect to Bruce Wayne, and while Christian Bale does a splendid job in the Nolan trilogy, I honestly have to give my vote to Keaton as best. Simply because there’s a real strangeness, a dark and at times weird side to his Bruce Wayne, which you’re likely never to see again. Ever. Nobody else will bring that out the way Keaton does. Maybe part of that is the fact it is a Burton film, as well as the sequel, in which Keaton is another odd element. But I like to think it’s all a part of Keaton as an actor; someone I’ve always liked, not just a bandwagoner after Birdman. Ever see Ron Howard’s Night Shift? Do yourself a solid, watch it.

Jack Nicholson.. oh my. What can I say that hasn’t been said? He’s a brilliant actor whom I’ve enjoyed over and over throughout my 30 years. There’s a cartoon quality in his performance, just as there is in Burton’s aesthetic throughout the film. Still, Nicholson adds a truly gritty and horrific sensibility to the Joker. Yes: he definitely hams it up. Yes: there are over-the-top moments. But again, this is a guy whose face has been warped into a permanent smile; the chemicals messed him up and the doctor somehow moulded his face to look like a kind of demonically happy plasticine doll. So, c’mon – you have to expect a bit of ham and cheese! You’re not being honest with yourself or watching this film honestly by trying to say he should have gone for more realism. If it’s an attempt at realism (though again: superhero films aren’t realistic from the get-go) you want then try Nolan, I guess. But this Burton version of the Joker is magnificent and macabre; one half of that comes from the writing/Burton, the other and the heftiest portion from Nicholson and his brilliance.
snapshot20090103185002Finally, if I haven’t stressed it enough it’s Burton who makes this film what is it – above the story, above the performances from Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, it’s the aesthetic of the film, it’s atmosphere, the tone, which really boost this above any other comic book film especially. I don’t care what you say, this is what a comic book movie should be like and I’ll always feel that way! There’s no amount of realism you can try to instil in a movie based on a graphic novel or comic book which can take the story where it needs to go because THAT IS NOT THE SPIRIT OF THE COMICS. Be your own judge, tastemaker. But these are my feelings.
4223383-batman-1989-batman-confronts-the-jokerThis is a 5 star film. Hands down. The one which started the whole trend proper. Tim Burton does a fascinating job with this comic book adaptation, giving it enough campy fun to satisfy those yearning for a return to the Adam West-led Batman and retaining all the darkness of the original character and some of what Frank Miller threw in with his graphic novels. Above all else, there’s a great look and feel to every scene, Burton dripping from the shots like sticky candy, as well as the fact Keaton and Nicholson act their chops off with their mix of seriousness and silly charm. Add in fun music from the soundtrack (I don’t care what you say Tim Burton: I love the way Prince is used!) and compositions from Danny Elfman, and this is one slick adventure.
Seen it? Tell me what you think. If not, what the fuck are you waiting for? Batman Day 2015 has come and gone, but it’s never too late, or too early, to start diving into the legacy of the Dark Knight on film. Go forth to Gotham and find yourself lost in its beautiful, grim shadows.

The Deconstructed Life of BIRDMAN

Birdman. 2014. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Merritt Wever, and Edward Norton. New Regency Pictures. Rated 14A. 119 minutes.
Comedy/Drama

★★★★

2562232_bigBirdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who was once playing the superhero Birdman in big movies. Now, he’s doing the stage. He has adapted Raymond Carver, specifically. All this stems from when he was a young man and supposedly Carver attended one of his performances; afterwards, the famous author drunkenly scribbled a note to a young Thomson on a cocktail napkin. Unfortunately, his stage play is suffering under the weight of many things – his ego, a rough relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone), a new and cocky actor (Edward Norton playing a meta-version of himself), et cetera. All of these things threaten to tear him apart, so the question is – can he hold it all together?

Birdman1I’ve always enjoyed Keaton. I think he is generally under appreciated. While this movie is giving him a wave of high praise to ride on, I believe there are other performances before this which have solidified him as a wonderful actor – just a few are the Tim Burton Batman films, still my favourite BatmanNight ShiftBeetlejuice, and Jackie Brown. I do love his performance here in Birdman. I definitely would put this in his top roles of all-time, no doubt. I don’t take him to be much like his character in real life, though, I’m sure some of the character is a little relatable just in terms of how his career must have went initially after the fame of Batman slowly faded. Either way, Keaton puts a lot of effort into this movie. I thought it was a really full-hearted performance. He definitely put all he is worth into this character. It shows.
BirdmanThe other performances are really something, too. I enjoyed Norton, as I always do. He has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with, so I’m sure it was at least a little fun for him to fool around with this character. It’s like a meta-version of Norton himself almost.

Another person who I thought truly stood out was Emma Stone. She’s a really great young actress. Though, I’m not actually a huge fan of the movies she has done in the past, except for maybe Zombieland and her role in Superbad, I do think Stone has talent. In this film, she did a fantastic job with the character of Sam, Riggan’s daughter. There was something really vulnerable about the character, and yet also she came across as quite a strong woman. The relationship between Keaton and Stone worked real well, I thought. Both of them played great as a father-daughter duo who have seen hard times. A couple real great moments with them.
Birdman_teaserI am a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu. In fact, Amores Perros is the first non-english film I’d ever seen. I believe I was about sixteen years old. The film really moved me, so much so I had the title tattooed on my wrist. It’s a fascinating movie. Then later I saw 21 Grams, and then Babel, and Biutiful – I loved each of these. He is an interesting, unique filmmaker. I love the approach he has to subjects. This is one of the reasons Birdman is most definitely a real good film. Just the way Iñárritu shot everything here to look as if it were one long uninterrupted take is really innovative. Now, of course, you can find the meticulous little places where Iñárritu decided to hide his quick cuts, but you really do have to be paying full attention, as well as give a shit about such things. I really enjoyed this. It’s a wild way to make a movie, and it could have come off really terribly. That being said, I think Iñárritu pulls it off here in grand style.

All that aside, I don’t think Iñárritu’s film is a perfect and as amazing as the glorious reviews will have you believe. It’s ambitious, it has great performances, and a decent script. However, I do find at times the theme, or the message if you will, behind Birdman is a little too divisive. And not in a good sense, in the way of opinions. I think the message is really heavy handed. At one point, Birdman is telling Riggan how people want to “see action” and not this talk, talk, talk, philosophical stuff. It’s a great point to try and make, I just think it comes across really ham fisted. Like it’s saying if you enjoy action, you’re dumb. I’m on the side of the fence where I don’t care about Marvel – I don’t want any more superhero movies for awhile, even though I’m a huge Batman fan, in all forms of media, and have been for a long time – I just don’t want the market flooded with all this CGI-infested junk constantly. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be told that action, et cetera, is some sort of lower art form. I know there is black comedy in here, there are a lot of digs at the artists themselves, some of the material is no doubt pointed at artists in general – but still, I think this comes across as preachy to some. I love this movie. I just think some of these bits could have been toned down a little more, so as not to alienate people. Perhaps some might say “who cares about those people”, and that’s fine, but I think there was a way of achieving what Iñárritu wanted to do without being a bit snobbish. Just one man’s opinion. Or maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the point is that there is ego in all things, no matter if it’s an action-based superhero film or a stage play, or whatever – there is always an air of pretentiousness behind art, in whichever form it may come. Maybe that’s the point, I don’t know. I take it in the way I do, just as others will in their own way. I respect if others see the film in another light.
still-of-michael-keaton-in-birdman-2014-large-pictureThis is most definitely a 4 out of 5 star film for me. It is certainly a great movie, and I don’t doubt for a second this is on many Best Of lists from last year. Me – I didn’t love it as much as other movies. I really enjoyed it, a lot, and would watch it again. I will, absolutely. I just don’t think it’s as great as the hype will have you convinced. Definitely worth seeing. If not just for the fact Iñárritu does a fascinating job at weaving the camera in and around the locations of the film, from actor to actor, very naturally and beautifully. I’m in no way talking the film down, because if you don’t already know I have a few real unpopular opinions about some movies (I’m the kind who loves a few movies that are generally considered terrible – example: Exorcist II: The Heretic). This is merely my opinion. I still think it’s a fantastically honed piece of work. Destined to be a classic of cinema down the road, if not already with the praise it’s receiving. Keaton, especially, I really loved. Check this out – let me know what you thought about it in the comments!