With Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, G.D. Spradlin, Jeffrey Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lisa Marie, George "The Animal" Steele, Juliet Landau
Directed by Tim Burton
Black and White

Reviewed by JB

Karloff? Sidekick???     ED WOOD is a heartfelt valentine to talentless but fearless artists everywhere.  It documents the life of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the cult figure known as "The Worst Director of All Time" for such insanely bad flicks of the 1950s as GLEN OR GLENDA?, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.  Johnny Depp plays the young Wood as a broadly cartoonish figure, never quite turning him into a completely believable character, but his cheerful enthusiasm is completely infectious, his Ed Wood an unflappable go-getter with a complete inability to accept any setback.  Depp's light performance is counterbalanced by Martin Landau, who is stunning as the aging, unemployed and morphine-addicted Bela Lugosi, whom Wood hires to star in a series of low-budget disasters.  Landau, who rightly won Best Supporting Actor for his work, is the heart of the film, the tragic figure in the center of a gang of crazies and freaks that made up Wood's coterie of friends.  Although physically wrong for Lugosi - too tall and too long-faced - Landau becomes the Hungarian horror icon and is greatly aided by monster-movie master Rick Baker's award-winning makeup.  Landau is so amazing in the role, ED WOOD almost runs out of steam when Lugosi passes away a half hour before ED WOOD ends.

     The rest of the cast is near-perfect, with standouts including Bill Murray as gay actor Bunny Breckinridge and Patricia Arquette as Wood's sweet, understanding girlfriend.  Jeffrey Jones as nutty fake psychic Criswell and Lisa Marie as buxom TV-hostess Vampira contribute to the fun, while wrestler George "The Animal" Steele is virtually indistinguishable from Wood favorite Tor Johnson.  

     Although on the surface, the story is about how a young director managed to make three of the worst films of all time on nothing but a smile and a shoeshine, ED WOOD is actually about one strange, cross-dressing man, who, unable to live in the real world, builds worlds of his own on movies sets and populates them with a broad collection of like-minded outcasts, like a Don Quixote picking up multiple Sancho Panzas on his travels.  As Depp says in the film, if he judged any of his friends, he wouldn't have any.  It is on this level that ED WOOD really shines.

     Gorgeously shot in black and white, ED WOOD did poorly at the box-office, but has gone on to become as much as cult film as any of Ed Wood's "classics". 4  - JB

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