Good Wood

Also impressive is Burton's ability to make the recreations of Wood's films so captivating to watch, since the originals were so singularly awful. Burton is aided by his longtime cinematographer Stefan Czapsky, who employs suggestive chiaroscuro, crisp framings and a range of striking visual effects that include illuminating Wood and Lugosi underneath office-top gargoyles. And the "real life" scenes -- Lugosi in the throes of drug rehabilitation, for example -- are both analogous to and better than the melodrama in Wood's films. This is a masterful feat: simultaneously paying tribute to and sending up.

The film does occasionally err. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski's script, based on Rudolph Grey's biography of Wood, strains to make Wood's second love interest original. And Burton lays on one hearse joke too many at one of Wood's horror movie premieres. Too, it seems dubious, and manipulative, that at Lugosi's funeral, the only ones feeling bereft are Wood and crew.

Still, Ed Wood consistently delights, not in the least because Depp, all can-do and gee-whiz, is an enchanting comic actor, speaking his lines with snap and radiating a zany effervescence as his Wood finds something encouraging in every situation. "Shoot whatever baloney you want," Wood's distributor screams, "just make sure it's seven reels long." Wood does just that. And after every bad shot imaginable, he says, "That was perfect!" and means it, his vision forever intact. From campy opening credits engraved on tombstones, to unexpectedly moving closing credits that selectively explain what happened to these B-movie not-so-greats, Burton's vision is just about 20/20.

Ed Wood.
Directed by Tim Burton. With Johnny Depp, Martin Landau and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Rated R.
120 minutes.

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