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Friday, 23 January 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Big Eyes

Directed by: Tim Burton

Produced by: Tim Burton
Scott Alexander
Larry Karaszewski
Lynette Howell

Screenplay by: Scott Alexander
Larry Karaszewski

Starring: Amy Adams
Christoph Waltz
Danny Huston
Jon Polito
Krysten Ritter
Jason Schwartzmann
Terence Stamp

Music by: Danny Elfman

Cinematography by: Bruno Delbonnel

Editing by: JC Bond

Studio(s): Silverwood Films
Electric City Entertainment
Tim Burton Productions

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

Release date(s): December 25, 2014 (United States)
December 26, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $10 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $19, 901, 102

Ah hoy hoy! So, this being the first review for a movie from January 2015, I see it fit to keep y'all up to speed with what I've been at in this regard. Oscar season and catching up on as many of the releases as I could over the course of this past month has been fruitful, and I have seen, as well as this picture, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Exodus: Gods And Kings, The Wind Rises, Oculus, The Theory Of Everything and Whiplash, all of which will be reviewed in the coming month or so before my year-end awards, which will be published the night before the Oscars. Also, I can guarantee that I'll be giving into Calvary, Nymphomaniac, The Basement and Stranger By The Lake, while I'm sure I'll also see some more. In the vein of finality, it must be said that I beginning work on my year-end awards, shortlisting the films brick by brick, and will begin this shortly with this year's inductions into The Thin White Dude's Hall Of Fame. As ever, it's a wide and varied bunch which reflect the eclecticism of this reviewers tastes and opines, so I hope you'll enjoy that when get to crossing the proverbial bridge. So, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Big Eyes, the latest film from director Tim Burton. I have an interesting relationship with Burton; I have a huge admiration for some of his work, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street are certifiable masterworks, and his two Batman movies with Michael Keaton are very good interpretations of The Dark Knight. His debut short Vincent went into my filmmaking Hall Of Fame last year. Hell, I'll even through down my gage to anyone who wishes to argue that Mars Attacks! isn't a good, fun film, for all it's absolutely barmy ludicrousness. It must be said though, lately I do feel that Burton has fallen off the wagon. One has to admire Burton, in that he has such a distinctive and unique visual style and production sensibility, he has become one of the few working American filmmakers, like Spielberg, Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Scorsese, who has almost become a brand in his own right. However, all that makes him a distinctive and interesting filmmaker has of late (really the past six or seven years, let's be honest) been over-indulged to a massive degree. All of his recent work has been positively dripping in quirk and eccentricity, none of which I have a particular problem with (okay, I admit, I'm not a huge fan of quirk), but when a filmmaker's every whim is pandered to ad nausea, the result is greatly inferior to the control that is exhibited on their very best films. Tarantino is an example, as is Wes Anderson, but the other two I mentioned there, Spielberg and Scorsese, have had such illustrious careers because, for the most part, they never over-indulge. Burton, unfortunately, has recently been cut of the same cloth as the former two. All this culminated in 2012, which saw him release two films over the course of the calendar year, the first being Dark Shadows, an adaptation of the TV series of the same name, which at the time I gave a five out of ten but in retrospect wasn't particularly worth much. The most notable moments came from a terribly executed sex scene, especially given that it's Johnny Deep and Eva Green (with those two, it should bleed hotness!) and my nearly being hit on the head by an extension lead winding up in a pendulum motion at The Strand. Also that year, he released Frankenweenie, a remake of his own short from 1984. As such, Big Eyes, the first non-remake/adaptation since 2005's Corpse Bride for Burton, on the surface represents a change of pace. Scribed by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the team behind Ed Wood, who were also slated originally to direct, Big Eyes stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as Margaret and Walter Keane, a wife and husband whose heated divorce trial was a national sensation when it was revealed that Walter, a national celebrity and purportedly the artist behind a series of widely-produced paintings of large-eyed waifs, was a plagiarist, and that it was in fact Margaret was the true artist. This film is a biographical depiction of their life together, before, during and after their marriage, focusing more specifically on Margaret Keane. Got that? Good!

So, starting off with the good, the film is fronted by a strong lead performance from Amy Adams. Hot off winning a Golden Globe for the part, Adams brings all of the natural charm that she possesses to the table. It's a role that is made for Adams, whose tenderness and all-round sweet-natured persona fits the innocent naivety of the character of Margaret Keane. The movie begins with her leaving her first husband, young daughter in tow, finding her feet again in the world. Adams in these early scenes plays it just right between comedic and serious, her Margie being a solid anchor for the audience as we watch her in her endeavours to make it as a painter. Furthermore, as the movie goes on and into slightly more twisted territory, we witness Adams' whole gait change. The warmth is distilled, her body is tense, even her voice changes as she chain-smokes painting the pictures of her waifs. I'll say outright that anyone who doesn't like Amy Adams probably lacks a soul, but this is an accomplished, well-developed performance. We've also got the mighty Christoph Waltz in there playing her husband-cum-captor Walter. Charm is a quality that Waltz too possesses, and we too want to believe in Margie's falling for this eccentric dandy. However, even if you don't have the context of his previous work, you get the feeling Waltz's Keane is a smiling devil who win make merry to your face and just as soon put a knife in you when you turn your back if it is a means to an end. Indeed, Waltz cranks it up to eleven as the film goes on, hamming it up in the most megalomaniacal of ways possible, and even if it seems ridiculous to have him acting like a supervillain at times, it's never anything less than engaging. Part of the reason that they are able to give good performances, notwithstanding their own talents, is that screenwriters Alexander and Karaszewski develop the central Keane characters well. These are three-dimensional people from the moment we meet them until the very end of the film. They go through change, sometimes subtle, other times dramatic, but yet that whole time we never get the feeling that they are anything less than real people. The key strength and best scenes in the film involve the relationship/tete-a-tete between Margie and Walter, and the writers know this, maintaining this focus for most of the film and keeping it grounded. The film also has a splendid sheen to it's visual look from cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. I mentioned Dark Shadows earlier, and one of the best things about that movie was it's cinematography, and it's interesting to see him ply his craft to the real world. Delbonnel has worked on the Harry Potter franchise and got his major breakthrough working with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, so to see his colour palettes make lush San Francisco seem aesthetically like something more akin to magical realism is a visual treat that elevates the work as a whole, helping blur the lines between fantasy and reality. Also, this is the best Danny Elfman score I can recall hearing for some time. Although I think his overall quality of work has deteriorated, in Big Eyes you get something of the pazazz and sense of wonder that comes from his very best when he's telling a story and not just phoning in something that the studio wants to sound grand and glorious. Accompanying Elfman's work is the two original tracks singer-songwriter Lana Del Ray has contributed to the film, the title song in particular being an emotive piece very much in fitting with the picture. Finally, in reference to Tim Burton I made reference to this being a change of pace, and frankly it is a most welcome one. This is an assured, solid piece of work which shows that Burton can not only still deliver a good movie, but that it doesn't have to be full of gimmicks and set in a fantastical world. Big Eyes is a tactful drama about two people and the machinations of their twisted relationship, and delivers a clear message about the important role of women in all medium(s) of the arts, and it does that without ramming it down our throat in a sanctimonious manner. 

Now, in case you can't tell, I rather liked Big Eyes. It's a solid, perfectly good little movie. In fact, it's Burton's best movie since Sweeney Todd. However, I must say that though it is very good, it's not a movie of high importance or great significance in the bigger scheme of things. Part of the reason for that is the screenplay which, while praiseworthy in terms of the strong character development, peters off plot-wise as the film goes on. I mentioned earlier that Waltz goes a bit nutty, and as the film enters this territory, and Walter becomes rather psychotic, it becomes a bit like haunted house/slasher film, but not in a good way, full of conventions and is in fact a bit off-putting. Also, although I know it is based on a true story, but the whole Mexican Paint-Off sequence is executed rather awkwardly. When I saw the film, I was exclaiming to my good friend at Danland Movies "it's like Frost/Nixon over again," the difference being that it came out the wrong end, for while Ron Howard's film manages to make a series of conversations come across as though it was Cassius Clay versus Sonny Liston, the Paint-Off is awkward and too farcical. Part of that I suppose is also down to the editing by JC Bond. The first half of the film is engaging and thoroughly flies by, but with the addition of the second half, this hundred-minute film feels closer to two hours. Despite the fact there is more 'action' per se, JC Bond's editing in this section is flat and threatens to bring the film to a grinding halt. Thankfully, there was enough momentum from the first half to sustain my interest, but this lack of awareness editing-wise and as a whole amongst those involved makes this a very good movie, not a great one. 

In conclusion, while I did find that the script petered off a bit in the second half and lost focus to some degree, and that the editing in the second half is also deprived of brisk pacing, I still think Big Eyes is a very good film. Fronted by two solid lead performances, especially Amy Adams, the screenplay, faults and all, has a strong level of character development, Bruno Delbonnel's shoots a lovely looking picture and Danny Elfman delivers his best score in some time. Finally, it's proof that Tim Burton has not 'lost it,' and that he is still more than capable of executing a solid piece of dramedy whenever he puts himself down to it.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Slightly irritable (at least I think I would be. Bloody migraines!)

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