Film Review: Big Eyes

Big Eyes

Tim Burton’s long-awaited return to form Big Eyes is an engaging story which offers strong performances from its leads.

Margaret is an artist and a single mother in the 1950s. She paints portraits, giving her subjects strikingly large eyes. When a fellow artist enters her life, she finds success at a price…

Tim Burton offers something viewers have not seen from him in the last decade. Big Eyes focuses heavily on character and story, and features a cast that the director has not previously worked with. The result is a film holds the attention, and feels refreshing in the scope of the filmmaker’s recent work.

Big Eyes‘ narrative is constructed effectively; the film never seems overlong. It is a character driven piece, with focus given to the two central characters and the way in which their relationship develops. Both the characters and the changing relationship are believable.

Big Eyes is a drama, but it is not without moments of comedy. Burton does well to maintain a sober air in the moments that matter. Despite some passionate scenes, the Big Eyes never becomes melodramatic, and is a better film for this. The script is well crafted to illustrate the highs and lows of the central relationship, and it does this with drama, humour and sincerity.

Cinematography in Big Eyes makes the most of the film’s locations. Art direction also works well, with the period setting rendered seemingly authentic. Colleen Atwood’s costumes are as delicious as ever. Big Eyes‘ score is also great, exhibiting the range of composer Danny Elfman even when working with his most recognised collaborator. Amy Adams is expressive in a way that mirrors Margaret Keane’s work. Her performance is solid throughout. Christoph Waltz delivers another powerhouse performance, believable in his character’s charm and menace.

Big Eyes tells the story behind the well-known images. Hopefully the director’s next projects will run in a similar vein.

Film Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Visually alluring, Snow White and the Huntsman is a feast for the eyes. Unfortunately the rest of the film does not reach for the same apex as the art direction.

Following her father’s death, Snow White is locked away by her stepmother the Queen. A huntsman is sent to kill her when she escapes to the woods. Things get complicated, however, when the huntsman discovers Snow White’s true identity, and the implication this has on the kingdom…

In some ways, Snow White and the Huntsman reverts back to the traditional tale in terms of the brutality of the Queen. The film is more vicious than the Disney version of the tale. This works well to build an antagonist that is truly nasty; a good contrast to the fair heroine.

The main problem with Snow White and the Huntsman is that the first half of the film is very dull. Director Rupert Sanders gives the audience very little to spark the interest. The screenplay is lacklustre, and there is not even a decent set piece to capture the attention. The second half of the film fairs better, but Snow White and the Huntsman never quite recovers from the boredom of what precedes this.

Snow White and the Huntsman illustrates what appears to be some rich influences. Aside from the fairy tale itself, Snow White’s connection to nature evokes Excalibur, while the image of the strewn bodies on the Queen’s floor is suggestive of Elizabeth Bathory. Elsewhere, the troll and fairies seem an excessive exercise for a tale that already boasts a wealth of fantasy imagery.

The art direction of Snow White and the Huntsman is superb. David Warren and his team should be applauded for creating such a memorable and distinctive look for the film. Likewise, Colleen Atwood’s costumes are fantastic, as are the special effects.

Despite a strong cast, performances in Snow White and the Huntsman are lacking. Charlize Theron is a fine actress, but here her delivery is caricature; no doubt thanks to the direction she was given. Kristen Stewart does little to endear herself to audiences, while Chris Hemsworth also struggles with the material.

Snow White and the Huntsman is ultimately not as enjoyable as it should have been. On paper it has so much going for it, but sadly the realisation is different.

Film Review: Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows is likely to divide audiences. Those who get on board will find amusement in Tim Burton’s homage to the past.

Barnabus Collins moved to America as a young child with his wealthy family. Barnabus is turned into a vampire by a witch, who buries him in a coffin. When he is set free two-hundred years later, Barnabus sets out to find the Collins family in the alien world of 1972…

Based on the television series which ran from 1966 to 1971, Dark Shadows is a curious mixture of moods. It is not quite a dark comedy, although there is plenty of humour in the first half of the film. This humour is more camp than macabre, as the film slides from a kitsch 1970s lightness to some gothic interludes that border on horror.

There is a perceptible shift in mood from the first half of the film to the second. The second half lacks the humour that makes the first half so enjoyable. That is not to say that Dark Shadows fails to entertain after the half-way mark, but simply that there is a more serious atmosphere. The ending of the film feels a bit drawn out; a snappier climax with more humour would have been welcome.

Dark Shadows is a homage to the television series it is based on, as well to 1970s music and popular culture. The film seems to feature the things that interest director Burton and star and co-producer Johnny Depp, with the inclusion of Alice Cooper, gothic lore and camp humour. Dark Shadows also features many tropes of the traditional soap opera. The film is segmented, giving it the almost episodic feel of a soap. There is also the sudden departure of characters, and those that go missing for a significant portion of the duration, not unlike a television series.

Tim Burton’s film is visually appealing. Colleen Atwood has done a fantastic job with the costumes, while the surroundings appear authentic for the period. The make up and special effects used on Angelique in the finale are fantastic.

Johnny Depp is responsible for much of the film’s humour. Eva Green makes a great vamp as Angelique. Michelle Pfeiffer brings presence as Elizabeth, while Gulliver McGrath shows promise as young David. Bella Heathcote is a welcome addition, looking every inch the Burtonian love interest.

Dark Shadows has several virtues. The only disappointment is that it had the potential to be a lot better.

Film Review: The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary boasts some great performances, wonderful locations and fabulous costuming. Unfortunately, the film also suffers from lacklustre direction, making it really rather dull.

American writer Paul Kemp takes a job at a newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960. His colleagues are jaded, with some more interested in consuming rum above anything else. Paul begins to see the gulf between the local way of life and the wealthy foreigners who frequent the paradise island…

Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, The Rum Diary attempts to capture the mood of a certain era and a certain group of individuals. It is partially successful; the film generates an exoticness that will be unfamiliar to many. However, the film lacks a sense of authenticity. The scenes in the film that are meant to be absurd or somewhat wild never really pull the audience in. Perhaps the problem is that The Rum Diary loses its viewers before it gets to this point.

Bruce Robinson’s direction is stilted. The more active sequences do not grab the attention in the way they are supposed to. There is a distinct lack of energy to the whole film. In one sense, the film takes a laid-back style, with the plot slowly being revealed. Nevertheless, without strong direction or purpose, the film quickly becomes dull, and never really recovers.

The narrative can be reduced to a fairly simple good guys versus bad guys structure, with the audience identifying with Kemp’s point of view as the newcomer. Characters are depicted in polemical terms, with the almost caricature wealthy investors and the sidelined locals who get no viewpoint of their own. There is nothing particularly illuminating about the narrative, nor anything that entertaining.

Johnny Depp is good for the most part as Paul Kemp. In a few of the scenes, his mannerisms are over the top, which appear at odds with the character. Aaron Eckhart is solid as Sanderson, while Giovanni Ribisi is excellent as the eccentric Moberg. Amber Heard is appropriately cast as Chenault, a role requiring little else but looking pretty.

Colleen Atwood’s costuming is great, particularly Chenault’s wardrobe. Production values in The Rum Diary are good, though not much about the film stands out, visually-speaking. The film’s very fatal flaw is that it is boring; viewers are unlikely to recommend The Rum Diary to others.