Dumbo (2019) review

DUMBO

Director: Tim Burton
Cast : Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, DeObia Oparei
Genre : Adventure/Family/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 h 52 mins
Opens : 28 March 2019
Rating : PG

           This year, we’ll be getting several live-action remakes of Disney animated features – or, to be pedantic, a photo-realistic CGI remake with The Lion King. The House of Mouse kicks off the 2019 slate of remakes with Dumbo.

It is 1919 and Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has returned from World War I, having lost his left arm in the battle. Holt and his late wife Annie were trick riders in the circus. Holt returns to the circus, run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito), to find they have run into hard times. An elephant acquired by Medici gives birth to a baby elephant with abnormally large ears. The baby, named Jumbo Jr. and nicknamed Dumbo, is forcefully separated from his mother. Holt’s young children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) discover Dumbo can fly.

The story of the amazing flying elephant attracts the attention of entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who buys out Medici’s circus. The circus performers, including Dumbo, relocate to Vandevere’s sprawling theme park Dreamland. Vandevere has Dumbo perform alongside trapeze artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green). While Medici is initially swayed by Vandevere, he and the other circus performers eventually discover that Vandevere is exploiting them and is exploiting Dumbo in particular. Holt, Milly and Joe hatch a plan to free Dumbo and reunite him with his mother.

Disney’s live-action remakes have sometimes been criticised for being too literal – 2017’s Beauty and the Beast comes to mind. A remake should put enough of a spin on the original such that it doesn’t lose its spirit, but still feels transformative enough to be worthwhile. Dumbo largely achieves this with its story focusing on new human characters, while keeping the titular baby elephant as its emotional centre. Thankfully, elements from the original such as the racist crows are jettisoned, and this film’s message of inclusivity feels more genuine than that espoused by fellow circus movie The Greatest Showman.

Tim Burton’s sensibilities might not seem like the best fit for a family-friendly Disney film, and his attempts at family-aimed movies do tend to be inadvertently horrifying. However, Dumbo benefits from the distinct visual stylisation that Burton brings to it, and is also very much a story about outsiders, which is familiar territory for the director. Dumbo’s big ears, the thing for which he is mocked, are also the source of his special abilities. It’s not quite Edward Scissorhands, but one can see the connection there. There are times when it feels like this isn’t exactly a passion project for Burton and that he’s very much a hired gun, but then again, it’s easy to overdose on Burton-ness and for him to lapse into self-parody, which he stays a safe distance from here.

A lot rides on the shoulders of the titular pachyderm – if audiences believe the wholly computer-generated creation as a living, breathing character, then it’s easy to empathise with him and to feel sad when bad things befall him. The visual effects are supervised by Richard Stammers, and while Dumbo might look a bit unnatural in stills and posters, the result is successful. The human characters do a lot of interacting with Dumbo, which is mostly seamless. This is a movie in which the title character is only added into the film in post-production, and there isn’t an actor performing motion capture on set like with the Planet of the Apes reboot series or Alita: Battle Angel.

In addition to the synthetic main character, the human cast is a big part of what makes Dumbo work. There was a period in Colin Farrell’s career when Hollywood was pushing him as an action hero, and he’s much better as characters like Holt – quiet, tortured characters who are still noble, they’re just not spouting one-liners. Farrell brings a pensive sadness to Holt, who is handicapped after fighting in the war and is struggling to raise his two children after the death of his wife.

Michael Keaton is having heaps of fun as the slimy P.T. Barnum analogue. His villainous character is never truly terrifying and isn’t half as terrifying as Keaton’s portrayal of the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. There’s also the irony of a slick huckster who swallows up a smaller business being the villain in a Disney movie, given that Disney regularly swallows up slightly smaller businesses.

DeVito brings humour and heart to the role of Medici, someone who cares for his employees but who is struggling to make ends meet. The film hints that the circus performers have lives and personalities beyond their gimmick – Roshan Seth’s snake charmer character Pramesh Singh cares deeply for the elephants, while DeObia Oparei’s strong man character Rongo is also Medici’s accountant and general right-hand man.

Eva Green has become something of a muse of Burton’s, this being her third film with him. She brings elegance and mystique to the role of Colette, whom Vandevere keeps firmly under his thumb.

Nico Parker gives an assured performance as Milly, who has her heart set on becoming a scientist. She’s a girl ahead of her time, aspiring to something more than being a circus performer. Milly’s brother Joe is a bit less defined as a character, but Finley Hobbins is still quite endearing.

While Dumbo sometimes feels just a bit too conventional, it is a moving, often enchanting take on the classic animated film. The film benefits from just enough of Burton’s signature weirdness and darkness while still being something for the whole family.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

For F*** Magazine

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Director : Tim Burton
Cast : Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Ella Purnell, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 7min
Opens : 29 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Frightening Scenes)

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-posterDirector Tim Burton has always had a preoccupation with the peculiar, one which continues in this fantasy adventure. Jake Portman (Butterfield) has long been fascinated by his grandfather Abe’s (Stamp) astonishing stories. Abe claims to have spent time at an orphanage for children with unique, unnatural abilities, run by one Miss Peregrine (Green), who can take the form of her namesake bird of prey. Jake’s psychiatrist Dr. Golan (Janney) recommends that Jake visit this orphanage himself to find closure, and so Jake’s father (O’Dowd) takes him to Wales. On a small island, Jake discovers a portal to 1943 – the orphanage is stuck in a time loop generated by Miss Peregrine. Jake finds himself drawn to Emma (Purnell), who can manipulate air. The sullen Enoch (Finlay McMillan), who brings Frankenstein’s Monster-style creations to life, feels threatened by Jake. The evil Baron (Jackson) is on the hunt for Peculiars, with Jake and his newfound friends having to fend off Baron and his cadre of monstrous ‘hollowgasts’.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is adapted from Ransom Riggs’ novel of the same name. This reviewer is completely unfamiliar with the book and its sequel, and thus cannot judge the film as an adaptation of the source material. Just going off the title alone, it would seem that Burton is the ideal fit to bring the story to the big screen, and for a time, it looked like he might not actually commit to the project. Screenwriter Jane Goldman of X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service fame brings some of the edgy wit seen in her other work to bear, but for the most part, this is pretty standard young adult stuff. There’s a chosen one who uncovers mysterious family secrets, gets inducted into a fantastical world he’s never known, falls in love, gains an eccentric but good-hearted mentor figure and has to fight a sinister organisation.

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While it may not be anything revelatory for those raised on a steady diet of Harry Potter and its ilk, the world of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is still engaging. The mechanics of the fictional universe are laid out clearly enough and it’s generally pretty fun, not taking itself too seriously. As with any fantasy, there are some proper nouns to learn. For example, an ‘ymbryne’ is a female guardian of peculiar children who can shape-shift into a bird. It revels in the absurdity of it all without obnoxiously proclaiming “you are watching a Tim Burton movie”, which the director is prone to doing. The various abilities the children possess are at once shocking and amusing and in at least one case, genuinely disturbing. While there is an expected reliance on digital visual effects, we do get a fun sequence which makes use of old-fashioned stop-motion animation. The imagery is the right side of spooky: it will give children nightmares, but generally stops short of being completely traumatising.

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-eva-green-and-asa-butterfield

 

Butterfield does a fine job of being awkward and awestruck; ‘chosen one’ protagonists can get a little bland but he’s sufficiently likeable as a performer, so Jake doesn’t come off as merely a tabula rasa protagonist. The moment Green appears more than half an hour into the film however, it’s abundantly clear that this is her movie. She’s an actress who’s always acutely aware of the type of project she’s in, modulating her performance accordingly. Here, she’s essentially Professor X meets Mary Poppins. She appears to be enjoying herself and struts about with the utmost poise. The midnight blue streaks in Miss Peregrine’s hair, which take on a green tint in the right light, make Green even more mesmerizing than she usually is.

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One of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’s shortcomings is an understandable one that afflicts many superhero films: the bulk of the characters are defined by their powers, and that’s about it. The incongruity of the children’s ordinary appearances and their flabbergasting abilities provides most of the humour. Purnell strikes a balance between confidence and gentleness, with Emma’s link to Jake’s grandfather making her an enigma that Jake feels he needs to solve. Alas, one can almost see the label reading ‘designated love interest’ hanging above her head. In a move that might vex faithful fans of the books, Emma and Olive (Lauren McCrostie) appear to have switched powers: in the book, Emma was pyrokinetic and Olive was aerokinetic (see, we’ve done a tiny bit of research).

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-samuel-l-jackson

 

The Harry Potter series packed plenty of prestigious thespians into the adult supporting roles. Here, the mix of actors is a little more eclectic. Stamp is usually cast as cold, intimidating villains and here, he’s playing an affectionate if odd grandfather. Jackson’s colourful, over-the-top villain, who lisps a little on account of the prosthetic pointy teeth, is a little too over-the-top to be genuinely frightening. Younger children might be spooked by the hollowgasts, who are essentially takes on the internet urban legend supernatural being Slenderman, but because of their CGI-ness, they can be a little too synthetic to be actually scary. There’s also altogether too little of Dame Judi Dench in this, but James Bond fans will appreciate the brief reunion between M and Vesper Lynd.

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The world of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has enough to it that we would be up for a sequel, but because it generally plays it safe as far as young adult fantasy stories go, it didn’t quite grab us. Still, it benefits from eye-catching visuals and an entertaining turn from Green in the titular role.

 

Summary: It’s more adequate than extraordinary and is far from Burton’s most memorable, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fine marriage of director and source material and is pretty decent fantasy adventure stuff.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Superman Lives, Superman Dies, Superman Lives Again – The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? Jon Schnepp and Holly Payne interview

As published in Issue #67 of F*** Magazine

Text:

SUPERMAN LIVES, SUPERMAN DIES, SUPERMAN LIVES AGAIN

F*** speaks to the filmmakers behind The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?, the documentary that lifts the veil on the bizarre Superman movie that almost was. 

By Jedd Jong [San Diego Exclusive]

The DC cinematic universe is now taking shape, having been established with 2013’s Man of Steel. This will be followed up with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squadin 2016, with an upcoming full slate set to include movie outings for characters such as the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg as well.

Somewhere in time and space, there is an alternate universe where the landscape of DC movies and indeed superhero movies in general would have been vastly different. Superman Lives, a Superman movie which would have been directed by Tim Burton and which would have starred – wait for it – Nicolas Cage in the title role, was set for a 1998 opening and just barely missed coming to fruition.

For years, the extent of most fans’ knowledge of this intriguing project was the anecdotes related by writer and raconteur Kevin Smith, who was hired to pen the first draft of the screenplay. He would recount how infamously eccentric producer Jon Peters laid down certain specific stipulations, including that Superman not actually fly, not wear the iconic red and blue outfit with the cape and that he had to battle a giant spider in the third act.

F*** sat down with director Jon Schnepp and producer Holly Payne in San Diego during Comic-Con, where the team were promoting their documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? The partially crowd-funded documentary peels back the layers and deciphers the fascinating enigma of this lost Superman movie, including not only interviews with Burton, Smith, Peters, and other writers and producers, but stylised, animated re-creations of scenes that would have been in the film. The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?also contains unearthed concept art and rare footage of Cage’s costume tests. Schnepp and Payne reveal what the process of piecing together this lost cinematic history was like, reflecting on just how Superman Lives fell apart and the bizarre, wondrous Superman movie that could have been.

If you could narrow it down to one thing about Superman Lives that was so fascinating it made you decide to make this documentary, what would it be?

Jon Schnepp: For myself, it was the artwork, there’s a few things, but for me, it was a different take on the characterization of Superman and the artwork that I saw looked so different from anything else that I’d seen cinematically or on television or from the Superman mythos, the mythology of the comic book character, that really interested me, especially knowing that it was Tim Burton’s take on Superman.

Holly Payne: For me, it would be both the artwork and the casting. I would have love to have seen Nicolas Cage as Superman…I can’t pick one! Christopher Walken as Brainiac would’ve been amazing, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, which we ended up seeing in Superman Returns, but which I would probably prefer to see him in Superman Lives.



Were you able to find out who, other than Nicolas Cage, was considered to play Superman?

Holly: Yes. There was a list from Peters Entertainment, some of the names were Skeet Ulrich, Matthew McConaughey…help me out here…oh gosh, all of these 90s actors, some of them you can’t even remember who they are now, they’ve kind of fallen off the face of the planet…

Jon: Cage was always at the very top of the list.

Was there an interview subject in the film you initially thought you wouldn’t be able to secure and were pleasantly surprised when he or she agreed to appear in the film?

Jon: Most definitely, and that is Jon Peters. We were working on the documentary for over two years at that point. Everyone we had talked to didn’t have the greatest things to say about Jon Peters, I myself had developed a slightly negative thing like “I don’t know if I want him to be in the film…”

Holly: I forced him to do it.

Jon: Holly persisted in me staying at trying to find a connection, someone who knew how to talk to Jon Peters. Eventually I found a connection through his lawyer, his attorney. I just cold-called his attorney and told him who I was and what I was trying to do, he responded greatly, had him laughing in about 10-15 minutes, he felt at ease, talked to Jon Peters. Originally, Jon said no. A week later, he said yes. A week after that, we went and interviewed him, and it was fantastic.

Holly: It was a really fun time.

Jon: Great interviews, he’s a great person, really fun to talk to and he shed a lot of light, not only on all the opinions about himself and his take on things, but just on producing in general.

What was it like getting Tim Burton to open up, because he’s been cagey about this project and it’s hurt him quite a bit?

Holly: We caught him at a good time. Basically, we flew out to London not knowing whether or not we were going to get an interview. We flew out to meet Tim Burton. The pre-interview was about 10 minutes long and then he agreed to do it because he liked our vibe and we’re all artists, so we got along. Honestly, I think that if we had even come to him [just] two years prior, I don’t think he would have said yes. I think that enough time had passed that that wound had healed just enough for us to explore it with him. Even in the film he says “is there any cyanide I can take, why am I still talking about this?” but he had a great sense of humour about it and I think it was cathartic for him too, ultimately.

Dan Gilroy spoke out against comic book films at the Independent Spirit Awards. Do you think the experience working on Superman Lives had something to do with his attitude towards comic book movies?

Jon: No, not at all. You know, Dan Gilroy is just talking as an independent filmmaker and a lot of independent filmmakers feel the squeeze and it’s not about superhero films, to point the finger at superhero films, it’s about blockbuster filmmaking in general. The studio system and the need to be able to spend over $100 million in promotion, globally…cinema is different than it was in 1996 which is way different that it was in 1985 which is different than what it was in ’75. The idea of what independent film is, is someone spending a hundred grand, making a film, putting it on YouTube, that’s an independent movie. Anything else is not an independent movie. The idea or the words “independent film” just don’t exist anymore. There is no “independent film”.

Was there something you learned about the film that was so bizarre you didn’t believe it at first?

Holly: Yeah, the first thing that I would say was looking at the casting list, seeing the possible casting choices before Tim Burton even came on. One of the names on the list for Brainiac was Howard Stern. My jaw dropped on the floor. Then again, Private Parts came out around the same time so he was a real hot ticket at that time.

He was being looked at for Scarecrow in the fifth Batman film…

Holly: That’s right, you are absolutely right, you know your s***. [Laughs]

Jon: His name was on every list. After Private Parts came out, he was the hot guy. Sure, he’s an incredible funny guy, but right then his star was popping. For myself, finding out that Christopher Walken was going to play Brainiac blew my skull off. I was like “what?! That’s amazing!” And it really made me so much more want to see the combination of “Luthoriac” or “Lexiac”, whatever it was going to be, it was going to be Christopher Walken as Brainiac, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, and then [their] heads combined arguing about stuff. That’s classic and I wish that would’ve happened.

Holly: If I ever run into either one of them, I gotta ask them that question.

What do you think the current landscape of comic book movies would be like had Superman Lives been made?

Jon: The Superman Lives movie, my personal feeling about it, is that it would’ve been a big hit. I think it would have changed the perception not only of Nicolas Cage whom everybody was boo-hooing about, it would have been the same thing as Michael Keaton as Batman, it would have changed the perception of Superman, it would have been a light-hearted cosmic fairytale, it would have had humour but it would also have had that Burton touch to it. It would have been like that Mars Attacks! movie that has that flavour to it. I think it would have spawned several sequels, it would have made a Justice League movie that much more possible, I think Michael Keaton would have eventually returned as Batman, we would have had a Batman/Supermancrossover, maybe with World’s Finesthappening in 2002. I think the landscape that we live in, if we peek into the alternate dimension where Superman Liveswas made, it’s a whole other dimension of superhero movies.

Holly: A parallel universe
.
A Bizarro World, if you will.

Jon: Yeah, for sure.

Do you think the performance of Batman and Robin had anything to do with what happened to Superman Lives?

Jon: Most definitely it did. Even though he had nothing to do with Batman and Robin, he was linked as a producer. So even though he did nothing on the film, his named was linked…

Holly: Smeared.

Jon: Smeared, basically, by that film. It was like association destruction.

Holly: Collateral damage.

Jon: They were already worried about Nicolas Cage, they were already worried about “is Tim Burton’s take on Superman going to be too dark,” “here’s this movie that crapped out that lost all this money” and not only is it a box office bomb, it’s a critical bomb and every fan who saw it hated it. It’s different though, for people who grew up watching it, who saw it when they were 3 on TV, some people have a soft spot for it – “I like the colours!” Yeah, I get it, garbage looks cool when you’re a child.


What were the major differences in the drafts of the screenplays that existed?

Jon: The biggest difference was the tone. Kevin Smith’s two different drafts had a little more of a comical tone and definitely a more nuanced knowledge of the characters of the comic book series. He was able to put a lot of cameos in there, he was able to squeeze to squeeze in a lot of references that true comic book fans would have appreciated…

The geek cred.

Jon: The geek cred was all over Kevin Smith, both of his drafts, the story stayed the same. When Wesley Strick came on, he’s admitted he’s not a comic book fan, he hasn’t read comics, he’s not into it, and that shows in his draft, it’s a lot more tongue-in-cheek, the jokes are a lot cornier. The most different of all the drafts was Wesley’s. He didn’t have a lot of time to work on the script as well, I think he worked on it with Tim for about four or five months before he was taken off and they replaced him with Dan Gilroy. Dan Gilroy came in with a little more of a focus on Clark Kent and focusing on like the whole idea of Superman being an alien also transfers over to Clark Kent. He’s also an alien, he’s also a guy hiding the fact that he’s an alien. Superman’s hiding the fact that he’s Clark Kent. Clark Kent’s hiding the fact that he’s an alien.

Masks behind masks.

Jon: Yeah, multiple masks, that is something Tim Burton is great at exploring, with Edward Scissorhands, with Batman, all of his characters in all of his films, the façade is there, and that is something Nicolas Cage wanted to bring to the character as well, his portrayal of Clark Kent and his abilities. How weird would it be to have these powers and hear a comedy club comedian like a mile away, laughing at a joke while you’re talking to someone else? Just those kinds of things, being a comic book fan, is something that Nicolas Cage brought to the character, he was able to add these nuances while they were developing the character.

Some of the footage that we got, being a fly on the wall, of Tim and Nic doing the costume tests, their talking about their interpretation: what does the cape mean? What does the costume mean? Clark Kent, how are we going to portray this character, what are we going to bring to it? When you see this, you hear where they’re coming from, from footage from 1997-98, it’s very inspiring to see what they would have done.

Any time there’s an adaptation, particularly a film adaptation of a comic book, there’s always the war of “iconic imagery vs. original thought” and that war seems to have been raging very fiercely in Superman Lives.

Jon: Yeah, I like that war because to me, all movies are “Elseworlds” of comic books. Every movie or TV show is not the comic. Guess what? You’ve got the comic. That’s all you really need. To validate a movie as being like the comic, I don’t need anyone to validate a comic book to me at all. I don’t care if the movie was terrible, I have the original comic. If the original comic was great, that’s all that matters. The movie is a different take, you don’t just pull the storyboards and then make a movie, it’s a completely different beast entirely. Television, spread out over time, is a soap opera. A movie is act 1, act 2, act 3, it’s a finite thing. That’s why you have superhero characters’ and their villains’ origins tied in, because it makes it a lot simpler and cleaner to be able to tell that story within a 90 minute context. So for myself, it doesn’t matter that the X-Men didn’t wear yellow outfits, it doesn’t matter that Wolverine didn’t have the bright colours, it’s like a different take on the perspective of the material and that’s what all these movies and TV shows bring us as comic book fans, people who love the superhero films and the genre who don’t read the comics will never get that take.

Finally, we’ve seen Lex Luthor on screen many times, Zod onscreen a couple of times and Superman Lives would have had Luthor but would also have had Brainiac. So, is there a Superman villain we haven’t seen before in a Superman movie that you’d like to see?

Jon: Definitely not Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Holly: I was going to say Mr. Mxyzptlk!

Jon: I always hear people say that and I’m like, “that’s boring”. Number one, he’s too powerful, he’s from a different dimension, and you’ve got to trick him into saying his name backwards, how lame is that? I would go with Metallo. He’s a fun character. I would throw in the Parasite, I would chuck him in. They’ve played out the Kryptonian Phantom Zone characters quite a bit so I don’t really need to see them return. Bizarro would be a lot of fun. But once you bring in Bizarro, that brings in that bizarre comic [element], like “I live on the square planet!” “Me am Bizarro” I don’t know about that, so I would take Bizarro back.

Holly: For me, I would go with Mr. Mxyzptlk, I have to go against Jon. Maybe just as an ancillary villain, not like the main villain.

To give it a trippiness.

Holly: Exactly! Exactly.

Jon: If they could do Mr. Mxyzptlk the way Alan Moore did Mr. Myxyzptlk in The Last Superman Story Ever Told, where he was like literally a freakish demon from another dimension, twisted, then that’s the way to play it.



The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? Is available for purchase exclusively at www.tdoslwh.com

Big Eyes

For F*** Magazine

BIG EYES

Director : Tim Burton
Cast : Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 29 January 2015
It was the 1960s and Margaret Keane’s hypnotic paintings of the doe-eyed waifs captured the imagination of the world, but for a long time, nobody knew the dark truth behind these depictions of innocence. After separating from her husband Frank, Margaret (Adams) takes her young daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) to San Francisco. There, she meets and quickly falls hard for Walter Keane (Waltz), seemingly also a passionate painter. Margaret and Walter marry and after Margaret’s unique “Big Eye” paintings garner attention, Walter begins to take credit for them. Soon, the paintings are everywhere, mass-reproduced and sold in supermarkets and gas stations, with Walter making television appearances and hobnobbing with celebrities, everyone believing him to be the true artist. As Walter grows more domineering, making Margaret fear for her own safety, she finally tells the world the truth as the couple battles it out in court to determine proper credit.

            Big Eyes marks director Tim Burton’s first biopic since 1994’s Ed Wood, re-teaming him with that film’s writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. It’s been repeatedly noted that this is Burton’s first live-action film since 1996’s Mars Attacks! without either Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter.  A project like Big Eyes is exactly what Burton needs and it is perhaps not entirely coincidental that this film about artistic integrity comes from a director once lauded as a fresh, unique voice but who has become something of a parody of himself. The film still bears many of Burton’s signature touches and the heightened stylisation proves to be a double-edged sword even when it’s consciously scaled down. While the saturated colour palette and the Stepford Wives-style depiction of a suburban idyll that becomes a personal prison add panache to the proceedings, they also hamper the authenticity of the true story.

            We’ve all heard stories of artists being taken advantage of and the Margaret and Walter Keane case is one of an artist being taken advantage of in the extreme. Burton establishes a sense of unease throughout and writers Alexander and Karaszewski manage to play on the audience’s knowledge of how things went down in a general, such that we know where it’s all headed but anticipate and dread it in equal measure as Walter’s lie snowballs. Production designer Rick Heinrichs and Burton’s usual costume designer Colleen Atwood create an immersive period-accurate milieu tinged with that kitschy Burton flair. The music video for Soundgarden’s Black Hole Suncomes to mind. While the film’s tone is not as uneven as it could’ve been, one still gets the feeling that characters such as Margaret’s friend DeAnn (Ritter) and snobbish gallery owner Ruben (Schwartzman) have been written in only to provide requisite comic relief in what really is an emotionally-heavy film, though it has been described as a “comedy-drama”.

            Amy Adams’ name has popped up on various “Oscar snubs” lists and it’s easy to see why. Adams ably embodies the quiet dignity of the character, shying away from showy bursts of emotion, her performance all the more affecting for it. An artist’s personal attachment to his or her work is a difficult sentiment to convey, but the way Adams plays it, one really feels that when credit for the Big Eye paintings is snatched from Margaret, it’s as if one of her own children has been taken from her. The film makes no bones about being a feminist statement and Adams’ Margaret is very sympathetic and easy to root for.

            Christoph Waltz brings his trademark wildfire charisma to the role of Walter Keane, effortlessly essaying a smug, charming manipulator with flair to spare. While magnetic and watchable, Waltz does veer dangerously close to the cartoony side of things when Walter lashes out at Margaret, as if he’s practising for his upcoming Bond villain role. His portrayal of the abusive, controlling husband here is near-identical to the performance he delivered as the abusive, controlling husband in Water for Elephants. Journalist Dick Nolan (Danny Huston) observes “subtle doesn’t sell”, and Waltz seems to have taken that to heart. All that said though, he’s a much better fit for the part than Ryan Reynolds, who was attached to the film at one point, would’ve been.

             Big Eyes sets itself apart from the prestige biopic pack with a deliberately cloying aesthetic, director Burton expressing the idea that ugliness can lurk beneath the surface of beautiful things. In focusing on Margaret and Walter’s relationship, Big Eyes seems to side-step challenging discussions about the role art plays in society which, when viewed through the lens of a period film, could have been especially thought-provoking. While still impactful and moving, this approach strips the material of some of the rawness and honesty it requires and ultimately, Big Eyes doesn’t dig deep enough.
Summary: A domestic abuse drama tinged with queasy stylisation, Big Eyes has Tim Burton deviating from his now-tired formula and boasts Amy Adams in top form but suffers slightly from being too simplistic.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong