Tag Archives: Tim Burton

Movie Review: Big Eyes (2014)

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Tim Burton movies don’t quite have the same allure they used to, but I was still looking forward to his latest change-of-pace effort, Big Eyes, the amazing real-life story of artists Margaret and Walter Keane.

As the title suggests, the film is about the controversial “Big Eyes” artworks. I may have lived under a rock for most of my life, but even I have seen them before. Like most people, however, I had no idea who painted them and that there was a crazy story behind the true artist. If you don’t know about it, then I suggest you go into the film knowing as little as possible, though even if you do — as I did after “accidentally” doing a bit of reading about it — it’s definitely not a deal breaker.

Amy Adams plays Margaret, a divorced single mother and artist who meets the charismatic and manipulative Walter, brought to life by the always impressive Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Walter sweeps Margaret off her feet and the two soon marry. To make ends meet Walter starts renting out wall space in the hopes of selling their paintings, and before long the Big Eyes strike it big, giving the couple everything they could ever dream of. But of course, there is a secret — a very badly-kept one if you’ve seen even just five seconds of the trailer…

Set in the 1950s, Big Eyes is a film that speaks volumes about the sexual equality and the role of women back in those days, which goes a long way to explaining the characters’ actions and motivations. Apart from providing social commentary, the film is also quietly entertaining — not with action or thrills, but with thought-provoking intrigue and quirky humour. You can sense Tim Burton’s shadow in many of the jokes and in Waltz’s flamboyant performance (it’s a role Johnny Depp probably could have done), though thank god it is mostly restrained and not over the top. That said, it is still a very funny film, one that almost pokes fun at the outrageousness of the situation at every turn.

Speaking of performances, Amy Adams delivers another stellar one as the uneasy Margaret, a woman who settles for less because of the times but has an enviable inner strength waiting to be unleashed. The Golden Globe win was well deserved, but I can also see why Adams, as well as the rest of the film, was overlooked for the Oscars. It’s a pleasant and very watchable film, though despite its shocking true-story premise the production lacks a certain “wow” factor that typically captivates Academy voters.

Notwithstanding its lack of Oscar-worthiness, Big Eyes is a fun and educational experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously despite tackling some serious themes. I laughed, I cringed, and I even learned a thing or two. I enjoyed it a lot.

3.75 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 7

Dark Shadows (2012)

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During my 9 month studying at Cambridge between 2008-2009, the only extra-curricular event I attended without being invited is a session about Dark Shadows, the cult American gothic soap opera from the 1960s. I didn’t know anything about the show at all, but it was about TV/entertainment and it had a horror slant to it, so I figured it was good enough for someone bored out of their mind from reading law textbooks all day. So on that afternoon, I saw an episode of the show, and heard that a movie version was in the works directed by Tim Burton, and of course, Johnny Depp. I thought it had potential.

Fast forward to last year, and Dark Shadows the movie was finally here, with Depp as the protagonist vampire Barnabas Collins and Eva Green as his jealous ex-lover. The all-star cast also features Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Grace Moretz and Jackie Earle Haley.

Though technically a horror, Dark Shadows intended to be a campy comedy about a vampire locked away for two centuries before being released in 1972. Most of the jokes, therefore, stem from Depp’s clueless attitude towards the “modern” world and the people who inhabit it, kind of like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man.

Unfortunately, while not horrible, Dark Shadows was rather lame and elicited few chuckles. It was pretty to look at, but the whole film was a tiring affair with obvious gags and not a lot of life (and I don’t mean that as a joke because vampires are supposed to be dead). To be fair, it was always going to be a difficult task to make a film based on a 60s TV show, but in this case it had me wondering whether they completely wasted their own and everyone else’s time. There just wasn’t anything inspiring or memorable about it. Encino Man was so bad it was awesome. Dark Shadows isn’t anything.

2 stars out of 5

The Words (2012)

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A seemingly interesting film that really doesn’t say much in the end. Bradley Cooper plays (like he does in Limitless) an impossibly handsome but struggling writer, who finds a riveting manuscript he decides to pass off as his own. But of course, he was never going to get away with it, and must face the consequences, including answering to his wife, Zoe Saldana.

To make matters more complicated, Cooper and Saldana’s story is actually a book written by Dennis Quaid, and he’s unveiling the story at a public reading. Meanwhile, there’s Olivia Wilde, an attendee at the reading who gets cozy with Quaid but can’t figure out how much of the story is autobiographical. And to really mess with you, when Cooper is confronted by the real author, he is told the story of how the manuscript came to be.

On the surface, The Words looks like three-tiered a morality tale, a story within a story within a story that tells us it’s naughty to steal someone’s work. And for most of the movie, I was hoping it would turn out to be something really intelligent and thought-provoking. But eventually I realized that it was just a bunch of contrived plot tricks masquerading as a clever movie, one that never really provides any answers or a satisfactory conclusion.

That said, as I kept hoping to be impressed and was curious about the questions the film raised, I was completely engaged for the majority of the film’s 96-minute running time. Unfortunately the payoff was a huge disappointment, but at least it wasn’t boring.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: Ironically, the film was accused of having ripped off a German novel (true fact).

The Five Year Engagement (2012)

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I thought The Five Year Engagement looked like a pretty “meh” film from the trailers, to be honest, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised by how funny, warm and genuine it felt.

Emily Blunt and Jason Segel, who have amazing chemistry in this, are a couple who get engaged but then for various reasons are unable to marry and keep extending the engagement (for guess how long?). From work to deaths to misunderstandings and mishaps and temptations, the engagement just keeps going and going. I thought it would get tedious after a while but somehow director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) keeps it interesting by varying things up with jokes couples can relate to, plus the occasional bit of wacky or random humor.

It’s one of those films where you’re likely to find yourself rooting for them to stay together because the leads and the characters they are playing are so likable and they make such a sweet couple, but at the same time the circumstances make you wonder whether things are just not meant to be. As a result the film’s tone is infused with a sense of bittersweet melancholy — that mixes unexpectedly well with the light humour.

I wouldn’t call it an excellent film, but The Five Year Engagement is certainly one of the better rom-coms of the year.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Babymakers (2012)

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This was another attempt to cash in on the adult comedy market with a crude, outrageous jokes, but according to Wikipedia the film made about $8,000. I don’t think it’s that bad, but it’s not particularly funny and there’s nothing really helping it stand out from the rest of the pack.

Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) and Paul Schneider (Parks & Recreation) are a couple trying to get pregnant without much luck. Schneider discovers that his boys aren’t exactly swimming but remembers that he used to donate regularly to the local sperm bank years ago, when his boys were more capable swimmers.

But for some reason the bank won’t budge and Schneider intends to break in to steal his “stuff”, along with his buddies and a “professional” played by the film’s director, Jay Chandrasekhar. Craziness ensues.

Sounds like a fun premise — a heist film where the bank is filled with something other than money — and I have to admit there were moments when The Babymakers elicited a chuckle here and there. But the humour was too sporadic and was overshadowed by all the gross-out stuff that was completely unnecessary (sperm plays a large role, as you can imagine) and frankly not all that funny. And the film just trips and falls flat on its face by the end.

I like Olivia Munn from watching The Newsroom and she does have some comedic chops, as does Schneider, but sadly The Babymakers’ few good jokes were lost in a sea of crap ones.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I just got back from watching Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, considered an “extension” of the Lewis Carroll novels “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”.  In 3D, of course.

The story needs no introduction, but keep in mind that it is not a direct adaption, not even a re-imagining, so while there are familiar elements and characters, not everything will be expected.

Visually and stylistically, it’s almost as impressive as anything I’ve seen from Tim Burton (I’d probably still say Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow were better).  The CGI is blended in seamlessly with the live action actors, led by Australian Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen.

As for whether the film itself was any good, well…it started off well, but after a strong introduction, Alice in Wonderland lost a lot of that initial intrigue and excitement.  It may have coincided with the appearance of Depp’s Mad Hatter, who was given a much bigger and more important role than expected.

I could tell Burton was hoping for more of an emotional connection through the relationship between Alice and the Hatter, but I don’t think he succeeded.  For once, I think seeing more of Johnny Depp actually made the film less interesting.  Blasphemous?

As for the others, Mia Wasikowska was a pretty standard heroine, not bad but not oozing with star power either.  Anne Hathaway, covered in goth-like make-up, was the ugliest I have ever seen her.  And Helena Bonham Carter, with her massively over-sized head, was my favourite character (and not a terribly horrible one for a villain either).

Anyway, I thought Alice in Wonderland was okay.  Good but could have been better.  It was a visual feast and about half of the 109-minute running time was pretty fascinating.  At times it was amusing and exciting (and even a little scary), but on the whole, not particularly entertaining by Burton’s usual high standards, and a film that got progressively weaker towards the end, including a pedestrian climax.

3 stars out of 5!

[PS: the 3D was good but to be honest I didn’t feel like it made a huge difference to the overall experience.]