Big Eyes

Big-Eyes-Movie-Pictures1

DIR: Tim Burton • WRI: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski • PRO: Scott Alexander, Tim Burton, Lynette Howell, Larry Karaszewski • DOP: Bruno Delbonnel • ED: JC Bond • DES: Rick Heinrichs • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Krysten Ritter

As unfair as this is on the man, the best Tim Burton films are often the least Burtonesqueone. While the cartoonish Gothic shtick has certainly served him well – most obviously in his early career – many would surely agree it has led to rather diminishing returns in more recent times. He’s clearly a talented, individual director, but one who dances perilously close to self-parody on occasion. That’s not even mentioning the something of an over-reliance on certain collaborators, no matter how ill-suited they are to the task at hand.

 

That’s why it’s refreshing on those rare occasions when he breaks out of his dominant mode of expression – I for one definitely would not object to another film in the vein of Ed Wood, or even Big Fish. On the surface, it looks as if Big Eyes should capably serve that purpose – heck, it doesn’t even feature Johnny Depp! Excepting the absence of the earlier film’s star, the similarities to the delightful Ed Wood are fairly striking – they’re both based on bizarre real-life stories, they’re both period pieces, and they even share screenwriters (Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander). But while Ed Wood was an atypical Tim Burton film in a refreshing way, Big Eyes instead comes across as disappointingly anonymous.

 

The stranger-than-fiction tale at the film’s centre is that of Margaret and Walter Keane, played by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz respectively. As the film opens, Margaret is leaving her first husband, and she moves to bohemian San Francisco with her daughter Jane. Margaret wants to be an artist, and her particular skill is the creation of portraits of wide-eyed ‘waifs’. While trying to sell the portraits one day, she meets charming amateur artist Walter. The two hit it off, and are soon married (a decision aided by a legal letter from husband number one). Walter is dedicated to striking it big with his art, but while holding an ‘exhibition’ in a jazz bar’s corridor, he discovers that it’s actually Margaret’s art that is making the biggest impression. One thing leads to another, and he manages to convince Margaret he should take credit for the paintings, because ‘women’s art doesn’t sell’. Soon, the waifs are a huge commercial hit. Margaret covertly toils away at creating the paintings while Walter takes credit, but it’s a secret that starts eating away at her.

 

Big Eyes’ evocation of the 1950s and 60s is a peculiar mix of pleasant and bland – which, to be honest, sums up the film as a whole. Everything is kept ticking over without grave offense being caused, but it consistently fails to really explore the material in a satisfying or surprising way. Take the relationship between Frank and Margaret. There’s an interesting dynamic of domination and submission, but Burton and the writers never tease the nuances out, relying instead on the broadest of brush strokes.

 

The only obvious DNA Big Eyes shares with sections of Tim Burton’s filmography – barring a very weak Danny Elfman score – are the bigeyed waifs. Margaret Keane’s style must have influenced the director’s animated work in particular, subconsciously or otherwise. In this case, though, the film as a whole suffers due to a lack of authorial signature. There’s one or two well handled sequences where the Keane style seeps into the real world with the aid of some imaginatively creepy effects work. In fact, other compositions in the film are sometimes inspired by the wider world of mid-century pop art in quite witty ways (a Warhol reference during a supermarket reference is not subtle, but still serves as a neat throwaway visual gag). Those are the rare moments when some of the film’s otherwise confused themes and underwhelming visual identity are operating on roughly the same page, and one wishes the rest of the film operated as effectively.

 

One of the film’s major problems is that it boasts a great cast, but a script that does not offer them anything in the way of meaty material. Amy Adams acquits herself well enough in what is easily the closest thing the film has to a three-dimensional role. Waltz gives it his all, but cannot possibly elevate a character that is written as a crude caricature. Walter Keane is portrayed as a transparently manipulative, selfish and domineering con artist – albeit with a rougish charm. While it may be somewhat true to life (it goes without saying I am not in a position to make that assessment), it’s a point made sufficiently early on, and the writers’ disdain for him only increases as the film progresses to the point of pettiness. As a result, Keane becomes more and more of a one-note character,  and no amount of Waltz’s talent can save Walter as he transforms into a pantomime antagonist. At least Waltz has plenty of opportunity to chew the scenery. Spare a thought for Jason Schwartzman and Terence Stamp, playing an arrogant gallery owner and snooty art critic respectively – two already crude stock types, written in an even cruder way.

Buried somewhere in Big Eyes is a debate about the nature of art and entertainment; the conflict between elitism and populism; an ode to authorship; an exploration of mid-century gender politics. The story itself is so straight-up odd that it cannot help but be strangely compelling, not least the farcical legal proceedings that brought the core conflict to something of a close (and easily the dramatic and comedic highlight here). Big Eyes, though, is not a film that explores any of that in anything more than a perfunctory, mildly entertaining way. Tim Burton films often suffer from a surplus of character – Big Eyes could have used some of the overflow.

Stephen McNeice

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
105 minutes.
Big Eyes
is released 26th December.

Big Eyes  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Frankenweenie

 

DIR: Tim Burton • WRI: John August • PRO: Allison Abbate, Tim Burton • DOP: Peter Sorg • Chris Lebenzon Mark Solomon • DES: Rick Heinrichs • CAST:  Martin Landau, Christopher Lee, Winona Ryder

 

Before Scissorhands, before Beetlejuice, before Pee-wee, there was Frankenweenie. Tim Burton’s 1984 short film about a reanimated dog initially soured the professional relationship between the director and Disney, but nearly three decades on they’ve long since kissed and made up. They’ve teamed up again – after the baffling commercial success of Alice in Wonderland– to produce this feature-length stop-motion remake of Burton’s early film.Burton has never been guilty of disguising his gothic and B-Movie influences, but only rarely has he channelled them this explicitly. Frankenweenieplays like an eccentric yet affectionate satire of Frankenstein. Indeed, the protagonist of the film is a boy named Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan). After his dog Sparky is killed by a car, the young scientist is devastated. Inspired by his creepy but motivational new teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), Victor manages to reanimate Sparky by creating an elaborate electrically charged experiment in his attic. Barring the occasional limb falling off and the need for an occasional recharge at the mains, Sparky is as good as new. While Victor tries to keep Sparky’s resurrection secret, it isn’t long before the kids at school get wind of the development.The film’s wide-eyed, stop-motion style will draw inevitable comparisons with The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. In many ways, though, it’s more of a companion piece with Ed Wood (arguably Burton’s masterpiece). Aesthetically, the comparison is most obvious – they both have crystal clear black & white cinematography, and they’re equally well-versed in the style and iconography of mid twentieth century low-budget horror films.Almost everything here is satirising or celebrating the horror genre. Characters are based on the stars and icons of Universal and Hammer – from a next-door neighbour named Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder) to Landau’s enthusiastic channelling of Vincent Price. The film is dotted with references both obvious and subtle, including a great Bride of Frankenstein joke and Christopher Lee’s real-life Horror of Dracula appearing on television. Unlike the cheap pop-culture gags of a Shrek film, they’re all organically weaved into the story. It all makes for a charming homage, and one that adult audiences familiar with the reference will thoroughly appreciate.

Not to say young audiences will be completely alienated – it has an accessible story, is just the right amount of scary and is littered with quirky characters and sight gags. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the film’s most loyal supporters are older. A surprising anti-Creationism / pro-science subtext ensures the film’s underlying morals are admirable too.

There’s a lot to fit into a mere eighty minutes, and unfortunately some aspects do suffer as a result. There are far too many characters, and some potentially fruitful subplots are curiously underexplored. The film’s manic third-act piles on the B-Movie satire and cameos – let’s just say a Japanese character’s presence has a rewarding pay-off – but the action-packed climax feels somewhat less satisfying than what came before. There’s also a hint that the film might conclude on a suitably bittersweet note. Disney’s presence, however, inevitably ensures everything is wrapped up predictably.

Stephen McNeice

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
86 mins

Frankenweenie is released on 17th October 2012

Frankenweenie –  Official Website

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Cinema Review: Dark Shadows

 

DIR: Tim Burton  WRI: Seth Grahame-Smith  PRO: Tim Burton, Johnny Depp•  DOP: Bruno Delbonnel • ED: Chris Lebenzon  • DES: Rick Heinrichs  Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter

After his version of Alice In Wonderland netted more than $1 billion in the worldwide box office, Tim Burton was pretty much given carte blanche to do whatever he liked next. And in typically atypical Burton fashion, he decided to adapt a little-known and, truth be told, god-awful cult ’70s tv show.

When Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) breaks a witch (Eva Green)’s heart, her reaction could be considered over-the-top; she kills his parents, makes his new girlfriend commit suicide, turns him into a vampire and then has him buried alive for 200 years. He is dug up in 1972 to find his family name and business has been tarnished, so Collins takes it upon himself to bring together his distant relations and rebuild his fish-cannery business, which has suffered greatly due to the establishing of a rival cannery, owned and run by that still-smarting witch.

Burton has amassed an impressive supporting cast as the Collins clan; from the still-stunningly beautiful Michelle Pfeffier, to the slimy Jonny Lee Miller, as well as the embodiment of the ’70s Chloe Moretz, and the instantly lovable Gulliver McGrath. That’s not to mention sterling turns from Jackie Earle Haley as the Collins’ housekeeper and Bella Heathcote as the object of Barnabus’ affections. And that’s not to mention Depp, while adding yet another be-make-up’d freak to his CV, manages to turn this serial killer (Barnabus murders around twenty innocent people over the course of the movie) into someone quite relatable. What isn’t as relatable is the fact that the main problem of the movie is that Johnny Depp doesn’t want to have sex with Eva Green, who almost swipes the movie out from under Depp’s nose with her Grade-A bitch villain.

The 70s setting is properly realised and all the usual jokes are present and correct, with Depp’s fish out of water reacting to everything from electricity to lava lamps with an arched eyebrow of mistrust. Which, unfortunately, seems to be the point of the movie; Johnny Depp reacting to the ’70s. While there is some semblance of a plot, the movie itself doesn’t really seem to be about anything, with twenty minutes of set-up, over an hour of what felt like Johnny Depp-reacts-to-the-70’s montages, and then twenty minutes of climax. There are also some weird plot devices that never get fully explained, like if Barnabus was an only child, how is he related to these people? And what’s the story with Barnabus’ 1770s girlfriend and 1970s girlfriend being played by the same actress? And that’s not even getting to the biggest question of all, which is how did a film which is primarily four people talking to each other in an old house cost over $100 million to make??

Somebody needs to take Tim Burton’s budgets away from him. And while you’re at it, take away Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, too. Maybe if we take away all of Burton’s toys his imagination will return.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website) for details)
Dark Shadows is released on 11th May 2012

Dark Shadows  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isjg9O7ifwM

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Tim Burton Season at The Light House Cinema

In advance of the release of Dark Shadows, the Light House Cinema will be taking a nostalgic look at the early work of Tim Burton with two Double Bills – Pee Wee’s Big Adventure/Beetlejuice and a Johnny Depp Double Bill – Edward Scissorhands/Ed Wood.

The world of Tim Burton is as colourful as it is dark and as eccentric as it is accessible. We hope you’ll join us over the bank holiday weekend for some escapism at its most aesthetically pleasing.

PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE – Sunday, 6th May – 6.30pm

Burton’s first feature length film and certainly his most under-seen, although Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a children’s film, it is as strange and unsettling as any of Burton’s later work. Oddly likeable man-child Pee Wee Herman’s cross-country adventure is hugely imaginative, wonderful to look at and full of the quirk and stylistic nuances that would become Tim Burton’s trademark.

BEETLEJUICE – Sunday 6th May – 8.30pm

Burton’s first bona fide Hollywood hit, starring Michael Keaton as the most vile, uncontrollable “bio-exorcist” you could ever have the misfortunate of being haunted by. With a career-best turn from Michael Keaton, ably supported by Winona Ryder, Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis. Beetlejuice deals with tragedy and despair in that ghoulish but light-hearted way that only Tim Burton can pull off.

*Audiences member are permitted to “shake shake shake senora” where appropriate.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS – Monday 7th May – 6.30pm

The first film in one of the great actor/director partnerships of all time, here Burton convinces teen idol Johnny Depp to cover up his face, mess up his hair and dress up in S&M gear to bring us a story about a gentle man, made by a lonely inventor, who died before he could give him real hands. Edward Scissorhands is one the most beloved of Tim Burton’s films and balances his two loves, 1960’s pastiche and gothic aesthetic quite comfortably.

ED WOOD – Monday May 7th – 8.30pm

After years of taking inspiration from 1950’s B-movies, Tim Burton decided to pay direct homage to one of the most notorious figures from the annals of cult film, Ed Wood, bad director extraordinaire whose Plan 9 From Outer Space is commonly referred to as “the worst film ever made”. Far from making Ed Wood the butt of a joke, Tim Burton  and his star Johnny Depp lovingly create a character whose ambition, passion and vision knows no bounds, except unfortunately his own lack of talent.

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JDIFF 2012: Out of the Past Cinema Review: Tim Burton’s Batman

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Out of the Past: Batman

Thursday, 23rd February, 6:00pm, Light House

Few icons are as known world wide as Batman, the bat signal itself being a logo that can be found in the most unlikely of corners and a huge part of the ubiquity is down to how the character has been portrayed in various media since his inception.

However the character was nearly overwhelmed by tonal shifts throughout his tenure. Firstly in the 1950s where the grim and Gothic crusader was replaced by a frothy boyscout all silly adventures which took him out of his usual milieu and dumped him into adventures encompassing time travel and cosmic concerns.

The ’60s then brought the smash hit TV show which built on the revised ideal and repositioned the character as a camp ringleader of a truly absurd and lighthearted world. With the humour ramped up the essence of this dark character was being lost. This had to be rectified. While it’s true, the essential elements of Batman lends itself to an endless array of interpretations, it was still decided that as a property it needed to return to its roots. Under the stewardship of writers such as Denny Adams and Frank Miller not to mention the moody art of Neal Adams, the comics began to claw back the angst and twisted sensibilities that first defined the book and it’s this version of the character that Tim Burton, long time fan of dark fairytales would fashion the tone to take Batman onto a wider stage.

With its film noir trappings and exaggerated and askew internal logic the film works in killing off the earlier camp but fails to hang together as a coherent film. A famously chaotic production (the final Batman/Joker confrontation, being written on set, which explains its poor resolution) one gets the feeling that the film had too many cooks. Having to accommodate Jack Nicholson who puts in a towerhouse performance as himself in clown make up, Prince on the soundtrack whose funk stylings clash with everything around it, introducing a hero, his entire raison d’etre and a love interest proves too much for a director who admits narrative is not his strong point. The love story is ridiculous even as these things go, rushed and unconvincing a potentially vital character reduced to a mere damsel in distress.

There’s no throughline to the film to anchor it as its constantly mutating script introduces elements only to discard them like some ‘wonderful toys’ as Joker himself might say. It’s a collection of ideas and tics rather than a proper story. Being too dark for children, whose desire for escapism would not be sated with this dismal and undesirable world and too simplistic for adults, its garish roster of gangsters and shallow characters find no nuance and settles instead for being patronisingly cartoony. Burton should have taken after Richard Donner’s philosophy when making Superman the movie, his notion of verisimilitude, that subject matter like this must be played straight to actually work.

Despite being dissatisfying as a whole there is one thing it gets right. Controversial when announced, the casting of Michael Keaton proved a masterstroke, his Bruce Wayne a nervy counterpoint to the more square jawed archetype of the comics and all the more interesting for that. Bob Kane who lobbied against the decision was forced to concede his mistake when Keaton impressed. The other feature of the film which is perfect is the score provided by Danny Elfmann a stirring piece which became iconic in its own right and endured past the films as the theme of the definitive Batman Animated series of the ’90s.

Simon Terzise gave a talk before the film extoling the virtures of the score remarking on its power and iconic stature. Burton himself did not relish the experience of making the film and his return to the series in ’92 for the very flawed but superior Batman Returns was a way for him to absolve the mistakes of this. It’s easy to see on screen why he felt uneasy about it all but the character has suffered far worse that this over his lengthy career. The movies most famous question, posed nonchalantly by Nicholson was ‘Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?’ Yes we can answer and a most mediocre experience it was as it turns out.

Emmet O’Brien

Click here for Film Ireland’s coverage of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Click here for full details and to book tickets for this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlsM2_8u_mk

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

 

Santa's Night In

Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Throughout December we’ll be adding more Christmas films we love – so keep an eye on the website and feel free to add any of your own…


The Nightmare Before Christmas

Ciara O’Brien

Here were my two favourite holidays all rolled into one, and whether or not it was in fact Halloween or Christmas was irrelevant. It’s always a good time to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it’s never the wrong time to break into one of Danny Elfman’s quirky tunes. Unfortunately for my family, every Christmas, when the presents are under the tree screaming to be shaken and picked-at, they all receive a rousing rendition of ‘What’s This?!’ as I shuffle my way through them.

What sets The Nightmare Before Christmas apart from other animated classics is its characters. Burton’s vision is the fuel for the film’s fire and stop-motion veteran Henry Selick has managed to manipulate characters so vivid and effortlessly charming that they have seeped into popular culture and consciousness, popping up everywhere from popular song lyrics, to advertisements. As odd as it may seem to the first-time viewer, Jack and Sally are truly timeless characters.

What lies at the very heart of this film is an unlikely love story that is as inspiring and romantic as it is wacky, and a protagonist who craves change and desperately attempts to achieve happiness for all. His methods are misguided, his madness a certainty, but his well-meaning nature ensures that he is an instant hit with both children and parents.

This is the point at which Tim Burton’s unique style became instantly recognisable to audiences, and whilst Henry Selick is often overlooked as director, Burton’s subsequent works have positioned him as the master of the visual macabre. Here is an inspired idea taken to the very brink of imagination and back again, Halloween and Christmas could not be sociologically farther apart, and we learn here that their mixing isn’t exactly perfect, but it’s a refreshingly different look at things for the stressed out parents bemoaning the emergence of Christmas advertising on the morning of November 1st. Light-hearted but never silly, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a cinematic and artistic feat of skewed vision.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a refreshing use of the macabre for children, which never alienates adults, fashioning itself as the unexpected perfect Christmas family movie. The delight children take in what adults abject is evident in their Christmas wish lists, from dolls with various bodily functions to action figures to be dismantled in battle. Here is a film which shares in their odd delights, with just enough nods to the adult world to ensure complete enjoyment. Despite its various oddities, there is something refreshingly innocent about Halloween town and its inhabitants, that leaves us wondering who the ‘bad guys’ actually are.

Thankfully, I have since graduated to DVD, which is a lot harder to wear out. The Nightmare Before Christmas was re-released 3D in 2007, and with the showing of it in theatres each year since, the movie has seen a drastic spike in popularity. Whilst the addition of 3D was somewhat unnecessary, albeit excellently executed and doubtlessly enjoyed by children, here was a welcome return to the big screen for The Pumpkin King and his cohorts. The Nightmare Before Christmas is, for this reviewer, the perfect Christmas film to grow up with.

It’s undoubtedly not your average Christmas film, and that’s why I love it. Normal is often over-rated, and what exactly is normal about a large bearded man in a red suit breaking and entering once a year?

Oh wait, he’s got presents? Carry on fatty! Carry on!


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Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

DIR: Tim Burton • WRI: Linda Woolverton• PRO: Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd, Richard D. Zanuck • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Chris Lebenzon • DES: Robert Stromberg • CAST: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

For many, the idea of Tim Burton not only getting his hands on the wherewithal to finally add 3-D to his dreamscape pictures, but also to inject Alice with some 21st century pizzazz, was a match made in Wonderland. Happily, cohorts Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp soon joined the bandwagon, and the movie was deemed all but perfect before a single scene had been viewed.

Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to these illustrious beginnings – and what could! – it nevertheless brings to screen one of the liveliest, most mesmerising and downright entertaining re-imaginings of Alice ever…well…imagined. Burton is the perfect mix of darkness and light to capture the literary nonsense of Lewis Carroll’s fragmented tale of stunted growth and avoided adolescence. What Burton has done, (to some purists’ eternal chagrin), has combined both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and joined the fragments of both to create a more linear narrative. Whilst this might nullify some of the more nonsensical elements of the original tales, what it does do is make for an easier-to-follow storyline, and a more satisfying denouement. It’s worth remembering, though, that even when a tale is linear in the world of Tim Burton, it does not necessarily make for a straightforward movie!

Depp, of course, is mesmerising as the Mad Hatter – as he mentioned himself, what he wanted to bring to his character was fear at his own madness. It’s all very well being mad when you don’t realise it – a lot of people can get on quite happily like that – but if you know that you are crazy, and can’t always control it, then it becomes a fearful thing. His menacing Glaswegian accent highlights the intensity, as does his post-enhanced massive eyes, but beneath it all, Depp is as at home in this wonderful world as in all of his Burton escapades. Bonham Carter’s Red Queenie is a comic mix of foolishness, conceit and globular head – her impeccable skills keeping it from farce, and Anne Hathaway’s good queen is regal and charming, and just a little bit nuts herself. Not to forget the surprisingly-older titular Alice, all confusion and gumption, brought together winningly by Mia Wasikowska. Add to this the anthropomorphic array of delightful creatures that cross her path – from Stephen Fry’s Chesire Cat, through Alan Rickman’s Caterpillar, and Christopher Lee’s terrifying Jabberwock – and the Wonderland is complete.

The 3-D may have been added after shooting, and certainly contains some cheap ‘throw-things-at-the-audience’ shots, but Burton’s dreamlike mindscape is exactly what 3-D has been waiting for. Fantasy, adventure, a wonderland below our earth, a cast of colourful characters, and logic out the window: these things make for a movie event that begs to be experienced in big screen. What Burton does better than any other director – perhaps with the exception of Wes Anderson – is use the cinema screen as his own personal canvas, painting scenes of such obvious delight that you can’t help but be carried away with his enthusiasm. So what if Avril Lavigne maligns your ears with a rendition of Alice? So what if the Hatter’s dance seems totally out of place and meant for toddlers? So what if he takes liberties with an acknowledged hotchpotch of literary ideas? The fact remains that when Tim Burton makes a movie, anything goes, and everything works in its own way.

All in all, niggly doubts aside, Burton has brought Alice’s Wonderland to life as only he can: fantastical, beautiful, and a wonder to behold.

Sarah Griffin
(See biog here)

Rated PG (see IFCO for details)

Alice in Wonderland is released 5th Mar 2010

Alice in Wonderland – Official Website

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