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 Tim Burton's Big Eyes

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Tim Burton's Big Eyes   Mon Jan 26, 2015 12:43 am

For 15 films, director Tim Burton has always showcased an other-worldly, Gothic look and feel to his films. His films have a distinctive look and feel and you can tell when you're watching one of Burton's films, and even though his films have usually flirted in the worlds and genres of fantasy and/or horror. He has dabbled in other genres like musicals with Sweeney Todd (2007), science fiction with Mars Attacks! (1996) and Planet of the Apes (2001), a comedic soap opera horror with Dark Shadows (2012), he even returned to his roots as an animator with Corpse Bride (2005) and Frankenweenie (2012). But for his 16th film, Burton wanted to do something completely different, he would be dialing back his gothic visuals significantly, to do it, he would reunite with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who Burton worked with on the offbeat biopic Ed Wood (1994). Indeed, it was a film that Alexander and Karaszewski were originally going to direct with Burton producing, and it had been in development since 2007, with various actors attached at one point or another for the lead roles, but Alexander and Karaszewski couldn't get the money together. Burton was a huge champion of the project, and he saw great potential in the story. By 2013, he took over as director, even though he was drained from doing Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie back to back, it was now or never for the project. For Burton, it would be his most down to earth, and most realistic film since Big Fish (2003). Big Eyes see's Burton working in a restrained mode, and the result is his most focused film, and Burton still manages to have a lot of fun along the way.

In the late 1950's, Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) is in an unhappy marriage, so she leaves her husband with daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) in tow, and relocates in the bohemian suburbs of San Francisco living with her friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter). Margaret gets a job working in a furniture factory, but in her spare time, she does paintings of poor children with unnaturally large eyes, which at an arts fair, catches the attention of fellow painter Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who falls in love with Margaret. The two soon marry, and after Walter tries and fails at selling his own paintings at a jazz club belonging to Enrico Banducci (Jon Polito), he sells Margaret's paintings of the large eyed waifs. Margaret is initially happy that her work is getting attention, but then she finds out that Walter is claiming HE'S the artist of the paintings of the big eyed girls. Margaret is appalled at this, but Walter claims that no-one will buy paintings by a female artist. Margaret reluctantly agrees, and she churns out the paintings in a locked room in their house while Walter comes up with a way to ensure people see and have a piece of 'his' art, by making poster prints of the pictures of the girls. Despite the money coming in thick and fast, the whole charade puts a strain on their marriage and Margaret eventually wants out, but Walter won't let her. She eventually gets out and escapes with Jane to Hawaii, where on a radio show, comes clean about it. Walter is furious and tries to sue Margaret. The case goes nowhere until the Judge (James Saito) comes up with an unusual yet amusing solution to determine who did the paintings.

It's a unusual true story, but the best true stories are the ones that are unbelievable. Big Eyes is a perfect story for Burton, and while there's not much for him to do visually, apart from showcasing a lovely, sunny San Francisco, which is very colourful and eternally sunny. But he puts the story and the acting up front and first, and it shows he's a great director of actors. But he gets the best from his crew as well, with some lovely colourful camerawork by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, (who worked with Burton on Dark Shadows and the upcoming Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016), and also lensed Amelie (2001), Across the Universe (2007) and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)), the cinematograhy is similar to what Russell Metty did for Douglas Sirk's weepie melodramas in the 1950's, high contrast and full of colour. The production design by Rick Heinrichs, another Burton collaborator from Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Dark Shadows, makes a realistic but amusingly colourful depiction of what fashions and interior decorating was like in the 1950's and 60's. It might be a true story, but there's something a bit too colourful about this depiction of the period, and maybe that's the point. Colour is everywhere, but the central theme of the film is paintings. Plus, it wouldn't be a Burton film if he didn't have Danny Elfman on board, and Elfman, like Burton, is a bit more restrained this time, but the score is similar to what he did for Big Fish. Light, understated and with some bounce to it in places, and even a little bit jazzy too.

For the cast, Burton has taken a complete departure and there's no regular, recurring collaborators here, not even in the smaller parts. He's taken the plunge and gone with new faces completely. Loads of actresses were attached for the role of Margaret Keane, Burton chose Amy Adams, talented for being able to do family films like Enchanted (2007) and The Muppets (2011), and also prestigious films like The Fighter (2010), The Master (2012) and American Hustle (2013)), Adams gives Margaret Keane a quiet dignity who expresses herself through her paintings, but when she's forced to churn out the paintings ad infinitum, but when backed into a corner, she won't give in. In complete contrast to Adams;s restrained and sensitive performance is Waltz as the enigmatic and charismatic Walter, who is a cad, a schemer and a fraud. Waltz is the sneering baddie of the piece and he brings that across in spades, with a creepy smile on his face, he's delivering psychological abuse on Margaret, and all he wants is money, once he see's a cash cow, that's all he cares about. Burton also gets together a good little supporting cast as well. The always reliable Danny Huston plays newspaper reporter Dick Nolan, who also acts as the film's narrator, commenting on what an unbelievable story this is. Jon Polito, best known for his turns with the Coen Brothers, makes an entertaining Enrico Banducci, who has a love-hate relationship with Walter, Krysten Ritter puts in a good turn as Margaret's friend DeeAnn who knows something is up as soon as Walter enters the picture. Plus there's a couple of amusing little cameos from Jason Schwartzman and Terence Stamp as two snooty art critics who believe Margaret's, or should that be 'Walter's' works aren't art and believe they appeal to the lowest common denominator.





It's easily one of Burton's most accessible and straightforward films, even though not many people have got to see it yet and appreciate the visual beauty and finely honed performances that Burton does here. The theme of the film is about art, and how hard it is to get accepted by not just the general public, but also by the critics. But even if critics were unkind to Margaret Keane's artwork at the time, now they're being accepted. The paintings are kitsch, but in a good way. In anyone unfamiliar to Burton's work were to start with one, but they didn't want to be thrown in at the deep end of his more gothic works, this would be a good as place to start, along with Ed Wood and/or Big Fish. For Burton, it was a change of pace and work ethic as well. After nearly a decade of making big budget studio films, Big Eyes was shot nearly on the hoof in Vancouver and San Francisco on a meagre budget of $10 million, but Burton somehow makes it look like it cost more, and it still looks good visually as Burton's other work. Doing a film with no gothic overtones seems to have been a good thing for Burton, it shows he can do straightforward, down to earth films, and he should making more films like this, quirky films based on true stories that are out of the ordinary, as Burton shows a great talent for it. The last time Burton did a true story, it was Ed Wood, but while that was stylised to look like one of Wood's films in places, with Big Eyes, he's a lot more respectful to the subject and it's well worth it for the climax. As for Burton, after a break from all things gothic, he's returning to it for the the upcoming Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016) and the rumoured Beetlejuice sequel. But let's hope he tries non-Gothic films again soon.
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