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Big Eyes • The Interview

January 1, 2015

Big Eyes (***) PG-13

After such films on his resume in the last decade as the cinematic re-tellings of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland and the big screen adaptation of Sweeney Todd, director Tim Burton’s latest film comes as a big relief.  Relief, in that it’s great to see a director of Burton’s caliber, a filmmaker who seemed to have lost his way on some level, come roaring back with such an inspired effort as Big Eyes. That’s not to say the film is without flaws but it does at the very least represent a step in the right direction for Burton at a time when I wasn’t sure he had this kind of personal storytelling still left in him.

Amy Adams, coming off her award-worthy performances in multiple Oscar-nominated films released at the tail end of last year, has the lead role of Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter (Christoph Waltz), turned the art world upside down during the late 1950s with his portraits of waifish caricatures with saucer eyes. Of course, eventually it would come to be known that Walter was not at all responsible for his own art but had instead conned his wife into painting the pictures for him instead. Walter of course has talents of his own but none of the artistic variety. His were more of the showmanship variety, which would serve him well until his secret was eventually revealed.

If Big Eyes is a more restrained and personal work for Tim Burton it may have something to do with the fact that he’s reunited here with the screenwriting team from his beloved 1994 film Ed Wood.

Amy Adams as Margaret Keane in Big Eyes

Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander both have a great knack for scripting biopics like this one as evidenced in their previous, non-Tim Burton efforts such as The People Versus Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon. Their penchant for telling stories like this make them a perfect choice for telling the story of the Keanes. There’s also a great subtext to be found in the film as Margaret eventually decides to stand up for herself and to stop being subservient to her overpowering husband. This of course illustrates the dark underbelly of the decade of the fifties that no one really likes to acknowledge but one that, thankfully, the film’s writers chose not to ignore.

Big Eyes doesn’t have enough urgency in its drama and narrative drive to make it the solid home run it could have been but it’s interesting enough to keep viewers unfamiliar with its story interested in the events as they unfold onscreen. It’s also filled with good performances and great cinematography and in spite of its lack of controversy, a much better option than The Interview. If you’re looking for a interesting true story well told, look no further.
   
The Interview (**) R

Now that all the fallout concerning the release of the film The Interview has finally subsided to some degree, the question remains as to whether the film, taken on its own merits, was really worth the stir and ensuing media frenzy it caused. The answer would be a resounding no. After seeing it, one actually wonders if the conspiracy theories regarding a possible attempt on Sony’s part to generate interest in a film that the studio feared was a dud by concocting the whole affair from the inside might actually have some merit. The Interview as it turns out, is a mere trifle and not much more.

The problem with the film is that it just isn’t funny enough for most of its running time. There are a few choice gags here and there but far too many dull stretches in between laughs. I think part of that blame may rest with the film’s star and co-writer Seth Rogen’s decision to direct the film, along with his longtime writing partner Evan Goldberg. It’s apparent that although the two may have some talent in terms of writing, when it comes to directing it’s all too clear they’re novices. The two just don’t seem to have a real director’s eye for staging comedic scenes and that’s only part of the problem. One can’t help but wonder if a director such as David Gordon Greene (Pineapple Express) might have been more up to the task than Goldberg/Rogen, but that’s obviously a question we’ll never have answered. James Franco’s stiff performance doesn’t help either.

Curiously, in most of Rogen/Goldberg’s other scripts, their characters seem to have some sort of backstory. Here, they have none. We know nothing about them except that Franco’s character is a TV show host and Rogen’s character is his producer. Franco’s Dave Skylark is the host of the highly rated interview show, Skylark Tonight. The joke here is that he manages to get celebrities to say things to him they would say to no one else, e.g., Eminem admitting his homosexuality, etc.

When Skylark learns of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s love of the show, he, along with his producer, Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) decide to attempt to land the ultimate interview. Along the way, the CIA becomes aware of the plan and coaxes the two into an assassination plot, which they manage to bungle repeatedly.

When it’s all said and done and the dust has settled, it’s going to be hard to imagine anyone wanting to go back and revisit The Interview, in spite of its admittedly rousing and darkly comical final act. It simply doesn’t have the shelf life of something along the lines of the similarly themed—and much more successful—Team America: World Police. It’s hard to imagine a film as tepid as The Interview being the cause of such an uproar and potential terrorist activity. Let’s just hope no life is lost for such an unworthy cause.

The Interview is available online from various outlets. Big Eyes is playing all around this area.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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