Tag Archives: Jason Schwartzman

The ‘Eyes’ Have It

Amy Adams & Christoph Waltz shine in quirky true retro-art tale

BIG EYES

Big Eyes

Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz

Directed by Tim Burton

PG-13

Appropriately enough, the opening shot of Big Eyes is a big eye—and a tear.

For this is a sad tale—sort of. Based on the true story of Margaret Keane, the artist whose paintings of children with big, sorrowful eyes became a kitschy art sensation in the 1960s, it stars Amy Adams as Margaret and Christoph Waltz as her husband, Walter.

The “sad” part of the story is that Walter took full credit for Margaret’s paintings, keeping his wife and her talent hidden in his shadow for almost ten years.

BIG EYES

Christoph Waltz & Amy Adams

“People don’t buy lady art,” Walter tells Margaret, convincing her that “they” would benefit more if he becomes known as the creator of the wistful-looking, saucer-eyed waifs on the canvasses—and above the signature that read simply “KEANE.”

Amy Adams, whose career has spanned a spectrum of widely diverse roles (American Hustle, The Muppets, Her, The Master), shines with a wounded, subdued glow as Margaret, making us understand both the weakness that would let her character remain a victim of Walter’s bullying, as well as the strength it took for her to finally leave him—and then, 20 years later, sue him to prove her rightful claim to the paintings.

Waltz, the German-Austrian actor who became known to American audiences in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, brings a manic, electrified energy to Walter, depicted him as a trifecta of showy self-promotion, talentless hackery and scary domination.

BIG EYES

A tense moment with Margaret’s visiting friend (Krysten Ritter)

Big Eyes might seem an odd, highly conventional choice for director Tim Burton, best known for the eccentric, wildly imaginative look, feel and subject matter of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and The Nightmare Before Christmas. But there are quirks a-plenty in the weird true story itself, and Burton’s signature touches abound, especially in the movie’s bight, day-glow colors; his attention to far-out, decade-spanning period details; and the casting of some fine character actors in supporting roles, including Terence Stamp (as a snooty New York Times art critic), Danny Huston (a tabloid reporter who serves as the movie’s narrator), Krysten Ritter from TV’s Breaking Bad (as Margaret’s best friend), Jason Schwartzman (an art gallery snob) and Joe Polito (a nightclub owner), all of whom provide their own dry, dark-comic edges to the central melodrama.

The movie culminates in a recreation of the 1986 trail, a showdown in which a judge orders Margaret and Walter into an easel-versus-easel contest for the jury to determine who was the real artist of the “big eye” paintings.

Burton’s movie brings up several issues: the subjugation of women in the 1950s and ’60s, intellectual property theft and the role of media and publicity in creating fads, movements and celebrity. But mostly it’s a wacky history lesson about a real-life woman who finally set the record straight, told by a director who loves a kitschy underdog tale, with two lead actors who put their own colorful brushstrokes on a zesty, little-known story. Big Eyes may not become a big breakout hit, but it’s certainly a big, bright surprise.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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A Great Escape

Wes Anderson’s latest romp is a quirky, colorful movie getaway

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and Willem Dafoe

Directed by Wes Anderson

R, 100 min.

 

With director Wes Anderson, you either “get him” and his oddball characters, quirky plots and distinctive, whimsical visual style, or you don’t. A whole lot of people do, however, in his movies including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Now The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a bustling movie getaway most Wes Anderson fans will find irresistible.

GHB_7195 20130213.CR2

Tony Revolori & Saoirse Ronan

A wild romp set in a 1930s Eastern European mountain resort, it features a colorful assortment of players and a story within a story within a story that keeps burrowing deeper into its own silly seriousness. As with most Anderson projects, he works with cavernous open spaces as well as delicate, meticulously detailed miniatures.

His sights, like scenes carefully colored with pastel crayons from a storybook, are often sumptuous, and his actors move, and speak, with a clockwork cadence that adds to the sense of comedic orchestration.

The plot unfolds backwards, as unspooled by the owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham) to one of its guests (Jude Law), relating his beginnings as the establishment’s bellboy, Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori in his first starring role). Zero and his mentor, the hotel’s longtime, ladies-man concierge, the ultra-dapper Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Feinnes), become friends and co-conspirators in a spiraling, sprawling misadventure that includes a murder, a missing will, a purloined painting, an outlandish prison break, and the outbreak of something that resembles World War II.

Along the way, they encounter a spectrum of characters, played by actors including many who’ve cropped up in previous Anderson movies (Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray—who’s appeared in every Wes Anderson film—Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel), as well as Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Bill Murray

Everyone seems to be having a big old time in the big old hotel, and everywhere else, and several scenes are real hoots, like the scampering prison escape—which feels like a live-action re-enactment of something from the stop-motion animation antics of The Fantastic Mr. Fox—and an extended sequence in which a secret cadre of other concierges drop everything to help one of their own out of a jam.

The story is based on a book by little-remembered Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Sweig, who was actually one of Europe’s most popular writers of the 1920s and ’30s. Anderson gives Sweig an “inspired by” credit at the end of the film.

Anderson’s detractors often think his movies are contrived, pretentious, gimmicky, too indy/arty or simply not nearly as funny as Mr. Anderson must think they are. OK, fair enough. But if you’re looking for a kooky, slightly off-kilter stopover in a place that can offer you an exhilarating, completely unique experience like nothing else at the multiplex, then I recommend you check in for a couple of free-wheeling hours—at The Grand Budapest Hotel.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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The Nanny & the Mouse

The story behind the story behind the story of ‘Mary Poppins’

SAVING MR. BANKS

Saving Mr. Banks

Starring Tom Hanks & Emma Thompson

Directed by John Lee Hancock

PG-13, 123 min.

A Walt Disney movie about Walt Disney making a Walt Disney movie, Saving Mr. Banks is a story behind a story behind a story that will strike a sentimental chord with anyone who remembers Disney’s 1964 hit about a certain singing, flying British nanny.

The true tale of how Uncle Walt convinced P.L. Travers, the writer of Mary Poppins, to sell him the rights to turn her storybook series into the now-classic movie musical is spun here into a witty, heart-tugging yarn about Disney’s unstoppable force confronting Travers’ immoveable object.

Tom Hanks plays the avuncular Disney, atop his Magic Kingdom empire in 1961 and trying to finally come through on a 20-year promise to his young daughters to take their favorite childhood character, Mary Poppins, from the storybook to the screen. The prickly Travers (Emma Thompson), the British author of the series of books featuring the English nanny with magical powers, has consistently, persistently tuned down Disney’s offers.

But now, in a financial bind, Travers finally agrees to come to Los Angeles and proceed with a film treatment as long as she’s given script approval and made part of the process. She tells Walt to his face, however, that she won’t have her fiercely guarded Mary “turned into one of your silly cartoons.”

SAVING MR. BANKSThe movie toggles between Travers’ comically difficult work with Disney and his staff, and flashbacks to her golden-glow childhood in Australia with her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), building connections between the author, her past and her literary creation that don’t become evident until much later in the movie.

Travers hates everything, at least initially—everything about Los Angeles, Hollywood, Disney and the movie his company is trying to make. She hates Dick Van Dyke, the actor hired as the star.  She hates the songs, written by the crack Disney tunesmith siblings Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman). She hates the idea of dancing penguins.

SAVING MR. BANKSPaul Giamiatti has a recurring role as the friendly chauffeur hired by Disney to squire Travers around, becoming the only American she meets to really break through her icy shell. (It’s enough to make you wonder how the same actor could be playing a heartless slave broker just a few multiplex doors down in 12 Years A Slave.)

We all know how things turned out: Walt compromised just enough to win the tug of war, and the movie got made the way he envisioned it. Disney’s Mary Poppins was a smash. Critics praised it, fans adored it and it helped segue Disney from cartoons into live-action features. It won five Academy Awards.

As he did in The Blind Side, director John Lee Hancock pours on the emotion, so much so that it sugarcoats the shortcomings in the script, which fails to neatly, completely wrap up the rather dense details of Travers’ daddy issues and why exactly Mr. Banks, the father of the children in “Mary Poppins,” was in need of being saved.

But Thompson does a fine job, and so does Hanks, especially in a late scene together where their two characters warm to each other when he shares a story about his own hardscrapple youth, and about his own daddy issues—one that helps seal his deal.

And by golly, if you don’t get a bit of a lump in your throat during the “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” scene, well, you’ve got more ice that needs melting than even Ms. Travers.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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