Christophe Waltz, Amy Adams as the Keanes
“BIG EYES” My rating: B-
105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
In “Big Eyes” Tim Burton takes on the oddball odyssey of Walter and Margaret Keane, who a half century ago launched an art-world/cultural sensation with cartoonish paintings of children with huge, sad eyes.
Despite being savaged as tasteless kitsch by the critics — the eyes were compared to “big stale jelly beans” — these “Keane Kids” became hot commodities. Fame and fortune followed. Think of it as a pre-Tomas Kinkade display of bad taste.
Eventually the Keane Kids generated a scandal when it was proven in court that Walter Keane, who claimed to be the artist, was in fact no more than a hack taking credit for his wife’s work.
Burton has two very fine actors in Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams. His recreation of ‘60s San Francisco feels authentic. And the subject matter promises something along the lines of “Ed Wood,” for my money the director’s most heartfelt work.
After all, both films are about “artists” who specialize in…well, not art.
But whereas “Ed Wood” was a very funny celebration of a tasteless filmmaker — often cited as the worst director of all time yet obsessed with capturing his questionable vision on celluloid — “Big Eyes” is a more conflicted affair.
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“DJANGO UNCHAINED” My rating: C (Opens wide on Christmas Day)
165 minutes | MPAA rating: R
As a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, it gives me little pleasure to confess that “Django Unchained” gave me little pleasure.
Tarantino, who spent his formative years as a video store clerk immersed in cult cinema, has made a career of taking cheesy filmic subgenres and elevating them into something like high art through the sheer transformative genius of his imagination.
Here he tackles two chestnuts from the cinema cellar.
First there are the Italian “Django” movies (there are at least 30 of them) about a surly drifter in the Old West who leaves behind whole towns of festering corpses.
More importantly, “Django” references the mid-‘70s blaxploitation movie. But instead of raising the genre to a new level, Tarantino seems content to kick around in the basement.
“Django” isn’t so much a clever comment on blaxploitation as it is a genuine blaxploitation film with all the usual atavistic violence and cartoonish drama intact.
It is technically more sophisticated than the films it emulates, but not much deeper. And while it contains enough subversive ideas about race to keep the thesis mills churning out papers for the next decade, it never becomes a satisfying dramatic experience.
Initially, at least, “Django Unchained” looks like “Inglourious Basterds” redux. Both films are minority revenge fantasies. In “Basterds” (2009) Tarantino cleverly hypothesized a group of Jewish-American commandos who succeed in assassinating Adolf Hitler.
In “Django” a slave in the antebellum American South becomes a gunfighter and kills a lot of white racists on the way to rescuing his wife from the clutches of a sadistic plantation owner.
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Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Cristoph Waltz
“CARNAGE” My rating: B (Opens Jan. 13)
79 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Wickedly funny and maddeningly claustrophobic, Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” is a sort of pretention-free “No Exit” in which four characters are trapped in a hell from which there appears to be no escape.
Actually it’s a nicely-appointed Brooklyn apartment owned by Michael (John C.Reilly) and Penelope (Jodie Foster). Visiting are another couple, Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz).
Nancy and Alan’s 11-year-old son Zachary has ended a playground argument by smashing Michael and Penelope’s son Eliot in the face with a stick. Now the parents are coming together to make amends in a nice, civilized fashion.
Good luck with that.
Almost from the beginning you can tell that this attempt at reconciliation is not going well.
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