Saturday, December 27, 2014

Big Eyes

Plot: Margaret (Amy Adams) is a starving artist in LA, and she meets fellow artist Walter Keen (Larry Kraszewski) who she promptly marries. Walter takes Margaret's paintings of waifs with BIG EYES  to shows claiming to be the artist. Walter is a great promoter and salesman, and soon the paintings are popular and they get rich.

Margaret is resentful that the world thinks that Walter is the artist while she is unnoticed, so after while they divorce. [MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW] In time, she goes public saying that she is the real artist. Ultimately this is decided in a court in the final scene.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Big Eyes  play on two levels -- on one level it is a situation comedy with funny scenes created by Walter's outrageous promotions and Margarets fuming rage. On the other level, it is a feminist fable that reminds us how primitive life was as recently as the 1950s.  (The Imitation Game was similar in that the primitiveness of 1940s Britain was a main theme.) 

Waltz's Keene is a consumate salesman, and he is grossly over promoting himself from the beginning. This makes him insincere and phony, and this was a desired effect because this was a comedy. A problem with the film is that Walter is the only character playing a comedy, and the others are in a light drama. I could have used more sincerity from Walter so we understood him better. 

Amy Adams is serious thoughout, and we get to see some solid dramatic acting from her -- a lot of bemused frowns and a little stern resolve. I would have liked her to be less subdued, but her passive nature was probably needed to advance the story believably. 

It has a good sound track with songs by Lana Del Rey and Danny Elfman, and a few clever images especially as the relationship breaks up. 

Art fraud has been with us for centuries, but his movie also pays as a husband who systematically took advantage of his wife. In this case, Walter may have been a life-long grifter, but Big Eyes has a broader theme about the exploration of women in pre-feminist society; although working class women are probably more exploited after all  Margaret does end up with a house in Hawaii. 

Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz

Directed by: Tim Burton, who is a collector of Margaret Burton's art

Rating: 3.0 stars -- a well made picture with a message and a story. Not funny enough as a comedy, with too few deep characters for a drama. 

More: Here is a Bing image search for more paintings. They used actual Margaret Keene images in the movie. 

Even More: Here is the real Margaret Keene at 87 years old. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Imitation Game

Plot: British Mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) volunteers to crack the German coding machine called Enigma. He is hopelessly arrogant and anti-social, and the other code-breakers hate him. He hires cute mathematician Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), and she helps him socially as well as on the project. The team battles to complete the machine under pressure from the Navy to finish quickly. There is a parallel story line about Turing's post-war prosecution as a homosexual, which was illegal in 1950's Britain.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: This is an engaging movie with strong characters, a point-of-view, and a life-and-death conflict. They make the codebreaking game understandable, and we feel the tension of the war effort. Even if we don't understand the codebreaking mechanics, we can feel the importance of it from the dynamics of the characters.

Cumberbatch's Turing is socially handicapped as if he had Aspergers, and this makes his performance tougher. (More on whether the real-life Turing had Asperger's here.) Cumberbatch's Turing is socially engaging when he needs to be, in the service of keeping the story going. Turing is engaging even if not always likable.  Cumberbatch is the motor that drives the movie, and I understand the Oscar buzz.

Joan Clarke is an interesting character (biography here). Knightley's Clarke finds herself in almost sitcom settings with unfamiliar power dynamics, and she gets of opportunity for some excellent subtle acting. The real life Clarke was one of three female cryptographers at the site, and she really was engaged to Turing for a time.

Most of the action takes place indoors, and the photography is simple. The soundtrack is typical orchestral music. 

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear

Directed by: Moren Tyldum

Based on the book by:  Andrew Hodges

Written by:  Graham Moore

Rating: 3.5 stars: Dramatic, suspenseful. Some good performances.

More: Here is a video where Joan Clarke talks about her relationship with Alan Turing.

Even More: Here are the real life Alan Turing and Joan Clarke