Rapid Movie Review: ‘Big Eyes’ & ‘Into the Woods’


Cole Clay // Film Critic

BIG EYES | 105 min. | Rated PG-13 | Director: Tim Burton | Stars: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny HustonJason SchwartzmanDanny Huston and Terence Stamp

Tim Burton has taken a break from his string of recent adaptations –  rather it be a television show like DARK SHADOWS, or the beloved ALICE IN WONDERLAND – to work with material that’s an endearing attempt to get out of his creative slump.

BIG EYES is based on a decade in the lives of artists Walter (Christoph Waltz) and Margaret (Amy Adams) Keane’s paintings of saucer-eyed ragamuffins that left Margaret unnoticed as her husband took the credit (and the money) for her immensely popular portraits.

This is Burton’s most promising film in sometime as he re-teamed with ED WOOD screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewsz. He returns to his roots by subverting the idealism of suburban living. This time his work is moving back in the right direction, but is constrained by working so many years on large tent-pole adaptations.

We get a decent performance from Adams, but there isn’t much there that adds to the conversation of feminism in film with the archetype of the stifling husband being filled by Waltz, who at this point has exhausted the charming baddie schtick. Aside from a satisfying ending courtroom sequence that has Waltz choreographing his testimony, the color in the performance doesn’t match up with the vibrant art direction that’s laced within the scenery.

BIG EYES doesn’t aim too high, and could be a way for Burton to quietly start coming back into form, even if that form is derivative of earlier work.

INTO THE WOODS | 124 min. | Rated PG | Director: Rob Marshall | Stars: James Corden, Emily BluntMeryl Streep, Chris PineAnna KendrickLilla Crawford, Daniel HuttlestoneBilly Magnussen and Johnny Depp

Based on the first trailer for Disney’s INTO THE WOODS, the musical fantasy film looked to be an uninspired rendition on the Stephen Sondheim musical. And no surprise that it’s largely a platform for A-listers to flex their musical theater chops without actually putting in the level of work that Neil Patrick Harris put in for his Broadway performance in HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.

The first half of director Rob Marshall’s (CHICAGO) film is a simply adorable tale of a baker (James Corden) and his wife’s (Emily Blunt) attempt to track down four distinct items in the dreaded woods after a witch (Meryl Streep) has cursed them from having a child. What starts off as an irreverent tale that interconnects several beloved fairy tales becomes a moral lesson that asks what happens after the happy endings.

This causes INTO THE WOODS to lose its appeal due to a disjointed plot that’s a revolving door of narrative tones that fails to discover its identity. Marshall has the ability to keep the film feeling contained with a foreboding darkness despite the over-stuffed narrative flaws.

Not that I have much knowledge on Sondheim’s catalogue, but it’s the songs and performances that serves as the stickum that holds the film together. A standout performance by Chris Pine as the prince who was trained to be “charming not earnest” hits a fever pitch with the duet “Agony” accompanied by Billy Magnessen (THE EAST). The winsome pair Corden and Blunt gives an unexpected boost, while Anna Kendrick as Cinderella underwhelms. Overall, INTO THE WOODS is just fine and doesn’t justify the presence of all the stars that are showcased.

Both films open tonight at 7 p.m.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.