Archive for the ‘Christoph Waltz’ Category

Big Eyes

27 Dec

Big Eyes – written and directed by Tim Burton. BioDrama. 105 minutes Color 2014

The Story: A painter marries a man who claims all her paintings are by himself.


A lousy director is made worse when he writes his own movie. For he is hardly in a position to proclaim in a voice loud and clear that such and such is missing and such and such ought to be. I don’t come to this movie claiming that Tim Burton is a lousy director, but only that his aesthetic is low. Low, suggesting that it might be perfect for a treatment of the provenance of the Keane paintings.

Vulgarity, particularly Hollywood vulgarity, can have great energy and zest. Or vulgarity can be empty. Or, even worse, it can borrow an energy from a source not proper to its subject. The expression of energy not belonging to the subject is called sentimentality. Thus the Keane big eyes into which has been injected, like heroin, the lure of an unearned pathos. It is a pathos striking on first sight. On second sight it is repulsive.

However, in me, Big Eyes, the film, produces not revulsion but inertia. On the one hand the film is a BioDrama, probably the most fragile of all film genres, particularly when so much of the subject is known that imagination of execution can take no hold. In art facts kill all.

On the other, we are also witnessing people who are not fighting over the provenance of a Rubens, but schlock. This is not Monument Men. One cannot mourn here for the unkindly orphanage of masterpieces. The child whose custody the parents battle is already dead. The person who painted the Bi Eyes is a pick-pocket of our pathos. The pathos doesn’t belong to her any more than the color of her peroxide hair does.

Finally, the part of Margaret is underwritten and mis-played by Amy Adams. She chooses to play Margaret Keane as mealy-mouthed and nothing else. It won’t do. There was a passion in Margaret Keane which is intense, constant, and ruthless, and we never see it. Oh, we see it well enough as regards her daughter, whom she rescues twice from husbands worse than death. But Margaret Keane was also a passionate painter and she was also a passionate promoter of her painting. These are kept hidden by the writer-director. We never see her own big eyes as she makes the paintings. And we never see her gather her forces to hawk them. Instead, the part exists only in relation to her husband who was so bent on the fantasy of being an artist that he claimed he himself had painted her pictures. Adams plays it as a milksop to him. We never see her calculation and inner collusion in this. Her greed, her cunning. She was a peroxide blonde, right down to her marrow.

The real story of the Keane paintings is a story of two great selfishnesses, two great passions in conflict – that is the story that is not on screen. We see Walter Keane’s passion but never Margaret’s. It’s not in the writing, it’s not in the direction, it’s not in the playing of Adams. We almost think it might be there because of the playing of Christoph Waltz, who seizes the part of Walter in his jaws and shakes it fit to kill. He displays the fanatical charm and belligerent drive of the pitchman. He gives us a smile that would fell an ox. He consumes the screen. His attack on the role is Lisztian. He is at concert pitch. The film is his.

Although – does it really seem  necessary to launch Godzilla to trounce Casper Milquetoast, a brontosaurus a bug? Two pick-pockets, each trying to o’er-balance the other? Each meager?

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Posted in Amy Adams, BioDrama, Christoph Waltz, Terrence Stamp


Django Unchained

05 Jan

Django Unchained – written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Western. A bounty hunter joins with his slave to make a killing in the bounty business and to liberate the slave’s wife. 165 minutes Color 2012.
If you want to watch A Quentin Tarantino movie properly you must gauge whether he pleases you with the way he pleases himself in telling his tale, for the way he tells his tale pleases Tarantino so mightily, so obviously, and with such relish, there is no way of avoiding it with pleasure at all. He is a show-off. A great show-off. You either put up with it, or you go ice-skating.

And we find wonderful performances in his pieces, here from Cristoph Waltz, as a bounty hunter disguised as an itinerant dentist, and speaking an English so elaborate no one in Texas has a clue as to what he is saying. This joke is replayed again in reverse by Bruce Dern speaking in an argot no one in his vicinity, or in the theatre audience itself, can gather at all, save Leonardo DiCaprio who understand every word immediately.

For Tarantino is a witty director indeed. And he is one who knows how to structure a scene powerfully, so the movie moves forward not so much through its story as through our expectations of another even wittier scene. These are interlaced with spectacularly shot vistas of the West. Waltz and the slave adventure assassination after assassination, buffaloing among others Don Johnson as a vicious slave-owner, and collecting bounties hither and yon.

All this works well until the last act when they come up against two formidable actors, Samuel L. Jackson as the Uncle Tom major domo of a vast cotton plantation and its owner whom he cow-tows to, bullies, and influences. Jackson’s is a stunning performance and a ruthless exposé of the Negro favoring the white tradition over the hearts, minds, and bodies, of his fellow slaves.

The owner is brought off by Leonardo DiCaprio brilliantly, with every requisite furbelow of the Southern plutocrat on display. Finally, DiCaprio is in a character lead! He is not a leading man, he does not have the technical substance to fake it or the acting instrument for it to begin with, but give him a part with some character, an accent, a costume, (The same is true of Meryl Streep), and you’ve got an actor doing what God made him for to do.

Jamie Foxx plays the slave, and our surprise is a tribute to his gifts to see what a fine actor is in him, for he starts off unrecognizable as a shackled slave, and he gains in character and stature as the story goes on and the costumes and facial hair change. Dressed in rags, his soul is in rags; dressed in cowboy rig, he grows into man of position high on a horse; dressed in turquoise knee breeches, he is a disdainful fop; dressed in work pants and an old shirt, he is a captive renegade. Then dressed in Zorro duds, he is a Hollywood star on a trick horse, ready to bust out into “Home On The Range.”

The film is richly entertaining. Until it isn’t, and that means that Tarantino plays 52-pick-up with his finale, which consists of five, count them, five hugely detailed slaughters. Sharp and imaginative as these bloodlettings are, we are drenched numb by them, and they cancel one another out, and us along with them.

We do not need the second. All we need is his being handed the gun. A blackout with gunfire. Cut to his removing the weapons from the bodies.

We do not need the third. All we need is the six men lounging in the cabin, the shadow of Django in the doorway, and his walking away with the cabin on fire behind him.

As to slaughter number four, we need less dialogue. The slaying of the sister is wonderful, but the scene needs fewer slain, two would do, the castrator and the sister – who are those other people anyhow?

The major domo must meet his comeuppance in slaughter five, which I shall not tell you about.

Anyhow, Tarantino lacks, here, the sense of narrative selection which would stop the movie from being a film he himself would want to see and let it be the film the audience would want to see. Self-indulgence is the worst crime an artist can engage in. But show offs are always showing off for themselves. It’s a problem with the type.

But still, Tarantino has given us a first class drama of retribution. The white race is totally annihilated. How gratifying. Everyone dies who should.

Did we ever think they wouldn’t?

No, but up to the last ten miles, the trail that meanders through a maze of surprises to that inevitability is stunning. Who would ever have thought to make a movie like this?

Quentin Tarantino.



Water For Elephants

24 Apr

Water For Elephants — Directed by Frances Lawrence. Romantic Drama. A young man finds himself drawn to a female circus elephant and the elephant’s female mahout. 122 minutes Color 2011.

* * *

The best English speaking circus film I know of is Elia Kazan’s Man On A Tightrope. I had hoped to find a better one here, but I didn’t. Kazan’s film focuses upon the circus world itself, its filth, its color, its performers, its hard work, its living conditions, its prejudices and superstitions, its meanness, its generosity, its equipment, its grandeur, and its magic. There we find a world exotic to us, a hell realm and an imagined paradise in one, and in Elephants whenever the camera shows this side of things our interest is piqued. But here the focus is on the Romance, but the Romance is pink cotton candy. Perhaps this is because the two romantic leads are miscast. They both lack the idiosyncrisity, strength, and energy of vulgarity. Reese Witherspoon’s hair is never out of incredible curl, and the young man is colorless. Both are good looking enough, and while one believes from their not unskillful playing that a mild attraction exists between them, it is never to the degree big enough for a big top. This is the fault of a story polluted by the effeminitization of Romance writing. Standing between these two dolls is Christoph Waltz; he plays her husband, the mad owner of the circus. His smile, full of saliva and not one drop of joy, occupies the entire cinemascope screen from one end to the other. Whenever he appears, this becomes the circus, and we have seen it before, in Inglorious Basterds, where its ivory munched all Europe. It seems less suitable here, an exaggeration vying with an exaggeration, the circus itself. It’s not fair to judge a picture because it’s not the same as another picture, for this is a Romance film and Tightrope isn’t. However, I did not care a fig whether the two of them got together or not. It is well directed and magnificently produced; Rodrigo Prieto filmed it beautifully. Jim Norton is excellent as the drunk foreman and Mark Povinelli as the dog trainer, but the only individual I really cared about in this film was Rosie the elephant. She was my darling. I’m not good at predicting what will happen in a film, but here I knew that Rosie would wipe that smile permanently off his face as soon as they met. Predictable is not what a circus should be.


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