Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rapid Reviews: Big Eyes and Top Five

As the cinematic year rushes towards its finale, the Oscar buzz surrounding Tim Burton's latest endeavor, Big Eyes, has certainly faded. While Amy Adams, a perennial awards season name, stands as the film's most likely contender, even she finds herself with a bit of a hill to climb now that Jennifer Aniston (Cake) has valiantly postured for that coveted fifth and final spot in the Best Actress race. Although I can't speak on behalf of Aniston's performance, mainly because her festival circuit film has somehow eluded me this year, I will say that Amy Adams gives yet another finely tuned and endearing performance in Burton's new true-story tale.

Big Eyes is a bit of a break from the norm for Tim Burton, It's the director's first live-action film since 2003's under-appreciated release, Big Fish, where he isn't featuring his usual sidekick, superstar Johnny Depp. Instead, Burton relies on the talents of two more than capable replacements, Amy Adams and the always phenomenal two-time Academy Award winner, Christoph Waltz. Together the duo bring to life the incredible true story of painter Margaret Keane (Adams) and her decade long struggle to claim credit for her artwork after her then husband, Walter Keane (Waltz), had assumed public responsibility for her nationally beloved "Big Eyes" paintings.

The naivety of Margaret and the borderline sexist time period of the 1950s through the 1960s is captured extremely well and helps set the table for this intriguing story of manipulation. Waltz also delivers a fabulous turn as the charismatic and attention-craved husband who indirectly forces his wife into an ever-growing web of lies. However, Burton's Big Eyes fumbles along this fairly superficial tale at an irritatingly slow pace. And while the story is interesting enough to carry you to the finish line, the level of enjoyment along the way is certainly capped. Furthermore, much like the eyes in Keane's signature paintings, the dramatics in the film are highly exaggerated. Yet, either way, Big Eyes is still a much better representation of the types of film Burton should continue to make.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Another film sill currently out in theaters is Chris Rock's critically adored comedy, Top Five. Despite its head-scratching snub at the Golden Globes where comedies are given the rare chance to shine, Top Five is a well crafted passion project in which Rock writes, stars in and directs. The comedian's talents are on full display and his creativity proves limitless with a highly insightful and honest depiction of Hollywood stardom.

In what may sound like a semi-autobiographical premise, Chris Rock stars as a revered comedian and actor named Andre Allen who's sobered up and determined to transition to a more "serious" actor. But as he returns to his home town in New York City to promote the release of a new film and hold an interview with writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), Andre begins to open up to the reporter and gain a deeper perspective into his own life. Yet, with a wedding to a reality TV superstar quickly on the horizon and surfacing news of a brutal debut for his film, Andre is forced to make some rash decisions in his life.

As someone who has always had an affection for Chris Rock's stand-up comedy, the mature and sophisticated writing evident throughout Top Five is an absolute game changer. Rock mixes the perfect concoction of comedy and drama to cover all grounds necessary. His feature is guaranteed to elicit laughs as well as demonstrate some sincere vulnerability to the superstars we constantly place in the spotlight. But if I had to highlight a particular issue with the movie, it would definitely focus on the contrived subplot of Andre Allen's alcoholism. However, no blemish is large enough to derail Top Five, as it remains a huge step for Rock's filmmaking career and we can only wish for more of the same in the future.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

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