Big Eyes

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Director Tim Burton directs the more-or-less conventional story of Margaret Keane, the artist who became famous for her paintings of kids with eyes the size of billiard balls. I mean to say, they're big. The picture is genre-classified at IMDB as "Biography, Crime, Drama", but the crime is so low-level that nobody goes to jail, and it's also hilarious in spots. Substitute "Comedy" for "Crime".

It starts off when Margaret (Amy Adams) leaves her first husband in the late 1950s and takes off for San Francisco, there to make a living as a starving artist. She gets a job painting pictures on baby cribs; nowadays, that would be some Asian kid's job. In her spare time, she paints portraits on demand at an outdoor art show. There she meets Walter (Christoph Waltz) who takes her under his wing. Gradually, Margaret's paintings develop into a cult item, then (more rapidly) into a mass phenomenon.

Unfortunately, Walter succumbs to the temptation to claim Margaret's work as his own. The general sexism of the era, combined with Margaret's dysfunctional relationship with Walter, make this easy. Margaret is eventually forced out of the public eye, working in solitude, while Walter sucks up the fame, adulation, and riches. Can Margaret claim the recognition due to her, and get out from under Walter's paint-stained thumb?

This could have easily turned into Lifetime Movie fare, but Mr. Burton, Ms. Adams, and Mr. Waltz make the movie into kind of a treat. Worked for me, anyhow.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

OK, it's a fine movie. And I watched the first two, not to mention the three before that. When the Extended Editions come out as an attractive combination, I may take a long look at them.

It's just real hard to get excited about watching yet another two hours and twenty-four minutes of fantastic PG-13 spectacle of fighting, fighting, and more fighting. And sometimes tragic character flaws.

Anyway, when we left the Hobbit, Bilbo, he and his dwarf companions had just awakened the evil dragon Smaug, who has flown off to wreak deadly havoc on Laketown, whose inhabitants have pissed him off by sending the retinue to the castle where he guards his immense treasure. The town is nearly defenseless, because the only townsperson with any defensive talent is locked up in the town jail.

Spoiler: dragon havoc is indeed wrought. But that's just the beginning. Other problems abound: Thorin, the dwarf leader, is succumbing to the madness involved in hoarding great riches. The lovely elf, Tauriel, has taken a shine to one of the dwarves, and that gets her in trouble with the elf king. Meanwhile an orc army is bearing down on the Lonely Mountain, threatening all sorts of nastiness. Gandalf has been imprisoned by the Necromancer. And …

Well, that's probably enough.

Observations: Orlando Bloom returns as Legolas, and it's a sheer joy to watch him in fearless action. I was trying to figure out where I had seen Lee Pace, who plays the snooty elf Thranduil. Ah, it was in the the quirkily charming comedy "Pushing Daisies": he played Ned, the pie-maker with the ability to bring the dead briefly back to life. The guy has an impressive range.