Big Eyes, for all its moments of inspired whimsy, for as much as it admires and respects the painter, it’s still oddly lifeless as far as the bigger picture is concerned. The canvass isn’t so much empty as it is incomplete.
Foxcatcher is so mesmerizing, so consistently fascinating even its missteps don’t feel as unbalanced or as unfortunate as they otherwise might have been.
More than that, though, it is the oddly warm, sunnily optimistic climax that really doesn’t work, the final scenes feeling much too out of place considering all the self-inflected emotional and physical carnage that’s preceded them. Much like its protagonist,The Gambler (2014) doesn’t know when to quit, a winning hand transforming into one that should have been laid down long before the cards were even dealt.
While changes have been made, most notably as things apply to the Baker’s Wife and to Cinderella’s Prince, they end up not having any sort of corrosive effect on all that Sondheim and Lapine are aiming to achieve. Into the Woods is a marvelous, dexterously passionate miracle, the film a fairy tale delight where magic isn’t always good and wishes oftentimes should not come true.
Yet second tier Dardenne is still better than most other filmmakers’ best efforts, the level of intimate introspection stunning when everything is taken in total. Sandra’s journey is visceral, immediate, proceeding straight from the heart in a way that is timeless. There are no faked emotions, nothing that isn’t of the now, everything building to a realization of one’s potential for greatness that isn’t so much extra-ordinary as it is quietly cathartic.
But sadly, [Unbroken (2014)] just doesn’t cut it, reducing Zamperini’s story to its base, most basic elements, taking away from it all of the shading and color that inherently made it so powerful and inspiring.
Most of all, though, [Annie (2014)] is nothing less than mechanical and charmless, the hard knocks so calamitous the sun never gets a chance to shine and not even the thought of a brighter tomorrow is enough to make me ever want to sit through this particular little orphan’s fairy tale adventure ever again.
Using Andrew Hodges’ best-selling book Alan Turing: The Enigma as inspiration, screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) have put together an engrossing, thought-provoking procedural that never quite goes the way you expect it to, allowing the mathematician’s choices and actions to come to life with a rigid, almost anachronistically obtuse matter-of-factness that’s at times remarkable.
But this is Leigh’s show, start to finish, and one can’t watch Mr. Turner without coming away feeling as if it is the seven-time Oscar-nominee’s most personal effort in all his four-plus decades behind the camera.