Here are some quick write ups of the remaining films I saw in January (Part 1 is here)
‘Big Hero 6’
In their first attempt at adapting a Marvel comics property since their takeover, Disney have made the decision not to tie Big Hero 6 into the existing Marvel cinematic universe. It was probably a sensible choice, as Big Hero 6 feels much more akin in tone to recent Disney animation than Marvel’s live-action films, and it enables it to create the charming hybrid-city of ‘San Fransokyo’ to take place within. Big Hero 6 very much felt like a film of two halves for me, the first of which was highly enjoyable. We meet out young hero, called err…Hiro, a teenage inventor and his older brother Tadashi, a student working in a robotics lab. The story is commendably unpredictable, gets in a good number of laughs, and depicts a credibly affecting relationship between the two siblings. Also, Baymax, the robotic creation of Tadashi’s is an utter delight. However come its latter half Big Hero 6 descends into a very standard superhero film, with underdeveloped side characters, a big reveal that’s not surprising at all, and, you guessed it, a huge effects-filled battle scene of the kind I’ve really tired of.
Though I quite like his last film, the little-seen animation Frankenweenie, the general consensus on Tim Burton seems to be that he’s been on the way down for the best part of a decade now. In that sense, Big Eyes sounds like just the kind of project he should take on; a fact-based film with no fantastical elements that re-teams him with the writers of Ed Wood; arguably his best film. I wouldn’t call Big Eyes a return to the heyday of Burton’s early career, but it’s the best live-action film he’s made in a while. It tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), an artist who, just as they started to become very popular, had the public credit for her paintings stolen by her husband Walter (an ideally cast Christoph Waltz hitting just the right balance of charming and slimy). While he creates a colourful vision of fifties America, Burton takes things down a notch as director, opting to craft a more straightforward biopic. It does occasionally venture into moments of overt comedy when dealing with rather serious issues, but not to its detriment. Big Eyes proves to be quite a satisfying film, and definitely a step in the right direction for those who’ve become weary of Burton.
‘Beyond the Lights’
Beyond the Lights could easily be described as a gender-swapped Cinderella story with a modern showbiz setting, but that would be unfairly reductive, as while it is chiefly a romance, it always has a lot more on its mind than to just be that. It revolves around a young British singer called Noni (Belle’s radiant Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who’s rising to possible pop superstardom in the USA. She’s not happy though, partly due to her overbearing mother and manager (Minnie Driver) who attempts to meticulously control every aspect on her career caring about success far over Noni’s feelings. After a celebratory night, she’s rescued from a balcony by a cop called Kaz (Nate Parker) in what many speculate may have been a suicide attempt. There’s an undeniable contrivance to their meeting, but their subsequent interactions avoid feelings of romantic clichés for the most part. This is assisted by the way writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood is just as invested in these characters as individuals as she is in their budding courtship. Noni’s troubled relationship with her mother is given almost the exact same amount of time as her one with Kaz.
Its tone is quite sombre, apparently not aiming for satire but Beyond the Lights also functions as a scathing critique of the artificiality of modern pop music. The way Noni is originally presented in a record-company instructed partnership with a vile rapper (again, the opening fake music video we see could have been a spot-on parody), to the way everyone is far more concerned about her ‘image’ than any music she might wish to create. Mbatha-Raw is a star in the making, and Parker can’t help but feel a little bland next to her, but his character has aspirations and worries of his own, and is concerned with more than simply getting with the hot girl. Prince-Bythewood isn’t afraid to take it in schmaltzy directions at times (it even features a Diane Warren-penned closing power ballad), but the emotions all feel genuine in a way many movies fail to capture.