Saturday 20 July 2019

Movie reviews: 'Exodus: Gods and Kings' and 'Big Eyes'

Amy Adams in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington has the lowdown on Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Tim Burton's Big Eyes.

Whenever anyone takes on a story from the Bible, the God squad emerge from the shadows to make sure everything's done right. They got quite exercised by Ridley Scott's plans for Moses biopic Exodus Gods and Kings (3*, 12A, 150mins): the Jews were up in arms when he described their great liberator as "one of the most barbaric individuals I ever read about".

And the fundamentalist Christian mob got in on the act when it seemed as though Scott was about to spoil their supernatural party by providing rational scientific explanations for the 10 plagues and other miracles - the parting of the Red Sea was a settling tsunami, and so forth. What a spoilsport.

None of that matters a jot, however, because all that concerns us heathen movie buffs is whether or not Exodus: Gods and Kings is any good. And in that respect, Scott's epic gets a mixed report. Christian Bale is well cast as Moses, who grows up a member of the Egyptian royal family, and is a particular favourite of the Pharaoh, Seti I (John Turturro).

When Seti dies, his impulsive son Ramses II (Joel Edgerton) takes over, and things soon take a turn for the worse. A sneaky governor finds out that Moses is not an Egyptian, but an Israelite who was abandoned at birth.

This news is duly conveyed to Ramses, who banishes Moses from the kingdom. And when Moses is wandering in the desert, he meets a boy who turns out to be God and tells him to go back and free his enslaved and miserable people, the Jews.

Eventually, Moses does this, and mounts a guerilla campaign that has eerie echoes of modern terrorism. And when he doesn't get results fast enough, God joins in, sending plagues of lice, frogs, flies and locusts to torment the unfortunate Egyptians.

Ridley Scott's film does all this business very well, and the early CGI recreations of ancient Egypt are magnificent. In fact the first quarter of the film, when the joshing rivalry between Moses and Ramses gradually turns sour, is easily the best part of Exodus, but once Moses becomes an Israelite rebel the plot slows to a funereal plod as it dutifully dispenses unpleasantness on the Egyptians.

The parting of the Red Sea is brilliantly rendered, and Exodus is worth watching on the big screen for the effects alone. But you may emerge thinking, what on earth was that all about?

In the late 1960s and early '70s, suburban living rooms across the western world and, yes, even Ireland, were bedecked with framed reproductions of waif children with huge, sad eyes. These paintings were supposedly the work of San Francisco painter Walter Keane, but in Tim Burton's witty and very entertaining biopic, Big Eyes (4*, 12A, 106mins), we're told a different story.

Amy Adams stars as Margaret Hawkins, a 1950s housewife and mother who flees an unhappy suburban marriage and winds up in San Francisco.

There she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a charming artist who woos Margaret at a street market.

He admires her naive portraits of wistful, huge-eyed children, and after they marry, Walter starts flogging them at a trendy nightclub. But Margaret later discovers that Walter's been passing off her work as his own. He tells her he's just trying to make them both rich, and when her work becomes a national sensation, Walter bullies Margaret into painting more and going along with his deception.

Burton's surprisingly conventional film plays a lot of this for laughs, and in Christoph Waltz's expert hands Walter Keane is depicted as a ludicrous popinjay. But he's also a bully, and things turn darker when his fabricated status as an artist is threatened.

Big Eyes is a cleverly handled period piece, and treads a fine line between pathos and farce.

WATCH: The Movie Show Christmas special: Unbroken, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Annie

Irish Independent

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