Big Eyes – A Review

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The last few years, director Tim Burton has seemed to be stuck in something of a creative rut. His movies have seemed to follow the same basic formula:

Step one – Select a project that allows him to indulge his goth/off-kilter tendencies

Step two – Sign up Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter

Step three – Make sure that Depp looks as pale as possible

Step four – Use either a dark or insanely colorful palette. There is no in-between.

Step five – Ground your story in as little reality as possible.

There are the occasional exceptions to these rules – Planet of the Apes is something of an aberration – but for the most part the last ten years this has been the necessary components of a Tim Burton movie. An early version of this template was set with Beetlejuice and then refined with Edward Scissorhands and it’s basically been wash, rinse, repeat ever since. The result has been a series of movies that are diminishing returns; I almost walked out of Dark Shadows because it was so dreadful. I sincerely worried that Burton had broken Depp, an actor that I have long enjoyed but who has seemed to cultivate his own weird side since he started collaborating with Burton. I desperately wanted the holy trilogy of Burton, Depp and Carter to take some time away from each other and try different things; I didn’t necessarily mean that Burton and Carter had to end their personal relationship, but I guess I wasn’t specific enough. So I was very excited when I heard that Burton would be directing Big Eyes and that neither Depp nor Carter were involved. Perhaps this was the shake-up that they all needed. The true story behind Big Eyes was hypothetically kitschy enough to play to Burton’s strengths without letting him go full oddball. Weirdness, but restrained weirdness.

Unfortunately Big Eyes did not live up to the promise that I had for it. While this movie is the closest thing that we’ve seen in a while to a restrained Tim Burton operating in the real world, it also indicates that Burton’s ability to portray actual people is rusty. Big Eyes isn’t a terrible movie – the actual story is too fascinatingly bizarre to not be interesting and draw you in – but it isn’t really a good movie either. A surprisingly off-key performance by the usually enjoyable Christoph Waltz is distracting as he and co-star Amy Adams don’t appear to be on the same page tonally for the duration of the film. Not the worst Tim Burton, but definitely not his best.

Big Eyes tells the story behind this hideous “big eyed waif” paintings that were popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I know that art is subjective, but seriously – can you believe these paintings were actually a big deal?:

Imagine this hanging in your living room

Imagine this hanging in your living room

C’mon now….that is hella creepy.

For years people believed that the paintings were the artistic brainchild of Walter Keane (Waltz), since he was the loud spoken and charming man who took credit for these creations. But the true artist was Walter’s wife Margaret (Adams); Walter’s true talents were in being a con-man. What he lacked in artistic ability, he made up for in his ability to know how to seize and opportunity and squeeze every last penny out of it. Meek Margaret begrudgingly goes along with the charade; while Walter is wine and dining folks and reaping the perks of celebrity, Margaret is basically locked away in a sweat shop, pumping out paintings for which she receives no accolades and lying to her daughter. The deeper that they get into the fraud and the richer they become, the more controlling Walter is and Margaret feels more uncomfortable and trapped until she’s finally had enough.

Now that’s a pretty interesting story on a lot of levels and the so bizarre it has to be true source material is one of the real strengths of the film. This may not be the most in-depth telling of the story – they seem to gloss over a lot – but at the bare minimum you are quickly engaged with what’s happening on screen. I had a vague idea how this story would play out, but I still was intrigued enough to be invested in the film. If you didn’t know that this was based on what happened in real life, the narrative of Big Eyes could easily be dismissed as simply to outlandish and weird to be realistic. When you have a story this fantastically bizarre, it glosses over a lot of faults. But that doesn’t mean that you still don’t notice the cracks in the structure.

For me, the biggest problem with Big Eyes was the casting of Christoph Waltz. He’s a great actor, but sometimes a person just isn’t the right fit for a role and I think that’s what happened here. I’m willing to overlook the movie never explaining his accent – the real Walter was from the Midwest, not Austria – but the way that he and Burton interpreted the character only exasperated how ill-suited Waltz was for this role. While Amy Adams’ depiction of Margaret is ground in realism, Waltz is way too hammy and over the top for what is going on in the rest of this movie. It’s a weird story in and of itself and it doesn’t need such scenery chewing. He borders on cartoony and it doesn’t complement Adams’ performance at all. In fact, you’re not even sure why the two of them ever got together to begin with – this sad lonely woman and this carnival barker don’t make any sense. Walter is so ridiculous that you have to believe that Margaret isn’t very bright to be with him or going along with his ideas. I just don’t think Waltz was the right person for this role and Burton doesn’t make the necessary adjustments to rein in the performance. Waltz’s Walter would have been more at home in some of Burton’s other movies, which makes me think that Burton simply couldn’t see what was needed here. Just a little bit more restraint or subtlety and it might have worked, though I still think that Waltz just wasn’t the right man for this job.

Some other thoughts:

  • I also had some issues with the use of Danny Huston as the gossip columnist that helped Walter promote their work. I have no idea why his character would even be remotely interested in Walter or these god-awful paintings, let alone help make him a star by writing about him. This is San Francisco – you’re telling me there wasn’t anything else to cover for the society page? Plus thanks to Huston’s work on American Horror Story: Coven, I kept waiting for him to take an axe to Walter’s head.
  • Look for Jason Schwartzman and Krysten Ritter in small roles.

In short, I found the story that inspired Big Eyes to be far more interesting than the execution. I’ve spent the last few day since I saw the movie looking more into Walter and Margaret Keane and less thinking about the actual movie. Big Eyes is a mediocre Tim Burton movie that coasts too much on the inherent kookiness of true events and a nice performance from Any Adams, but that doesn’t do much else. Waltz and Adams are in two different movies and this mismatch weakens the effectiveness of the overall film. A slightly less cursory look at this story and some different acting choices and this might be a much better film. Big Eyes is probably not worth seeing in the theater, but worth watching at some point just because of the incredulity of Walter and Margaret’s story.

 

Big Eyes is currently in wide release.

 

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – A.B.B. (After Breaking Bad) edition

I’m still adjusting to life in a world where Breaking Bad is over. I find that I’m having trouble getting into my Fall TV shows – I’ve already dropped Once Upon a Time, Boardwalk Empire and Modern Family from sheer lack of interest and I’m pretty meh on the new pilots (more on that later this week). Episodes of Sons of Anarchy are beginning to pile up as well and I haven’t bothered to watch the premieres of Revenge or Homeland yet, so their days with a season pass may be numbered. The good news is that this general apathy means that I have a lot more time to surf the web in search of pop culture goodness to share. So really, my loss is your gain. Kick back and enjoy the fruits of my labor in this week’s edition of my pop culture round up

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  • The cover for the upcoming Ron Burgundy memoir has been released.

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  • Peter Dinklage made a stop by Sesame Street:

 

  • Usher and Dinklage’s GoT co-star Lena Headey also recently made appearances.
  • I am not super impressed with Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience, Volume 2. It just sounds like a lot of songs that were (rightfully) scrapped from the first album.
  • Who doesn’t love a Halloween themed programing? TV Tango has rounded up 360 of them airing this month. That seems a little excessive.

 

  • The opening credits for American Horror Story: Coven has been released and they are unsurprisingly terrifying.

 

  • Game shows are becoming sticklers for pronunciation – contestants on Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune were both penalized recently.
  • A new film starring Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Alexander Skarsgard and…..Taylor Swift? Be afraid, Skarsgard. Be very afraid.
  • It’s been far too long since we’ve had a new Britney Spears video. The wait is over:

 

  • Construction has resumed on the monstrosity of a home that was featured in the documentary Queen of Versailles. Excellent film if you haven’t seen it.
  • I was a big fan of ALF back in the day. Watch him sing “Berzerk” by Eminem:

 

  • The Avett Brothers played some Metal on Fallon:

 

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Breaking Bad in over *sob* but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have some links

  • Sadly, I did not win tickets to the Breaking Bad finale viewing party. These photos from the event make it look like I missed a hell of a time.
  • This one is for my friend Brigette:

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  • Aaron Paul lends his vocal talents – and his catchphrase – to the single “Dance Bitch”

 

  • I would totally read this book:

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  • My pals over at Grantland put together an In Memoriam video for BB’s fallen:

 

  • See how you do on the Breaking Bad superfan quiz (I got 43/50).
  • A Breaking Bad tribute set to Green Day’s “Good Riddance”

 

  • Glee’s Naya Rivera was a proud sister when her brother scored his first touchdown in the NFL:

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  • You can read an edited excerpt from Dave Eggers’ upcoming new novel, The Circle.
  • Watching Conan play Grand Theft Auto V had me literally laughing out loud.

 

  • The Atlanta Braves did a “Blurred Lines” parody:

I enjoyed it, but I’m still not rooting for you in the playoffs. #TeamDodgers

  • For those of you who don’t normally watch baseball but want to get into the playoffs, GQ compares playoff teams to pop culture to help. Ha – the Red Sox are the Lannisters!
  • I may have to buy this Friday Night Lights fanzine just for the Tim Riggins paper doll.
  • Kelly Clarkson lost her fight for the Jane Austen ring that she won at an auction.
  • Watch The Hound from Game of Thrones sing the Rolling Stones. Wait – what??

 

  • The new Sleigh Bells album is streaming over at Rolling Stone.
  • Characters from Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy and American Dad got Simpsonized:

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Stop! Trailer Time!

  • HBO’s new comedy, Getting On:

 

  • A new trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug:

 

  • The latest from Chris Lilley, Ja’mie King: Private School Girl (I can’t wait!!):

 

  • Aziz Ansari has a special coming out soon on Netflix:

 

  • A Case of You with Justin Long, Sam Rockwell and Peter Dinklage:

 

  • This guy at a Willie Nelson concert apparent subscribes to “dance like no one is watching”

 

  • Guillermo del Toro made the couch gag for this year’s The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror.

As always, we wrap up with the mashups and supercuts

  • A mashup of MacGyver and Archer:

 

  • A mashup of Breaking Bad and Need for Speed:

 

  • Who can resist a Sesame Street mashup? Certainly not me.

 

  • “Get Lucky Wit It”

 

  • And finally – the cast of Breaking Bad sings the N’Sync classic, “Bye, Bye, Bye”

Pop Culture Odds and Ends– Lots of videos edition

Happy Wednesday! The sun is actually shining today, which gives me hope that the rain is behind us for a while. I was so over the dreariness. The good news about all the rain is that it gave me plenty of time to hole up and surf the web in search of pop culture stories to share with you, my dear readers. I found more videos of interest than usual, so this week is more audio/visual heavy than usual. Why read when you can just click a button and watch? Enjoy your biweekly roundup of all things pop!

  • The Dumb and Dumber sequel that would reunite Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels has been dropped by Warner Brothers. Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly are shopping the project to other companies. Countdown until the inevitable Kickstarter?
  • Congrats to Kate Winslet on her pregnancy. This will be her third child, her first with new husband Ned Rocknroll (still the best name ever).
  • Johnny Depp is FIFTY! How the f*&k did that happen?
  • A new trailer has been released for the next Hobbit movie:

 

  • Also recently released – a trailer for the newest Woody Allen movie Blue Jasmine. Look – It’s Louis CK!

 

  • Happy belated birthday to the wonderful Peter Dinklage. He turned 44 yesterday. I could watch this scene of him slapping Joffrey all day long.

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  • That was quick – after a solid opening weekend, The Purge is getting a sequel.
  • The guy who plays Hodor (Hodor!) on Game of Thrones is also a DJ.
  • What’s that you say? Baseball and boy bands? You have my attention.

 

  • Laraine Newman and company nail this Girls parody:

 

  • Bob Saget couldn’t help but stop by a familiar location while on a trip to San Francisco

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  • True Blood returns for its 6th season on Sunday. Here’s to hoping that it’s better than last season; as you may recall, I was not too impressed.

 

  • The new season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee drops tomorrow at noon:

 

I didn’t watch the Tonys – Game of Thrones and Mad Men own my Sunday nights – but looks like I missed a hell of a show.

 

Note to Seth MacFarlane – THAT is how you host an awards show. Full slate of winners (and the shows that are now impossible to get tickets to) can be found here.

  • Attention all Juggalos – Insane Clown Posse is getting their own show. I’ll admit – the episode of their webseries that I saw was kind of amusing.
  • The band Portugal. The Man scored some familiar faces (if you are a It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan) for their newest short:

 

  • Speaking of It’s Always Sunny – if you ever wondered what the guys were saying backwards in the end credits each season, wonder no more:

 

  • I love these covers of songs from Bob’s Burgers. This one is by The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt and it’s great.
  • Looks like I’m planning a trip to DC this fall – An Anchorman exhibit opens at the Newsuem in November.
  • Warner Brothers gave up their rights to Friday the 13th and South Park for a piece of the new Christopher Nolan movie.
  • Samuel L. Jackson reads the iconic “I am the one that knocks” monologue from Breaking Bad. My head just exploded.

 

  • This is kind of cool: Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” reimagined in different musical styles through the decades:

 

  • One thing Kanye ain’t lacking is confidence, as evidenced by this New York Times article with the self-proclaimed “visionary.” The most ridiculous quotes are here.
  • The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Scott Thorson (Liberace’s Ex) about HBO’s Behind the Candelabra (a must see – Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are fantastic and you have to see Rob Lowe to believe it).
  • If you missed it, Google had a wonderful Google Doodle earlier this week honoring the late great Maurice Sendak:

 

  • Look for Alvin and the Chipmunks 4 in 2015. Shows how much I know – I didn’t even know that there had already been 3 movies.
  • Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) has joined the cast of the live action reimagined Cinderella.
  • While waiting for a Green Day concert to start, an Bohemian Rhapsody sing-a-long broke out:

 

  • A Christmas Story, the Musical returns to New York this holiday season (but not on Broadway).
  • Singer Jon Marco isn’t famous, but he’s trying to make a name for himself with a video that features recreations of several 80s movies. Not so sure about the song, but I’ll give him points for creativity.

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts:

  • I refuse to tire of these Daft Punk mashups. This one is with moments from the Bill and Ted’s franchise:

 

  • Sex and the City debuted 15 years ago last week. To celebrate, here is a mashup of all the guest stars on the show (I remember almost none of them).
  • Spoilers abound in this Princess Bride/Game of Thrones mashup, so proceed with caution:

 

  • Mad Men reacts to the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones (SPOILERS – but seriously – that episode was almost two weeks ago. Catch up already)

 

  • A supercut of all the fake websites on Arrested Development:

 

  • A mashup of animals who can’t handle mirrors:

 

And finally, these supercuts of NBC’s Brian Williams make me giggle uncontrollably. Damn you Fallon – you’ve done it again:

  • Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”

 

  • Warren G’s “Regulate:”

 

  • The pièce de résistance– NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton”

 

Have a great day!