BIG EYES (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements and brief Strong Language

BigEyes poster

Directed by: Tim Burton

Written by: Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jon Polito, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Madeleine Arthur & Delaney Raye

Tim Burton seems to have made the same type of movie for the past decade or so. This can be for better (SWEENEY TODD, FRANKENWEENIE) and for worse (CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, CORPSE BRIDE). BIG EYES is a refreshing non-Burtony Burton film. Though it’s based on a fascinating true story and was poised as a potential Oscar contender for 2015, BIG EYES went in and out of theaters at blink-and-you-missed-it speed. I was originally planning on covering the film when it was in theaters, but regrettably missed out. Having finally seen it, I am happy to say that BIG EYES is a near perfect delight and one of the most underrated films from last year. It also happens to be the best Tim Burton film since 2007’s SWEENEY TODD.

BIG EYES, Amy Adams, 2014. ph: Leah Gallo/©Weinstein Company

The time is 1958 and Margaret has just left her husband, moving with her daughter to San Franciso in the process. The single mother is a struggling artist who paints furniture by day and sells her artwork (paintings of big eyed children) on the weekends. At one of these art walks, she meets the charming Walter Keane. The two form a relationship. One thing leads to another and soon they’re married. The pair of Keanes display their artwork for sale at a beatnik night club. Through a misunderstanding, Margaret’s portrait of a big-eyed child is mistaken for Walter’s work. He takes credit and begins selling her paintings under his name. Though Margaret is understandably upset, she decides to go along with the lie because Walter has convinced her that nobody would buy “lady’s art” in this oppressive day and age. As years pass by and she watches as her hugely popular art is passed off as someone else’s work, Margaret struggles with the decision to reveal the truth and get out from under Walter’s thumb.

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BIG EYES is based on an interesting true story and remains mostly accurate to the actual events. Some liberties have been taken in a couple of characters, one dramatic scene, and in scrunching the timeline up for a tighter running time. Aside from these elements, almost every plot point (even the most bizarre and unbelievable parts of this story) really happened. In fact, it’s been noted that Burton held back in one particular area: Walter’s insanity. It might initially seem hard to sympathize for someone who allowed themselves to be manipulated in the way that Margaret Keane was, but BIG EYES shows just how easily this whole situation spiraled out of control…much to Walter’s benefit and Margaret’s dismay. This is all driven by a really solid script that manages to tell the entire story in way that feels well paced, wholly entertaining and totally genuine.

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Amy Adams is fantastic as Margaret, adopting a light Southern accent and a timid demeanor that eventually becomes a quiet strength. Christoph Waltz seems to have no problem playing a bad guy (including the mismatched villain in GREEN HORNET, the most evil Nazi in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, and a potential Bond villain in SPECTRE), but he plays a domestic delusional husband in Walter. Waltz exudes a charisma and class that few actors have today. It’s easy to see why Amy Adam’s character (or real person in this case) is attracted to him. We like him to an extent. His abusive attitude doesn’t fully register itself until later in the film, when he becomes all out over-the-top, manipulative, and monstrous…just like the real guy. As far as the supportive cast is concerned, Danny Huston plays a gossip writer, Terence Stamp is an art critic and Jason Schwartzmann is a gallery owner. Of this trio, Stamp is really the only one of any influence as he steals his few scenes and actually contributes to the plot in a big way. Huston is enjoyable in his part, but is also delivers unneeded voice-over narration. He is still utilized far better than Schwartzmann who merely serves as a modernist snob providing fleeting comic relief.

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On technical aspects alone, BIG EYES looks great and sounds even better. Burton-regular Danny Elfman composed the score and did a fine job of it. Though it’s obvious that Burton used CGI and elaborate set dressing, the film feels like it’s a colorful version of the 1950’s and 60’s. In these stylistic choices, the movie feels ever so slightly like a Burton flick (mainly in the bright color scheme), but this is a far more human tale than he usually tells. It’s up there with ED WOOD as his best real-world film!

BIG EYES, l-r: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, 2014. ph: Leah Gallo/©Weinstein Company

Though it may not have garnered much attention in spite of good reviews and a big name director/cast, BIG EYES is well worth your time. It’s an entertaining, emotional and uniquely stylish take on a remarkable true story. Boasted with top-notch atmosphere and great performances, this is one drama that will hook you from the very start and keep your attention. I highly recommend checking out BIG EYES. If you’re still interested after watching the film, you should also look up the true story and prepare to be surprised by how accurate the film actually is.

Grade: A


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexual Content and Violence

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Directed by: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Lea Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson & Tony Revolori

Wes Anderson has gained a reputation over his career for unique style and an oddball sense of humor. Anderson’s newest film carries an air of sophistication and the logistics of a cartoon. Layered with quirky sensibilities and having a genuine heart at the center, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is my favorite film of the year thus far! This already has a spot reserved on my Best of 2014 list. The entire affair is an absolutely entrancing experience of wonderful magic that only phenomenal filmmaking can bring.


Beginning in the present, a young girl visits a memorial and reads a book by a character known simply as “The Author.” The film then cuts back to the 1980’s to find the Author describing a trip he made in the 1960’s. Flashing back to the 1960’s, we see a younger Author meet the elderly owner of the once prestigious/now rustic Grand Budapest Hotel. This elderly fellow relates the tale of how he came to own the Grand Budapest. So to break this down we open with a narration within a book that takes us to a flashback that then takes us to another flashback. Instead of coming off as convoluted in the slightest (as it almost certainly would have in any other film), this technique offers satisfying bookends to the main story at hand. Speaking of which…

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Set in the 1930’s, the main plot (e.g. the elderly owner’s story) is the tale of a famous concierge and his loyal lobby boy. The concierge is Gustave H., a philosophical and poetic gentleman, who takes to romancing many of the rich elderly (blonde) women who frequently visit the hotel. The lobby boy is Zero, a refugee from a less fortunate country, who has found a fatherly figure and devoted friend in Gustave. After Madam D (a former lover of Gustave) is found murdered, a priceless painting (titled Boy With Apple) is left in the possession of the two. Unfortunately for Gustave, something sinister is afoot and he’s been framed for Madam D’s death. Zero must rise up to the occasion, band together with Agatha (love of his life and candy-maker), and prove Gustave’s innocence!


From the onset, there are many things unusual about THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Model work was done for the landscape shots and the film has a candy-colored sensibility in nearly all of the sets. Everything has been put together with care and attention to detail. In its most unusual opening, the viewer is sucked into the oddball world of this story. A thick atmosphere covers the whole thing like frosting on one of Agatha’s cakes. The amazing soundtrack adds even more flavor and perfectly encapsulates the tone of the movie. It should also be noted that the frame ratio of the film changes based on the time period the film is currently in. For example, its widescreen (2.35:1) in the present day, goes down to 1:85 when the Author is relating his story, and goes to traditional 1:33 for Zero’s tale. Purposely executed, this added yet another sense of wonder to an already amazing film.


The film sports a large cast of big names. Some of these notable actors only appear for a minute or two, but their presence was a nice touch. Tony Revolori doesn’t have a long list of titles to his name, but delivers as young Zero. It’s easy for the viewer to sympathize with his bad history and root for him to overcome the odds to get his beloved mentor back. Speaking of which, Ralph Fiennes is simply brilliant as Gustave H. This character goes from waxing poetic to fowl-mouthed ruffian in the blink of an eye. Though the character might have come off as a quirky scumbag in any other film, Fiennes makes him into lovable guy. There’s certainly something to be said for that. Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe both appear as villains. Brody is hysterical as the ill-tempered fascist son of Madam D. His off-the-cuff profanity is only outweighed by Gustave’s frequent outbursts. Dafoe is a quiet, intimidating, leering man whose fashion sense includes a constant pair of brass-knuckles. Last but not least, Saoirse Ronan is Agatha. Though her character isn’t devoted nearly as much time as Gustave or Zero, she’s an essential part of the film.

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As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. This was the case when the end credits began to roll on GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. The film is a true crowd-pleaser in every sense of the term. The humor is hilarious, but there’s also an unspoken sentimental factor that doesn’t truly reveal itself until the final moments. In some comedies, this might be uncalled for or felt forced. In GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, every emotion is genuine and absolutely earned. The best way of describing the magic and wonder this film holds is by saying it’s an adult story set in an absurd fairy-tale landscape. Walking out of the darkened movie theater, a nearly overwhelming wave of awe washed over me from the whole adventure I had just gone through with a colorful cast of characters. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is phenomenal and nothing short of a masterpiece!

Grade: A+

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