Tag Archives: Fame

Big Eyes (2014)

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It seemed like a match made in heaven. Outwardly charming and charismatic realtor Walter (Christoph Waltz) wedded the wide-eyed artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams,) making it possible for her to keep the sexist mid-20th century authorities from deeming her an unfit mother based on her unmarried status and taking her daughter away.

But Walter proved to be an untrustworthy , possessive pig, constantly berating and manipulating the terrified Margaret and taking credit for her work, a series of  slightly unnerving paintings of waifish children with enormous doe eyes. Caught between fear of her husband’s socioeconomic influence and her own happiness, Margaret stayed trapped for years in a loveless  marriage to a egomaniac monster of a husband.

The story of artist Margaret Keane and her fraught relationship with her conniving husband, Walter, seems like it could make a fascinating film, but what can one do with a script as shoddy as this? In “Big Eyes,” Amy Adams is as lovable as ever as the innocent Margaret, initially lulling the viewer into believing that the movie will be much, much better than it actually is.

Christoph Waltz, however, gives an unexpectedly atrocious turn as Walter, rendering all Amy Adams’ efforts to make a good movie out of a mediocre one obsolete. For people such as myself, who adored Waltz in “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” his performance is a devastating betrayal.

We know he can do better, but with his fiendishly cartoonish portrayal of Adams’ abusive husband, we half expect him to spirit a stack of Acme products out of thin air and futilely attempt to blow Margaret and her frightened daughter to Kingdom come. His performance is what transforms a average movie into something much less.

“Big Eyes” is an improvement over “Alice in Wonderland,” filmmaker Tim Burton’s earlier film of recent years? Ha! “Alice in Wonderland” was solid, gaudy entertainment, harmless to take the kids to and relax your brain with. “Big Eyes” tries to take on serious subject matter, and fails miserably.

I was initially really excited to see it because it sounded a lot different from Burton’s other work, but how disappointed I was when it turned out to be a shallow biopic with one-dimensional characterizations and… yes, a mortifying performance by an actor I used to like and respect.

Meanwhile, a supporting characterization by Danny Huston as an interested reporter seems perfunctory and uninteresting, placed haphazardly in the film simply so he can supply some backstory in the form of a voiceover. As “Big Eyes” veers into shameless, albeit star-studded ridiculousness, all I can think of is what a missed opportunity this was. Hopefully Burton will take his next project more seriously and not deteriorate into kitsch like he did in this sloppy and misfortunate misfire.

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Birdman (2014)

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They say “Everyone’s a critic,” and this seems to be especially true for film fans. What fan-boys and -girls of all ages often seem to forget is that the movie star is a person just like us, with feelings and faults- they eat, drink, shit, screw, and breathe just like us, they are not above being selfish and rude upon occasion (therefore I urge you not to take it personally if they decline an autograph,) and they feel hate and rejection from the audience like a regular person being criticized for they manner in which they do what they love.

However, the internet seems not to take a middle ground on celebrities- either they can do no wrong in the fanboys’ eyes or he cuts them down to size with the ruthless efficiency of a horror-film slasher. And in a society where well-liked actors are respected more than law enforcement officers, men fighting for our country, humanitarians and hospital personnel, the margin for error is small. People cannot believe it when an actor says something unbecoming or adverse to the ‘image’ they are trying to build (consider when Jennifer Aniston used the ‘R’ word and the ensuing backlash.)

When a actor has a certain squeaky-clean persona, people believe in that persona even if that performer seems to be less than who they appear to be. When Bill Cosby was accused of multiple counts of rape, no one would believe it; suddenly the victims were attention seeking ‘hos whereas it might have been considered differently if the accused was Joe-Bob across the street. Certainly some women have been known to lie about rape, but at what point is the evidence just too incriminating?

On the other hand, actors that have been considered to be ‘flops’ can’t catch a break- attacks on celebrities, particularly female celebrities whose figures and faces have been deemed unpleasing to the eye by the masses, often get extremely personal. Actors get defined by that one role that made them famous, look at poor ‘Chandler’ and the rest of the “Friends” alumni (except for a select few that have been able to stake out roles of consequence in other movies.)

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Riggan Thomsen (Michael Keaton) is Birdman. That is the role he is certainly known for; nobody remembers him in anything else, and no one certainly cares to. For Riggan, a mentally disturbed has-been with delusions of grandeur featuring an incarnation of his iconic character, life is a constant struggle to prove that he is capable of diversifying- that he can, and will, rise above his 90’s role that people have learned to love and hate him for.

With an estranged ex (Amy Ryan) and a mouthy daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone,) Riggan’s life is definitely not easy. But while writing, directing, and starring in his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, he believes he can rise above what people expect of him. When his costar (Jeremy Shamos) suffers an injury onstage, the pretty starlet (Naomi Watts) offers her narcissistic, impotent douchebag boyfriend, Mike, (Edward Norton) the man’s role.

Riggan and Mike clash immediately, sometimes to hilarious effect. But for the most part, “Birdman” is a dark, depressing (albeit sometimes comedic) look into one man’s delusional wreck of an existence. Most of the movie is filmed in one continuous shot, with the camera following the characters around the broken-down theater. There’s a vibe of intrusion and invasion of privacy, the cast of Riggan’s play packed together like sweaty, discontented sardines and constantly bursting into each others rooms without invitation. This contributes to the films message about the price of fame- suddenly, your life is everyone else’s.

To some extent, Michael Keaton and Edward Norton are playing extreme versions of themselves, or at least the public’s’ image of themselves. Keaton is a bit of a has-been (this movie might change that,) mostly remembered for the title role in “Batman,” playing the character that Christian Bale is now famous for. Norton is known as a bit of a prima donna who micromanages the film he’s performing in’s dialogue, and while hopefully he’s not as much of a major arsehole as his character is, it can’t be an accident that Mike pompously tries to dissect the script at the expense of Riggan’s vision.

“Birdman” has a great ensemble cast which also includes Merritt Wever and Zach Galfianakis (God only knows how to pronounce that man’s name,) as Riggan’s passive and deceitful lawyer. Overall it is a darkly funny yet sad and bleak commentary on entertainment Vs. art, pretension, and the nightmare who to some is family.  However, director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s 2006 film “Babel” is the much better movie and I think it should have gotten far more attention than it did, the whole thing (especially the plot thread about the deaf Japanese girl) was incredible. “Birdman” was, admittedly, the less compelling work.

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Gypsy (1993)

The first part of this film, led by a manic Bette Midler, plays like “Toddlers & Tiaras” for the Great Depression era. Mama Rose (Midler) spends so much time immersing her daughters in showbiz and sick infantilism, insisting on making them wear little girl’s clothes well into puberty, that she forgets what is best for her girls altogether.

Though not as dark a musical as Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” or Lars Von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark,” “Gypsy” emanates a diseased kind of wistfulness, marked by broken dreams and shattered egos. Meanwhile Bette Midler plays Mama Rose as if it was her last performance on earth, but backed up by the stagy sets and old-timey attitude, her performance is actually a strength, not a deterrent.

Rose’s daughters, Louise and June (Cynthia Gibb and Jennifer Rae Beck), are as different as different can be, but remain close, their bonds strengthened by having survived their mother. Louise, gawky and shy, is innocent and soft spoken, while June, the “‘star” of mama’s show, is more political and assertive.

Mama Rose is both outrageously self-centered and ridiculously narcissistic, guided not so much by dreams as delusions. She ruins her daughters’ lives and later expects them to thank her for it. But it’s hard not to pity her as she struggles to find success in a world that doesn’t hand out fame easily.

Into this disastrous dynamic strolls Herbie (Peter Riegert), an agent who attempts to help Mama Rose on her way to success in exchange for her hand in marriage. But it seems that Mama can not be held down, and even Herbie may soon grow sick of her games.

There are some overtones in this film which could be considered an allegory for loss of innocence in the entertainment industry. The acting is good but not amazing, but the story and the music are the real reasons to watch this. The plot itself is based on a memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee (AKA Louise) who found fame at long last at the price of her innocence. Overall the movie is worth watching as a very good musical, with Bette Midler running the show as crazy Mama Rose. Recommended.