Film Review: Big Eyes

Both Halloween and Christmas have come and gone, but I’m sure at least a couple of you have either seen the film below or at least have a vague memory of what transpired:

Image result for the nightmare before christmas

However, this is not a review of a cross-seasonal classic with much more dark elements to it than you would expect for a children’s film. Instead, this is about a more recent film that was released late 2014, yet didn’t enjoy the same level of success as some of some of Burton’s earlier films (Batman, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, etc.). I believe that it’s still worth a watch.

Related imageBig Eyes is a biographical film based on the life and career of Margaret Keane, an artist who became wildly successful in the 1950’s and 1960’s. After a previous marriage that she left together with her daughter, she met the charming Walter Keane, whom she thought was also an artist. (He wasn’t) She quickly fell in love with Walter after he promised that they would live a comfortable life, and married him.

Margaret was struggling to pay the bills, raise her daughter well, and keep her apartment in San Francisco. It didn’t help that she didn’t have much qualifications, due to majoring in an artistic field in college. She worked at a children’s crib manufacturer painting pictures on cribs.

In her free time, however, Margaret enjoyed painting portraits and selling them for money along the San Franciscan beach. Her unique style of art often featured melancholic-looking girls with oversized eyes. which eventually caught the eyes of the wealthy of San Francisco, and almost overnight her paintings and reproductions were being sold everywhere. But there was a catch- people didn’t know she was the painter.

Margaret’s husband, Walter Keane, was not a great painter himself, but was an extremely persuasive and cunning salesman. Margaret was the original painter, but she always signed them “Keane”. Walter was the one who first went out and tried to sell Margaret’s paintings, which he recognized had true potential. Since the 50’s and 60’s was still a time where people subconsciously perceived women as less creative/intelligent/etc. when compared to men, the first buyers assumed he was the painter. Walter didn’t correct them because he feared that people would lose interest in the paintings if they knew a woman had painted them, and before he knew it, he was raking in hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. 

For the sake of keeping their reputation and the money, the two reach an agreement: Margaret would spend her days in the attic painting her iconic paintings, and Walter would go out and sell them. However, as time went on, Walter became more and more abusive, shutting Margaret in the attic for most of the day and preventing Jane, their daughter, from visiting her. Walter did not take criticism well, and eventually became an arrogant, unpredictable control freak.

Related image

The stakes grow higher and Margaret becomes more and more fearful for her and Jane’s safety. When Margaret uncovers a lie that Walter tried to hide in the past, she confronts Walter, several other things go wrong, and eventually Walter tries to burn down the house and Margaret and Jane flee. What happens next? You can find out for yourself by watching Big Eyes.

While I enjoyed Big Eyes, there are several things I believe could have been done better. The movie was not the best in terms of writing and didn’t appeal as much to the audience as it could have. There were also several historical inconsistencies between the movie and the true story.

Overall, however, I found this movie memorable. I had never previously heard of Margaret Keane, or imagined a scandal like this could occur. The actress behind Margaret (Amy Adams) and the actor behind Walter (Christoph Waltz) both did extremely good jobs, as you can see from their Golden Globe award and nomination, respectively. The music and pacing were both very pleasant, and the sets and props do conjure up a nostalgic feeling for San Francisco in the 60’s.

But what really stood out to me about this film, and in fact the reason why I even knew it existed in the first place, was this girl right here. Delaney Raye portrayed young Jane, the daughter of Margaret, in the movie.

She doesn’t have that many lines in the movie and gets much less screen time than Margaret or Walter, but young Jane is the character I remember most from the movie. Why? Because the actress portraying her was one of my classmates from elementary school. I didn’t get to know her that well because I was only at that school for 3 years, but I remember everyone in the class making a big deal out of it in 6th grade (Back in that school district, you could’ve gone to middle school in 6th grade or chosen to stay. Most people stayed) and that was when I first heard about this film.

Up until that point I never realized I could have been going to school with someone that was in a Hollywood movie directed by a famous director, but when I found out it was true I suddenly became interested in seeing Big Eyes. However, I forgot about it for a couple of years after I moved away (to here), and then it popped into my memory out of nowhere and I decided to watch the film— and was pleasantly surprised by how compelling it was.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this film. It may not have the elements of romance or adventure that many people seek, but if you do take the time to watch Big Eyes it might just take you by surprise.

Be warned, though, it does have swearing and some suggestions of violence.

Image result for happy new year

-Michael Z.

Big Eyes is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Interwoven by a single object, the three lives of children are forever changed by magical harmonica in the novel Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

The story begins with a young boy named Otto, who meets three sisters when he gets lost in a forbidden forest. Interacting with them, Otto realizes the mysterious nature of them. The sisters guide him home, and give him a harmonica with a special “M” seal. The harmonica makes its way to a young boy named Friedrich in Germany.

Hitler is rising, and the Nazi’s party influence is very prominent; resistance to it is very difficult. Discovering the special harmonica in the factory his Father works in, Friedrich plays it and realizes there is something special about it. Because of unforeseen circumstances, he is forced to get rid of the harmonica.

It travels next to Mike, an orphan, in Pennsylvania. Constantly taking care of his younger brother, Mike is looking for a break to help himself and his brother out of their destitute lives. Musically gifted with playing the piano, Mike discovers the special harmonica. He and his brother are eventually adopted, but there are some complications with their new guardian. The last child in the novel is Ivy. Receiving the harmonica, her special talent for playing is recognized by her teacher; her teacher chooses her to play a solo in a special concert, but Ivy’s Father receives a job, forcing her to move way. Her Father’s job is to take care of a farm of Japanese family, while they are in an internment camp. The neighboring farms are anti-Japanese, and some vandalize the property. The harmonica helps her adjust to the move. Each of the children’s lives have their own story with the harmonica, but the ending ties them all together beautifully.

Even though this book is intended for younger children, anybody of any age would enjoy this novel because of its simplistic nature and “feel-good” element. My favorite part of this book was how there were multiple stories, and they were told in such detail, that one was able to connect and understand the individual characters. It is also relatable because of the backdrop of the second World War, and how it impacted people differently depending on where they lived. The “magic” element made the novel all the more enjoyable because it captured the innocence of the young children.

I loved Echo, and I would recommend it to anybody looking for a light, quick read.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

The novel Shooting Kabul by N.H. Sense is about a boy named Fadi who lived in Afghanistan. His family had no choice but to leave Afghanistan because the Taliban rose to power and they didn’t bring the good like they promised.

Fadi’s father, Habib, had secured the family a safe passage to America in the summer of 2001, as long as they crossed the border. The plan was to meet a truck that would carry Fadi’s family across the Peshawar, Pakistan. While Fadi’s older sister, Noor, was helping her sick mother, Fadi was in charge of taking care of his sister Mariam. All was going according to plan until the Taliban showed up.

Mariam is accidentally left behind because she dropped her barbie doll and she jumped off the truck to get it back. The rest of his family made it safely, but they were unable to properly move on with there lives until they knew Mariam would come back safely. While staying with his relatives in San Francisco, school had just started and he had to adjust to a new life. His new friend, Anh convinced him to join the school’s photography club and there was a competition where the first place winner gets a new camera and a trip to China, Kenya, or India. Then Fadi realized that India is right next to Afghanistan and if he won the competition, he could fly there, find Mariam, and bring her back home. Fadi spent all his time photographing the sights of San Fransisco. He knew that failure wasn’t an option, so he took the perfect picture of his grandparents and submitted it.

Later, there was news that terrorists had crashed planes into two skyscrapers in New York at the Pentagon in Washington DC on September 11. Many people believe that all Muslims are terrorists who support the men who hijacked the planes. Bullies at his school started picking on him because of his Muslim faith. Fadi truly believed that he would win the photography competition, but when he heard that he didn’t win, he was devastated. Fadi isn’t able to go to Afghanistan to find his missing sister. But, he did get an honorable mention for his entry, which attracted the attention of one judge who specialized in photographing war zones. The judge offered to show him some of his most recent work, which was taken along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. While looking thorough the photos, Fadi saw a picture of Mariam playing with some other children at a refugee camp. Mariam was tracked down and she boarded a flight to San Fransisco to be reunited with her family.

I would would recommend this book to anyone who likes novels that involve historical background. This book was interesting and it involved the tragic event of 9/11.Throughout the the novel, you get to see the journey Fadi went through to save his sister in Afghanistan.

-Vanessa T.

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.