‘Big Eyes,’ ‘The Babadook’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman


Two horror films and an excellent drama from director Tim Burton highlight this week’s home video releases. 



Big Eyes

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Anchor Bay
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


The unlikely tale of Margaret and Walter Keane created one of the most interesting stirs in the history of contemporary art, and director Tim Burton does a fine job dramatizing their lives.


It has been decades since the Keanes made a splash in the art world, so many viewers will come to their story fresh, but that does nothing to diminish the film. “Big Eyes” is loaded with universally accessible themes, including commentaries on narcissism, the power of mass production and the problems with a patriarchal society.


Walter Keane hit the art scene in the late 1950s, gaining widespread fame – and a good deal of money – for producing paintings of waif-like children with exceedingly large eyes. The only trouble was, Walter’s paintings were actually created by his wife, Margaret. As the Keane paintings gained popularity, the couple was thrust into an increasingly complicated web of lies that reportedly left Margaret slaving in a studio while Walter basked in the glory. 


According to Burton’s film, Margaret (portrayed by Amy Adams) was always an unwilling accomplice to the fraud. Prior to marrying Walter (Cristoph Waltz) in the mid-1950s, she was struggling to survive as a single mother. So, when Walter began claiming her work, she felt coerced into perpetuating his falsehood. She even continued the fraud after ending their 10-year marriage. Then, in 1970, she decided it was time for the truth.  


It took decades for Margaret to legally prove that the big-eyes paintings were hers, but Burton’s film condenses events into an easily digestible package. In this case, it would have been simple for Burton to maintain the actual timeline, but there is an argument that his condensation offers a better dramatic structure.


Historical inaccuracy aside, “Big Eyes” is a potent drama about a downtrodden wife, a self-absorbed husband and the terrible price of living a lie. It’s also a fascinating dramatization of an art fraud of epic proportions. 


Adams is wonderful as Margaret, a woman forced to choose between security and her own dignity. Waltz is, arguably, even better. As the movie notes, only certain people are built for the spotlight, and Waltz portrays Walter as wonderfully at ease in the public eye. As despicable as the spirit of his actions may have been, Walter is exceedingly charming, and this is important because it explains why Margaret would go along with his scheming. 


The movie is subtler and more traditional than most of Burton’s works, and his restraint is well suited to the story. The director allows his actors to do the heavy lifting, while making sure nothing gets in their way. The result is a fast-moving character drama that engages, enlightens, and ultimately entertains.


Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of featurette.



The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death

½ star
20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing and frightening images, and for thematic elements
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


The original “Woman In Black” was a simple, workmanlike horror-thriller that helped Daniel Radcliffe move beyond the Harry Potter franchise. Despite its traditional nature, Radcliffe and director James Watkins turned the feature into a box office success, meaning a sequel was sure to follow. Unfortunately, “The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death” is nothing more than a poorly conceived clone of its predecessor.    


Set four decades after events in the original work, “Angel of Death” centers on Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), a World War II-era schoolteacher who – along with her headmistress (Helen McCrory) – brings a group of boarding-school children to the small English town of Crythin Gifford. They hope the new locale will be an escape from increasingly frequent German air raids, but the decision is ill-fated, as they are sent to Eel Marsh House, the haunted mansion encountered by Radcliffe in the original film.


Even before Eve and the children are settled, creepy things begin to happen, and it’s not long before one youngster mysteriously dies. Still, Eve does her best to keep an even keel, paying special attention to Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), a student who lost his parents in a London bombing.


As in the first movie, the protagonists face an increasing series of supernatural horrors while simultaneously unraveling the story of Jennet Humpfrye, a long-dead woman scarred by the accidental death of her son.  Eve eventually learns that Jennet has become a vengeful spirit who assuages her anger by killing children.


This back-story is interesting enough, but it was already fully developed in Radcliffe’s 2012 movie, making much of what happens in “Angel of Death” redundant. Director Tom Harper’s subpar execution makes the sequel even worse.


“Angel of Darkness” is one of those horror films that seems as though it was shot without regard for lighting, and much of what happens is obscured by shadows. This creates a creepy atmosphere but it also makes it difficult to follow the action, and it is often painfully confusing.


Although the poor execution is frustrating, it’s only one of many problems with the film. The biggest is that those able to look past the muddy visuals are still saddled with a tired script … and this time Harry Potter isn’t around to salvage it. 


Blu-ray and DVD extras include a deleted scene and a behind-the-scenes feature about locations used in the film.



The Babadook

2½ stars
Scream Factory

Available on: Blu-ray and DVD


Horror fans frustrated by the creative inadequacies of “The Woman In Black 2” may find slight solace in “The Babadook,” an Australian thriller that invests serious time in character development, leading to an emotionally compelling center. Unfortunately, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s storytelling isn’t as laudable, so viewers are left with a picture that feels more substantial than it is.


The plotting centers on Amelia (Essie Davis), a grieving widow whose husband died in a car accident while driving her to the hospital for the delivery of their first child. Although she survived, the presence of her now-elementary-school-age son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a constant and painful reminder of the accident.


Amelia’s life is further complicated by the fact that Samuel is a difficult boy who is convinced that a monster lurks in his room. Amelia does her best to comfort him until a strange children’s book shows up in their house. It foretells the coming of a frightening creature named the Babadook, and Amelia is horrified by the images and terrifying story. Then, the predictions appear to come true.


“The Babadook” is interesting because Kent makes it clear that Amelia is in a depleted mental state, so viewers are never able to trust her perspective. This storytelling element adds a layer of complexity that makes “The Babadook” more interesting than the average horror flick, but it is frustrating nonetheless.


“The Babadook” can be interpreted as either a straightforward supernatural thriller or a complicated metaphorical drama, but it doesn’t satisfy on either level. The supernatural elements are seriously underplayed, so the movie isn’t strong as a straightforward thriller. It works better as a psychological drama, but Kent’s metaphors are too obvious. It doesn’t take a genius, after all, to realize that Amelia is being haunted by her past.


Regardless of how one feels about the movie’s figurative nature, it is impossible to fault Davis’ performance. Kent caresses the star with her camera, making sure viewers are completely tuned to the character’s suffering. This allows Davis to go into a slow boil as Amelia falls apart. Wiseman is also strong, and he has no problem holding his own with the considerably older actors who surround them.


If Kent’s story were as memorable as the acting, “The Babadook” might have been remembered as a low-budget horror classic. As is, it’s little more than an interesting alternative to mainstream fare.


Blu-ray and DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and interviews with the cast and crew.





“Maps to the Stars”: Director David Cronenberg (“Eastern Promises,” “A History of Violence”) tells the story of interrelated characters struggling to survive in the sometimes-hostile Hollywood environment. Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson star. 


“Star Wars”: Fans of the “Star Wars” franchise should be pleased to learn that all six movies became available for digital download on Friday. Fans can purchase them individually (or as a group) from numerous sources, including Amazon and Vudu.


“The Man With the Iron Fists 2”: Direct-to-video sequel to 2012’s “The Man With the Iron Fists.” RZA again stars as “The Blacksmith,” and he is, again, engaged in a classic battle of good versus evil. Directed by Roel Reiné.


“Metal Hurlant Chronicles” – The Complete Series: All 12 episodes of writer-director Guillaume Lubrano’s anthology science-fiction series. Actors who appear in the episodes include Rutger Hauer, John Rhys-Davies, Michael Jai White and James Marsters.  


Author Bio:


Forrest Hartman, a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com.

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