Archives

Big Eyes – Movie Review

ReviewsSubHead1

Big Eyes – Review by Irina Maleeva

A film that every woman should see, especially the young ones is “Big Eyes”. This is a story, hard to be believed which the two writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski found out was more than a fiction story of the lives of Margaret and Walter Keane, the top selling painters of the 1960’s.

They researched the story and decided to make a movie of it as they said: “It’s a great piece of history that nobody knows and hardly anyone would believe.” Some people who know the paintings of the Keanes’ might think they were not the best painters, but what the authors of this film wanted to portray was the personal life and drama of Margaret Keane and at the same time discuss her art and the women’s movement she started.

Her husband Walter really invented “The mass marketing of art”, selling graphics, greeting cards and posters all over the world, at a time that neither he nor Margaret were accepted in any gallery. Margaret still today gives all the credit to Walter for her being discovered and glorified later in her life as a painter.

I met Margaret Keane a couple of years ago at a private exhibit and a party at Phyllis Morris Originals showroom. My husband had known her for many years and we have quite a few paintings from her “Ladies” collection, and some paintings of the kids with the “Big Eyes” attributed to her husband Walter Keane. Somehow I must admit I didn’t’ like those kids. Maybe because they looked so sad and maybe because I studied stage designing in Rome at Academia Di Belle Arti and paintings like those looked too much like forced post cards and all of them looked alike.

The period of her “Women” portraits was more interesting but somehow even if she liked Modigliani’s paintings of women and was influenced by him, those faces remained kind of empty and soulless, just like Walter Keane’s “Big Eyes” kids. So I wasn’t really a person who wanted more than one of those paintings in our house. They all looked forced and somehow empty. But when I met the lady, Margaret Keane and saw the paintings from her last period I totally changed my mind about her art. But before I continue talking about her art, I have to tell you about the film, “Big Eyes”.

The writers got her permission and her exclusive stories about her life to make this movie. Alexander and Karaszewski were to direct the movie and the addition of a producer like Tim Burton, who knew the art of Margaret Keane, made the whole difference. Tim Burton thought that “Art should not be legitimized by what critics said”, and did everything to make the film.

I have to tell you a few words about the plot in the film, which is Margaret Keane’s life. A divorced young woman and her child daughter are going away to another city to start a life without the child’s father. The mother is a shy young painter making some pennies by sketching kids at Art fairs but not being able to sell any of her “Big Eyed” kids paintings she meets a painter who was a real marketer and PR person who claimed to be the painter of the Paris street scenes.

They get married and very soon he starts to sell her “Big eyed” kids as his own paintings, his charming personality played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz (Walter Keane) who got several awards for his parts in “Inglorious Bastards” and “Django Unchained”. He plays the type of husband (Which Margaret Keane really had), who is the horror (and the monster) of every talented woman.

He sells Margaret’s art (The kids) by saying that he is the painter. When she finds out, and is upset with him – he tells her that people won’t buy those paintings if they knew she was the painter, but they buy them from him. He tells her that women were not considered artists (which of course was not true). As Margaret wanted a life for herself and her daughter, she agrees to these arrangements and for 10 years keeps paintings those kids, so that he could sell them. She even hides that fact from her own daughter.

Until one day she finds out that Walter was not even the painter of the “Paris Streets Scenes”.  Walter was no painter at all.  And after a horrible fight and abuse from him, she decides to leave him and refuses to keep painting for him any longer. By then he had become a big selling name as a painter as nobody ever knew the truth. Even my husband, who knew the Keans at the time when they were together, didn’t know the truth.

He told me that the women’s portraits were done by her while “The Big Eyed” kids were painted by him. Obviously after she left him there were court proceedings and at the trial the truth came out.
Amy Adams plays the part of Margaret Keane and she portrays young Margaret in an incredible way. You just wonder what kind of a woman can spend 10 years of her life being exploited by her husband in such a way without saying a word to anyone not even to her own daughter.

When my husband and I were in San Francisco a few years ago and we entered in Margaret Keane’s gallery, I saw the most amazing enormous paintings of animals in the jungle. Her style had some similarity with that of Rousseau’s jungle scenes. I fell in love with one of the paintings depicting Cheetahs. At that time her asking price was $100,000.

I didn’t know the lady Margaret Keane until I met her during the exhibit of her latest paintings at the Phyllis Morris Originals showroom and talked to her. She was a totally different lady. In her 80’s, secure of herself, answering any questions I had. I loved her paintings of young gorgeous girls with exotic animals in a jungle so beautifully painted, that if the prices weren’t so high, I would have left with several of those paintings. What a difference her art and her life had become after leaving a man who sucked the blood of her body, was ruining her life and her art. A film to see and wonder.

P.S. What makes me feel sad is the fact that even today a lot of wonderful artists (Painters, writers, actors etc.) are not known simply because they don’t have that cunningness personality in them, and if they are not discovered by someone else their art has little chance to survive.

Birdman – Movie Review

ReviewsSubHead1

Dear Friends,

For a long time I haven’t written about any films or shows I have seen, as I was too busy rehearsing and performing my own music theater show at the Hudson Theater in LA. We had wonderful musicians, a talented dancer performing with me, and the play “ Illusions “ being directed by the Broadway director Randy Johnson ( “One night with Janice Joplin “ ), was a hit ! I was so happy with the response of the audience and the great reviews . I had a wonderful time and got great reviews. But now with the beginning of the New 2015 Year I have to write about all the films I am seeing.

I will start with a great one, “Birdman,” a brilliant film by the director/writer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, with the most incredible cast of performers.

birdman-poster-small

The story might as well be called, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” as one critic calls the Broadway play in the movie. If you are not an actor you will have a hard time figuring out the meaning or the sense of the movie, but you will definitely appreciate Michael Keaton’s amazing performance as Riggan, in the part of a movie actor grown old, who has decided to produce, direct and star in a Broadway theater play.

birdman-keaton-yelling
I felt the passion and the pain of an actor who is still living the part of the superhero “Birdman” from the movie that made him famous. Riggan (Michael Keaton) hears the voice which talks to him like the “Birdman” at times when he feels insecure of himself in the theater. He even tries to behave like him.

As an actor I know how easy it is to fall in love with a part that gives you the freedom you don’t have in life, and you secretly keep living that role in your real life. The passage from film to Broadway is not easy. The critics are ready to devour you to pieces! And as it becomes obvious that the play will not be a success, the producers decide to get a well known , established Broadway actor to play opposite Riggan, in the part of Mike. That part is brilliantly executed by Edward Norton. And the war between the two actors starts .

birdman-EmmaStone In the middle is Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), who is incredible in the part. She is the only real creature, unspoiled from the movies and the theater, who sees the reality of life as it is. She tries to put some sense in these, totally self-absorbed actors, who live only through their parts just like Mike (Edward Norton) says, “I don’t want people to like me, I don’t give a damn – I can be real only on the stage.”

birdman-costumeThis incredible conflict between two people – actors, one of which still lives in his Birdman character and needs his freedom from repeating every night a dialogue he doesn’t’ believe in, and the other living a real life only on the stage– creates the drama, and the plot of this film. It ends in a catastrophic way, as one can only imagine.

The essence of the film comes from the fact that none of these two characters live in reality, nor understand each other .They are too busy living in their dream worlds.
That is the tragedy that consumes Riggan.

The acting and directing of the film is superb. The cast is unbelievable. This is Michael Keaton’s best part so far, unbelievable! Edward Norton is fantastic and Emma Stone is a revelation. The acting in every case of all the cast is superb. It is the best ensemble acting so far. You should see this movie!

Irina Maleeva

A Streetcar Named Desire

Dear friends ,

I am so sorry that for such a long time I haven’t written anything on my blog.But tonight I found out why that happened.

I like writing about exciting , incredible things and events and unfortunately apart from the drama we lived last December when our house caught a fire , all of the following months were a nightmare I didn’t feel writing about.

But tonight something incredible happened. I saw the opera “A Streetcar named Desire” by Andre Previn at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and I realized that I had to write about it.

This performance was much above my expectations. Actually, I have to admit that I cried during the third act and at the finale of the opera — something I didn’t do when I watched the film version with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. I loved the film, but tonight I couldn’t stop my tears. Renee Fleming’s performance of Blanche DuBois was sublime. Her amazing voice – especially her “ pianissimo “ at the end – was more than remarkable and I couldn’t hold my tears. Her acting was beyond belief – incredible for an opera singer. So far she is the best opera singer ever to exist. She is truly the “singular star” of the opera world — that’s what Ryan McKinny says of her and he is her co-star, playing Stanley Kowalski. He is a wonderful singer and although his voice is that of a Kowalski, his physique is not. But who can ever get in the pants of Marlon Brando? After seeing Brando, you can’t possibly imagine another Kowalski.

The director of the opera, Brad Dalton, had an incredible touch which comes close to Tennessee Williams’ story. And what a story that is!  He obviously understood and loved the play. And his directions were all in sync with the story, Previn’s music and the drama. The young conductor Evan Rogister was incredible, and he grew together with the music and the storyline.

While in the first act I thought that Previn could have put a little of the New Orleans vibe and maybe a bit of what Gershwin did in “Porgy and Bess” to make the music less 1997 cacophonic experience, his intention remarkably grew higher by the third act. And that final act was a brilliant, unique and unforgettable musical achievement between the music, direction and irresistible acting and singing. It was an artistic climax that will be hard to match (ever) in the future. Renee Fleming is the greatest artist in the singing world and a person should be lucky to have seen her at least once onstage.

This premiere was worth all of what I had missed this year.

Let’s praise the great art and the great performers. Let’s praise Placido Domingo, who brought the LA Opera to this level.

Thank you.

 

 

Tribute to Roger Ebert

Roger-Ebert
I just wanted to express my deep sadness for the passing of a most incredible man and a dear friend, Roger Ebert, the well-known film critic whose career blossomed at the Chicago Sun-Times but was made famous with his legendary show “Siskel and Ebert” which later became “Ebert and Roeper.”

I met Roger many years ago at one of the first Toronto Film Festivals. My film “Union City” was screening there. We spent a lot of time together viewing the films at the festival and discussing Fellini’s film “Prova D’Orchestra,” which was not understood by Americans at that time.

Apart from the great time I had with Roger watching movies, I will never forget the time when I woke up in the middle of the night in my hotel suite being unable to breathe or talk. My throat was shut and I could not even call the room service for a cup of tea. I thought I could die without being able to call anyone. My allergies had hit me once again. The next day the organizers had scheduled interviews for me and did not seem to care of how I was feeling. Roger ran to the pharmacy to get me some medicine. I’ll never forget his chivalry. He was much more than a talented critic. He was a kind, generous person.

Some time ago, when I found out that Roger had been diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to write him thanking him for his care of me in the past, and to tell him how fondly I remembered the time in Toronto when we watched together the premiere of my film with James Mason, called “Kidnap Syndicate.” But I did not have his address. Now I am sorry I missed that opportunity. One should always remember to tell people how much we appreciate them while they are still around. That was one of my messages in my show “Illusions.” I am sad I was not able to thank Roger and tell him how much I loved being with him.

To this day I have kept his postcard from Venice in which he wrote that he saw “Union City” again at the Festival there and thought I was the best thing in the film. Coming from him, that was an honor.

Thank you Roger, I will never forget you.

Irina

“One Night with Janis Joplin” – REVIEW

JanisJoplinPoster

For the Lovers of Rock:
Don’t miss the show “One Night with Janis Joplin” at the Pasadena Playhouse. Brilliantly written and directed by Randy Johnson, who previously created “Elvis in Concert,” “Patsy Cline” and many more (including directing my own show “Illusions”). He has worked with some of the greatest icons in the music business.

JanisJoplin

The staging is incredible, the lights and sets visually effective. The two divas, Salorina Elayne Carten (as a blues singer) and Mary Bridget Davies (as Janis Joplin) are amazing. Miss Carten, being an opera singer, sings the blues with a unbelievable voice and feelings reminiscent of many great singers of the past (from Bessi Smith to Nina Simone) and the velvety sound of her voice transports you to an era long gone.

JanisJoplin-IrinaRedCarpet
Miss Davies is a singer of equal caliber to Joplin. She makes you believe you are hearing the real thing. She is earthy and dives into the character completely. It is no surprise she was awarded Best Actress by the Cleveland Critic’s Circle.

The first act, a mix of both stories and songs, was unbelievable. The second act seemed a little too long. It mainly contains songs aimed at fueling the crowd as though they were attending a real Joplin concert. But I missed the stories. If you can’t handle the loud music and the screaming of a rock concert, then the second act may be too much for you.

JanisJoplinCar

The opening of the show was last Sunday on St. Patrick’s Day, and for some reason they allowed a band with loud pseudo-singers to perform on a podium right in front of the theater. So between their noise and the Janis Joplin rock concert I ended up with a terrible headache. Still, however, I am happy to have seen the show.

It was a special added treat for us to see up close Janis Joplin’s psychedelically painted 1965 365c Porsche Cabriolet on display outside the theatre.

 

Pasadena Playhouse Tickets

Watch KTLA interview of Mary Bridget Davies

2012 Movie Reviews

ReviewsSubHead1

An incredible film …
Zero Dark Thirty
We all know that Osama bin Laden was killed by the American Navy Seals during a very secret operation in Pakistan last year. But to see this movie based on that reality is another story – another experience. I wonder if any of us knew that the key figure in this operation was a young, female CIA agent called Maya, who was determined to find bin Laden at any cost. After a decade of hunting the leader of Al Qaeda, and the mastermind of so many terrorist attacks, and the loss of so many American lives, Maya would not settle for anything less than seeing Osama bin Laden dead. Every aspect of their mission was shrouded in secrecy. The central role of this team of brave Americans is brought to the screen in a brilliant way by the Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (“Hurt Locker”). This film needed a female director to give life to two incredible female characters. Jessica Chastain is wonderful as Maya. Her torment and strength kept me breathless until the very end. Her explosive performance touches deep in your soul. Her determination and undeniable human strength to vindicate all of her lost friends and lost American lives is beyond belief. Chastain is brilliant in the role. And so is Jason Clarke, her partner in the mission. Co-star Jennifer Ehle shines in her role, as well. An Oscar-winning director and brilliant acting makes for an unforgettable experience. Every American should see this film and finally appreciate the part that President Barack Obama took in this secret mission – and thank the Navy Seals for their remarkable actions in protecting and fighting for the U.S.A.


Anna Karenina

I just saw the new version of “Anna Karenina” and I wondered what screenwriter Tom Stoppard thought of Tolstoy’s best novel. And how did he interpret it? The answer is: “western” people can hardly understand the soul and the passion of the Slavic and Russian people. It is not easy to explain Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in one big, beautifully shot film, directed by Joe Wright. It is very difficult to describe the agony of a young mother who has fallen madly in love with a younger man. Keira Knightley (as Anna) does a wonderful job, but there is a lot missing from the character because in this movie, she is only a married woman in love with a younger man – while in Tolstoy’s novel, her drama includes the torment of being a desperate mother who adores her son, and being in love with Vronsky, the younger man. She commits suicide not because of Vronsky, but because of the drama she is living – not having her children and being in love with a young man she doesn’t trust.

In this film, Anna the mother doesn’t exist. She has only her lover, and that is a pity, because we are not on her side as much as we want to be. Her husband, Karenin, is masterfully played by Jude Law, but he turned out to be such a wonderful character that you wonder why she would ever leave him. He was much too understanding, as opposed to the real Tolstoy character. And as for Vronsky, I am sorry to say, what woman would want to die for a man looking like Stoppard’s Vronsky, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson? He looked more like a heavily made-up man going on a masquerade than a gorgeous, restless young Russian nobleman. I was wondering during the whole film whose ideas were those? And couldn’t the director get to the depth of Tolstoy’s characters when he had such a wonderful cast? But I guess it all started with the screenplay, which failed to bring any of the novel’s depth to the screen.

Though the movie was shot and directed beautifully, I didn’t shed a tear, and for a sensitive person like me, that meant I didn’t come to care about anyone in the movie. But it’s still something beautiful to see.

 


Maybe you’ve seen the musical “Les Misérables,” but wait until you see the movie! You must see it in a movie theater on the “big screen.” It is incredible! Directed by British director Tom Hooper (Oscar winner for “The King’s Speech”), with an incredible cast, including Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) and Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thenardier). This film is mesmerizing.

The opening scene with the enormous ship coming right at you can stop your heart. And the first scene between Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe sets the tone of the film. It is incredibly beautifully shot, with amazing acting and singing that totally takes your breath away, you feel you are in Paris during the French Revolution, rooting for the protagonists. At the screening I attended, after Anne Hathaway sings in her dying scene, the whole audience applauded – the first of many ovations at the end of a song. Because we were the first Los Angeles audience to see this film, the director and some of the lead actors were there for a Q&A. They talked about how all the singing was done live as they shot the film. They did not lip-synch to a playback orchestration. Tom Hooper wanted his actors to live and sing in the moment so they could be as vulnerable as the part called for. The result was incredible!

I salute these extraordinary actors who worked so hard to make an incredible, unforgettable portraits of their characters. No doubt the audience felt and applauded at every such great performance of a song. That each of these well-known actors had to audition for 15 days before getting their parts moves you to realize where the director was going. He wanted such brilliance from everyone, including himself, and he got it. Too beautiful and heartfelt to be missed!

Congratulations to the whole cast, director, producers and anyone involved with the movie. You don’t know where the time goes as you get absorbed in the beauty of this film.

As you can tell, I loved this film. I have loved the story since I was a little girl of 8 in Bulgaria, when I won an art contest for children for illustrating the story of Cosette.