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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Roughly two years ago, I discovered a new series as soon as it’s cover met my eye:

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Much to my pleasure, I found that not only are there dozens of ooky-spooky vintage photographs within this book, but the story’s narrative is woven by mentioned photographs – how cool is that? I’m still on the third book, and the series isn’t all that bad. It’s dark and whimsical, just as I like it – lots of cool characters too. The love angle’s a little weird, but that can be discussed another day.

Naturally, like most hit young adult novels, a film adaptation was inevitable; between the eerie imagery and semi-period setting, Burton was an apt choice. As for the remainder of the adaptation, considering all of the deviations… it got kinda weird.

Miss Peregrine follows Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield), a teenager who discovers that the amazing stories his late grandfather raised him with may had lead to his mysterious, gruesome death. Jacob uncovers a hidden world lost in time and space, occupied by people known as “peculiars,” (not unlike X-Men‘s mutants) protected by the enigmatic Miss Alma Peregrine (Eva Green).

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Costumes by Colleen Atwood, naturally.

Jake soon finds that he unknowingly lead danger right to his new friends’ door, for though this world is wondrous, it’s is also wrought with horrors.

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Horrors such as Slenderman, apparently.

Sometimes it’s easy to put the source material out of mind, but in the case of Miss Peregrine, something really bothered me about Emma (Ella Purnell). For those unfamiliar with the book, Olive and Emma originally have the opposite abilities (Olive is also a much younger, so that was weird).

As someone who can manipulate fire, Emma is an incredibly strong presence for Jacob, and thusly they have a more complex, interesting relationship. She’s also much braver and more fierce, and downright pretty cool.

By giving Emma the air ability (a tweaked one at that), she seems so much more fragile (if not useless) than necessary, which lends this movie’s greater issue: there are so many characters here, there’s hardly any development. By the end of it, sure Jacob’s got some more guts and gumption. Awesome. And I guess the rest of the kids do too, but can we really say?

Basically what I mean to say is that this film, as fun as it was to see these characters, was terribly shallow. Granted, I figured the studio was shooting more for a one-off rather than a trilogy, but this adaptation felt awfully muddled. Even if I wasn’t familiar with the source material, I feel as if this story would have felt lackluster in the end – not terrible, just really okay.

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Stick with the books kiddos.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Just look at this trailer.

At first glance, I fell in love: the stop-motion mixed with a gorgeous cover of one of my favorite songs made my heart and imagination soar. Not to mention the hype in more recent ads, commending the film’s beauty and depth – I was stoked, to say the least. Alas, I left my seat feeling …well, underwhelmed.

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Even with these spooky badasses.

It’s strange to have a Japanese story with a predominately white cast – well, maybe not strange, after all, this has been happening for decades, why stop now? (Despite his appearance in the trailer, George Takei had maybe five lines.)

Though I do have to say that the film is objectively lovely – an absolute spectacle, but suffers under the weight of its own mythos; I found myself begging for more mysticism and lore, but I was only met with the same run-of-the-mill lessons of the importance of story-telling and familial commemoration. Not that these things aren’t important, but maybe I was expecting more depth or at least some deviation of some sort – or hey, maybe some sort of recognition of the shamisen’s significance and history?

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More on Kubo’s mom would have been fantastic.

Speaking of the shamisen, the score and tonality was gorgeous. I’m not sure if it was an issue of time or studio restrictions, but I would have appreciated this film a lot more if it revolved around more myth and magic – I want to know how Kubo learned about his gifts and if and how he was taught these abilities.

And as I mentioned, this is a spectacle – especially in 3D. Director Travis Knight and Laika are no strangers to the third dimension, and they work to capture the potential of this extra space. After all, this is a physical, hand-crafted medium, and I think that deserves some extra respect.

I felt pretty divided at the end of this one. It was lovely, but needed a lot more oomf. There’s a lot of heart to be had, but stops short of definition.

Finding Dory

Thirteen years ago, a generation was taught when things get tough, just keep swimming. Now we learn of the origin of these sage words – yes, the truth is finally revealed about our favorite forgetful fish. Turns out she just kept swimming.

Dory’s search for her family lands her (joined by Marlin and Nemo) at California’s Marine Life Institute, home of a bunch of new merchandisable characters, namely a grumpy Pacific octopus (sorry, “septopus”) named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neil). With the help of new and old friends, Dory finally finds the answers she’s always been looking for – at least, when she remembers.

finding-dory

Finding Dory : Hank :: Mad Max: Fury Road : Imperator Furiosa

Amidst the overbearing sentimentality is genuine fun and sweetness – though it’s hard not to see that Finding Dory and Toy Story 2 are pretty much the same movie. In fact, every Pixar film is just the hero’s journey, isn’t it? Well, whatever works, I suppose – it’s not like it’s a bad thing…it just gets a little underwhelming.

finding-dory-whale-shark

Also I like the little sound Destiny makes when she bumps into her tank.

Despite what could be considered a hindrance, I think the mentioned sweetness pulls through on this one. I mean, sure I also mentioned it’s over-sentimental, but this quality is presented in a manner that is neither annoying nor pandering.  It’s a lovely tale about family, friends, forgiveness, and of course, disability advocacy.

On that last note, I discovered that some audiences took umbrage with the treatment of some certain characters – namely a sea lion named Gerald.

Gerald-Finding-Dory

On the left.

I guess the thought is that though some of the characters were teased for their disabilities, they ultimately proved a greater point – namely Becky the loon – Gerald was a simpleton who was no more than the butt of some jokes. (And surprise surprise people were offended.◔_◔ I only learned about this when I was trying to find a picture of him.)

Personally, he unnerves me. And ultimately, my opinion is as follows: we don’t know Gerald. He could be a vicious baby killer or the sweetest sea critter since those cuddly otters. We also don’t know his relationship with Fluke and Rudder (the other sea lions). Heck, we hardly even know Fluke and Rudder. So what I guess I’m saying is please just calm the frack down.

In summation, Finding Dory is as charming and sentimental as one would expect, so if you’re a fan of Nemo you’ll probably really dig this as well – just be sure to stay after for some extra closure. Personally, I found the preceding short, Piper, to be much more charming – after all, less is more.

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Adorable and gorgeous.

 

 

Warcraft

I’ve dabbled with World of Warcraft – I’m not an expert with the lore, or even half of the jargon – I just like making guys and exploring worlds, occasionally summoning demons to slay enemies. You know, casual stuff.

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Some might say painfully casual.

So when Duncan Jones comes along with a feature film, I get pretty excited: I’m a fan of his work (well, I only saw half of his feature films and that half left a great first impression), and a fan of the source material…until I realize this part of the story takes place well before anything I’m really familiar with, but I’m still up for the ride. So with this in mind, it’s super-hard for me to not have an ounce of bias, or at least understanding, but I really can’t wrap my head around this amount of backlash – well, not entirely anyway.

I’d like to start with the elephant in the room, Garona:

Cybernatural

Portrayed by Paula Patton

Now, Garona is a half-orc – whether she is known to be half-human or half-draenei at this point in the story is neither here nor there. This is what lady orcs look like in this movie:

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This is Draka – she’s a badass.

Painting a lady green and giving her tusks an orc does not make. Even if she is a half-orc, those are some ridiculously strong “other” genes – especially when she looks like this in the game:

Garona

I found a side-by-side. (She pretty much just looks like a normal orc.)

Frankly, even with all the suspension of disbelief within me, I was not convinced this woman was half-orc. Maybe a thicker brow or yellowed, more pronounced teeth would have helped convinced me – considering how great all the other creatures looked, comparatively she was kind of embarrassing (from a purely objective standpoint).

Garona aside, this was a pretty convincing world. I dug the creature effects, the fights, and the costuming was pretty spectacular. However, reflecting on the world-building, I can see how some things are lost in translation.

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Toby Kebbell as Durotan

In some interviews, Jones has compared his adaptation (and it’s reception by some) to the Lord of the Rings films: this is a new world that not everyone will understand or appreciate. The trouble is, Azeroth isn’t black and white: there’s a massive cast of characters to consider, with all sorts of motivations.

So in this film when Glenn Close pops in to tell one of our heroes about the power of “the Light,” this isn’t a metaphor – this is a literal religion that is detrimental to certain factions. For this sort of thing not to be explained, this character’s big moment comes off as hella cheesy. It’s lack of insight like this that makes these characters come off as terribly shallow – though with such a broad cast, it’s hard to focus on personal development.

Regardless of these issues, I think an audience can get itself wrapped up in the world of Warcraft. It’s pure epic fantasy – so if you’re looking for a fun escape, go for it. But if you can’t handle some swords and sorcery, look elsewhere. Hopefully with a sequel we can get more in-depth with some of these folks. Hopefully.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I would first like to say that it has been literally years since I’ve seen the original Mad Max, so I have no intention of pulling out any kind of comparisons. Maybe another time. Second of all, the title Mad Max: Fury Road really doesn’t represent the film at all. How about, Fury Road: Featuring Mad Max?

Maybe someday you'll have a movie to yourself.

Maybe someday you’ll have a movie to yourself.

While there’s plenty of screaming, driving, and high-octane explosions, this movie’s really about Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her quest to overthrow the patriarchy. Well okay, first to free the “breeders,” but then overthrow the patriarchy with some encouragement from Max.

Our lady, Imperator Furiosa.

Our lady, Imperator Furiosa.

I’m not going to write you an essay on this wonderful take on women in dystopian action movies – Buzzfeed already did it for me. However, I do think it’s odd to focus so heavily on Max, just to shift the paradigm towards Furiosa’s redemption. Was it maybe to suck viewers in? Maybe to fund a franchise with some hype? More than likely a little column A, little column B.

Whatever, it’s great. These two work together to accomplish something bigger than themselves, without any of that superfluous sexual chemistry. Not to mention, Max isn’t really your typical “good-guy” protagonist: we know very little about him – he’s haunted by his past and only lives to survive no matter what the cost. Oh, and he’s crazy.

This guy.

This guy.

On the note of madness, the culture of the Wasteland is phenomenal. From the warlord spectacle down to the nomenclature, it’s obvious that a love and care went into creating this world – which is not surprising since George Miller himself is still in control.

From beginning to end, I could not not pull my eyes away from the screen. Sure, it’s ridiculous and violent, but it’s just so fun! Mad Max has really hit the nail on the head in terms of world-building – combine that with some fantastic pacing and War Boy shenanigans, good times are to be had all around!

If you couldn’t tell, I dug this movie. Yes, some spoilery things are a bit too convenient to handle. Yes, Mad Max isn’t really big in this. Yes, it is not perfect. But it’s just so much fun. It’s gritty without being daunting or foreboding – there’s hope, but it doesn’t hit you over the head. This is just some badassery at it’s finest, and exactly what I want in my summer movie.

Final Grade: A

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Let’s take a moment to get this out of your heads and off your minds –

Oh you have no idea what that was all about? Well, Google on your own time (please do, that show was fantastic) because we’re going down a road dredged with madness, mayhem, and really, really cool effects.

Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) is a former blockbuster hero attempting to revitalize his career by producing a play based on the Raymond Carver story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” After a rogue spotlight leaves Riggan without a supporting actor, Broadway prima donna Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) steps in and sends Riggan down a spiral of self-doubt and denial. Fortunately, Riggan has his alter-ego, Birdman, to by his side – that is, until one is destined to take over the other.

You wanna get nuts? C'mon, let's get nuts.

You wanna get nuts? C’mon, let’s get nuts.

From the very beginning, Alejandro González Iñárritu casts us into Riggan’s mind, driving each movement home with a raw, disjunct score and gorgeous composition. Each moment of mania and fragility is captured as the camera almost seamlessly sweeps through the story. We’re witnessing an introspective journey, gliding along the spectrum of self-deprecation and egomania – like Black Swan, but really, really fun.

What I found most refreshing about this film, though a midlife crisis story, can easily appeal to Gen-Y folks as well. We’re dealing with existential crisis brought on by our own design, as Sam (Emma Stone) points out, this is a time when everyone’s screaming for attention as loudly as they can – and if you don’t exist online, you hardly exist at all. More so, this story takes place on Broadway – an industry struggling for relevancy. And if that wasn’t heavy enough, what kind of professional is more fragile than an actor?

I really dug Stone's wardrobe, though.

I really dug Stone’s wardrobe, though.

Unfortunately, when one character is followed from the get-go, it feels as if the story strays when it’s time to focus on other characters. These dialogues do offer some context for the characters, but retrospectively feel more superfluous in the grand scheme of things.

Despite this gripe, I think Birdman might be one of my favorite films this year. It’s dark, funny, daring, and downright unforgettable. Pure essay fodder. Plus Michael Keaton’s still got it.

Final Grade: A

Oh yeah, still got it.

Oh yeah, still got it.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Oh the buzz! People who have never heard of this bizarre Marvel series are suddenly flocking to the nearest novelty shop of their choosing for plush raccoons! Madness! Not gonna lie, after watching this, I was soon browsing Amazon for my own Rocket plush – but that’s besides the point. Guardians of the Galaxy has charmed the nation with its weirdness, and for a good reason – it’s pretty damn good, minor irkables aside.

This is the story of Peter Quill (a buffed up Chris Pratt), a space rogue who stumbles upon an ancient relic – the very relic desired by a warlord hell-bent on revenge (glad to see you again, Lee Pace). With everyone either after Quill or the magical deus ex machina ball, Quill manages to scrounge up a motley crew to fight against the baddies, and save his own hide in the process.

Space shenanigans!

Admittedly, I haven’t read the original material or its successors, and I’ve heard things here and there about Guardians being a Star Wars ripoff, or just like another Pratt film. Sure I can see the similarities, but this no way hinders one’s viewing experience.

Aw yeah.

Aw yeah.

This ensemble, well, this cast, is incredibly enjoyable – practically each character brings charm and originality, even the tree who can only say “I am Groot.”

In my opinion, the main weak link is Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Why can no badass female in an ensemble not hook up with anyone? Okay, technically it’s a “will they/won’t they” scenario, but it’s just so vexing. I also felt that she was the least defined out the group, like a green Black Widow.

On the note of bothersome things, I really did have a problem with the deus ex machina ball. I felt as if they overlooked exactly how it works or how it’s controlled – because I thought I knew how it worked, but then they lost me. But I guess everything can be written off as space magic, so I guess that’s okay.

Amy was never the same after meeting the Doctor.

Amy was never the same after meeting the Doctor.

Furthermore, I don’t want to spoil anything this time around, but due to my misunderstanding, and perhaps my cold, heartless nature, I kind of found the climax cheesy. But none-the-less fun to watch.

Frankly, I found myself with a doofy grin throughout this movie, even with the annoying things – not unlike Pacific Rim. We have amazing visuals, the pacing is great, the soundtrack is well, awesome, and the one-liners are just icing on the cake. Treat yourself and go see this movie.

Final Grade: A-

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Yes, finally, despite the drama and scandal, Bryan Singer, the director of the only two good X-Men films has returned! Finally, thanks to the power of time paradoxes, we can quite literally forget all about The Last Stand. Though, unfortunately, it is cannon as far as some things are concerned – but we’ll get to that later.

This time the team is in the year 2023, where mutants are hunted down and forced into internment camps, as are the humans who aid them. Now it is up to the remaining X-Men to travel back in time to prevent these atrocities from ever happening, that is, if their future selves can survive in the meantime. Disclaimer: I have never read the comics pertaining to any of these film – just a head’s up.

 

...I'll be in my bunk.

…I’ll be in my bunk.

Considering how this franchise has been going, it’s definitely safe to say that Days of Future Past is a step in the right direction (following First Class, of course). Future Past is chocked full of characters and well-paced action sequences that we’ve all come to know and love, as well social commentary on injustice and equality.

And as always, there are a few new cast-members to join the crew – my vote goes towards Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Despite the cheesy commercials, I think Quicksilver’s scenes are probably the coolest sequences of this film – definitely close to being on par with Nightcrawler’s X2 opener.

Also Storm had literally two minutes of screen-time and she gets the worst wig ever.

Also Storm had literally two minutes of screen-time – why did they have to put that thing on her head?

 

My main issue with this film is the villain, Boliver Trask (hooray Peter Dinklage!). I understand that anti-mutant politicians/corporations are not that unusual as far as villains go, but usually there’s some sort of deeper motive behind our villains. For instance, take William Stryker of X2: he had a personal vendetta against mutants after his mutant son caused his mother to end her life. Trask is just an arrogant asshole. I get that he’s concerned about the extinction of the human race, but I felt that his obsession came out of nowhere.

Speaking of “out of nowhere,” how did Charles survive after his obliteration in The Last Stand? He was just some sort of channeled consciousness in the stinger at the end, and then fully materialized in the stinger after The Wolverine – how does that work? It’s not like he returned to his body because if memory serves, it was dissipated. I think I’d rather see the movie where Charles’ consciousness enters a comatose patient and then his physical appearance changes over time. Or surgery. Something. Anything. I guess it really doesn’t matter now, does it?

Days of Future Past is a solid action film. Amidst the booms and pows come times of existential quandary and reflection. The bit between the two Charles’ is probably one of the best pep talks I’ve seen in a while. Now, if we could only flesh out the baddies a bit more, we might have had another X2 on our hands. Oh well, there’s still Apocalypse to look forward to.

Final Grade: B+

 

 

 

Netfix: Mud

I’ll come out and say it: I dig the McConaissance. Coined by the New Yorker through Dallas Buyers hype, it was believed that Magic Mike was the film to kick off this star’s return. Personally, I think it started before that, with smaller titles such as Bernie and Killer Joe. Soon after came a little gem now available on Netflix, Mud.

"I dare you to touch the butt."

“That’s a pretty big butt.”

Mud is a charming little coming-of-age drama about a pair of friends in De Witt, Arkansas, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). These boys spend their days riding around the Arkansas River, selling fish and talking about boobies. One day Neckbone discovers a mystical boat stuck in a tree. The boys decide to claim the boat to themselves, until they find it’s already home to a mysterious drifter called Mud (McConaughey).

Mud tells the boys that he’s returned to De Witt to find his lost love, asking them for food in exchange for the boat. The boys oblige, only to find that the law also has it out for their new friend. Meanwhile, Ellis has entered a delicate phase, leaving him to question his moral standing on love and good and evil.

L-I-V-I-N

L-I-V-I-N

Mud adheres to the charm and sensibility of Stand By Me, met with the mild burn of Southern Comfort. It’s really quite mushy if you think about it – Ellis is witnessing each stage of love lost, whether it’s his parents’, Mud and Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), or his soul-crushing encounter with his first lady-friend. Of course, childhood love stories are boring without a little gunfire.

The Good
As wonderfully shot as it is acted, Mud is an incredibly enjoyable film wrought with originality.

Pure evil.

Pure evil.

The Bad
I hate the play this card, but all of the women are the cause of all the pain and misery to be had. The only saving grace is when Ellis’ father tells him, “Women are tough. They’ll set you up for things.” We then proceed to witness a more dynamic shift in the mother’s portrayal in order to make her more empathetic.

Granted, Ellis spends the most time with his father and they’re going through a separation, so obviously Senior’s view is going to be skewed. Then again, both Ellis’ girlfriend and Juniper do some mean, nasty things – poor Ellis can’t seem to catch a break.

The Alright, Alright, Alright
Despite my beef about the ladies, Mud is a great watch. Even through the grit and heartbreak, the end of Mud’s story is nothing short of satisfying.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

In the heart of Europe lies the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictional  land of provincial villages and ski resorts, that is threatened by a looming war. A beacon of escape and repose still remains despite this trouble: the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Pure, unfiltered, Wes Anderson.

Pictured: pure, unfiltered, Wes Anderson.

When debonaire and devoted concierge M. Gustave H. (an amazing Ralph Fiennes) is charged with the murder of an elderly hotel guest (Tilda Swinton), it is up to his faithful lobby boy Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori, later F. Murray Abraham) to rescue his beloved mentor from certain death. Many years later, a young writer (Jude Law, later Tom Wilkinson) learns the story of Zero and Gustave, and now the tale is bequeathed to us, the audience.

And of course, Bill Murray.

And of course, Bill Murray.

Of all the Wes Anderson movies, Grand Budapest is easily the most Wes Anderson-est: we have the costumes and the actors (an incredible ensemble, I might add), every multi-layered set and centered shot, all wrapped up in a color-scheme that makes your sweet tooth squirm with delight.

A new convention utilized in this film is the multi-framing of the narrative. Not only is the story told to us from the Author’s perspective, but we’re given M. Mustafa’s iteration as well. Anderson conveys this to us by switching up the aspect ratios, one viewpoint at a time – thus fitting the dialogue and visuals to suit respective needs.

Personally, I would have loved to see this concept challenged more often throughout the film, but it is understandable not to do so, being that the narrative could have easily been disturbed otherwise. Additionally, by keeping this meta-perspective in mind, the visual spectacle we’re subjected to is completely understandable, if not expected.

"She's charming. She's so charming."

“She’s charming. She’s so charming.”

The other issue to be taken is that the relationship between Zero and Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) is more implied than experienced. But because Zero himself is telling us about their adventures, the very mention of Agatha is pained and in a sense, neglected – unless their interaction is directly related to the main plot.

I’m not going to spoil anything this time around, but there is a reason Zero does not want to talk about her – and thanks to the genius of F. Murray Abraham’s Oscar-winning story-telling ability, we as an audience understand his hesitance completely. More so, this tonal shift compliments the underlying theme of combating loneliness – a trait carried by both Zero and M. Gustave.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love Wes Anderson movies. I understand that for those unfamiliar with his work or style, watching something like Grand Budapest is like witnessing an inside joke. Similarly, I obviously carry a favorable bias. Despite these possible barriers, I find these facts to be certain: The Grand Budapest may be a character profile film, but below its colorful candy shell is a core of loneliness and longing. While these darker matters are often distracted by shenanigans, there is a resinating desire for closure while not being totally bogged down in the process, resulting in a tale of whimsy and well, humanness.

Witty, colorful and shenanigans abound, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a satisfying reminiscence of love, loss, mystery, escapism, and most importantly, etiquette.

Final Grade: A