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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:

miss-peregrine-s-home-for-peculiar-children

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.

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:

draka

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.

warcraft-movie-2016-trailer-images-orcs

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.

Tim Burton

WYSHW: I’m Not There

In case you are unfamiliar with the legendary artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman, I would suggest you take a good day to discover all that you’ve been missing out on. It’s okay, I can wait – because if you have no knowledge of the man’s life and career, this film is practically inaccessible. Now, if you think Bob Dylan’s one of the worst song writers of all time, you can see your way out.

Unlike with Howl, it helps to know a bit about Bob Dylan before diving into this layered collage of a “bio-flick.” Not only does I’m Not There undertake multiple depictions of Dylan’s actual life, but also depicts his figurative personas and influences in a unique fashion. It also helps that none of these characters are referred to as “Bob Dylan.”

there

I’m Not There is a different kind of non-linear story, considering it shows the many faces of one person, which is not to say that Dylan himself had anything to do with this film, because he didn’t. In fact, I think the charm of this feature is that it follows an icon of many musical movements, and each character takes on a given persona:

Woody Gunthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin, the child) is Dylan’s displaced musical beginnings (an anachronic “imposter”); Arthur (Ben Whishaw) is the interrogated poet; Robbie (Ledger) is the superstar who struggles with his family life; Jack (Bale) is the documented folk singer turned born-again Christian; Billy the Kid (Gere) is the mythic wanderer and outlaw; finally, Jude (Blanchett) is our surreal musician – the closest to matching the perceived 60’s Dylan, played with both delicacy and ferocity.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Though I’m Not There can easily be dubbed as a pretentious mess, I beg to differ. Okay, so maybe I have my Dylan goggles on, big deal. This aside, I can’t get over this intertwining construct – it’s just full circles upon full circles with amazing musical intervals. Another bias: I really love intertwining nonlinear stories. This aside, I’m Not There beautifully depicts each era almost as a genre of its own design.

So yes, it does help to know a thing or two about Bob Dylan, but I guess you could easily enjoy this film as perhaps a schizophrenic portrait of the everyman, caught in the midsts of his desires and obligations. As well as the occasional trip with Allen Ginsberg.

If you dig on Dylan, I’m Not There is a prime choice. Or if you’d rather have some colorful background noise with some choice covers, that works too. It’s a win-win.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk about that fat Kev Smith.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Goddammit.

Goddammit.

Ah yes!  I finally got some time to go out and see something new!  At first glimpse of Oz I’ll admit I was fascinated, but then when I witnessed Zach Braff’s voice coming out of an animated monkey, I sighed as heavy sigh of lost dreams – but really how did this fantasy epic fare?  Not that great.  Sorry, but I can’t properly dissect this one without a few spoilers.

We open up with Ye Olde Time Kansas, circa 1905 – even though I really don’t think we needed that date there, but whatever.  Also, a simple black and white filter does not due the concept justice – why not film with slightly lower quality equipment?  Why can’t you help us believe this is older without telling us?  Anyway, I’m nit-picking.

We meet Oscar, or “Oz,” your womanizing charlatan of a circus performer, on the run from a pissed-off muscle-man.  In his magic indestructible hot air balloon he is whisked off into the wonderful world of Oz, where his arrival had been foretold by the former king.  There he meets three magical witch sisters, Theadora (Rachel Weisz, who’s obviously the bad one), Evanora (Mila Kunis, neutral until scorned by Oz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams – gee, now what’s her alignment again?)

Seriously though.  How did she fool anyone?

Seriously though. How did she fool anyone?

Naturally Oz’s adventures follow what has now become the traditional Oz norm – healing a girl he couldn’t help in Kansas, realizing the importance of friends, all that good stuff.  So with this magic and whimsy we’re forgetting one important thing: Oz is a terrible human being.  Which is funny, because given the ending of the original we forget  that Toto was totally supposed to get put down, either that or it’s assumed that Elmira Gulch died in the twister – so we forget all the bad things if we’re given one really good thing.

Hail to the king, baby.

Hail to the king, baby.

Sure sure, in the end he does right by defending the good people of Oz against the wickeds, but he also lied to them, using his circus tricks.  And according to Glinda, that’s totally okay, as long as they have hope and something to believe in.  What kind of message are they trying to teach us here?  It’s okay to lie to people as long as your intentions are good?  There was so much room for character development, but I really can’t help to believe that Oz was still in it for the glory, not the good – and I guess that does come full circle with the original film, being that Dorothy calls him out on being a jerk, but there’s so much room for improvement.   (Also, where were the ruby slippers?  If you’re going to have tie-ins and references but not the slippers, why bother?)

Oz wasn’t that bad, though – aesthetically this film was fairly impressive, though I think a mix of some actual critters would have been appreciated, but perhaps that’s just me.  I know it’s supposed to be a dream world of magic, but if it only looked organic, then it would have been spot on.  Which reminds me, let’s talk about the makeup.

I guess it’s an unspoken rule that in a green-screen world there is little room for makeup application, which is to say there wasn’t much in this movie – not that it really needed it, but I think they should of focused more where it counted.  Specifically, I’m talking about our wicked witch, Theadora.

Sorry about the quality - it was hard to find one that showed most of her face.

Sorry about the quality – it was hard to find one that showed most of her face.

You see those eyebrows?  They never move.  In fact, the only thing that moves on her face freely is her mouth.  I know they were trying to make her look as malicious as possible, but those painted eyebrows just look like a bad face-lift.  She doesn’t look scary, she looks goofy.  Again, so much potential here and completely anticlimactic.

Oz the Great and Powerful should have been much better than it was.  There were some neat ideas here and there and a bit of originality, but in the end, this trick falls flat.  Ignore the man behind the curtain folks, he’s really not that interesting.

Final Grade: C+

Rise of the Guardians

For thousands of years, the hopes, wonders and dreams of children have been protected by mythical beings known as the Guardians.  The Guardians are made up of a team of the most cherished childhood idols: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman.  Believed in and adored by children, faith in them preserves their strength against fear and darkness.  When this faith is threatened by the rise of an old foe, the Guardians are asked to bring in a new recruit, Jack Frost.  Arrogant and selfish, Jack seems like an unlikely addition to the team, but with the Guardians help he can find his calling and help defeat Pitch, the boogeyman.

It's like The Avengers, but for elementary students.

It’s like the Avengers, but for small children.

Though Guardians is based on a recent book series, one can see how making a movie like this for the holiday season can be problematic in today’s painfully politically correct society.  But at the same time, we are talking about what are essentially figureheads, and though not everyone celebrates Christmas or Easter, the core of  these celebrations stand true and applicable to anyone.  Okay, explaining Easter as a time of hope with the new beginnings and springtime bit was a bit of a stretch, but I think it worked out alright in the end.

Don't get on his naughty list.

Don’t get on his naughty list.

I also understand it’s difficult to picture figures such as the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny as action heroes.  To be honest that threw me off as well, that was until I saw North, AKA Santa.  Santa is a Russian duel-wielding badass.  Never thought you’d see that phrase, huh?  Also he’s voiced by Alec Baldwin without being Alec Baldwin, which is awfully refreshing.  In fact, I was surprised by most of the characterizations in this film.  It was choices like this that made this film entertaining.  Was it cheesy and predictable?  Absolutely.  But was funny and it wasn’t annoying – I’d even venture to say that some moments were charming.

Sweet dreams are made of this.

Sweet dreams are made of this.

Rise of the Guardians is a visually gorgeous film with a lot of heart in the right place, but sadly falls flat and I’m not exactly sure where.  The voice acting was good, the character design was interesting – I think what lacked the most definition was the story, as if these characters weren’t used towards their fullest potential.  Like I said, it’s a fun little movie, but I’d say it’s worth a rent.

Final Grade: B

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit has probably been the most anticipated fantasy epic since…well probably Harry Potter.  And as such it has carried with it much controversy, from Jackson taking over, to breaking it into three parts, to the frame rate.  I’m not too surprised – I mean, after establishing a fan base it’s hard not to upset some people, especially when we’re dealing with a series of books.  So now was it really worth all the fuss?

Oh the shenanigans!

Oh the shenanigans!

Let’s see, where to begin.  An Unexpected Journey begins with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit who has grown rather uninteresting in his maturity, until an old acquaintance, Gandalf the Grey, pops back into his life and offers him at a chance for the adventure of a lifetime.  Bilbo refuses the offer, until a hoard of dwarves show up at his hobbit hole and explain their quest.  It would seem that many years ago, the thriving dwarf kingdom of Erebor fell victim to the wrath Smaug, of a rogue dragon from the north, who destroyed the dwarves home and stole away their vast fortunes.  After being turned away from by neighboring elves, the remaining few have been fighting ruthlessly to reclaim the land that they’ve lost.  In order to breach the treacherous realm of The Lonely Mountain, their last hope, they need a burglar – someone quick and light on their feet – a hobbit would be the obvious choice.  Reluctantly, Bilbo joins them, discovering a new world beyond his little hobbit hole.

"I was once a Time Lord, now I let birds poop all over me." Shrooms, not even once.

“I was once a Time Lord, now I let birds poop all over me.” Shrooms. Not even once.

Admittedly, when I saw the first couple trailers I was taken aback by the action-comedy tone that the trailers appeared to portray.  Granted, the trailers did spoil some of the funnier moments, but I was glad to be wrong.  An Unexpected Journey is a pleasant mix of adventure and whimsy, ultimately producing a rather charming piece.  Truth be told, I am never not impressed with forced perspective either; not to mention that the makeup application on the dwarves is fantastic.

Watching The Hobbit is like watching a storybook beautifully play out in front of you.  I think it’s fair to say that this film takes on a more playful feel, but it’s a lovely precursor to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It’s fairly frustrating that I’ll have to wait forever for the next one, but Unexpected Journey satisfies while leaving room for more.  Besides, patience is a virtue.

Final Grade: A

WYSHW: The Fountain

Sometime between Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan,  Darren Aronofksy made a gorgeous sci-fi epic entitled The Fountain, a film which I notice isn’t talked about often.  Why is that?  I feel that The Fountain is a beautiful romance of Mayan mythology and multi-verse story telling that is very much overlooked.  So I guess I’ll just break it all down for you – sorry but spoilers are ahead.

It was the space monk tree bubble, wasn’t it? That’s why no one wanted any part of this. Space monk tree bubble.

A Story Within a Story

By the way, the music in this film is fantastic.

Our film begins in the year 2005, where we learn about a neuroscientist named Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman), and his ill wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz).  Izzy has been diagnosed with some sort of unnamed brain illness, to which there is no cure.  Izzi has accepted her fate, but Tommy becomes obsessed with the idea that death is a disease, and will stop at nothing until he finds a cure.  After she dies, Tommy finally reads a book she had previously begged him to finish – a book she wrote about love during the Spanish Inquisition.

Cut to 16th Century Spain, Queen Isabella (Rachel Weisz) is under siege by the grand inquisitor and begs her betrothed, a conquistador named Tomàs (Hugh Jackman), to search for the Biblical Tree of Life in South America.  After battling with countless Mayan protectors (and one with a kickass flaming sword), he finds the tree, and desperately start drinking the sap only to become one with the earth.

Then we have the year 2500 with Tommy as Tom, an astral monk soaring through the cosmos in a biosphere containing a tree – a tree that was planted on Izzi’s grave.  Tom is on a mission to find Xibalba, the Mayan spirit world, said to be where souls are reunited.  He has survived this journey because of his desire to be with Izzi once again, if not for eternity.

The Road to Awe

This all sounds quite crazy, doesn’t it?  Some people would venture as far to say ridiculous.  I don’t really understand why people have such a hard time suspending their disbelief, especially when it comes to science fiction.  If you just go with it, the overall piece is just so beautiful, it’s really quite indescribable.

First off, if you haven’t guessed, the visuals are astounding.  One of the coolest things about this film is that there were barely any CGI effects used – space was filmed with trick photography and shooting light through petri dishes.  With such stunning visuals partnered with a powerful, driving score, really what you’ve got here is a fantastic setting for something splendid – in this case an epic romance.

I really believed they loved each other.

What’s different about The Fountain is that it’s a romance that only deals with the relationship between Izzi and Tommy.  By placing the focus on these two characters, and only these two characters, you get this wonderful dynamic between the two of them, which just lets you believe in love and destiny and sacrifice and all that mushy crap.

Tommy’s obsession is another interesting element of the plot, because I’ll be honest here, the plot really doesn’t move much.  You’re there suffering with him, and you know there’s no point in finding a cure – that was the idea all along – Izzi knew that, and that’s all she was trying to say but he wouldn’t listen.  Sometimes you just need to let go.

Death is Not the End

Trivia: Tom’s distressed persona was inspired by a certain famous character from a song.

I think one of the most important aspects of The Fountain was how it portrayed death.  By adding the relationship element, it’s like witnessing the seven stages of grief, but told through three different stories with the same ending: acceptance.  At one point in the film, Izzi tells Tommy about when she went to South America and her guide told her about how his father died and they planted a tree on his grave.  The tree grew and blossomed, and birds came and carried his father away with them – “death was his road to awe.”  After she tells him this, she says that she is not afraid anymore.

This is probably one of the most beautiful metaphors for death I have ever witnessed in a film.  Filled with comfort and wonder, you want Tommy to find that it’s okay to move on, death is not the end – that’s all Izzi wanted to tell him all along, that’s why she wrote Tomàs’ death.  Sure that moment was confusing, ridiculous and a little frightening, but hey, we can’t always choose how we go.  That’s just part of the process.   I don’t know, maybe deep down I’m more of a romantic than I’d like to admit, but I’d rather go with a transgressive astral monk over a Nicholas Sparks piece any day.  Gotta admit, it’s pretty groovy.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, a modern film noir that isn’t Brick.

Cloud Atlas

It is terribly difficult to begin to describe such a movie, so I apologize if I appear to be rambling more than usual.  Sometimes the best thoughts are spurt through a jet of consciousness so here we go.  Cloud Atlas depicts a tale of six separate time lines: the South Pacific in 1849, Cambridge and Edinburgh in 1936, San Fransisco in 1973, the United Kingdom in 2012, Neo Seoul in 2144, and finally the Hawaiian Islands in presumably 2321.  We meet a set of characters intertwined with each other in their adventures,  awakening past lives and shaping new futures, and experiencing the best and worst parts of humanity.

That old man? That’s Halle Berry. I’m serious.

Cloud Atlas is nearly three hours long and it’s impossible to look away (a total feat in itself).  If this were simply six different movies, I really doubt it would be nearly as effective.  Even though I feel as if the idea of a web-of-life do-good-feel-good movie has been completely exhausted by now, I honestly hesitate to just write this off as an overdone piece of work.  Each of the stories start out so differently and take on such different genres, but when they come together there’s this overwhelming sense of faith in humanity, as if people are able to do the right thing when they choose to – also a feeling of love and hope, and all that mushy stuff too.  The concept is fairly predictable, but as I said, it’s presented in such a manner that it is unique in itself.

As alluded above, Cloud Atlas hides each of the actors into the timelines, which involves an incredible amount of makeup work – and it is remarkable.  I personally enjoyed playing a little game called Where’s Hugh Grant?, but that’s besides the point.  By creating this illusion of a shared soul, throughout time, it is interesting to see how these actors made up different characters who share similar principles that are molded by personal experience – and the performances are fantastic.  However, the most bizarre and fascinating character transformation I think was Hugo Weaving – at least, his was most unsettling:

Can you tell who’s the bad guy in this movie?

Yes he play’s a Nurse Ratched type and it’s hilarious.  Other than that, check out Korean Weaving – he looks like Spock.  When it came to making European actors Korean, I’m not sure if I’m impressed or weirded out.  It’s just something about the pronounced brow application that makes them look so alienish, especially on James D’Arcy – or maybe it’s just me, I don’t know.  And then there’s Old Georgie.

No more Mr. Nice Guy.

If there’s any bone I had to pick with this movie, it would be with the 2321 era.  I’m as much of a fan of post-apocalyptic tribesfolk as the next gal, but with their dialect it was really hard to take seriously.  Granted, I understand that the English language is steadily going downhill, but when you have a guy threatening a friend’s life and speaking like a child from Alabama, it’s really hard to feel for any of the characters.

The main character of this era, Zachry (Tom Hanks) is haunted by visions of someone named Old Georgie, who’d be Jiminy Cricket if he was vomited out of Nick Cave and a devout Alice Cooper fan.  Given the context of this story, Old Georgie is just painfully out of place and hard not to laugh at – I think it’s the top hat.  From what I’ve come to understand, Old Georgie is Zachry’s people’s perception of the devil – if that’s the case, why is he dressed that way?  There aren’t any examples of old literature around to compare to, so how did this happen?  I’m sure the Prescients  (the last technologically-advanced community of this time) might have had something to do with this, but there’s no real connection so it’s all very jarring.  Huh, now that I think of it, he looks a lot a certain Mighty Boosh character.  Weird.

Despite my feelings for Georgie and the 2321 crew (that sounds like a techno boy band), Cloud Atlas is truly a stunning film.  It’s a gorgeous and satisfying work that is touching and heartfelt and sure to give you warm fuzzies in the end.  I wouldn’t go as far as calling it profound, but it is definitely worth the watch.

Final Grade: A

WYSHW: Breakfast on Pluto

“Sugar Baby Love” is now saturated into my brain.

I feel this is an underrated film.  Sure, Cillian Murphy received a Golden Globe nom, but there wasn’t much chatter after its release (and really no one pays that much attention to the Golden Globes).  Based on the book by Patrick McCabe, Breakfast on Pluto is the story of Patrick “Kitten” Braden, a foundling in search of her mother in 1960’s Ireland.  Kitten’s journey takes him from a strict Catholic upbringing to getting involved in The Troubles.

Just Kitten’s journey alone is worth the watch.  The film is divided into short chapters about her life, stemming from her childhood in Tyrellin to her journey to London and back again.  She runs away from home after writing an erotic story of her conception involving the local priest, hooks up with a singer in a glam rock band, becomes a prostitute, works in a fantasy park, becomes a magician’s assistant, gets arrested under IRA suspicion, works in a peep show, and then moves back home to aid her pregnant friend.  Whew that was one long sentence.

Forget finding herself – she figured that out a long time ago – this was all to find the woman who abandoned her, the Phantom Lady who was swallowed up by the City.

She just oozes with fabulousness.

What made this film stick out in my mind the most was Kitten’s character.  Despite shunning from her family and community, she cannot deny who she is and keeps her head up through every situation.  Even when brought in by the police after being caught up in an IRA bombing, she still presses on with a fantastic and enviable charm and whit, almost like an Oscar Wilde in heels (not that he didn’t on occasion but you know what I mean).

Breakfast on Pluto is a wonderfully unconventional film of love, loss and endurance.  The performances are spectacular, especially from Murphy and Liam Neeson.  And have I mentioned the music?  The soundtrack is fantastic – it’s a great mix of sixties/seventies rock pop that mirrors the film perfectly.  Just check it out.

Next time for What You Should Have Watched, another feel good chick flick that occurs in the course of a day.