Blog Archives

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.

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The Witch

After being banished by the church, William (Ralph Ineson) and his family of Puritans are forced to begin a new life on the cusp of the unknown – in this case, a small plot of land by a spooky thicket of woods. After their newborn goes missing, the family slowly turns on eachother with the eldest, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), at the brunt of the misery.

TheWitch

Sleep, pray, chores.

Rather than focusing on romance and mysticism, this film relies on a slow-building dread and paranoia that is prevalent in New England folklore. Admittedly, I personally found it difficult to empathize with Thomasin’s plight – I mean, it’s the 1600’s and everything’s terrible (plus I don’t think they actually spoke like that). It’s amazing anyone survived, really – but I digress. However, this sort of thing this does not distract from the viewing experience.

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Small children were especially terrible.

 The Witch is beautifully atmospheric; the isolation, terror and desperation is palpable, and the fact that the scares rely more on practical effects makes the feature all the more admirable.

No spoilers here, but I just wanted to note that I enjoyed the twist enough, but I feel that Caleb’s big scene really drove this film home.

Apologies for being so brief, but admittedly, it’s difficult to talk about a movie like this without major spoilers. I will say, if you dig older horror, this is right up your alley: no jumpscares or torture porn, just natural discomfort. Conversely, I felt a little “meh” by the end of it. I mean, I’m glad there wasn’t an anti-ending, but I think I wanted more of a bang.

Perhaps I’m just spoiled.

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Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

 

 

American Hustle

American Hustle is the sort of true story of the ABSCAM operation that went down in the late 1970s, as told from the perspectives of the con artists brought in by the FBI to aid in the sting. Rather than your typical dramatic biopic, we’re given more of a caricatured portrayal of a time and place, crafting an experience that is not only fun and flashy, but also touches on real-life drama without going too over-the-top. It’s actually pretty impressive.

It's all so mesmerizingly shiny.

It’s all so mesmerizingly shiny.

When dealing with a cast of this magnitude, it’s really hard to pinpoint which star shines the brightest, especially given the fact that the entire leading cast (sans Jeremy Renner) has been nominated for an Oscar. Many would argue Christian Bale chews the most scenery out of the bunch: Irving Rosenfeld comes off as a cartoonish, sweet-talking buffoon, but he’s actually portrayed with a great deal of depth and charisma. Personally, I feel as if everyone did a wonderful job…except that lady playing Bradley Cooper’s fiancé. She only had one line, and she delivered it as flatly as possible (I’d link a clip if I could). Did anyone else notice her? Regardless, I won’t let that ruin my good time.

Half the budget was justifiably spent on boob-tape.

Half of the budget was justifiably spent on boob tape.

At first I was a little concerned about the portrayal of the ladies in this film, considering the male focus as well as the power-struggle theme. At first they seem typically shallow and manipulative, and especially in Rosalyn’s (Jennifer Lawrence) case, stereotypically crazy. Then you have to remember, these are meant to be caricatures of actual people – these people are bold and flashy and act accordingly. However, with the every instance of garish insanity, there is heart behind the performance – as only Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence can deliver.

American Hustle is incredibly solid film. Any worry that these stars would outshine each other is quickly effaced while they play off of each other splendidly. On the whole it’s just a really good time – the costumes and sets are fantastic, and the soundtrack and score could not have been better. Would I call it “mind-blowing?” No, not particularly. But is it worth checking out? Absolutely.

Final Grade: A

12 Years a Slave

I’ll admit, at first I was hesitant about writing about this one. I’ve been wanting to see this film ever since I heard of it…namely because McQueen and Fassbender teamed up again for another fascinating account of the human condition. But then the reviews poured in, and between the pros and my peers I felt uneasy about tackling such a buzz-worthy feature. Is this the film of the decade or just the same song and dance about the abhorred evils of humanity? Well, I guess a little column A, a little column B. Okay, maybe more of column B.

Mm, delicious Oscar-bait.

Mm, delicious Oscar-bait.

Based on a true story, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man of Saratoga Springs – a loving wife, two children, and a skilled violinist and carpenter. One night whilst socializing in Washington, DC, Northup is drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery as a Georgian runaway. With him we experience the five stages of grief as Northup chooses between survival and living.

As always, Steve McQueen delivers a cinematically emotional powerhouse – this time fueled by the trifecta of a strong story, a score by Hans Zimmer, and cinematography that perfectly captures an essence of desperation and isolation. Not to mention, this cast is incredible! Now, if only the characters were a bit more dimensional.

First of all, despite the title, it definitely didn’t feel like Northup was enslaved for twelve years.

Twelve years just looks like the morning after a rough night.

Twelve years looks like a bad hangover.

Additionally, I felt as if I was a bit far removed from our protagonist, only because he did very little as a character. Yes, he was surviving, but the film fails to let us better empathize with his woes because he seemed to have little contact with his peers. Or at least, that’s all we as the audience gets to see. Conversation within the film would allow a better grasp at Northup’s turmoil and thought process, as well as to how he adapted to life as a slave. In turn, there would be a much stronger implication of character transformation.

Is it just me, or does Paul Dano get the crap beat out of him in every movie?

Is it just me, or does Paul Dano get the crap beat out of him in every movie?

Upon reading a bit about the real Solomon Northup, we’re dealing with a man that had survived far more cruelties than the film’s Northup did – including but not limited to overseeing and punishing fellow slaves (not just the one instance in the film – even then Fassbender took over). By no means am I commending utter cruelty – as if the scene wasn’t hard enough to watch already – I just feel as if this portrayal did not give the man the praise and admiration that he deserves for overcoming such adversity.

Perhaps this change in adaptation was made out of fear of villainizing our protagonist. If so, that’s an incredibly safe decision, considering that this kind of emotional struggle would be met every day. More so, the addition of such happenings would cause an interesting paradigm shift of sorts, leading to more profound character development. Granted, a point was made early of how Northup refuses to drown in his misfortune, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t human. Not even the supporting cast can move past one dimension: Cumberbatch is a flakey landowner, Fassbender and Paulsen are evil and Brad Pitt’s the friendly Canadian. No surprises here.

After all this griping, I still believe that 12 Years A Slave is a beautiful film worth seeing. Now if only there was more substance to the piece, now that would be something worth buzzing about.

Final Grade: B-

WYSHW: Get Low

Bill Murray.  C’mon, what else do you need to see this movie?

This guy.

This guy.

Really though, Get Low (2009) is a little sleeper film that’s worth a peek.  Based in 1930’s Tennessee, story is about a hermit named Felix Bush (played by Robert Duvall), who through the years has been the subject of many a urban legend, tall tale, and ghost story.  Finally Felix decides to rid himself of his burdens, wishing to throw himself a grand funeral party while he’s still alive.

Hey Boo.

Hey Boo.

Funeral director Frank Quinn (Murray), tempted by Felix’s hermit-wad-o’-cash, takes the task upon himself to solicit guests, opening old wounds.  The result is this bittersweet drama about love, loss, guilt and redemption – but really it’s not as grandiose as it sounds.  Get Low kind of like Big Fish, minus the magical realism and father-son dynamic – just simple, sadish truths about misconception and people, that’s all.  And it’s not at all drab, either – it’s actually quite funny and undoubtedly charming.

Sweet, sad, and incredibly over-looked – three things that make Get Low perfect What You Should Have Watched material.

Mmm...hermit money.

“Mmm…hermit money.”

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, Sean Penn gets weird.

The Great Gatsby

One word comes to mind when I think of director Baz Luhrmann: spectacle.  However, behind such spectacle usually shines a small glimmer of originality, allowing his projects to be enjoyed and typically register as guilty pleasures in the audiences’ minds.  Or at least, this has been my experience.  Now he has taken on a great American novel, or rather the great American novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  Dear sweet baby Jeebus can this get any worse.

Mmm yes, shallow and pedantic.

Mmm yes, shallow and pedantic.

No doubt Gatsby is indeed a spectacle, and that’s really it.  We can end it right there and you can live on in the grandiose illusion that it would seem Gatsby himself made.  But let’s face it, Luhrmann isn’t that deep.

For fans of the book, it’s a straight-up slap in the face.  What the hell is Carraway doing in a sanitarium?  It’s decisions such as this that give the story a completely superfluously somber approach.  Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  But you know, I have a nasty habit of harping on book comparisons a little too much, so I’ll just leave it there.

So much potential.

So much potential.

Gatsby as a film, well…it’s okay.  The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, I’ll give it that.  Everything else was just mediocre.  Essentially we’re given a clumsy mash of Romeo + JulietAmadeus and Citizen Kane.  Major emphasis on clumsy.  In addition, the pacing was so strange, it was difficult to determine the tonality of some of the scenes.  I mean, I don’t think the part where Joel Edgerton punches Isla Fisher was supposed to be funny.

Speaking of performances, I’m a fan of Carey Mulligan, but all the poor thing did was cry the whole time.  Such a waste.  Granted, she represents many-a-woman caught in the trials of aristocracy, but c’mon, you could at least make her interesting.

But it sure looks pretty.

But it sure looks pretty.

So if you’re looking to waste away two hours looking at pretty things and putting up with Tobey Maguire’s voice, I’m sure you’ll love it.  But for a tale so layered, it’s best to stick to the book.  At least that way you’ll have the choice to listen to Jay-Z.  Just saying.

Final Grade: C+

 

 

Lincoln

Be prepared for a lot of profile-based composition shots.

Be prepared for a lot of profile-based composition shots.

Finally, I have found some time for myself to go catch the front-runner in the Oscar race: Lincoln.  I’ll be frank, I’m not the most keen to endure long, dry, historical films, but since it’s been the head of so much positive hype I figured I’d hop on that wagon, expecting a load of the most Spielbergiest something yet.  And it was.  I’m not saying that I’m not a Spielberg fan, but I feel with his films you kind of know what to expect after a while.  Which totally doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good.

Lincoln takes place during a pivotal moment in Abe’s career: the signing of the Thirteenth Amendment and the end of the Civil War.  Not necessarily in that order.  The film also splits this time between the politics of the signing, and the impact on Lincoln’s family.

Hello there Mr. Pace.

Lee Pace as Democrat baddie Fernando Wood.

Personally, I found all the political jib-jab, dirty tricks and mudslinging a tad exhausting – however when it came to portraying Lincoln the father, that’s what got me hooked into the story.  Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal is not that of a man who sees himself as the ultimate power, but a man with many responsibilities, which he handles with humor and believability.   Like many other roles, Lewis has completely immersed himself.  Okay, I’d say he’ll probably win this one again.

In fact, the performances drive this film more than any other aspect (okay, maybe general mise en scene stuff – it’s all very pretty).  I think it’s fair that the supporting cast has earned their noms, and it was also impressed by the amount of people who showed up in this film – for instance, the character of W.N. Bilbo –

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– that’s James Spader.  I totally didn’t know that.  Now I can see it, but during the film I was trying to figure out if that was John DiMaggio – but I digress.  Overall, Lincoln gives us a great story about humanity during wartime, even at a time when it was brother pitted against brother – and it shows us some of the brutality of such warfare when we’re not forced through what feels like hours of angry debate.  So yeah, it was a bit too long (or at least felt that way), but it was really the ending that threw me for a loop.

Sorry, some minor spoilers – I mean, in case you didn’t know that he dies, there’s some more stuff at the end.

Ah yes, the ending…there has been some debate as to whether or not the film should have ended sooner.  I think it should have, but not totally before his death.  In fact, I rather liked that scene where his son and compatriots are surrounding his body.  There was a great solemn quality to the moment that I felt really cemented the concept that Lincoln was simply a man with vision – especially when it was followed by little Tad Lincoln just hearing that his father was shot.  There was power in that sequence.  It was the cheesy dissolve that killed it for me.  I understand Lincoln’s passion and legacy shines as an eternal flame – you didn’t have to cross-dissolve the candle in his room with his second inaugural speech.  That’s called overkill, Steve.  Stop doing that.

/Minor spoilers

Like I said, if perhaps it was a half hour shorter and ended sooner, this film would be perfect.  Sadly, I have not seen any other Best Picture nominees apart from Django UnchainedLes Miserables, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, so I am by no means suggesting that I’ll be calling it this year. That being said, it’s really anyone’s game – but if Lincoln takes it, I really wouldn’t be surprised.

Final Grade: A-

Les Misérables

It looks just like a Christmas card.

It looks just like a Christmas card.

Ah, the award-winning musical Les Misérables – that is pronounced, as Pee-wee Herman would say “LAY MIZERABLAH” – but for the average lazy type such as myself, let’s just call it “Les Mis,” as it is so often called.  Anyway, to those unfamiliar, Les Mis takes place at the cusp of the French Revolution, a trying time of political oppression but also of hope and resilience against the odds.  Our tale focuses on Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an ex-con who spends his life running from a ruthless officer called Javert (Russel Crowe), and finally finds redemption when he takes in the ailing daughter of a victim of circumstance named Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

You just want to hold her and tell her everything's going to be okay.

You just want to hold her and tell her everything’s going to be okay.

As mentioned, Les Mis is an ambitious and timeless piece, so really it was about time that the musical in all its entirely was presented on the big screen.  Frankly, I don’t think performance-wise it couldn’t have been casted better.  Jackman and Hathaway give powerhouse performances – honestly if Hathaway doesn’t get an Oscar nod for her performance I’ll be shocked.  Do you know how hard it is to cry and sing at the same time – and well at that?  It’s just a shame she didn’t get more screen-time than she did, but what she gave was truly unforgettable.

Also did anyone else forget Russel Crowe could sing?  I knew he could but it’s just been so long.  Watching him size up Jackman was really impressive as well.  Additionally, I feel that the pairing of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénardiers was a breath of fresh air in this dark and dreary setting.

Classy.

Classy.

 

I think my only real complaint on the performances was in regards to Cosette and Marius – Amanda Seyfried’s too shrill and Eddie Redmayne’s too…odd.  I don’t know, his voice was strangely guttural and he just looks like his face got stretched or something.  Quite honestly, the young couple bothered me the most in this whole production.  I know that them meeting across the street and doing the love-at-first-sight thing is how it’s always been, but it’s just so painfully cliche it’s infuriating.  I was really hoping they would’ve added more detail into their relationship to make it more realistic, but they just kept it going like they knew each other for years.  I call shenanigans.

On the note of various irks and the like, I seriously wanted to slap the camera folk in the face once or twice.  The idea of doing absurdly close close-ups is interesting at first, because it does a great job of capturing the intensity of the moment.  However, when you have a static shot of every vein in Hugh Jackman’s forehead for three minutes, it gets a little draining.  Then when the camera wasn’t static it was sloppily moving about and seemed to be struggling to focus on the right parts of people’s faces.  Then sometimes it would do random things, such as one scene where Valjean’s having a conversation with Marius: before they begin speaking, the camera’s tilted slightly for a good few seconds – sure it’s a minute detail, but it was so sudden it was very confusing, especially because there wasn’t any reference to anything like this before – did the camera operator just get bored?  I really wouldn’t blame them, with the amount of static takes.  I suppose sloppy is the ideal phrase when describing the camera work in this movie, which is terribly unfortunate because the production design is so incredibly gorgeous.  That and I adored the framing in The King’s Speech, so I really wonder what went so awry for Tom Hooper on this production.

Oh man, why can't they just be married?

Oh man, why can’t they just be married?

Les Mis is a two and a half hours of pure entertainment – filled with gorgeous design and heart-wrenching performances, like any decent Broadway show.  Now if it wasn’t for the cliches and the frustrating camera work, Les Misérables would be A-worthy.  Regardless, this film is a great way to start off the new year.

Final Grade: B

Lawless

As Prohibition dawned over the south, moonshine and bootlegging became inevitable.  Lawless is a portrait of the three Bondurant brothers, Howard, Forrest and Jack, and their fight for survival as the law becomes more corrupt.

Oh Tom Hardy, teach the lad your ways of wonder.

At first I was skeptical about this movie, especially after seeing that Shia LaBeouf somehow still has an acting career, but then I knew I had to see it after I learned that the screenplay was written by the one-and-only Nick Cave (adapted off of a book, as it were).  As a result, well, I guess one could say that this film was adequate.

Though I often give LaBeouf a hard time, it’s really he’s not a bad actor, it’s just he doesn’t really present anything memorable.  Jack Bondurant is a character almost similar to Michael Corleone: he’s caught between following the family business (which he seemingly wants to) and surviving on his own.  I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be childish and arrogant, but that’s definitely the vibe I got from this character.  Needless to say, this performance was certainly nothing special.

This picture’s irrelevant, I just like looking at his beard.

Now as for the other brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest is really the only brother worth paying attention to, if not the only character.  Forrest is a man shrouded with myths and legends of his own endurance.  It would seem that he lived up to these legends, being that he’s so stoic he only speaks in grunts and utterances.  Regardless, I wouldn’t mess with this guy.  As for Howard, he’s just the dumb brute of the family.

As for the remaining supporting cast, I also was hoping for great things from Jessica Chastain who played Maggie Beauford.  As the only prominent female character in the film, she proved to be tough and sexy and all that stuff, but if you look at this poster and then saw the movie expecting a kick-ass gun-slinging chick, you’d be sorely mistaken.

Though Gary Oldman was only in the film for maybe five minutes, I will commend the movie for referencing more larger-than-legend gangsters in this manner: though you only see him for a little bit, you know everything you need to know about them with just an expression.  Lastly, we get to Guy Pearce’s character, Dept. Charlie Rakes:

This guy.

Look at this fricken guy.  Have you ever seen anyone more sleazy and loatheable in your life?  And what did they do with Pearce’s eyebrows?  We aren’t given much on Rakes’ character, but he’s portrayed as every parody of a crooked cop you can find.  Part of me is almost fascinated with this person – I want to know his background and why he’s so dang prissy.

I want to see a movie on The Curse of Millhaven.

Lawless presents us with a gritty murder ballad of family and faux pas.  Though it shows us that blood is indeed thicker than well, let’s say moonshine, I feel that there’s a fine line between tribute and parody that is crossed way too often.  On the upside, the score/soundtrack is worth checking out – it definitely has a bluegrass-O Brother Where Art Thou? feel from it, but there’s still that extra element that makes it that much more enjoyable.  Was it Mr. Cave’s doing?  Most likely.

Final Grade: B-