Movie Review ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

miss_peregrines_home_for_peculiar_children_ver16

The Facts:

Synopsis: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Allison Janney, Kim Dickens, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp, Chris O’Dowd

Director: Tim Burton

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: For some time now, I’ve been looking for director Tim Burton. Not that he was lost in any back-of-the-milk-carton sort of way but the filmmaker that kicked off his career with supremely surreal oddities and favored practical (read: expensive) sets gradually morphed into a director that saw the world only in CGI possibilities. His movies became eyesores, with audiences not only straining to keep their eyes focused but their minds too.

Last represented in cinemas with 2014’s disappointingly stale Big Eyes, Burton has finally found a project that feels like a throwback to his early work with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Adapted from the novel by Ransom Riggs, when it was announced that Burton had signed on to direct I remember thinking what a perfect marriage this was. The novel was a curious eccentricity in and of itself, inspired by old-time pictures of unexplained human phenomena Riggs had collected through the years and then fashioned a story around. Looking at these pictures now, they seem like snaps Burton himself art-directed.

Though Jane Goldman (X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Woman in Black) made some alterations in her screenplay (namely swapping the ‘peculiarities’ of two children), it arrives on screen mostly the way Riggs originally laid it out. Young Jacob (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) travels to Wales to learn more about his grandfather (Terence Stamp) who died under mysterious circumstances. Looking for the orphanage featured prominently in his grandfather’s cautionary bedtime stories, Jacob finds himself traveling through time and meeting up with Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, reteaming with her Dark Shadows director) and her charges.

The headmistress and children all have special talents that attract the attention of other power hungry peculiars with a fondness for extracting and consuming the eyes of their prey. While Jacob is learning more about the life his grandfather never explained to him and becoming enamored with a girl that’s literally light as air (Ella Purnell, Maleficent), peril is in store as a predatory leader (Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight) arrives with a hefty appetite. It all culminates in an effects heavy third act that disappointingly jumps through time and space with little regard for plot coherence.

Were it not for this dreary misstep, Miss Peregrine might be filed higher up in the Burton canon seeing that the rest of the film is chock full of unexpected flights of fancy. Green seems to be having a ball and not just because she’s decked out in some typically impressive Colleen Atwood (Into the Woods) costumes. Her body movements and line delivery are razor sharp without ever careening into camp territory. Butterfield makes for an impressive hero and the various children create personalities that go beyond their idiosyncrasies. I would have preferred someone other than Jackson as the main heavy as he doesn’t quite get the tone everyone else is going for and Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) is barely there as Jacob’s bird watching father. I get the impression Judi Dench (Skyfall) and Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) signed up as a personal favor, neither have much to do or work with which is saying something for the two cracker-jack scene stealers.

Like the best of Burton’s oeuvre, it scores the most points by embracing the peculiar and like the worst it stumbles when it becomes less about the performances and more about the special effects. Still, aside from Burton’s feature length remake of his short film Frankenweenie, it’s an improvement over much of his output over the past decade.

Movie Review ~ Gone Girl

2

gone_girl_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon

Director: David Fincher

Rated: R

Running Length: 149 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  I’ve been trying hard lately to catch up on my reading…especially with so many page to screen adaptations coming out in the next few months.  Even more challenging is that I try to time my finishing of a book as close to the release date as possible so the elements of the story are still fresh in my mind.  Recently, I finished the disappointing This Is Where I Leave You a few weeks before the slightly less disappointing film was released but with Gone Girl I was down to the wire, catching the film when the book’s pages were still warm from me blazing through them.

This actually helped me more than I could have ever dreamed because it afforded me the opportunity to pinpoint exactly where screenwriter Gillian Flynn improved upon her own novel.  By combining characters or excising them all together, Flynn has tightened what was already a taut narrative…and the end result is a film as razor sharp as they come.  Of course it helps that she had David Fincher as her director because he’s all about economical delivery, ready and willing to trim the fat to ensure his work is as lean and direct as can be.

That works well for Flynn’s tricky tale of marriage and murder where everyone seems to have a secret ready to be exploited.  Her novel was a blockbuster hit when released in 2012 and it’s truly a wonder it made such a seamless transition to the screen, largely keeping its twists under wraps until the moment of impact. Even knowing where the film was heading, I was engaged enough that I was on the edge of my seat right along with those in the audience that weren’t prepared for the journey Flynn and Fincher were about to take us.

It’s 2012 and the morning of the fifth anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne.  Transplants from New York, they’ve been living in Nick’s Missouri hometown thanks to the economic downturn that saw both lose their jobs and reexamine their financial future.  Instead of celebrating, however, Nick is plunged into a nightmare when he returns home to find Amy has seemingly vanished into thin air.  As the police, media, friends, and family descend upon the town and start to examine the crime and, by proxy, the Dunne’s marriage we learn that some secrets won’t stay hidden for long.

Like the novel, the movie jumps between Nick’s present day narrative and Amy’s diary entries written from the time they met up until she goes missing that paint a different picture of the happy couple.  So far the marketing of the film has kept Flynn’s surprising twists in check and you won’t get a spoiler out of me…but let’s just say that through some clever bits of storytelling the film is far from over just when you think you’ve reached the end.

As is typical with Fincher’s work, the casting is pretty spot-on even if several choices are quite different from the original novel.  Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the blond-haired tanned creation on the page but he’s wholly convincing as a husband on the edge, trapped by evidence that suggests he should be more concerned with his wife’s whereabouts than he appears to be.  Same goes for Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) as the vanished Amy who has an even more delicate balance to play.  Pike’s always been an interesting actress but I was wondering if she was perhaps too chilly to play Amy, and boy was I wrong.  Her steel gaze turns out to be a major advantage here and Pike handily swipes the movie away from her more famous co-star every chance she gets.

In supporting roles, Fincher scored with Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister caught between what she knows is true about her sibling and the evidence that suggests more and more he knows where his wife is.  Another fine performance comes from Kim Dickens as a local cop assigned to the case with good instincts that she doesn’t quite know what to do with. Both Coon and Dickens represent Fincher thinking out of the casting box — here’s hoping their work elevates them as it should.  Also, I should add as a longtime fan it’s also nice to see Sela Ward cameo as a scoop hungry television personality.

Surprisingly, Fincher makes two unfortunate mistakes with the casting of Neil Patrick Harris (A Million Ways to Die in the West) as a man from Amy’s past and Tyler Perry (Alex Cross) as Nick’s high-powered attorney.  Harris seems too slight and off the mark for where the character needed to be, though admittedly he’s saddled with the least successful dialogue Flynn transported over from her book.  Perry, meanwhile, looks positively giddy to be out of his Madea garb and into some power suits…though his unconvincing acting still borders on atrocious.  These two distractions could be written off had they not been so pivotal to the story.  Too bad.

At 149 minutes, I was worried the movie wouldn’t be able to keep its momentum going strong but Fincher has never met a film he couldn’t move along at a breathless pace.  Like the book, the movie is pleasing enough for the first 45 minutes or so but really hits its stride around the hour mark before making a full out sprint to the finish line.  There’s some devious work afoot here and it’s incredibly satisfying.

I realized about halfway through Gone Girl how starved I’d been for a sophisticated, adult thriller.  Though it seemed to go out of style in the late 90s and been replaced by the political/espionage mystery fare Fincher has made his second bid (after 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) for its resurgence.  When the story is so good, the lead performances so on the money, and the direction this precise, the bar has been raised again for any takers that wish to challenge themselves to rise to Fincher and Co.’s level.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gone Girl

gone_girl

Synopsis: A woman mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary.

Release Date: October 3, 2014

Thoughts: I’ve yet to meet a David Fincher film or marketing campaign I haven’t liked and it appears as though Gone Girl will be no different. From the clever poster to this simple first trailer for the drama/thriller adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, this looks like the dark material that Fincher thrives in. Another thing Fincher always seems to have going for him is surprising casting and while Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the most out of the box choice for the role of the husband suspected of being involved with his wife’s disappearance, it would appear he fits the role quite well. Though multiple A-list actresses sought the titular role, Fincher opted to go with the lesser known Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, Die Another Day) and if early buzz is to be believed, she’s a revelation. I’m waiting until later in the summer to give the book a look-see but have every confidence Fincher and Flynn will deliver the goods.

The Silver Bullet ~ At Any Price

at_any_price

Synopsis: A farming family’s business is threatened by an unexpected crisis, further testing the relationship between a father and his rebellious son.

Release Date: April 24, 2013 

Thoughts: When a film critic of such stature as Roger Ebert says that a movie has a performance that is a career high, that’s something I’m interested in seeing.  I enjoy that Ebert seems to take every film on its own merits, rather than go in with any strongly preconceived notions – which is why his request we take note of Dennis Quaid in At Any Price is notable.  As a farmer struggling to keep his family business thriving, Quaid heads a cast that also includes Zac Efron and Heather Graham.  I’m interested to see where this film ends up.