31 Days to Scare ~ Last Night in Soho

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An aspiring fashion designer is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer. But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something darker.

Stars: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Synnøve Karlsen, Rita Tushingham

Director: Edgar Wright

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Time flies when you’re coming out of lockdown.  It seems like only yesterday I saw the first trailer for this mystery within a horror film directed by Edgar Wright (The World’s End) and couldn’t wait for its release date to arrive and now it’s finally here.  OK, so it was only May but that was five months ago, and a lot has happened since then.  It’s a rare pleasure when a movie is as good as it is advertised to be and it’s a true unicorn when the resulting film is just a tad bit better, and I think Last Night in Soho may inch out it’s well edited preview by a few blonde hairs.  While it’s going to divide a great number of people that want the third act to be as elusive as the first two, this is a movie that ultimately has the general consumer at heart rather than the niche crowd…and what’s wrong with that?

I tend to get a kick out of people that wish they lived in another decade.  Really?  As a (insert anything other than straight while male) you wanted to live in a different time when you had even less rights and freedom to be who you were?  Well sure, the clothes may have been wilder, and the music was better but still…you might be sacrificing liberation for the overall visualization of the time and that wouldn’t be the best.  Yet I must admit the opening of Last Night in Soho, featuring Thomasin McKenzie’s ‘60s obsessed Eloise flouncing around her time capsule-like bedroom in a dress of her own creation is a bouncy way to start what ends on a much different note.  Living with her gran (Rita Tushingham) after mum passed away, Eloise has a passion for fashion and just wants to study at a top London fashion school. 

Receiving her acceptance letter at the top of the film, this country mouse heads to the big city with many of the same dreams her mother had and, as we can tell, suppressing similar mental health issues that caused her to return home without achieving them. Eloise will be different though, and when her original living situation with an impossible roommate Jacosta (Synnøve Karlsen) doesn’t work out, she seeks out a bedsit on the third floor of an assuming row house owned by Mrs. Collins (the late, great Dame Diana Rigg, Breathe).

She’s barely settled and sleeping on her first night that something odd happens.  Always a bit of a dreamer, Elosie has a whooper.  She fantasizes she’s a new girl in town, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, Radioactive), during the swinging ‘60s who wants to make it as a singer and hopes she can do it on talent alone.  Meeting the enigmatic Jack (Matt Smith, Terminator Genisys) at a luxe club who thinks she’s the tops, he sweeps her off her feet and the world is hers for the taking.  It’s a beautiful dream world Eloise has created…so how did the “love bite” Jack gave Sandie wind up on her neck the next morning?  As the lines between the reality of Eloise and the fantasy of Sandie start to blur, the dreams of the night seep into her day. Night after night, Eloise appears to travel back in time and doesn’t exactly live as Sandie but peers over her shoulder into her world…a world that first turns dark, then violent, then deadly. 

Written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917), the film is a filled with twists and turns, not to mention some brilliant camera work and effects that have McKenzie and Taylor-Joy switching places multiple times during scenes.  One moment it’s Eloise dancing with Jack, the next it’s Sandie.  It’s disorienting and very much meant to be – yet it’s always easy to track what direction the movie is heading, just thankfully not where it will end up.  After seeing the film I’ve read the finale hasn’t sat well with people and I suppose I can see why. It’s far more in line with traditional suspense tropes and less of the dreamy quality employed so well in the first 90 minutes, but I wasn’t complaining at all.  It’s still vehemently performed by the cast – that’s undeniable.

Playing like Wright had an Argento filter on his camera, the production design is awash with Argento’s favorite bold color palettes and the Italian’s maestro’s penchant for gore that comes out of nowhere.  The film is restrained up unto a point but eventually let’s its bloody banner wave, but it has purpose.  Smith and Taylor-Joy both look like they stepped out of a time machine for their roles, even if Taylor-Joy is getting dramatically overrated (please witness her 5-minute-long YouTube version of Petula Clark’s Downtown…or maybe you shouldn’t, she sings it in the movie and takes half that amount of time).  McKenzie (True History of the Kelly Gang) has the heavy lifting to do, and she has muscles of steel by the end. It’s a nervy performance that works well in harmony with the other performers that are so still and solid.  Acting stalwarts Terence Stamp (Big Eyes) and Tushingham (The Owners) are divine in their limited screen time and what a wonderful showcase for Rigg in her final screen appearance, looking radiant. 

An ambitiously rich production that boasts eye-popping visuals and an array of period music to create a dazzling soundtrack, Last Night in Soho gooses the audience with increasing energy as it goes along. The scares are nicely timed and lingering, benefitting from delivery that has polish and an awareness of what type of movie everyone set out to make.  Arriving in time for Halloween, it’s a top-notch selection for those looking for creativity and art that jumps out at them, along with an imaginative story that dips and swerves to keep you guessing.

The Silver Bullet ~ Last Night in Soho

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Synopsis: A young girl, passionate about fashion design, is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters her idol, a dazzling wannabe singer. But 1960s London is not what it seems, and time seems to fall apart with shady consequences.

Release Date:  October 22, 2021

Thoughts: I normally don’t get to have the “full” movie-going experience anymore when going to theaters.  Ha… “when I go to theaters” that hasn’t happened in over a year!  Sorry, let’s start again.

Back when I went to theaters, I normally didn’t get to have the “full” movie-going experience because there are rarely previews at press screenings.  Movie trailers in general don’t tend to interest me anymore because I can just look at the length and know they are going to show the majority of the film, so I don’t even bother.  It’s helped a great deal in going in blind, so I’ll usually just watch the first 30-60 seconds to get a feel and then shut it off.

With Last Night in Soho, I found that I wasn’t able to turn it off after 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds…I had to watch the whole thing.  An eternal caveat I need to remember is that every bad movie can be edited into a fantastic trailer but there’s something about this new Edgar Wright (The World’s End) thriller arriving in October that looks like it is up to something good.  Starring exciting up and comers Anya Taylor-Joy (Radioactive) and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit), it shows a lot but tells a little – the perfect kind of teaser.  Other trailers may arrive as the release date grows near, but I don’t need to see anything more.  Along with the intriguing poster…I’m sold at first glance on Last Night in Soho.

Movie Review ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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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.

The Silver Bullet ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Synopsis: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Release Date:  September 30, 2016

Thoughts: Usually when you see a preview of an upcoming Tim Burton film you have to squint hard to see the calling cards of the director that gave us more than a few memorable movie moments.  Now favoring creating CGI worlds instead of practical sets (I get it, it’s less expensive…and less impressive), the director comes back from the disappointing drama of Big Eyes with this adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs.  Re-teaming with Eva Green, his Dark Shadows leading lady, Burton seems like the perfect fit for this piece and I was certainly enticed to see more after this long-ish tease.  Still six months from theaters, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children could be a fine return to form for Burton if he resists going overboard on the CGI landscapes.

Movie Review ~ Big Eyes

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A drama about the awakening of the painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.

Stars: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Krysten Ritter

Director: Tim Burton

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: When I was young I was always frightened of these two paintings in my grandmother’s house.  They were tall, slim paintings each of a ballerina with large eyes and I made it a point to skirt by them without making eye contact with their black orbs.  Now, I’m not sure if these were paintings by Margaret Keane or entries from the numerous knock-offs that came about after the phenomenal success of the Keane Big Eyes movement; but seeing Tim Burton’s film on the life of the woman behind the eyes brought back these memories in full force.

It’s nice to see Tim Burton (Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie) make a film featuring not one actor he’s worked with before (thanks for sitting this one out, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter) based on a subject that has some curio cultural significance.  However, the film feels de-Burton-ized so much that it’s hard to pick out much of anything that indicates the man behind Batman, Beetlejuice, or his much better biopic Ed Wood was running the show here.

Early buzz indicated that Amy Adams (American Hustle, Her) would land another Oscar nomination and win for her role as painter Margaret Keane and she just may have stood a fighting chance had the script from Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski not presented Keane as such a wet noodle.  As the picture opens she’s leaving her husband and taking her young daughter hundreds of miles away to San Francisco with no real prospects.  In that time that would have been considered a fairly gutsy move so it’s odd that no sooner has she set up a home, a job, and a weekend painting gig in a local park that she’d succumb to the charms of the first man that comes calling.  Adams is a bright presence on screen but comes off rather dull here.

Margaret’s relationship with Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained…more on him later) may have been a saving grace for the young mother but when he starts to indicate to the outside world that he is responsible for the big eyed waif paintings she’s created it’s an amazement that it takes her over a decade to break free of his slimy grip and even longer to lay claim to her work.  Keane herself acknowledges that she was fairly complicit in the charade but the film always makes it seem like she was under duress (literally being locked in an attic with a paintbrush and easel) and helpless.

If anything really puts a pin in the underwhelming nature of it all it’s Waltz’s bizarre performance as the duplicitous Walter.  The usually reliable Waltz is totally on a raft out to sea here, barely hiding his German accent (Walter was born in Nebraska) and devouring every bit of scenery and several of Colleen Atwood’s (Into the Woods) striking costumes.  By the time we get to a courtroom denouement Waltz is in full Joan Crawford mode, acting the hell out of a cross-examination of himself as he’s acting as his own attorney.

Burton’s penchant for CGI effects is thankfully kept on a tight leash here and the picture is lovely to look at, but it’s an overall shallow affair that finds Adams gamely treading water through a Waltz storm of melodramatic acting.

The Silver Bullet ~ Big Eyes

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Synopsis: A drama centered on the awakening of the painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.

Release Date:  December 25, 2014

Thoughts: Tim Burton (Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie) is a director that I’ve admired for quite some time.  Bouncing from the lunacy of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice to the dramas of Big Fish and Ed Wood, I’ve always been more drawn to his work that doesn’t involve (or rely) on special effects and it’s nice to see the director taking a break from his collaborations with Johnny Depp.  That’s why Big Eyes looks so promising to me; not only does it sport two honest-to-goodness A-listers as leads but the true life tale of artist Margaret Keane is one that seems right up Burton’s alley.  Those early Oscar hounds are saying this might be the movie that Amy Adams (Her) takes home an Oscar for and, wrong or not, the role seems tailor-made for the actress.  Joined by two time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), I’d be on the lookout for this one if I were you.