Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

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This movie certainly possesses that Tim Burton look that most of us recognise now. That’s a positive at least because for the most part it’s the style of the film that is glorious whereas the story feels slightly dull, definitely long and disengaging.

After the mysterious death of his grandfather, Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) is gifted a postcard, this item on top of the stories his granddad told him lead him on a journey to try and stop time loops being invaded by Hollows. Jake and his dad Franklin (Chris O’Dowd) wind up in Wales where Jake steps into a 1943 children’s home run by shape-shifting time-bending Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) who needs Jake to step up and look after her special children as an attack looms.

That’s just the mild basis of what goes on during this movie, to be honest there is a lot more that happens with characters both main and small. It’s this bloated plot that makes the entire feature feel more than a little bit messy and one you’d hoped was more refined. The darker elements are well felt and the Hollows are interesting movie monsters but a narrative bouncing back and forth between time and countries becomes rushed and silly.

What doesn’t help is the lead character in Jake is less than thrilling. He’s a bland hero type who asks questions, obviously falls in love with the girl and that’s about that. Also, though the odd little children have peculiar quirks, we don’t get much at all in the way of their lives or backstories, instead we focus on Jake, his grandfather, the village of Wales and Hollows. In the end, the writing from Jane Goldman based on books by Ransom Riggs shoehorns the children in as nothing special and they solely become their peculiarities and nothing more. A film focused on the twins with death stares is something I’d love to watch.

A pier battle in Blackpool of all places is shot nicely and edited with zip, giving the movie a much needed lift by this point. The skeletons fighting nearly invisible Hollows looks exciting, earlier on in the movie there’s a neat section of stop-motion as ‘Toy Story’ Sid-like creations fight each other. The WW2 vision of the village is detailed and there’s a sunny Edward Scissorhands look to the home during these happier moments. Burton hands this story a welcome kookiness but he’s still not back to his best.

Asa Butterfield is massively boring during this film, whether it’s him or the character or both it makes no difference to the annoying fact that we have to follow him the entire way through. Eva Green does what she does best, her sultry voice and authoritative demeanour working as a kindly yet strict headmaster, mother figure. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the better factors in this, he has some great comedy lines and reacts well to the trying heroics of the children. Ella Purnell is the Burton special with an Alice like dress, big eyes and peculiar ability, she’s enchanting though and helps the film even if she’s no more than the romantic interest.

I won’t lie and say there’s nothing entertaining in this movie, because it does have good moments of whimsy and quite dark treads into that Burton world but it’s let down by plot holes the size of Wales and is far from the interesting spectacle it could have been.

5.5/10

 

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The Little Prince (2016)

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Thank goodness for Netflix, because otherwise I doubt I and many other people would have seen this glorious and gorgeous animation. Mixing computer animated scenes with the true art of stop-motion sequences, this French-Canadian movie is colourful, stirring and magical.

Single Mother (Rachel McAdams) is a busy worker and wants her daughter to follow suit by attending the prestigious Werth Academy. However The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) befriends the much talked about nutty man next door leading her down a more adventurous fun path. The Aviator (Jeff Bridges) has stories to tell and interests the girl with a tale about a Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who he met in the Sahara Desert.

In a way, the 3D graphics of the animated world featuring the girl and her older neighbour reminded me of the look ‘The Incredibles’ provided. The shape of people and their faces harking to that sort of visual. The way this grey and busy landscape is seen is brilliant, just the times we zoom out to see ant sized cars all leaving on the dot for work shows how professional and disengaged to a more fun life these adults are.

The special moments are in the papery looking but also wooden style design of the stop-motion characters. I’ve always said that the whole process of stop-motion animation is something admirable and rewarding and I stick by it ever more so due to this beautiful exploration of the medium. There’s a great charm in seeing The Little Prince stories come into the fold during this film and it gives the story an extra fancy touch.

Having never read the source material myself, I couldn’t comment on what the treatment of the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is like. They me quite faithful or changed a lot but I enjoyed the story presented here a lot. His tale is moulded nicely and Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti create a lovely screenplay that fits for all ages, centred around the idea of growing up and forgetting childhood. At times, this theme gets dealt an emotional hand and I felt a little tingly at the ideas being put across.

Only one portion of this movie kind of felt off and that’s annoyingly the third act as the Little Girl decides to take action and flies off in the hope of seeing the much talked about prince. It could be viewed as an act that loses people because it gets off track from the better grounded narrative scenes that come before, which is exactly how I see it. I guess you could say that at the time the girl falls, what comes after can be interpreted how you like which makes more sense but still doesn’t stop the last act being slightly iffy.

The music gives you chills, with a wonderful score from Hans Zimmer accompanying the on screen action with suitable bounce and heart. Camille provides lush vocals during the film, in a way that echoes of the enchanting yet haunting sounds from ‘Coraline’. Another positive is the light comedy that hits well, the sad notes of loss and looking to the stars for laughter provides a lovely notion and the pairing of the girl and aviator are fun to watch.

All I can really say is, it’s a massive shame this won’t be up for an Academy Best Animated Feature award due to it not being theatrically released. If it was it’d certainly give Disney and Pixar a severe run for their money because it’s stunning, emotional and special.

8.5/10

Midnight Special (2016)

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Twinkling in the darkness, this is an intriguing step into the sci-fi genre, like a shady E.T movie with some Spielberg similarities in other worldly atmosphere, this film may not always have answers or a easy likable factor but it’s night-time soul is ever present and deep.

Roy (Michael Shannon) and 8 year old Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) are escaping from something and along for the ride in the car is state trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton). It’s apparent that Alton possesses some powers of a kind and he knows of coordinates which may help him, though police, cult folk, FBI and Alton’s mum Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) all come into the mix either to help or hinder his progress.

There’s a constant heavy presence throughout this movie that I can’t quite explain, like the sublime knack of capturing scenes in the night weighing over things in your mind. That’s the beauty here, that a lot of this movie is dark and it works so well for this ambiguous look into the set-up of Roy and Lucas with a child. It stamps down hard with a dramatic/science fiction feel because the night could be hiding any secret.

At times this feature tries things that don’t work and for me that’s when it descends into the unwanted more clichéd third act. Also it’s not always clear what’s happening which isn’t so much a problem but I can see why people wouldn’t like that transparency and so some may find it strange with no reason. In a way, so do I, a lot of the time it feels as if you’re in late to the party and stumbling trying to catch up but never quite getting the response necessary but ultimately Jeff Nichols’ writing and directing is layered, interesting and striking.

Back to the third act, I was not a fan I can tell you. It was obvious by a time to what or who Alton was but then after he’s taken and seen by interested interviewer Paul Sevier it grows a little over the top. Alton becomes a walking Skynet with nothing hindering him which loses any suspense or grit that was around before. Then the look of the landscape presented as Alton gets what he wants/needs is pretty naff and too much, I don’t think we needed to see that at all, it just feels like an alien stitch on. The film for me was better because it’s atmosphere was less is more.

I must comment on David Wingo’s score which was tremendous. It bristled away as if tickling over the back of my neck helping this mysterious sense of the film work wonders. The music over most of the car driving scenes was simple but wholly effective in subtly building up tension as to what may be happening. This mastered score with the well placed surprising moments of violence and shock revolving Alton’s escape helped craft a bold image.

Michael Shannon manages to look as if he’s hardly ever acting and by doing so provides depth and incredible nuanced expressions to his compassionate turn as Roy. Joel Edgerton does well as the man joining events with a stern look to all things but a more emotional connection to his motivations under the surface. Kirsten Dunst brings a great amount of emotion as she struggles to realise her son may go, the pain and yet relief for his safety is so well performed. Adam Driver is also a great presence here, giving a light note to the film in his role as Paul Sevier, the puzzled and then interested looks he gives as he gets wrapped up in the chase helps to see an outsider’s perspective. Jaeden Lieberher is wonderful as the little kid wise beyond his years, he delivers lines in an eerie manner and sticks in the background always making sure you know he’s there.

It’s not always a good thing, but for the most part this movie is complex and somehow magical, it’s also boosted by some especially talented acting.

7.5/10