Movie review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

Another YA adaptation from a once visionary director has hit theaters, so, let’s take it apart! This is the review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children!

IMDb summary: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Allow me to begin by saying that I think that this movie (and the book) has one of the coolest names ever. Yes, it is quite long, weird, and hard to remember, but that’s what makes it special. Just the name alone tells you a lot about the story, but, at the same time, doesn’t give anything away. I wanted to start this review with a compliment because I imagine I will be quite hard on the film in the following paragraphs since I had a number of problem with it.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The narrative: the book, the changes, and the screenplay

The trilogy of books by Ransom Riggs that inspired this film was one of the two YA series that I checked out this year, other being the Engelsfors series by M.Strandberg and S.Bergmark Elfgren. I have always been a fan of fantasy, so I knew that I would enjoy the novels. I also really liked the role that the old vintage photographs played in the making of the books and how they were used in the final product. Those pictures really made the series stand out from the other numerous YA franchises out there.

However, before going to see this film, I questioned whether it can become a successful cinematic trilogy since YA adaptations have been going down both in quality and in the box office numbers. Mockingjay Part 2 was a disappointing finale that didn’t earn as much as expected, Allegiant absolutely crashed and burn – didn’t even earn enough to get the final entry in the franchise made into a film and the release of The Maze Runner‘s final movie had to be postponed due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set. Will the audiences still want to see The Death Cure a year later? Will they show up to support an altogether new franchise? I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.

The film’s script was written by Jane Goldman – a long time co-writing partner of Matthew Vaughn. Together, they have worked on movies such as Kingsmen: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, Stardust and Kick-Ass. Miss Peregrine Home for Peculiar Children was her second solo writing project, first being the period horror picture The Woman in Black.

As usual, when adapting a piece of literature to the big screen, some (or a lot) of details of the narrative are changed. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was no exception. For the first two acts, the film followed the book pretty closely but it did create a completely new and different 3rd act. Concerning the smaller alterations, I’ll try to list as much of them as I could spot:

  1. Emma’s and Olive’s abilities were switched. Emma had the power of air instead of fire, while Olive controlled fire rather than being able to float.
  2. Bronwyn was aged down, while Olive aged up. I understand why they did this: Regarding Bronwyn –  it is more striking to see a little girl lift huge weight rather than a teenager, whereas Olive had to be a teenager for them to have a second romantic couple in the film.
  3. The underwater ship scene went down a different way in the book. They probably wanted to make it more visually interesting in the film and I also think that this scene was the reason they switched Emma’s and Olive’s peculiarities.
  4. Miss Avocet’s involvement in the main narrative was altered.
  5. Jacob’s only normal human friend was cut from the beginning of the story and, in general, in the picture, Jacob was made into an even more of a social outcast than he was in the book.
  6. The hollows were eating the eyes of the peculiars instead of their souls. Since eyes are the window to the soul, this might have been the filmmakers’ attempt to visualize a soul as something material.
  7. Miss Peregrine’s kidnapping was altered and basically, all the 3rd act, which followed the kidnapping, went completely away from the book. The film’s final act had different locations than the book’s (the action happened in the house, on a big ship and in the circus, rather than on a small boat on a sea) and it was also more action-y in the cliche Hollywood way. The decision to use the ship allowed Emma to do more stuff and was a cool effect, but everything that happened after that fell flat. Personally, I think that the modern setting and fantasy don’t mix well, so the whole sequence in the circus in 2016 just seemed ridiculous. It might have looked cool and clever on paper but it appeared childish and stupid on screen. I also get why some people complain that the plot was hard to follow during the 3rd act because it actually was a jumbled mess.

A few other points on the script of the feature. To begin with, the film had an awful amount of obvious exposition. The characters would just sit around listening to each other tell important points of the backstory. Half of that exposition could have been incorporated more organically. Secondly, the writing for Jacob was quite awful – he mostly stood around asking questions or reacting to stuff. He was quite a useless hero – it there will be a sequel, I want him to take charge of his situation much more. Actually, he kinda did that at the end of the film, although we didn’t see it because they just montaged through his individual travels. Thirdly, the writing for Jacob’s parents was paper-thin. They were super one dimensional – their one character trait was the fact that they don’t really care about their son. Lastly, gonna end on a positive note and praise the picture for adding a couple of interesting moments to the story: one, Peregrine shooting the hollow was a cool scene and, two, young Abraham’s call was a nice emotional detail.

Although I try my best to always allow the movie to stand on its own, this time, I’m just gonna come out and say that I liked the book’s story better. I’d love to see a sequel that is closer to the second book’s (Hollow City) plot but I doubt it’s possible since the narrative has gone into a way different direction.

Directing

Tim Burton used to be an imaginary and fantastic director but he seems to have run out of steam lately. I have even done a separate post on his filmography before Alice 2 came out earlier this year. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Tim Burton seemed like a match made in heaven between the source material and the director, however, the movie was just fine. Nothing spectacular or special. The visuals were great, I liked how the film opened with the photos and the letters – it was a nice optical callback to the photographs in the book. The CGI and the design of the monsters were cool too. The slight steampunk vibes were also appreciated. However, the decision to allow (or make) the actors overdramatize some line and scenes, the awkward and choppy editing and the pacing problems (rushing through the setup, dragging in the middle, rushing in the end) were just a few of the flaws of the flick that Burton should have fixed.

Acting

  • Eva Green (Casino Royale, Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of an Empire) as Miss Peregrine. Green is a fabulous actress and she should have been great as Peregrine but her whole performance seemed a bit off to me. She was younger than I imagined Peregrine to be in the book and she also portrayed the character more as a quirky but cool aunt, rather than strict but caring grandma. Nevertheless, she did seem more friendly and open in the movie, which I liked, though, her shaky introduction and the signature Tim Burton crazy/dead eyes weren’t great.
  • Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game, Hugo, X+Y) as JacobButterfield is one of the most promising young actors working today but his performance here was a bit stiff and low energy. The writing for Jacob was problematic and the performance didn’t save the character either.
  • Ella Purnell (Maleficient) as Emma was good. She and Butterfield did have some chemistry, although, I still think that their love story was creepy and forced. Grandad and grandchild having the same girlfriend. Really!? It is kinda a Twilight type of a coupling, just with switched genders.
  • Lauren McCrostie as Olive was good. She didn’t have much to do, but I’d like to see more of her. Since they aged up the character, they should’ve used her more.
  • Finlay MacMillan as Enoch. Enoch was one of my favorite parts of the books. He could have been such a cool sarcastic character on screen but the actor just portrayed him as super annoying, which was a disappointment.
  • Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman, The Hateful Eight, Marvel) as Mr. Barron. Jackson is a great actor but here he was kinda a caricature. He was funny and his portrayal of the character did work for the film, but, on its own, the performance would be considered a complete parody.

In summary, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was promising but didn’t really fulfill any of the promises as much as it could have. The story started out good but fell flat in the 3rd act, the directing was disjointed and the acting – only so-so.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trailer

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Movie review: Alice Through The Looking Glass

Movie reviews

Hello!

This summer’s movie season seems to be dominated by comic book movies and live-action fairytales. So, let’s review the latest feature of the second genre – Alice Through The Looking Glass. I’ve  done a preview post for the film, where I discussed its director as well as other cinematic versions of Alice’s story – find it here.

While I didn’t really understand how Snow White and The Huntsman film got a sequel earlier this year (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), I do understand why this fairytale based property turned into a franchise – it earned a lot of money.And by ‘a lot’, I mean more than a billion dollars. I don’t know how it managed to do that, but it did. The Jungle Book – other 2016’s live action fairytale – will probably be joining the billion dollar club soon as well.

Writing

The film was written by Linda Woolverton, who wrote the first Alice live-action film as well as Maleficient and has also worked on stories of Disney animated classics (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Mulan). I have mixed feelings about the writing and the story of this film. Let’s go over the different parts of the plot point by point:

  1. The film opens with Alice as a Ship’s Captain. While it was definitely cool to see a female heroine in a typically male role, it was also extremely unbelievable, giving the 19th century setting of the film. (+/-)
  2. The film once again explored the gender norms and while this issue always angers me, I feel that it could have been approached in a less annoying, more complex and more satisfying way. (+/-)
  3. The idea of ‘impossible is possible’ was once again depicted in the film. Alice’s hero arc was to start believing in the impossible once again and I think that the film succeeded in portraying this development. (+)
  4. I also really enjoyed the topic of time in the film. How Alice first thought that Time was a villain and thief, but learned that he/it is actually her friend and a gift. In addition, I enjoyed the commentary of how the Time was against her, both literally and figuratively. The idea that when one’s clock runs out of Time, one dies was also quite nice and was interestingly represented in the film. The way Alice learned to heal with Time and parted with her father’s pocket watch at the end of the film was also a nice gesture. The main idea that one cannot change the past but can learn from it was also a wonderful message. Lastly, the character of Time could turn his inner clock to speed up Alice’s monologue – even though I enjoyed the majority of the film, at times, I really wanted to do the same and speed up the movie, but, sadly, couldn’t do that at the cinema. (+)
  5. The film had a lot of obvious exposition, which was really annoying. The screenwriter should have found a more organic way to convey the story rather than just have the characters spelling it out. (-)
  6. The movie also served as a prequel/backstory for the Red Queen, the White Queen, and the Mad Hatter. We found out why the Red Queen was crazy and had such a giant head, that the White Queen is not as innocent as she seemed to be and that Mad Hatter had family problems. While I appreciated the new info and was entertained by it, I also feel that some characters benefit from the lack of backstory – this allows the viewers to fill in the blanks however they like. (+/-)
  7. The pacing of the film was also a bit wonky. It simultaneously felt both rushed (from pit-stop to pit-stop) and like it was dragging on without anything really happening. (-)
  8. The parallels, presented in the film, were quite nice: how the chronosphere could be piloted like a real ship in the ocean of time and how both Alice and The Mad Hatter did not want to end up as their parents but still chose their family over everything else. (+)
  9. The way The Mad Hatter and the other Tea Time participants mocked Time was actually quite funny and clever (e.g. ‘I am ON Time’).(+)
  10. In the middle of the story, Alice returned to the real world for 5 min for no real reason. However, this allowed the scriptwriter to include the example of that stupid ‘science’ of 19th about female hysteria, diagnosed to any strong-headed women – another annoying sequence of the film. (-)
  11. The film’s heroine – Alice –  was also kinda the villain of the film for the majority of ti and it the last act had to fix her previous mistakes. I kinda feel that she managed to fix everything too quickly – I wish there would have been at least a few permanent consequences. Also, the fact that putting back that sphere suddenly settled everything, didn’t make much sense either. (+/-)
  12. The film’s ending was quite touching – Alice’s and The Mad Hatter’s goodbye was both sweet and touching. The ending in the real world was also cool, yet, as I’ve mentioned already, unbelievable in the 19th-century setting. (+/-)

Directing

Tim Burton did not return to direct Alice’s sequel and his presence (the cooky-ness and craziness) was not felt as much as I was expecting it to be felt. Instead, Burton was replaced by James Bobin. Bobin is a TV director and has only directed two feature films in his career – The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted. Like the writing of Alice 2, its directing is also deeply flawed. However, I do feel that somewhere underneath this mediocre/less than mediocre film is a good movie. In general, the film definitely felt less Burton-y a.k.a. less dark, more light-hearted and lighter in the color scheme. The opening shot of the moon turning into Cheshire Cat’s smile was nice. All the visuals were good for the most part, but there were a few scenes where the CGI could have been neater. The actors also should have been told to interact with green screens in a more believable manner and their over-acting should have also been toned downed by the director. There is a difference between cooky-cartoonish characters and cartoon parodies/cliche characters, and I feel that Through The Looking Glasses’s characters, sadly,  belong to the second group.

A few cool visual effects were the Second/Minute/Hour monster, the sequence of the stopped Time and the hand-drawn-like end credits sequence. Questionable visual effects were Red Queen’s fruit/vegetable servants. The costumes, which also belong in the discussion of the visuals, were quite interesting. Alice’s Chinese-inspired costume was cool and impressive as well as the top of Time’s outfit – his bottom (those white tights) were a questionable choice as well.

In general, the way the film was directed left me with a lot of questions. The inconsistency was felt in the story too but it was even more obvious in the directing.

Acting

  • Mia Wasikowska as Alice was okay. Nothing bad but nothing ground-breaking. A film of hers that I’ve enjoyed much more is Jane Eyre.
  • Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter was also fine. Depp knows how to play crazy characters and we all know that. I wish he would take more serious roles like the one in Black Mass.
  • Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen was also serviceable. She screamed once again and acted like the child, because why not? I prefer Bonham Carter in less scream-ish roles – I especially liked her in Les Miserables.
  • Anne Hathaway as the White Queen was probably the most annoying character. Her hands and finger movements were distracting and added nothing to the character. Recent enjoyable films with HathawayThe Intern. Also, watch or re-watch The Devil Wears Prada. She’s really good in that picture.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen as Time was the most interesting character, I just wished that he wouldn’t have acted as clumsy as he did. As I’ve mentioned in the preview post for this film, I hate Baron Cohen’s satirical characters (Borat, Bruno) but really like him in theatrical roles like this one or like the ones in Les Miserables and Hugo.
  • Ed Speelers as James Harcourt. Speelers played the only redeeming male character of the film, so I appreciated the fact that they at least tried to balance the female v male dynamic. I liked Speeler’s reaction shots to the events that were happening around, and, although he didn’t have much to do in the film, I welcomed his presence. If you want to see more of his work, may I suggest the film Plastic.

A few notable actors provided voices for CGI characters, including Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar/Butterfly – I’ve always enjoyed listening to his voice and this film was no exception. I also appreciated the fact that the feature was dedicated to his memory. Stephen Fry voiced the Cheshire Cat and Michael Sheen voiced the White Rabbit alongside a bunch of other actors. Nothing really stood out as exceptional voice work: some characters sounded cool and interesting, while others had quite annoying voices.

Music

The two songs from the soundtrack that I think I’ll listen again are White Rabbit performed by Pink as well as the original song that she has written for the motion picture – Just Like Fire.

In general, Alice Through The Looking Glass was an okay film. It had a lot of flaws in all aspects, but it still somewhat entertained me.

P.S. Sorry if this review is not that great, I’m writing it in an airport, after not sleeping for more than 24 hours.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Alice Through The Looking Glass trailer

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