Movie review: Churchill

Movie reviews

Hello!

Churchill is the first of the two biographical dramas of 2017 about ‘the greatest Briton of all time’ Winston Churchill (or the second of the three if we count his appearance on Netflix’s The Crown). Let’s see how good it is!

IMDb summary: 96 hours before the World War II invasion of Normandy, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill struggles with his severe reservations with Operation Overlord and his increasingly marginalized role in the war effort.

While The Crown mostly touched upon Churchill’s second term in the office (1951-55), both biopics of this year are looking at his first term as the Prime Miniter. The second drama that’s coming around Christmas – The Darkest Hour – will look at the beginning of that term and the start of WW2 (1940-41), while Churchill explored the closing months of the said war and the D-day preparations (1944).

Writing

Churchill’s script was written by a British historian and author Alex von Tunzelmann, thus, all (or at least the majority of) historical facts in the screenplay were most likely true to life, while the film-writing specific mistakes could be explained by a lack of experience in writing scripts (she has worked on a historical TV series before but only a little bit).

The biggest flaw in the writing for Churchill, to my mind, was the fact that a plethora of brilliant ideas were introduced or hinted at but never fully explored. I loved the nods to the strained UK/US relationship (like a parent/child one or an old married couple type of one) and the brief showcasing of the Churchill/King George VI relationship that was a complex combo of professionalism and friendship. Churchill’s relationship with his wife was also on display – she was his reality check as well as the biggest supporter – and I wanted to see more of their confrontations and reconciliations.

The writing for the character of Churchill tried being complex but ended up confused. And yet, it still managed to surprise me. For one, I’ve never thought of Churchill as the leader of the ‘everyman’, who thought about the war in terms of the lives lost. I have also seen him as a very conservative leader, while this film depicted him as kinda a rebel in the eyes of the other war generals. This type of rebellious imagining also clashed with the other side of his persona – the fact that he was always seen as too old or living in the past (here the experience versus the inability to move forward debate comes up). His public vs private sides were also touched upon in the movie but were never distinguished well enough one from the other. Lastly, this film suggested that Churchill felt underappreciated for his efforts, which kinda goes against the ideas of today, where he is hailed as ‘The greatest Briton’ and statues of him are to be found in every major city in the UK (and on every corner in London, basically).

While I usually appreciate ambiguities as well as opposing ideas being presented in the motion picture, this time around, I felt that Churchill was just grasping all over the place and not only didn’t have a clear final message but didn’t even have an initial outline of what it wanted to achieve. It’s really a shame because a lot of ideas that the film introduced were ripe for exploration but were either wasted or wrongly mixed with other creative concepts.

Directing 

An Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky directed Churchill and did an okay job. I loved the opening images of the film – the signature hat in the bloody water – and thought that they were really cinematic. However, all of the following visuals really lacked grandness and felt like they belonged in a BBC TV movie or a miniseries. The lack of cinematic visuals could partially be explained by the fact that the movie’s script was very personal, more fitting to a long format analysis on the small screen. Speaking about longness, while the film itself was just around 100 minutes long and quite slowly paced, it, sadly, wasn’t always engaging to justify the slowness of the plot.

Acting

The best part of the whole film was its cast. Both Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson delivered transformational performances as Winston and Clementine Churchill. Cox brought vulnerability as well as a stubbornness to the performance, while Richardson was the perfect embodiment of the female strength.

Ella Purnell played Churchill’s secretary Helen Garret. Her role in the film really reminded me of another Churchill’s secretary character of Venetia Scott, played by Kate Phillips in The Crown. King George VI was played by James Purefoy. His character is probably one of the most recognizable movie characters of the British monarchy because of the slight stutter, explored in The King’s Speech.

In short, Churchill was an okay biopic that deserved a clearer and more concise writing and should have had more cinematic qualities in its visuals.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Churchill trailer

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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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