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: Eye in the Sky

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve just come back from the cinema, after watching one of the best movies I have seen this year or possibly ever and I can’t wait to talk about it. Without further ado, let’s discuss the war drama/thriller – Eye in the Sky.

IMDb summary: Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing: story and themes

Eye in the Sky’s script was written by Guy Hibbert, who has mainly created screenplays for TV movies. The story that he crafted for this film as well as the dialogue, which was used to tell this story, was truly spectacular. The film doesn’t have any action (almost) in the literal sense of the word, but it is still extremely engaging and suspenseful.

The movie is set during a wartime – in the midst of the contemporary war, where armies are replaced by drones and computers. Nonetheless, the aforementioned modern technologies are still operated by military individuals. I do not think that we have seen many films about the practices of modern warfare, and since this issue is very important to all present and future generations, it’s about time that mainstream movies began contributing to the conversation or at least helped to kickstart the discussion.

Eye in the Sky opened with a quote by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: In war, truth is the first casualty. To my mind, this quote was a tiny bit misleading, because the movie dealt more with the questions of ethics rather than truth. On the other hand, truth and morality are too closely related or even intertwined value and the loss of one of them, results in the loss of the other as well.

Eye in the Sky succeeded in portraying the story of a single mission not only in an entertaining but in also realistic way: it showed how many parties (located in different countries and time zones all around the globe) are actually involved in making a decision – it was an example of true democracy – a good kind of democracy. However, it also showed the inefficiency of liberal democracy at times like these and people’s inability to make the important decisions. But can we really blame the officials who tried to avoid the responsibility when the stakes were this high – human lives were at risk. Nonetheless, maybe the officials who were avoiding the important decisions were doing this for personal reasons (so as to avoid possible culpability) rather than ethical ones?

Not only did the movies explored the process of decision making but it also touched upon the question of modern war propaganda (possibility of the footage being leaked). It also asked the viewers to considered the worthiness of human life. Lastly, Eye in the Sky showed the psychological effects on people who actually have to make the decision and, more importantly, execute it. In the end, military and army officials are still people, who are only doing their job.

Eye in the Sky was also a very emotional movie, and the end credits of the motion picture only increased the overall emotional impact of the film. I do not remember the last time I cried in a movie and this film definitely made me tear up.

The only thing that took me out of the picture’s story a tiny bit were the bird and bug drones. They seemed too futuristic to me and were a little unbelievable. However, I do not know whether this type of technology really exists. If it does, then I am really scared about the level of surveillance that we, as a species, have already reached.

Directing: visuals and sound

Eye in the Sky was directed by Gavin Hood, who has previously won an Oscar for the film Tsotsi (Best Foreign Language Film in 2006). However, Hood’s last two films (before Eye in the Sky) were X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ender’s Game. I did not enjoy these two films and I do not believe that a lot of people did. However, I feel that Hood has at least partially redeemed himself with Eye in the Sky. Although the film’s plot was mostly very spatially confined, the shots were never too dense or too repetitive. The visuals of the drone, as well as the footage of the various computers, were also extremely believable. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos (Mamma Mia! (ultimate guilty pleasure film), ThorLockeJack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Cinderella) was really nice as well. Lastly, the music by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian was also very haunting and a perfect fit for the film.

Moreover, one of the film’s producers was actor Colin Firth (Kingman(!))- I actually did not know that, in addition to acting, he produced movies. Did you?

Acting

The film had a huge ensemble cast and I would even go as far as to say that this probably is one of my favorite ensemble movies in recent memory. Everest was probably the last ensemble movie that I really enjoyed.

So, the film’s cast consisted of Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox, Armaan Haggio, Aisha Takow, Richard McCabe, Carl Beukes, Kim Engelbrecht and the director Gavin Hood himself. I won’t be able to talk about all the actors in this list, but I will try my best to discuss at least a few of them.

To begin with, I loved the fact that Helen Mirren’s character was the one calling the shots. Film’s don’t tend to focus on female military officers, so that was a nice change. I also loved how determined and relentless her character was. Mirren is an extremely accomplished actress and I am embarrassed to say that I have only seen her most recent films, like Trumbo, The Hundred-Foot Journey and Woman in Gold. I also would like to watch The Queen in which Miller plays… well… the Queen (for the 4th time).

Breaking Bad’s alumni Aaron Paul is probably fairing a bit better that his past co-star Bryan Cranston (I see Paul in more movies than Cranston). I really liked Paul in the role in Eye in the Sky – he didn’t do much bodily acting but his facial expressions were magnificent. Earlier this year, I saw Aaron in Triple 9 and I have also reviewed a few of his films from 2014 – Need for Speed and A Long Way Down.

Alan Rickman also started in Eye in the Sky. It was quite a bitter-sweet feeling, seeing him in the film, since I will dearly miss him as an actor. I grew up with him as Snape in Harry Potter films and only yesterday watched him in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. Eye in the Sky was Rickman’s last physical role and, once again, he proved what an amazing actor he was (and will remain in our minds). I wonder whether the scenes, where his character was buying that doll, were meant to show his human side or whether it symbolized his indifference to all children. His character did seem kinda ruthless, especially with the shiver-inducing deliverance of his last line Never tell a soldier that he doesn’t know the cost of war. Later this year, we will hear Rickman in his last role (overall) in the Alice sequel.

Barkhad Abdi, who burst onto the scene a few years ago with Captain Phillips, was also really good in the role. Game of Thrones’s Iain Glen also had a few scenes that were intended to be funny and I don’t really know if that comic relief was necessary – it felt out of place. Lastly, Aisha Takow played the little girl, whose presence in the film made the biggest emotional impact, and I think that she did a nice job.

All in all, Eye in the Sky was an extremely engaging film, which showed the complexities of war and raised questions of morality and ethics. The answers to these moral and ethical dilemmas were not fully given by the film or its characters, but it encouraged the members of the audience to make up their own minds. The directing, the cinematography and the music of the film all worked together to created a highly compelling feature, which was brought to life by an amazing and extensive cast.

Rate: 4.9/5

Trailer: Eye in the Sky trailer

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