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: Deepwater Horizon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another film review. This time, we’re discussing the latest Berg-Wahlberg collaboration – Deepwater Horizon!

IMDb summary: A story set on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded during April 2010 and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Deepwater Horizon’s story was based on true events that actually happened on an oil rig called Deepwater Horizon back in 2010. Although this particular platform was located in the Gulf of Mexico, a similar disaster has also happened near the city that I currently live. I’m talking about Aberdeen, also known as the oil capital of Europe. The oil rig called Piper Alpha, located 120 miles to the northeast of the city, exploded in 1988, killing 167 crew members. while only 11 lost their lives at Deepwater Horizon.

This movie shares certain similarities with other biographical survival dramas. All pictures like this follow a formula – they developed the characters and form an emotional connection between the characters and the viewers, only to then allow the members of the audience to feel utterly helpless while watching how the characters on screen are trying (and failing) to overcome various challenges. If you’d like to see more films like Deepwater Horizon, you can check out 2015’s Everest, which had a similar fall release date. Last year, we also had The Finest Hours, which told the story of an oil disaster as well, only this time on a ship rather than on a rig.

Now, let’s move on to discussing the various aspects of the feature that this review is for.

Writing

Deepwater Horizon’s screenplay was written by two Matthews: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand. Carnahan wrote the World War Z big screen adaptation and has also worked with the director of the film Peter Berg on another movie called The Kingdom. Sand hasn’t really worked much, although, he did write 2009 film Ninja Assassin. Deepwater Horizon’s script was based on The New York Times article Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours, written by David BarstowDavid Rohde, and Stephanie Saul.

As I have mentioned, the narrative of the film was formulaic. However, it did work. The set-up was fairly clear (some of the specific terms went over my head) and the character development – sufficient and efficient. The picture had more than a few nice instances of friendly banter between the co-workers and was also really attentive to detail, for example, in showing the OCD of the main character through his orderly office. There were also a few subtle and less than subtle foreshadowing moments – one with the can of coke and the other with that safety award.

Deepwater Horizon also had some interesting commentary on capitalism and big business. It very obviously established the hierarchy based on money – rich owners and executives lived and had all the charges dropped, even though they were the ones who allowed this disaster to happen, while the innocent workers lost their lives. I also liked that idea about how any business consists of thousands of moving parts. Well, it seems like all of those parts stopped working on Deepwater Horizon that fatal night in April of 2010. The ideas of who is accountable and who has the right to order the evacuation and a shutdown were also fascinating to watch.

Directing

Peter Berg, the creator of Friday Night Lights and the director of such films as Battleship and Lone Survivor, directed the film and did a good job. He had some really amazing visual effects and some scarily beautiful shots of the old rig on fire. Moreover, everything looked uber realistic, except the CGI on the inside of the pipe. The real recording of the hearings as well as the actual footage of the rig burning were nice additions to the film. Not only did a decision to add them both at the beginning and at the end of the film tied everything together, but it also connected the film’s narrative to the actual real life events.

Deepwater Horizon felt like a quite a short movie. Despite its runtime being over 100 minutes, the fast pace of the film made it seem more like a 1h feature. The set up was a bit long but it didn’t drag. Furthermore, when the disastrous action started to happen, the time just flew by. The wrap-up was also quite speedy.

Berg managed to craft a fine film, which was both emotional, sad, and difficult to watch. The last few scenes – the aftermath of the disaster – were the most moving. Seeing the characters on screen deal with the horrors that they endured made my eyes water, I’m not gonna lie. The instrumental score also contributed a lot to the feelings that arose while watching this film.

Acting

The movie had an ensemble cast, but a few stand-outs were, of course, Mark WahlbergKurt Russell, John MalkovichGina Rodriguez and Dylan O’Brien.

For Wahlberg, this was his second collaboration with Berg (first being Lone Survivor) and they also have another movie coming out this year – Patriot’s Day, based on the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. He was really good in the lead, I liked his chemistry with Kate Hudson, who played his character’s wife and the cute moments with his character’s daughter. Kurt Russel was amazing too. Lately, he seems to be re-establishing himself on the big screen once again, starting with last year The Hateful Eight. He will also be in the next Fast and Furious film and will play a crucial role in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Another silver-screen veteran John Malkovich was also great – his character was an awful person but Malkovich did a marvelous job making me hate him. The two younger members of the cast were also excellent. Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez had some nice lines and her final moment with Wahlberg’s character was just amazing, while Dylan O’Brien played his usual likable and a little bit quirky boy-next-door type of a character. O’Brien is best known for starring in the MTV series Teen Wolf, but he has also played the lead in The Maze Runner series, whose final installment has been pushed back because of a serious injury that Dylan sustained on set. Nevertheless, he seems to be back on his feet and working.

In short, Deepwater Horizon was a fine film. It had solid writing and directing and wonderful acting. It is not a type of picture to rewatch multiple times, but if you enjoy good movies, I suggest you check it out at least once. Besides, it is a sorta original film (still an adaptation) in a sea of remakes and sequels.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Deepwater Horizon trailer

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Movie review: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the highly anticipated The Hunger Games finale rolls into theaters in November, let’s review the latest entry in a different dystopian franchise, which ultimately will be compared to both THG and Divergent series’ films with or without its permission. Let’s talk about Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.

IMDb summary: After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles.

The first thing that I would like to mention when talking about this film is the speed at which it was made. The first film in the series (review) was released in September of last year and the studio only greenlit the sequel when they saw, how much money the first film made. So, this means that they had less than a year to shoot and edit the second installment. For me, that seems really fast. Some movies get stuck in stages of pre-production or production for years and this one was shot, edited, advertised and distributed in 10 months time. Usually, such a short production period suggests that the movie was rushed and, consequently, might not be great. Thankfully, that’s not the case with The Scorch Trials.

Book&Writing

As some of you may know, this film franchise is based on a book series by James Dashner. I loved the book series and have read all 3 novels before going to see the first film. Now, I don’t really remember  all the details from the book, but can tell you that they changed a lot of it. However, as I have said numerous time before, I don’t care if the film’s creators alter the plot because I treat the book and the movie as two separate mediums and two different interpretations of the same story. Still, it’s interesting to see what is the same and what is different between the book and the motion picture. Though, which story is better is definitely not the argument that I want to have here.

Anyway, as much as I remember from the book, I can tell you that they did change much. While all the main points of the story were similar and mostly all of the characters from the book made it into the film, the details of the plot differed a lot. To begin with, the Gladers escaped from the facility at the beginning of the story for completely different reasons. Teresa and Thomas couldn’t communicate telepathically, so their relationship wasn’t that well realized in the film as it was in the book. Also, tattoos/title tags on the necks of the Gladers were not present in the film. These tags really raised tension between the characters in the book, so if they would have used them in a film, maybe we would have gotten some more character development/ conflict/dialogue and not just a lot of running. Lastly, the book had no Right Arm subplot and the ending of the film was very different from the ending of the book. However, I can at least imagine how they can get Thomas to a place that he was supposed to be in at the end of The Scorch Trials if they decide to follow the 3rd book a bit more.

The film’s screenplay was written by T.S. Nowlin, so those of you who like the book’s and film’s story to be exactly the same can be angry at him. (Please, don’t be!). Nowlin wrote the screenplay of the first adaptation and will probably be writing the script for the last film as well. He doesn’t have any other writing credits on his IMDb page, but he has produced a few independent films. I applaud his efforts on The Scorch Trials because he handled a plethora of characters and variety of different events, which influenced each other, quite nicely.

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Directing

The movie was directed by Wes Ball. He has also directed the first installment, so there is no shift in the tone. The wide shots in the Scorch were realized beautifully, especially when you could see the profiles of all the characters. Action scenes were also exciting and fun to watch. If Ball returns to direct The Death Cure (an adaptation of the last novel in the series), he said that they won’t split the film into two parts, which I’m very happy about, so I do hope that he returns. That film is planned to be released in 2017, so they will have more time to actually produce it (update: the movie was pushed back to 2018 because of Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set). In addition, Ball is set to direct an adaptation of Fall of Gods – an epic Norse fantasy. I would love to see that one as well.

Visual effects

This movie, as a lot of other dystopian/futuristic films, had a lot of CGI in it. The landscapes were beautiful and the zombie-like-creatures, who were sick with the Flare virus, were scary and ugly. Everything looked very realistic, especially when you factor in the cost of CGI and the budget of this film. The 1st Maze Runner was made for only 35 million dollars, so I don’t think that they’ve spent  a lot more than that on the 2nd film as well. At best, the studio could have given them 50 to 60 million dollars to work with. Other dystopian films cost a lot more, for example, Mockingjay Part 1 had the budget of 125 million dollars, while Insurgent was made for 110 million. To my mind, all of these 3 YA adaptations have the similar level of computer effects, so props to The Scorch Trials for saving money. And yes, I know that big name actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley have much bigger salaries than Dylan O’Brien, but even if you take that into consideration, The Scorch Trials still has the smallest amount to spend on visual effects.

Acting

This movie had a lot of character and all of them were realized quite well with a limited amount of screen time. This movie also received a lot of praises for how diverse its cast is.

  • Dylan O’Brien as Thomas was a great leading man as in the first film. He is a great sidekick on Teen Wolf, but he was great in the main role in this film as well. I also liked that he was a leader without a plan. I know that this makes him seem like a shitty leader, but that’s just the realistic portrayal of a young adult in the situation that Thomas was in.
  • Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt and Ki Hong Lee as Minho are one of my favorite supporting characters of all time. I just love the trio that they and Thomas make. In addition, I loved how the director gave some screen time to both Newt and Minho to shine in the action scenes.
  • Rosa Salazar as Brenda and Kaya Scodelario as Teresa were the two very different female leads. I loved how they only implied the love triangle aspect of their story. They set up the twists in the stories of both girls quite nicely as well. On a side note, who would you like Thomas to end up in a long run? Even though, one of them might not make it till the end…
  • Nathalie Emmanuel as Harriet was a supporting character at the end of the film. She is the 2nd of 3 Game Of Thrones actors appearing in this film. First one being Thomas Brodie-Sangster and 3rd one being….
  • Aidan Gillen as Janson. He literally played the futuristic version of Littlefinger. I have no idea if I ever will be able to see actor Aidan Gillen and not think about his iconic role.
  • Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge was a nice addition to the cast. Weirdly, while reading the book, I always imagined him to be much younger, but he worked really well as an older father-like figure.
  • Alan Tudyk as Marcus and Patricia Clarkson as Ava Paige provided great support to the film as well. Alan’s line after Thomas’s speech at the end of the film mirrored my reaction to the same speech perfectly and although, Ava’s role as the evil adult from the government in YA movie is a cliche at this point, she was good in it.
  • Jacob Lofland as Aris Jones, Dexter Darden as Frypan and Alexander Flores as Winston were also great secondary characters and did a great job with what limited screen time they had.

All in all, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a great adaptation of YA novel as well as an improvement in the franchise. I might be biased, because I am a fan of the dystopian genre, but I highly suggest you go see this film for a number of reasons, for example: if you want to see a male lead in a YA movie after a bunch of female-driven films, if you want more action than you got in Mockingjay Part 1, if you are a fan of any of the up-and-coming actors that are part of this huge cast or if you just want to have a good time at the cinema.

Rate 4.5/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

P.S. The review of the 1st film – The Maze Runner – is my most viewed post ever, so I guess this franchise has quite a few loyal fans or at least plenty of people who are interested in it.

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Movie review: The Maze Runner + book

Movie reviews

Hi!

Today, I went to the early screening of The Maze Runner because I am in love with the book series by James Dashner and I couldn’t wait for the movie. I was really happy with the casting choices but more about that later.

Let’s start with the summary: When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of other boys, he has no memory of the outside world other than strange dreams about a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D. Only by piecing together fragments of his past with clues he discovers in the maze, can Thomas hope to uncover his true purpose and a way to escape? – Written by 20th Century Fox

The first book in The Maze Runner series came out in 2007 and the two sequels The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure in 2010 and 2011 respectively.  The prequel for the series The Kill Order was published in 2012. I have heard about these books a couple of years ago but, just when I got the news that they are making the movie with Dylan O’Brien, I decided to read them. It took me just a week to fly through all 4 books. I love this particular genre – dystopian science fiction – and a lot of people do too. Some readers state that The Hunger Games started this new phase in young adult’s literature and all other series are just copying THG. I can agree with them only partly. Of course, THG added to the overall success of the dystopian genre, but, for example, the first book in The Maze Runner series was published a year before THG came to the bookstores. Also, I personally don’t care if these books have similar premise – if they weren’t fresh and exciting for me, I would not read them. Other similar books: Divergent, Uglies, Delirium, The Giver, Gone.

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But back to The Maze Runner. I loved the characters of the books and I believe that they made perfect casting choices. Dylan O’Brien was perfect Thomas, Thomas Sangster – Newt to the point (By the way, I am a huge Teen Wolf and Game of Thrones fan so I was familiar with the work these actors have done. If you haven’t seen any Dylan’s movies, I suggest you watch The First Time – you will laugh and cry all the time) and Ki Hong Lee – was a real life Minho. Plus, Will Poulter portrayed Gally, the first enemy of Thomas, superbly and Aml Ammen did a good job as Alby. Special props go to Blake Cooper who played the most annoying but the most loveable character – Chuck. The only casting choice I wasn’t particularly excited about was Teresa – Kaya Scodelario did a good job but didn’t blow me away. Strange, how I love the entire male cast and feel kind of shaky about the only girl in the group? This shows that if the movie is dominated by one gender that doesn’t mean that just that gender will go to see it.

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First of all, let’s acknowledge book to movie changes: There were quite a few changes in locations, appearance of some stuff and even in the overall plot. However, these changes were small and not critical. They basically added more action (CGI and color palette looked great). I didn’t mind these changes because I had already learned to enjoy the book and the movie separately. I read the book before I go to the film because I like to be familiar with the characters and the setting of the story but not to know what will happen to the smallest detail. I might imagine the story in one way while the director has his own imagination. And the character or plot point changes are just another interpretation of the same story.

At first, I was enjoying the movie but not loving it completely. But as it went on, it got better and better and belter. I didn’t want it to end. I hope that it will deliver in the box office and that we will get the 2ND movie because The Scorch Trials is my favorite book in the series.

Trailer: The Maze Runner Trailer

Rate 5/5

UPDATE: The Scorch Trials got a release date – September 18st, 2015 !!!

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