MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN REVIEW

A resurgent return from the Edward Scissorhands maestro? Or another dud to add to his ever-growing pile?

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

Not bad. Macabre, mad, enthralling. Is Burton back? Well . . . almost.

The creepy opening act certainly got things going as social outcast Jacob tended to his ailing grandfather (Terence Stamp).

His home ransacked, his eyes missing (Burton really went for that 12A rating), his last words; clues to a mystery that Jacob thought was merely a fairy tale.

I was a little disappointed at Stamp’s swift departure BUT thankfully a series of flashbacks added a much needed depth to their relationship as he told Jake stories of Miss Peregrine and her ‘peculiar’ children.

Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) played it surprisingly well as Jake’s downbeat dad. Not enough of him, to be honest. Reluctantly roped into Jake’s quest for answers. Delusions of a dementia-ridden man? Or something more?

The slow build up as we delved into the grandfather’s past and the mystery of the boarding school was interesting enough. Especially when we got to meet the infamous gang.

All the Burton trademarks were there. From Enoch’s macabre Nightmare Before Christmas demented puppet fights to Olive’s Penguin gloves (Watch out for a Hitchcockian cameo).

Eva Green (Be still my beating heart. What?) was very good as Miss Peregrine. Delivering a crazy eccentricity to the role as she introduced Jake to the Peculiars and explained ‘The Loop’. A home hidden in a time bubble (Well, 1943 to be exact) that resets every day on a loop. Got it?

Despite the mad special effects and talented cast, the loop stuff flagged up more questions and plot holes than I could muster. Don’t think about it too much or it really will spoil things. Especially in the closing act.

I couldn’t fault any of the children as the Peculiars.  They really were a mad bunch from the invisible Miller, the bee-spitting Hugh, the super-human Bronwyn and the gravity-defying Emma (Ella Purnell).

They all had a chance to show off their strange abilities. I just wish more time was spent on that. Perhaps a little too much was wasted on the sulky Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) and his demented puppetry. Seriously, wait until he introduces Jake to Victor (*shudders*).

Butterfield carried the film when the pace lagged. I was fidgeting by the 60 minute marker despite great chemistry between him and Purnell as Jake and Emma’s inevitable romance blossomed.

However, that soon changed when Samuel L Jackson (finally) made his introduction (80 minutes?!) as the loathsome Mr Barron. He was brilliant. Even if he was battling with those crazy nashers. He lapped it up with enough fun and silliness even when his arms melded into some crazy T-1000 style weaponry.

Of course, he wasn’t alone . . .

Yikes, these creepy Slenderman-esque Hollows will stick with me for a while. Feeding their sustenance with the eyes of Peculiars. The eyes?! I thought this was a kid’s film?! First, Coraline freaked me out with those button eyes and now this . . .

Miss Peregrine’s Home was entertaining and fun with enough crazy visuals that kept my griping at bay. BUT it felt like after all that build up and time spend on introducing the characters that it rushed to a silly conclusion with a chaotic showdown at Blackpool Tower.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t familiar with the Ransom Riggs novels BUT with such a wide array of characters (and talented cast), it was always going to be difficult to give each character the right amount of screen time. Green was virtually absent by the final act and Dame Judi Dench’s role seemed like nothing more than an extended cameo. Shame.

If there was to be a sequel, I would happily watch another. I just hope the stuff that was teased in the closing minutes actually develops into something or else this would have really been a waste.

BUT don’t let that put you off a mad fantasy ride with enough charm and special effects to kill the time.

3/5

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THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL REVIEW

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These old dogs need to learn some new tricks if there’s going to be another one.

As the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for two fresh arrivals – Sonny (Dev Patel) pursues his expansionist dream of opening a second hotel.

Now, I loved the first film. It was fun, easy going, a charming little affair with a fantastic cast. When I heard that there was going to be another, I was excited. Hardly surprised after the reception the original received.

However, this outing seemed to suffer from the dreaded sequelitis. The charm offensive just about pulled it off to make it watchable. BUT I was left wanting more. A phrase I’m using far too often lately.

The opening didn’t really build my hopes up as Patel’s Sonny and Dame Maggie Smith’s Muriel barter with a boardroom of corporate drones about financing the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Smith’s rambling and raving about how Americans never serve tea properly didn’t really deliver the laughs. If anything, it annoyed the hell out of me and was dreadfully clichéd.

Look, I’m English. (What?!) Tea has always been a recurring joke but come on, we’re better than that! I still had a little guilty chuckle but when the gag kept popping up; it soon died of death.

Patel played Sonny well. But I found him a lot more irritating this time round. However, what did keep me watching was Sonny and Muriel’s relationship. A surrogate mother/son dynamic that made for hilarious and heart-warming viewing.

I felt Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle’s story line was a little too silly. I was interested in Norman and Carol’s relationship as the pair struggle to adapt to a monogamous lifestyle after playing the field for so long.

BUT all I got was a subplot that was taken out of a bad Carry On film with a drunken conversation between Norman and a taxi driver unwittingly setting up a “hit” on his partner.

I only really got some enjoyment or drama out of the pair in the closing moments. BUT it was resolved far too quickly for my liking. A shame.

Bill Nighy. A comedy legend and a talented actor in my eyes. Disappointing. He just seemed to dither and normally it worked to his advantage but I found myself getting bored of him. The whole tour gag with a young Indian lad feeding him information with a dodgy wireless ear piece has been done time and time again.

His subplot only got interesting when Penelope Wilton made a surprise appearance to upset the apple cart.

It was a surprise that Douglas (Nighy) and Evelyn’s (Dench) characters were still courting and not properly together. Inevitably a spanner is thrown in the works as Evelyn is given an opportunity to work again.

This is where it killed things for me. Dench’s absence was missed. Merely reprieved with little scenes in which we see her and a market trader bartering and dealing with the local community.

Celia Imrie’s love triangle story line was a little nothingy. Her inevitable brewing romance with the chauffeur that drove her to the two men she was seeing was predictable but easygoing.

However, she seemed to be pushed further into the background. If not for a memorable quote upon Gere’s arrival, “God have mercy on my ovaries”, I wouldn’t have known she was there.

Patel’s business venture ambitions and impending wedding certainly spiced things. Sonny’s best friend’s questionable friendship with his fiancee certainly ignited some much needed tension and drama into the mix. BUT to the same old infuriating and predictable results.

While we’re talking about predictable; the red herring hotel inspector subplot was naff. Richard Gere did his best and played the mystery man well BUT it was all so hokey. Sonny “pimping” out his mother to try and improve his review got the odd chuckle. BUT Tamsin Grieg and her shady American accent just didn’t work.

Hardly spoilerific but what was the purpose of David Strathairn’s role? He had the easiest job going. A waste of an incredibly talented actor.

It wasn’t all bad. Maggie Smith was on fine form as usual. Her sniping and complaining delivered the better moments. One perfect example being when Evelyn shares some wonderful advice with her and she simply looks at her, baffled and asks; “I’m sorry. Were you talking to me?” Priceless.

The ending certainly left things open and wasn’t without a few surprises (Don’t worry. No spoilers). And dare I say, I had a little tear.

I was able to walk out with a cheeky little grin after seeing the geriatric icons jumping up and down at the wedding reception without a care in the world.

BUT it just didn’t carry it off as well as the first. A film I went in expecting nothing and was rewarded with much more.

Maybe I went in with too high an expectation this time. It was certainly watchable and there were laughs to be had, “Why die here? When I can die . . . there”.

A mixed bag of spice and naff tobacco for me. Tobacco being the stodgy story lines.

2.5/5

WILD REVIEW

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Did Reese Witherspoon’s performance drive me wild with praise or RAGE?

The director of Dallas Buyers Club returns with another Oscar contender but can lightning strike twice?

Right, enough questions.

Not bad at all.

I had mixed feelings about Reese Witherspoon. I mean, Legally Blonde? No, no, no.

That was until her Oscar winning turn in Walk The Line. A complete transformation. And she delivers yet again with another solid performance.

So what’s it all about? Wild is basically a chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike (Short and sweet. Hey, no spoilers here).

Jean-Marc Vallee takes on another biopic but this time it just doesn’t quite feel as polished off as Dallas Buyers Club.

Understandably, they are completely different films BUT I found DBC had a lot more story and depth. This is a certainly an engaging if slow burning journey of one woman trying to find herself BUT it just doesn’t quite reach the heights that you expect.

Yves Belanger returns to deliver a visual masterpiece. The cinematography really made use of the locations.  A beautiful backdrop full of life and colour in one shot, desolate and dreary the next.

Witherspoon has more than enough screen presence to keep the film going. Crucial when she’s the main character that we are following for the next two hours!

The film flicks back and forth through Cheryl Strayed’s past as she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Vallee and Hornby cleverly juxtapose the flashbacks with the past and present well. Revealing Strayed’s demons and darker moments as the journey becomes more strenuous. The challenge continuing to test her by the day.

The inner monologues from Strayed were a nice touch. Some of her one liners were quite funny; “Morning. Cold mush. Afternoon. Cold mush. Evening. Cold mush. I love cold mush.”

Her initial struggle was quite humourous for any amateur hiker (*Cough* Me* Cough*). Wrestling with her monster backpack, failing to set up her tent, buying the wrong gas canister for her cooker.

The pace worked for the majority of the film as Strayed dealt with the ever-changing temperatures; searing heat in the desert to the sub-zero temperatures of the snowfall that was never supposed to hit.

There were some interesting revelations. Some that did surprise me. Others you could suss. As Cheryl delved further into the wild, you couldn’t help but feel an air of unease and suspense. The wildlife creeping in the dark.

The paranoia of the unknown made for a funny incident involving a caterpillar and a sleeping bag. BUT it also made for a tense one. A pair of hunters make an unpleasant and unwelcome appearance.

I loved some of the metaphorical imagery. The fact Cheryl is literally standing in the middle of a crossroads as she debates hitching a ride all the way back home was hardly subtle but nicely done.

The CGI fox was a little irritating. I mean, it was a nice moment when it first appeared but when it kept popping up, it was irritating and the CGI seemed to get worse.

Strayed certainly meets a strange bunch of characters. The only problem is that they aren’t quite as memorable as you hope them to be.

I actually had to do a quick recap by looking at the cast list. A shame.

Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) was very good as Paul (Cheryl’s estranged partner). I thought Sadoksi and Witherspoon had great chemistry. It would have been nice to see more of their relationship. I mean the flashbacks zip through the life cycle of the relationship quite well but a little too quickly for my liking.

Laura Dern did a good performance as Strayed’s mum, Bobbi but Oscar worthy? I’m not so sure.

She certainly played the part well and I felt for her character in the small flashbacks she appeared in BUT then again let’s not forget that Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love and she was only in that for 8 minutes!

However, there was one scene in which Bobbi just breaks down after hiding behind her scatty, smiley mask for so long and Dern was outstanding. But I wanted more. There just wasn’t enough of that in the film for me.

The more I thought about the story line and the characters Strayed came across, it reminded me a little too much of Sean Penn’s brilliant travel biopic (coincidentally titled) Into the Wild. The beautiful landscapes, the flashbacks, a likeable lead (in Emile Hirsch).

I mean, even the whole “meeting different people who share their stories” spiel bared a striking resemblance (but with more memorable characters). If you were unlucky not to see this; first go see it and second, Wild may fare a bit better for you than it did for me.

BUT to those who have seen the Penn pic, you may find it hard not to make comparisons which Wild falls just a little bit short.

My main qualm about the film was that despite dipping in pace, it just ended so abruptly.

A quick quote and a summary of what happened next. That’s it?! We didn’t even get to see Strayed finish the trail properly.

I just felt after all that time, it would have been nice to have a few more minutes flashing through Strayed’s life after this spiritual journey to let it come full circle.

I won’t spoil anything but as Strayed explains her life in the closing speech, I couldn’t help but notice a massive continuity error with the time frame in which the events leading up and after her trail were supposed to have happened. It just didn’t add up.

It was a bum note on a well acted and highly watchable drama.

Witherspoon certainly does enough to warrant that Oscar nod but Best Actress? I don’t know.

But if you want a well acted spiritual journey flick to break up the hum drum heading our way, then invest.

3/5