Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) – Review

There’s a certain expectation in my mind when I see Tim Burton’s name attached to a film, especially in the capacity of director. Some of his work includes films that I consider all-time favourites, such as Beetlejuice (1988) or Corpse Bride (2005). Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children is, unfortunately, as disappointing in that regard as it is difficult to repeatedly say in a conversation.

While the world of the film is wildly interesting, the plot and characters are far from it. I enjoyed seeing the ‘peculiar’ children’s abilities and how they would use them in various situations as much as the good use of time manipulation. If I didn’t know that this was all built by the author of the book the film is based on, Ransom Riggs, I would assume Burton wrote it himself. It’s a quirky, whimsical and thoroughly odd world that deserved a better film.

Asa Butterfield, who I hugely enjoyed in Ender’s Game (2013), delivers a bland and unremarkable performance. While this is in part to blame on the boring character, who I assume the audience is supposed to project themselves onto, Butterfield’s acting falls apart from the get go. There are some compelling scenes later on, and he seems to do well with lots of other things happening, but in dialogue-heavy parts of the film, it’s a strain to sit through.

Eva Green is great in this film, but unfortunately can't support a weak protagonist enough.
Eva Green is great in this film, but unfortunately can’t support a weak protagonist. 

Other characters are not able to hold up the film in this regard, but do deliver better performances. Eva Green is one, in the role of the titular Miss Peregrine, she is enjoyable to watch from start to finish. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson makes a great villain, and does the kooky bad guy job well. Chris O’Dowd is amusing to watch as always as the father of the protagonist, with a strong American accent and compelling realism. Additionally, I was surprised by the addition of Dame Judi Dench, and even more shocked by how little time she gets to do anything of note, particularly in a film that could have used some more strong acting.

I found myself bored plenty of times throughout the film, but was glad to see the weird and wonderful ways in which the film uses the children’s powers to spice things up. Whether it’s displacing water out of a sunken ship with control over air, or reanimating an army of comical skeletons to battle enemies, the film makes creative use of its quirkiness even when the plot is dull or predictable.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has a great world full of interesting characters and powers ripe for a quirky, off the rails adventure but instead settles for a plot you can see coming two steps ahead from start to finish. A good one for young teens, but despairingly boring for anyone much older.

Grade: C-

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Deepwater Horizon (2016) – Review

deepwaterhorizonposterThe Deepwater Horizon explosion was a sudden and dramatic incident which preceded the worst environmental disaster in US history. When I first heard about this film, I was irritated by the idea of trivialising such a tragedy by trying to make it into an exciting action film. I was very wrong.

This is a deadly serious, tragic film about real people struggling to survive an epic disaster that took the lives of 11 people. Deepwater Horizon does not shy away from pointing fingers, specifically at BP, but it manages not to make it annoying until the epilogue and it seems justified considering the part that BP and the other companies involved played in allowing this tragedy to occur.

Thankfully, it doesn’t do this by giving us over the top characters but real, skilled people just trying to do their job properly and live their lives. Mark Wahlberg is great in the lead, a grounded intelligent man who is level-headed under pressure, he comes across as the everyday hero throughout this film and it never really strays into the unbelievable, though there are moments of this at times with other characters.

Grounded, real characters are what make this film more than just a visually stunning disaster flick.
Grounded, real characters are what make this film more than just a visually stunning disaster flick.

The rest of the cast is similarly excellent, with Kurt Russell and John Malkovich also delivering strong performances. Dylan O’Brien (who you may recognise from the Maze Runner films) is surprisingly great and, while he doesn’t get too many chances to shine, he shows some strong acting skills that will have me keeping an eye out for him in future films.

Far and above, Deepwater Horizon‘s greatest strength is its visuals. Once the shit hits the fan, this film becomes stunning. Wide shots of the oil rig are shocking as it is engulfed in fire and explosions rock parts of the structure. There are parts of the film where shaky cam is used a little too liberally but there are plenty of beautiful static shots to make up for that.

Likewise, sound plays a great part in helping you feel how catastrophic this event was, as actors are thrown about by explosions and fight their way through choking clouds of burning smoke, you can really get into the raw action of the scenes.

This intensity is quickly becoming a speciality for Peter Berg, who previously directed the excellent Lone Survivor (2013). While Deepwater Horizon takes a well-earned, but heavy-handed chunk of time to drop the blame on BP, and honour the people who died in the tragedy, it is visually spectacular and gripping throughout.

The Girl on the Train (2016) – Review

thegirlonthetrainposterThe Girl on the Train surprised me. Without any prior knowledge, save for a few poorly edited trailers, I expected to sit through a mediocre thriller and what I actually got was a deeply tragic character-driven story. The Girl on the Train is full of broken people, each with their own damaged past and mistakes and problems and emotions, and it knows how to show you. It does sometimes push too hard, putting too much effort into making you feel a certain way or showing you unnecessary backstory that, while heavily emotional and beautifully shot, doesn’t add much except more emotional weight to a story that weighed a ton already.

The main cast in this film deliver good performances for the most part, and Emily Blunt is fantastic in the role of Rachel, the titular girl on the train. A truly broken person, wallowing in her own self-destruction and sorrow, Emily Blunt makes Rachel pitiful a times, despicable at others and there are moments when I genuinely felt uncomfortable watching her. The focus on developing Rachel’s character, however, leaves very little time for the rest of the cast and some of the other characters have a tendency to be a bit two-dimensional.

Aside from the music, Emily Blunt is the strongest aspect of The Girl on the Train.
Aside from the music, Emily Blunt is the strongest aspect of The Girl on the Train.

The Girl on the Train leaps about with its story, jumping back and forth through time and between characters, for the most part fluidly. You rarely feel lost but the pacing does get a little chaotic from time to time even though this is likely done to mirror the rickety state of Rachel’s mind as she stumbles toward a conclusion about what’s really going on. And that is the crux of this film, as it is a film with a twist and, while it does make clear efforts to lead you toward a conclusion alongside Rachel in the second half of the film, you may find yourself putting the pieces together well before the finale. I was left feeling as though it could have gotten there a little smoother, and without some of the unnecessary melodrama and poetic moments, but it does get there in the end.

I enjoyed The Girl on the Train and, while it has a strong tendency to get caught up in itself, becoming pretentious or distracted with unnecessary flashbacks and plot development, it does a good job of showing how bleak and tragic life can be, and I walked out of the cinema emotionally affected.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) – Review

jackreacherposterTom Cruise is in his element in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. A well-paced action film that knows exactly what it is, Never Go Back is thoroughly enjoyable but doesn’t quite live up to the relentless forward momentum of the previous film. Based on a long running book series known for being formulaic, this film surprised me by not just resting on the laurels of the first. While it doesn’t do anything spectacular or new, it manages to switch things up enough to keep fans of the first film more than interested, and ticks all the right boxes for any lover of the action genre.

This is not a character-driven film, but the acting is solid throughout and there is enough plot and character development to keep you more or less invested in the lead characters and their relationships, though a bland villain does little to help this along. One of the main villains barely makes an appearance throughout and the other could be a cardboard cutout with a gun for all it would help, he doesn’t even have a name!

Cobie Smulders delivers a strong performance alongside Cruise
Cobie Smulders delivers a strong performance alongside Cruise.

Tom Cruise maintains his characteristic intensity but the stoicism of the character allows for little else. If anything, he is less intense and less brutal than in the previous instalment, which is somewhat of a disappointment but may be down the addition of new protagonists for this outing. Cobie Smulders (of Avengers fame) and Danika Yarosh (who you may know from Heroes: Reborn) join Tom Cruise in a departure from the lone wolf aspect of the first film. This works fairly well, with some easy exposition and nice character development moments helping to flesh out the film somewhat, but unfortunately seems to cause the film to lose the unrelenting brutality that made me love the original, as it pushes too hard to emotionally affect the audience at times.

Director Edward Zwick is possibly the biggest letdown of the film. For someone whose previous work includes Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai, a generic action flick is the least of what we should be expecting. This is far from a bad film, it’s a solid action film that many people will enjoy but, with a strong cast and a director capable of beautiful action sequences blended with real character-driven stories, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ultimately falls short of what I was hoping for.