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

peculiar-childrenPLOT: When his beloved grandfather leaves Jake clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds a magical place known as Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children. But the mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers – and their terrifying enemies. Ultimately, Jake discovers that only his own special peculiarity can save his new friends. Based on the novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, written by Ransom Riggs.

VERDICT: I don’t know where to start with this one. It’s not Tim Burton’s worst film, in my opinion that dishonour still belongs to Dark Shadows, but I hated Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Admittedly, though, I went into the screening expecting to hate it. Thanks to his patchy output in recent years, Tim Burton has gone from being my favourite director to probably being my most despised.

Way back in the 90s, when I was a teenager and studying animation in college (because of my love of Tim Burton – and Terry Gilliam), I read a review of Sleepy Hollow in which the reviewer referred to Tim Burton as ‘not a good director, just a director who has read a few coffee table art books’, that comment infuriated me at the time, however, I have to say, I think the subsequent years have proved that reviewer right.

Since Mars Attacks, Burton’s $80 million box-office flop, I feel Burton has been playing it safe, making bog-standard Hollywood movies with typical ‘…and everyone fights at the end’ and ‘…and now you see that being not like the others is a good thing’ endings, only his movies have that kooky Tim Burton look, which, for Hollywood, I suppose, makes them ‘different,’ ‘edgy’ and ‘arty’, Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows and now Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are the worst examples of this.

peculiar-kidsSo what’s wrong with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? [SPOILERS] In my opinion, the script is messy. It starts off promising, everything with Terence Stamp as Jake’s Grandfather at the start of the movie is really good, as is the establishment of the uncomfortable relationship between Jake and his father, who takes Jake to Wales so he could find the school his grandfather used to tell bedtimes tales about. But once Jake finds Miss Peregrine’s home the film started to lose me. The film seemed to stall here because the only real plot thread established up to this point was: is the school real or a product of Jake’s grandfather’s imagination? Once Jake is in the school meeting all the ‘peculiar’ children – few of which are given any real personality – I was wondering where the film would go from here. And that’s when we’re hastily given the main plot, which arrives courtesy of Samuel L. Jackson’s stock villain, Barron. He’s a mutant, I mean a ‘peculiar’ who wants to be immortal, and, because he’s evil, he, and his followers, will stop at nothing to get what they want. (Yawn.) Barron kidnaps Miss. Peregrine because … yadda … yadda … yadda will make him immortal. So now, led by Jake, it’s up to the peculiar kids to use their peculiar powers to get her back.

barronIt’s about here that the film becomes typical Hollywood popcorn entertainment and interesting themes that were started during the first half of the movie, like the relationship between Jake and his father, are completely abandoned without any resolution. Instead, we’re given CGI fight scenes and, because Samuel L. Jackson’s antagonist, Barron is a shape-shifter, we, of course, get a ‘which one is the real Jake, and which one do we shoot?’ scene. It’s this scene that leads to Barron being killed by a monster (or Hollow), which creeps up on him from behind, and yet, how that huge monster gets into the room that scene takes place in is a mystery to me. Like the character himself, Barron’s end felt like lazy writing. But we get our happy ending; the film even hits the reset button on the Grandfather’s death, which I found really annoying.

I’m a Eva Green fan, she’s probably why I went to see the movie, since I have pretty much given up on Tim Burton, and as the titular character you would expect Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine to be a major part of the story, but actually Miss Peregrine doesn’t really do much, she’s doesn’t enter the film until the end of the first act and then spends most of the third act either off screen or as a bird, without having any real effect on the outcome of the story.

All in all, it’s not a terrible movie, just not a very good one. I hate it, however, because Tim Burton was one of my first loves, and the reason I loved him was because he used to make movies so much better than this. 4/10

Movie Review: Knight Moves (1992)

Directed by: Carl Schenkel

Written by: Brad Mirman

Starring: Christopher Lambert, Diane Lane, Tom Skerritt, Daniel Baldwin, Katherine Isabelle

Knight Moves (1992)Plot: Christopher Lambert stars as Peter Sanderson, a chess champion who is implicated in a series of murders of women – one of whom he recently slept with. Police psychiatrist Kathy Sheppard (Diane Lane) is assigned to build up a profile of the killer. However, she begins to believe that Sanderson is not the killer and helps him outwit the two cops, Sedman and Wagner (Tom Skerritt and Daniel Baldwin), who are hot on his trail. (Synopsis from Amazon)

Verdict: I had a good time with this film. It had been years, probably sometime in the mid 90s, since I had last seen Knight Moves and so when I stumbled upon it on Youtube I simply had to watch it. This movie had quite a presence in my childhood. When I was a kid, I used to have the poster for it tacked up to my bedroom wall; my dad worked in a video store and so I used to get given posters for all sorts of movies. Therefore, as I sat down to watch it again, I knew that even if the movie was lame, so many films I loved from my youth don’t hold up today, the nostalgia hit from it would still make Knight Moves worth my time. But Knight Moves isn’t lame. It’s actually quite good.

Going into this one again I had pretty much forgotten the entire plot, which was fortunate because this movie is a giallo-like whodunit. Who the killer was didn’t come back to me while I watched it and so the red herrings the movie kept throwing at me really did keep me guessing. And though the ultimate reveal of the killer was a little disappointing at least the movie didn’t fall apart like a lot of whodunits do when the killer is revealed. I didn’t say “that don’t make sense” to myself at all during the final act, which is so often the fatal flaw of a whodunit’s final act.

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Knight Moves does, however, have some daft moments. Near the end, chess master Sanderson far too easily escapes from police custody. At the time of his escape he’s in a police station manned by only two police officers, but all the other times we see the station throughout the movie it is swarming with cops, where’d they all go! Also, for someone being harassed by a serial killer Sanderson never seems to care that much about what his young daughter, Erica, is up to (we have  here an early performance by scream queen Katherine Isabelle), when ever she’s not being allowed to open the hotel room door to complete strangers Sanderson is quite happy to let her be looked after by his blind chess coach. That’s who I would want keeping an eye on my kid when a serial killer is playing games with me.

I would have also appreciated a little bit more gore. The kills in this film are quite literally over in a flash, a bit more horror and suspense for these scenes would have been nice. I’m an Argento/Fulci guy, I’m not big on subtlety, and I think less is less. A bombastic Goblin score would have been excellent, too, though Anne Dudley’s score does work well, particularly for the great black and white opening.

Christopher Lambert, one of my favourite actors, like always, gives a great performance as the brooding chess Grandmaster, Peter Sanderson. That creepy glare of his (caused by the actors real-life severe myopia) adds a lot of menace to his character and never allowed me to rule out the possibility that Sanderson actually might be the killer. The entire supporting cast do good jobs. At the time, Diane Lane was Lambert’s wife, and so, unsurprisingly, the chemistry between them is good.

Knight Moves is a solid thriller. I would say it’s probably one of the best American giallo-like thrillers not to be made by Brian de Palma. It’s definitely worth watching. 7/10

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KNIGHT MOVES, Christopher Lambert, Diane Lane, 1992

By the way, Knight Moves’ writer, Brad Mirman, and lead actor, Christopher Lambert, would go on to write 1999’s Seven-esque thriller Resurrection together, a movie that more than makes up for the lack of gore in this one. I recommend that movie, too.

Resurrection

Movie Review: Bruiser (2000)

Directed by: George A. Romero

Written by: George A. Romero

Starring: Jason Flemyng

THE PLOT: An ineffectual sales eBruiserxecutive inflicts bloody retribution on those who have wronged him in this horror thriller from ‘Night of the Living Dead’ director George A. Romero. While working for his tyranical boss, Miles Styles (Peter Stormare), timid magazine executive Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng) can’t escape the murderous fantasies that run through his mind. After discovering that he’s being cheated on by his wife, Janine (Nina Garbiras), fleeced by his best friend and mocked by his co-workers, Henry wakes the next morning to find his face replaced by a white, faceless porcelain mask. Now, freed from the constraints of his previouspersonality and in his new anonymous guise, Henry calmly and methodically sets about violently dispatching all those who have mistreated him.

THE VERDICT: At the time of its release Bruiser was Romero’s first feature film in seven years, his last being the Stephen King adaption The Dark Half (1993). What the reasons were for this uncharastically long hiatus I don’t know but it would seem that his time on sabbatical did nothing to alter Romero’s pessimistic view of contemporary culture or his mordant sense of humour. Romero’s take on the ‘nice-guy pushed too far’ storyline makes Romeroan entertaining movie if not a wholly satisfying one. The first half of the movie begins promisingly enough as we’re introduced to the people in our protoganist’s life. We meet the wife, the best friend and the boss, characters who are representive of all that’s wrong with modern society; they are obssessed by money, ambition and sex. We also see Henry’s violent daydreams which reveal to us his repressed rage. So far so good. Unfortunately though once the levee breaks and the killing starts I found the movie started to slow down, when it should have been gaining momentum. This was were I was hoping the scares and gore would start, but unfortunately at no point throughout Bruiser does Romero ever really seem interested in trying to create any moments of real terror or suspense. This is not a scary movie at all. The night club scene climax, where are anti-hero finally confronts his morally bankrupt boss, is particularly disappointing in its lack of suspense and for such a anti-climactic finale it is frustratingly drawn out. One bright spot though, my favourite horror-punk band The Misfits (Michale Graves era) are on hand to make the last ten minutes a little more interesting.

Overall, I think Bruiser is a solid Romero film but it’s light on scares and the social commentary isn’t anything profound. 6/10