Thursday, September 29, 2016

MISS PEREGRINE'S SCHOOL FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN



TIM BURTON HITS ONE TO LEFT FIELD

Film Review by Fiore 


Tim Burton must be very fond of Guillermo Del Toro.   There is a plethora of nods to him in Burton’s latest work, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. These include creatures with extended appendages and Doug Jones manners; fanciful elements based on a child’s imagination; and world’s within worlds. 

Burton is certainly no stranger to the bizarre and macabre, but this film may reach boundaries heretofore unsought.  It is so far in left field it will seem silly to anyone with a linear sense of logic.  Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children seems destined to find a small, but very loyal cult following, and then rest comfortably in that niche.  

Although the film is only two hours, it felt like an eternity wading through a convoluted plot that would have Commander Data and Geordi LaForge baffled.  It’s not that the story is bad, because it isn’t.  The film boasts solid stars including Eva Green, who is devilishly delicious and Samuel L. Jackson, who is demonic yet amusing, like his character in The Spirit.  Special effects are in top form and incorporate a gamut of proven techniques.  No, what goes terribly wrong with this film is how it is assembled.

The first half of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children moves slower than continental plates.  I realize an entire alter-universe must be introduced, but really, Burton is better than this at ushering in the weird.  Even the younger actors, like Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie and Hayden Keeler-Stone have difficulty keeping their bearings in the first half.  Their performances are stifled and forced. 

Thankfully, the movie gains momentum when the protagonists battle Mr. Barron and the Hollowghasts, but then it draws on a conclusion that so bends the concept of the time-space continuum, that one leaves the theatre knowing they saw something conclusive, but are not quite sure how it transpired.

Jacob (Butterfield) is the typical class nerd, never fitting into the social strata of his high school.  As common with these types of movies, he is odd because he is peculiar, meaning he has a power or ability far beyond those of mortal men.  He just needs an outlet to channel his uniqueness.  That channel occurs when Abraham Portman, his beloved grandfather, played by Terrance Stamp, dies, leaving him with a riddle, which begins a quest.  The quest takes him to a time-loop universe where he discovers the alluring Miss Peregrine (Green) and her school filled with others like him.  But this universe is under siege by the evil Mr. Barron (Jackson) who, together with his cadre of creatures, seek immortality at the cost of all else.  Jacob’s one power, combined with those of his new friends, maybe the only way to stop the destruction.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE PIER
2.      EMMA’S SECRET PLACE
3.      THE TIME LOOP

I like Tim Burton films, even the ones that aren’t particularly good.  Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children features the moody, dark lighting and camerawork, like Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands and Batman, that is his trademark.  He also incorporates stop motion photography, which he became acclimated to in The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride.  It is a technique made famous by special effect wizard Ray Harryhausen, who Burton emulated.  In fact, during the battle of the pier, Burton plays homage to his mentor by recreating the skeleton warriors made famous in Jason and the Argonauts and the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

If you can wade through the film’s first hour, the conclusion will compensate you for your patience.  Blame editor Chris Lebenzon for slowing this down too much in the beginning, and Burton for allowing him to do it.

While Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children will make for an interesting evening out, it is not a movie I would readily sit through again.





THE GRADE FOR MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN = C

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

DEEPWATER HORIZON



STARS HELP DISASTER FILM

Film Review by Fiore 


Disaster films generally follow a tried and true template: Audiences are introduced to a sampling of characters; the nasty people die in the ordeal; the good people live, but go through hell.  It is important the characters embody stereotypical mores so audience identification can occur quickly and the special effects guys can dominate the film.

Deepwater Horizon follows the template, for the most part.  We are introduced to Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and his family.  He is the common, everyday man, working for a living and trying to provide for his family.  He embodies old fashioned values and a traditional family unit, unlike so many of today’s leading characters.  Jimmy “Mister Jimmy” Harrell is the foreman, the kind of boss you want to work for; constantly thinking of the welfare and safety of his crew.  He is played, in most excellent fashion, by Kurt Russell.  And then there is the big corporation greedy antagonist, who is the root of the disaster.  In Deepwater Horizon, it’s BP Oil executive Donald Vindrine, played by John Malkovich.  In smaller roles are Kate Hudson and Gina Rodriguez.

This is a powerhouse line-up of stars.  Realize in a disaster film, the true star is always the disaster, recreated by the SFX techs.  In Deepwater Horizon, they are in superb form.  The destruction of the oil rig and the rescue operations dominate the screen, even with Cinematographer Enrique Chediak using the shaky, reality camera style I so despise.

But when things are not blowing up or flooding, the stars must carry the action, and the trio of Russell, Wahlberg and Malkovich fill those gaps with aplomb.  Though I must admit it was a little disappointing when Malkovich did not yell: “I’m getting the pig!” while wallowing in a sea of mud.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE SHOWER DISASTER
2.      THE HOTEL REUNION
3.      THE MUD ROOM

I, like most of the folk in the preview audience, know little about oil drilling in the ocean; however, background information is required to comprehend the origins of the disaster.  Screenwriter Mathew Michael Carnahan (one of the dreaded three name people of Hollywood), executes an exemplary enterprise of bringing viewers up to speed with terse dialogue between the main stars.  In short time, we are aware of what must be done, and what is not being done.  The stars combine the dialogue with corresponding expressions so there is no doubt when the mud begins to seep through the couplings, something is seriously wrong. Carnahan's script is not so effective when attempting Eisensteinian commentary.

The BP Oil spill is the worst such accident in history.  The effects of the rig’s destruction impacted the environment for years afterwards. That said, Director Peter Berg could not resist tossing in visual editorials.  When the rig is on the verge of collapsing, a shot of an injured man staring at the American flag above a scene of smoke, fire and chaos, is meant to drive home the concept of evil American capitalistic greed.  It will stir the liberal heart, but it is a misnomer.  BP is not an American company; it is British.  While the managers overseeing the disaster were American employees, they were not in decision making positions.  Those were made by the board back in England.  It was a nice try, but it will certainly work on only the feeblest minded.

Since Deepwater Horizon is ‘based on true events’ the film doesn’t follow the true template of disaster films.  It strays in that several of the scoundrels do not die, but rather live long and prosper (see current Wells Fargo inquiry as evidence); but other than this one aberration, Deepwater Horizon holds true.

To his credit, Berg could have launched this film into an environmental nocturnal emission, but exercised restraint.  The only nod to the biohazard Deepwater Horizon caused is a scene, effectively done, with an oil soaked sea gull, flying into the bridge of the rescue ship.  It effectively makes its point, without ingratiating the Occupy Wallstreet irrationals. 

Like Sully, Deepwater Horizon excels in the panoramic shots of the rig and rescue.  Seeing the film in IMAX carries more dramatic impact than not.  The stars all shine, especially Kurt Russell, and the film largely follows the established disaster prototype.  You know what to expect going into the theatre, and the movie does not disappoint.






THE GRADE FOR DEEPWATER HORIZON = B

Thursday, September 22, 2016

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS KILLS CLASSIC



Film Review by Fiore 


Reviewing a remake, if you never saw the original, is far easier than when you have.  The remake can be judged solely on its own merits and values.  When you are familiar with the original, comparisons are naturally made.  I am very familiar with The Magnificent Seven.  It is on my personal list of five top Westerns, and I’ve watched it numerous times.  So, to be fair (which admittedly is a rarity for me), let me first critique Director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven before I compare and contrast.

Fuqua revels in Denzel Washington as his muse, and vice versa.  The two are like snacking on pepperoni and Fontanella cheese – can’t go wrong.  Back this winning combo up with quality stars like Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ethan Hawke, and Peter Sarsgaard, throw them in the Old West facing impossible odds, and you’re set for a box office bonanza. 

Washington plays Sam Chisum.  It is a grand cowboy name.  Legend has it John Chisum was mentor and friend to Billy the Kid.  John Chisum was also played by John Wayne in the movie of the same name.  The moniker alone sets Washington’s character up as a tour de force for cowboy fare.  To help set the stage for those familiar with the original, Pratt takes the Steve McQueen role, Hawke is Robert Vaughn, Sarsgaard is Eli Wallach and D’Onofrio is Brad Dexter.  Added to the bunch are: Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, the token Indian; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, who takes Charles Bronson’s role; and Byung-hun Lee, who personifies the part played by James Coburn. 

All the stars are in fine form, in fact, if anyone is downplaying it’s Washington.  As a cowboy, he is lacking the fire displayed in other collaborations with Fuqua.  Hawke and Pratt steal the show and dominate the screen time.

Cinematographer Mauro Fiore provides grand vistas and intense set shots.  The musical duo of Simon Franglen and James Horner create a solid score, which dances around Elmer Bernstein’s original, until finally giving way to it during the first part of the end credits.

The problems with The Magnificent Seven arise when revisionist history and the ever depressing Hollywood liberal agenda envelope the endeavor.  This is something Fuqua has never been able to distant himself from; serving as a ball and chain for his work, while endearing him to the H3L.

First,  the Old West was never this tolerant and multicultural.  Indians, Mexicans, Asians and Blacks ride into town as freely as they walk down Fifth Avenue today.  There is no overt racism or prejudice and when Denzel canters into town, no one yells: “The sheriff is near!”   

Then Fuqua succumbs to Tinseltown pressure and inserts the Woman Warrior Agenda into the movie.  A poor, lowly widow is the best shot in a town filled with farmers, is the only one in town sporting a pair of balls when standing up to the villain and has to play an integral part in the film’s conclusion.  I groaned audibly at these scenes.  While these elements make for a cute story, they are unrealistic and throw The Magnificent Seven from the Western to the Fantasy genre.

That said, without seeing the original Western version with Yul Brynner, The Magnificent Seven would rate a solid B.  Hollywood has done a fine job of indoctrination for the millennials and they would be unaware of these cultural faux pas. 

Compare and contrast.  Brace yourself.

The original had an aura of hopelessness.  The times were changing.  There was no need for the gunslinger.  Civilization was becoming progressive; so six gunslingers, realizing they are a dying breed with skills no longer needed, opt to take one last suicide mission because they have become totally useless in the current society.  Not in this version.  All seven are essentially mercenaries and head into town, not feeling like dinosaurs about to become extinct, but rather like Seal Team Six.

The original featured Eli Wallach as the antagonist.  He was a Mexican bandito who preyed on a local village to supply his militant army.  But, we simply can’t do that in today’s cinema!  Mexicans are a sacrosanct group.  Can’t show them as bad guys harming their own people; besides too many Americans want to open the borders and let them all in for more Democratic votes, so don’t want to insult anyone.  No, this antagonist is… wait for it… a greedy capitalist who wants to run people off their land and enslaves them to work in his gold mine so he can become a staunch member of the one percent.  Does this theme never get old to Hollywood libs?  At this juncture, The Magnificent Seven views more like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

In the original, the script never delved into the crew’s backgrounds.  It was apparent they were familiar with one another, and each had their own personal reasons for tagging along, but it was Steve McQueen’s laconic verse: “It seemed like a good idea at the time” that explained their motivation.  In this version, it is revenge, pure and simple.  Denzel wants to even the ante for the rape and murder of his sister; and at this juncture, The Magnificent Seven bears more of a resemblance to Clint Eastwood’s For A Few Dollars More.

Finally, at the conclusion of the original, the seven assess their losses, feel pride for their accomplishment and chagrin they survived it, and ride off on their own paths seeking that one final challenge to end their warrior code.  In this one, they collect their money and go home.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE MAGIC TRICK
2.      THE FIRST VISIT TO THE TOWN
3.      THE END CREDITS WITH THE ORIGINAL THEME SONG



Westerns are fun, and certainly Hollywood does not produce enough of them.  Hell or High Water is currently enjoying critical and box office success as a modern day Western.  This is because the genre appeals to essential American values, and not progressive socialism.  Fuqua and the band have conjured up a rousing tale that is enjoyable to watch, but pales in comparison to the original.  Many will also argue the ‘original’ pales in comparison to the true original, The Seven Samurai, and they would have a valid point, but that is a discussion for film class.  

The point here is Fuqua has pieced together a decent cowboy movie for those with no foreknowledge of the Old West, history, or the Yul Brynner version of the film.  The agendas inserted in this version to appease the libtards, pull The Magnificent Seven down to the ranks of mediocrity.  Fuqua should know better.  He is making a movie, not producing CNN news.





THE GRADE FOR THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN = C