Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Movie Review: "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"

Reading Ransom Riggs' young adult book "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" it seems perfectly Tim Burton. It is a novel with some light scares, a unique location, something magical/wondrous, and a whole lot of odd things going on. The results of Tim Burton of adapting the book, though, are less than stellar.

Now, I don't mean to say that Riggs' work is an ideal piece of fiction. It is a novel that is so devoted to creating a world—which it does wonderfully—that it leaves little time for story. This in turn leads to a disappointing conclusion, one which makes the whole novel feel like the preface for the second book in the series.

Burton (with Jane Goldman, who wrote the screenplay), wisely, really just uses the book as a jumping off point for his story, but doesn't make his tale a better one. The film features similar characters and a similar setting and similar problem, but that's about it. Even there it isn't consistent, changing around some of the "peculiar" abilities the kids' have.

Taking a step back for the uninitiated, it all sort of works like this – there's a kid named Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) who lives in Florida. His grandfather, Abraham (Terence Stamp), has told Jake fantastical stories about Abe's growing up during the Second World War for years. While Jake initially believed these tales of kids who could float, control fire, had incredible strength, or were invisible, as he gets older, he realizes his grandfather has been just making things up.

Except, as Jake learns when his grandfather dies, Abe has been telling Jake the truth. Jake learns this after convincing his father, Franklin (Chris O'Dowd), to take him to the small island in the UK where Abe lived during the war. Then things truly take a turn for the disturbing as monsters turn out to be real as well.

Fans of the novel will certainly be upset by some of the changes, most principally that while Emma (Ella Purnell) has the ability to control fire in the novel, here she has the ability to control air, which is the unique talent of Olive (Lauren McCrostie) in the book. The book, of course, has the ability to give us much of the backstory of these characters and their relationship with a young Abe back in the day, which really makes the Emma/Jake relationship be truly weird and vaguely disturbing in the novel. It isn't that the backstory doesn't exist in this world, but it doesn't exist to the same extent on the screen.

In the end, the romance between Emma and Jake, may have been odd in the novel, has been turned into something bland and predictable here.

See, now I feel like I've gotten ahead of myself again because, naturally, the kids Abe grew up with couldn't still be teens now that Jake is there 70 years later. Except they can because their nanny/teacher/house mother, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who can turn into a bird, has created a time loop for them all to live in and they constantly exist in the same 24 hour period.

Just go with it, it's easier that way and it's what the movie is all about. There are bad guys (led by Samuel L. Jackson) that want Peregrine's powers for themselves, and the kids have to band together to fight the evil.

It is really this last area where the whole thing crumbles. Riggs' conclusion to the book is no conclusion at all, and consequently Burton has included an entirely different one here, but it is absolutely no better than Riggs' effort. In fact, it may be worse as it features some logistical inconsistencies that wind up with the whole thing seeming to crumble upon closer inspection.

So, what then are we left with?

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" features all the visual whimsy one expects from a Burton adventure packed into a kind of junior version of a superhero movie. It does a good job putting Riggs' fascinating world onto the big screen and Butterfield, Green, and the rest of the cast do a solid work bringing these characters to life, even if they were more interesting in their previous incarnation. But, the story is truly a disappointment. The movie is so very beautiful and so very hollow.

photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"Lass is More" Hunts for the "Wilderpeople" with "Beauty and the Beast"

What is that the want in life?

I am of the belief that we regularly don't know the answer to that until we find it.  I would never have figured that my life would taken me where it has--it certainly isn't what I set out looking for--but I couldn't be happier.

So, today, Lass is More takes a look at two different movies, the live-action "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" and the animated Disney "Beauty and the Beast," both of which are coming of age stories where the main character heads off into the world looking for one thing before finding what they really need (and maybe a little of what they were looking for, too).

photo credit: Disney/The Orchard

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Lass is More" Acknowledges "Warcraft" Gets so Much Right but is Still Wrong

There are an incredible number of things that go into making a movie. Seriously, it's a truly staggering number of things, especially for a big budget film.

 A movie like "Warcraft" somehow manages to succeed on nearly every level. It does virtually everything right and it is not a movie I can recommend, not at all. Why? Because "Warcraft" fails in one of the most important areas -- the story is a bad one. d

"Warcraft" fails to be remotely compelling with its story, offering logic gaps, plot holes, and a whole lot of silliness in lieu of an actual tale. In the end, more than anything else, "Warcraft" feels like the cutscenes in a bad videogame, and that's a shame because it gets so much right.

photo credit: Legendary/Universal

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Movie Review: "Snowden"

The single best moment of the "Snowden" press screening came after the movie had concluded. It occurred during a Q&A which featured the film's stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley; its director, Oliver Stone; and the man himself, Edward Snowden (this last over the internet from Russia).

During this chat, which was moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz, Snowden spoke eloquently on the importance of privacy and how that ties into other freedoms like speech and religion. He discussed how his choices were influenced by the results of those who came before him, like Tom Drake (who was in the audience). His points on this were both smart and emotional, drawing people in to the man and his plight, something the film itself is wholly unable to do.

Instead, what Stone has delivered filmically is a relatively inert affair, one which covers a portion of the facts and offers little insight into motivations. It is a tale of good (Snowden) versus evil (government) with little to no nuance. It is a movie where a member of the government intelligence community, Corbin O'Brian (Rhys Ifans), actually looms over Snowden during a video call. It is a movie where, upon stealing the government's secrets, Snowden literally walks out into the light.

Snowden—as the film offers it—is a guy who, at the outset, just wants to help his country in any way he can. Unsuited for the military, he decides to work in the intelligence field. Initially someone who is politically conservative, after falling in love with photographer Lindsay Mills (Woodley) and seeing how the government collects intelligence, Snowden goes more liberal.

He realizes that the U.S. intelligence community is the bad guy, so he quits. And then he joins again. And then he quits. And then he joins again.

Without a doubt, there is a reason Snowden kept going back and forth, but Stone's screenplay, which he wrote with Kieran Fitzgerald, is able to offer any cogent reasoning. The closest it ever comes is a limp answer from Snowden about the job paying well. Such an answer is wholly unsatisfying by itself, but when it is combined with the utter mountain of horribly intrusive and morally questionable (at best) actions Snowden witnesses government agents and agencies perform, it becomes laughable. That said, it is perhaps not as laughable as moving to Hawaii with Mills to take a very serious analyst position at a moment when, due to seizures, he is supposed to face less stress. Simply put, there is little to no insight into Edward Snowden and his motivations within the film.

The single most beautiful, most awe-inspiring moment—one which comes complete with uplifting music—is what ought to be a terrifying visualization of people being tracked all over the globe. Why this one moment of this horrifying act would be portrayed in what comes off as a positive manner is head-scratching.

Taking a quick step backwards, the film's tale of how Snowden came to steal information from the government is wrapped around the story of his handing off said info to Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). The movie regularly cuts back and forth between the filming of "CitizenFour" and Snowden's history until the two moments finally meet and he becomes a wanted man.

Even here, Stone is unable to provide any sort of cogent answers about how things unfolded in the way that they did. There is no explanation of how Snowden left Hong Kong. After remaining in hiding so that he doesn't get arrested, he simply seems to go to the airport and leave.

More than once, Stone glosses over the various moments that might provide insight into Edward Snowden, his decision-making process, and the actual events that took place. It is a film with tunnel vision, one which isn't ever able to let any of its actors create fully-realized portrayals because it is so busy dividing things into "good" and "bad," "right" and "wrong."

"Snowden" is indeed a film which prompts questions. It is a film that will have the audience leave the theater wanting to know more, but not because it opens up those lines of inquiry, instead, specifically because it avoids them.

photo credit: Open Road Films

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Movie Review: "Bridget Jones's Baby"

On the face of it, "Bridget Jones's Baby" seems like an unlikely sort of endeavor. It is another of this year's delayed sequels (following things like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" and "Finding Dory," just to name a couple). We first saw Bridget on the big screen in 2001 in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and got a sequel, "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" in 2004.

The first two films are based on novels of the same names by Helen Fielding (who worked on the screenplay for all three films) and while a she did write a third Bridget Jones novel that hit shelves in 2014, "Bridget Jones's Baby" is unrelated to it. Not having read that third novel, I dare not suggest whether that is wise or unwise, I merely note that it is.

Whatever one may think of that choice, "Bridget Jones's Baby" exists and it sees Renée Zellweger return to role of Bridget. Many of Bridget's friends from the first two films get the opportunity to pop up, as do Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones as Bridget's parents, and Colin Firth is also back as Mark Darcy. Hugh Grant, who played Daniel Cleaver in the first two films, sits this one out although the character is brought up on occasion (and Grant is thanked in the credits). Appearing as an alternate potential love interest in Cleaver's stead is Jack Quant, played by Patrick Dempsey.

This is where that whole tough sell thing comes into it – the audience has already spent two films watching Bridget get together with Mark. In fact, it works less well in the second film because we saw it happen in the first movie. So, here we start the third film and Bridget is not with Mark. She is back to being, as she puts it, a singleton (and seemingly has been for years). Her career working as a producer in TV news is a success, but her love life remains rather more lacking than she might like.

Enter Jack Qwant. Reenter Mark Darcy. As the title indicates, Bridget gets pregnant and she doesn't know which man is the father. Shenanigans ensue and it works wonderfully – it is laugh out loud humor that occasionally goes lewd but more often just manages to be hysterical through its awkwardness.

It is Zellweger herself who does all the hard-lifting in the film. She is the reason why the entire thing works. You can insert a pregnancy/baby metaphor here if you like, something about Zellweger pushing through all the hard labor of making the thing come to life, of birthing a beautiful movie. You would be right to do so, but you would be wrong in not pointing out that Bridget's OB helps a significant amount in bringing it all to life.

Emma Thompson serves in the supporting role of Dr. Rawlings and (along with Fielding and Dan Mazer), wrote the screenplay. Rawlings' wit is a wry one and Thompson steals every scene she's in with a look or a quick aside or some sort of astounding truth. Also in a fantastic supporting role is Sarah Solemani as Miranda, an on-air news anchor with whom Bridget works (and who is responsible for Bridget and Jack meeting). The biggest disappointment with Miranda's character is that after playing an important part early on in the film, she disappears for too long in the middle.

Another wise choice made in the screenplay and carried to fruition by director Sharon Maguire (who directed the first film in the series) is to not hide where things are going. It is clear quite to the audience early on with whom Bridget will wind up. Bridget is less certain, but that's only because she doesn't understand the tropes of filmmaking and storytelling.

One other great move is to have Jack be the antithesis of Daniel Cleaver. This movie doesn't center Bridget's life love on the bad boy vs. the good one, but rather the good one vs. the other good one. Jack is a Prince Charming (an angle the film plays up) and were Bridget to choose him, there is no doubt he would do everything he could to make their relationship work. Too often he is backlight with a sort of halo effect which could be toned down, but it's there because he's a god send.

There are some issues with "Bridget Jones's Baby." Most notably, Bridget's work strife feels like too much of a slipping backwards at some moments, but these complaints are few and far between.

"Bridget Jones's Baby" is a surprising treat. It is a movie that is funny and serious, garnering audience applause and delivering loads of enjoyment. It is a beautiful revisiting of a character and proves itself a more than worthy entry into the franchise rather than coming off as a crass, late to the party, sequel.

photo credit: Universal Studios

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Lass is More" on the Brilliance of Staying Home Sick

Staying home sick is, if you're not a parent, brilliant.  Staying home sick is what made me the person I am today.  Staying home sick is, I'm sorry, educational.

If I hadn't stayed home sick, I never could have watched the amount of TV and movies that I did and doing that, in turn, taught me to be a far more critical observer of the world as a whole.  Having stayed home sick I can look at a lying reality TV charlatan and recognize him as such.

TV and movies teach us to be critical of our world and critical of what we see placed in front of us.  Repeated viewings are an essential part of that, and it's repeated viewings we get when we, as kids, stay home sick.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Movie Review: "Sully"

Is the "Miracle on the Hudson" inextricably linked to 9/11? That is, is it possible to discuss Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's landing US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January of 2009 without also talking about the terrorist attack in New York City years earlier?

The director of "Sully," Clint Eastwood, seems to think not. Or, at the very least, that to talk about 9/11 strengthens this work. From the opening moments of the movie, with Sully—beautifully portrayed by Tom Hanks—reimagining the events of Flight 1549 with an altogether different ending straight through to the end of movie, there is reference after reference after reference to 9/11. The references are so great and so numerous that the movie opening this weekend, a weekend that marks the 15th anniversary of the attacks feels like an horrific choice.

That last sentence, however, isn't germane to a review of the movie itself. But, much like the specter which hangs over the film, needs to be mentioned.

"Sully" is, in fact, a fascinating movie, but a movie with only one fully-realized character – Sully himself. Sure, it features a good cast including Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, and Mike O'Malley, but they are all there solely to serve the look at Sully's actions on that January day. They are all present so that Sully can see the various bits and pieces of his life, so that he can be challenged and come through to the other side a hero.

It is not enough for the film, however, to have the incredible landing on the river be the ultimate representation of Sully's heroism. No, instead, the movie must offer a villain, a baddie for Sully to go up against. So, for no discernible reason whatsoever, the NTSB—in the form of O'Malley and Gunn's investigators, Charles Porter and Elizabeth Davis, respectively—plays the baddie.

As presented, the NTSB believes that Sully of course could have returned to an airport, that he landed on the Hudson because… well, they have no reason for such an action they just accuse him. Porter and Davis, as stated above, aren't full characters and are offered no motivations whatsoever, so it is impossible for an audience to fathom just why they believe Sully to have made the wrong choice. Their talks with Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Eckhart), aren't fact-finding discussions but rather wrong-finding ones, oppositional from the get-go. It could be that the nature of these proceedings is true to life, however Wikipedia's account of the investigation indicates that the movie misrepresents the facts.

Worse, these villains are made even more unnecessary by the fact that Hanks and the script do a brilliant job of showing us Sully's own doubts about the events and what might have been possible. Sully doesn't feel like a hero despite having saved everyone on board the plane, he is tormented by his actions on the day and those torments, those nagging inner-voices are much more scary than cookie cutter bureaucrats. We get less time with that inner turmoil, however, than we ought to because Sully has this external worry of the bureaucrats.

Outside of Hanks, one of the other great strengths of the film is Eastwood's ability to show us the events of the flight more than once during the 95 minute movie and have them be just as powerful no matter how many times we are there with Sully and Skiles in the cockpit. Even knowing before the lights go down in the theater that everyone lived, "Sully" masterfully builds the tension during those sequences.

In the end, "Sully" is a mixed bag. It does some things astoundingly well and it misses horribly elsewhere. It is a tale of true heroism and has a great hero but it isn't always aware of the true villain.  While the allusions to 9/11 may make sense, their repeated nature lessens the impact.  Hanks, however, delivers an incredible, powerful performance which helps mitigate the film's shortcomings.

photo credit: Warner Bros.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Movie Review: "Kicks" (2016)

The tagline on the poster for Justin Tipping's debut feature, "Kicks," is "They aren't just shoes." No, the shoes in question stand for something – they stand for pride and they stand for being a man and they stand for power and they stand for one's position in society and any number of other things.

These sneakers, a pair of Air Jordans, are purchased in a questionable sale out of a truck by Brandon (Jahking Guillory) and almost immediately stolen by Flaco (Kofi Siriboe). As they are his only pair of shoes--and more than just shoes--Brandon sets out on a quest to retrieve them with the help of his two friends, Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and Rico (Christopher Meyer). To say that along the way Brandon and his friends get into some trouble would be to greatly undersell the issues that they face.

The simplest explanation of the film is this – "Kicks" is a coming of age story about a boy in the East Bay; one punctuated by hip-hop music, gunshots, and an astronaut. Yup, an astronaut.

Brandon, as his opening voiceover explains, is a small kid who dreams of having a spaceship so that he could be somewhere that he couldn't get made fun of or beaten up. So, throughout the movie, Brandon sees an astronaut in a spacesuit. The astronaut doesn't say anything, but rather lightly guides Brandon on his way.

"Kicks" never quite sells this whole astronaut thing. Rather than feeling like a germane part of Brandon's identity, it gives the sense of being a way to get viewers talking about the movie, of having those who watch the movie ascribe a layer to it that isn't really there but rather is imagined simply due to the presence of the astronaut. The astronaut is a question students are handed after seeing the movie in class (if it wasn't an R-rated film): What does the astronaut stand for? After all, Brandon never says he wants to be an astronaut or dreams of astronauts or anything of that ilk – he wants a spaceship so he can be where it's quiet, that's it. The astronaut isn't a part of his description.

The unfortunate thing is that "Kicks" doesn't need the astronaut, it is a strong enough film with a strong enough story and enjoyable performances without this sort of groping for additional relevance. While the experiences Brandon goes through are quite specific to a life that many of us will never know, Guillory, Tipping, and everyone else have made the characters accessible and their plight clear – everyone watching will understand the importance of Brandon's shoes and why his friends, even if they disagree about going to get them, accompany him. Even Flaco's motivations are laid clear.

We may not agree with anyone or they way they pursue their goals, but we certainly understand where they are coming from.  Consequently, watching Brandon grow up immensely over the course of this journey is powerful.

With a runtime of just under 90 minutes, "Kicks" doesn't overstay its welcome either. It introduces its characters, sets a series of events into motion, and quickly closes when those events are brought to a finish. Except, maybe not. The world will continue for Brandon and his friends and there are some implications about what might happen next, about where these people might go from here.

I have found myself wondering just what is next for everyone involved since the credits rolled. The characters have stuck with me and that alone is enough to make the movie worth recommending.

photo credit: Focus World

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

"Lass is More" Looks at Genius in "Genius" and "Now You See Me 2"

Forgive me if I complain for a few moments about our society here, but there are certain things about which I feel strongly. Somewhere in these strong feelings is my belief that experts are experts for a reason, that intelligence is to be admired, and that reading an article on a subject doesn't give someone the same knowledge as an individual who has studied an issue for decades.

That is, genius should be admired. Genius should be respected. Genius should be appreciated.

Not all genius is created equal though, nor is it all represented equally. Today, we look at two very different representations of smarts -- "Genius" and "Now You See Me 2." Both films are hitting home video this week and they couldn't deliver a more disparate viewpoint on the intelligence if they tried.

photo credit: Lionsgate

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"Lass is More" Opens "The Jungle Book"

What if the audience growing tired of sequels wasn't to blame for this summer's filmic woes?  What if the sense that fewer reboots and remakes would have made everything better both at the box office AND on the screen is wrong?

We suggest you look no further than "The Jungle Book" as evidence that audiences aren't weary of reboots/remakes/sequels.  Perhaps people just want to see really good movies.

Today's podcast takes a quick look at the success of "The Jungle Book" and contemplates a cinematic world without Jon Favreau.

photo credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures