Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a film, based on the 2011 book by Ransom Riggs or the same name. It has been brought to the screen by Tim Burton, and his influences are definitely there in the picture. Riggs collaborated with Burton for the filming.

Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a kid living in Florida in a generally dull life. He has a strong bond with his aging grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), who tells him stories of the fantastic, all revolving around a school in Wales his parents sent him to, around the time of World War II. Jake’s father Franklin (Chris O’Dowd) never had a strong bond with Abe, and now believes he suffers from dementia, and there’s evidence, as he feels he’s being hunted. After a strange phone call with Abe, Jake goes over, and finds the home ransacked, and his grandfather dead.

Jake has a tough time dealing with the loss, and visits a counselor, played by Allison Janney. She listens while Jake retells the stories he heard from his grandfather, and suggests that perhaps he goes back to the school, perhaps to give him some closure, and to see that the stories were just the vivid imagination of a young boy separated from his family. Jake and Franklin take the trip, and all is not exactly what it seems. The school is long gone.

I went into the theater, expecting the story to evolve like one of the X-Men movies, but instead, it was a bit more unpredictable. Jake gets involved in the story, because they need his help, even though he feels there’s nothing he can do for them.

There is a villain, and it’s a good twist on what has gone on in the past. The story isn’t necessarily linear, and I was surprised more than once. The motivations for some of the characters don’t entirely make sense, until you get the bigger picture. Even then, some questions go unanswered. This could be the start of a franchise of books and movies, and it’s left unclear.

I found this movie entertaining, and original enough to recommend. There are some scary and creepy moments, which might upset some younger kids, but it’s not too graphic. There are definite influences of Tim Burton in the film and its design, but they are nowhere near as strong as they have been in movies past.

 

Stranger Things (Season 1)

“When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one strange little girl.” That’s the teaser line for the new Netflix series, Stranger Things. It’s an 8-episode season (less than 60 minutes per episode)  that you can binge-watch on a lazy day, as I just did.  It transpires in the 1980s.

The story focuses on 4 friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp). They play Dungeons and Dragons together, and after one gaming session, Will returns home, but is spooked by something, we don’t know what. He tries to run to safety, but that’s the last we see of him. His mother Joyce (Wynona Ryder) calls the police after she can’t find him, and the police start a search. There is no evidence, and no trail. Joyce and her older son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are distraught, but try to soldier on.

Elsewhere, a little girl (Millie Bobby Brown) gets caught trying to steal food from a diner. The owner feeds her and calls Social Services, but something’s off about her, starting with her shaved head. She says very little, if she’s the victim of abuse and has escaped.

Something is really wrong here, and yes, the government is involved. There are more than a few influences in the story from the 80s. Without even thinking, I can come up with E. T., The Goonies, and The Firestarter, but that doesn’t matter, because those plotlines mesh in different ways, instead of seeming like this show rips them off.

Stranger Things takes place in the 1980s, and borrows from the time. It stirs up strong feelings of nostalgia, especially for those who’ve lived through the decade. The look of the film fits the era, as does the soundtrack. It’s from a time before Cell Phones and the connectivity we all take for granted, now. Many movies of the 80s used soundtracks created by Tangerine Dream, and this music pays homage. Throughout the series, smaller snippets of 80s songs are used, including several from T.D. itself.

If you have a Netflix subscription, you really need to watch this. It does have an element of horror, so be forewarned, it will probably be too scary for younger and more squeamish audiences. I’ve read it has been renewed for a second season, and I suspect it will be as great as this season turned out to be.

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Florence Foster Jenkins is an adaptation of real events that took place in 1944 in New York City.

Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is a patron and supporter of the arts, and in particular, music. She arranges performances at various social clubs for others. Her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) has acted as emcee to such events, often providing oratory between acts, and she appears in some of the dramatizations, in non-speaking roles. St. Clair is also her manager, who makes things happen

This isn’t enough for her. She decides she wants to return to performing, which she did when she was becoming an adult. She wants to sing, and hires a pianist to practice with her. She hires Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), a mild mannered musician who is grateful for the work. Little does he know how horrible her singing is, and there is no question  about her voice. Her singing coach is evasive about her ability, and she butchers pretty much every song you hear her sing. However she believes differently, so where does she want to do next?

Those of you who know the history already know what happens next, but I won’t say. This film seemed improbable, but it did happen. The writer and director of the film could have approached this in more of a campy manner, portraying her as a bit of a buffoon, but they do a good job of respecting the subject matter.  She was a real person, after all, not some caricature of a high society woman.

Aside from some complaints about the quality of the CGI they used to transform the exterior scenes to a 1940s look, I really didn’t have much to dislike about the film. If a costume drama is the sort of movie you like, you will definitely like this one.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad is the movie adaptation of a DC Comic Book of the same name. The basis of the film is similar to the basis of a late-1960s film The Dirty Dozen, but with a comic-book basis.

It is a time after the events of Batman Vs Superman. There is a growing fear that someone as strong as Superman (aka a ‘metahuman’)  could seize control of the United States without anyone to stop them. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) steps up, and recommends to the government that she be allowed to create a special group, called Task Force X, to combat that threat. She suggests that it consist of captured super-villains in federal custody, as they could have plausible deniability if they fail in their efforts.

She starts describing the candidates. They include Deadshot (Will Smith), an uncannily accurate sniper/assassin, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), The Joker’s (Jared Leto’s) girlfriend, and blatant psychopath, and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a supernatural spirit who possesses the body of the archaeologist that unearthed her. It’s a way to summarize their backstories without spending too much time on them. Others are discussed, as well.

Of course, there’s a crisis, and the team is compelled to stop it. Things go pear-shaped, and they are still required to continue. Over time, the true nature of the situation emerges, and it’s up to them to prevent it from becoming far worse.

It’s a fairly linear story, if you exclude the flashback introductions. It plays out well, though it can be a bit predictable. However, what makes this movie work is the interactions between the various villains. They all have their motivations, most of which are revealed, and they’re all unique characters. Their dialogue works, mostly becoming a showcase for Harley and just how warped her head is. It’s mostly played for comedic effect, and it’s good for that.

There’s a lot of action in the film, and the amount of violence for a film of this type is pretty typical. Nothing is too graphic. It’s easily followed, and even though it was available in 3D, I did not see it that way. While there were obvious elements created for the 3D world, it’s not necessary.

I did like the movie, and recommend it to people who like Superhero films. It’s better than many similar films of the past year. Early reviews were panning the film, and it’s not as bad as you’d think, given the early negativity. I’ll admit that I haven’t read any (to keep from reading any spoilers),  and also that I am not terribly familiar with most of the villains they used, so I might understand if there were complaints about their behavior. The movie was left it open for a sequel, but unless it comes with a superior story, it’s not necessary.

The first half of the credits probably have a big 3D appearance, but were lost on me. There is a mid-credits sequence that many views did not stay to say, and there is no post-credits scene.

 

Bad Moms (2016)

Bad Moms is a comedy about parenting, and specifically motherhood. While I am neither a parent nor a mother, I feel able to critique this movie.

Amy (Mila Kunis) is the mother of two kids, and she’s trying to do it all. The movie starts off on a really bad day where everything goes wrong, all before she gets to work. As she drops the kids off at school, she’s ordered by the PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) to attend a ‘mandatory’ meeting that night, to discuss the upcoming bake sale. The day progresses from bad to worse after she brings her dog to the vet, has an encounter with her boss who expects magic from her, argues with her husband, etc, etc, and culminates when she finally says enough.

She storms off to a bar, and runs into two other moms from the school, Karla (Kathryn Hahn), and Kiki (Kristen Bell). Karla is a very outgoing single mom on the prowl, and Kiki is a stay-at-home mom, who’s a bit off. They bond over some similarities, and realize they’re not alone. The will make it through, together.

This is a crass movie, but not too crude. A lot of truths about parenting and motherhood are revealed, in funny ways. The good news is that the trailers you’ve seen don’t cover all the good material, because there is a lot more they couldn’t show. This is a mother-centered film, and there are a handful of men, but the focus is clearly on the moms and the frustrations of motherhood.

There is more than enough humor in the movie for me to recommend it, though I can’t fully relate to much of it. There are a few things I had a slight problem with, and the ending drags a little, but none of those things come close to being showstoppers.

There is a pre-credit sequence that is heartwarming and smirk-worthy, so you should stay through that portion.

Jason Bourne (2016)

Jason Bourne is the latest film in the series of movies based on the books of Robert Ludlum. There were three books in Ludlum’s series, and as this is the fourth film involving the character directly, and the plot is similar to the previous films. I will, in passing, mention The Bourne Legacy, but that film is best forgotten.

The movie starts with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has left the CIA. She hacks into their computer systems to extract data on Project Treadstone, which is the special ops training program that produced Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). She also pulls down some other projects’ data, convinced there is a correlation. She tracks down Bourne, but only after garnering the attention of the organization she left.

Bourne has been laying low, and is having flashes of things from before he became an agent. They’re vague, but he doesn’t want to pursue them. Nicky reveals some information that triggers another flashback, and of course, the CIA is hot on their heels. CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) wants Bourne dead, and Agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) leads the group trying to do that.

This movie follows the same basic developments and situations as the previous Bourne films, but that doesn’t matter too much. The names are changed, but the drama is similar. What sets it apart from the previous films are the action sequences. Yes, there is HEAVY use of shakey-cam, even when the action is not there. This has been a trait of the previous Bourne movies, but they amp it up for this one.  There are sequences where the camera motion is slowed to a crawl, but I can’t think of a moment where the shot is utterly still.

I’ve said that I detest shakey-cam, and I’m not making an exception here. It’s often used to mask bad fight scenes or awful car chases, but somehow, it works better than before. There are the briefest moments of clarity that help with your focus, and that’s an improvement, but it’s still annoying. The action is good enough that you might forgive it, a little.

There are some good twists and turns in the plot to keep you guessing, and they leave out some blatant exposition in favor of letting the action tell the story. If you let the story unfold, instead of demanding an explanation, you will enjoy it a lot more. Pretty much standard fare for a Summer movie. Runtime is 123 minutes, so it’s longer than you’d expect.

I do recommend this film. Please note there is a lot of violence in the film, and the action sequences were good enough to not require the shakey-cam action, but they are a trademark of this series, so you have to accept it.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond is the latest in the series of films in the re-imagined JJ Abrams Star Trek Universe. It is good enough to make you forget the near miss that was Star Trek Into Darkness, and fits as one of the better Star Trek movies in many years. There are a few moments that stumble, but the rest of the film is good enough to overlook those.

The USS Enterprise is in its third year of its 5 year mission. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) has started to feel like he’s in a rut. He joined Starfleet on a dare, and is trying to make sense of everything he’s done. As the ship sails towards a star base for a break, he has time to consider his situation. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is in denial, having a crisis of ‘faith’ that is obvious to us, but not to such a logical mind such as his. It is, however to Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban).

Before we get a chance to dwell on either issue, someone arrives at the base seeking help, as she is the only survivor of a vessel that was lost in an uncharted area of space. Since the Enterprise is the only ship available with the sort of scientific equipment needed for a search, the crew gets little reprieve and heads out to look. Turns out that where they’re going isn’t all that safe, and that’s where the situation goes all pear-shaped.

This is an action-packed movie, but the interplay between the characters is what really sustains the story in true Star Trek fashion. McCoy and Spock have a good time verbally sparring with each other. Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoë Saldana) help drive the plot forward, and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) has a lot to do, as well. Some of the better bits of dialogue come from Scotty (Simon Pegg), which is understandable, considering Pegg was one of the writers for the film.

Roger Ebert used to say that these sort of action movies only work well if the villain is compelling enough. That was the biggest failing of Star Trek Into Darkness (among several others). Here, he was only acceptable, and it isn’t until later in the film that you understand his actions. Even then, you have to take the knowledge at face value, and just accept that’s enough. It is, but I’d have preferred more depth there.

This movie uses shakey-cam action for the fight scenes. I’ve argued that that style is used because because the combat choreography isn’t compelling enough, and it’s true here, too. The CGI is overblown in some scenes, much like it was in the Transformers movies and the goblin fight scene in the Hobbit movie – there’s too much going on the screen to process everything that’s happening, so you just deal with it and follow along to what happens next.

I recommend this film, despite the flaws. They are secondary to the action, and the story is good enough to surpass these things. I did not see it in 3D, so I cannot comment on that aspect. I don’t think it was necessary to enjoy the film.

There is a momentary pause in the credits, so please stay for it. Afterward, there’s a song, written by Sia, that should have been hers to sing, but Rihanna performs it.

There is no post-credits sequence.

What follows is list of a few nitpicks I had with the movie. You shouldn’t them read until after seeing the movie.  Spoilers abound, so be forewarned!!!

 

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OK, you were warned!!!

  1. Everything on the Franklin still works well enough to be spaceworthy?
  2. As it was in Star Trek Into Darkness, they could have used a transporter to capture the villain a lot sooner.
  3. How did Kirk get up there so easily? Probably the same way Krall did, but that’s not enough.
  4. Every shot inside the starbase made me think I was going to be Incepted, if you know what I mean!
  5. The whole thing with the Franklin falling to gain enough speed, yeah right.
  6. Greg Grunberg, AGAIN?
  7. Ditto, Shoreh Aghdashloo. She has a big part in The Expanse.
  8. Future Product Placement is still product placement. Booo!
  9. Oh yeah, and where did Krall get all those ship pilots??

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters (2016) is a reboot of the original Ghostbusters (1984) movie. If you’ve been living under a rock, the decision  for director Paul Feig to employ an all-female cast has caused such an uproar in the Internet community that I have to admit I haven’t seen this much of an anger over a film, ever. I will not completely address that in this review.

Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), is a dorky physicist, who is up for tenure at Columbia University. While she is prepping for a class, she’s approached by a man who’s read her book on the paranormal. She’s stunned to find that a book that sold a handful of copies a decade ago. Apparently, it’s up on Amazon now, thanks to its co-author, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). The two had a falling out after their book flopped. Since she wants tenure, she finds Abby at a School of Scyence[sic]. Abby has been working with Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) who have made more than a few strides in paranormal research.

Erin begs Abby to pull the book, given her situation, but Abby denies the request, saying it’s funding her paranormal research. Erin implores her to reconsider, offering her a chance to investigate the man’s claim earlier that a ghost has appeared at a historically famous mansion in Manhattan. They go,and encounter the ghost of the mansion’s owner, who murdered the help, all those years ago.

The encounter is successful, and drives Abby onward. The school fires her and Jillian, but they are undaunted, realizing there’s money to be made in removing ghosts from the places they haunt. Problem is that someone’s actually causing them to appear, towards some mad goal. They find a place to work from, hire a severely dumb blond/wannabe actor/model to work the phones, named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), however we’re not even sure he can do that. Their first client appears, right on the heels of them hiring Kevin. She’s an MTA worker named Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who’s had a ghostly encounter while working her booth in the NYC subway system. She more or less ingratiates herself onto the team, and off they go.

The jokes work, and this time, the mayor’s office is with them, but doesn’t want the negative publicity. They also get Homeland Security involved, who also want to keep the reality of the situation swept under the rug.

Wiig and McCarthy play well off each other, having had a decent rapport in their previous film, Bridesmaids. They play their roles pretty straight, but remain at odds with each other. McKinnon must’ve been told to let her character go, to play the Mad Scientist role, with the crazy eyes and manic attitude, but with the hatred of humanity removed from the equation. She’s just weird, and it works. Jones is the react-er, the one closest to the reality of the situation, and the one to remind the others of what does and doesn’t make sense.

I will say that there is more than one cameo appearance of the original movie’s cast in this film. The first is a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ appearance of Harold Ramis, in the form of a bust of a professor at Columbia University. There are others, but I leave them for you to discover. I also suspect there was a scene or two that were cut from the final version, for time, and I hope to see them when the movie is released digitally.

I found the movie funny and entertaining, and I do recommend it. I am generally against remakes, mainly because they often become a pale copy of the original. In my opinion, this one doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls as the rest. It stands on its own, and is worth seeing. Leave your sexist biases at home and you should enjoy this movie.

I saw the movie in 3D. It was OK, but it didn’t really approve the experience all that much. During the credits, there are some things that interact with the credits themselves, tugging and pulling them. There IS a post-credits scene.

I find the backlash against the casting of this movie very sad. The fact they went with an all-female cast and the umbrage against that is very telling about the nature of the movie business. Don’t give in to it.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

The Secret Life of Pets is an animated film made by the people who created the Despicable Me and Minions movies.  There was a brief Minions short at the start of the screening.

Max (Louis CK) is a terrier in NYC, who was adopted by Katie (Ellie Kemper) at a very young age. He grows up, and they do everything together, except she disappears every day for work. Max, of course, doesn’t understand this, and patiently waits for her return. Meanwhile, after their owners leave for the day, the pets in his apartment building come over, and hang out together, until their owners return.

It’s an idyllic life, until, one day, she brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a huge shaggy dog that she rescued from a shelter, at the last minute. Max hatches a plan to implicate Duke being dangerous enough that Katie must give him up. It involves destroying vases and such in the house, but that plan is interrupted by the dog walker, who takes them to a park, along with Max’s pals. Duke tricks Max, and the next thing you know, they’re on the loose, and get into a tussle with alley cats. They are captured by Animal Control, but are rescued by Snowball (Kevin Hart), a bunny who’s saving a friend from the same van Max and Duke are trapped in. They get away, but it’s all downhill from there.

Back at home, the other dogs talk with Gidget (Jenny Slate), the girl dog next door, as it were. They come to realize that Max is gone, and organize a rescue party.

There are a lot of parallels here to the original Toy Story movie. There is enough fresh material to keep it amusing and entertaining. The kids in the theater and their moms were definitely enjoying the film more than I was, but I understand that this movie was meant them instead of a broader audience. I did spy several kids running around with stuffed animal versions of the characters, which was a little surprising, considering the film only just recently opened. I can recommend this film, but only for a young audience.

They do dance around the idea that many of the predators you see eat some of the other animals here, but they avoid the reality of it.

 

The Infiltrator (2016)

The Infiltrator is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Robert Mazur, who was a U.S Customs Agent in Tampa, Florida.

After a drug bust, U.S. Customs is rethinking its tactics. They want the big fish – the  Medellín Cartel, and more specifically, Pablo Escobar, because the cartel is smuggling hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine into the U.S.  They poke fun at Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, and realize they should focus on the financial side of the equation.

Bob Mazur (Brian Cranston)  usually works undercover, and on his own, but the boss, Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), says there’s too much at stake, so he can’t. She assigns Agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), and, as you’d expect, he’s the antithesis of Robert. The two work combine their efforts and set up Bob as a fake money launderer for the NYC mob, named Robert Musella, who specializes in real estate.

Emir works his contacts, and sets up a low level meeting with the local cartel people. Bob gets a prisoner released who can help with some of the more sordid details of the business he’s pretending to be in. After a bit of back and forth, they all start doing business together. The cartel people bring in a private British bank, who they have been using, and Bob ingratiates himself into their business, too.

There are a lot of players involved, but Bob is documenting as much as possible, recording conversations, and so on. After a particularly successful deal, Bob is presented with a hooker, and he refuses her, being that he is married. At the scene, though, he claims he’s engaged, and that forces Agent Tischler to introduce another agent into the mix to play the fiancee – Kathy Ertz (Dianne Kruger). Bob and his wife-to-be are introduced to a high-ranking officer within the cartel – Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), who, in turn, introduces Kathy to his wife Gloria, and they bond over the upcoming nuptials.

The situation is very volatile. Cross the cartel, and suffer extreme consequences. At one point, Bob is flown somewhere, and is “vetted”, but it’s done in a fickle, yet scary fashion. There are quite a few twists and turns that have to be navigated properly or they will all suffer an extremely horrible fate.

The amazing facet of this movie is that it’s based on real events. I do want to know more, and such information is readily available. I gather that there were some simplifications of the plot, perhaps for the sake of moviemaking, but they weren’t too blatant. Where they implied that the operation involved just a handful of people, there were more than a few agents working in the background to make this happen.

The story gets a bit convoluted, but it holds together. The tension is palpable, and builds through to the end of the film. Brian Cranston proves, once again, that he’s an incredible actor, as are the rest of the cast. John Leguizamo plays close to type, but there was an unpredictability to his character that shined through. Amy Ryan continues to impress me in these peripheral roles she’s taken recently, and Dianne Kruger played her part well. There were several scenes in the film that weren’t truly necessary for the movie, but necessary to help understand the characters. There were two scenes, in particular, that really helped you to understand the characters involved, and I was pleased that they took the time to include them in the movie. It really elevated the film, for me.

The movie itself isn’t the sort of film you expect to see in the Summer, because it’s a heavy film. I have to admit I had serious reservations about seeing it, since it was released now, but it surpassed what I was expecting. There is serious violence, the kind you’d expect to see in a movie about drug trafficking, but they don’t dwell on it.

I do recommend this film, pretty strongly.