Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Miss Peregrine theatrical poster.jpg

Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) gets along far better with his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) than with his parents so when the old man dies, with his eyes missing and a strange creature hiding outside his apartment in the bushes, Jake recalls all the stories he told him about living in a magical place during WW2. After several sessions with therapist Dr Golan (Allison Janney) he convinces his reluctant father (Chris O’Dowd) to take him to Wales where he is befriended by some Peculiars, enters a derelict mansion through a portal in a cave and encounters the very much alive Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) who lives in this weird time loop with all the weirdly gifted kids whom his grandfather told him about. They have to ward off a powerful enemy who feast on the children’s eyes, led by Samuel L. Jackson who delivers his now customary cod-threatening performance and after taking Miss Peregrine, the children must engage in a final face-off (or eye-off…) in a theatre in modern-day Blackpool. Jake himself has a special power which can save them all … There’s a level of ordinariness to this which is irritating. It’s well set up, with Tim Burton returning to contemporary Florida (remember the achingly wonderful Edward Scissorhands?) and the problematic father-son dynamic that fuels some of his better work. However there’s no real sense of mystery or fabulism that would bring this to a different realm. What is best about it? Probably the Ray Harryhausen-style doll animations. Emotions lie half-buried in the middle of this – about being the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, hating your dumb parents and only finding your true family because you possess an understanding of life that other people don’t (seeing invisible monsters is inordinately helpful). Oh well – there’s a good joke about the evil motivations of psychiatrists, though. Adapted by Jane Goldman from the novel by Ransom Riggs, and apparently a lot of changes took place in the writing. Very, very uneven.

Advertisements

Wild Things (1998)

Wild Things poster.jpg

Teenage sexpot Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards) is hot for teacher Sam (Matt Dillon), a former lover of her wealthy widowed mother Sandra (Theresa Russell) but he’s not having any. Well, not with her. So she cries Rape and he gets caught up in a very dense web involving loser Suzie (Neve Campbell) who also calls Rape. She was busted for drugs the previous year by Detective Duquette (Kevin Bacon) and suffered 6 months in the clink. When personal injury shyster lawyer Ken (Bill Murray) defends Sam the plot gets as convoluted and murky as a Florida swamp.  The girls admit they made it up because Sam didn’t protect Suzie from prison. Sam celebrates his eventual defamation winnings – by having sex with both girls. They were scamming Sandra for money. And that’s just the start of it. Cross, double cross, murder and betrayal are at the centre of a complex story that opens out like a neverending Russian nesting doll. Twisty Twister McTwisted isn’t in it! Sexy, funny, outrageous and brilliant neo noir. Written by Stephen Peters and directed by John (Henry:  Portrait of a Serial Killer) McNaughton, with a notable score by George Clinton. Super steamy.

Crash and Burn (2016)

crash-and-burn-movie

Irishman Tommy Byrne is a legend in the motor racing world – the extravagantly talented driver who screwed around, screwed up and threw it all away, is how the story goes. He raced in F3, pissed off a lot of people like Van Diemen teammate Ayrton Senna, himself the subject of an even more ultimately tragic film, and aroused the ire of rivals like Keke Rosberg who used to hit him on the head in passing and whom Byrne openly calls ‘a dick.’ He got to drive for F1’s McLaren team at a time when they had the best car going but his attitude annoyed Ron Dennis. His lifestyle had a major question mark over it, with no money to pay his way into the sport, he took forms of sponsorship which led to his socialising in extremely dodgy company. His car was switched and he lost his drive, in every sense of the term. Instead of hanging around in Europe as Eddie Jordan suggests he should have done, he decamped to the US where he was top driver in his class and seconds away from seizing the 1989 triple crown and getting a free ride into IndyCars, another driver crashed into him and his dream was over: he lost the $80,000 winnings and his marriage hit the skids. He went to Mexico where he consorted with more gangsters, did drugs and whores and messed up all over as he drove his career into the ground. His sponsor was found dead in a swimming pool. Byrne spent a long time drinking, smoking weed and collecting ferns for a living while living in a trailer. It took years for him to get back in the driving world where he works training young up and coming champions. He could have been a contender. He should have been winning in F1. But he’s alive to tell the tale.  His current wife says she believes the sadness is still with him. Produced by David Burke and directed by Sean O’Cualain, this is just an amazing story, compellingly told, with a cast of interviewees known to every petrolhead and there’s the charismatic Byrne himself in the middle of the action, supplying VHS archives of the glory days.

Adaptation (2002)

Adaptation movie poster.jpg

Sometime in the late 90s I picked up a very pretty looking little hardback called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. The New York-based writer told the story of a man in Florida who was obsessional about the flower and recounted some crazy escapades. This Charlie Kaufman screenplay is about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, a semi-fictional creation, and his floundering attempts to adapt the Orlean book with a parallel version of some events from the book with added romance.  Talk about meta! This offers a plenitude of pleasures, an intelligent, constantly surprising and witty take on filmmaking, storytelling, genre, writerliness, being crazy, having deadlines you can’t meet, writer’s block, the fad for screenwriting seminars (hello Robert McKee! played by Brian Cox here) and what happens when Charlie’s identical twin brother Donald goes to one and finds the way to adapt the story so that it has plot and action and sex and violence and not just, y’know, flowers. Nicolas Cage plays the identical twins, Meryl Streep is Orlean and Chris Cooper is the madman in Florida, always looking for the next perfect bud. The (real) Kaufman said:  “The emotions that Charlie is going through [in the film] are real and they reflect what I was going through when I was trying to write the script. Of course there are specific things that have been exaggerated or changed for cinematic purposes. Part of the experience of watching this movie is the experience of seeing that Donald Kaufman is credited as the co-screenwriter. It’s part of the movie, it’s part of the story.” Brilliant and satisfying postmodernism in full flower, as it were bringing everyone together inventively and surreally. With a cameo by John Malkovich (did you have to ask?!) Written by Donald Kaufman! And directed by Spike Jonze.

Sisters (2015)

sisters-2015-poster

Unresolved Sisterly Tension is a pretty good motif for any movie … then comes the thorny issue of plot. ‘How can one person have two colonoscopy stories?’ asks Tina Fey of sister Amy Poehler (I have three, but that’s for another kind of blog.) That’s what happens when you have a house party to commemorate the end of your life in the house where you grew up … twenty-five years later and you’re in your forties and you’ve lost your job (Tina), you’re divorced (Amy) and the folks (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) are finally downsizing to somewhere smaller in the Orlando area. So it’s time to clear out their rooms. Unfair! The ladies go back and read their vastly differing old diaries, get on ‘social’ media and call up their fellow loser buds to PARTY! Waster Tina agrees to be Sober Party Mom so busybody divorcee Amy can have the kind of night she couldn’t allow herself to have as the good sister and get laid by the handyman James selling his dead folks’ house next door. The moms and dads show up, the saddos show up, the Koreans show up, the drug dealers show up but it takes the Lesbians to play big choons for everyone to let loose and there’s foam and paint and chimney-climbing and sex … while James is impaled on a ballerina music box (see, that colonoscopy idea never goes far from writer Paula Pell’s references). The plot twist happens when drunken Tina (she succumbs) finds Amy’s phone and realises her daughter has been hiding in Amy’s house for months and the climax is catalysed …  There’s some astonishingly lazy writing here by Pell (who wrote for SNL) and some scenes just seem like improv central – yet we love these ladies don’t we?! Hell yeah!

War Dogs (2016)

war_dogs_2016_poster

Comic auteur Todd (Hangover) Phillips doing a serious analysis of arms dealing in the Iraq conflict? Well … not so much. Arms and the Dudes was a Rolling Stone story about two supposedly clueless twentysomethings out of Miami who vacuumed up the crumbs of the US Army’s defence contracts and made a mint until their attempts to cover up ammo from China (literally – by rebagging them) caught them out when their Albanian contractor called the State Dept after their infighting left him without a payroll. Miles Teller is David, a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend under pressure to earn more money than his private massages yield. Jonah Hill is his old friend and aspiring wheeler-dealer Efraim who needs help exploiting a gap in the defence market by the expedient of watching an Army provisions website. The story is set up like a comedy but with Scarface references (it’s the poster over Efraim’s desk and his drug intake is Montana-prodigious). There is a very funny sequence when they have to go to the Triangle of Death in Iraq to get their first delivery to its intended destination. This is expertly done with the amount of threat, humour and action you know Phillips delivers well. When they want to land a life-changing contract they head to Vegas (where else would arms dealers meet?) and encounter a very familiar figure (I was surprised, not having read any spoiler reviews) who can give them everything they need but he’s on a watchlist and they have to go to Albania to carry it through. The story is fatally wounded by David’s narration which is done as a serious commentary instead of a self-deprecating series of enlightening witticisms. (Teller was presumably cast to appeal to the youth market. Bad move. He’s about as funny as a funeral and his naif act is not a patch on Ray Liotta in Goodfellas.) His girlfriend is a wuss. The baby sentimentalises things too. So although this is a satisfying exercise in many ways we needed more fun, less moralising: when Efraim fires a machinegun in Albania like a gangster, that’s the real deal. And with this much money around and Efraim involved, you know there’s a stitch up on the cards. Jonah Hill is really good.  If this had had the courage of its convictions and weaponised the facts, it might have been great.

The Godfather Part II (1974)

The Godfather part 2 poster.jpg

An utterly compelling sequel? Yes, it’s possible.  In fact for many people this is better than the original. But then it’s a prequel as well as a sequel and has an absorbing richness deriving from the fabled origins of the Mob back in Sicily and its growth during the Prohibition era. Robert De Niro plays the young Vito Corleone and his life is juxtaposed with that of his son the current Don, Michael (Al Pacino), as a Senate Committee closes in on the Mafia and his rivals start wiping out everyone in sight while he tries to expand his casino interests in Las Vegas. An immensely fulfilling narrative experience with stunning performances including legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth and Troy Donahue playing Connie’s latest squeeze, Merle Johnson – Donahue’s birth name.

Miami Rhapsody (1995)

Miami Rhapsody poster

When this was released theatrically I dragged my best male friend along – a psychiatrist who had to concede it was indeed possible to make a female Woody Allen movie even if he really didn’t buy into Sarah Jessica Parker. (And also claimed that Mia Farrow was the spawn of the devil because of what she said about the Woodster – we agreed to disagree!)  I, on the other hand, had been a fan of SJP since Square Pegs and was also incredibly impressed that she had been the long-term galpal of Robert Downey Jr. This was in fact a kind of rehearsal for Sex and the City – writer/director David Frankel worked on the show and costumier Patricia Field first worked with SJP right here. There’s a real lesson in screenplay construction here – since it’s all about marriage. SJP is ad writer Gwyn, who is engaged to zoologist Matt (Gil Bellows) and wants a marriage just like her parents (Mia Farrow and Paul Mazursky). Except her mother confesses her adultery to her with Antonio Banderas, her invalided mother’s nurse, and her father is in a longterm romance with his travel agent. Her newly married sister (Carla Gugino) cheats on her cheapskate footballer husband with her high school ex (Jeremy Piven) and her horndog brother Jordan (Kevin Pollak) hates being deprived of sex by his pregnant wife (Barbara Garrick) so he also confesses his adulterous liaisons to his little sister. Gwyn comes to her difficult decision as everyone around her tells her how disastrous their marriage is … and tries to escape her own commitment by agreeing to try writing a screenplay for a dreadful comedy pilot, dragging Antonio along for support. Needless to say, there is somewhat of an unexpected ending. A great ensemble works very well with a witty script, a guest spot by supermodel Naomi Campbell and superb Florida locations. Great fun – made in those halcyon days when intelligent movies didn’t have to be made on crazy budgets and people could make insightful statements about how to get on with the mundane issue of living with a soupcon of wit.

The Big Short (2015)

The_Big_Short_teaser_poster.jpg

A wildly entertaining film about the property crash that devastated most normal people in the western world? Surely you jest! Not at all. That’s precisely what comedy maestro Adam McKay – of all filmmakers! Not Ken Loach (whew…) – serves up here in a ruthlessly educational tell-all about how the sub-prime mortgage business in the US was built on NINJA loans (No Income No Job…), the unsustainable loans were bundled into bonds and sold all over the world (Ireland’s credit union movement’s entire investment was in one German bank that lost everything in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and was bailed out secretly by the German government summer 2006 – not that anyone wants you to know…) and how a bunch of crazies foresaw the crash and made millions betting against the farm, as it were. Since I come from one of the PIGS countries destroyed not merely by the crash but by coverups by the banks and journalists (nobody’s gone to jail here either, dudes) and we’ve just been stuck (despite the election non-result) with the same Minister for Finance backing the bankers and investors and gamblers against the citizen-owners, this taps into a righteous anger that is still real and seething and has 75 home-owners in court every 2 weeks in every small town all over this country trying to save their homes from the rapacious devils. I digress. McKay and Charles Randolph adapted Michael Lewis’ book. You may remember it was his book Moneyball that Brad Pitt shepherded into production and Pitt is involved here, behind and onscreen, as a sort of guru to two young garage-based wannabe hedge funders (sorta like Apple geezers but for money products), while Christian Bale is the offbeat hedge fund manager Michael Burry, a one-eyed seer, Steve Carell is hedge fund manager Michael Baum, the moral overlord who gets the truth from a multiple-home-owning Florida stripper and Ryan Gosling is trader Jared Vennett, our narrator, whose pieces to camera are just one facet of the brilliant breaking the fourth wall digressions that punctuate the overwhelming horror story (helpfully explained in a bathtub, a casino and several typed-out definitions). Stop it already! You had me at CDO!!! Great lines aplenty but one of the best is Gosling’s reaction to the American Securitisation Companies meeting in Vegas, teeming with parasites backing a disaster, when he declares, It’s like someone had a pinyata for white people who suck at golf. We all know the result. But what an achievement this is. A film about an important subject that manages to make you laugh till your sides hurt? Wow. This is sensational.  And angry? You betcha. And this reminds us that the word banker begins with W. We should all read the newspapers’ financial pages – and learn to read between the li(n)es. Otherwise it’s business as usual.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Some Like It Hot poster.jpg

Often called the greatest comedy of them all and who are we to argue? Just hilarious, funny, brilliantly written, acted and directed, by the immaculate Billy Wilder. A simply sublime entertainment about jazz, gangsters, love and transvestism, with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis wiggling for all their lives are worth in an all-girl band down in Florida after witnessing the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Marilyn looks incredible, despite everything. She didn’t want to make the film, she had become tired of always playing the cute performer looking for a sugar daddy. However her husband Arthur Miller had massive legal bills as a result of taking on HUAC and as usual looked to her to pay his expenses, so she took the job when he said the script was good. Ironically, it’s probably the greatest film in which she ever appeared – and she’s brilliant. For some reason she seems entirely at home in the Twenties, which makes you wonder if she instead of Kim Novak should have taken the lead in Jeanne Eagels (1957), the biopic of the actress who died aged 39 two decades earlier, in circumstances alarmingly similar to Monroe’s own demise. She was very unwell during the shoot and her weight fluctuated and despite telling Wilder she was pregnant he worked her hard. She lost the pregnancy immediately filming wrapped.  Look sharp for her friend Edward G. Robinson Jr., a very good friend of Monroe’s, as Johnny Paradise.