Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


Hercule Poirot is on the job!

(2017) Mystery (20th Century Fox) Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzan, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Phil Dunster, Miranda Raison, Rami Nasr, Hayat Kamille, Michael Rouse, Hadley Fraser, Kathryn Wilder. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

 

Train travel has a certain romance to it. Strangers trapped in a metal tube, rumbling across the countryside. Anything can happen; anything at all.

Many might be familiar with the classic Agatha Christie novel, one of the most famous mysteries ever written. Some might be familiar with the even more classic 1974 movie based on it which starred such legends as Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins and Richard Widmark. This new remake stars Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) as the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Albert Finney in the original) who is returning to England following a grueling series of cases leading to a successful resolution in Istanbul – not Constantinople.

Taking the Orient Express back home, he is approached by Ratchett (Depp) who is looking for protection after receiving some threatening letters. Poirot, exhausted, turns down the case. The next morning, Ratchett turns up dead. The train is stuck after an avalanche buries the tracks. As crews arrive to dig the tracks out so the train might continue, Poirot must solve the case quickly but there are a number of suspects – everyone in the Calais coach had opportunity and some even had motive. Soon it becomes apparent that the murder has links to a famous unsolved crime of years past.

The Sidney Lumet-directed 1974 version to which this will inevitably be compared was a light-hearted romp with a Poirot who was quirky but undoubtedly a genius. This Poirot is more tortured than quirky, a man who realizes his own obsession with perfection will leave him perpetually disappointed in life and of course he is. This is a different Poirot than any we’ve ever seen onscreen, whether David Suchet of the excellent BBC series or Peter Ustinov of several all-star Christie cinematic adaptations which followed the success of Murder on the Orient Express. The tone here is certainly darker than we’re used to seeing from a Christie adaptation.

Michelle Pfeiffer turns in an extraordinary performance as the predatory divorcee Mrs. Hubbard, portrayed by Bacall back in 1974. While Bacall was loud-mouthed and brassy, Pfeiffer is intense and smart. Once again the characters are very different although there are some recognizable similarities. Pfeiffer twenty years ago was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood which she remains; that beauty often overshadowed her acting talent which is considerable. Although not in the league of Meryl Streep (who is in a league of her own), she is one of the four or five best American actresses working in film today.

Most of the rest of the cast do at least adequate jobs. Depp is as restrained as he’s been in a decade, playing Ratchett as a thug more so than Widmark did in the same role. Dame Judi Dench is, well, Judi Dench. She brings dignity and a regal air to the role of Princess Dragomiroff. Penélope Cruz has a thanklessly un-glamorous role that she makes her own.

I should mention the cinematography. The 1974 film primarily took place aboard the train. Certainly the Orient Express is the star and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos takes great pains to present her from every angle conceivable. Occasionally he goes a bit overboard – an overhead shot in one of the train’s cars gives us an uncomfortably long view of the tops of the actors heads – but he also manages to make the snowy Yugoslavian countryside look positively idyllic.

Let me be plain; this film is not as good as the 1974 version and I don’t think Branagh had any illusions that it ever could be. However, it is different than that 1974 version and one that is just as valid. You may not love this film in the same way that you loved the original but there is a good chance you’ll at least respect it. You may even want to see it more than once.

REASONS TO GO: Fans of the 1974 version will find the approach here very different. Branagh and Pfeiffer are outstanding. The cinematography is gorgeous.
REASONS TO STAY: The tone here is much darker than the 1974 version. This isn’t nearly as good as the original which it will inevitably be compared to. You don’t get as good a sense of the era it is supposed to be set in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence as well as violent thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The song played over the closing credits was sung by Michelle Pfeiffer and the lyrics written by Branagh.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Death on the Nile
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Wonder

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Victoria & Abdul


It’s good to be the Queen!

(2017) Biographical Drama (Focus) Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Paul Higgins, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Wadham, Rubin Soans, Ruth McCabe, Simon Callow, Sukh Ojia, Kemaal Deen-Ellis, Simon Paisley Day, Amani Zardoe, Sophie Trott, Penny Ryder. Directed by Stephen Frears

 

Queen Victoria is one of the more fascinating personages in British history. Most Americans only know caricatures of the monarch; “We are not amused.” Most Americans aren’t aware that she presided over what can be only termed as the golden age of the British empire and her iron will held that empire together until it began to crumble in the first half of the 20th century, long after she was dead.

As the Golden Jubilee of her reign is underway, the Indian subjects of Queen Victoria (Dench) mean to present her with a commemorative coin. Prison clerk Abdul Karim (Fazal) is sent to carry the coin to England, mainly because of his height. He is accompanied by Mohammed (Akhtar), an acid-tongued sort who finds England much too cold and the people much too uncivilized.

The head of the household (Pigott-Smith) gives the Indians detailed and voluminous instructions on how to behave in the Royal presence. Victoria herself is in the twilight of her life. Nearly every one of her contemporaries are gone and she lives isolated in a palace full of sharks, all jockeying for positions of favor. She feels utterly alone and has little to do but sleep and eat, plowing through her meals with gusto, so much so that her courtiers have difficulty keeping up before the course is taken away and a new one delivered.

Abdul seemingly can sense her loneliness and ignores the rules of protocol, looking the monarch in the eye and smiling, even kissing her royal feet upon their second meeting. Victoria, unused to be treated as a person rather than a symbol, is gratified and decides to keep Abdul on as a servant and eventually as an adviser and munshi, or teacher. He teaches her Urdu and waxes poetic about the land of his birth; the stories of the Taj Mahal in his native Agra and the amazing architecture of his people.

But the favor Abdul experiences with the legendary monarch disturbs and eventually angers the British court. Some of it is due to the incipient racism of the English upper classes of the time, and Abdul experiences plenty of that. However, much of it is due to the fact that they want to have the Queen’s ear the way Abdul does and soon plots to rid the court of Abdul begin to thicken, led by the Queen’s son Prince Bertie (Izzard) who would later become Edward VII. Further isolating the Queen would play into nearly everyone’s ambitions.

Dench is maybe the best British actress of the last 20 years with essentially only Helen Mirren to compete with her. Like the Victoria she portrays here, she is in the twilight of her career; at 82 and with her eyesight beginning to fail, she has talked seriously about retiring and in any case the on-screen performances left to her are dwindling; it behooves us to enjoy the ones she has left and this one is a mighty good one, already garnering a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.

The costumes are sumptuous as is the production design as you would imagine. They are good enough that they are very strong contenders for Oscar nominations, particularly the former. Frears knows how to make a dazzling environment for his actors to work in and this is no different. Frears is one of the best British directors of his generation; he’s 78 now and like Dench, is approaching the end of his career. It makes sense that he would choose this period of Victoria’s life to film. He has set the bar high for himself and sadly, this movie doesn’t quite meet it despite the best efforts of Dench.

You’ll notice that I haven’t really mentioned a lot about the second name in the title. It’s not that Fazal doesn’t do well in his role; he certainly is more than adequate. The problem is that we see Abdul mainly as the sweet-natured teacher, who accepts whatever petty insults come his way with a bowed head and a sad smile. At times you get a sense that Abdul may have ulterior motives but there really is no follow-up. He remains an enigma through most of the movie which is strange because the book this is based on relied extensively on his diary for the information.

I don’t suppose that people who aren’t into history (Great Britain in particular) or into England in general are going to want to see this and that’s a sad commentary into how we have become a culture of avoiding any sort of knowledge or understanding. Then again, the movie fails to provide any insight into Indian culture although we get a good look at what was going on in the British nobility in the latter years of the 19th century. Considering how Abdul is treated by the movie, they may as well have just called the movie Victoria and be done with it. Dench is by far the best reason to see this movie but even her stellar efforts can’t quite overcome the movie’s shortcomings.

REASONS TO GO: Judi Dench delivers a strong performance. There is likely going to be an Oscar nomination for Best Costumes.
REASONS TO STAY: Not one of Stephen Frears’ best efforts. Those who aren’t into British history will likely find nothing of value here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity and some adult thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second time Dench has portrayed Queen Victoria, Mrs. Brown (1997) being the first.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/7/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Young Victoria
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Geostorm

New Releases for the Week of November 10, 2017


MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

(20th Century Fox) Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

On board a luxury train traveling from Istanbul to Calais a passenger is mysteriously murdered. The cabin door has been locked from the inside. Who done it? Fortunately, the world’s greatest detective – Hercule Poirot – is on board the train and if anyone can make sense of the bewildering maze of clues, it’s the Belgian with the grand moustache. Based on the book authored by Agatha Christie, this is one of the greatest mystery novels ever written.

See the trailer, interviews, clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Mystery
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and thematic elements)

Daddy’s Home 2

(Paramount) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow. Christmas time is here and there’s nothing like the holidays to bring a family together. For Brad and Dusty, the two co-dads are happily contemplating a blended Christmas with all their family under one roof. Then, both of their dads decide to visit for the Yuletide and all of a sudden things are getting way more complicated.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive material and some language)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

(A24) Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan. A brilliant cardiovascular surgeon takes a young man under his wing when his father, a patient of his, passes away. When the boy’s behavior turns sinister, the surgeon notices that his family is getting seriously ill. He will be forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice in this new film from the director of The Lobster.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language)

Wonderstruck

(Amazon/Roadside Attractions) Oakes Fegley, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Millicent Simmonds. Two young children – one a boy in the Midwest in the 1970s, another a deaf girl in New York City of the 1920s – search for answers about who they are, unaware of the connection that binds them together. Brian Selznick, who wrote the novel this is based upon, also wrote the screenplay. Look for the review tomorrow.

See the trailer, clips and a video feature here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and smoking)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Hello Again
Pottersville
Qarib Qarib Singlle
Walking Out

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

BPM
C/O Surya
Hello Again
My Friend Dahmer
Paradise
Pottersville
Qarib Qarib Singlle
The Square
Tom of Finland

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Amanda and Jack Go Glamping
Hello Again
Qarib Qarib Singlle

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

C/O Surya
Hello Again
Jane
Loving Vincent
No Greater Love

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Daddy’s Home 2
Jane
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Loving Vincent
Murder on the Orient Express
Walking Out
Wonderstruck

New Releases for the Week of October 6, 2017


BLADE RUNNER 2049

(Warner Brothers) Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, David Dastmalchian, Jared Leto, Hiam Abbass, Edward James Olmos, Lennie James. Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Thirty years following the events of Blade Runner, a replicant hunter discovers a long-buried secret that could plunge what’s left of society – nearly destroyed after an electromagnetic pulse detonation in 2022 plunged the technologically-dependent planet into darkness – into chaos. His quest to prevent that from happening leads him on a search to find a legend, one who has been missing for thirty years – a Blade Runner named Rick Deckard.

See the trailer, a clip, a featurette, short films and SDCC coverage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, some sexuality. nudity, and language)

Generational Sins

(Freestyle) Daniel MacPherson, Dax Spanogle, Barrett Donner, Bill Farmer. The final wish of a dying mother is that her two sons who have been estranged from each other for some time make a pilgrimage together to the home they grew up in. Both are reluctant to go – the place holds unpleasant memories for the both of them but they soon discover that there is potential for healing and hope in the journey.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving violence and alcohol abuse, and for some language and suggestive content)

Let’s Play Two

(Abramorama) Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament. During the Chicago Cubs magical 2016 baseball season, legendary grunge band Pearl Jam was invited to play two dates at Wrigley Field while the Cubbies were out on the road. The band would play material spanning their 25-year-career as well as covers of songs that influenced them. The result was two amazing nights that are being presented on the big screen for the first time.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Loving Vincent

(Good Deed) Starring the voices of Robert Gulaczyk, Chris O’Dowd, Helen McCrory, Saoirse Ronan. The life and mysterious death of the master impressionist Vincent Van Gogh is examined in a unique animated film that Van Gogh himself would appreciate; each frame is an individual oil painting, more than 65,000 of them painted over seven years. This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to see a truly one-of-a-kind work on the big screen.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some violence. sexual material and smoking)

The Mountain Between Us

(20th Century Fox) Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney. Two strangers survive a small plane crash in the rugged wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. Alone and with no help coming, they must make a journey on their own to cross the frozen landscape to civilization.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language)

My Little Pony: The Movie

(Lionsgate) Starring the voices of Kristin Chenoweth, Emily Blunt, Zoe Saldana, Live Schreiber. The wildly popular children’s TV show comes to the big screen as the Mane Six of Ponyville, finding their town threatened by a dark force, must travel beyond Equestria to get help. Using the magic of friendship they make new friends who will help them win the day. Either that or you get contact diabetes from the sugar.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for mild action)

The Stray

(Pure Flix) Sarah Lancaster, Michael Cassidy, Scott Christopher, Connor Corum. A young father hopes to bond with his son by taking him hiking, along with two of his son’s friends and the family dog. As they trek through the beautiful countryside of Colorado, all five of them are hit by lightning. This bizarre occurrence apparently actually happened.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family/Faith
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including a perilous situation)

Viceroy’s House

(IFC) Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Hugh Bonneville, Simon Callow. This is the story of Lord Mountbatten, the last British governor of India who was tasked with the mission of getting India ready for becoming an independent state. With religious factions at odds with one another, it became clear that this would be no easy feat. This is playing at the Enzian as part of the South Asia Film Festival, going on this weekend at the Maitland theater.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only), Cinematique Theater Daytona

Rating: NR

Victoria and Abdul

(Focus) Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard. Directed by acclaimed British director Stephen Frears, this is the true story of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, an Indian clerk with whom she came to rely upon for advice in her later years.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Earth: One Amazing Day
Last Night
Overdrive
Vico C, La Vida Del Filofoso

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

City of Rock
Earth: One Amazing Day
Last Night
Overdrive
The Teacher
The Unknown Girl
Woodshock

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

2307: Winter’s Dream
The Crucifixion
The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One
Vico C, La Vida Del Filofoso

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Earth: One Amazing Day
Last Night
Trophy
Vico C, La Vida Del Filofoso

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Blade Runner 2049
Loving Vincent
The Mountains Between Us
Viceroy’s House

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

South Asia Film Festival (Enzian Theater, Maitland, October 6-8)
Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Tampa Theater Tampa, October 6-14)

New Releases for the Week of September 1, 2017


TULIP FEVER

(Weinstein) Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz, Jack O’Connell, Holliday Grainger, Tom Hollander, Matthew Morrison, Judi Dench, Zach Galifianakis. Directed by Justin Chadwick

In 17th century Amsterdam during the height of Tulip mania when prices for bulbs were skyrocketing beyond all sense, a young artist is commissioned by a wealthy merchant to paint a portrait of his beautiful wife, whose marriage to him had been arranged. Desperate and lonely, she falls in love with the artist. Together they plot to buy their freedom – by entering the volatile tulip market and hoping the right bulb will win them the wherewithal to buy their way out of their situation.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Period Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for sexual content and nudity)

Hazlo Como Hombre

(Pantelion) Mauricio Ochmann, Alfonso Dosal, Aislinn Derbez, Humberto Busto. Three childhood friends grow into young men, chasing after women and doing all the things that young Hispanic men do…until one of them confesses that he is actually gay. The alpha male of the group and the most homophobic tries to convince his newly outed friend that it’s just a passing phase of sexual confusion but soon the situation becomes untenable and the other two must convince the alpha to put aside his prejudices and accept them at face value.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop

Rating: R (for sexual content throughout)

The Layover

(Vertical) Kate Upton, Alexandra Daddario, Matt Barr, Kal Penn. In this sex farce directed by esteemed actor William H. Macy, a pair of beautiful roommates – one a high school English teacher, the other a make-up salesperson – decide to swallow their professional disappointments and party the weekend away in Florida. On the flight there they meet a hunky young guy who both girls become smitten with. A layover in St. Louis due to bad weather in Fort Lauderdale gives them each a chance to win the object of their affections into their respective beds with each escalating the competition. All’s fair, after all, in love and sex…and maybe war.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content and some drug materials)

Patti Cake$

(Fox Searchlight) Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty. An aspiring rapper in the mean streets of suburban New Jersey struggles to find her path to glory and her own particular voice in an atmosphere of haters and doubters who are always betting against her. This was one of the more acclaimed movies to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival and also played the Florida Film Festival this year as well.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image)

Temple

(Screen Media) Naoto Takenaka, Asahi Uchida, Natalia Warner, Logan Huffman. Three American tourists follow an ancient map into the uncharted forests of Japan searching for a near-mythical temple. Once they find it, they find themselves entrapped by the spirits dwelling within and they are soon in a fight for their lives against a supernatural opponent they barely comprehend.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Valley of Bones

(Smith Media) Autumn Reeser, Rhys Coiro, Steven Molony, Bill Smitrovich. A disgraced paleontologist gets a shot at redemption when a meth-addicted oil worker discovers what could be the find of the century in the North Dakota badlands. Both of them become partners on the dig but when their pasts threaten to catch up with them, find themselves as adversaries.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website (mobile version).

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks

Rating: R (for violence, language, drug use and some nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Arjun Reddy
Baadshaho
I Do…Until I Don’t
Paisa Vaasool
Shubh Mangal Savdhan
Unlocked

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Baadshaho
I Do…Until I Don’t
The Queen of Spain
Shubh Mangal Savdhan
Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Baadshaho
I Do…Until I Don’t
The Neighborhood
Unlocked
The Vault

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Baadshaho
The Neighborhood
Paisa Vaasool
Whose Streets?

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Tulip Fever
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


There's nothing quite so cozy as movie night.

There’s nothing quite so cozy as movie night.

(2016) Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O’Dowd, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Raffiella Chapman, Pixie Davies, Joseph Odwell, Thomas Odwell, Cameron King, Louis Davidson, Kim Dickens, O-Lan Jones. Directed by Tim Burton

 

I think that as children we can be divided into two categories; those who want to fit in, and those who don’t care. Many who want to fit in often feel like they don’t. We feel alien, peculiar and not at all like someone who is popular or admired. We feel like we’re on the outside looking in. What we fail to realize as children is that sometimes being on the outside looking in is far cooler than being in a cage.

Jake Portman (Butterfield) is one of those kids who doesn’t feel like he fits in. The only place he feels halfway normal is at his grandpa Abe’s (Stamp) Florida home, where the old man regales him with tales of fighting monsters during Worlds War II, and staying at an orphanage run by a Miss Peregrine, who presided over children with strange powers known as Peculiars.

After getting a call for help from Abe, Jake and his co-worker Shelley (Jones) arrive at Abe’s place to find signs of a struggle. They later find him dying in the yard, both his eyes plucked from his head. This understandably messes Jake up and he starts seeing a shrink, Dr. Golan (Janney). She urges him to follow Abe’s story, particularly after he discovers a letter from Miss Peregrine to Abe which takes him and his father Franklin (O’Dowd) – who is more interested in researching his book on bird-watching which he’s been working on for years without progress than in bonding with his son – to an island off the coast of Wales.

There he finds the ruins of the orphanage, bombed into rubble by the Luftwaffe in 1943. He also finds some of the Peculiars who take him into a cave which brings him back to 1943 – on the very day the house would be destroyed. There he meets Emma Bloom (Purnell), a lighter-than-air girl who has control over air (she can create windstorms and bubbles of air underwater) and would float away if not tethered or wearing her lead boots whose heart was broken by a young Abe back in the day, the necromancer Enoch O’Connor (MacMillan) who can bring life to lifeless things, Olive (McCrostie) who is a pyrotechnic and Miss Peregrine (Green) herself. As it turns out, Miss Peregrine is kind of a guardian spirit called a Ymbryne who are able to morph into birds (in Miss Peregrine’s case, a falcon).

He learns the story of the Peculiars and those who are chasing them – the terrible Wights, who are led by the white-haired Mr. Barron (Jackson) who have been experimenting on Ymbrynes to make themselves immortal. Some of the Wights who are quite human-looking have turned into Hollows, hideous tentacled monsters who eat the eyeballs of Peculiars to revert back to human form.

It turns out that Mr. Barron is much closer by than they think and Jake has become an integral part of the fight. It turns out that Jake is able to see Hollows and sense their presence – a gift that Abe also had. With Jake and Emma falling in love again despite Emma’s best efforts, time is running out and Jake must find a way to protect the children from the evil Wights and from the ravages of time itself.

Burton is one of the most uniquely visionary directors in history. This is the kind of material that is right in his wheelhouse, or at least you would think so. This film is based on the first of a trilogy of young adult books by Ransom Riggs, which are in turn based on vintage photographs Riggs had collected that were somewhat spooky or hinted at uncanny powers (if you buy the young adult books, you’ll see the actual photos but some of them can be seen on the Internet if you’re willing to spend time Googling them). Riggs showed these pictures to Burton before filming and it’s plain to see that Burton used them as inspirations for his character design of the children.

That said, this doesn’t feel like a typical Tim Burton film in many ways. I thought it far more mainstream than what we’re used to from the director and far more vanilla in tone. Now while I admire Burton’s work a great deal, even as an admirer I’m willing to admit that his work has been less consistent in the past decade or so, with great work (Big Fish) interspersed with not-so-great work (Dark Shadows). This falls somewhere in the middle, with leanings more towards the latter.

Butterfield is a decent enough actor, but not one who fills a screen up with charisma. Much of the movie depends on Jake becoming a leader, but I’m not sure I’d follow him very far. He just seems kind of…bland. Green, who has maybe the most incandescent smile in Hollywood, doesn’t seem to be having much fun here; she comes off as a kind of second-rate Mary Poppins only less cheerful. I almost expected her to say “Spit spot!” Thankfully, she doesn’t.

Burton reportedly tried to go with practical effects as much as was possible, but you really can’t use them for an army of skeletons battling giant tentacled creatures which takes place during the climax. The effects are reasonably good and the setting reasonably moody but nothing here really impresses other than that Burton seems to do a good job of capturing the tone of the antique photos which colors the whole film.

One of the big missteps oddly enough is Jackson. One of my favorite actors in Hollywood, he doesn’t seem all that motivated here. When I see Samuel L. Jackson in the cast, I want to see Samuel L. Jackson whether that expectation is fair or not. Instead, we get a kind of mannered performance, like what would happen if Tim Curry was impersonating him. He just never convinces me that he’s all that malevolent or dangerous.

This could easily have been a major event film and franchise establishment but instead we get a movie that kind of just gets by. It doesn’t really feel like a Tim Burton movie. Fox currently has a reputation of being a studio that meddles in the product more than most of the others, so one wonders if there is studio interference at play here. Regardless of whether that’s the case or not this is a movie I can only moderately recommend. Chances are it will be a momentary distraction that will escape your memory faster than Emma Bloom escapes gravity.

REASONS TO GO: The film has an odd kind of antiquarian feel. The climax is thrilling.
REASONS TO STAY: The whimsy normally associated with Burton is missing. Jackson is wasted in a bland villainous role.
FAMILY VALUES: There are children in peril and some violence of a fantastic nature.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Miss Peregrine’s home actually exists; it is called Torenhof and is located outside of Antwerp in Belgium.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/22/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Storks

New Releases for the Week of September 30, 2016


Deepwater HorizonDEEPWATER HORIZON

(Summit) Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Joe Chrest, J.D. Evermore. Directed by Peter Berg

When an offshore oil drilling platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, it results in the worst oil spill in history, a spill whose effects continue to be felt all up and down the Gulf coast. What many people don’t know however is the story of the men and women who were on that platform when all hell broke loose. This is their story, one of heroism and sacrifice and of lives saved and lives lost.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language)

The Dressmaker

(Broad Green/Amazon) Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Judy Davis. A haute couture dress designer returns to her small Australian hometown to discover the truth behind how her reputation was made to be notorious. The longer she stays, the more she discovers that not everything in the town is what it appears to be and that the people of the town have skeletons of their own hiding in hidden closets.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for brief language and a scene of violence)

Harry and Snowman

(FilmRise) Harry DeLeyer, Harriet DeLeyer, Andre DeLeyer, Marty DeLeyer. After the end of World War II, Dutch immigrant Harry DeLeyer wandered into a horse auction and on the spur of the moment bought a plow horse for $80 that was bound for the glue factory. Instead, within two years, he’d won the triple crown of Show Jumping, beating horses from blue blood estates with distinctive bloodlines. He tells the story of how that plow horse, whom Harry named Snowman, redeemed him.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex
Rating: PG-13 (for brief language and some thematic material)

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story

(Fox Star) Sushant Singh Rajput, Kiara Advani, Disha Patani, Ram Charan. One of the greatest stars in the international sport of cricket is M.S. Dhoni. From the humble background of being a ticket taker at a stadium to being one of the greatest stars in it, his rise to captain of the Indian national team is the stuff of legend.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Masterminds

(Relativity) Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis. A bored armored car driver, falling for the flirtations of a work crush, becomes embroiled in a scheme put together by a group of half-baked criminals whose plan is flawed to say the least. Nonetheless against all odds he gets away with $17 million only to discover that he has been set up as the fall guy in this ludicrous scheme. Evading the cops and an incompetent hit man, he must find away to turn the tables on these guys before he falls in even further than he already is.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

(20th Century Fox) Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi DenchA young boy discovers a mystery involving alternate realities, the nature of time and the existence of children with amazing powers who have been put into a place where they are protected – but that safety is an illusion. The boy will have to find his own special and peculiar ability and protect the kids or lose them to a dark, sinister being. Tim Burton is the director.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril)

Morris from America

(A24) Craig Robinson, Markees Christmas, Carla Juri, Patrick Goldenberg. A young boy is torn away from everything he knows when his father accepts a job in Germany, putting the boy’s burgeoning hip-hop stardom plans on hold. However, he finds that life in Germany is much different than he expected – and his dreams of being a rap star are much closer than he realizes. A hit at both the Sundance and Florida Film Festivals earlier this year.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for teen drug use and partying, sexual material, brief nudity and language throughout)

Queen of Katwe

(Disney) David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga, Martin Kabanza. Phiona Mutesi, a ten-year-old living in the slum of Katwe in the Ugandan city of Kampala, has really no expectations for a life different than the one she’s always known. However, when she shows a natural aptitude for chess, it may prove to be the ticket out of poverty for her and her family – if she can master the discipline of being a grand master, that is.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material)

Train to Busan

(Well-Go) Yoo Gong, Soo-an Sim, Yu-mi Jeong, Dong-seok Ma. A businessman takes a train with his young daughter to see her mother, but a virus breaks out on the train, turning peaceful passengers into ravening zombies. The father teams up with some of the other survivors to protect his daughter and survive the trip to Busan.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR