Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Oh Tim Burton, I grew up with your movies when they used to be good, and now I find you languishing in typical Hollywood fantasy fare. Not that this was a particularly bad film. In truth it was quite decent, and the premise was certainly original, but in practice it ended up as a sort of paint-by-numbers affair, showing once again that Hollywood always tends to squander any squint of potential.

The film revolves around a young boy named Jake Portman, who after witnessing his grandfather’s death at the hands of a monster that only he can see, is given permission by his psychiatrist to go to the Welsh island of Cairnholm in order to find an old home for children with certain magical abilities. He finds that they live in a time loop, and winds up upending their fragile equilibrium in order to help save them from the crazy scheme of a mad scientist wanting to gave himself eternal life.

I have probably oversimplified this to a vast degree, but that’s essentially what happens. Anyway, the story itself isn’t bad, but from the beginning I find that the producers put in a bunch of often cringeworthy scenes that seem to have been written in just to pad length in a film that already straddles a somewhat convoluted plot. Honestly, it seemed to me that this could have been much better as an anime film, not that the Hollywood elite would ever entertain such an idea. Also, full disclosure, I know this is based on a book, probably another one that you won’t have read prior to watching the film, and I don’t care, the reason being that a film should be able to stand on its own (this is why I was so critical of the Harry Potter films, which tended to ride on the coattails of J.K. Rowling’s novels), and this film just barely does that.

The characters aren’t bad, but they’re hindered by the typical Hollywood practice of having them overact nearly every line, and even Samuel L. Jackson, arguably the best actor in the whole film, couldn’t escape this trend. The film presents itself decently, but I can’t be the only one who’s tired of every Hollywood film having such an overly polished look, to the point that it’s barely real anymore. However, the film’s special effects make for decent fireworks, and the film’s saving grace can be found in the climactic showdown, although the ending showed that the writers were content with some good old-fashioned schmaltzy closer.

Again, this wasn’t a bad film, but it’s fairly indistinguishable from an average 2010’s-era dark fantasy film (never mind that most if not all films made in the genre are pretty much the same now anyway), and it could have done much better if Tim Burton were at least more willing to think outside the box. With this film, he looks more like a lazy hack than the artist of his prime, having undergone a similarly ghastly transformation as several other Hollywood directors from his era.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie_Brown70'sBy no means should it be considered as one of Quentin Tarantino’s best films, but it’s not without its merits. However, I think the film struggles with a somewhat inconsistent approach. Intended as a homage to 1970’s elaxploitation films (with a star of such films in the lead role), the film starts off with a slightly comedic approach, and then shifts towards being a gangster film with elements exploitation cinema. It utilizes typical hallmarks of the Tarantino film, including slow pace, pop culture references, foul-mouthed characters, and non-linear storytelling.

Right off the bat, however, I think the main problem is that the film is far too long for what it is. I think the film would have been better if it were at least half an hour shorter, instead of clocking in at 154 minutes. It doesn’t help that the film moves along at a plodding pace, and that makes the story much harder to follow then it should have been. For me, it seems as though Tarantino was basically copying such lengthy gangster films as Casino, Goodfellas, and The Godfather films, and attempting to reconstitute the style of the gangster film in the context of a 1970’s-style blaxploitation film, except that most films from that genre were a lot shorter and faster.

The characters embody stereotypes from various films, though they illustrate a kind of middle-aged world-weariness with some degree of realism. The acting in this film has a certain mature kind of boldness, even with the film’s coarse language (and copious use the “N” word). The fact that the cast of the film manages to convincingly portray the raw personality of its lowlife characters is something that makes up for the film’s languid pace, and as usual, you can count on Samuel L. Jackson, whose performance in the film might be one of the film’s saving graces (although Pam Grier did pretty well as the eponymous lead role).

The other saving grace would be the film’s sense of style. It opens with a retro style title screen, and sets the mood with a soaring soul song. The film in general has the look and sound of a well-made production, with the film’s soundtrack contributing much to the overall feel of the film. However, that is a mainly stylistic accomplishment, and even then, it seems as though the film is more of an awkward pastiche of the genre it was trying to emulate. It’s also not as violent as the films it was emulating, which, considering the film’s length, might not be such a bad thing.

If anything, this film has the whole “play it cool” approach, but it takes things way too slowly, and the result is an ambitious project that wound up being a little overdone. Again, I must insist that despite those flaws, it’s not a terrible film. In fact, with its slick style and humour, and its blending of crime fiction and midlife drama, it stands out as a witty, entertaining, though sometimes languid crime film.

  • Score: 67%
  • Grade: C

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp_Fiction_coverPulp Fiction was a very eclectic kind of film. It incorporated a vast plethora of genres in a way that made it seem like several films blended together, and illustrated an unconventional style of narrative, and worked splendidly. It’s no wonder why the film is frequently among the favourites of established critics. In fact, many still proclaim this film to be among the greatest films of all time, and in that regard, its reputation is absolutely well-earned.

The story concerns three distinct characters – a contract killer named Vincent Vega, his partner Jules Winfield, and a prizefighter named Butch Coolidge. Their stories happen out of chronological sequence, and they sometimes intersect in various ways that you might not notice immediately. Even though the film sometimes seems like a bloated crime film due to its length, a lot happens in the film’s rich, non-linear story. One thing I noticed is that much of the story is told through monologues and casual conversations, and I’d say it was a great way of delving into the characters and their personalities, and by the time the film ends, you may find yourself thoroughly invested in the lives of the film’s wise-cracking hitmen and other shady characters.

In this regard, I think that the appeal and success of Pulp Fiction has less to do with its gripping story and rich narrative, and more to do with the brilliant performances given by its characters. The film rescued John Travolta from the realm of the washed-up actor, cemented Bruce Willis as a serious actor, and brought Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Tim Roth to the forefront of Hollywood’s pantheon of respectable film actors. The acting was powerful in its delivery of Tarantino’s electric barrage of brilliantly coarse dialogue, much of which has become endlessly quotable. Every character in the movie shined brightly like sizzling firecrackers, from John Travolta’s role as the leading hitman to Bruce Willis’ role as an ageing pugilist, and from Ving Rhames’ role as a gangster kingpin to Harvey Keitel’s role as the fixer. However, the greatest performance of all came from Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the role of Travolta’s partner. His was a role that epitomized the spirit of Tarantino’s films more than anyone else, with the raw, unhinged presence of his character.

The film also serves an excellent way of showcasing Quentin Tarantino’s unique sense of stylish film-making. Of course, his style, and that of Pulp Fiction, is steeped in the aesthetic and atmospheric qualities of older films, but he manages to take what he loves most about those older films and synthesizing them into a totally original cinematic experience. If anything, the film lives up to the literal definition of its title, in the sense that it’s like a book of lurid subject matter, and yet the way it presents itself illustrates a syncretic mix of slick film production and the roughness of pulp. With its sharp humour, bold acting and brilliant narrative, this film will remain a shining example of great film-making, and a must-see for anyone who loves film.

  • Score: 92%
  • Grade: A