I saw Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

I saw Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1935859/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Peregrine%27s_Home_for_Peculiar_Children_(film)

TL;DR a pretty, but bland film based on yet another young adult urban fantasy book. Grade C.

Spoilers

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This story is notable to me for a great performance by Terence Stamp as “Crazy Old Grandpa” in the first several minutes.

I think it would be informative to read the original book this movie was based on.

As it is, I really can only judge it on it’s own merits.

You can see what the studio wanted. It wanted a Harry Potter like franchise. Which is weird, because Burton doesn’t like sequels and he is not a “franchise” kind of guy. I guess they were hoping he’d get a solid hit and justify a journeyman coming in and following up.

The story has several Burton tropes. This is why I think reading the original book would be informative.

The Burton trope here is that a gothy teenage boy is secretly the chosen one and his family is mired in and fixated on “normalcy” to the point where they miss the boy’s specialness. But an elderly relative knows and encourages the boy to find his true special self. In this case his name is Jacob, played with earnest dorkiness by Asa Butterfield.

This move does an okay job with it. Not something outstanding or particularly memorable. Just Okay.

The other Tim Burton Trope in play here is that there are people who are secretly monsters, but they’re just misunderstood. They hide because the normals would react very poorly to seeing such weirdos affront their normalness.

The Movie sets up a world where there are “Peculiars” people for whom “Abnormal” is a vast understatement.

The world building here really falls apart. The Peculiars live in tiny enclaves, created and maintained by bird women. These enclaves are pockets of time. So it’s time travel story…. sort of.

These places form nearly perfect hide outs. The Peculiars live the same day over and over and over again. Even if they make terrible mistakes or become terribly destructive, it doesn’t count because at the end of the day, time rewinds and they do the same day over again, and all the people not in the know are reset back to the beginning.

There are bad guys. Samuel Jackson takes a journeyman like turn as peculiar who, with a group of others have discovered that can attain immortality, or close to it, by eating the eyes of Peculiars. This is as disturbing as it sounds.

So there is a long term fight in play where Bird Women try to hide their time loops and the cannibal monsters try to find them.

Jake’s Grandfather, who encouraged Jake, was a Peculiar who left the time loop to find and battle these cannibal monsters. His peculiarity was that he could see them. Usually they were invisible to everyone else. This is why Jake’s grandfather was living outside of the loop and looked insane to everyone.

Jake knows nothing of this and it’s only revealed in dribs and drabs as the movie goes along. For some reason, Miss Peregrine seems really taken with Jake while offering him absolutely zero useful information.

So Jake wheedles and connives to go to Wales (From Florida) and track down the things his Grandfather was telling him.

He encounters the Peculiars and visits their time loop.

Now, here, the children and Miss Peregrine are depicted… interestingly. They have been living the same day, over and over since 1943. At the end of the day a German Bombing raid destroys the house they’re living in. So every night they gather, watch the bomb drop and destroy their house, and then the time loop rewinds and it’s the same day again.

They never age. Ella, who becomes Jakes Love interest almost immediately, explains that, if they leave the loop, after a bit the time will catch up with them. It’s been so long that for most it’s a death sentence and even for the youngest, well, suddenly north of 75 years old.

So they’re stuck. And if Jake stays, he’d be stuck too.

They’ve been trapped in a time loop, cut off from the outside world with only each other for company, always stuck at the same age for 70 years.

Jacob is a breath of fresh air and brings word from the outside world, but is prevented from sharing by Miss Peregrine, who’s policy is “We don’t ask about the future”

There is a hint of the insanity that would result from this, but only a hint.

Well with one thing and another, Jake elects to leave buy accidentally leads the bad guys to the loop, and adventure ensues. The Bird Ladies are called “Ymbryne”. They can bend time and turn into birds. Why they all wind up taking care of flocks of Peculiars is not explained to my satisfaction, but there you go.

Judi Dench shows up (Criminally under used here) as a bird lady who’s loop was invaded and all her children killed by the bad guys.

The bad guys have a master plan that involves capturing and sucking the magic out of several Ymbryne.

Jackson’s “Barron” succeeds in over running the time loop, capturing Miss Peregrine and making off to do his evil thing.

Jacob and the Peculiars survive by the skin of their teeth and Jacob being both clever and able to see the “wights” when no one else can. They bear a strong similarity to the Slenderman character.

Jacob rallies the Peculiar Children and leads them on a desperate mission to recover Miss Peregrine before time catches up to them and they all age to death.

This is handled well. It’s an exciting sequence.

In the end they rescue Miss Peregrine.

The Girl, Ella, her peculiarity is that she’s basically an air elemental. Without heavy weighted shoes, she’d float away. To reach high objects, they tie a rope to Ella and she balloons up to grab it.

Later in the movie we see her true power. She can exhale insane amounts of fresh air, and control where the air goes.

One of the most “Oh, COME ON!” moments of the film is when Ella refloats a wrecked ship that has lain on the bottom of the ocean for 30 years. Then the other children get the boilers fired up and the ship steams away.

At the end of this movie this impossible ship is now their home, and presumably, the rescued Miss Peregrine will establish a new Time Loop to save all their lives.

-*-

So yeah, the world building here is a worse mess than Harry Potter.

Even the Percy Jackson series does better.

Some of the characters were interesting.

I’d cheerfully watch a sequel on DVD. Not at a theater though.

The look on this one is very well done typical demented circus you’ve come to expect from Tim Burton.

You could almost summarize this one as “The Addam’s Family Battles Slenderman at a Carnival.”

Someone needs to sit down with Burton and work through his tropes with him. They’re gettiing stale. His “Jacob” character goes from a sullen goth-nerd to a hero. His most interesting development actually happens off screen!

The problem with Burton subverting this trope is that for him this is biographical. Unappreciated Goth Nerd finds his inner director and makes piles of money directing a bunch of movies some of which actually move popular culture and the awareness of hundreds of millions of people.

(As opposed to Mars Attacks where the Nerdy Goth Kid and his lovably insane grandma save the world with Slim Whitman records)

So saying “The Goth-Kid-becomes-the-hero-thing is a touch stale, how could we challenge this?”

Not only does Burton have a stack of films but his own life story says “Nope! Goth-Nerd-Becomes-The-Hero is a thing!”

In some ways it fit Alice of Alice in Wonderland much better. There’s a sequel to that one I haven’t gotten around, to yet, either.

I guess the difference is that in Alice in Wonderland, Alice is a nerdy girl, but she’s about half sliding into the role of passive victim. The events of the film (Written as a follow on to Carroll’s original story) have Alice break out of her passiveness and find her inner hero and then take that back to Edwardian England, and putting it into action there, which is a much stiffer place for a woman to be true to her inner hero.

This is a thing in Young Adult fiction. The hero is where the reader identifies so the message is “Be true to yourself and you will find your inner hero.” So all the books are about a plucky young person putting that lesson into action.

But I’d also like to see that challenged. “What does it mean to be the hero? How do you good guy?”

Anyway. I think the movie generated enough positive cash flow to warrant a sequel. On the other side its opening was a bit sluggish and the critical reception was “mixed”

For me, this was a collection of lego pieces to steal for a hypothetical Harry Potter type RPG scenario.

I give it a straight C.

Like I say, I’ll watch a sequel on DVD, but no more.

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I saw “Passengers” 2016 (Spoilers)

I saw “Passengers” 2016 (Spoilers)

This review will contain spoilers. Don’t read if you don’t like that.

TL;DR version This movie starts off with an interesting trolley problem and then chickens out of it.
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I was intrigued by this movie, to begin with

The premise, as seen from the ads, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence wake up from hibernation in what old sci-fi nerds used to call a “Slow Boat” but then, things begin to go wrong.

I was reminded of Frank Herbert’s “Destination: Void”

A quick run down of that one, because I was dead wrong.

In Destination: Void, a highly trained crew of astronauts are launched in a slow boat to colonize a distant world. But things begin to go wrong. Then Wronger.

At a certain point, the crew finds out that they are not the original crew. This is not the original ship. They are the 5th copy, replicants of the people they remember being.

The ship is breaking down for stupid reasons, stuff ship designers SHOULD have taken into account. Almost as if the mission were designed to fail.

Then, they hit bottom. The mission was so poorly done, they have no hope of getting anywhere.

Their only hope is to cobble together a true AI to help then defeat their problems. Out of desperation, they do.

Here Herbert does a thing I’ve seen others do, and it makes no sense to me. The AI becomes super intelligent and then becomes God.

It is revealed that this WAS their mission – The goal all along was to put these very talented people in a position of desperation, where they could invent AI because they had no choice. It was do or die.

The AI runs off with the Survivors to make it’s own new Eden.

Why Herbert, or anyone thinks super intelligence becomes God is beyond me. Stephen Hawking is the smartest guy there is, and not only is he wrong about stuff, but his illness had taken his body and his hands away. He can’t defeat that with raw smart. He needs tools and assistants.

Smart does not equal Do.

The 2015 Film “Lucy” also commits this error. It’s in a fun way, but still.

So Passengers is something else entirely.

In one way I was reminded of “Wall-E” – the slow boat is a space going Titanic. Pure Luxury Liner. I wouldn’t mind getting stuck there.

In the story, Chris Pratt’s character wakes up from an unaccountable error in the ship’s systems. The ship is traveling at sub-light speed. It isn’t due to reach its destination for 90 years.

Pratt cannot return to hibernation. it’s a complex process. The ship was only equipped to maintain hibernation, not put anyone INTO hibernation.

Pratt is trapped for the next 90 years on Space Titanic. Alone.

Now, Pratt and Lawrence’s characters have names. I am sure Pratt and Lawrence talked Director: Morten Tyldum and Writer: Jon Spaihts almost to death psychologically reverse engineering these people and breaking them down into emotional particles to understand them.

There is no point. Pratt’s “Jim Preston” is a well-meaning, competent enough everyman and Lawrence’s “Aurora Lane” is a creative, deep and intellectual person, besides both actors being smoking hot cinema idols.

I will call then Pratt and Lawrence because the back stories don’t matter.

So – Pratt is stuck in isolation. His cage is gilded and luxurious, but he’s going to die in it.

And…..

There are over 5000 hibernation tubes filled with people.

He can relieve his isolation

By condemning someone to die in the gilded cage with him.

Now, this is a hell of a trolley problem. It’s great.

It has two serious, serious problems.

A) We already know what he decides to do because Lawrence appears in the previews and movie posters.

and

B) Anyone isolated is going to break down. Humans weren’t meant to handle isolation. Research shows that if you want to take someone and just smash their sanity to pieces. Solitary Confinement is a good start and over enough time, it’s all you need.

So even though the question is “Would you condemn someone to die in a gilded cage, to soothe your own insane loneliness?” Sounds like a good trolley problem it’s broken because if you leave anyone alone for long enough, they’re going to do it. All they have to do is be weak ONCE and the deal is done.

So the movie proceeds on as a sort of Rom-Com with Pratt and Lawrence falling in love until she uncovers his dirty secret. She didn’t wake up by accident, which is what he let her believe. He deliberately woke her up and condemned her to live out her life on Space Titanic. He killed her, albeit really slowly and luxuriously.

She freaks out appropriately and they become tense, angry roommates on Space Titanic arguing over split custody time schedules of the Bar Tender Robot.

But then, who appears but Lawrence Fishburne! His character has a name, too and there’s no point.

Fishburne is a member of the crew who has woken up and has two problems. He feels like crap and Space Titanic is breaking down.

They find out that Fishburne’s hibernation tube malfunctioned rather more aggressively than Pratt’s. He is dying. Also Space Titanic is fixing to come apart at the seams. Pratt and Fishburne waking up are the first symptoms.

Turns out that just before Pratt woke up, Space Titanic hit a space iceberg. Unless Fishburne, Pratt, and Lawrence make with the fixing, they and 5000 other hapless people are going to suck vacuum.

As he dies of the painful icks, Fishburne heroically hands Pratt and Lawrence his keys to the Space Titanic and tells them how to figure out how to fix it.

Although Lawrence still is not a big fan of having been murdered, she and Pratt must work quickly, heroically, with lots of techno-babble, broken machines to fix, CGI fire and impending explosion.

Pratt heroically puts himself at extreme risk to save the ship, and Lawrence realizes she actual does like him after all, So she rescues him

Using Fishburne’s keys to the ship, Pratt discovers that the ship’s autodoc CAN, indeed put a person into Hibernation. But only one and it occupies the autodoc.

Pratt points this out to Lawrence and offers her the place in the autodoc. She declines and instead elects to stay on Space Titanic with Pratt

The story ends with the rest of the crew waking up to find the Space Titanic as remodeled by Pratt and Lawrence as they spent the rest of their lives happily redecorating their own tomb.

-*-

I think that the storytellers introduced the Space Iceberg, and the cumulative damage as a way to resolve the essential conflict without actually resolving anything.

Pratt’s character Jim behaved in a deeply unethical fashion, but it’s hard to blame him. He was in a situation where his own sanity, moral compass, and agency were slowly painfully being compromised.

But he did what he did.

Lawrence’s character reacts with understandable and justifiable anger when she finds out.

This is ugly but it’s akin to being kidnapped or raped. She was going to a place for a reason. She will never live to get there, now. Her personal boundaries were profoundly violated.

And now that can not be undone. She’s stuck with the consequences of that.

And Pratt is the kind of guy, who, when things got ugly for him, was the sort of guy who did that and now must live with that.

But the move cuts that off at the knees and uses the crisis of an impending explosive end to the Space Titanic to rewrite the whole first half of the movie.

And that robs this thing. It didn’t have the courage of its own convictions.

I think Morten Tyldum and Jon Spaihts had some severe executive interference to tack on a “Happy Ending” to this movie. To take it from a Trolley Problem in Space to a Space Adventure with a Happy Ending.

-*-

Here’s a very sad thing – You can spot places in this movie where, probably with no intention at all, they echoed Red Dwarf.

You could almost see this as an American Pilot for a Red Dwarf like series.

Except they didn’t watch Red Dwarf. They didn’t steal *enough* from Red Dwarf to make this thing anything but Generic Space Movie #5

Movies like “Battle Beyond the Stars”, “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone” or “Ice Pirates” beat this movie like it owes them money.

A fraction of the budget, a fraction of the Special Effects. And bluntly a fraction of brains,  space and science literacy.

All of the older movies were dumber in many ways, but they were real about what they were, and even if their tongues were firmly in cheek, they were more honest with their stories and their characters.

I give this one an A+ for its look, and a D- overall

If you enjoy Chris Pratt or Jennifer Lawrence being on screen and saying things, but you don’t care at all about what those things are, then this is an adequate movie.

This is a movie for putting on in the background, while you and your friends talk about stuff and don’t pay much attention. The science fiction equivalent of elevator music.

Which is sad because Pratt, Lawrence, Fishburne and gigantic Space ships have all shown that, when used properly, they can be fun to watch.

Michael Sheen does steal the show as Arthur the Bar Tending Robot. And the Character’s limitations are very interestingly played. But that’s not enough to save this movie.

I don’t recommend it.