(Netflix Streaming, June 2017) Much as I’d like Tim Burton to develop his own stories than to further contribute to the YA adaptation craze, I’ll have to admit that he’s squarely in his wheelhouse with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: blending Gothic sensibilities with a special-effects-heavy fantasy story, it’s a good excuse for Burton to deploy his visual inventiveness and deliver a story fit for misfit teenagers (and teenagers-at-heart). The grotesque imagery is often successful (although not entirely so, as a disappointing ending shows), and there is real sympathy for the outcast. Considering Eva Green’s screen persona, there is something satisfyingly disquieting in seeing her in the lead of a film aimed at teenagers—we’re never too sure that she won’t disrobe, kill someone or otherwise flip the film in her usual R-rating territory. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children does have its share of problems: the overall plot feels familiar as a YA work, it’s not quite as dynamic as it could be and the ending suffers from a few poor design choices. But Burton’s style keeps it afloat, and it remains more engaging than most of its YA equivalents. While the result won’t be lauded as one of Burton’s finest, it’s good enough to keep fans of the director interested until his next effort.
(Netflix Streaming, April 2015) It’s been nine years since the original Sin City, and that’s frankly too long in-between installments. I’m older, wiser and less likely to tolerate the kind of juvenile attitude in which overdone noir can indulge. It really doesn’t help that A Dame to Kill For seems delighted in showcasing brutes and corrupting whatever innocence had escaped the first film intact: Despite toned-down violence (well, ignoring the mid-movie thirty-second marathon of decapitations accompanied by grotesque audible sploshes), it feels like an even more pointless film than the original. It’s not all bad, especially if you can get yourself in a mood receptive to noir style and overdone dialogue: the special effects are well done (albeit inconsistently used), the quasi-parodic script is good for a few laughs and anyone wanting a little bit more of that first film’s style is likely to enjoy it. Director Robert Rodriguez may be repeating himself (it’s about time he directs a film that’s not part of a series), but he’s doing so stylishly. Mickey Rourke seems to have fun playing the brute once again, while Joseph Gordon-Lewitt and Eva Green (in a typical performance, as seductive as she seems insane) are welcome addition to the cast. Plenty of smaller roles are given to big-name actors, leading to a sustained game of spot-the-celebrity. Still, what curdles A Dame to Kill For is the ugly script, which not only has pacing issues but (unlike the original) forgoes the protection of innocence in favor of revenge, revenge and some more revenge: Jessica Alba’s character is corrupted to the point of destruction, more than one sympathetic characters are killed to set up the never-ending avenging and the effect is far more nihilistic than healthy, even for a noir film. (And that’s not even mentioning the troubling glorification of Rourke’s character as an invulnerable killer.) For all of the polish of the film’s style, it doesn’t work if its ideals and plot points leave a sour taste. It’s not a good sign that of the film’s interlocked stories, the worst two are the ones especially written for the sequel. I would still watch A Dame to Kill For again (someday, not any time soon) just to enjoy the visuals and the atmosphere, but I would be wary of recommending it to anyone else, and I sure wish the script had been more upbeat and less self-satisfied by its own pointlessness.
(On Cable TV, December 2014) My strongest reaction to the first 300 back in 2004, once past the first few garish beheadings, was the realization that I had suddenly been kicked out of the “young males, 18 to 34” demographic category: I found the film excessive, manufactured, far too violent and aimed at younger viewers. So, in saying that the sequel isn’t too bad, I’m just coming to terms with the idea that I’m even older than I was back then. Striking a balance between more of the same and a little bit of new, 300: Rise of an Empire wraps itself around the original film by explaining the origins of its antagonist, taking place alongside the first movie’s timeline and concluding a little bit later. Director Noam Murro renews with the heavy (and bloody) post-processing aesthetics of the Zack Snider original, but benefits from a script that takes place largely in a naval environment, allowing for a bit of extra variety to the visuals. Sullivan Stapleton is no Gerald Butler as the lead, but Eva Green makes a strong impression as the quasi-demented antagonist and almost single-handedly makes the film watching for something other than visual style. Otherwise, it’s a slick historical action war movie, which is to say that it’ll please a certain viewership and doesn’t cater to others. Worth a look, but maybe not a thought.
(Video on-demand, April 2013) Well, that was uncomfortable. Some subject matters are almost entirely laugh-free, and a woman raising her dead lover’s clone as her son, with all psycho-sexual complication that entails, ranks way up there on the list of films that are as entertainment-free as possible. It certainly doesn’t help that the film almost entirely takes place on a cold, windy, damp beach location that practically seeps through the screen to chill audiences. Eva Green is superb in the role of a woman so consumed by grief that she ends up blurring the lines between mother and lover –the film takes a long time to get to a conclusion, but it’s as uncomfortable as it’s inevitable. Fortunately, Womb has a bit more than discomfort to offer audiences: as a low-key emotional exploration of science-fictional concepts, it’s not dissimilar to Never Let Me Go (down to the damp beach locations), and the question it raises almost excuse the interminable time it takes to get there. It’s not as much of a slam to say that I never intend to watch this film again: it fulfills its objectives, and none of those objectives are about repeated viewings or even simple entertainment. While a better, more accessible film could have been made from the same elements, Womb isn’t without merits, even if it ends up being as uncomfortable to watch as Splice was.