Friday, September 30, 2016

‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ is imaginative, sensory treat

By Steve Crum
Although my favorite Tim Burton-directed film remains Big Fish, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is particularly appealing…and worthwhile entertainment. It is a visual delight,  which is no surprise due to Burton’s unique genius, ranking alongside 1990’s Edward Scissorhands in terms of bizarre story as well as empathetic characters. In Scissorhands there was one otherworldly being; in Peregrine’s there are multiple strange ones. And I mean very strange. 
Based upon Ransom Rigg’s 2011 novel of the same title, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has been aptly described as a “dark fantasy film.” The story involves time travel, relationships, wildly gifted characters, and (supplying the film’s central conflict) evil forces. It has a PG-13 rating that should be called “a strong PG-13” due to violent and gross sequences that include eyeball eating. How’s that for a teaser?
Like the book, Jane Goldman’s screenplay centers on 16 year-old Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) whose close relationship with his storytelling grandfather Abraham Portman (Terence Stamp) prompts Jake’s journey to a remote island. There he finds the basis for his grandfather’s fairytales. All those childhood fantasies about a home for “peculiar” children are actually true, shockingly so. 
The children, aka “Peculiars,” are housed in an old mansion on the island, and supervised by protective headmistress Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green). Her wards are children ranging in age from  7-16. Each has specific abilities.
For example, Ella Purnell portrays Emma Bloom, a Peculiar who wears leaded boots to prevent her from floating away. Emma can also control weather and create giant liquid oxygen bubbles. That’s a handy plus for underwater activity. 
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Ella Purnell listens to directions from Tim Burton during filming.
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Another Peculiar is Millard Nullings, an invisible boy. Then there is the girl Claire with an extra mouth in back of her head…and the large mouth is filled with razor sharp teeth. Yum. Not to mention the boy Hugh whose stomach is swarming with bees, and the preteen Fiona who controls plant growth. Super strength, pyrokinesis, and death resurrection are possessed by the other kiddos. Even Miss Peregrine has a  couple of special abilities: time control + transforming into a falcon. 
The Peregrine “family” is in constant fear of being annihilated by the Nazis, the Wights, and the Hollows—the latter two led by Samuel L. Jackson’s determined Mr. Barron. To make matters worse for Peregrine, the literally empty-eyed Barron can transform himself into any other being. 
Nazis? Again, the story involves time travel. So there is shifting from the present to 1943 WWII. 
Besides being overlong (2 hours, 7 minutes) and having a slapdash ending, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a sensory treat. Imaginative set design, makeup, sound, and digital effects are superb. See it in 3D if possible. 
Burton has utilized stop motion photography in previous films, notably The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), and he effectively uses it again here in a great sequence of skeletons coming alive and even sword fighting. It is obviously a homage to Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton army scene in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). 
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: B

Friday, September 9, 2016

‘Sully’ soars as heroic, breathtaking, truth-based story

By Steve Crum
Haven’t Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks already had their share of Oscar nominations? Regardless, it is likely they will receive another each for Sully. What a stunning, heroic story it is. The fact that Sully opens two days before the 15th anniversary of  the 9-11 attacks is undoubtedly no coincidence since this historically based story is all about human values and principles. And New York City is the backdrop. 
Based upon the non-fiction best seller Highest Duty, by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow,  Sully (Sullenberger’s nickname) recounts the near tragic US Airways Flight 1549 flight of January 15, 2009—including its forced ditching in NYC’s Hudson River and the intensive investigation that followed. Not only have I never read the book, but knowing what happened following the incident escaped my knowledge. So I brought little to the proverbial plate as a member of the audience. That said, I know now—and you will too. Director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki have done a superb job in covering the true story’s waterfront, wordplay intended. 
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Director Clint Eastwood and his star, Tom Hanks, confer off camera during filming.
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Plot spoilers do not apply much here, since a great deal of the story involves information generally known. For example, on that cold January day seven years ago, US Airways veteran pilots Captain “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) boarded at LaGuardia Airport. The 155 passengers and crew, a full plane, buckled up for what everyone thought was a routine flight. About three minutes after takeoff, the plane encountered a large flock of birds that hit them head-on, knocking out both engines. 
Too far away from LaGuardia to return for landing, Sullenberger has 208 seconds to make a decision, choosing to set down on, and hopefully not under, the Hudson. Following the desperate call, a LaGuardia air traffic controller remarks to his fellow controller, “People don’t survive water landings.” 
The recreation of the rocky landing that occurs about an hour into the film, including the water rescue by combined military and NYC squads, is a spectacular site to behold. The intensity and terror of those minutes aboard the plane overwhelms. I found myself sobbing at one point, and that is a credit to Eastwood, the actors (particularly Hanks), Blu Murray’s effective editing, and CGI effects. Among the passengers is a baby with her parents, which would put any viewer over the emotional edge. And it all occurs in real time, abruptly and rapidly. Anyone who has ever flown undoubtedly has thought about a similar nightmare scenario. This is the most jarring sequence of an airplane emergency ever filmed. Seeing it on the IMAX screen heightens the experience. 
The final fourth of the film involves the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into Sullenberger’s decision to water land, since computerized recreations indicate the plane could have returned to LaGuardia without any problem. Sully and Skiles hold firm on the Hudson River decision. 
Incidentally, the first part of the film focuses on Scully’s anxieties about the trial, which (hint) makes the incident itself a flashback. We also get to know his character better, including interactions with his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) and various scenes of Scully’s history with airplanes as a young man. 
But it is the totally engrossing in-flight sequence that dominates Sully. Prepare your adrenaline. 
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GRADE on an A-F Scale:A