Bag Girl Reviews: My Cousin Rachel (2017) ****Warning: Spoilers***

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A couple of years ago, my Aunt Suzie bought me a copy of  the book My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier she had found at a flea market, mostly because it had the name Rachel in the title (Rachel happens to be my name). It was a happy accident that Daphne du Maurier is the author of one of my favorite books, the superb romantic thriller Rebecca. I read My Cousin Rachel later that summer during a trip and enjoyed it, and read another of du Maurier’s books, Jamaica Inn, the following year. Of the three books by Daphne du Maurier that I have read, Rebecca is my favorite, My Cousin Rachel comes in second, and Jamaica Inn makes up the rear. Despite an interesting premise, an unlikeable heroine and a plot twist that is either amazing or shark-jumping depending on your tastes make Jamaica Inn less enjoyable than I was expecting. I was excited to hear about a film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel coming to theaters this summer and when it started getting good reviews, I was anxious to see it.

The orphaned Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) has been raised by his cousin Ambrose, the quintessential english confirmed bachelor, to see women as disruptive interlopers. When ill health brings Ambrose to Italy, Philip is shocked to learn that his woman distaining cousin has suddenly gotten married to the mysterious and enchanting Rachel (Rachel Weisz). After a series of startling letters and Ambrose’s sudden death of a brain tumor, Philip begins to suspect Rachel of foul play. But when he finally meets the woman herself, Philip falls under her spell. Desire turns to suspicion and paranoia when more details about Rachel’s past come to light and Philip begins to fall ill in the same way that Ambrose had. 

My Cousin Rachel is a master class in ambiguity. Each reveal in the plot poses more questions than they answer, leading to a fascinating story. The main conflict, Rachel’s guilt or innocence, allows the reader or viewer to come up with a large number of possibilities. Did Rachel poison Ambrose using her special tisane to get as his fortune and is doing the same to Philip, or did Ambrose become unhinged due his brain tumor. Rachel could have simply been giving Ambrose medicine to ease his suffering and if she did poison him, maybe it was to spare him from a longer and more painful death. The film leans towards the Rachel was giving him medicine or trying to put him out of his misery theory. At a number of points in the story, Rachel mentions to Philip that his increasingly hostile treatment of her is almost identical to Ambrose’s behavior prior to his death. The ending gives the impression that Philip has the symptoms of a brain tumor, similar to the one Ambrose died from. 

Rachel Weisz was a brilliant choice to play the dramatic and elegant Rachel, and contrasts well with the earthy, tomboyish Louise (Holliday Grainger), Philip’s other love interest. I think Holliday Grainger is better suited to wholesome girl-next-door roles rather than devious femme fatale parts, so she was a good fit for Louise. A nitpick I had was that in one scene, Louise describes the shabby state of Philip’s manor house as smelling like “every dog in the county has taken a shit here.”  I have a hard time believing that Louise would have used a word as crude as “shit” but I gave it a bit of leeway because she was shown as being somewhat tomboyish and treated as “one of the boys” by Philip.  I am definitely “Team Louise” because I tend to sympathize more with the less favored romantic option who stands little chance against their more dazzling rival, so I was pleased by the addition at the end where after Rachel’s accidental death, Philip marries Louise and has a family with her. 

One problem I had with the film was that it was a little confused as to which time period it was set. The costumes worn by Rachel and Louise were in the fashion of the 1840s while the rest of the women shown on screen were dressed for the 1830s. Other than that, I loved the clothing worn by the two female leads, Rachel’s striking blacks, reds, and blues and Louise’s more natural browns and pastel florals. The film is visually beautiful with its shots of the stunning Cornish landscape and shadowy, candlelit manor houses.

I would recommend My Cousin Rachel, both the film and book, to those who love a good mystery and periods costume dramas with an edge.

 

A Bag Girl Double Feature: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Wonder Woman

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise. Not only is the ride my favorite Disney attraction, the films, along with Mean Girls and the Spider Man series starring Tobey Maguire, were the first PG-13 rated movies I ever saw. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Spider Man 3 were the first PG-13 rated films I saw in theaters. I own a necklace of the golden doubloon from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (the chain broke years ago and I now have it on a silk ribbon) and I wore an Elizabeth Swann costume from Oriental Trading Company for Halloween when I was eleven. Even though I am a fan, I was part of the collective eye roll and “why?” when a fifth installment was announced and was not surprised to find that it was getting terrible reviews but a mixture of loyalty to the franchise and curiosity to see how bad it could be drove me to go see it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales or Salazar’s Revenge picks up the story a number of years after the first four installments. Henry Turner, son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, is searching for a way to free his father, who is cursed to remain aboard the Flying Dutchman. This causes him to seek out Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), his father’s old friend/enemy, now a drunken wreck of his former glory. Jack Sparrow is being hunted by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ruthless Spanish pirate hunter who Sparrow sent to a watery grave years earlier and has returned from the dead to get revenge. Along the way they encounter  Karina, a young woman whose interest in astronomy causes her to be seen as a witch and who is trying to decode an enigmatic astrological map left to her by her father and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who returns for some reason. The macguffin that will help everyone get what they want is Poseidon’s Trident, which can break all of the sea’s curses, and Karina’s map leads to.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was not as bad as I thought it might be (I got a few laughs of out Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem was creepy, the CGI looked cool), but it was by no means a good movie. The two young leads are a poor man’s substitute for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Karina was exactly the type of female character I despise: the girl who’s so much smarter than everyone else but is absolutely useless in a pinch; a prissy ninny trying to pass herself off as a bad-ass. The first chance she gets to put her muscle where her mouth is, she runs away, gets caught in traps, and needs to be rescued. If your heroine is going to be a helpless damsel, at least be honest about it.

The film’s ending scene involves Will Turner returning after he is released from his curse and being reunited with his wife and son. Jack Sparrow gets back the Black Pearl and sails off into the sunset. It’s a decent send-off to the franchise before it is, hopefully, put out to sea for good.

I also have something of a soft spot for superhero films ( I love the Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America movies) but I was not planning on seeing the new Wonder Woman movie. My mind was changed when I heard that it was getting great reviews. I was also intrigued by the fact that the film is set during World War I, one of my favorite time periods. The fact that this movie exists, let alone this successful , is something of a miracle. After the notorious flops that were Catwoman and Elektra, Hollywood has been reluctant, to say the least, to touch superhero films with a female lead.

Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) has been dreaming all of her life of glory and heroism, but is sheltered from the outside world by her mother, Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, a race of warrior women created by Zeus to protect mankind from the corrupting influence of Ares, god of war. When an American fighter pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands on Themyscira, Diana learns that World War I is going on around her. Believing that Ares is behind this potentially all consuming war, Diana vows to kill him and save the world. Placing Diana in the setting of World War I  highlights the change in attitudes during this period. World War I was first modern total war and had millions of casualties, many of them innocent civilians. The big super weapon in the film is a poison gas, a weapon which made its debut in World War I.  Diana has always believed that war is glorious and that morality is black and white and is startled to find herself in the middle of a hopeless and all destroying conflict. The young men who fought in World War I, raised on greek epics and mythology, Diana’s world, must have been similarly traumatized. This shift is highlighted by the film’s cinematography which goes from the Homeric glory of Themyscira to the muddy, grey, grittiness of no man’s land.  

Wonder Woman bares a number of similarities to Marvel’s  Captain America: The First Avenger, my favorite of the Avengers films. Both are war based period pieces featuring an earnest and idealistic protagonists. I appreciated the film did not make Diana a cold, cynical femme fatale like her Marvel counterpart Black Widow. Part of the film’s strength comes from Gal Gadot’s superb performance.  After two hours listening to the smug, pedantic prattle of Karina from Dead Men Tell No Tales, which would make Hermione Granger think she was insufferable, it was refreshing to see a heroine who actually is bad ass. The action scenes, especially the one where Diana struts across no man’s land deflecting machine gun bullets with her wristbands, made me want to shout “fuck ya!.”

Wonder Woman is refreshingly free of the cynicism which characterizes similar films made in the past few decades. Diana is presented as a naive fish out of water and though she becomes less naive about the outside world, but does not lose her idealism. She learns that humanity is flawed and capable of atrocities but is still worthy of her protection. Considering all of the political conflict, terrorist attacks, and destruction of the environment that we read about in the news today, perhaps Wonder Woman has arrived when we needed her most.

 

 

A Review of The Promise

*** WARNING: SPOILERS***

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The Promise is a film that I have been following for several months. I have seen it advertised frequently on Facebook and Youtube and it has been making the news for being the first major film to tackle the Armenian Genocide, a subject which is still sensitive today. At first, I was hesitant as to whether or not I wanted to see the movie. The plot centers around a love triangle, a plot device which is overused and often annoying. But then I decided, why not give it a shot and told my mom that we would go see it for Mother’s Day since we both love historical dramas.

Oscar Isaac (known to many as Poe Dameron from Star Wars: The Force Awakens) stars as Mikael, an Armenian man who travels to Constantinople to attend medical school on the eve of World War I. There he meets Ana ( Charlotte Le Bon), a beautiful young woman who works for his wealthy relatives as the dancing instructor for their daughters and a fellow Armenian though brought up and educated in France. Mikael and Ana fall in love despite him being engaged to girl in his home village and her already being with an American journalist named Chris, played by Christian Bale. I have had a crush on Christian Bale since I was a little girl and Oscar Isaac is not bad looking either, so I cannot blame Ana that much for being conflicted as to which man she wants to be with.

Turkey enters World War I and things become hostile for Armenians like Ana and Mikael. The film does not shy away from depicting the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide. Mikael is sent away to a work camp, from where he later escapes. There is a heart racing scene where he tries to release some Armenian prisoners from a moving train, which chugs over a bridge. Poor Mikael falls from the train and into the water below before he can undo the lock on the train car. He finds his way back to his home village, where he marries his fiancee and lives happily for a while until he reconnects with Ana and Chris, who are involved with getting refugees out of Turkey. Mikael enlists them to help him and his family escape, but his feelings for Ana causes some tension between him and Chris.

One of the themes of the story is how the Turkish authorities is tried to cover up the truth about the Armenian Genocide. Chris is constantly thwarted in his attempts to expose the truth and is later arrested under suspicion of being a spy and saboteur and sentenced to be executed. Even today, few people know about the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish government refuses to acknowledge or apologize for it, and there are some who deny that it ever happened. As we walked out, my mom told me that she felt embarrassed that she did not know much about this period of history.

The Promise feels, at first, like a fairly predictable story. I assumed that one of the men would die and the other would end up with the girl. When Mikael’s pregnant wife is killed by the Turks, along with most of his family, and thought that Chris would be executed and, now freed from their inconvenient partners, Ana and Mikael would finally be able to be together. But the American ambassador manages to get Chris a pardon. I thought that he might end up being killed during the final battle scene, where are three heros and the group of refugees try to escape into life boats provided by the French Navy. The sea is choppy and Ana’s life boats tips over and she drowns before Mikael can rescue her, which came as a shock.

I would recommend seeing The Promise, if only to learn about an unfairly obscure  historical event. It is also well acted and beautifully shot. Whether you like battle scenes or romance and pretty dresses, you will enjoy it.

Why I Dislike Annie and The Sound of Music

Several months ago I got in trouble on Facebook for complaining about how most of the students in my writing class either did their film reviews on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, a movie I’ve seen twice and am indifferent too, or The Sound of Music, a movie I also care little about. The most was meant to a be a dig at the conformity and unoriginality of my classmates and my frustration at reading, pretty much, the same review over and over again, but it was taken as a diss of two beloved and well respected movies. Last week, I chose The Sound of Music as a musical that I find overrated. The musical Annie was given as the musical that I hate. All of the comments I got on this post were some variation on “how can you not like Annie!” and my Facebook friends pretty much wanted to crucify me (pun not intended, even though it was Easter).

I am not that type of person who thinks that because I dislike something, there is no reason that anyone else should like it; I try my best to see both sides of an argument. Both Annie and The Sound of Music have their own cutesy, sentimental, and nonthreatening charm and I understand why they are popular. My only real excuse for not liking them is that I simple don’t: I find The Sound of Music bland and Annie annoying but it all comes down to personal taste.

Perhaps part of the reason why I have come to hate Annie is because I performed in two productions of it when I was in elementary and middle school. The first time I was in Annie, I had been previously told that we would do Grease and I was hoping for a chance at the role of the Sandy. When the second time came around, I was in eighth grade and desperate be given a decent part by my middle school drama club after two years of being relegated to the chorus. I was a big fan of Kristin Chenoweth during this time and wanted to play the character of Lily St. Regis (Chenoweth was her in a television version of Annie) and thought I had a fair shot: I was wrong. My enjoyment of the musical is marred by bad memories. The Sound of Music is a musical and movie that I just never got into.

I admit that I like a lot of things that most people do not and I try not to be personally offend when someone does not enjoy a song, movie, etc. as much as I do, even though it can be difficult. People can form a strong personal attachment to their favorite things that if someone insults one of these things, it can hurt them directly.  Everyone is entitled to their own tastes: we can make as good a case as we can for why we like sometimes and why others should feel like wise but this can only go so far.

 

A Review of Marie Antoinette (2006)

 

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One of the highlights of my trip to Paris was visiting the Palace of Versailles which has been a dream of mine since the fifth grade. When I was eleven, my parents let me watch the Sofia Coppola film, Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst which kicked off a Marie Antoinette obsession which has lasted for, more or less, the past ten years. My younger self drew countless pictures of ladies in frilly dresses with wide panniers and towering wigs and kept rechecking out The Royal Diaries: Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles from my elementary school library.  

Marie Antoinette is a perfect example of how to make a period film feel fresh and modern without sacrificing historical accuracy. It’s portrayal of the characters and how they are presented have a refreshing lack of stiffness and feel understandable and relatable but are true to the unique time period that they lived through. Even the use of modern music does not come across as jarring. The film is visually dazzling; the costumes, set dressing, and cinematography are all exquisite. Their pastel/pastry colors emphasize the fun, frivolity, and indulgence at Versailles. This over the top rococo fantasy was perfect for captivating an eleven year old with an interest in history and a love of pretty dresses. The shoes and cake “I Want Candy” sequence where Marie drowns her personal troubles with a little retail therapy is one of my favorite in all of cinema.

Recently I wanted a podcast from one of my favorite blogs, Frock Flicks, where they reviewed the movie and its costumes. They discussed Sofia Coppola vision for the film, to draw a parallel with the hedonism and conspicuous consumption of the 1980s, the era in which Coppola came of age. The film is filled with references to the Post Punk and New Romantic movements and the films of John Hughes which someone who was not around during this period would not get. Last week I heard the song “Natural’s Not In It” by Gang of Four on the radio and instantly recalled it as “that song from the beginning of Marie Antoinette.”

One of the weak elements of the film is that it is two hours long and relatively little happens; it is light on plot and dialogue. A person with little knowledge or interest in history will probably find the movie slow and boring. Even I tend to lose interest towards the end, when things are less bright and bubbly.  But the fancy costumes and the “I Want Candy”  scene alone make me recommend this film. Like a pastry served at Versailles, Marie Antoinette is beautiful and delicious fluff and makes me crave a macaroon from Angelina’s at the Petit Trianon.

A Review of Beauty and the Beast 2017

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A favorite place of mine in downtown Salem is the Salem Cinema, inside of the Museum Place Mall.  Jasmine, my roommate, and I went there to see the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast on Monday, March 20th, two days after it came out. I had been looking forward to this movie coming out since I first heard about it nearly two years ago, mostly because Dan Stevens, Matthew from Downton Abbey, is in it. Immediately following its release, I watched three reviews on YouTube to get a sense of how the film was being received. The first one was by Chris Stuckmann, who gave it a very positive review. The next one was by Brad Jones for Midnight Screenings, who gave it a fairly positive critique but was less glowing with his praise. The final was by Doug and Rob Walker for The Nostalgia Critic, who vehemently disliked the film. Beauty and the Beast appeared to be getting a mixed to positive reception.

The cliched criticism of this film is that it has no reason to exist: all of these new live action remakes are a cynical attempt by Disney to make more money out of their most lucrative properties. Doug and Rob Walker dismissed this particular remake as shallow fluff which pales in comparison to the original.  When I finally got to see it for myself, the flaws I was told to look for did not keep me from enjoying the overall work.

Beauty and the Beast is visually amazing. The sets, costumes, and cinematography are spectacular, especially the Beast’s Castle, which is Baroque and Rococo on steroids. Another common complaint is that this version is a shot for shot remake of the original, which is perhaps a little unfair. A number of new plot points and characterizations are added, such as, Maurice losing his wife to a plague and the Beast having a darker and more fleshed out backstory, to varying degrees of success.

One of the biggest complaints I often heard about was Emma Watson’s performance as Belle, specifically that her singing was not the best. I can see where this complaint comes from; her voice sounds very auto tuned but it is not a glaring problem.  In all, the film is well cast and performances are enjoyable. Dan Stevens, as the Beast, did not disappoint. Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and Lefou were a delight. Kevin Kline, as Maurice, Belle’s brilliant but eccentric father, reminded me of my own dad.

I got what I wanted from this movie: a pretty fairytale with pretty dresses and nice music. All of these live action remakes of Disney animatic films may be a cynical  ploy, but one that I fell for.

Bag Girl Reviews: Rebel Without a Cause

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The Salem State chapter of MASSPIRG attempted to have a 1950s themed sock hop-fundraiser last Wednesday: no one but Jasmine and I and two or three of our MASSPIRG friends showed up, but that meant more pizza and popcorn for us. After about a half hour of waiting for people to arrive, we cut our losses and just decided to put on the movie Grease, the obvious if not cliche choice for a movie to put on during a 1950s themed party.  Our “sock hop” fizzled out around nine. When Jasmine and I returned to our dorm, I told her that I wanted to show her my favorite film from the 1950s, Rebel Without a Cause, the movie which made teen heart-throb James Dean into a Hollywood legend.

1955’s Rebel Without a Cause is a cautionary tale about the 50s social issue of juvenile delinquency. It focuses on a trio of troubled high school students, the rebellious but kindhearted Jim Stark (James Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood), the girlfriend of a local gang leader, and Plato (Sal Mineo), a disturbed outcast.  Jim (who in my headcanon is somehow related to Tony Stark AKA Iron Man) and his family move to the suburbs of Los Angeles after he got into unspecified trouble.  What gets Jim into trouble is a disdain for authority, stemming from his frustration with his henpecked and emasculated father (Jim Backus), who is unable to stand up to his controlling wife. During his rather eventful first day at his new school, Jim befriends Plato, the class weirdo and is antagonized by Buzz (Corey Allen), the header of a gang of delinquents whose girlfriend, Judy, Jim fancies. The antagonism of Buzz’s gang leads to a knife fight, a fatal chicken race, and Plato going on a suicidal rampage. 

Rebel Without a Cause examines the social and psychological reasons for juvenile delinquency: Jim is exasperated with his parents constantly bickering and his weak willed father’s failure to stand up for himself; Judy’s father has been distant since she hit adolescence, possibly, because he has insesteous feelings towards her; Plato’s parents are divorced, his father abandoned him, his mother is neglectful, and he is bullied at school. These three misfits deal with their feelings of alienation from their families and society by forming their own unconventional family unit with Jim as the father, Judy as the mother, and Plato as their child.  The character of Jim Stark, and by extension James Dean, is considered the archetype of the brooding 1950s bad boy but it is a surprize to the viewer to see how sensitive and noble Dean’s best known role is. In contrast to the trope that all girls in the 1950s liked abusive ass-holes, Jim’s essential goodness is what makes Judy attracted to him. Dean’s charisma makes it believable that she would fall in love with him and Plato would see him as a big brother/father figure/hero crush. It also really enjoy Sal Mineo as Plato. Mineo makes the character both psychotic and endearing and Plato is easily the most sympathetic character in the movie.  

The film shows that despite their flaws, its three main characters are good kids at heart. .  

It could not help but compare Rebel Without a Cause to Grease. While Grease both laughs at and revels in the cliches associated with the 1950s, Rebel Without a Cause is a deeper and more serious look at the decade, which is often seen through a fog of nostalgia and mockery.

 

Bag Girl Reviews: Children of the Corn (2009)

***Warning: Spoilers***

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Since it is October, Jasmine has trying to get me to watch some film adaptations of Stephen King stories. I decided that we start off with watching the 2009 SyFy Channel tv movie of King’s short story, Children of the Corn, which happens to be the only one of his stories that I am familiar with. I decided to watch the 2009 SyFy version as well as the better known 1984 film after seeing the Nostalgia Critic review, which in turn made me want to read the short story they are based on. Of the two film versions, I decided that my favorite is the 2009 one because it is closer to the original story.

Children of the Corn centers around a couple named Burt (David Anders) and Vicky (Kandyse McClure) who travel through rural Nebraska on a second honeymoon road trip and run afoul of cult hyper religious children who kill and sacrifice in the name of a corn god known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” The Nostalgia Critic pointed out to humorous effect in his review of the 1984 version that corrupt religious figures and creepy children of the horror genre and of King’s oeuvre specifically. One of the most interesting parts of the story is it exploration of what children, who are impressionable and lack the emotional maturity of adults, could be capable of if there were no adult supervision and their actions were justified by religion. The cult forms when the young people of the fictional town of Gatlin Nebraska begin blaming a severe drought on the sinfulness of the adult population. Their first sacrificial victim is a policeman; policemen and other authority figures are often seen as objects of resentment by rebellious youths.

The two main characters, Burt and Vicky, are obnoxious and unsympathetic people. Burt is a brutish Vietnam veteran with post traumatic stress disorder. Vicky is a prissy former prom queen who is unwilling and unable to do anything for herself.  They are the type of people who peaked in their youth and are unsatisfied with their anticlimactic lives and take out their frustrations on other people. The type of people who go on to raise resentful and badly behaved children. The viewer is tempted to root for the children who are out to kill them.

The Nostalgia Critic also pointed out that the weakest part of a Stephen King story is the climax, the reveal of the monster. King excels at creating a creepy and disturbing set up, which the film captures well, but the ending is a bit of let down. There is in fact a monster living in the cornfield who reveals himself to, spoiler alert, finish Burt off. But as I mentioned in my Crimson Peak review, often the scariest part of a horror story is the human elements. Fear comes from the unknown and Children of the Corn would have been a stronger story if the nature of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” was left ambiguous since the behavior of the cult children is the most frightening part of the story.

My favorite part of the movie is the scene which is after the credits. There is a subplot about a pregnant teenaged girl named Ruth (Alexa Nikolas) who loses faith in the cult after her lover, Malachi (Daniel Newman), one of the main cult members, is killed along with the other children who are too old. This leads to a disturbing dream image of Ruth setting fire to the sacred cornfield.

Bag Girl Reviews: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Yesterday was my roommate Jasmine’s birthday. Last week when we were visiting Wicked Good Books in downtown Salem, Jasmine noticed a movie tie in edition of  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and had an impulse to buy it, which she acted upon yesterday when she returned to downtown Salem to do some birthday shopping. I suggested that we go to see the movie of the book that’s recently come out. Jasmine and I had decided that we go to Omega Pizza for dinner and then take a taxi to Museum Place Mall where the Salem Cinema is. We looked about in the shops until seven, when the movie began.

I have never been to the Salem Cinema before. It is a tiny movie theater in a corner of the Museum Place Mall which took me a while to find again when we returned around seven. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was shown in one of the larger auditoriums.  A couple of weeks ago, I considered going to see this film but decided to go see Storks instead because it was getting better reviews but I was curious about it because it looked like something I might enjoy.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs. It follows a teenaged boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield) who travels to a remote island off the coast of Wales to find the orphanage where his recently deceased grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) lived during the 1940s. Jake discovers that the orphanage exists in a time loop and resets every twenty-four hours to the day where the building was destroyed by a German air raid during World War II. This time loop exists to protect a group of children with special abilities (known as Peculiars) who live under the care of the titular Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who has the ability to reset time and turn into a peregrine falcon. Jake grows close to the peculiars, specifically Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), an aerokinetic girl who can manipulate air, and discovers that he has inherited his grandfather’s “peculiarity”: being able to see hollowgasts or “hollows”, creatures who were besieging the orphanage, lead by Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson).

One detail which gives the story an interesting subtext is that it is implied that Jake’s family is Jewish and his grandfather Abe (Jake and Abe being short for the traditionally Jewish names Jacob and Abraham) fled his native Poland during the holocaust. Abe told Jake that he left Poland because he was being troubled by monsters. Jake’s father tells him that “there were monsters in Poland…just not the type you think.” and that they wanted to get rid of everyone who was different, hence why Miss Peregrine’s wards might have needed protecting during the 1940s.

The story has an interesting premise and the visually interesting production design has director Tim Burton’s fingerprints all over it.  

If anything, Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children is good looking.

I came into this film knowing it was getting mixed reviews and after seeing it my conclusion is that its concept is brilliant and its execution is competent if filled with YA cliches.    Eva Green as Miss Peregrine gave a compelling performance. The character of Jake, played by Asa Butterfield, was fairly bland but he is supposed to be the everyman/ audience surrogate. His love interest Emma Bloom was the type of prissy English girl character which annoys me. Samuel L. Jackson hams it up as Mr. Barron to a threatening yet hilarious degree. I would recommend this movie, if only for its interesting premise, and might watch it again sometime.

Bag Girl Reviews: Crimson Peak

 

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Since it is October, I decided to show Jasmine some of my favorite scary movies in preparation for Halloween. I decided to start off with an new favorite of mine, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, a film I dragged my father to the cinema to see a year ago. The film is a visually striking combination of gothic horror and period drama/ romance which I admit that I was a sucker for. I do not know much about horror films but I am beginning to enjoy and appreciate but I’ve always been a fan of period romances and dramas and these two genres mesh beautifully together.

` Crimson Peak is the story of a young american heiress and aspiring author named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who is wooed by Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a mysterious and penniless English aristocrat, despite the disapproval of her self-made industrialist father, and her childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam). After tragedy strikes Edith, she and Thomas marry and return to Allerdale Hall, the Sharpe family ancestral estate, also known as Crimson Peak because it is seated upon a red clay mine, where Edith must deal with her antagonistic and mentally unstable sister-in-law Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and a slew of metaphorical and not so metaphorical ghosts.

I would describe Crimson Peak as Edith Wharton/Henry James meets Edgar Allan Poe. The story of a naive and wealthy american girl being lured into marrying a dubious and broke european nobleman and its theme of the clash between american new money and european ancestral privilege is straight out of  the novels of James and Wharton. Crimson Peak also has a lot in common with Poe’s The Fall of The House of Usher; a crumbling old house and a suspiciously close brother and sister who are the last of an equally old and crumbling family line.

There are also elements of  Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, two of my favorite novels, which are both gothic romances involving a young woman falling in love with a brooding man with a mysterious past.

Crimson Peak is a beautiful looking film. It’s production design is rich in detail and symbolism. The largest part of the film takes place in Allerdale Hall, the crumbling and decrepit Sharpe home, which is simultaneously creepy and gorgeous. Allerdale Hall is slowing falling apart and sinking into the red clay pits below, symbolizing the collapse and fall of the Sharpe family; their home is both the reason and the reflection of their decline. My favorite part of the production design is the costumes. Most of the characters are dressed in turn-of-century fashion with a heightened and theatrical flair. The crowd at the ball scene in the beginning looks strait out of a John Singer Sargent painting. Edith often wears warm gold tones with floral appliques, signifying her wealth and innocence. In contrast to Edith’s golden Gibson Girl look, Lucille wears bustle gowns a decade or so out of fashion in gothic shades of black, white, deep red, and dark blue. There is a motif in the film of butterflies (pretty, delicate, and fragile) meant to represent the innocent and vulnerable Edith and moths (predatory and associated with darkness) representing the dangerous and brooding Sharpes.

I find Mia Wasikowska a very dull actress and not strong enough to carry a film but I liked her as Edith, mostly because I could not help but identify with the character: bespectacled, blonde, aspiring writer, the type of girl who would rather stay home and read/write than go to party. The film would have been stronger if a more compelling actress had been cast in this role.  Jessica Chastain as Lucille is an absolutely chilling and intimidating antagonist, going from ice queen to shrieking psycho at the drop of a hat. Tom Hiddleston is well cast as the brooding, gothic anti-hero, Thomas Sharpe. Thin, pale, dark haired, Hiddleston contrasts well with hunky, blond Charlie Hunnam as Alan McMichael, his rival for Edith’s love, as sturdy and stalwart in his form as he is in his devotion to Edith.  Chastain and Hiddleston as the Sharpes are the most interesting characters in the story and give the best performances.

Edith describes the story she is trying to publish as “a story with a ghost in it” rather than a ghost story and that the ghost in it is a metaphor. The same could be said about Crimson Peak. It was pointed out to me that it is a feature of Guillermo del Toro’s horror films that though the ghosts and monsters are frightening, they are not the threat. The true danger is something unsettlingly human.