Dumbo (2019) review

DUMBO

Director: Tim Burton
Cast : Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, DeObia Oparei
Genre : Adventure/Family/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 h 52 mins
Opens : 28 March 2019
Rating : PG

           This year, we’ll be getting several live-action remakes of Disney animated features – or, to be pedantic, a photo-realistic CGI remake with The Lion King. The House of Mouse kicks off the 2019 slate of remakes with Dumbo.

It is 1919 and Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) has returned from World War I, having lost his left arm in the battle. Holt and his late wife Annie were trick riders in the circus. Holt returns to the circus, run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito), to find they have run into hard times. An elephant acquired by Medici gives birth to a baby elephant with abnormally large ears. The baby, named Jumbo Jr. and nicknamed Dumbo, is forcefully separated from his mother. Holt’s young children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) discover Dumbo can fly.

The story of the amazing flying elephant attracts the attention of entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who buys out Medici’s circus. The circus performers, including Dumbo, relocate to Vandevere’s sprawling theme park Dreamland. Vandevere has Dumbo perform alongside trapeze artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green). While Medici is initially swayed by Vandevere, he and the other circus performers eventually discover that Vandevere is exploiting them and is exploiting Dumbo in particular. Holt, Milly and Joe hatch a plan to free Dumbo and reunite him with his mother.

Disney’s live-action remakes have sometimes been criticised for being too literal – 2017’s Beauty and the Beast comes to mind. A remake should put enough of a spin on the original such that it doesn’t lose its spirit, but still feels transformative enough to be worthwhile. Dumbo largely achieves this with its story focusing on new human characters, while keeping the titular baby elephant as its emotional centre. Thankfully, elements from the original such as the racist crows are jettisoned, and this film’s message of inclusivity feels more genuine than that espoused by fellow circus movie The Greatest Showman.

Tim Burton’s sensibilities might not seem like the best fit for a family-friendly Disney film, and his attempts at family-aimed movies do tend to be inadvertently horrifying. However, Dumbo benefits from the distinct visual stylisation that Burton brings to it, and is also very much a story about outsiders, which is familiar territory for the director. Dumbo’s big ears, the thing for which he is mocked, are also the source of his special abilities. It’s not quite Edward Scissorhands, but one can see the connection there. There are times when it feels like this isn’t exactly a passion project for Burton and that he’s very much a hired gun, but then again, it’s easy to overdose on Burton-ness and for him to lapse into self-parody, which he stays a safe distance from here.

A lot rides on the shoulders of the titular pachyderm – if audiences believe the wholly computer-generated creation as a living, breathing character, then it’s easy to empathise with him and to feel sad when bad things befall him. The visual effects are supervised by Richard Stammers, and while Dumbo might look a bit unnatural in stills and posters, the result is successful. The human characters do a lot of interacting with Dumbo, which is mostly seamless. This is a movie in which the title character is only added into the film in post-production, and there isn’t an actor performing motion capture on set like with the Planet of the Apes reboot series or Alita: Battle Angel.

In addition to the synthetic main character, the human cast is a big part of what makes Dumbo work. There was a period in Colin Farrell’s career when Hollywood was pushing him as an action hero, and he’s much better as characters like Holt – quiet, tortured characters who are still noble, they’re just not spouting one-liners. Farrell brings a pensive sadness to Holt, who is handicapped after fighting in the war and is struggling to raise his two children after the death of his wife.

Michael Keaton is having heaps of fun as the slimy P.T. Barnum analogue. His villainous character is never truly terrifying and isn’t half as terrifying as Keaton’s portrayal of the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. There’s also the irony of a slick huckster who swallows up a smaller business being the villain in a Disney movie, given that Disney regularly swallows up slightly smaller businesses.

DeVito brings humour and heart to the role of Medici, someone who cares for his employees but who is struggling to make ends meet. The film hints that the circus performers have lives and personalities beyond their gimmick – Roshan Seth’s snake charmer character Pramesh Singh cares deeply for the elephants, while DeObia Oparei’s strong man character Rongo is also Medici’s accountant and general right-hand man.

Eva Green has become something of a muse of Burton’s, this being her third film with him. She brings elegance and mystique to the role of Colette, whom Vandevere keeps firmly under his thumb.

Nico Parker gives an assured performance as Milly, who has her heart set on becoming a scientist. She’s a girl ahead of her time, aspiring to something more than being a circus performer. Milly’s brother Joe is a bit less defined as a character, but Finley Hobbins is still quite endearing.

While Dumbo sometimes feels just a bit too conventional, it is a moving, often enchanting take on the classic animated film. The film benefits from just enough of Burton’s signature weirdness and darkness while still being something for the whole family.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

For F*** Magazine

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Director : Tim Burton
Cast : Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Ella Purnell, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 7min
Opens : 29 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Frightening Scenes)

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-posterDirector Tim Burton has always had a preoccupation with the peculiar, one which continues in this fantasy adventure. Jake Portman (Butterfield) has long been fascinated by his grandfather Abe’s (Stamp) astonishing stories. Abe claims to have spent time at an orphanage for children with unique, unnatural abilities, run by one Miss Peregrine (Green), who can take the form of her namesake bird of prey. Jake’s psychiatrist Dr. Golan (Janney) recommends that Jake visit this orphanage himself to find closure, and so Jake’s father (O’Dowd) takes him to Wales. On a small island, Jake discovers a portal to 1943 – the orphanage is stuck in a time loop generated by Miss Peregrine. Jake finds himself drawn to Emma (Purnell), who can manipulate air. The sullen Enoch (Finlay McMillan), who brings Frankenstein’s Monster-style creations to life, feels threatened by Jake. The evil Baron (Jackson) is on the hunt for Peculiars, with Jake and his newfound friends having to fend off Baron and his cadre of monstrous ‘hollowgasts’.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is adapted from Ransom Riggs’ novel of the same name. This reviewer is completely unfamiliar with the book and its sequel, and thus cannot judge the film as an adaptation of the source material. Just going off the title alone, it would seem that Burton is the ideal fit to bring the story to the big screen, and for a time, it looked like he might not actually commit to the project. Screenwriter Jane Goldman of X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service fame brings some of the edgy wit seen in her other work to bear, but for the most part, this is pretty standard young adult stuff. There’s a chosen one who uncovers mysterious family secrets, gets inducted into a fantastical world he’s never known, falls in love, gains an eccentric but good-hearted mentor figure and has to fight a sinister organisation.

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While it may not be anything revelatory for those raised on a steady diet of Harry Potter and its ilk, the world of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is still engaging. The mechanics of the fictional universe are laid out clearly enough and it’s generally pretty fun, not taking itself too seriously. As with any fantasy, there are some proper nouns to learn. For example, an ‘ymbryne’ is a female guardian of peculiar children who can shape-shift into a bird. It revels in the absurdity of it all without obnoxiously proclaiming “you are watching a Tim Burton movie”, which the director is prone to doing. The various abilities the children possess are at once shocking and amusing and in at least one case, genuinely disturbing. While there is an expected reliance on digital visual effects, we do get a fun sequence which makes use of old-fashioned stop-motion animation. The imagery is the right side of spooky: it will give children nightmares, but generally stops short of being completely traumatising.

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Butterfield does a fine job of being awkward and awestruck; ‘chosen one’ protagonists can get a little bland but he’s sufficiently likeable as a performer, so Jake doesn’t come off as merely a tabula rasa protagonist. The moment Green appears more than half an hour into the film however, it’s abundantly clear that this is her movie. She’s an actress who’s always acutely aware of the type of project she’s in, modulating her performance accordingly. Here, she’s essentially Professor X meets Mary Poppins. She appears to be enjoying herself and struts about with the utmost poise. The midnight blue streaks in Miss Peregrine’s hair, which take on a green tint in the right light, make Green even more mesmerizing than she usually is.

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One of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’s shortcomings is an understandable one that afflicts many superhero films: the bulk of the characters are defined by their powers, and that’s about it. The incongruity of the children’s ordinary appearances and their flabbergasting abilities provides most of the humour. Purnell strikes a balance between confidence and gentleness, with Emma’s link to Jake’s grandfather making her an enigma that Jake feels he needs to solve. Alas, one can almost see the label reading ‘designated love interest’ hanging above her head. In a move that might vex faithful fans of the books, Emma and Olive (Lauren McCrostie) appear to have switched powers: in the book, Emma was pyrokinetic and Olive was aerokinetic (see, we’ve done a tiny bit of research).

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The Harry Potter series packed plenty of prestigious thespians into the adult supporting roles. Here, the mix of actors is a little more eclectic. Stamp is usually cast as cold, intimidating villains and here, he’s playing an affectionate if odd grandfather. Jackson’s colourful, over-the-top villain, who lisps a little on account of the prosthetic pointy teeth, is a little too over-the-top to be genuinely frightening. Younger children might be spooked by the hollowgasts, who are essentially takes on the internet urban legend supernatural being Slenderman, but because of their CGI-ness, they can be a little too synthetic to be actually scary. There’s also altogether too little of Dame Judi Dench in this, but James Bond fans will appreciate the brief reunion between M and Vesper Lynd.

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The world of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has enough to it that we would be up for a sequel, but because it generally plays it safe as far as young adult fantasy stories go, it didn’t quite grab us. Still, it benefits from eye-catching visuals and an entertaining turn from Green in the titular role.

 

Summary: It’s more adequate than extraordinary and is far from Burton’s most memorable, but Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fine marriage of director and source material and is pretty decent fantasy adventure stuff.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

For F*** Magazine

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR 

Director : Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Cast : Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Juno Temple, Jaime King, Bruce Willis, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 8 August 2014
Rating : R21 (Violence, Nudity & Sexual Scenes) 
Running time: 102 mins
SC2_1sh_FINALBasin CITY. A cesspool dripping with BLOODand ALCOHOLand SEXand GRIME. A grimy CESSPOOL. NINE years after the FIRSTmovie, we RETURN. FOUR interlocking stories. “Just ANOTHERSaturday NIGHT” – Marv (Rourke) BEATS up PUNKS and hangs off the side of POLICE CARS. “The Long BAD Night” – Johnny (Gordon-Levitt), a self-assured young gambler, beats Senator Roark (Boothe) in a GAMEof POKER. Big MISTAKE. “A DAMEto Kill For” – Ava Lord (Green), sly WICKEDNESS taken the form of a WOMAN. She CASTSher SPELLupon former flame Dwight (Brolin) once more. Can he ESCAPE this enchantress’ GRASP? “Nancy’s Last DANCE” – stripper Nancy (Alba) is victim no MORE. She seeks to AVENGE the death of Hartigan (Willis), her PROTECTOR. AVENGINGhis DEATH. Her crosshairs are SET on Roark.
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            This reviewer had planned to write the whole thing in the style of Frank Miller but gave up after that paragraph. The first Sin City film broke its share of ground by hewing closely to the stylisation Miller had drawn into his graphic novels, using visual effects and cinematography to replicate the striking aesthetic of the Sin City books. Black and white with occasional violent bursts of selective colour, often lapsing into animated silhouettes. Miller was initially reluctant to allow an adaptation to be filmed, but Robert Rodriguez won him over and they became co-directors on both movies. It’s nine years later and it’s not quite so novel anymore. In-between then and now we’ve had the likes of 300 and the dismal The Spirit, the latter directed by Miller himself. It’s still a great gimmick and we bet this movie is stunning in 3D (we saw the 2D version). However, any gimmick can only carry a film so far.

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            The movie is clearly striving for a noir feel but so much of the Frank Miller dialogue, in reaching for a hard-boiled attitude, comes off as laughably silly. “It’s another hot night. The kind of night that makes people do sweaty, secret things,” Dwight says in voiceover. When he gets kicked in the crotch, he describes it as “an atom bomb go(ing) off between my legs.” The intensity of all the brutal, wince-inducing violence in the film ends up being undercut by the writing. “A Dame to Kill For” has as its central character an evil, manipulative, often-naked seductress. Eva Green vamps it up entertainingly as is her speciality, but there’s not much more to Ava Lord than that – she’s a textbook femme fatale. The character’s speech about the nature of insanity and evil from the graphic novel, which would have added a layer or two, is cut. “Nancy’s Last Dance”, an original story written for this film, also undoes everything the character went through in the first film. Nancy, that narrow beam of light that was able to escape the darkness of Sin City, is now just another avenging angel. “The Long Bad Night”, the other original story, is carried by Gordon-Levitt playing against Boothe but is never wholly compelling.

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            The film’s ensemble cast gets to play it up in ways few other movies would let them, to mostly entertaining results. Josh Brolin, playing Dwight before the character had plastic surgery to look like Clive Owen, is convincingly tough and grizzled. Powers Boothe is a hoot as a “love to hate” villain of the most extreme variety. Gordon-Levitt sinks his teeth into playing Johnny in his transition from cocksure and feeling untouchable to wounded and seething. The afore-mentioned Green, taking the role long-linked to Angelina Jolie, does look like she’s having a ball and seems extremely comfortable with the nigh-gratuitous nudity. Speaking of showing skin, Jessica Alba famously has a no-nudity clause but given Nancy’s get-ups in this film, she might as well be naked. Her attempts at playing an angry Nancy galvanised into taking up arms against Roark are ropey at best. Bruce Willis plays a ghost. Odd sense of déjà vu there.

            In 2005, before the full-on boom of movies based on comic books and graphic novels that we’re experiencing now, Sin Citywas unlike anything else out there. It was striking, bold and impactful. Now, the cool factor of the film being shot on a digital back-lot with everything but the actors and key props computer-generated has subsided. As over the top as A Dame to Kill For is, it falls short of the visceral oomph the first film had. Comic book fans know Frank Miller as a writer and artist who helped define the medium with the likes of The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, but who seems to have lost his mind, judging from the atrocious likes of Holy Terror and All Star Batman and Robin. His misogynistic attitudes and obsession with dark faux-poetry are on full display in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez serving as little more than his errand boy.

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Summary: There’s no kill like overkill –Sin City: A Dame to Kill For brims with eye-catching imagery and uncompromising depictions of violence and sex, but there is little beneath its glossy, lurid surface.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong