Monday 6 February 2017

The Lego Batman Movie, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, and The Girl On The Train: Your Week In Film (February 6-12)

Bat's entertainment: Everything is awesome (again)

Movie picks for the next seven days on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, TV, and in cinemas...

I've always been of the opinion that it is impossible to take a man dressed as a bat entirely seriously, which might explain my long-standing resistance to Christopher Nolan's po-faced Dark Knight trilogy and my adoration, since the age of five, of the gloriously deranged '60s Batman TV show. A fellow prancing about as a winged rodent, and fighting criminals called The Penguin and Clayface, is not Dirty Harry, he's not Bruce Willis in Die Hard, or Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. He's the runner-up in a costume parade with delusions of grandeur and a screw loose.

The Lego Batman Movie (in cinemas from Friday) WWW½ not only understands the character's innate silliness but celebrates it too. Relentlessly, breathlessly, in eye-damagingly-bright primary colours, for 100 minutes. There have been recent attempts to resurrect the manic pop thrill - the sheer giddy sugar rush - of the old TV show, in comic-book form and an animated movie starring Adam West and Burt Ward, but this comes far closer to capturing its screwy, subversive spirit.

Batman (Will Arnett) decides to finally fix the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) for good... by stealing a device from Superman that will send his nemesis into the Phantom Zone, an extra-dimensional prison for the worst bad guys ever. But the Clown Prince of Crime escapes and returns to Earth with an army of villains in tow, including the Eye of Sauron (The Lord Of The Rings), Voldemort (Harry Potter), King Kong, and a battalion of strangely-familiar "British robots". Despite being an embittered loner who recoils from almost all human contact, Batman teams up with Robin (Michael Cera), new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and Alfred the butler (Ralph Fiennes) to stop the bad guys destroying Gotham City...

The one liners, in-jokes, beautifully-animated sight gags, songs, and all manner of other inventive lunacy come thick and fast. So thick and fast, in fact, that I had trouble processing it all. At times it felt like trying to keep up with an Olympic sprinter after a midnight feast of deep-pan pizza and Special Brew. And whilst this spin-off might not quite scale the same dizzy heights as the original Lego Movie (or contain a song quite as catchy as Everything Is Awesome), at least we're spared a boring, serious bit with Will Ferrell.

The Joke's on you: Batman battles his old adversary

And on the subject of Batman...

Pity poor Tim Burton. He's become one of those 'Yes, but...' directors. Long before he'd even turned 40, Burton had given the world Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns, and Ed Wood. Since then, despite the odd return to form with the likes of Corpse Bride or Frankenweenie, his work hasn't been nearly so well received. In fact, every time he makes a new movie these days, some bright spark pops up to say, 'Yes, but it isn't as good as his early stuff'. Continuing that fine tradition is Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW, a perfectly decent and entertaining adaptation of the Ransom Riggs books, but one unlikely to set pulses racing in quite the same way as anything he made in the late '80s or early '90s.

It's X-Men-like premise sees the perfectly-cast Eva Green (Miss Peregrine) sheltering a group of children with strange abilities ('peculiarities') in a mansion that exists outside of regular time and space. They are in hiding from Samuel L Jackson and his evil Hollows - invisible creatures with more than a passing resemblance to Slender Man. But the arrival of Jake (Asa Butterfield), a boy whose peculiarity enables him to see the monsters, puts everyone in danger...

Burton's in his element for the most part, his usual 'old English gothic' schtick a perfect fit for the look and feel of the characters and their surroundings. He produces a couple of imaginative set-pieces too, one a beautifully-realised sequence set in the wreck of an old ship at the bottom of the ocean (you can see part of it in the trailer below). It all gets a bit CGI-heavy towards the end, when the film shucks its earlier whimsy for something a bit grittier, as the Hollows turn up in force for a climactic showdown in, um, Blackpool. But it kept me hooked until the end, despite the inevitable 'Yes, buts...'

More hit than miss: Eva Green is perfectly cast

You wait months for a disappointing film with the word 'girl' in the title and then two come along at once. The Girl On The Train (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW is a supposedly edgy thriller starring Emily Blunt as an alcoholic implicated in the murder of a young woman, after she sees something sinister during her daily commute to work. Blunt convinces as the emotionally-fragile 'girl' of the title while Tate Taylor's woozy direction brings a genuine sense of mystery to proceedings. Unfortunately, it never quite catches fire and only really grabbed my attention towards the end when a smart twist takes centre stage. Sad to say The Unknown Girl (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW - the latest from celebrated Belgian filmmakers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Two Days, One Night) - is little better. Adèle Haenel is Jenny Davin, a doctor investigating the suspicious death of a distressed African teenager she could have helped but didn't. Davin - a rather stand-offish individual with few friends -  isn't terribly sympathetic or even very interesting; in many ways as much of an 'unknown girl' as the woman she failed to help. I'm sure the politically-savvy Dardennes sought to shine a light on white guilt and how disconnected indigenous Europeans are from the lives of the immigrants they rub shoulders with every day. Alas, it all falls flat as we're never invited to see nor understand the life of the deceased woman whose story this should be.

Slow train: Never quite gets out of the station

Crivens and By Jingo, it's Stephen Fry and he's once again hosting back-slapping luvvie-fest The BAFTAS (BBC1, 9pm, Sunday). Amongst the numerous anti-Trump speeches and awards for La La Land, the academy might just get around to handing out gongs for Best Short Film and Best Animated Short. All eight of the British projects up for those particular awards are now available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema in one big hit of about an hour and a half. In the Short Film category, I particularly enjoyed Home WWW, Daniel Mulloy's clever, powerful take on Europe's refugee crisis, starring Jack O'Connell. While, animation-wise, I loved Jennifer Zheng's Tough WWW½, a gentle meditation on ethnic identity and cultural misunderstanding. All of the nominated projects have something to recommend them, whether it's good writing (Standby), imaginative storytelling (The Alan Dimension), or sheer ambition (Mouth Of Hell).

What I shall be watching this week: Park Chan-Wook's The Handmaiden (DVD) and Matthew McConaughey chewing the scenery for all its worth in Gold (cinema).

WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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