Tag Archives: Asa Butterfield

Money, It’s a Hit

Greed

by George Wolf

Greed is a film with a big, timely target and a handful of well-groomed darts. But as much as it consistently lands shots on the board, it never gets close to the bullseye.

To be fair, landing a knockout satire is no easy trick. That writer/director Michael Winterbottom can’t manage it is one problem, but you’re never quite sure he’s fully committed to trying, which is the bigger issue.

He did land a stellar cast, starting right at the top with Steve Coogan, who plays retail fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie to pompous perfection.

McCreadie, Britain’s “Monet of Money,” is ready to celebrate his 60th birthday with a huge, Gladiator-themed blowout on the coast of Greece, complete with a recreated Coliseum, a live lion, and entertainment from Elton and Coldplay.

Those Syrian refugees camped out on the public beach, though? Yeah, they’re ruining the view, so they’ll have to go.

While McCreadie’s mother (Shirley Henderson), his ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), their son (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield, all grown up!) and various employees and hangers-on dodge his frequent outbursts, official biographer Nick (David Mitchell) is trying to make sense of it all.

Winterbottom, writer and/or director for all of Coogan’s The Trip franchise, uses Nick’s fact-finding as the catalyst for plenty of time hopping. From a ruthless young McCreadie (Jamie Blackley) building his empire to a well-scripted episode of “reality” television filming alongside the party planning, Greed unveils a surface-level social consciousness in search of a clear direction.

There’s absurdity, clever amusements and some outright laughs (especially McCreadie haggling over the prices for big-ticket entertainers and a financial writer explaining the illusion of money), but Winterbottom doesn’t seem to trust himself – or his audience- enough to get off the pulpit and commit to satire.

The unveiling of shady business deals, the folly of the “self-made man” and the distance between wealth and consequence is all valid terrain, but Greed is content with paths less challenging and more obvious.

And on one occasion, the film’s timing works against it, because as great as this cast is at dry humor and glossy obnoxiousness, hearing someone label McCreadie a “parasite” only underscores how vital this class warfare theme can be with more inspired execution.

The Angsty Frontier

The Space Between Us

by Hope Madden

Space – the weepy YA film’s final frontier. Hopefully.

Asa Butterfield (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) is Gardner, the first child born on Mars – even if it was an accident. But he’s lonely and isolated and apparently we can build a community on Mars but we can’t get them contemporary movies.

Gardner’s lonely! He’s angsty! He’s smitten with Tulsa, the bored, hardened foster kid he met online (Britt Robertson – Tomorrowland).

Wouldn’t it be dreamy if they met? Maybe fell in love? I’m sure each one of them could appreciate how deeply special the other one is, even if no one else notices it.

The Space Between Us is harmless enough. Butterfield and his big blue eyes make Gardner’s exploration of Earth sweet, and solid performances from a veteran supporting cast including Gary Oldman and Carla Gugina give what life they can to the plodding, predictable plot.

The film, which screams of adolescent literature, is actually an original piece of writing by Allen Loeb. Loeb most recently brought us the excruciating Collateral Beauty. If you haven’t seen it, don’t.

Schmaltz and emotional manipulation – these are some of the tricks employed to draw your attention away from the utterly ludicrous storyline. Unfortunately, they don’t mask the lack of chemistry between the leads.

This is a love story without sparks, a potential tragedy without an emotional pull. The payoff feels not only predetermined but unearned.

Is it as bad as If I Stay or The Fault in Our Stars? Why, no. The Space Between Us mercifully avoids the truly maudlin. But there is enough overlap in theme that it feels more like a sanitized version of those tear jerkers than it does an original idea.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Ain’t That Peculiar?

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

by Hope Madden

The biggest problem facing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is that the film is not nearly peculiar enough.

Tim Burton takes on director duties for Ransom Riggs’s popular young adult novel about how special it is to be special. Jake (Asa Butterfield) lost his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp) mysteriously and visits the orphanage of his childhood looking for closure.

What he finds involves loops in the time space continuum, Burton-esque hotties, creepy twins dressed as scarecrows, and eyeball eating.

It’s impossible to watch this film without comparing it to both the X-Men and Harry Potter series, which means Peregrine has to be Goth enough to set itself apart. You would think, if anybody can Goth up a story, that body is Tim Burton.

Working again with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnell, Burton gives the film a lovely look that creates a nostalgic quality. He’s also made a couple of casting choices that elevate the effort.

Eva Green excels as the titular headmistress, giving the character just enough falcon-like characteristics to make her fascinating.

Samuel L. Jackson – working with some pretty weak dialog – still brims with more swagger than necessary to keep his villainous Baaron interesting.

Butterfield – so tender and wonderful in Scorsese’s 2011 Hugo – falls flat here. So, so flat. His awkward outsider, so weary with the ordinariness of his suburban Florida adolescence, is perhaps too convincingly flattened out by life.

There is a fun Ray Harryhausen-inspired fight sequence in the third act, but by that time you realize that the film has offered so little in the way of interesting visuals or action of any sort that it’s almost jarring.

Not as jarring as all that eyeball eating, though.

On first blush, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children felt like the perfect match of content and director. And Burton could use material that makes him work for it (Big Eyes), rather than just “Tim Buttoning” it (Alice in Wonderland). Maybe the most peculiar thing about the film is that he does neither.

Verdict-2-5-Stars





Game Over, Man! Game Over!

Ender’s Game

by Hope Madden

A gawky adolescent plays video games and saves the world. It’s easy to see why Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game is so popular with young boys. But the truth is that this SciFi thriller is more than just a simple adolescent male fantasy. It’s an intricately written coming of age story that pulls readers in, not just with the video game storyline, but a video game structure, as the hero defeats certain challenges before moving on to the next level, so to speak.

Though his screenplay is often inelegant in its adaptation, clunking through sections that must have been quite impressive in novel form, writer/director Gavin Hood’s affection for the source material is evident. So, too, is his skill with FX as well as casting.

Asa Butterfield (Hugo) leads the cast as Ender Wiggin, the pinch-shouldered spindle hoping to make it through the ranks of the military academy to help defend earth against an impending alien invasion. Butterfield’s vulnerability – physical and emotional – and obvious intelligence provide the character the compelling internal conflict the role requires.

SciFi legend Harrison Ford shows some effort as Ender’s commanding officer, while the always wonderful Viola Davis gives the film its emotional core, and allows Hood an opportunity to mine this story for some social commentary. “It used to be a war crime to recruit soldiers younger than 15,” she scolds Ford’s Colonel Graff.

Though visually impressive, the film’s cosmic FX pale in comparison to the entirely superior Gravity. Still, Hood knows how to put a crowd in the middle of a video game without giving off the immediately dated feel of Tron.

Though sometimes derivative, (Act 2 feels a bit too much like Top Gun, if you substitute teenaged video game nerds for hot, ambiguously gay volleyball players), the film eventually packs an emotional wallop. The climax is effective, but the resolution is rushed. These issues are symptomatic of the effort as a whole – fitfully entertaining, absorbing and gorgeous, and yet tonally challenged and poorly paced.

Hood’s greatest failing is that he settles for a thrill ride when he was handed a beloved, epic coming of age tragedy. Oddly enjoyable and intermittently wonderful, the film still feels like a mild letdown.

Verdict-3-0-Stars