Lise Lyng Falkenberg's Point of View

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

A few months before Tim Burton’s film was released, I read the three books in Ransom Riggs’ trilogy about Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children. I found the books extremely fascinating as they were based on real photos that Riggs and other photo collectors had found over the years: strange, old photos of little girls levitating, dogs smoking pipes and boys with wings. From these photos Riggs has made an exciting epic tale with imaginative contents enough for three films. When I went to the cinema, I therefore expected to watch the first of three film about the peculiar children.

During first half of the 127 minutes long film, I was well entertained. The film follows the book more or less, Asa Butterfield is believable as the American teenager Jake (Jacob) Portman, Chris O’Dowd is spot-on as his dad Franklin and it is a stroke of genius to turn Dr. Golan into a woman portrayed by Allison Janney. I only had one big objection and that was to what Tim Burton has done to the peculiar children.

SPOILER ALLERT! I think several of the young actors are great as the peculiar children, especially Hayden Keeler-Stone as Horace, but there are also children, who don’t appear in the books, namely the twins. There are photos of the twins in the books, but they don’t live in Miss Peregrine’s home, so they are no part of the action. I do understand why Tim Burton wanted them in the film, though, as their photos are the most intriguing in the entire trilogy and it is an odd thing that Riggs didn’t use them for anything at all.
In the books most of the children are much older than in the film. In fact, they all appear to be teenagers around Jacob’s age, apart from Enoch, Olive and Claire who are younger children, whereas in the film only Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), Olive (Lauren McCrostie) and Emma (Ella Purnell) are Jake’s age and the rest are little kids. Of course this changes the story quite a lot.
The worst thing is though, what Tim Burton and/or the screen writer Jane Goldman have done to Jacob’s love-interest Emma Bloom. In the books, Emma appears as a tough, dramatic teenage girl who has control over fire, which she can manipulate in her hands, shape and throw. In the film she is a blonde bombshell who has control over air and therefore is able to levitate. Wait a minute, the bookwork will say. Isn’t that Olive’s peculiarity? Little eight-year old Olive? Yes, but apparently Burton found it more gratifying visually to have a heroine whom the hero is able to have on a leash than one who is able to fend for herself with fire. In the film, the fire peculiarity has been bestowed on Olive, who is no longer a little girl, but a morbid teenager in love with the other morbid teenager Enoch.
I must admit that I hated this switch as it turned a fierce heroine into just another pretty blonde, telling girls that you have to be pretty and sweet to be the heroine, not weird and on fire. It is appalling and shoots down everything that especially Katniss Everdeen from “Hunger Games” stands for, but also other intelligent, strong teenage heroines like Hermione Granger from “Harry Potter”.
Let’s dwell on Harry Potter for a moment, shall we? In the Harry Potter books Hermione is an average looking know-it-all with bushy hair and large front teeth. The film makers got around her average looks by casting one of the prettiest little girls (Emma Watson) as Hermione, but if they had done it the Tim Burton way, they would just have replaced Hermione’s character with say Angelina Johnson. Angelina Johnson is popular and a good Quidditch player, right? Then it would have been Harry, Ron and Angelina who made up The Golden Trio, except the powers that be would have fiddled with Angelina’s age for her to become younger and they would have given her Hermione’s name as well, whereas Hermione under the name Angelina would have ended up as an average looking, know-it-all minor character who went to the Yule Ball with Fred Weasley and eventually married his grieving twin brother George after Fred’s death. That would never have worked, you say? But that is exactly what has been done to Emma in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”!

Well, rant over. Sort of. Half way through the film a Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) turns up. He is a wight or rather a hollowgast as the film doesn’t differentiate between the monsters = the hollowgasts, and what they are able to become= the wights. The problem is that there is no Mr. Barron in the books and no wights who eat the eyes of the peculiars as it is their souls they are after.
Because the villain is now different from the books, the plot has to be different too and in fact, the second half of the film is a quick, harmless ending to the entire story. How Ransom Riggs would allow his two novels “Hollow City” and “Library of Souls” in his epic Miss Peregrine-trilogy to be replaced by this superficial, somewhat comical ending on Blackpool’s North Pier is a mystery to me, but I was sorely disappointed.
Tim Burton chose the easy way out instead of filming the actual story, and I just can’t believe that I am never going to see an Emu-Raffe, the scary library of souls or Bentham’s central point for loops. I sure hope that over time, someone braver is going to do a remake and film all three of the books in a trilogy, as they fully deserve it.

SPOILER ALERT OVER! The film as such is funny at times, but as soon as Burton leaves Riggs’ story, it starts going downhill. There are good performances from several of the cast, including Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Judi Dench as Miss Avocet and Terence Stamp as Abraham Portman, but that is just not enough to satisfy this disappointed reviewer. Ransom Riggs’ trilogy I’d give five out of five stars, but Tim Burton’s film I can only give three out of five: ***

Monday, September 05, 2016

OFF16 – Odense International Film Festival

This year I’m celebrating my 30th anniversary as a film critic, so of course I went to review OFF16, which was actually the 41st time that Odense International Film Festival took place here in Odense, Denmark! As usual the festival lasted a week, this year from August 29th to September 4th.
The OFF International Film Festival used to be a festival celebrating imaginative short films, animations and documentaries, but the documentaries no longer have their own competition and the selection jury seems to have forgotten about imagination as most of the short films are bleak and dreary social realism. Don’t get me wrong, there were no really bad films this year, at least I only saw one where I wondered how the heck it had managed to get picked for the competition. On the other hand, there were no extraordinarily good films, either, none that amazed me and really knocked my socks off. They were all more or less just plain okay, but still there had to be found winners, and with the kinds of films that the award juries had to pick from, most of the winners were of course bleak realistic dramas with very clear masculine outlooks on the world and very little imagination. The winners were:
Winners of the main competition: The HCA Award (the International Grand Prix): “When You Hear Bells” by Chabname Zariab, France. The OFF Storyteller Award: “Small Talk” by “Even Hafnor and Lisa Brooke Hansen, Norway. The OFF Artist Award for the film with the strongest artistic expression: “Ten Buildings Away” by Miki Polonski, Israel.
Winners of the Danish competition: Best Danish Short Film: “Melon Rainbow” by Laurits Flensted-Jensen. The FilmFyn Talent Award: “Front View of my Father” by Nicoline Skotte with special mention of “Sia” by Annika Berg.
Winners of the animation competition: The Borge Ring Award for the best animated film: “Yúl and the Snake” by Gabriel Harel, France. The Animation Talent Award (Danish filmmakers only): “Untamed” by Juliette Viger.
Other winners: The Audience Award: “Ztripes” by Amalie Naesby, Denmark. The OFF Youth Award: “Stutterer” by Benjamin Cleary, United Kingdom.
I’m sure that the winning films were all okay, but it kind of makes me sad that imagination doesn’t mean anything to the festival anymore and that the masculine way of making films is still the prevailing and preferred, no matter if the filmmakers are male or female. Oh well, in a way you can say that the entire award system of the festival isn’t fair no matter what, because if you are a Danish animator, it is possible for you to win all of the awards, whereas non-Danish film makers and directors of documentaries and non-animated short films do not have this opportunity. I have never seen a single film winning them all, though, only a few of them, but this year I think that one film should have won them all, namely “Ztripes” by Amalie Naesby. It was by far the best film in all of the categories, wonderfully animated and narrated, funny and with a nice message. It’s not very fair to the rest of the films, though, so here are my winners, had I been the jury (and please notice that I only have two films in common with the official award juries and I don’t have them win the same awards!):
I would have had the warm, almost organic and very well animated “Love” by Réka Busci, Hungary, win the HCA Award, the funny, surprising and very relevant “Bob” by Marc Roessler, Germany, win the OFF Storyteller Award and the beautiful and disturbing “Cold Coffee” by Stephanie Lansaque and Francois Leroy, France, win the OFF Artist Award with special mention of the strange, but enticing “Golden Shot” by Gökalp Gönen, Turkey.
As Danish winners I would have picked “Ztripes” by Amalie Naesby as Best Danish Short Film and the melancholy and youthful “Untamed” by Juliette Viger for the FilmFyn Talent Award.
The Borge Ring Award for the best animated film I would have awarded to the exquisitely animated fairy tale “Mishimasaiko” by Aude Danset, France, with special mention of the tragic and bit scary, but very well animated “Geist” by Alex Sherwood, Ben Harper and Sean Mullen, Ireland. The Danish Animation Talent Award I would have awarded to the poetic “Between Walls” by Sara Jespersen Holm, Denmark.
Finally, my Youth Award would have gone to the subdued “Ping Pang” by Yoichi Tanaka, Japan, and the Audience Award to the cringe-worthily funny “Thunder Road”, which was written and directed by Jim Cummings, USA, who bravely starred as the singing and dancing officer Arnaud. Had there been a documentary category, I would have awarded “West Empire” by Mathieu Le Lay, France, the best documentary award.
Each year the festival has what is called an “OFF Focus” programme, which consists of everything that is happening during the festival that isn’t the film competition. Usually I attend several Focus events, but this year I couldn’t as I am still recovering from having had knee surgery three times in three years. Had I been in better health, some of the things I would have loved to attend were the screening of six animated films from the National Film School of Denmark, North Atlantic Film Days with screenings of films from the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland and some of the Playoff events. Playoff is a new festival-within-the-festival that focuses on gaming, animation and film and I would have loved to attend the screening of the documentary “GTOF” about sexism in the gaming world followed by a discussion with the director of the documentary, Shannon Sun-Higginson. Unfortunately I couldn’t, although I think sexism is a very current topic. Not only in the gaming world, I am afraid, as I noticed that a least 1/3 of the screened OFF16 short films (among them several of the award winners) were sexist, many unpleasantly so, bordering on misogyny. I find that very sad and furthermore it’s a bit unsettling that OFF16 boosted such films. Anyhow, I hope to be in better health to see better films next year. See you at OFF17?

Monday, August 29, 2016

H. C. Andersen Festivals 2016

As I was born in Odense - the same city as the fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen - and have lived here most of my life, I attend the H. C. Andersen Festivals that take place here each year and I have done so since their beginning in 2013.
The festivals are funded mostly by private businesses and they have some recurring problems, mainly regarding access for people with disabilities and then the public transportation, which is lousy with hardly any busses in and out of the city centre and events ending after the busses have stopped running at night. Each year the organisers have been confronted with these problems, but nothing has been done to solve them, so the festivals this year still suffered from them.
When that is said, I have to point out that the H. C. Andersen Festivals (I have no idea why it is “festivals” and not “festival”!) boasted 400 events this year from August 21st to August 28th, 2016. The events covered everything from concerts, stand-up comedy shows, art exhibitions, light shows, theatre and dance performances to singalongs, happenings, talks, lectures and much, much more including the chance to test your drawing skills against professional artists from the Japanese animation film studio Studio Ghibli! Several of the events were for children only, some for young adults and grown-ups and others for the entire family. Like previous years, many of the events were rather expensive, though, like £30 for a comedy day or a concert and £22 for a seat at a theatre performance, but others were free and those were the ones I preferred. The events that I review here were all free of charge.
As I’m still recovering from having had knee surgery three times within three years, I was only able to go to one event a day – or a couple if they were situated close to each other, so on the first day, a Monday, I went to see a few exhibitions in the city centre during daytime. I had to walk quite a bit from the nearest bus stop to the Amphi Square by Brandt’s Cultural Centre where I was to see what was called a “Harvest Party at Brandt’s”. Although I arrived two hours after the official opening hour, the organisers hadn’t finished decorating the square, so all that was visible was a few scarecrows and bales of hay. There was a little pen too with the cutest little mini pigs that you could kiss and cuddle. They were just amazing, but there was no harvest party in sight anywhere.
Two out of five stars: ** (one for each pig)
Not far from Brandt’s, the art street is located. Each year this street is furnished with a carpet and cushions on wooden pallets and then you are supposed to be able to enjoy art exhibitions in the street. But again: none of the stands were ready, so I ended up visiting one gallery only, Gallerie Rasmus, that displayed paintings and sculptures by the usual suspects, among them Narcis Gironell.
One out of five stars: *
My last stop was the art building “Filosoffen” that housed three different exhibitions whereof the open art exhibition with more than seventy selected works by different artists was the most interesting. The real highlight was, however, the artificial wood that had been constructed outside the building. When you went into it, you were surrounded by trees, paper lanterns and the sound of a nightingale singing. Fantastic!
Three out of five stars: ***
Tuesday I had to rest a bit, so I didn’t get to any of the events until in the evening, where I had to walk a bit again from the bus stop to the Amphi Square by Brandt’s. At the Amphi Stage more than a hundred young musicians and actors from the local HF Flow college performed their show “The Master of Poetry”. It was very good, but I had to leave early as my bus left at 7.30 p.m. – and there are no busses within my walking distance after this hour to my part of town (which is in the city centre!).
Three out of five stars: ***
Wednesday I relaxed again until 9.30 p.m. where I was able to take a bus two stops from my home to the police station and then walk the rest of the way to the town square where the main attraction of the H. C. Andersen Festivals took place. Each year “We Create Magic” make a new spectacular 3D light show on the façade of Odense town hall and this year it told the animated story of “The Little Mermaid”. As usually it was breathtakingly beautiful and furthermore in 4D as it included fireworks and other pyrotechnics as well as real live dancers and acrobats. The entire show lasted twenty minutes and I was lucky to be able to sit down on one of the sculptures on the square as the show is otherwise not suited for physically disabled people as it is standing room only. The show hadn’t been coordinated with the public transportation either, so it ended five minutes after the entire public bus fleet had left the terminal and as there was a 65 minutes wait for the next busses, I had to walk home. On crutches. It took me half an hours and luckily I was in the company of my sister as I wouldn’t have dared to walk home alone otherwise. Although I live in the city centre, the street that leads from the town hall to my home is fairly dark and dangerous and many people have been assaulted and mugged there, both during day and during night, myself included as I was severely beaten up by a mugger five years ago in that street. We made it home alright this time, and all in all the light show was the highlight of the entire festival.
Five out of five stars: *****
Thursday I had planned to see a crossover food market with restaurants, music and entertainment as well as a Hans Christian Andersen video fairy tale in the street Noerregade, so I took the bus to the station and walked the rest of the way. When I reached the street, nothing was there, though, nothing at all! What a disappointment.
Zero out of five stars:
In order not to have come all the way to town in vain I had to walk twenty minutes on crutches to another street, Vintapperstraede, where The Sandman had put up five hundred umbrellas to guarantee everyone pleasant dreams. Some of the umbrellas were used as a screen onto which a magic video animation was projected. It was very enchanting indeed.
Four out of five stars: ****
The last event I attended was the theatre project “Grin, Gys og Guns” by the theatre company “Det Skraa Teater” that took place at Brandt’s Museum Friday afternoon. Roughly translated the title of the project means something like “Fun, Fright and Firearms” and that was exactly what we got. Actor Henrik Blauner Clausen rounded up the audience in Brandt’s lobby and then we all had to walk to the second floor, me on crutches. Here we were herded into the permanent exhibition of the museum and seated on some boxes after which Henrik Blauner Clausen began his one man show aided by electronic musician Henrik Pahlke Moeller who created the electronic sound effects. Within fifty minutes Clausen retold three of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved fairy tales, but in modern updated version. “The Ugly Duckling” became a kind of “Into the Wild” story, “The Little Match Girl” reminded me of “The Grudge” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” of “Rambo” but with Justin Bieber as the ultimate villain. It was all a bit sophomoric, a bit cringe-worthy and not REALLY funny, but maybe we were just the wrong age audience. We were about twenty people between twenty to sixty, I guess, and a teen audience would probably have been better. Especially as there was a lot of audience participation where you had to bully, flirt with and shoot at the actor and he seemed to realise this problem so he singled out the four youngest of the audience to interact with him. He was a fairly good storyteller, though, although the stories were a bit long-winded and the frame story about the three paintings quite unnecessary. Furthermore, we were blindfolded during the entire second “little match girl” horror story, which seemed a very lazy and easy way out. Anyway, the two Henriks worked quite hard, especially the actor, and that has to be acknowledged. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos and I had to wait forty minutes (and walk ten) to catch my bus home.
Three out of five stars: ***
Although there were still more festival to attend during the weekend, my knee had given up, so I didn’t get to see anything else. Despite the problems regarding public transportation and accessibility for disabled people, the H. C. Andersen Festivals are still worth a visit. Many of the events are in Danish, but you don’t have to be a Dane to enjoy the concerts or the art exhibitions or the different light shows. Besides, several foreign artists participate in the festivals, not only Studio Ghibli, but also musicians, performers and storytellers from places like Africa, America, China, Cuba, Egypt, England and the rest of Europe among them Nikki Hill, Dominique Kelly and Richard Bona. So there is no excuse not to attend the H. C. Andersen Festivals, and hopefully I’ll see you here next year.