Tag Archives: Eva Green

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: PERFECT SENSE (2011)

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DIRECTED BY: David Mackenzie

FEATURING: Eva Green, Ewan McGregor, Stephen Dillane, Ewen Bremner, Denis Lawson, Connie Nielsen

PLOT: Epidemiologist Susan and chef Michael meet and begin to fall in love, but their romance is complicated by a slowly unfolding global pandemic that methodically strips the human race of its physical senses.

Still from Perfect Sense (2011)

COMMENTS: Hey, remember the COVID pandemic? Wasn’t that a ton of fun? We learned—and perhaps are continuing to learn—a whole lot about how our society would react to a worldwide health crisis, and the answers involve far more skepticism, selfishness, and general ignorance than we might have preferred. So there’s nothing quite like watching a movie in which the protagonists don masks to try and prevent the spread of an airborne virus that is threatening the entire world. Such happy memories come rushing back!

It seems that the cinema was prescient about such things about a decade before we got the real deal. Audiences had recently been treated to the horrors of outbreaks in films such as I Am Legend, Quarantine, Carriers, and (heaven help us) The Happening. One, Blindness, even focused specifically on a health crisis that deprived the populace of one of its senses. And in the year 2011, you had a choice: get a glimpse of the near-total failure of our public infrastructure in ’s thriller Contagion, or deal with the effects such a worldwide disaster would have on a budding romance in Perfect Sense, a love story suffused with foreboding and melancholy.

Diseases often propagate by preying upon our desire to help and comfort one another. But the contagion in Perfect Sense is unusually cruel, by turns capitalizing on our natural inclination to be kind toward one another, then exposing us at our most primal and emotional level, and finally stripping away that which allows us to interpret and enjoy the world. The film finds a particular power in images of the populace as a whole suddenly losing all control and self-possession, overcome by bouts of rage, despair, or even gluttony and pica. In each case, people try to pick up the pieces as best they can, and director Mackenzie and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson envision these victims reaching out to each other to fill the ensuing losses with hope, which is a welcome grace note in a film about the encroaching end of the world. 

The story of this ever-evolving sickness is an odd counterpoint to the more intimate tale of two people who are rotten at love but find each other. Green and McGregor have terrific chemistry, impressive considering they are introduced to us as particularly poor romantic prospects: she’s an emotionally unavailable pessimist and he’s a frictionless cad. They have a genuinely effective, character-driven meet cute, and despite the obvious nature of their jobs—she works with diseases, his job revels in the senses of taste, smell, and sight—they act as worthy avatars for the damned human race. Just as their fellow humans find ways to go on, so do Susan and Michael keep after their mutual attraction, determined to hang on to their story even as the world falls apart.

The central figures in our story are so strong that it can be frustrating when the movie cuts away to share the ongoing collapse of the human race, complete with an omniscient narrator to explain “what it all means.” Unlike it’s cousin Contagion, which juxtaposes personal stories of survival against the global effort to defeat the pandemic, Perfect Sense works best at the micro level, with Susan and Michael navigating the crisis alongside their relationship with their friends and family. (McGregor also gets two reunions of a sort, with a fellow chef portrayed by his Trainspotting co-star Bremner, while his boss at the restaurant is none other than his own uncle Lawson, with whom he also shares a Star Wars pedigree.)

It’s only in the peculiar landscape of Perfect Sense that the closing moments of the film could be considered in any respect a happy ending: the world overtaken by a wave of unreserved euphoria, followed by Susan and Michael realizing the depth of their feelings and racing through the streets of Glasgow toward a heartfelt embrace—at the precise moment that their ability to see is snatched from them. Humanity won’t be long for this world, and all they will have is the sensation of this final, passionate embrace, but they will have that. It’s a dark but oddly hopeful conclusion regarding the one thing we learned for certain during the course of the pandemic: we humans are nothing if not persistent.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Perfect Sense is, to put it bluntly, a weird film… Overall Perfect Sense is a very strange and grim oddity that evokes the wrong reaction.” – Maxine Brown, Roobla (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Erin. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Perfect Sense
  • DVD
  • Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • English (Original Language), English (Unknown)
  • 1
  • 92

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016)

Novelist Ransom Riggs and should have been an ideal match, but Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016) is yet another verification that this director is at the end of his tether.

Burton can’t take the sole blame. He shares that honor with screenwriter Jane Goldman, who previously scripted two of the better X-Men sagas. This is part of the problem: they treat the material as if it’s the initial entry in a new and potentially profitable X-Men-styled franchise. For a director who has long made claims to specializing in films for the peculiar, Burton shows no genuine enthusiasm for his newest project and, with Goldman, sucks all the peculiarity out of its source material. This has been Tim Burton’s modus operandi for a long time, apparent to almost everyone (the director’s zealous, in-denial cult excepted). Burton likewise neutered all the surrealism of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and Disneyfied Barnabas Collins, Sweeney Todd, and Willy Wonka. Even Disney itself, teamed with Bing Crosby, was more adept at interpreting Washington Irvin’s Ichabod Crane. There’s a problem when two paragons of artistic conservatism have a better feel for the kooky-souled than a self-proclaimed specialist.

Burton came closest to a return to form with The Corpse Bride (2005), which he co-directed with Mike Johnson, along with Big Eyes (2014), the story of Margaret Keane. Despite being a personal project, the latter film eventually faltered in focusing on a kitsch suburban artist who simply wasn’t as interesting as the working relationship between the world’s worst director and one the worst ham actors of all time in Ed Wood. Still, this is the director who took a pre-existing pulp character (Batman) and managed to produce two comic book-inspired masterpieces stamped with highly personalized weirdness (especially Batman Returns, which really should be one for the List). He probably would have done the same for Superman, or at least that appears to be the case from the fascinating documentary Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015).

With his latest misfire, however, Burton is yet again crippled by his own brand crutch, producing a caricature of himself that imitates imitator’s imitations of Tim Burton, with Riggs’s narrative ending up a casualty. In addition to borrowing from his own past “hits,” Burton throws in a sink-full of other sources, including Groundhog Day,  Back to the Future, X-Men, and Harry Potter, but this Burton is not the Burton of the Eighties and Nineties, nor is he a Robert Zemeckis, Harold Ramis, , or even journeyman David Yates. By now, Burton heading a project is an almost as guaranteed a recipe for disaster as is hiring .

There are a few plusses, including a campy in the title role. As the shape shifting matriarch of her orphanage for misfits, adorned in Coleen Atwood’s goth costuming, Green demands our attention (and gets it). Samuel L. Jackson also has fun hamming it up as the antagonist Barron. However, despite some good moments amidst impressive set pieces, Jackson’s Barron is a vague character. Supporting actors Chris O’ Dowd, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, and Allison Janney are virtually  wasted. Asa Butterfly, as Jake, turns in an off-colored and ultimately two-dimensional performance, which can be blamed on Burton, since the actor has done good work for others (i.e. Boy in the Striped PajamasHugo). Best is Ella Purnell as Emma, who embodies an atmospheric sense of nostalgia in a star-making performance.

Still from Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)As expected, there is CGI aplenty (including a floating ghost ship, an ode to Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion work, and post-production botox for actor Terence Stamp, something like to a roughly sketched version of Big Fish‘s Ed Bloom). Additionally, the physical space is well-utilized, even more so than in his previous few films. Even at his most fatigued, Burton still manages to produce a pretty package.

Unfortunately, the package is an empty box. Over-written, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is woefully complicated, cram-packed, emotionally bankrupt,  poorly-paced, and far too narcissistic in its mythology-building and exposition, feeling at times like lost footage from alternative production of ‘s Dune. Perhaps he and Goldman should have watched Rankin and Bass to learn how to convey a world of misfits more simply, or rewatch his own Batman (1989), which was comparatively underwritten (and it didn’t matter one damn bit).  With Riggs’s array of misfits, one can easily imagine the appeal, but Burton’s (undeniable) strengths are slurped up by executive production demands as wholly as the Barron devours his eyeballs, which can be summed in a finale that has to be his most painfully obvious and dumbest since Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes.