MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN just didn’t do it for this kid. While appreciating some aspects of director Tim Burton’s 2016 effort, his 18th feature film delve into fantasy weirdness, it soon wore me down and out with a fatiguing Been There, Seen That feeling. Deja Not New. If you’re nuts about this kind of thing, you’ll probably like it. If you’re indifferent, this is not the one to catch. Sprawled in the middle of the row like moi, you may shrug and say “well, this part was good, and that part worked and–oh, I guess I fell asleep during that other part”.
Fantasist screenwriter specialist Jane Goldman adapted the very popular 2011 Young Adults (or Big Kids) novel by Ransom Riggs (who since wrote two sequels). Powers-that-bestow coughed up $110,000,000 for Burton to exercise/exorcise his imagination onto 127 minutes of jibberjabber twaddle and proficient but tedious flashbang.
The complicated plot is too splonky to detail, let alone care a fig about. Simply: when his tale-spinning grandpa meets a strange death, friend-shy high-school lad ‘Jake Portman’ (Asa Butterfield) and his jerk of a Dad travel to a remote part of Wales to uncover some clues to gramp’s storied past. The clues lie in the title house, strictly run by headmistress ‘Alma Peregrine’ (Eva Green), in charge of a roster of “Peculiars”, various-aged kids with special powers. Soon enough, Jake finds there are a slew of “Wights” and “Hollows” (adults with shape-shifting powers and evil intent) who mean to wreak harm upon the Peregrine flock. Fight or flight? (cue:doze)
Okay, got it. Lonely kid. Special children. Budding romance. Mean adults. Chases and fights. Limp WW2 tie-in. Thumping music. X-men for day care. Also we get “gross” in the form of a pile of human eyeballs that the monsters slurp down—they especially crave them from children—which is pretty darn yuck on the Ick meets Sick scale. After that scene my mostly hidden Inner Adult woke up and left the room. Butterfield (who scored well as Hugo) makes a wan hero here, and the assorted young Peculiars do their effects thing (one has bees fly out of his mouth–whatever). The main cutie is Ella Purnell, 19, who looks good, does what’s expected and well, but I couldn’t help but think “So, here’s the new Kate Winslet”: then we realize she’s already played the young versions of Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go), Angelina Jolie (Malificent) and Margot Robbie (The Legend Of Tarzan). *
Somehow (their kids liked the book?/they sensed a quick paycheck?) also on board, in thankless roles, are Terence Stamp, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Allison Janey.
While none in the cast perform badly, and the effects are the usual high-quality razmatazz (including an obvious homage to Jason And The Argonauts that the intended audience of those less than 50 will not get, or care about if they did), I only liked two things in this movie: Eva Green and Samuel L. Jackson.
With those devilishly sly eyes and forthright-yet-also-secretive manner, the alluring, exotic, rather strange Green always seems to inhabit some other world a touch removed from ours, and she commands immediate attention in every scene she plays, and has fun with the part. Jackson, with wild hair (Don King meets wall socket) and enhanced peepers and teeth, also enjoys himself as the head villain, another in a gallery of zany bad guys he’s chomped into in recent years (Django Unchained, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, The Hateful Eight, Jumper). Together, Green and Jackson do their best to make what’s otherwise stale cereal have some snap, crackle and pop.
With Chris O’Dowd (thanks for nothing, Dad), Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Kim Dickens (barely there: another sad waste of her talent) and Pixie Davies. It made $296,000,000, effecting its way to 32nd place in yet one more year flooded to the balcony with fantasy epics; the good, the bad and the boring. **
* Fantasy scribe-folk! Please consider there are other countries in the World that have cute kids with neat accents— besides England! Lewis Carroll to Narnia, Poppins to Pooh to Potter, the Chocolate Factory, the Giant Peach, that bullied kid and his talking tree…..ye gads, already! How about Slovakia? The Philippines? Zambia? Uruguay? The Solomon Islands?
** Every single movie in the Top 10 moneymakers for 2016 was fantasy oriented. In fact, you have to get to 18th place and Jason Bourne before you hit characters that aren’t from Beyondistan (not that Mr. Bourne is all that likely)—and then 14 of the next 16 fall into the same regions of fantasy, sci-fi, horror or animation. I confess to perhaps being extra-harsh on the Peregrine flock. You may be charmed by it, and that’s great. For sure it’s easier to take than dreck like Suicide Squad. Some great fantasy & related genre films from 2016: The Jungle Book, Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, La La Land, Deadpool, Arrival, Passengers, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Shallows, The Witch…