Thursday, February 23, 2017

Broken Home

Tim Burton's latest movie, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, sprinted in and out of theaters too quickly for me to see it there. When I recently caught up with it at home, I could see why. It was a disjointed, lackluster affair.

Based on a book of the same title, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is the story of young Jake. He's grown up listening to his grandfather's fanciful stories about non-figurative monsters in World War II, and of paranormal-powered kids living together at a mansion in Wales. When Jake travels to Wales himself and discovers a portal to 1943, he learns that everything he'd been told is true. He's also caught up in the fight to save the children from a group of devouring "wights" and "hollows."

The movie runs just over two hours, and is rather starkly divided into three sections. None stands well on its own, yet neither do any integrate well with the others. The first half hour is a slow introduction with only occasional supernatural elements. It's boringly paced, and pretends the audience doesn't already know what's going to be revealed. (If they've seen any trailer for the movie, or you know, taken note of the title, there's no surprise waiting here.)

The middle hour of the movie is pure Tim Burton sensibilities, the new terminus in a line one could draw through Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland... his whole career, really. Lots of fun and bizarre visuals. It's more dedicated to look and feel than character and plot (though not quite neglectful of them).

The last half hour is a suddenly bonkers showdown between good and evil. It reminded me a bit of Kingsman: The Secret Service, in that it suddenly went more broad, more violent, more scary than anything previous would have suggested. Also in that it featured Samuel L. Jackson as the main bad guy.

That's just one example of the somewhat surprising casting here. This movie lined up a lot of actors for parts that seem too small, too one-note, and/or too similar to earlier roles to have plausibly attracted them. Perhaps it's just the allure of working with Tim Burton that recruited Eva Green, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench, Chris O'Dowd, Samuel L. Jackson, Kim Dickens, Allison Janney, and Rupert Everett. They're all taking a backseat to the child actors here, particularly Asa Butterfield (of Ender's Game) and Ella Purnell.

The movie does work in tiny bursts, but nothing sustains for long. The bond between Jake and his grandfather isn't weighty enough to stir deep emotion. The "peculiarities" of the children aren't played for quite enough wonder or strangeness. The finale strikes a weird balance where it's likely too intense for a young audience, while leaving the villains too ineffective to seem like a threat to an older audience.

I give the movie a C-. It strikes me as one of Tim Burton's more forgettable efforts, one that only his most diehard fans should bother to see.

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