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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews — LiveJournal
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Directing: B-
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-
Special Effects: B+

These are uncertain times for the hardcore Tim Burton fan -- long gone are the days of singular masterpieces like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands or Batman (full disclosure: Batman Returns is probably the movie I have seen the most times, thereby making it my all-time favorite . . . so sue me!). His 2001 Planet of the Apes was his first unmitigated disappointment, but he came back strong with Big Fish (2003) and even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I will say to my dying day is a delightful movie in its own right (I was one of few people to give that one a solid A). His last movie made to love was 2007's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and that came out nearly a decade ago.

Since then? Alice in Wonderland in 2010, his biggest artistic disappointment (I gave it a B-) since Planet of the Apes, in spite of it inexplicably becoming his biggest-ever financial success (second-biggest when adjusted for inflation, behind 1989's Batman); Dark Shadows in 2012, rather failing to live up to its truly great potential (another B-); and then consistently solid-B quality movies like Frankenweenie (also 2012) and Big Eyes (2014).

In other words, those of us who have spent decades loving Tim Burton films have been waiting in vain for a true return to form, something that reminds us of why we loved his movies in the first place. And here's the peculiar thing about his new film: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children does exactly that, although it's objectively not any better than any of his other late-career output. This movie has nothing on the classics that made him a great director, but it has elements that remind you of what made him great.

Visually speaking, this movie has an aesthetic that basically crosses the monster designs in Beetlejuice (lots of clown-scary fang-tooth grins) with the necromantic look of films like Corpse Bride or even Sweeney Todd. The costume design is very 1940s noir-gothic, but of course that applies to countless Burton films. And it's a look that works for me. Frankly I love Miss Peregrine's dress.

I never read the children's book on which this film is based, but the movie does make me think perhaps I should. There's something about children's stories going in truly dark and twisted areas that I find strangely delightful. To that end, you would think this story would thus be tailor-made for the likes of Tim Burton. Had this been made ten or twenty years ago, such a marriage might have worked out better.

But tonally, there's something about Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children that feels a little like Tim Burton is getting tired. It just doesn't feel like he's quite as invested anymore, particularly in the early scenes, which feel a bit like the pacing and editing were an afterthought. There's a lot going on in this movie, and even though it's relatively long at 127 minutes, it feels rushed. There are so many great actors featured -- Terence Stamp as Grandpa Abe; Judi Dench as Miss Avocet; Rupert Everett as the Ornithologist -- but they are all under-utilized and never given a chance to make much impact. Our central character, Jake, is played by Asa Butterfield (previously seen as the 13-year-old title character in the spectacular Hugo in 2011; that would make him about 18 here), and he carries the movie well, with the possible exception of his more emotional scenes. His inattentive and clueless father is played by the usually wonderful Chris O'dowd, but the character is given zero depth.

When the plot gets moving, though, even if very few of the characters are given much in the way of dimension, things get uniquely weird and twisted -- this, if anything, is what makes Miss Peregrine worth seeing. And I don't just mean the "peculiars" of the movie's title, discovered by present-day Jake to be living in a time loop in a huge house on the same day over and over again during a bomb raid in 1943. And these are kids with special characteristics for which "peculiarity" is rather an understatement: a girl with a huge mouth in the back of her head; another who wears lead shoes because she'll otherwise float away; a teenage boy who can reanimate dead bodies; a young boy who can project his dreams onto the wall as entertainment for the others. There's a pair of twins with rather creepy masks and you don't find out until late in the film why it's so important to keep their faces covered. It's all rather like if X-Men had been reimagined by late-eighties Tim Burton.

There are villains, too. And honestly, Samuel L. Jackson as the leader of them is very much a mixed bag. His delivery seems self-conscious. His persona doesn't really seem suited to the role. He feels a little miscast, which is an unfortunate thing to say given the mini-controversy about Burton's admittedly clueless statements about the cast's lack of diversity -- except for Jackson, all the other parts are played by white actors. I'm not sure the film's objective lack of diversity matters nearly as much as Tim Burton's ignorant comments about it, which certainly aren't doing the movie any favors. The film would be better served by his keeping his mouth shut.

That said, the human villains also have these associated monsters -- called Hollowgasts -- that are decidedly creepy, the best representation of a visual update to the creepier designs in Beetlejuice. They are also key to the story, and to what makes Jake himself special (or "peculiar"). And they are involved in a last-act climactic battle with a bunch of reanimated skeletons at a waterfront amusement park, a sequence that is about as fun as anything you could ask for with a movie like this.

As a final note, Eva Green should really be singled out as the best part of this movie. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is really all style over substance (a frequent criticism of Tim Burton films, actually -- often, but not always, unfairly), and the same could even be said of Miss Peregrine as a character on paper. But Green gives her character more depth with her comparatively little screen time than anyone else in this movie does, and she is always a delight to watch, even when she doesn't seem to be doing much. If there were any reason to hope for a sequel, it would be her.

The kids are ready to kick some hollowgast ass in MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.</a>

Overall: B
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