Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the true-to-life thrills of “Deepwater Horizon,” Tim Burton’s X-Men-esque “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” the thriller “Imperium” and the ripped-from-the-headlines documentary “The Lovers and the Despot.”
From director Tim Burton comes “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” another story of outsiders trying to find place in the world where they belong. Or in this case a place in time.
Teen years are for making friends and having fun but for Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) they are a hardship. He’s the weird kid in class, friendless except for his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp) who keeps the boy entertained with wild stories about a life spent travelling the world and the Home for Peculiar Children where he was raised. He grew up side-by-side with a boy made of bees, a teacher who could turn into a bird, and a balloon girl, lighter than air who had to wear lead shoes so as not to float away.
When his Abe is attacked Jake arrives in time to catch his last, strange words. “I know you think I’m crazy but the bird will explain everything,” he says before urging the youngster to venture off to find out who, what, he really is. “I should have told you years ago. I thought I could protect you.”
Thus begins Jake’s adventure, a journey that leads him to a small island where Miss Alma LeFay Perigrine (Eva Green) a.k.a. The Bird Lady, attends to her brood of peculiar child. She has created a time loop, reset every day, to keep her peculiar safe and protect them from growing old. Every day is September 3, 1943 all day. An attack by Hollows (Samuel L. Jackson and others), evil creatures who steal the eyeballs of peculiar children, upsets Perigrine’s orderly time loop and gives Jake a chance to learn why he was sent to the island.
The first hour of “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” is pure Tim Burton. He creates a fanciful world—imagine quirkier “X-Men”—with all his trademarks—mid-century kitsch, topiary sculptures, weird creatures and characters straight out of the outer regions of the imagination—and a mythology all its own. World building is a fantasy director’s strongest asset, and Burton paints a pretty picture, it’s just too bad he gets bogged down in the story in the second half.
The mushy second half erases the charm of the first sixty minutes as fanciful dreaminess and unique stop motion effects give way to CGI overload. The film’s long climax seems to go on forever—as though the audience is in one of Miss. Perigrine’s endless time loops—in an orgy of digital trickery that betrays the feel of the piece. An army of skeletons is a cool homage to Ray Harryhausen and setting its macabre sequence to weird amusement park dance music is a nice Burton touch, but it pales by comparison to the smaller, more intimate touches that give the movie much of its personality.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” has some beautiful images—like Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), tethered to Jake like a balloon as he walks and she floats through an amusement park—but like many of Burton’s recent films the story feels like an afterthought.
One writer called the director of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetle Juice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands and this weekend’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, “the most widely embraced loner in contemporary cinema.”
“I always try to at least spend time, as much as I can everyday, staring out into space; staring out a window,” the director says. “I find that sometimes you get the most ideas and the most feelings when you’re not involved in things you have to do everyday; especially these days when technology is such that you can be reached any time. I try and avoid that.”
Unsurprisingly as a filmmaker the characters he champions tend to echo his sensibility. From warped Mad Hatter in his Alice in Wonderland to the grieving child in Frankenweenie who reanimated a dog’s corpse, Burton’s heroes are often misfits and outsiders.
From his debut, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Burton has showcased people on the fringes of society. “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me,” says man-child Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens), “I’m a loner. A rebel.” Loosely based Vittorio De Sica’s classic film The Bicycle Thief, Burton’s story sees Pee-Wee on a mission to retrieve his stolen fire engine-red customized 1940s Schwinn. David Letterman was a fan, describing the anti-social character as having, “the external structure of a bratty little precocious kid, but you know it’s being controlled by the incubus, the manifestation of evil itself.”
In his next film Burton breathed life into Betelgeuse‘s rancid lungs. In the haunted-house comedy Beetlejuice Michael Keaton plays a “bio-exorcist” with crazy hair, giant teeth and an attitude, hired by two ghosts to scare away the insufferable new owners of their old house.
“I think Beetlejuice shows the complete positive side of being misperceived and being categorized as something different,” Burton says. “He can do whatever he wants! He’s horrible and everybody knows it, so he’s a complete fantasy of all of that.”
Burton’s two greatest misfits, his most intrepid folks on the outside looking in, are the off-kilter Eds—Wood and Scissorhands.
Edward Scissorhands is the strange-but-sweet story of a man with scissors for hands. The first collaboration of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, the movie is a funny, romantic and moving fantasy was inspired by a sketch Burton created as a teenager. “One look at that drawing was all I needed to understand what Edward was about,” says Depp. “I felt very tortured as a teenager,” says Burton. “That’s where Edward Scissorhands came from. I was probably clinically depressed and didn’t know it.”
Ed Wood, played by Depp in the film of the same name, is the story of one of Hollywood’s great outcasts. Wood wrote, produced and directed low-budget anti-classics like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda. Burton says he was a fan of Wood’s films and after reading some of the director’s letters was touched by how Wood, “wrote about his films as if he was making Citizen Kane, you know, whereas other people perceived them as, like, the worst movies ever.”
Burton links his best-known creations, labelling them as “semi-antisocial, [having] difficulty communicating or relating, slightly out of touch,” and adds, “I feel very close to those characters. I really do. I feel like they are mutated children.”