Once upon a time, Tim Burton was master of the weird and brilliant. Maybe he hit a few snags here and there, like PLANET OF THE APES (2001), but ultimately, he was considered one of the most visionary filmmakers of our generation. At least, that’s what the general opinion was of the man. Wanna get the hate-mail ready? I’m actually not his biggest fan. Sure, I liked BATMAN (1989) like everyone else, but most of his other films were sort of forgettable, wasn’t interested in seeing, or I hadn’t heard of until much later. I don’t remember much of BATMAN RETURNS (1992), and I was horror movie-intolerant as a kid so I hated MARS ATTACK! (1996) and SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999). Okay, BIG FISH (2003) I remember being good, but I don’t remember details. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005), CORPSE BRIDE (2005), SWEENY TODD (2007), ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) not a fan of any of them. To be fair, though, I’ve never seen films like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990), all of BEETLEJUICE (1988), ED WOOD (1994), or BIG EYES (2014). I see where his popularity comes from, but not so much in recent years.
But I have to honest, this movie looked like it’d be pretty awesome. The visuals looked astounding, it starred Eva Green and Samuel L. Jackson, I could tell I was going to have fun with this. This is the first time in years that I thought I was seeing the Burton that everyone else has been a fan of.
So let’s take a look at the cast. Green is something of a big crush of mine (she’s European, what do you want from me?!), my into her being, of course, 007’s CASINO ROYALE (2006). But I wouldn’t see her again until 2014’s SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR and 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. I’ve seen a few episodes of the TV show PENNY DREADFUL… which I want to be watching, but movies and reviews take up my time. In short, I really like her and wish I saw more of her work. Co-starring is Asa Butterfield. Many may recognize him from such films as ENDER’S GAME (2014), THE BOY IN THE STRIPPED PAJAMAS (2008), and HUGO (2011). Finally, Judi Dench (the most recent 007 films, THE BEST EXOTIC MERIGOLD HOTEL , and JANE EYRE ), Allison Janney (TALLULAH , JUNO , and TV show MOM), and the always-amazing Jackson, who don’t need no monkey fightin’ introduction on this Monday to Friday review (yeah, I cable-TV’d the real line, get over it)!
Now for behind the scenes. I’ve already given my thoughts about Burton, but lets see who he’s working with. Penning the screenplay is Jane Goldman. She’s written KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015), X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014), and this took me by surprise, STARDUST (2007), one of my favorite fantasy films of all time. This round, we have two composers, Matthew Margeson and Michael Higham. Higham hasn’t composed much in his career, a few shorts and a couple unheard of titles, but Margeson is known for EDDIE THE EAGLE (2016), KINGSMAN, and KICK-ASS 2 (2013). He will also be the composer for the upcoming film, RINGS (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Bruno Delbonnel. He’s worked with Burton before on BIG EYES and DARK SHADOWS (2012), but his most famous movies are arguably AMÉLIE (2001) and HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009).
I’m heading into this film with pretty big hype. I think it’s going to be good and this will put Burton back on the map as a visionary filmmaker. I’m too excited to contain this anymore, let’s get this ball rolling.
This is my honest opinion of: MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) lives a pretty normal life, going to school, having a job as a teen, solid parents to raise him, and generally being a good kid. But despite having good, normal parents, Jake has one person in his life who turns it upside down: his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp), who tells him fantastical stories about a home he frequented as a younger man, run by a mysterious woman named Miss Alma Peregrine, who protected “peculiar” children with extraordinary gifts. But… maybe to both of them, they weren’t just stories. But as Jake grew up, life convinced him that his grandfather was crazy and they grew apart. However, one tragic night after work, Jake gets a call from his grandfather and unfortunately arrives at his home too late, only to find him dead with his eyes missing. Months later, Jake is still struggling with Abe’s final words in finding Peregrine, who is supposed to tell him why everything happened. Although Jake’s dad Franklin (Chris O’Dowd) thinks it’s just a guy’s trip to get away from it all, he and Jake travel to Wales, hoping to visit this fabled home of Abe’s. Jake finds nothing at first, but upon his second visit, he comes across some pretty strange children who take him into what they call, a loop: a safe moment in time, a single day, that Peregrine uses to essentially time travel back to the beginning of that day. As a result, no “peculiar” ages, despite it nearly being eighty years in the future. Jake meets Peregrine (Eva Green), who introduces him to their wondrous world, full of impossible things, possibly finding romance, and discovering that he may be more special than he ever believed, and because of that, dark forces are searching for him and Peregrine’s kind and Jake must choose whether or not he wants to be a part of it and help, or return to his safe life.
What the hell happened?! No! This was supposed to be amazing! It looked so good! It had some great pieces in place, so what in the name of all that is holy and sacred went wrong?!
Ugh, alright before I start ranting about every misstep that was taken, let me just point out that the movie isn’t all bad. It’s definitely not good, but there are aspects that were great. First and foremost, this is definitely a different looking Burton film. His earlier work definitely had a surreal gothic look and feel to them before he discovered green screen backgrounds. This doesn’t look or feel particularly gothic, but there is a vintage quirkiness to it that feels fresh and is actually very appealing to marvel at. The sets look like real sets, as opposed to something that even Zack Snyder wouldn’t use so much of. There’s a tasteful, or understandable amount of CG that looks pretty solid for the world it created. For example, yeah, the hollowgasts are obviously CG, but it works in this kind of environment, so their fakeness doesn’t bother me. They still look creepy and do have a threatening, creepy design.
Green? I think this woman couldn’t even try to act badly. It would just come off as a comedy performance. She’s always great in everything that she does and this is no exception. She’s quirky, delightfully strange, which translates to humorously offbeat, I could watch Green star intently with wide eyes and an unnerving smile all day long and never get bored. Also… we men should just collectively turn in our balls because none of us would ever have the temerity to shush the living embodiment of bad-ass whose name we know as Samuel L. Jackson, and look damn intimidating while doing it. Even Jackson in the scene I’m referencing is all like, “Okay, I’m confused, am I the scary villain of the movie, or this crazy white bitch?”
Oh and she’s fully clothed this time!
The young actors are solid, even though the characters lack any likable distinguishing personalities. I mean, it can be argued that Jake is just an observer-type character, playing the role of the audience, guiding us and learning about this unseen world. Problem is, they give him a detailed backstory and attempt to make a connection with the audience. Trouble is, I can’t really tell you anything about him. Just sort of walks around, reacting to things, and doesn’t really partake in making his own decisions, contributing to the transpiring events until the final act of the story. Yet, Butterfield gets a kind of pass for hitting every emotion dead on. His character doesn’t have much to him, but he’s a fine enough actor to be watchable. This pretty much goes for the rest of the cast as well.
And I don’t know what it is, but that invisible kid really gets to me. I really feel like he’s not there. Um… wow, how do I make that sound more intelligent. I know he’s not there, but I still feel like he’s… there, in his… not-there…ness… Okay, you all should know what I’m trying to say!
But… lets get down to the ranting. First off, the movie’s first fifteen minutes is horribly drawn out and choppy. So you get your standard opening titles, Burton-like score while pictures of the Peculiar children fade in and out. Then we get a narration of Jake’s life, and as he is driven home to visit his grandfather, we get the backstory of his relationship with his grandfather… weird. Wanna know why I think it’s weird? Because in those flashbacks, we get bits of his grandfather showing Jake the photos of the children. Why not have the titles roll while Abe is telling young Jake his bedtime stories as the pictures fade in and out? Everything we need to know about their relationship more conveniently packaged in the first five minutes and more freedom to develop Jake or Abe as characters since most of the story hinges on Jake finding out if his beloved grandfather really was crazy.
Second, why are we chocking up Jake’s sadness as a mental instability? And by “we,” his parents. So after Abe dies, a few months go by and he’s been seeing Dr. Golan (Allison Janney), who never said that he suffered from a mental breakdown after his grandfather’s death. His visions, just a result a grief. Not insanity. But when Jake and his dad go to Wales for their trip, his dad pretty much labels his own son crazy. For no reason.
Third, on their way to Wales via boat, they see a bird flying overhead. It’s later revealed that the bird was Peregrine in her bird form. Questions: it’s revealed if any Peculiar leaves the time loop and into the main timeline for more than a few minutes, time would catch up to them. Well… why doesn’t this apply to Peregrine? How long was she following Jake on that boat? I don’t recall seeing that bird fly back to the loop. For that matter, when Jake finally meets the Peculiar children, how long were they out of the timeloop before encountering Jake themselves? Exactly how long is “a few minutes?” That’s starting to turn into a pretty subjective phrase. A few minutes could mean one million minutes and it’d still seem like chump-seconds comparing to the billions upon billions of years that the universe has been around, so how about narrowing down that deadline for those of us not in the know?
Fourth, why doesn’t Peregrine talk to Jake about why his grandfather was murdered? Don’t give me that lame answer, “I don’t like to talk about unpleasant things unless absolutely necessary,” crap. Lady, this kid LOST HIS BELOVED GRANDFATHER!!! He watched him die in his own damn arms in a brutally violent way! His family thinks he’s crazy. He feels guilty for no longer believing Abe’s bedtime stories. He’s seen and survived the very terrible monsters that you are protecting your children from without any foreknowledge on what to do if he encounters them. He’s come all this way to learn that his grandfather wasn’t crazy the whole time, turning every perception of what he knows to be reality completely upside down. Meanwhile, the same threats that killed his grandfather are probably hounding him for the same reasons they were hounding his grandfather for this long… and you seriously have the tits to deny him answers to his questions for reasons that are on par with, “I don’t feel good talking about it.” *insert shame-on-you stare here*
Fifth, what is your freakin’ deal, Enoch (Finlay MacMillian)?! No, seriously. What is your damn deal?! Why are you such an asshole?! Oh, not even to Jake, but to everyone. His hatred for all things not him is quite remarkable, and not in the good way. None of it is explained, or not very well. The first thing he does when he appears on screen is basically hate Jake and ignore the friends that are trying to be kind to him. No joke, I pegged him to be the cliché good guy-turned bad guy because of stupid misunderstandings. While the story doesn’t go in that direction with him, all he does throughout the story is bitch and moan. He’s basically the nega-Jake. Whereas Jake is a likable character, Enoch is completely unlikable. Supposedly, it’s because he tried to have a relationship with Emma (Ella Purnell), but then Abe came along in his youth and they probably had a relationship, which made Abe jealous and spiteful, doubling down on that when Abe left the home and Emma made a vow to never fall in love again. All of this is pure speculation, but there’s no win-win. If this isn’t the reason for his bitterness, then the movie doesn’t explain his attitude at all. If this is the explanation, then this is a damn stupid explanation. Get the hell over it, dude. So the cute blond girl didn’t want to hop into your pants. If you’d kindly look to your side, you’ll see an equally cute redhead who seems eager to hop in there.
Sixth, for that matter, why aren’t these kids mature? No, I’m not asking why they haven’t aged. I know that and that’s not the problem. This loop they’re in makes them stay in the same day and year. But that doesn’t apply to them themselves. They may not age, but their experiences carry over into the “new” day. This supposed relationship between Abe and Emma, that was nearly EIGHTY YEAR AGO!!! How does your butt hurt for that long? Why are the twins still playing with a teddy bear? One would think all these children would have the minds of adults by now. For that matter, because Emma is over eighty years old, aren’t we entering Twilight creepiness as she develops feelings for Jake? Just because she looks fifteen or sixteen years old, doesn’t mean she hasn’t matured to her real age.
Seventh, what’s the big deal with relationships in this house? Why does Peregrine insist on the whole, “no one’s getting married” thing. Did you see how she reacted when Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) projected that near-make out between Jake and Emma? Even at the time of the 40’s, she was a teenager, the height of sexual awakening. Seems to me that her time of finding boys with cooties has long since past. Someone wanna clue me in?
Oh my god, I’m getting depressed. Trust me, I have a whole lot more to rant about, but I’ll be here all month long if I try and I have other reviews to get to and I still haven’t seen all the new movies coming out this week. Overall, this movie isn’t really good, but I have a hard time saying that it’s not worth it. In a weird sort of way, I’m still recommending this movie ONLY for the visuals and acting. They are damn impressive and the acting ranges from serviceable to phenomenal. But don’t go in expecting a well put-together story because it’s hard to sit through. Despite it all, I will probably see this movie again, but I’m getting drunk off my ass.
My honest rating for MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN: a weak 3/5 – but still a recommendation.