Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Director: Tim Burton (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Step inside the latest dark fantasy from the macabre mind of Tim Burton. Based on the best selling novel by Ransom Riggs, the director’s gothic sensibility has been fused with the superhero stylings of X-Men screenwriter Jane Goldman to create a clanking automaton of insufficient heart or electric thrills.

Whether this is an exhausted creative reaching for his reliable stock in trade ideas to get the job done or a potentially career fatal exercise in barrel scraping, Miss Peregrine’s Home makes for a great game of Tim Burton bingo.

There is a young lonely outsider of estranged parents, a kindly grandfather figure, suburbia is given its regular beating, pastel shades denote danger and sports are used as shorthand for idiocy, Visually there is elaborate topiary in the shape of dinosaurs, a scissor handed puppet is given life and a circus ring features in the finale. House!

The Birds (1963), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Time Bandits (1981) and Brigadoon (1954) are among the many other films drawn upon for inspiration.

The plot is not so far away from any X-Men movie, honestly, pick any one you want. An outsider discovers a hidden school for specially gifted children ran by a powerful mentor. Nazi experiments in genetics are hinted at the cause of the ‘peculiars’ special powers.

Despite antagonism from some pupils he eventually joins forces in defending the school against their enemies. Along the way hidden talents are discovered and lessons of reaching ones full potential are received. The End.

Talented  and likeable Brit Asa Butterfield plays Jake, a modern 16-year old American teenager who visits Wales and discovers a time loop where it’s still 1943. Wales is a modern and forward looking country so I’ll not be making any cheap gags here. Despite being replaced on screen by Cornwall, Wales is made to look magical.

Hidden inside the time loop is Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, where the never ageing pupils live the same day over again. Each child has their own peculiarity such as invisibility, great strength or pyrokinesis. Ella Purnell plays the angelic Emma who has to wear lead boots to stop her floating away.

Eva Green gives a wonderfully eccentric turn as the pipe smoking housemistress Miss Peregrine, a glamorous combination of Mary Poppins and Morticia Adams. As well as creating the time loop to protect her young charges from their fearful enemies, she can transform into a peregrine falcon and is a deadly shot with a crossbow.

Her home is only one of may such time protected hideaways and all are threatened by The Hollows, monsters lead by the evil Mr. Barron. With sharklike teeth and a white wig, Samuel L. Jackson matches Green’s performance and the film is energised by his belated appearance.

A bevy of English actors add their name to the film poster. Dame Judi Dench flies through her cameo, Rupert Everett sports binoculars and an alarming accent. Terence Stamp and Chris O’Dowd play Jake’s grandfather and father.

There’s plenty of handsomely designed spectacle adorned with a dash of romance and odd moments of black humour. Mike Higham provides the unmemorable score and the familiar strains of Burtons’ usual collaborator Danny Elfman, are missed.

But the big mystery is who this film is aimed at. Its eye eating villains are far too macabre for little ones and the sub-superhero adventure is too gentle for teens.

And true to its lengthy title, the storytelling is caged and never soars.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X+Y

Director: Morgan Matthews (2015)

An autistic teenage maths prodigy seeks a formula for love in this humorous, gently uplifting and supremely moving British drama.

While exploring the delicate relationship between Nathan (Asa Butterfield) and his mother Julie (Sally Hawkins), the plot follows the template of an underdog sports movie, based on the world of international competitive maths.

The story was inspired by the director’s own BAFTA nominated documentary ‘Beautiful Young Minds‘ featuring real maths competitors. Here he makes sure the maths is always interesting and understandable, keeping a firm grip on tone by adding as much humour as possible so scenes are never maudlin.

Cinematographer Danny Cohen  harks back to his work on Dead man’s Shoes and This is England, offering the film low-key realism and economically communicating Nathan’s complicated world view.

Nathan suffers from autistim and synthesia; though highly gifted at maths he is socially awkward and sensitive to changes in light and colour. He must have his toast divided into geometrically exact slices and food such as prawns served in prime number portions.

He is struggling to come to terms with his father’s death in a car crash. In flashback we see the close connection he shared with his father Michael (Martin McCann).

This loss is accentuating Nathan’s condition and isolating his mother. She is barely coping with life and her blunt speaking son has no idea how hurtful his words frequently are.

Although his condition leads to small domestic accidents such as a broken window and a flooded kitchen, Nathan finds beauty and peace in the perfection of maths and its practical application such as the geometric shapes in bridge underpasses.

Through school Nathan is introduced to scruffy, swearing teacher Mr Humphreys (Rafe Spall). Himself a former maths prodigy, he now suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, depression and loneliness.

As Humphreys tutors Nathan a bond develops and the teen qualifies for a trial for the International Maths Olympiad UK team.

Nathan is flown to Taiwan by UK team leader Richard (Eddie Marsan) with sixteen extremely intelligent maths students. It’s the first time Nathan is painfully average.

They meet young competitors from different countries and all are under pressure. Refreshingly the film doesn’t pander to the audience by providing subtitles for the Chinese speakers – angry is angry regardless of the language.

Nathan’s shy charm unexpectedly leads him to being at the sharp end of a love triangle between fellow students Rebecca (Alexa Davies) and as Zhang Mei (Jo Yang).

Along the way there’s self-harm, accusations of nepotism and a dash to the station in rom-com style.

Only the best six students will be chosen to represent the UK at the Olympiad to be held at Cambridge University – as we’re only really introduced to half a dozen of the students, it’s not hard to work out who’ll survive the cut.

But the lack of tension is not important as the film is more interested in character than narrative. The real pleasure lies in this quality cast enjoying their acting and creating characters we care about.

Butterfield is the pick of a winning young cast whose quietly expressive performance carries the film with open-faced innocence. Marsan offers the closest anyone comes to grandstanding but always to serve the needs of the film. His upbeat performance is calculated to provide balance through optimism, comedy and tempo.

Spall is given the most choice lines and in his most affecting performance to date delivers them deadpan to great comic effect. Hawkins is as wonderful as ever, she plays Julie with brittle finesse and is the maternal soul the story coalesces around.