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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Director: John Madden (2015)

In this sedate comedy drama sequel, the ex-pat British residents of the Indian hotel offer comfy accommodation and make few demands on your attention.

A colourful backdrop can’t brighten up dull goings-on as familiar faces tread a predictable path over a well worn plot.

Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) want to expand their hotel business by buying the Hotel Splendid. So they travel to San Diego to meet potential investors to finance the deal.

Back in Jaipur, silver haired and silver tongued American writer Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) arrives unannounced. Snobbish and insecure idiot Sonny is convinced he is a secret inspector sent by the investors to spy on their business.

Sonny is so pre-occupied with keeping Guy happy he neglects bridezilla fiancee Sunaina (Tena Desae), pushing her towards the handsome, wealthy Kushal (Shazad Latif).

Patel’s agitated playing grates rather than charms or entertains, Smith’s cockney charlady accent is inconsistent while Desae mostly spends her time dancing or scolding.

Meanwhile it’s all a little Are You Being Served? on the Costa Plonka as several hotbeds of passion are in full swing. Guy has his glad eye on Sonny’s glamorous mother Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey). Madge (Celia Imrie) is after anything in or out of trousers.

As Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) work up the courage to seize the day – and each other – his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) turns up.

There’s a bit of a carry on when Norman (Ronald Pickup) inadvertently hires a tuc tuc driver as a hit-man to assassinate his girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

Among the stunning scenery of rural Jaipur there are elephants, cows and camels. Street markets bustle with hard bargaining and backhand payments. Mumbai has airports, air conditioning, business conferences and heavy traffic.

Residents are affected by the universal ailments longing, loss and loneliness but room is also found for optimism in late middle age.

The ending suggests a loss of nerve by the scriptwriters who otherwise bandy creaky knee jokes about with abandon. As well as equally creaky ones about hips, eyes, backbones and mortality.

The actors aren’t asked to exert themselves so much as to risk an injury and it’s all far too familiar to be exotic. Definitely second best, at best.

☆☆☆