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"MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN"
(2016) (Asa Butterfield, Eva Green) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy/Action: A teen befriends a group of special kids who exist within a repeating 24-hour loop where they're protected by a caring but strict headmistress from those who wish to do them harm.
PLOT:
Jacob "Jake" Portman (ASA BUTTERFIELD) is a teenager who's grown up hearing fascinating stories told to him by his grandfather, Abraham Portman (TERENCE STAMP), about a group of interesting children with amazing abilities he knew when he was younger, something Jake's parents don't believe. But when Abraham ends up dead, they and Jake's therapist, Dr. Golan (ALLISON JANEY), believe it would be best for him to travel to the place his grandfather mentioned, all as a means of closure.

Accordingly, Jake and his dad, Franklin (CHRIS O'DOWD), travel to an island off the coast of Wales, but Jake is dismayed to learn the large manor home his grandfather mentioned has been uninhabited and in ruins since a Nazi bomb damaged the place back during WWII. But when Jake ventures into the old building, he's shocked to discover he's entered a 24-hour repeating loop set on September 3, 1943.

There, Miss Peregrine (EVA GREEN) cares for a group of teen and preteen children known as peculiars who possess unique abilities. They include teenager Emma Bloom (ELLA PURNELL) who can control all things related to air; Olive (LAUREN McCROSTIE) who has pyrokinetic powers; and Enoch (FINLAY MacMILLAN) who can bring the dead or animate figures back to life by placing small hearts in them. There's also Millard (CAMERON KING) an invisible boy; Bronwyn (PIXIE DAVIES) who's small but super strong; Fiona (GEORGIA PEMBERTON) who can control plants; Hugh (MILO PARKER) who has bees inside his body; Claire (RAFFIELLA CHAPMAN) who has a mouth in the back of her head; Horace (HAYDEN KEELER-STONE) who has prophetic dreams; and the Masked Twins (JOSEPH & THOMAS ODWELL) who possess a hidden and deadly curse.

Jake not only learns that his grandfather often visited all of them in that particular time, but that Miss Peregrine -- a Ymbryne who can control the time loop and has the ability to turn into a falcon -- always has to remain on watch for those who want to harm them. And that comes in the form of shape-shifter Mr. Barron (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) who leads a group of undead humans known as the Wights and uses monstrous versions of themselves known as hollowgasts to kill peculiars and others for their eyeballs.

When the group learns from Peregrin's fellow Ymbryne associate, Miss Avocet (JUDI DENCH), that Mr. Barron and his followers are coming their way, Jake must decide whether to return to the present or stay in the past and help his new friends battle the villains.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
People often assume that others who are famous, otherwise successful, have lots of money, are good-looking or have an attractive significant other, and possess seemingly endless self-confidence don't have problems. But as we've seen time and again regarding such successful people, they're often battling any number of internal demons that drive them to drink, do drugs, engage in bad behavior and sometimes even take their own lives.

The bottom line is that nobody has a perfect life regardless of how it might appear or others view them. Thus, most everyone has a soft spot to one degree or another about fictional storytelling where the young protagonist isn't just far from perfect, but is also usually viewed by others and sometimes even themselves as peculiar or broken. Such tales fall into the underdog category as readers, listeners and/or viewers root for them to overcome whatever obstacles lie in their way and succeed -- if anything, to show that if they can do it, so can others.

The latest such offering features not one but a bevy of such kids who live together in a house ruled over by an adult who tries to shield them from the outside world and protect them from those who wish them harm. What makes these kids special is that they possess some sort of supernatural talent. One can control air, while another is super strong, a third can set things on fire and so on.

If you think that sounds familiar and wonder if this is some variation of the popular "X-Men" series, you wouldn't be faulted for that assumption. Instead, however, this is a different -- if somewhat similar -- take on such young people who populate "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children."

Based on Ransom Riggs' 2011 young adult novel of the same name, it arrives decades after Professor Xavier and his students first hit the pages of comics to the delight of kids who viewed themselves as different, weird or outcasts. I imagine Riggs' work created the same reaction, which should also hold true for this filmed adaptation from the hands, eyes, and mind of a filmmaker known for featuring outsider characters, Tim Burton.

Like some of the director's earlier works, this one features some moments of stop-motion animation (or at least computer animation made to appear that way) that are either lifted from other movies (a creepily modified toy battle scene reminiscent of views from "Toy Story") or are moments of homage, including a fun update on the legendary "Jason and the Argonauts" skeleton fight scene (that ends up far closer to Harryhausen's long-ago work than this year's earlier release of "Kubo and the Two Strings" that featured just one giant skeleton). There are obvious "Harry Potter" similarities, as well as a twist on the main plot from "Groundhog Day" where the same 24-hour period plays out over and over again.

Yet, despite all of those and the "X-Men" similarities, the offering pretty much works as a whole, taking familiar elements and mixing them into something that feels somewhat fresh. I have no idea if the novel played out and felts that same way, but Burton and screenwriter Jane Goldman start things off on an interesting note where our protagonist (Asa Butterfield) finds his grandfather (an always terrific Terence Stamp) near death, missing his eyes, and he tells the boy that "the bird" will explain it all.

Jake knows there's something to this, what with what seemed like tall tales (as accompanied by old black & white photos) told to him by his grandfather about a far-away home filled with peculiar children. And thus he's pleased when his less-than-fully-engaged father (Chris O'Dowd) agrees to the notion of them traveling to an island off the coast of Wales for a bit of closure for the teen. The boy is concerned and dismayed, however when he finds that home in ruins from a bomb dropped decades earlier during WWII. But then he spots a girl and then others kids, freaks out, tries to run away and accidentally knocks himself out.

When he comes to, he finds himself among those kids and their titular headmistress (Eva Green) and learns that they exist in a repeating 24-hour loop created by her to protect them from some villainous forces and the monsters at their disposal, both groups of which have an appetite for eyeballs. The kicker is that time loop is stuck on September 3, 1943, and while Jake feels like an outsider there just as he does at home, he soon learns he has a unique ability, much like the various kids around him.

And that would be being the only person who can see the monstrous hollowgasts -- large, gangly creatures with no eyes but sharp teeth and seemingly related to a somewhat similar creature in the brilliant "Pan's Labyrinth." That comes in handy especially since the leader of those creatures and some more humanoid type beings are on the hunt and led by one played by Samuel L. Jackson. His tummy rumbles for eyeballs, his own eyes glow, and his teeth are extra sharp. It's a good thing the latter are present since the actor chews the scenery like an overzealous termite that hasn't seen anything made from wood in years.

All of which eventually leads to a series of big special effects extravaganzas (including the skeleton fight scene) that are fun to watch, a sentiment I felt for most of the film. While much feels recycled, and we really don't know a great deal about most of the characters, there are enough Burton-esque touches from his early years to make this easy to watch and sit through. And for anyone who currently feels like the odd duck out -- or grew up that way -- this will be yet another cinematic example of just what the doctor ordered. "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 22, 2016 / Posted September 30, 2016


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