In the last issue of Spare Changes News, I mentioned that I was going to do a two-part fall movie preview in order to review a myriad of movies I saw between the beginning of September to the present. Part 1 included reviews of the movies “Sully” and “Snowden,” the former being slightly better than the latter. I originally intended this issue to contain reviews of “Bridget Jones’s Baby” and “Blair Witch,” but due to recently screening “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and the reboot of the classic western “The Magnificent Seven,” I decided to steer away from both Bridget and Blair and review these two diverse films instead.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”
Tim Burton is a wizard of “odd.” The best of his films take us into a world where anything is possible … but the impossible is even better. “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” based on Ransom Rigg’s 2011 young-adult novel, is so crowded with incidents that it sometimes seems in danger of imploding. But Burton has always had an affinity for the peculiar. So how could he resist Miss Peregrine? As played by the bracingly eccentric Eva Green (the “Penny Dreadful” star who worked with Burton in 2012’s “Dark Shadows”), Miss Peregrine is a Mary Poppins for society’s rejects. A girl with two jaws, a boy who can animate inanimate objects, some mysterious twins—it’s Willy Wonka meets the X-Men brats, with a stop at Hogwarts.
Miss Peregrine herself can, at a moment’s notice, transform into a bird—a peregrine falcon, to be exact. Nazi bombs destroyed her Victorian orphanage on the Welsh island of Cairnholm during World War II. But do you think bombs can really touch her or her young charges? Nah. She’s devised time bubbles, loops lasting 24 hours in which her peculiar wards can stay safe, except they have to repeat the same day over and over like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” but not as hilarious. The loop has worked for over 70 years, but now a new villain named Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) is determined to penetrate this loophole.
I won’t give away Burton’s visual surprises. But I will say that the present breaks into the past in the person of Jacob (Asa Butterfield), a teen visitor from 21st-century Florida who wants to know about this enchanted place where his recently murdered grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) grew up in 1943. Seems reasonable. He thinks they’ll love his smartphone. It also gives Jacob the chance to hit on the gorgeous Emma (Ella Purnell), the same beauty his grandfather had a thing for.
Still with me? Don’t sweat it. Just go with the spell Burton casts with the help of screenwriter Jane Goldman (“Stardust”). Yes, the film feels overstuffed and way too familiar, with Burton repeating tricks from his greatest hits, e.g., “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands.” The fun runs out much before the film ends, but stick with it just for those times when Burton flies high on his own peculiar genius.
Now on to the wild, wild west:
“The Magnificent Seven”
This has been billed as a Magnificent Seven for a modern political age in the United States, although the original has current resonance. In 1960, the Mexican villagers could travel north to hire their mostly white American mercenaries and come back down with them, unimpeded by any Trump wall. And it was a movie against big government: the federals were useless, and in Kurosawa, the villagers objected to paying tax to an authority that couldn’t protect them.
In Antoine Fuqua’s 2016 reboot, honest homesteading farmers are murdered and terrorized by a corporate villain who is trying to drive them from their land—mining robber baron Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Angry widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) hires Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a lightning-fast gun who turns out to carry documents proving his lawman’s authority—not unlike Christoph Waltz’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” He is to be joined by lovable rogue Josh (Chris Pratt), former confederate soldier Goodnight (yes, you read that right) Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), bearded frontiersman Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), bandit Vasquez (Manuel García-Rulfo), knife-throwing Billy Lee (Lee Byung-hun) and Comanche loner Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
So there’s some admirable diversity in this new Seven, but this is not so much political correctness as superhero correctness: The Seven are presented as an exotic variety, an assemblage of Avengers-type cowboys. The film has some superficial style, and the action sequences are put together competently enough, but there’s little or no sense of jeopardy, of danger, threatening people you might really care about. Washington, meanwhile, is under par, and the townsfolk seem to have taken their acting lessons from the cast of “Blazing Saddles.”
So there you have it. Two films that are polar opposites. The only thing they have in common is that neither one is suitable for children, which is ironic because one would think “Miss Peregrine…” would be suitable for children, but this is a Tim Burton film after all. (Would you want a young child watching “Beetlejuice”? I think not.) At any rate, both films are entertaining and worth watching. However, I would spend the money to see the Magnificent Seven ride again; the jury is still out on Miss Peregrine and her children.