Sunday, October 9, 2016

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (20th Century Fox, 2016) – Director: Tim Burton. Writers: Jane Goldman (s/p), Ransom Riggs (novel). Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O’Dowd, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton, Milo Parker, Pixie Davies, Louis Davison, & Raffiella Chapman. Color, Rated PG-13, 127 minutes.

Based on a 2012 book by Ransom Riggs, this beautifully photographed film directed by Tim Burton is an intriguing adventure in time travel. It begins in Florida as Jake Portman (Butterfield) is being driven to his grandfather, Abraham “Abe” Portman’s (Stamp) house. Jake’s relationship with Abe has been much closer than with his Dad, Franklin Portman (O’Dowd), who is always too busy photographing and writing about birds for a book he’s composing. Abe has been telling Jake the stories of the children with special abilities protected by Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Green) and of the wights called Hollowgasts that would destroy all of them.

When Jake arrives this time, Grandpa’s house is in complete disarray and he finds Abe lying near death out back and missing his eyes. Abe’s last words implore Jake to find “the bird in the loop” for all explanations, including the monstrosity Jake glimpses in the everglades just beyond the house.

Franklin doesn’t approve of Abe’s tales and thinks that they have had a negative influence on the boy’s sanity and, as a result he takes Jake Mom to see psychologist Dr. Golan (Janney). Dr. Golan recommends taking Jake to Cairnholm, a small island off the coast of Wales, to hopefully disprove the incredible stories and bring about closure. His mom thinks it’s a good idea and may help with Jake’s bonding with his Dad.

While on a ferry from Wales to Cairnholm, Jake’s Dad points out a peregrine falcon soaring above them and Jake relates it to his grandfather’s yarns. But does this result in bonding? No. Dad can’t wait to get to the beach to a photograph birds for his book and Jake has a mission. With the help of a couple of local youths, he finds the bombed-out shell of the orphanage he knows so well. He explores the ruined grounds and sees what he thinks are ghosts of the children formerly living there. Scared, disappointed and disturbed, he runs back to the inn where he and his Dad are staying, but everything has changed. He’s looked upon as a spy by the pub crawlers now there. (Before, there was barely a person in the room.) It’s only with the help of two of the children that he gets out of the pub and back to the orphanage, now fully restored to its Victorian glory.

Jake doesn’t realize that he has traveled back in time to September 6, 1943. Miss Peregrine is there to greet him and introduce him to all of her charges. Emma wears lead shoes to keep her from floating away and she can control air. Millard is fully invisible, just a newsboy cap floating above his clothes. Enoch O’Connor (MacMillan) can bring inanimate objects or previously dead objects to temporary life by implanting hearts in them. Olive Abroholos Elephanta (McCrostie) controls fire and wears heavy rubber gloves. Fiona Fruanfeld (Pemberton) is sensitive to plants and can hasten growth. Hugh Apiston (Parker) has bees inside him and can make them do his bidding (he has to wear an apiary net over his head at dinner). Bronwyn Bruntley (Davies) and her brother Victor Bruntley (Davison) have the strength of 10 men. Alas, Victor was killed by a Hollowgast and remains in state in his bedroom. Claire Densmore (Chapman) doesn’t reveal her peculiarity until dinner, when she lifts her Shirley Temple curls and exposes the fierce jaws in back of her head. And Horace Somnusson (Keeler-Stone) is a human movie projector who can display his prophetic dreams.

Miss Peregrine tells Jake between puffs on her Meerschaum pipe that she’s a Ymbryne who can turn back time and thus create a “loop,” reliving the same day over and over again. This is why she is so strict with the children on timing. Not only does she have to fight off a Hollowgast every day, she has to be on guard against Barron (Jackson) and his minions, Wights who evolved from a Hollowgasts by eating the eyes of “peculiars.” There is a ghastly scene demonstrating this. Miss Peregrine and other Ymbrynes, including Miss Esmeralda Avocet (Dench) have set up “loops” in various parts of the world to protect children who might otherwise not be accepted in society or even feared (Abe has given Jake a map to find them). This is why she waits until the Nazi bomb almost reaches her house before reversing time.

Jake doesn’t know how to take all of this, but he is developing feelings for Emma. When he reconnects with his father, Dad seems genuinely concerned about his absence, but then insists Jake join him down at the beach the next day, where they meet the ornithologist (Everett), who is also writing a book. Franklin is so disheartened by the sophisticated equipment and the dedication of this new acquaintance that he gives up on his own book. It’s not until his Dad takes a mid-afternoon nap that Jake slips away and heads back to the orphanage. On the way, he discovers that the ornithologist, Dr. Golan and Barron are one and the same. Using Jake as a hostage, Barron convinces Miss Peregrine to transform into her bird form and he takes her away in a cage.

Now it’s up to Jake to protect the children. Fortunately, Miss Avocet is also there. The children team up under his leadership using their own peculiarities to help rescue Miss Peregrine.

I enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children even though I think it would give all of my great nieces and nephews nightmares (including the nine-year-old). Eva Green is a slinky house mother with a sly grin and a killer frown. There’s also something sexy about a woman smoking a pipe. Samuel L. Jackson is a consummate villain, though I wondered how he could speak at all with that mouthful of pointed prosthetic teeth. His lisp was even more pronounced than when I saw him in Kingsmen (2015). Dame Judy Dench didn’t have that much of a part, but she did the most she could with it. As I said, the visuals were spectacular and the soundtrack excellent (even without Danny Elfman’s magic). The special effects crew list looks more like the New York City telephone book. My favorite scene was the Jason and the Argonauts retrospect battle between the skeletons and the Hollowgasts.

And…there is a lesson to be learned from this movie. It’s all about “seeing”and “paying attention.” Jake's Dad “sees” his son, but doesn’t pay enough attention to him, while Abe does. Thus, Jake’s peculiar specialty involves “seeing” and is intrinsic to the resolution of the film. As with other fantastic effects films, this movie will probably be nominated for technical expertise and maybe Eva Green will get a head nod, but otherwise it’s just a romp of imagination that, at two hours and seven minutes, is a little too long.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

509 Third Avenue, New York

According to its website, the name Vago was “inspired by an historical term meaning ‘Beauty’ in old Latin.” Research as did, I could not confirm this, and I took four years of Latin. As a verb, it means “I wander” and as a noun, it means “vague.” But there’s nothing vague about this sleek, electric blue neon-lit restaurant with an elegant black latticed front window. Classified as Mediterranean, the cuisine is mostly Italian.

Inside the room was all beige with a beautiful bare wood floor interspersing dark planks with mostly lighter woods. Dark wood tables flanked by chairs with beige seats lined the left wall and marched down the center of the room. Faux-arched windows broke up the monotony on the left wall looking out on faux gardens.

I asked my server what was “great” here and I was able to compose a suitable set of dishes and choose a wine. I ordered a Malbec from France, but the manager arrived to inform me they were out of it. He suggested the 2013 “Le Sughere di Frasinello” from Tuscany, Italy. It was wonderful, with a spicy nose, a deep rich red color, and a full body that would go with every dish I ordered.

My first dish was eggplant rollantini, labeled on the menu as simply “eggplant” and described as eggplant rolls stuffed with ricotta cheese in tomato sauce garnished with organic parsley. The eggplant was easily cut with a fork and the ricotta cheese was not too sweet. It was just right and the sauce was delicious.

Next was the pasta, just called pappardelle on the menu. It was obviously homemade, al dente with a rich zesty lamb ragu. It was good. and my wine tasted delightful with it.

As it was my first time at Vago, I thought it only right to have the veal “My Way”: veal scallopini with artichokes, capers, olive oil and white wine, served with roasted potatoes. The scallopini were pounded flat and tender and propped up by the potato chunks. The sauce was almost like a Livornese but with only the hint of olives. The artichokes replaced the physical olive slices nicely. It was lemony, briny, and full of the flavor of the capers. I loved it.

When it came time for dessert, I eschewed the chocolate choices and ordered the assorted European cheese plate, which was not as diverse as the name implied. A couple of Parmesan, Romano, and Brie surrounded a few red grapes and a fan of thinly sliced Macintosh apple. My usual double espresso followed with a glass of Remy Martin XO cognac.

I must remember to return to Vago the next time I “wander” in that part of the Murray Hill section of New York. There’s still the risotto and the lamb shank waiting for me. Maybe they’ll have the French Malbec in stock.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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