By David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.
APPETIZER: ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home …’,‘Harry & Snowman’After sitting (as I did last Monday) through six preview trailers that seem to jostle each other in a contagious riot of high-tech, effects-mad hysteria, one fears that the feature film will be more of the same, like a Trump rant that just won’t stop. To my relief, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children takes “event” hysteria down a few notches to become a pleasing entertainment. After a long, scattered period (though Big Eyes certainly had its moments), director Tim Burton is back in his groove, using Jane Goldman’s crafty adaptation of the Miss Peregrine novels of Ransom Riggs.
The effects are extravagant but not crushing, the CGI and natural vistas are dressed in elegant depth, and the story favors whimsy on the right side of bonkers. Burton keeps the narrative thread alive, with enjoyable characters and a sustained aura of this-must-be-so. The lavishness is lovely, also funny, including Miss Peregrine herself (Eva Green’s black, sculpted hair crowns her elite diction). Her grand goth mansion on a wee Welsh isle shelters “peculiar” kids who have magic powers. Their life is suspended on Sept. 3, 1943, right before a Nazi bomb will blast it apart. Each day Miss P rolls them back safely in a time loop, deferring the dreadful moment.
The awed interloper from now, yet spiritually "peculiar," is Jake (appealing Asa Butterfield, with big Disney eyes), wired for adventure by the secret tales of his refugee grandfather; we could use more of Terence Stamp’s great, cathedral vault voice. Jake meets a blond adorable (Ella Purnell) who commands the wind, and also a swell swarm of villains, not Nazis but hexed weirdos led by Barron. He is, happily, Samuel L. Jackson with razored teeth and death-creep eyes. With his singular splat of savvy Jackson lobs lines like “Boo!” and “I had to masquerade as a psychiatrist for three weeks – in Florida.”
Burton has always been a dreamy custodian and archivist, driven by his peculiar taste (here enhanced by by the story’s jolly-morbid Britishness). Few young viewers will notice Winston Churchill’s voice on the radio, yet quite a few viewers can savor the winking curtsies to Groundhog Day, Titanic, The Lady from Shanghai, Lost Horizon and Ray Harryhausen’s pioneering animations. At his best Burton is a terrific giggle. His new movie indulges the big-budget folie de grandeur of a climax that strives for multiple orgasm, but your imagination has to be pretty sexless not to enjoy the wallop of his wow.
Harry & Snowman
In 1956 Harry de Leyer, a post-WWII emigrant from ravaged Holland, then a riding teacher at a posh Long Island school for girls, went to a terminal auction of work horses. The penetrating gaze of a big white gelding, already truck-loaded for the “glue factory,” caught his eye. This was love, and for $80 the Dutchman got the ride of his life. Twice they beat the posh, blueblood steeds in national show-jumping championships (1958, ’59). The gentle, calm, big-footed champ became the adored pal of Harry and his eight kids. Eventually the 24/7 horsiness was too much for Harry’s wife, who left. Workaholic Harry kept training, riding, jumping.
How he discovered Snowman’s jumping power is one of the delights of the documentary by Ron Davis, who previously filmed beauty pageants. Modern interviews intercut vivid vintage footage, including a startling episode of Harry falling off a horse but rebounding with a smile (he won the top ribbon). Snowman lived to 28 in 1976 – better bring a hanky for that. Harry, now 89, last competed in 2008. As a valentine to equine passion, this movie is surpassed only by Buck, Cindy Meehl’s homage to “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman. Saddle up.
SALAD (A List)
Tim Burton’s Ten Best Movies, by my account: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Ed Wood (1994), The Nightmare Before Christmas (with Henry Selick, 1993), Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016), Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Corpse Bride (2005), Mars Attacks! (1996) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)Citizen Welles missed his old moviegoing in the ’30s: “You sallied into the theater at any time of day or night, like you’d go in to have a drink at a bar. We never asked what time the movie began. We’d go down to the Paramount where they had a double bill, and see the B pictures …There was an actor called J. Carrol Naish. Anything he did, we’d laugh at.” (From My Lunches With Orson by Henry Jaglom and Peter Biskind.) For the record, ethnic specialist Naish did some good work, and gained Oscar nominations for Sahara (1943) and A Medal for Benny (1945).
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)A film “starts with the find of the location,’ said (cinematographer) Robby Muller. Wim Wenders agreed: ‘If I don’t have a gut feeling about the place, I don’t know where to put the camera.’ They were John Ford devouts, and without pedantry Muller evoked Winton Hoch’s majestic landscapes for The Searchers. Hoch seems to mural the West from horseback, Muller snaps it through a car window. Hoch echoes painter Frederic Remington, Muller the classic modern road-shooter Robert Frank.” (From the Harry Dean Stanton/Paris, Texas chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available via Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)
DESSERT (An Image)A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
Ed (Johnny Depp) admires Bela (Martin Landau) in Ed Wood (Touchstone Pictures 1994; director Tim Burton, cinematographer Stefan Czapsky).
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