Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

GF and I have been enjoying reading Miss Peregrine‘s Home for Peculiar Children together. These are some of my notes –
When Jacob was a young boy, his grandfather used to tell him stories of peculiar children, with fantastic abilities. Now he’s a teenager, and more than anything else he wants to leave the boredom of American suburbia, and go on adventures.
His hopes are realised in the worst way possible, when his grandfather is horribly killed. From there, though, it takes a while for the plot to take off – there are steps back and forth, hither and thither, until eventually Jacob makes it to the scene of the action (an island off the coast of England). Here, as Jacob stumbles through the moors, it can feel a little as though we’re wandering aimlessly; the middle portion of the story sags under the weight of exposition without the narrative development to hold it together.
In the end, though, the story takes off. Jacob finds the peculiar children, makes a huge choice about his own life, and fights a monstrous villain. The end? Well, I can’t tell you, because it ends on a cliff hanger and we haven’t read the next one.
Part of the charm of the book is the photographs, scattered throughout it. In an afterword, Ransom Riggs explains that they’re real photographs. Drawn from the collections of people who collect old photographs, often acquired with no explanation or context. It’s an interesting addition to a young reader fiction.
Worth reading if you’re feeling a gap in your life after the end of the Harry Potter series, although I wouldn’t say that it’s quite at the same level.

Annie Hall

Annie Hall has a strong critical reputation. It’s the piece where Woody Allen became more serious, it’s won multiple awards, and it’s a creature very much of its time. All those things are true, and it’s worth watching.

[SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be talking about the ending]

But as I was watching it, I couldn’t help think of Scrubs, and the way it insisted on playing on its character’s inner life – his inability to remain in the moment. Even though Annie Hall breaks the fourth wall a little, it’s mostly for the purposes of stepping inside Alvy Singer’s head. Similarly, throughout, the Scrubs series was a game about what was happening inside JD’s head.

Annie Hall tells the story of a young man, trying to remember what went wrong with his relationship. He flashes back to the start of the relationship, and as it progresses, he is constantly looking away, looking at us, talking to us and himself, trying to understand what went wrong. The resolution, really, is when the narrator and protagonist collide and become one, in a Los Angeles parking lot. He slams his car back and forth, out of control, and we realise he is still, at heart, the young boy who played dodgem cars on Cooney Island. In that moment, though, there’s something that takes him to the other side – where he can be happy, and peaceful, about the end of his relationship with Annie Hall.

It’s a funny movie, and worth watching as a reference point to compare to later Woody Allen pieces.

Oh – and of course, we end the movie seeing Woody Allen directing a play about his relationship, but one with a happy ending.

At the movies

Fantastic beasts and where to find them

I enjoyed Fantastic beasts. Visually, it’s stunning – beautiful shot after beautiful shot of weird, mysterious creatures. The kind of thing that makes you want to believe in magic again.

The story follows Newt Scamandar. Ostensibly, he’s in the United States to try and set free a mysterious, magical creature he’d found captured and trafficked. Ultimately, though, Newt’s real purpose is to be a walking plot trigger; everywhere he goes his suitcase spills out magical creatures, bringing together strange events and plot points. So that over the course of the movie, he:

  • Is arrested by a would-be auror,
  • Almost executed, and
  • Almost killed by an Obscurus.

Throughout, though, he isn’t really making choices; or, it’s hard to think of them. He just stumbles from one thing to the next. It would have felt a little more … convincing, I suppose, if he’d had some deep connection with the characters around him, some desire for them, or if he’d had some driving motivation.

For all that, though, it’s a fun piece. It’s an interesting example of how ‘media’ can be used as a chorus, to fill in the story. It opens with newspapers flickering past, telling us the back-story we need to know about an evil wizard, so that any subsequent appearances by him or his minions won’t be without context.

The original Harry Potter books and movies, from memory, had a strong focus on the spell-casting as an incantation; waving the wand and uttering the right words were the crucial aspects. In the movie, though, any kind of vocalisation is dispensed with; wands are like guns – you fire / wave them, and bolts of lightening / telekinesis / rays of light follow.

Bad Santa 

Bad Santa opens with two criminals in a bar, celebrating their successful heist. What are they going to do with the rewards? Well, Billy Bob Thornton wants to move to Florida and find … domestic tranquility – a home, a wife, a child.

Except it doesn’t work out that way. His move to Florida just leaves him a bum, kicked out of a bar and (successfully) stealing valet keys. So when his friend calls him for another heist, it’s the gift he needs.

On the way though, he stumbles on to what he actually needed all along. In taking advantage of a clueless boy, he becomes a father figure to him. He finds the relationship he always wanted with a woman who has a fetish for Santa, and together they live the idiot boy’s classy home, squatters while his father is in jail.

It’s a weird, parallel universe, and one that you imagine can’t survive. So it feels like a return to form when he goes in for the final heist with his accomplice, defrauding the mall he’s been a Santa in. But when his friend turns on him, it’s his new family (specifically, a confession letter he left with his idiot son that draws the cops) that saves him.

The film’s irreverent, and revels in a particular kind of humour. But if you squint hard enough, you can see something like a plot structure underneath it all, which probably contributes to how watchable it is. Worth if it if you think the trailer looks funny.