Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: In ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home,’ Chasing Grandpa’s Stories Down a Rabbit Hole

Ella Purnell and Asa Butterfield in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” directed by Tim Burton. Credit20th Century Fox Film Corporation
The movies have long made room for phantasmagoric visionaries, the strange ones, the different ones, who like to peek under rocks (or peel back the skin) to peer at what squirms beneath. Fitting their deliriums into bright, shiny, commercially palatable vehicles can be difficult, asTim Burton’s career attests. Time and again, Mr. Burton has tried to smooth down his singular art, rather like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters sawing off a bit of her foot to squeeze into a happily-ever-after slipper. Mr. Burton should never hack off his strange bits; they can be glorious.
Ah, but he slips beautifully into his latest, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Based on the book of the same title in the young-adult series by Ransom Riggs, it follows the curious and curiouser adventures of Jake (Asa Butterfield), a Florida adolescent who’s begun to wither in all that tedious sunshine. The only beguiling shadow in an otherwise terrifyingly pastel life is his grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp). Raconteur or fabulist, Abe likes to amble down a twisting memory lane, telling tales about the monsters he fought in the war or the children’s home in Wales where bees buzzed in a boy’s head and a girl named Emma (Ella Purnell) floated as light as a leaf on the wind.

Trailer: 'Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children'

A preview of the film from Tim Burton.
 By 20th CENTURY FOX PICTURES on Publish DateJune 22, 2016. Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive. Watch in Times Video »
This is all nonsense except that it’s not, though, you know, all in good time. First, Mr. Burton has to wind up the story and dispense with the usual preliminaries, the introductions and scene-setting, which he manages nicely. Some of this is dreary (the parents), some less so, particularly the skipping between past and present — a foreshadowing of later time traveling — which begins with a very young Jake listening to Abe in wonderment and ends with Jake as a squirmy, awkward teenager (like a super-abridged take on Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”). And while Mr. Stamp seems eccentrically cast, his coolness works here because distance invariably draws you in closer.
It takes a while for Mr. Burton to get his kink on. Although he has some fun setting up Jake’s juvenile detention (i.e., life), the story begins to sag almost before it’s begun, despite the time-skipping and peekaboo at the mysteries to come. There’s a brief, amusing party scene at Jake’s house that suggests who he — and Mr. Burton — believe are the real monsters. But the movie also needlessly dawdles when it climbs on a high horse as Jake, after delivering a school presentation on his grandfather, is mocked and cruelly told that Abe lies. As if anyone, especially anyone watching a Hollywood movie, needed reminding that some people will always try to snuff out creativity.
Eventually, after the parts are snapped into place and well-oiled, Jake and his rather more reluctant father, Frank (a tamped-down Chris O’Dowd), arrive in Wales, chasing down Abe’s legacy and stories. While his father dithers and drinks, Jake goes down the rabbit hole and lands in a time loop where Miss Peregrine (a delightful Eva Green), welcomes him to 1943 with mad eyes and a Sherlock-sized pipe that she likes to clench between her pretty teeth. And we’re off, having finally arrived in an otherworldly fantasy that’s been etched with meticulous loveliness, from the meringue peaks of Miss Peregrine’s black-and-blue hair to the vaguely vaginal apertures in her jacket sleeves.
Eva Green as the title character in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”CreditJay Maidment/20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Miss Peregrine’s home — its inhabitants, chambers and time-stuttering enigmas — turns out to be a delightful cabinet of curiosities, those wonder rooms in which (once upon a time before Instagram) collectors stashed marvels like body parts, scientific instruments, odds and ends. Movies are kind of wonder rooms, too, though much depends on the collector. Mr. Burton, whose artistry is at times most evident in its filigree, can be a great collector when given the right box to fill, as is the case here. He revels in the story’s icky, freaky stuff; he’s right at home, which may be why he seems liberated by its labyrinthine turns and why you don’t care if you get a little lost in them.
Once Jake starts hanging out with his new crew, a charming sideshow — the girl with the gobbling mouth in the back of her head, the boy with prophetic gifts — he proves to be somewhat of a dullard. (The children are ideally cast, even if one is playing an invisible boy and two others are obscured by delectably creepy masks.) This isn’t Mr. Butterfield’s fault, just the fate of the hero who has to serve as the intermediary between the world of the spectator and the world on the other side of the looking glass. With his lanky limbs as well as his dark hair and clothes, Mr. Butterfield can’t help but bring to mind Mr. Burton, who of course plays the same role for us.
The story gets awfully busy — you may get lost in 1943 or perhaps closer to the present — but it scarcely matters. Mr. Burton’s attention to detail and to the ebb and flow of tone (scary, funny, eerie), as well as his sensitive, gentle work particularly with the child actors, make each new turn another occasion for unfettered imagination. As time loops and eyeballs pop and Samuel L. Jackson shows up as a villain and then Judi Dench drops in for a while, the movie holds you tight with one after another marvelous, horrible, indelible vision. Here, women turn into birds and a boy holds a rope tied to the waist of a girl who, in turn, floats above him like a balloon, a thought and a dream.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). For once, the rating makes sense given that there are scenes, including with eyeballs, that may be too intense for young children. Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes.

Deutsche Bank Troubles Raise Fear of Global Shock - The New York Times

Deutsche Bank Troubles Raise Fear of Global Shock - The New York Times:

"LONDON — Germany’s largest bank appears in danger, sending stock markets worldwide on a wild ride. Yet the biggest source of worry is less about its finances than a vast tangle of unknowns — not least, whether Europe can muster the will to mount a rescue in the event of an emergency."

'via Blog this'

Anthony Doerr Reviews a New Book on Time Travel

CreditJavier Jaén
A History
By James Gleick
Illustrated. 336 pp. Pantheon Books. $26.95.
I was 10 years old when my brother handed me Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” with the endorsement that it was “probably the raddest story ever.” The action opens in 2055, and the United States has just elected a moderate presidential candidate named Keith over a strongman named Deutscher, “an anti-everything man for you, a militarist, Antichrist, anti-human, anti-intellectual.”
Hmmm. In the story a hubristic big-game hunter named Eckels pays Time Safari Inc. $10,000 to ride a time machine 60 million years back in time to shoot a rather vividly rendered T. rex. But there’s a Red Riding Hood-style catch: Eckels must stay on “the Path,” an antigravity sidewalk Time Safari Inc. has ­suspended over the jungle floor.
Why? Because, the lead hunter explains, “the stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our Earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations.”
Eckels, of course, stumbles off the Path and squashes a butterfly, “a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time.” When the hunting party gets back to the future, guess who the president-elect is? “Not that fool weakling Keith,” declares the desk jockey at Time Safari Inc. “We got an iron man now, a man with guts!”
(All of which makes one worry that a dino-hunter from 2055 has recently been mucking around in the underbrush of the Mesozoic.)
At age 10, I was gripped by Bradbury’s dramatization. I read the story a half-dozen times, then stepped gingerly through the yard, wondering if every ant I squashed spelled doom for civilization in 3924.
As I grew, so did the number of time travel stories I devoured. I watched Superman spin the Earth backward; I watched John Connor send a young soldier (who was somehow also his dad?) back in time to protect his mom from a Terminator; I watched Keanu Reeves offer Genghis Khan a Twinkie in Bill and Ted’s (not so) Excellent Adventure. Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” made me long to wake in an era when my Casio wristwatch would strike folks as sorcery, and Martin Amis’s “Time’s Arrow” wrecked my assumption that all narratives had to proceed from Then to More-­Recently-Than-Then. Indeed, as a world culture, we have indulged in so many time travel stories that, in 2011, ­China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television officially denounced them, charging that they “casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation.”
That’s enough to start any storyteller building her time machine.
Enter James Gleick’s “Time Travel: A History.”
Continue reading the main story
Bad news first: Though the title might suggest otherwise, this is not a book sent through a wormhole from the future to detail the glorious evolution of time ­travel. Darn it. Gleick even goes so far as to declare that literal time travel, as imagined and reimagined by writers over the decades, “does not exist. It cannot.”
The good news? “Time Travel,” like all of Gleick’s work, is a fascinating mash-up of philosophy, literary criticism, physics and cultural observation. It’s witty (“Regret is the time traveler’s energy bar”), pithy (“What is time? Things change, and time is how we keep track”) and regularly manages to twist its reader’s mind into those Gordian knots I so loved as a boy.
“Time Travel” begins at what Gleick believes is the beginning, H.G. Wells’s 1895 “The Time Machine.” “When Wells in his lamp-lit room imagined a time machine,” Gleick argues, “he also invented a new mode of thought.” Western science was undergoing a sea change at the same time, of course: Lyell and Darwin had exploded older conceptions of the age of the Earth, locomotives and telegraphs were transforming space, and Einstein was about to punch a major hole in Newton’s theory of absolute time. Meanwhile, in literature, Marcel Proust was using memory to complicate more straightforward storytelling, and it wouldn’t be long before modernists like Woolf and Joyce were compressing, dilating, and folding time in half.
James Gleick
But according to Gleick, Wells was the first to marry the words “time” and “travel,” and in doing so, “The Time Machine” initiated a kind of butterfly effect, the novel fluttering with each passing decade through the souls of more and more storytellers, who in turn influenced more and more of their successors, forking from Robert Heinlein to Jorge Luis ­Borges to Isaac Asimov to William Gibson to Woody Allen to Kate Atkinson to Charles Yu, until, to use Bradbury’s metaphor, the gigantic dominoes fell. Nowadays, Gleick writes, “Time travel is in the pop songs, the TV commercials, the wallpaper. From morning to night, children’s cartoons and adult fantasies invent and reinvent time machines, gates, doorways and windows, not to mention time ships and special closets, DeLoreans and police boxes.”
It’s also in the science. Gleick is a polymathic thinker who can quote from David Foster Wallace’s undergraduate thesis as readily as from Kurt Gödel or Lord Kelvin, and like many of the storytellers he thumbnails, he employs time travel to initiate engrossing discussions of causation, fatalism, predestination and even consciousness itself. He includes a humorously derisive chapter on people who bury time capsules (“If time capsulists are enacting reverse archaeology, they are also engaging in reverse nostalgia”), he tackles cyberspace (“Every hyperlink is a time gate”), and throughout the book he displays an acute and playful sensitivity to how quickly language gets slippery when we talk about time. Why, for example, do English speakers say the future lies ahead and the past lies behind, while Mandarin speakers say future events are below and earlier events are above?
“If you say,” he writes, “that an activity wastes time, implying a substance in finite supply, and then you say that it fills time, implying a sort of container, have you contradicted yourself?”
(A footnote here: Gleick is a brilliant footnoter; never more than in this book have I been reminded of how footnotes can function as breaks in the time of a writer’s sentences, wormholes in the space-time of a ­paragraph.)
As in his 2011 exploration of information theory, “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood,” Gleick’s greatest skill in “Time Travel” is to synthesize: He sees practice in theory, literature in science, ­Augustine in Rivka Galchen. If this new book can sometimes feel like a mind-smashing catalog of literary and filmic references to time ­travel, it’s also a wonderful reminder that the most potent time-traveling technology we have is also the oldest technology we have: storytelling.
Read a verse of Homer and you can walk the walls of Troy alongside Hector; fall into a paragraph by Fitzgerald and your Now entangles with Gatsby’s Now; open a 1953 book by Bradbury and go hunting T. rexes with Eckels. Gleick’s epigraph to his penultimate chapter comes from Ursula Le Guin: “Story is our only boat for sailing on the river of time,” and she’s right, of course. The shelves of every library in the world brim with time machines. Step into one, and off you go.

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