Tag Archives: PG

Way late review: Frankenweenie

Guts. That is what it takes to make (not to mention fund!) a black and white stop motion film dealing with the death of family pets. A real pick me up if ever there was one. Leave it to Tim Burton with Frankenweenie to pull off the impossible. It’s been a while since he last tapped into his dark quirky style and made it work.

Victor Frankenstein is a loner. He’s not unhappy. He enjoys spending time with his dog Sparky, making movies and doing science projects. When Sparky gets hit by a car and dies Victor’s world takes a dive. Inspired by his science teacher’s lesson on electricity and lightning, Victor digs up Sparky and brings him back to life thanks to some ingenuity on his part and the town’s constant evening lightning storms.

It wouldn’t be a Burton film without a plethora of odd characters. Mr. Rzykruski’s, the science teacher, makes a lasting first impression as he takes some of the magic and myth out of his students’ misunderstanding of lightning. The scene is magical thanks to screenwriter John August’s punchy dialogue and Martin Landau’s creepy over-the-top delivery. Not to be outdone by her teacher, a strange little girl with beady bugged out eyes and her cat, who shares the same comical feature, make every moment of screen time entertaining. Our initial introduction to the girl and her cat are when she stops Victor to explain how her cat sometimes leaves a present in the litter box in the shape of the first letter of a classmate’s name. The gift is meant to indicate something significant is going to happen to that person. After the cat leaves a “V”, it’s not long before Sparky is dead.

Like many Burton films, Frankenweenie obsesses over the odd, even taboo subjects. This time around it’s death with a side helping of science. Thankfully, Frankenweenie sees death as it should – sad and tragic. Too many films, whether aimed at children or adults, try to put a happy spin on life’s end. Celebrate, don’t mourn at funerals. Frankenweenie will have none of that. Where it missteps is in the end where it sends mix messages to kids about both death and science. As long as your motives are good, science and our applications of it follow suit. Just as the movie says, science is neither good nor bad, but to think that good intentions equals positive results is ridiculous. There are times our best intentions produce terrible results, and sometimes the opposite is true. The lesson taught about death is ultimately puzzling, thanks to an ending which tries to redeem a situation that should be left as it is. I’d say more but – spoilers.

Aside from some thematic problems, Frankenweenie is a lot of fun in the final act. There are endless references to classic monster movies, making the action sequences all the zanier. What was once a relatively somber film turns into a bit of a thrill ride.

I’m not sure who Frankenweenie is for. I guess it’s geared towards kids but the style and subject matter don’t fit that demographic. My seven year old enjoyed it but then she also enjoys quite a few old black and white monster movies. Regardless of who the movie is targeted at, the daring style of a stop motion, black and white feature film gets paired with a solid story and some good characters, which has been missing from Tim Burton’s movies in the past. The magic is back.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: The Queen of Versailles

There were many dynamics at play with the 2008 market and housing crash. Talk of greedy bankers, incompetent credit ratings agencies, spineless politicians and policy makers have been and continue to be the focus as we get some (small) distance between the events that resulted in a near economic collapse. Missing in all of this is the consumer side of the equation. Main Street. The innocents. You and me. Except we’re not so innocent. Money was (is?) cheap and our desires for more and more rarely subsides. Taken to the extreme this vicious cycle of cheap money and an endless appetite for more results in a couple like David and Jackie Siegel. Timing is everything. Lauren Greenfield happened to already be filming the Siegels building the largest single family home in the United States when everything came crashing down. The result is The Queen of Versailles, a documentary capturing the story of the little guy through the eyes of the biggest of the little guys.

David and Jackie Siegel came from modest families. David built his timeshare company, Westgate Resorts, from the ground up. He employs thousands of people in order to sell mostly middle class families on renting a dream they can’t afford to own. Westgate builds incredible resorts on money they borrow from banks, then they sell mortgages on the rooms for a week per year to families who could never afford such luxurious vacation pads otherwise. Those families pay a monthly amount over many years to pay for a vacation stay once a year for the rest of their life. One room in a resort essentially provides 52 mortgages. Westgate then turns around, bundles these mortgages and sells them as investments. At one point, David Siegel’s son is on screen pumping up his sales staff. He tells them that they are saving lives. He equates timeshare sales people to doctors, nurses, firemen, etc. He does this with a straight face as he rattles off some study which shows people who take a week vacation once a year live longer than those who don’t. Even houses made of cards need someone to care for them. In this case care comes in the form of twisted logic.

Jackie got a computer engineering degree and went to work for IBM out of school. Her achievement was short lived as she decided there was little glamour in writing code so she decided to marry money instead. After being in an abusive marriage, Jackie found David via a beauty pageant. The two have six children plus one adopted niece on Jackie’s side of the family. The former beauty queen and her husband decide they need more room with such a big family so they go about building a 90,000 monstrosity of a home inspired by Versailles and the finest buildings Vegas has to offer. In the process of building their dream house the economy comes to a screeching halt.

What starts off as a tale of decadence turns into the story of just what the housing market crash looked like, from the top of the food chain to the bottom, all through the eyes of a difficult to like billionaire couple. The lack of money flowing freely means David Siegel is suddenly underwater on his prized property in Vegas. He personally backs every loan the company takes out which means he is liable for hundreds of millions of dollars. And since he’s saved nothing, he and his family’s life of continued luxury is at severe risk. The trickle down impact of this is seen in one of the family’s nannies and their driver. Both depend on the Siegels for paychecks and as the banks lay the hammer down on the timeshare mogul, the ability for David to pay a household staff dwindles. Layoffs at Westgate come fast and furious, with thousands losing their jobs. No one is safe. Yet through it all, Jackie is shown to be both aware yet oblivious all at once. On the one hand she is quick to recognize a childhood friend’s desperate need for money to catch up on mortgage payments and writes a check on the spot. On the other hand, she continues to spend money like there is no tomorrow. She’s shown in one moment to be completely cognizant of her drastically downsized staff’s struggles and in the next she humiliates them with some offhand comment like, “Well, at least you won’t have to clean this place”, referring to her version of Versailles going up for sale.

As the film progresses, David’s patience grows shorter. He spends every waking hour puzzling his way out of massive debt. His dream house is on the market for a mere $90M. His company is shrinking. The banks want him to liquidate everything but the shirt on his back. And to top it all off, his family is driving him mad with their lack of awareness of what is happening to them. Towards the end of the film David’s nearly non-existent patience is put to the test by his family and he loses it. It’s an amazingly intimate moment which shows just how fragile the mortar is which holds the Siegel household together.

The Queen of Versailles profiles a hard to empathize with couple who are caught in the tangled web of a market crash. What could have been a condescending look at how the mighty fall, director Lauren Greenfield finds the deeper story by also exploring the stories of those around the Siegel family. No one will shed a tear for Jackie and David Siegel, but most will admit to an uneasy feeling that the beast they attempted to ride is the same one that many of us tried to hang onto, if only to a lesser degree.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Mr. Mom


What ever happened to Michael Keaton? The man was a comedy goldmine in the ’80s. There was Gung Ho, Dream Team, Beetlejuice, and then there was Mr. Mom, a movie embracing its time wholeheartedly.

Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) is the stereotypical family man in 1980’s USA. He has a wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), and three young children. Caroline stays at home and Jack works at an auto factory as a manager. All is well until Jack loses his job in a down economy. He has no luck finding work so his wife decides she’ll take a shot at going back to her old career in advertising. Being a man of great pride, Jack puts a 100-to-1 odds bet that Caroline will not find a job before he does. Of course, our man loses – in more way than one. On top of being unemployed he gets to take care of the kids and household chores. Comedy ensues as even the simplest tasks like dropping kids off at school gets him scolded and yelled at by other parents for “doing it wrong”. Grocery shopping doesn’t go any better as aisle after aisle gets destroyed and Jack’s baby goes missing.

Michael Keaton pulls comedy gold from a fairly standard story. His facial expressions and delivery of lines command laughs when there would normally be none. Going from the proud father and husband to the loser who dreads his new life as a stay-at-home dad and finally back to a man with a purpose, complete with references to Rocky is all I need for an easy watch that provides some comedic relief.

I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they’re great… and they are, they are terrific. But pretty soon, a woobie isn’t enough. You’re out on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you’re strung out on bedspreads Ken. That’s serious.

No one will ever confuse Mr. Mom with great social commentary. We’ll save that for Hulk Hogan. No, Mr. Mom delivers laughs in what is now a classic ’80s family comedy. Hard to beat.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Dial M for Murder


Having been scarred by seeing the most terrifying scenes of The Birds at a young age, I’ve mostly avoided Alfred Hitchcock’s films. Nothing personal, it’s just the thought of those feathered killers that kept me away. After many years I think I’ve finally recovered and am able to take in the renowned filmmaker’s archive. Since it was on Netflix streaming, I decided to watch Dial M for Murder.

Tony (Ray Milland) is a former tennis star whose wealthy wife, Margot (Grace Kelly) is cheating on him with an American crime writer Mark (Robert Cummings). Tony finds this out and decides he’s going to kill his unfaithful wife. The deceit within deceit proceeds with no shortage of twists for which even I, a Hitchcock newbie, am aware are a hallmark of the prolific director.

Everything takes place in one setting which means it is heavily dependent on the acting. Fortunately, the acting is top notch, not annoying as this period of films (really anything before the late 60’s) tends to encourage. Annoying only because the times change, not because it was terrible acting. If we could take back some of today’s best performances and show them to those in the ’50s the audience there would probably wonder if our men and women in front of the camera are even attempting to perform.

Not being the biggest crime and mystery film fan on the planet, I found the constant twists and turns to be a bit tiring towards the end. That’s me, but my eleven year old and seven year old children were fascinated by it all. Even though they struggled to keep up with the fast talking English accents, they were glued to the screen. In fact, my daughter asked me if she could watch the first part of the movie she missed. Who knew that Hitchcock films would appeal to grade schoolers in the year 2012?

Dial M for Murder feels more like a play than a film due to its single setting. Nonetheless, it holds up with compelling performances and a story that begs you to hang on until the very end. Plus, there are no killer birds stalking people in this one. That’s a bonus for my fragile psyche.

 ★★★½☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Footnote


When a son walks in his father’s footsteps it can be a point of pride or sadness for the father. Depending on whether the father is satisfied with his own life dictates his reaction to his son following in his footsteps. But what about the father who is proud of his accomplishments and has a son who not only follows in his footsteps but eclipses his accomplishments? And what happens to their relationship when all of a sudden the father receives an award the son covets? Enter Footnote.

Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba) researches the Talmud. Scratch that. He picks through every version and copy he can get his hands in an obsessive compulsive manner in the name of scholarship. He dives into the minutia of ancient texts and rarely comes up for air. His son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), is a professor at the same university in Jerusalem but his studies are more popular, well received, and recognized. Eliezer is bitter of his son’s fame and respect by the community they’re both a part of. He even goes as far as to ridicule their academic community as a way to make himself feel better about never receiving the accolades he feels he’s earned. Uriel does his best to placate his dad by giving him credit at acceptance speeches and elsewhere. This only embitters Eliezer all the more. He doesn’t like being patronized.

A bitter father and son relationship does not sound like comedy gold yet the story is told with much wit. The music sets the tone early as a classical comedic soundtrack. Even the sour faces Eliezer makes are funny as everyone around him celebrates his son’s accomplishments. His disheveled look among the well dressed awards crowd is meant for laughs, as Eliezer is denied access back into the event while numerous other more finely dressed participants stroll through the door. Not even security is buying Elizer as anything but an old man who wants to cause trouble.

The one sided bitterness changes quickly once Eliezer gets a call telling him he’s being awarded the Israel Prize, the one prize alluding Eliezer for the past twenty years. He finally obtains it and in a moment the tables are turned. The son is back at the footstool of the father. The same father who would only begrudgingly acknowledge his son’s work, let alone achievements. If this was the entire story it would be an entertaining look at how the relationship evolves between these two men whose lives revolve around a religious text neither appears to have fully grasped. However, there is a major twist which causes awkward conversations and difficult decisions. Once this twist occurs, the film shifts suddenly from light comedic fodder to a darker introspective piece. It’s as if two films were smashed together, both very good but also very different.

Great performances and an intriguing story of a father-son relationship carry Footnote through a first half which provides many laughs and a second half which expresses the deep hurt a long and painful father and son journey inevitably delivers. An original film told in an originally, if not jarring manner. Refreshing.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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