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.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]


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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MquUxWXEOLU[/youtube]

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Way late review: Puss in Boots

My desire to see movies based on characters from the world of Shrek is somewhere between that of having my eyeballs poked with hot irons and watching an extra inning t-ball game. Thus, my expectations were not high for Puss in Boots. I’d had enough of the “let’s see how many clever pop culture references we can cram into 90 minutes of schlock” approach. Good news. The sword wielding cat movie is not of that ilk.

In place of rapid fire quips that will feel dated five minutes after they’re spoken, Puss in Boots is a modern spin on a mix of fairy tales. Puss (Antonio Banderas), we learn was once friends with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). They grew up in the same orphanage where Humpty was bullied and Puss came to his defense. Their friendship came to an end when Humpty pushed Puss too far into a life of crime, the final heist being the town’s bank. Puss left the town a wanted feline and his friend in the hands of the local authorities. The two meet again later in life when Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) encounters Puss and convinces him to join Humpty and her at finding the golden egg laying goose from Jack’s beanstalk. This is the mission Puss and Humpty had once dreamed about and worked towards in their youth to no avail. Now it’s said that the outlaws, Jack and Jill have the magic beans and Humpty needs Softpaws and Puss to help get the golden goose. The adventure dashes off from there with a number of twists along the way.

One of the most oddly conniving and original bad guys I’ve seen in a children’s film in a while, Humpty Dumpty makes the movie what it is. While the story is strong enough to hold interest, the sinister egg man makes the movie entertaining. He is an inventive choice as the bad guy who you kind of feel sympathy for until you realize he’s as much a weasel as he is egg.

Credit Puss in Boots for not resting on its main character’s heritage from the ever popular Shrek series. The breakaway from that tired series leads to a somewhat inventive and entertaining movie.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Znuq-daWfLE[/youtube]

Way late review: The Adventures of Tintin

2011’s scariest movie of the year, The Adventures of Tintin? Maybe not, but the animation style first made popular by the just as terrifying Polar Express is not comforting. Even more disconcerting is Tintin’s orange on a toothpick head. His boyish looks mashed up with his Bourne like skills don’t make sense. Every other character in the movie seems to have oversize cucumbers for noses. It’s as if Gonzo mated with a human. Bizarre.

Beyond the off putting looks of the characters in Tintin, there is a somewhat fun adventure movie buried underneath. Not a great screenplay by any stretch, as Tintin annoyingly rushes through endless iterations of journalistic “by golly, I’ve found another clue!” moments, the film sprints into action set pieces as if those will make up for the cold characters. Whatever magic Spielberg or Peter Jackson could lend the movie goes wasted on animation that fails to deliver and a mundane screenplay.

[xrr rating=2/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz3j8gKRUTg[/youtube]

Way late review: Hugo

Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema, Hugo, is like most love letters – full of passion, often beautiful, yet lacking in anything resembling a cohesive narrative.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who keeps the clocks ticking behind a train station in Paris. Why he and almost everyone around him have British accents is a mystery. I suppose every story set in days of old (yet not too old) demand British accents. Regardless, Hugo does what he needs to do in order to survive, which entails stealing food and other small items he needs to complete his project his father left him, an automaton, a mechanical man who writes with a pen and has a head just small enough to give everyone an uneasy feeling. The station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) doesn’t make Hugo’s life easy. He is determined to catch Hugo and put him in an orphanage. Inserted for comedic value, the station inspector seems like a distraction more than an integral part of the story, which is fine except for the fact that a decent portion of the film is spent on that character and his pursuit of Hugo. It’s as if someone told Scorsese he had to add some slapstick fun in his film or no child would tolerate it.

Desperate to find all the parts to get the automaton working so he can see what message his father left him, Hugo gets caught trying to steal a mechanical mouse from Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) by Méliès. He is forced to give up his notebook which contains the detailed sketches his father left of the automaton. Méliès promises to burn the book that evening and hands Hugo the ashes the next morning.

Hugo makes friends with Méliès’ god-daughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is desperate for adventure. It isn’t long before Hugo sneaks her into Isabelle’s first ever movie. Her godfather won’t allow her to watch films. She is mesmerized by the experience and Hugo is reminded of his father’s shared love for the cinema.

In a moment of chance Hugo discovers that Isabelle is wearing a key with a heart shaped end, which is exactly the key he needs to get his automaton working. In exchange for giving up his secret headquarters behind the walls of the train station, Isabelle allows Hugo to use the key to rev up his automaton so that he can finally see the message his father left for him. To go further is to spoil the surprise, which isn’t much of a surprise mainly because it takes numerous unnecessary twists to revel in Hugo’s true purpose, an undying love for films of old.

It’s hard to imagine a more beautifully shot film than Hugo. Every scene is masterfully shot with colors dazzling and the motion of the camera purposefully setting every moment. And yet for all its beauty, the story and characters pale in comparison. A two hour film that should be at least twenty minutes shorter without losing an ounce of its cinematic grander, Hugo still entertains even while reminding the audience that it could have been so much better.

[xrr rating=3/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5IP-78xH6g[/youtube]

Way late review: Spirited Away

I’ve never taken LSD. After watching Spirited Away, one of my son’s favorite anime films, I think I know what it’s like to take LSD.

Not that it matters all that much, but here’s the synopsis and a juicy Oscar tidbit:

During her family’s move to the suburbs, Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase) wanders into a magical world where a witch rules — and those who disobey her are turned into animals. When Chihiro’s parents become pigs, she must find a way to help them return to their human form. Adapted from the Japanese original, director Hayao Miyazaki’s adventure tale won the Best Animated Feature Oscar for its enchanting story.

What is left out of that summary are the images that will likely give me strange dreams and nightmares for years to come. A giant baby who morphs into an overweight mouse. Three ugly green bouncing heads morphing into the giant baby, morphing into a giant ugly man baby that finally transforms back to three ugly green bouncing heads. Not one, but two, identical witches with oversized heads that include a wart between the eyes that Uncle Buck would offer a quarter to have a rat gnaw off. A “stink spirit” that causes people to either faint or vomit or both. A boy who becomes a creature not unlike Falkor from Neverending story. Unlike Falkor, this creature bleeds from the mouth half of the time its on screen. Frogs with teeth. Raddish spirits. And those are just the ones I can’t burn from my memory nor am I likely any time soon.

Regardless, there is something hypnotizing about Spirited Away. It’s certainly not a coherent plot, character development, nor decent voice dubbing. Maybe it’s the world Miyazaki created and proceeds to run away with. I do have a certain admiration for the guts to do that. On the other hand, I’ve also seen Miyazaki’s Ponyo, a film that makes Spirited Away seem genius in all areas – storytelling, character development, voice dubbing, and all around coherence. The point is that Miyazaki was rather constrained with Spirited Away in comparison.

If you ever get the urge to eat an odd looking mushroom you find growing in the forest or experimenting with hallucinogens, don’t. Put on Spirited Away instead. I’m pretty sure the end result will be roughly the same.

[xrr rating=2.5/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idTt48RCbAc[/youtube]

Way late review: Winnie the Pooh

I had the opportunity to watch Disney’s latest Winnie the Pooh film with my six year old daughter. Much to my surprise, she wasn’t thrilled about watching Pooh and friends again. She informed me that she already saw it recently at school and wasn’t a big fan. I couldn’t help but think that I’ve ruined her. She only tolerated the hour long animated feature but she got excited when she discovered that we also had Planet of The Apes arrive via Netflix. While she sat in a trance watching Pooh, she was excitedly asking questions and making comments through much of Charlton Heston’s 40+ year old, 2 hour long sci-fi flick. Go figure.

Winnie the Pooh is a throwback. The movie feels as though it could have been made fifty years ago, which is good. The last thing I want to see is a hip post-modern Winnie the Pooh. If other studios owned the Hundred Acre Wood property I know there’d be an endless stream of ironic pop culture references followed up by Rabbit revealing he’s long suffered from OCD, Tigger declaring he’s bouncing everywhere instead of driving in order to do his part to cut down on carbon emissions, Pooh breaking down and confessing he’s addicted to the drug known as “huny”, and Christopher Robin serving as the terrible human out to crush all his furry little friends by developing the hundred acre’s into a theme park. Instead, Disney gives us the story of Eeyore losing his tail and his friends’ pursuit to help him find it. It’s just that simple.

The characters behave just as they always have. Tigger is bouncing along to his own beat. Pooh is obsessed with honey. Rabbit is passionately defending his garden. Piglet is scared of everything. Eeyore is pure doom and gloom. Owl is endlessly pontificating. Nothing has changed and all these characters interact in the ways we’ve come to expect.

The animation is classical yet never boring. A couple scenes use different styles of animation to mix things up. There’s a chalkboard drawing sequence and then a Pooh in a land of honey scene which are surreal. Both gave me flashbacks to that dream sequence in Dumbo. Even as a child I was convinced the people who came up with that little number were ingesting magic mushrooms.

Perhaps the best part of this latest adventure with Christopher Robin’s crew was its length – 63 minutes total. You have to love that. As much as my daughter wasn’t thrilled to watch the movie, she sat through it again mainly because it was over before she knew it.

I must confess something now. My daughter is not alone. I’m not the biggest Winnie the Pooh fan either. I enjoyed the movie for what it is, a short, fun, simple, and nicely animated film that doesn’t wear out its welcome. And for that I give it a slightly higher rating than I’d probably give it otherwise.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=””]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbFz–GCkOM[/youtube]