Frankenweenie

October 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Voices of Charlie Tahan, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Dark Shadows”)
Written by: John August (“Corpse Bride,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”)

The legend of Tim Burton’s original incarnation of “Frankenweenie,” produced as a short film for his then-current employer Disney, was recounted over and over after Burton shot to the top of the Hollywood A-list in the late-’80s thanks to the success of “Beetlejuice” and “Batman.” The live-action black-and-white tale of a young boy who brings his dead dog back to life through the power of electricity was deemed too scary for young Disney audiences and Burton was fired. The studio felt the director had wasted their money on a frightening dud and its release was scrapped…so the legend goes, anyway.

Twenty-eight years later, Burton has revisited and re-worked “Frankenweenie” as a feature-length stop-motion animated affair. Once again, the film tells the story of young Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan), a shy boy who spends his time making monster movies featuring his toys and starring his beloved dog Sparky. When his parents (voices of Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) decide Victor needs to get out of the house more, they force him to play in a baseball game. Victor ends up smacking an unlikely home run, which sends the excitable Sparky after the ball and straight into the street. Tragedy strikes, and Sparky is killed by a passing car. The grief-stricken Victor slinks his way through the following days, only to be filled with hope after his eccentric science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voice of Martin Landau) demonstrates how electricity can re-animate a deceased frog. Victor sneaks out of the house to do some late-night grave robbing, hauling Sparky’s corpse into his makeshift laboratory. A few stitches and one lightning storm later, Victor Frankenstein again has his best friend Sparky at his side.

“Frankenweenie” doesn’t quite send Burton back to his creative peak, but it does do a pretty good job of washing away the recent stink of things like “Dark Shadows” or “Alice in Wonderland.” Instead of relying on Johnny Depp (who is refreshingly absent) mugging in a fright wig and pancake make-up, “Frankenweenie” wisely relishes in dark and twisted animation and delightful, dialogue-free sequences driven by Danny Elfman’s bouncy haunted-house-ready score. Unfortunately, though, the stretching of the original 30-minute short to feature-length leaves the plot threadbare and directionless in the middle. Characters like the stern Mr. Bergermeister (also Martin Short) and Victor’s classmate Elsa van Helsing (voice of Winona Ryder) are given ample screen time at the beginning only to be stranded with nothing to do by the time the third act rolls around. Also, a storyline featuring other reanimated house pets winds up mostly confusing. Despite being close to a return to form for Burton, it’s hard to shake the feeling that “Frankenweenie” just misses the mark.

Away We Go

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Dave Eggers (debut) and Vendela Vida (debut)

It’s definitely a different type of relationship dynamic from Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes whose last film was the underappreciated “Revolutionary Road” of last year. In “Away We Go,” Mendes rediscovers his dark comedy pedigree that made him so successful with 1999’s Best Picture winner “American Beauty,” to tell the story of a young, directionless couple trying to find their place in the world.

When the grandparents of their first child decide to move to Belgium, unmarried parents-to-be Burt and Verona (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) realize there’s nothing holding them back from packing up and relocating anywhere they’d like to go. Although they “don’t have the basic stuff figured out” in their lives, Burt and Verona see the spontaneous adventure as a way to start on a clean slate.

Making stops in a few cities where they know people (somehow they can afford a cross-country tour by plane but sulk over a cardboard window in their house), Burt and Verona are interested in seeing how well they might fit in places like Phoenix, Arizona, Madison, Wisconsin, and Montreal, Canada. They meet up with a former co-worker (Allison Janney plays a vulgar mother who accuses her pre-teen daughter of being lesbian) and a long-time hippy friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is offended by strollers (“Why would I want to push my baby away from me?”) and believes it is normal to have sex in front of their children.

Needless to say, Burt and Verona have a difficult time connecting to anyone on their trip, especially since first-time screenwriters and real-life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida write the duo like a pair of self-important hipsters who know they’re more intelligent and witty that everyone else on the face of the planet. It’s an interesting characterization because the two are the sanest of the bunch, but there’s always an underlying feeling that if you were to meet the couple socially they’re mellow oddness would wear thin.

That’s what happens in “Away We Go,” but not before a few tender moments and subtle quirkiness. It’s when the eccentricities of the characters become excessively heavy for the screen when Eggers, Vida, and Mendes lose control. The film doesn’t have a lot of unnatural dialogue like “Juno,” which was generally a very likeable movie, but thematically it’s burdened with an overall artificial ambiance that comes off far too cartoonish despite the occasional charm.

Penelope

February 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O’Hara
Directed by: Mark Palansky (debut)
Written by: Leslie Caveny (debut)

Beauty is in the eye of the be…Ah, who are we kidding? If you’re born with the face of a pig (unless your name is Babe), chances are you’re probably not going to be lucky in love.

So is the case for Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), a young woman who was born with swine-like features because of a curse that was cast on her wealthy family generations ago. Because of her snout and piggy ears, Penelope can’t seem to find a husband despite her high-strung mother (Catherine O’Hara) bringing gentleman callers to their home every night.

Her best chance at happiness comes in the form of Max (James McAvoy), a young man with a gambling problem who is smitten with Penelope’s charming personality. Still, Penelope has never been outside of her home and wants to find independence on her own. But with a cruel world out there, and a pool of reporters hoping to get the first photo of her (one is played by Peter Dinklage of the brilliant “The Station Agent”), can Penelope find her way around the real world without people noticing her unique façade before they know the girl inside?

It’s “Beauty and the Beast” vice versa in this awkwardly written and flat romantic comedy. No real chemistry is evident between Ricci and McAvoy and a needless cameo by Reese Witherspoon is thrown in to give more firepower to an already lackluster idea on female empowerment.