Horror movies aren't tailored for little children — but that's who they impact the most. With their imagination in its prime most kids eventually find themselves breaking parental codes and soaking in the terrifying twisted conjurations of genre filmmakers. There might be thick plots that make little sense to young minds but at that moment in time it's all about imagery. Spooky memorable and like little else in the real world.
Tim Burton captures that experience in Frankenweenie a horror primer for kids that playfully dabbles in the past of creature features without overcomplicating itself. Stuffed with Burton's signature oddities the stop-motion animated film follows a young boy named Victor as he attempts to use science (a maligned line of thinking in his conservative hometown of New Holland) to resurrect his dead dog Sparky. The experiment is a success but the reanimated pup causes a stir in the middle school crowd. Suddenly everyone wants an undead best friend.
Realized in crisp black & white and 3D that varies from eye-popping to barely existent Frankenweenie manages to unfold its youth-skewing screamfest with visceral scares that effectively (and appropriately) shock the young ones while delivering parent-friendly humor and adventure. The boy-and-his-dog setup pulls at the heartstrings (anyone who has ever had a pet prepare to "awwwwwww") but the real joy is Victor's wacky ensemble. Unlike The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride Frankenweenie is mostly "natural" characters albeit ones with horror movie personas. That makes for a wonderful blend of strange and human; the gleefully diabolical Edgar playing evil assistant to Victor the long-chinned teacher Mr. Rzykruski crazed over the power of electricity; and Weird Girl who... lives up to her name. Frankenweenie doesn't sport much in the way of drama or true thrills but what it lacks in tension it makes up for in its devilish sense of humor pitting kids against kids.
Frankenweenie is a light bonkers time at the movies that is enjoyable until the very last moments when a strange ending nearly pulls the carpet from under its feet. Nearly because little can detract from the film's throwback charm. Finally a horror movie for kids who can't stay awake until midnight.
It is really hard to care about a movie when it seems like everyone involved doesn't seem to particularly care about it either. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to kids' movies relying on peeing-in-the-pool jokes and exaggerated facial expressions to try and coax a chuckle out of its audience.
The third movie based on the popular books by Jeff Kinney is a series of vaguely related vignettes that chronicle the misadventures of Greg Heffley (Zach Gordon) the eponymous wimpy kid. Whether or not the disjointed nature of the script is because it is based on two of Kinney's books — The Last Straw and Dog Days according to his website — is beside the point; the fact remains that it's a mess and perhaps one last cash grab at the series before its stars age out of their roles.
Greg's main problems are that his crush Holly (Peyton List) didn't get a chance to leave her entire number in his yearbook before she was whisked away and that his dad Frank (Steve Zahn) wants him to do something other than play video games all day. His solution is to tag along with his friend Rowley (Robert Capron) to the fancy country club where Holly teaches tennis lessons to kids. As a bonus Greg tells his dad he's got a job there too. However he's kind of a putz so his problems are really his fault and caused by him lying and generally acting like a jerk to people like Rowley. Rowley is of course dorky and chubby and feels terrible when he lies and is generally a good kid; he's supposed to be a comic foil or a sidekick but it's really hard to rustle up any sympathy for such a poorly written and acted character. The role itself is thankless; the round-faced nerd with the bowl cut who really loves his parents (albeit to an uncomfortable degree) and is a loyal friend is never going to be the real hero of the story.
The most pressing issue is that Greg is not a very compelling character. He's not really "wimpy" or unpopular or anything that would show he's as put-upon by the world as the title indicates; that would have at least opened up the opportunity for a discussion about bullying or something of that nature. He's not beleaguered he's exasperating. In fact pretty much all of the characters are. This is not drama that will lend itself to some grand epiphany but the father/son arc is so weak it's difficult to believe that they're having significant problems or that it means anything when they finally see eye to eye.
There is a small but insidious mean streak in the movie as well. An early scene shows Greg hunting for his little brother in the men's locker room at the local pool and his discomfort at the scenes around him — Men with hairy backs! Men clipping their gross yellowed toenails! — illustrates a squeamishness that sets off a few alarm bells. Yes it's scary and weird to see the bodies of naked strangers especially when your own body is about to be going all crazy growing hair and zits and weird stuff but the way it's played for laughs is downright icky. Later Greg's brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) pretends to be drowning to get the attention of his crush and ends up getting CPR from an older man a gesture that leaves Rodrick practically gagging. The idea that it's weak and therefore unmanly to have love for one's parents and value honesty (as per Rowley) or engage in selflessness (as per the CPR-giver) isn't really disproved by the end. Greg makes amends with Rowley and Greg realizes that his dad isn't perfect either and that it really is better to be honest and loving towards your friends and family but it's all as hollow as a Hallmark movie that wraps everything up in time for the commercial break.
The acting is about as good as you'd expect. Gordon reacts to almost everything with a sort of wizened/constipated look that may call to mind Woody Allen or some other menschy type but it doesn't fly. Zahn has an occasionally funny moment that some adults will pick up on but that's about it. Bostick reprises his role as Greg's older brother Rodrick who is a sort of mall punk desperate to impress Holly's horrible older sister Heather (Melissa Roxburgh). Bostick is sort of funny although this seems like the role that will probably embarrass him in years to come especially his performance in one of the very few entertaining scenes in the whole movie. (It involves pyrotechnics prissy sixteen-year-olds and a bug-eyed version of "Baby.") The talented Rachael Harris is saddled with the thankless job of playing the matriarch of this brood; she spends her scant time onscreen with a toddler on her hip imploring her husband and/or son to communicate and so forth.
It's hard to not be cynical about kids' movies and studios looking to make a quick summer buck and Dog Days is a great example why. There are plenty of other interesting things for you and your family to enjoy in theaters this summer; really you would actually be better off staying home and playing video games with your kids than seeing Dog Days.
Jay Baruchel is Hollywood’s affable geek du jour having plied his unique trade recently in the animated blockbuster How to Train Your Dragon and the considerably less successful rom-com She’s Out of My League. His gangly frame twitchy visage and nasal drone make him perfect for movies in which awkward self-effacing underdogs triumph against enormous odds to achieve great feats like saving a Viking tribe from certain destruction or getting laid by a really really hot blonde chick.
Movies like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice a live-action CGI-fest directed by Jon Turteltaub (the National Treasure films) and inspired by a famous sequence from Fantasia Walt Disney’s groundbreaking collection of animated shorts. Fantasia debuted in 1940 long before Disney subleased its animation work to Pixar and "Fantasia" became more commonly known as a popular name among exotic dancers. My how things have changed.
Baruchel plays Dave a hapless NYU physics nerd unwittingly cast into the middle of a centuries-long good-versus-evil battle between powerful sorcerers who wield an infinite array of supernatural powers. Representing the good guys is Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) a wide-eyed eccentric whose all-black goth-pimp ensemble draws nary a suspicious glance on the eclectic streets of Manhattan. Dave it turns out is no ordinary college student but the Prime Merliner which sounds like an underwater number divisible by only one and itself but in actuality is a sort of wizard messiah destined to rid the world from the likes of the sinister Horvath (Alfred Molina) and his imprisoned overlord Morgana (Alice Krige). That is if he can take time off from his bumbling courtship of a pretty co-ed (Teresa Palmer) to actually learn the tricks of the sorcerer’s trade.
“Disposable” and “formulaic” are terms commonly applied to both of Turteltaub’s National Treasure collaborations with Cage but I submit that those films are at least fun if ultimately forgettable. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is far less fun and far more forgettable its formula followed so perfunctorily that it ultimately comes off as an elaborate exercise in corporate cynicism one unlikely to inspire the string of sequels it so transparently hopes to conjure. Which is a shame because the film shows intermittent signs of promise and Cage despite his distracting perm is oddly charming as a sort of desperate weirdo.
"It would be cool! They're coming out with the Spider-Man Broadway musical and I'd like to do something like that." DIARY OF A WIMPY KID star ROBERT CAPRON, 11, has his sights set on starring in an action-packed Broadway show.
As dean of a small college Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) has made a nice life for himself--until a false accusation of racism ruins his career and he loses his wife to a brain aneurysm. Suddenly Coleman has nothing--until he embarks on an intensely sexual relationship with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman) a local woman with an abusive ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) who won't leave her alone. The intensity of Coleman's love for Faunia leads him to reveal his long-held secret: He has been passing himself off as Jewish and white for most of his adult life but in reality he is a light-skinned African-American. From there a series of flashbacks to the 1940s introduce us to a younger love-struck Coleman (Wentworth Miller) and reveal the events that led him to his fateful decision. Somehow Coleman's deep dark secret isn't as shocking as it's probably meant to be but the relationship between Faunia and Coleman is--especially when it slips into the danger zone with Lester breathing down their necks.
Wentworth Miller who makes his film debut as the younger Coleman does an amazing job with his role establishing Coleman's quiet yet fierce determination to live a life free of intolerance. And as ever Hopkins is the consummate professional with flashes of intense passion and brilliance in his steely eyes. One does have to get over the fact that a Welsh actor has been cast as an elderly light-skinned African-American but if Hopkins can give nuance to a declaration of how Viagra has changed his character's life (ick) he can pull off the race thing easily enough. Kidman as the dour Faunia also has some stunning moments easily sinking to the depressive depths required of her character--not surprising considering she won the Oscar doing the same thing in The Hours. What really makes you clench your teeth though is when the two of them get together on screen--in the biblical sense. These Oscar winners are so sorely miscast as tortured lovebirds that their sexual moments make you squirm in your seat. It's not the age difference; there's simply no spark between them.
"We leave a stain a trail and imprint " Philip Roth writes in his novel the third in a trilogy on postwar America. "It's the only way to be here." The author goes on to explore myriad themes around this main premise including how we leave our marks how our decisions have consequences and how people can find one another under the direst circumstances. Unfortunately these big ideas get lost in translation on the big screen and the film suffers from adaptation blues. Director Robert Benton and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer gives Roth's ideas voice only through Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) the reclusive author Coleman asks to write his life story and even that artistic character talks more about how sex is clouding Coleman's judgment than about his own life or ideology. Ultimately Meyer focuses his script too heavily on the guarded Coleman leaving the other characters too little developed. Why has Nathan secluded himself away from the world? What haunts him? Sinise does what he can with the character but there's too little background. The same goes for Faunia. Although she describes in one monologue after another the horrors of her life--she was abused as a girl and lost her two children in a terrible fire--Faunia's hardships seem distant and it's hard to connect with her character. Only the wounded Lester a Vietnam veteran seems made of real emotions and desires--he's filled with hatred and passion--and if he makes only a brief appearance in the film he certainly leaves a mark.