Frankenweenie is the full length version of director Tim Burton’s short film called, astonishingly enough, Frankenweenie. The 87 minute version is written by Leonard Ripps and directed by the aforesaid Burton. Like the short film, the story here is your basic boy meets dog, boy loses dog, boy gets dog, but with a Mary Shelley twist. Victor, a young boy in high school (who for some odd reason starts out as a filmmaker and then suddenly switches a third of the way through to become a scientific genius, a standard trope in Hollywood these days, I guess), figures out a way to bring his pet dog Sparky back to life after it is hit and killed by a car. While this version is not boring and is enjoyable enough, I can’t bring myself to say it’s much more than that. The short was clever and refreshing. The full length feels a bit padded and bloated, filled with some extra monsters created the same way Victor brings Sparky back to life, but with no real explanation as to why they turn out so differently than Sparky does (other than that the story needed padding). The strongest aspects of the movie are some beautiful miniatures (Rick Heinrichs, Tim Browning and Alexandra Walker did the production design and art direction) of an Andy Griffith like home town filled with Leave it to Beaver houses, as well as stark and effective black and white photography that makes you think the story might turn into a duck and cover educational film at any moment (the time period is the ‘50’s). The city the story takes place in is called New Holland—it’s unclear why since no one is Dutch. Well, there actually is a reason—it’s to justify the existence of a windmill so the climax can mimic that other movie with Boris Karloff. In the short, the windmill was located in a miniature golf course—a cleverness this version often lacks.
The Paperboy is a southern melodrama that out Gothics William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Tennessee Williams put together (the various fetishes dramatized here read like a typical night out at a German S&M bar with water sports not of the Olympic kind and Black on White bondage and torture). Though Nicole Kidman is in it, it’s Zac Efron who is sexually exploited here with the writers (Peter Dexter, who also wrote the book the screenplay is based on, and Lee Daniels, who also directs) going out of their way to film him in tighty-whities and shorts (in all fairness, Matthew McConaughey also bares his butt a couple of times, but I suspect that that’s only because it’s a standard clause in his contract). The movie starts out well, but soon loses its way and finally seems to stop going anywhere. This may be because it feels as if something is missing at the core of the story. It’s about two reporters (the aforesaid McConaughey, and David Oyelowo, as a somewhat fey version of Sidney Poitier) investigating the conviction of a man on death row in the home town of McConaughey’s character. What’s missing is a compelling or convincing reason why they care, or perhaps more importantly, why their paper, and only their paper, cares. Without this, it’s unclear that anything is at stake and the tension quickly seeps out of the story, with it all becoming a tough swamp to slog through, both literally and figuratively. No one gives a bad performance, while Kidman and John Cusack (as the weirdo on death row) giving the strongest. To be honest, McConaughey does push his bit a bit too much, as he is wont to do, but Efron in the title role (he plays McConaughey’s younger brother) is surprisingly good, until he has to really emote; but even then, he does well enough for the circumstances. In the end, though, the story is never quite believable, especially a Governor’s pardon resulting from a newspaper story based on anonymous sources that is obviously full of lies (hey, it could happen). The movie might have worked a little better if everybody, including Dexter and Daniels, were having a bit more fun with it (or any fun at all), but no, everyone is deathly serious here. So, if a ranking would help, when all is said and done, this is no Killer Joe, which in its turn is no The Killer Inside Me.
Sister is the Swiss entry in the Academy Award foreign language film category. Written by Antoine Jaccoud, Gilles Taurand and the director Ursula Meier, it’s a very solid and at times moving character study of Simon, a young teenager who goes to a resort in the nearby mountains and steals equipment and skis and sells them to make money to support himself and his sister. Simon is played by Kacey Mottet Klein, who handles the role as capably as his character steals. You may not approve of what he does, but you have to admire his lack of self pity, his self reliance and his Trump-like entrepreneurship. The story grows in strength once the big reveal is, well, revealed, and matters get far more complicated, both emotionally and practically. There are strong guest turns by Sweet Sixteen/Red Road’s Martin Compson and The X-Files Gillian Anderson. The somewhat downbeat subject matter ends on a glimmer of hope, slim as it may be.