Courtesy of Disney
Cutline: In director Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” young Victor Frankenstein brings his dead dog back to life.
By Forrest Hartman
This week’s home video releases include films for a variety of tastes. Leading the way are an R-rated action film starring Karl Urban, a horror flick featuring Jennifer Lawrence, a political drama with Julianne Moore and an animated movie by Tim Burton.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images and action
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand
Two films directed by Tim Burton hit theaters in 2012, “Dark Shadows” and “Frankenweenie,” and the latter is easily the best. The stop-motion animated feature is similar in tone to Burton’s 2005 animated effort “Corpse Bride,” and the plot was adapted from Mary Shelly’s classic horror novel “Frankenstein.”
The focus is on Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan), a reclusive and scientifically minded youngster whose only friend is his dog, Sparky. When Sparky is hit by a car and killed, Victor successfully reanimates him, using a lightning strike and the gear in his well-equipped laboratory. Although Victor is thrilled to have Sparky back, it doesn’t take long for townsfolk learn about the resurrection, creating problems for everyone.
Most of Burton’s movies are instantly recognizable thanks to the filmmakers’ unique artistic vision and his ability to blend dark, film noir elements into genres known for sunnier treatments. His touch is particularly welcome here because “Frankenweenie” – presented in black and white – is visually similar to director James Whale’s 1931 version of “Frankenstein.” The likeness adds to the idea that Burton is not only re-imagining Shelley’s story but paying tribute to its previous film incarnations.
Fans of Shelley’s “Frankenstein” know the original story isn’t intended for young audiences and that the ending is downright dismal. Burton, however, has taken liberties that allow “Frankenweenie” to play to all ages. The movie is darker than most animated efforts, but the ending is upbeat and cheerful, and all but the youngest viewers should be intrigued rather than frightened.
The past year was a good one for animated films, and “Frankenweenie” stands a good – and deserved – chance of landing in the Academy Awards race for best animated feature. The film is already nominated for Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards, and those shows are competent predictors of the eventual Oscar nominees.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a music video by the Plain White T’s and a bit examining the film’s puppets, sets and props.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand
In 1995, director Danny Cannon delivered a largely disliked film adaptation of the British “Judge Dredd” comic strip. With “Dredd,” filmmakers are again tapping the source material, and the resulting movie is entertaining, but still riddled with problems.
Karl Urban stars as the title character, a law enforcement officer working in an apocalyptic future version of America. His territory is Mega City One, a crime-ridden, east coast area where judges (like him) act not only as police officers but juries and executioners. Early in the film, Dredd is asked to evaluate a recruit named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who failed her aptitude test but possesses remarkable psychic abilities. Their first call brings them to a massive skyscraper known as the Peach Trees, and Anderson is put through the ringer. Within minutes, a powerful drug lord known as Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) locks the facility down and orders the execution of both judges, forcing Dredd and his rookie partner to battle an army of attackers.
As a purely visceral experience, “Dredd” has entertainment value. The action is relentless and the violence is often bloody and over-the-top. For instance, the victims of one particularly horrific murder are skinned before being tossed from the roof of the Peach Trees. Fans of the “Judge Dredd” comic strip may be impressed that director Pete Travis refused to sanitize the gritty hero for the big screen. Unfortunately, the filth and horror of Dredd’s world isn’t supported by equally strong character representations. As portrayed by Urban, Dredd is so stoic and gruff that he seems more robot than man. This is a fair characterization, but not one that will lead most viewers to emotional attachment.
Thankfully, Thirlby makes Anderson more approachable. Like Dredd, she respects the law, but she hasn’t become hopelessly jaded. Travis, no doubt, meant to create contrast between his leads, but it would have been nice if Dredd were at least slightly relatable.
More troubling than the character issues is the fact that screenwriter Alex Garland didn’t deliver much in terms of plot. Essentially, Dredd and Anderson get locked in a hostile building and are forced to shoot their way out. That setup would go a long way toward a video game launch, but its dramatic potential is limited.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a motion comic prequel to the movie, several featurettes on the making of the film and a short on the history of Judge Dredd.
House at the End of the Street
The home video release contains rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received a PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and brief drug material
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
The key to a great horror movie is suspense, yet director Mark Tonderai manages to dodge this critical element through almost every frame of “House at the End of the Street.” What we get instead is a dull, plodding narrative about a mother and daughter who move in next door to home where two grisly murders were committed.
On the upside, Tonderai’s leading ladies are better than the script, and they give the movie some semblance of soul. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Elissa, the young heroine; and the underutilized Elisabeth Shue is her mother, Sarah. Together, these two convince viewers that Elissa and Sarah are attempting to repair a long-damaged parent-child relationship. Their bond is put to the test when Elissa befriends Ryan (Max Thieriot), the young man living in the home where the murders took place. Although he seems like a solid guy, townsfolk shun him because it was his parents who were murdered, and nobody can understand why he would choose to live in their home. The added twist is that it was Ryan’s sister who committed the killings.
As Elissa and Ryan become closer, viewers learn about his background. They also learn that he has a potentially dangerous secret, and this reveal is one of the movie’s biggest problems. The scenes that are supposed to be scary aren’t, primarily because everyone watching knows far too much about what’s going on.
“The House at the End of the Street” does have twists at the end, but they aren’t that surprising. What’s more, they’re revealed as part of a ludicrous finale that is neither believable nor satisfying.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include an assortment of trailers promoting other 20th Century Fox movies.
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download
From the moment Sarah Palin stepped into the spotlight, she’s been a controversial figure. Fans see her as a plainspoken and welcome addition to a political landscape ruled by outdated values and cronyism. Detractors view her as ill-prepared and under-educated for a political career at the highest level. Although “Game Change” offers nods to Palin’s charisma, the film – detailing her 2008 run for vice president alongside John McCain – portrays the former Alaska governor in a mostly negative light. Because of that, the film could be written off as a liberal hit piece, but that is simplistic and unfair criticism. The movie – originally shown on HBO in March – is based on the like-titled book by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann; and McCain’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, has endorsed its accuracy. On the other hand, McCain and Palin say it is untrue.
Ultimately, viewers have to come to their own conclusions about the film’s historical significance, but there should be little debate over its dramatic power. The narrative offers an intriguing look at what it means to run a modern political campaign, and the film is filled with terrific performances. Most notably, Julianne Moore does a spot-on impersonation of Palin, nailing her look, distinctive accent and mannerisms. Moore’s portrayal, like the film itself, makes Palin seem poorly prepared for a high-level political post, but it also casts the politician as someone who has deeply held beliefs and who cherishes her family above all.
“Game Change” also features nice performances by Ed Harris as McCain, Woody Harrelson as Schmidt and Sarah Paulson as Nicolle Wallace (a Palin aide). Director Jay Roach, who also helmed the HBO drama “Recount,” does a nice job blending the film’s pieces into a fast-moving narrative that recaptures the topsy-turvy nature of the 2008 presidential race.
Although TV movies are often seen as somehow inferior to their theatrical counterparts, “Game Change” is in no way second-class. Everything from the cast to the screenplay are A-list, and the film was nominated for 12 Emmy Awards. It ultimately won in five categories, including outstanding miniseries.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature and a short on the qualities that a good presidential candidate must possess.
Hit & Run
Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
When Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) learns that his girlfriend, Annie (Kristen Bell), wants to move to Los Angeles for a job, he leaves the witness protection program to accompany her. Trouble is, several hardened criminals want Charlie dead, and Annie’s ex-boyfriend is more than happy to point them in the right direction. Such is the setup for “Hit & Run,” a goofy and fast-moving action comedy that deserves more attention than it received in theaters.
Shepard not only stars in the film, he wrote the screenplay and co-directed with David Palmer, creating a movie that is just plain fun. The main attraction is the cast of quirky-but-well-defined characters, starting with Charlie, a sweet guy struggling to move beyond the events that landed him in witness protection. Charlie is great because he’s one part philosopher and one part muscle-car driving tough guy. In other words, the type of person you only find at the movies.
Other enticing characters include Randy Anderson (Tom Arnold), a U.S. Marshall who can’t keep his firearm holstered; Terry (Jess Rowland), a gay sheriff’s deputy on the prowl for men; and Alex (Bradley Cooper), a hardscrabble thief obsessed with premium dog food.
Shepard takes this group and mixes them into a wacky story that is completely implausible, yet infinitely charming.
DVD extras include three making of features and a collection of deleted scenes.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Compliance”: Thriller about a restaurant manager (Ann Dowd) who receives a phone call ordering her to investigate one of her employees. The film was written and directed by Craig Zobel, and Dowd is a nominee for best supporting actress at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards.
“Smash” – Season One: First 15 episodes of the Steven Spielberg-produced drama about the creation of a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee star.
“Guns, Girls and Gambling”: Action-comedy about a disparate collection of characters searching for a valuable stolen artifact. Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, Dane Cook and Helena Mattsson star. Written and directed by Michael Winnick.
“Enlightened” – The Complete First Season: HBO dramedy starring Laura Dern as a 40-year-old woman who adopts a new lifestyle centered on meditation and self-healing. However, not everyone in her life is keen on the transition.
“Anger Management” – Season One: Charlie Sheen may have been fired from “Two and A Half Men,” but he stormed back onto TV with this comedy about a therapist specializing in patients with anger issues. Selma Blair, Shawnee Smith and Daniela Bobadilla also star.
“Seal Team Six – The Raid on Osama bin Laden”: Historical drama about the American soldiers charged with raiding Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani compound. Cam Gigandet, Anson Mount, Freddy Rodriguez and Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner star. Directed by John Stockwell.
“Tiny Toon Adventures – Crazy Crew Rescues”: Seventeen episodes of the animated, Warner Brothers series about youthful cartoon characters attending a university designed to make them funny.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.