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Movies: 'Frankenweenie,' 'Looper' & 'Hotel Transylvania'

Updated 2:51 pm, Saturday, October 6, 2012
  • The stop-action animated movie, "Frankenweenie," is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    The stop-action animated movie, "Frankenweenie," is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"FRANKENWEENIE"

Halloween comes early this year as Tim Burton ("The Nightmare Before Christmas," "The Corpse Bride") delights fans of the morbid and macabre with this black-and-white, Gothic tale about a boy and his dog.

Shy, filmmaker/scientist Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) lives with his parents (voiced by Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short) and his faithful bull terrier, Sparky, in the Dutch-influenced 1970s suburban town of New Holland. One fateful day, when Victor hits a baseball into the street, Sparky chases it and is killed by a passing car. His parents try to soothe grieving Victor with the usual platitudes about Sparky living forever in his heart, but that's little comfort to the distraught child. So when his elementary school science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), demonstrates in class how a dead frog can be seemingly revived, Victor raids the pet cemetery, determined to bring Sparky's carcass back to life.

Sure enough, a lightning bolt strikes and Sparky revives, minus an anatomical part or two that has to be stitched back on. This reanimation experiment was supposed to be a secret, but Sparky's presence is soon revealed to Victor's neighbors and classmates, like sneering Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer) and Weird Girl (also voiced by Catherine O'Hara). Soon, with the competitive science fair approaching, more creepy creatures are brought back to life -- with amusing, yet subversive, mutant results.

With quirky characters inspired by classic horror films, Burton originally envisioned this as a full-length stop-motion film but, due to budget constraints, he made it as a live-action short back in 1984. Now he's utilized the labor-intensive technique of stop-motion, involving 33 different animators, each crafting five seconds of monochrome film per week.

Screenwriter John August, who collaborated with Burton on "Corpse Bride," "Big Fish" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," cleverly fleshes out Lenny Ripps' sketchy story, dramatically punctuated by persistent thunderstorms and Danny Elfman's moody musical score.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Frankenweenie" is a fun-filled, spooky 9 -- a weirdly wonderful animated comedy.

"LOOPER"

Stylistically reminiscent of "Blade Runner," this action-packed, futuristic thriller revolves around the tricky concept of time travel -- and its challenging consequences.

By 2044, time travel has not only been invented, but is outlawed, meaning the good guys can't do it but the bad guys can -- and do. The way it works is this: If a crime syndicate wants to get rid of someone, they zap him 30 years into the past, where a "looper" (aka hired killer), armed with a blunderbuss (aka sawed-off shotgun), is waiting to blast and dispose of him, like gangland garbage. For each execution, he's paid in bars of silver.

Zipping around a decaying, derelict-littered metropolis in a shiny, red Miata, drug-addicted Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hot-shot hit man who makes a mistake by hiding a desperate colleague, Seth (Paul Dano), in his apartment. All-too-soon, he realizes that his own loop is going to be closed and his future self (embodied by Bruce Willis) is targeted for assassination by their mobster boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), a garrulous geezer dispatched from 2074.

As the plot unfolds, older, wiser Joe escapes and embarks on his own mission to identify and kill the youngster who will grow up to be a mysteriously omnipotent villain known the Rainmaker, thereby irrevocably altering the future. Meanwhile, younger Joe befriends tough, enigmatic Sara (Emily Blunt), who is living in an isolated farmhouse in rural Kansas and fiercely protective of her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), an angry 10-year-old with terrifying telekinetic powers.

As confusing as it sounds, writer/director Rian Johnson ("Brick," "The Brothers Bloom") makes the tantalizingly twisting and confusing timeline as clear and concise as possible by delineating formidable, multi-dimensional characters and having their individual motivations propel the plot, using only a modicum of digital technology. And, miraculously, utilizing colored contact-lenses, lip-enhancements and a prosthetic nose, Joseph Gordon-Levitt even manages to resemble a younger Bruce Willis.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Looper" is an exciting, engrossing 8 -- with a solid payoff.

"HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA"

Back in 1895, Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) welcomed a beloved baby girl. Skip forward 118 years and now-teenage vampire Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) yearns to escape from her over-protective father's cavernous castle, which is exclusively inhabited by a motley variety of misunderstood Eastern European monsters -- like Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James), Quasimodo (voiced by Jon Lovitz), the Invisible Man (voiced by David Spade), the Mummy (voiced by CeeLo Green) and a rowdy werewolf family, headed by Wayne (voiced by Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (voiced by Molly Shannon), among others -- including a toilet-clogging Yeti who is so tall you can only see its furry feet.

On the eve of her birthday, along comes Jonathan (voiced by comedian Andy Samberg), a grubby, iPod-toting American backpacker in search of adventurous lodging for the night. The predictably romantic attraction is immediate but there's a "Twilight" problem: Mavis is a vampire and Jonathan is human. But movie-goers have faced that kind of misunderstood fang mythology before, right?

Sketchily scripted by Peter Baynham ("Arthur Christmas") and Robert Smigel (TV's "Saturday Night Live"), it's energetically directed by TV 'toon helmer Genndy Tartovsky ("Dexter's Laboratory," "The Powerpuff Girls," "Samurai Jack") with a ghoulish production design by Marcelo Vignali and musical score by Mark Mothersbaugh,

With his coffin-shaped head, Dracula bears little resemblance to Bela Lugosi. Instead, according to press notes, animators were inspired by Rudolph Valentino, known to silent film fans as the Sheik, along with goofy Count Chocula, off the cereal box.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Hotel Transylvania" is a fitfully funny 5. Aimed for the very young, it's a stale, sloppy fright-fest that is destined to take a quick detour to the DVD shelf, where it will inevitably stake its claim.