FRANKENWEENIE, THE PAPERBOY, SISTER



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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.

ON BORROWED TIME: Reviews of The Art of the Steal and Hot Tub Time Machine


The Art of the Steal is a documentary by Don Argot revolving around the battle over ownership, or stewardship, of the art collection located at the Barnes Museum in Merion, PA., a suburb outside of Philadelphia (in an odd reversal of good cop/bad cop, the sophisticated, more worldly city folk are the villains here, while the conservative, Babbity suburbanites are cast in the role of the last bastions of purity in art; who knew?). The documentary is very detailed in explaining the history of this conflict; one almost sat terrified, wondering whether certain scenes were going to be on the test. But when all was said and done, I think the friend I went with summed it up best when he said it all seemed something like a tempest in a teapot. The conflict actually began in 1926 when Albert C. Barnes presented his valuable art collection of impressionist and other artwork to the Philadelphia public. To say the media of the time, especially the Philadelphia Inquirer, reacted to the exhibit with disdain is an understatement. Barnes was excoriated for his taste and his collection ridiculed. In a huff (or to quote Groucho Marx, a minute and a huff), he took his baseball and went home by building a museum/school in Merion and housed his artwork there, forbidding anybody that smelled of culture, any critic, anyone who made too much money, to see it. This part of the film was delicious fun. What artist or producer wouldn’t love to tell critics and others of that ilk to go screw themselves and get away with it? Oh, sweet revenge, how beautiful is thy sting. And this was fine as long as Barnes was alive. But while art may live forever, people do not and Barnes died in the 1950’s and the museum was passed from person to person, none of whom unfortunately could keep it going without violating stipulations of Barnes’s will. The last straw was Richard Glanton who toured the exhibit and opened it to the public, thus saving the Barnes by making enough money to remodel the building with enough moolah left over to take care of the place until the second coming. But that money went the way of the wind over a stupid lawsuit when the locals, who were tired of the crowds coming to the Barnes, fought against adding adequate public parking and Glanton accused them of racism. Once this happened, the time became ripe for the forces of evil (the city of Philadelphia) to sweep in and take the exhibits as their own. The critics of this move claim that people behind the move were Philistines who don’t care about art, only commerce. That may very well be true. But the alternative was housing the collection in a location that was not self sustaining with leadership that couldn’t keep it going in an area where nobody really wanted it until it was being taken away from them. Much has been made of how one-sided the argument in the movie is and that Argot failed to give the devil (the cultural elite in Philadelphia) its due. What I think is even more pertinent is that in spite of Argot not giving a balanced reporting of the situation, he still couldn’t persuade me the defenders of the Barnes were in the right. The good guys want to suggest this is a David and Goliath story when in reality it’s a Goliath and Goliath story. The supporters of the Barnes may want to paint themselves as the true inheritors of this eccentric collector’s philosophy on art, but in reality, this philosophy is not really based on the best way to display the art, it’s based on someone who got himself into a fit of pique over a bad review. Nearly one hundred years have passed since that review and it’s hard for me to want to base a plan of action on that anymore.

Hot Tub Time Machine (a title that should probably win the truth in advertising award because, yeah, that’s pretty much what the movie is about) is also concerned with present day events being influenced by something that happened in the past. Three middle aged Peter Pans are going through a mid-life crisis (a seeming contradiction in terms, but still, there you have it). The two played by John Cusack (he of the burnt out hang dog look) and Craig Robinson take the suicidal third, played by Rob Corddry, to a ski resort that was the scene of their last great year. Also along for the reluctant ride is Clark Duke, Cusack’s nephew. The resort is now run down (like the three men), but they make the best of it. When their broken down, dead rat infested hot tub is magically restored by a mysterious man who appears and disappears for no apparent logic (played for some odd reason by Chevy Chase; not quite as iconic a choice as Don Knotts in Pleasentville) and the men accidentally spill a Russian energy drink on the electric work, they are transported back to that seminal night in the 1980’s when Michael Jackson was black (if you’ve seen the preview, you get the joke) and the guys made all those wrong decisions that brought them to their sorry state of existence. In the end, the movie, written by Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris is what would be called good, goofy fun, not great, but better (or at least as good as) The Hangover. The structure is clunky; it can’t seem to make up its mind as to how the hot tub became a time machine and what part Chevy Chase’s character had in it. Too much of the humor is dependent on homophobia and a fear of strong women (you know the Robinsons’ character is pussy whipped because he took his wife’s name—only a man without testicles would ever think of doing such a ghastly thing). And the whole outcome is based on the fantasy that if we had only taken that other road that diverged in the wood our lives would have been ideal, rather than just different (as Robert Frost’s poem actually suggests). Okay, so it’s no Back to the Future or It’s a Wonderful Life, but then what is? As a guilty pleasure, one could do far worse.