Burton’s ‘Frankenweenie’ reborn in 3D

Tim Burton has directed countless movies, many of them featuring characters with big eyes and dark, gothic eye shadow. However, his latest film, “Frankenweenie,” a 3D black-and-white, stop-motion animation remake of his 1984 short, has its own special, childlike charm.

“Frankenweenie,” loosely based on Mary Shelley’s novel, “Frankenstein,” follows the relationship between Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) and his dog and best friend, Sparky (Frank Welker). When a driver accidentally runs over Sparky, Victor is devastated until he gets the crazy idea to try to bring his dog back to life.

Unlike Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein, Burton’s is younger and more innocent. The film carries threads of past Burton films; for example, “Corpse Bride” also featured the dead coming back to life, while “Edward Scissorhands” featured a budding inventor and his creations. Despite how “Frankenweenie” mirrors themes of older Burton films, the modern retelling of the classic “Frankenstein” never gets old.

Compared to Burton’s 1984 short, which starred Barret Oliver as Victor, the 2012 animated remake of “Frankenweenie” shares similar and nearly identical scenes. However, compared to the half-hour short, Burton adds an hour worth of exposition as well as crams more memorable, creepy and disturbing characters into the remake. Edgar (Atticus Shaffer), a kid in Victor’s class who wasn’t in the original version of the film, trails Victor and blackmails him to show him how he revived his dog. A weird girl (Catherine O’Hara) always carrying a white cat named Whiskers resembles J.K. Rowling’s character Luna Lovegood in “Harry Potter,” giving spacey and elusive omens to the protagonist.

The newer version of “Frankenweenie” illustrates the lengths to which some middle school kids will go to to place first at a school science fair: One boy jumps off a building and breaks his arm to test his experiment. These plot points seems to gear the film from kids to an older and more mature audience, which would understand troubling issues such as death and competition.

The film’s introduction, featuring Victor screening a short movie of his dog, Sparky, to his parents, is a clever way to showcase the overuse of 3-D technology. “Do we really need these 3-D glasses?” Victor’s mom (Catherine O’Hara) says. Though the film’s own 3-D feature offers the occasional scare when animals or baseballs pop out of the screen, it was neither dazzling nor necessary. The real star of the film was the stop-motion animation. Sparky pants, sniffs, barks and wags his tail just like a real dog would; unlike Dug, the dog from Pixar’s “Up,” or the cast of animated dogs in Disney’s “Oliver & Company,” Sparky doesn’t sing or speak English. Meanwhile, Welker’s voice, known as the voice of Scooby Doo, lends itself to bringing the character of Sparky to life.

Though “Frankenweenie” may not live up to previous Halloween-themed Burton classics like “The Nightmare before Christmas,” “Frankenweenie” illustrates that despite all these years, the tale of Shelley’s “Frankenstein” still stands the test of time.

“Frankenweenie” was written and directed by Tim Burton. The screenplay was written by Leonard Ripps and John August.

To read this review in The Ithacan, click here.

Sandler and Samberg reunite in ‘Hotel Transylvania’

Just four months after Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg co-starred as father and son in the movie “That’s My Boy,” the duo is working together again in director Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated film, “Hotel Transylvania.”

The film follows Count Dracula (Sandler), an overprotective vampire who attempts to throw the best 118th birthday party ever for his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). While Mavis wants to travel and see the world, Dracula wants to keep her safe from sunlight and even worse, humans. However, when Jonathan (Samberg), a human traveler, stumbles upon Dracula’s mansion, Hotel Transylvania, and falls in love with Mavis, the monsters living there learn that maybe humans aren’t that frightening after all.

The premise of “Hotel Transylvania” is delightfully funny, featuring Sandler and his goofy, over-the-top, ‘Count Dracula’ accent. Not only does the film feature Sandler’s silliness, but the film also pokes fun at monsters and the “Twilight” franchise. In one scene, when Jonathan is watching a scene with Edward and Bella from “Twilight,” Dracula comments, “I can’t believe this is how we’re represented.”

“Hotel Transylvania” also makes use of the cast’s many talents. Samberg, known for his digital shorts on “Saturday Night Live” and for being of the three members of the musical group The Lonely Island, showcases his rapping talent in the movie, while Gomez and Sandler sing. Although Samberg’s lines aren’t as memorable as The Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” lyrics, Samberg does get to rap about “Nala and Simba in the Lion King.”

The touching scenes between Sandler and Samberg’s characters also add heart to the film. Dracula saves Jonathan’s life on more than one occasion, though he repeatedly says he doesn’t want Jonathan to have anything to do with his daughter. In another scene, Dracula risks flying in the sun in order to fetch Jonathan.

The film also features Frankenstein (Kevin James), who is afraid of fire. Griffin (David Spade), also known as the invisible man, has red hair. Werewolves Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shannon) have more than a dozen kids who love to play pranks. These quirks humanize the monsters and make them fun to watch. Though this is a movie about monsters, these comical elements make the movie less scary, more ridiculous and a real treat.

“Hotel Transylvania” was written by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky.

To see this review in The Ithacan, click here.

‘Won’t Back Down’ without education

A dyslexic second-grade girl is staring at the words on the chalkboard, struggling to sound out the syllables. Her teacher and classmates are distracted, and at the end of the school day the girl is sent home, still unable to read.

This scene from director Daniel Barnz’s film, “Won’t Back Down,” illustrates the problem with the public school systems in Pittsburgh: Teacher union contracts keep the bad teachers in the system, and children are going to school without getting an education.

“Won’t Back Down” channels this message by following Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mother working two jobs to support her daughter, Malia (Emily Alyn Lind). As Malia struggles to read without the support of the teachers or school, Jamie recruits fellow parents and teachers, such as Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), to start a new school without teacher unions.

Writers Brin Hill and Daniel Barnz try to tackle a complicated subject matter with a trite script. The two-hour movie ties the complicated issue up too tidily with a happy, Hollywood ending. Meanwhile, the movie seems to polarize the issue of education, showing how unions and public schools are failing while charter schools and privatization further their educational standards.

Despite the movie’s obvious agenda, one of the strengths of the movie is its acting. Viola Davis, known for her performance in the Oscar Award-winning film, “The Help,” presents another emotionally charged performance. In one scene, Davis reveals a mistake she made as a mother to her son, Cody (Dante Brown). Cody forgives her by responding, “If you want to lie down next to me, that would be OK.” Not only does this moving scene between mother and son evoke an emotional response from the viewer, the scene also proves Davis’ prowess as an actress as well as young Brown’s potential.

Gyllenhaal also gives a decent performance as a concerned mother starting a petition because she is invested in her daughter’s education. In one of the more powerful scenes of the movie, Malia tells Jamie that she doesn’t want to grow up “poor and stupid” like her mother.

While “Won’t Back Down” does have its moments, which showcase Davis’ and Gyllenhaal’s acting abilities, the resolved ending makes the movie forgettable, even when there may still be problems within the public school’s system.

It is clear that “Won’t Back Down” is a movie with a message, and at the end of the day many viewers will still be reading between the lines.

“Won’t Back Down” was directed by Daniel Barnz and written by Barnz and Brin Hill. To view this review in The Ithacan, click here.