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Entries in Charlie Tahan (2)

Friday
Oct052012

Frankenweenie

Tim Burton is one of those love-him-or-hate-him types of directors. Some people argue that he’s doing the same thing over and over again and his frequent collaborations with Johnny Depp are growing stale, while others argue that their dark, Gothic visuals and creepy atmosphere feel just right. I suppose I'm in the latter group. His bizarre, otherworldly imagination has managed to create some unique characters and settings that instantly stand out and I’ve always been fascinated by what he conjures up, to the point where I would live in the world of Corpse Bride or Edward Scissorhands if I could. I’ve been a Burton apologist for years, despite a few stumbles (the less said about his ill-advised 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, the better), but I can’t get behind his latest, Frankenweenie, a stop motion remake of his 1984 live action short of the same name. At first glance, it looks like more of what we love (or hate) about Burton—his dark sensibilities, morbid humor and fascination with death are all prominent—but it lacks creativity and care. After ParaNorman so beautifully nailed similar material earlier this year, Frankenweenie just feels kind of lazy.

In Burton’s homage to classic monster movies, Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) has no friends. His only real companion is his dog, Sparky, whom he loves dearly. He does nearly everything with him, which prompts his father (voiced by Martin Short) to convince him to take part in an extracurricular activity: baseball. While practicing one day, Victor sends a ball flying out of the park and into the road. Sparky, as most dogs would do, breaks free from his leash and goes chasing it. Unfortunately, this leads to his demise. Victor is crushed, but when he learns from his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), how electricity can animate corpses, he digs up Sparky and performs an experiment. Next thing he knows, Sparky is up and about, but his resurrection ends up causing problems for the town, not the least of which come from Victor’s classmates, who see this opportunity as a way to win the upcoming school science fair.

The idea behind Frankenweenie isn’t a particularly interesting one: pay homage to classic monster movies, specifically Frankenstein, except set it in 1940’s suburbia and make it a reassembled dog instead of a person. This thin concept played out surprisingly well in 1984, mainly due to the short’s 30 minute runtime, but expanding on the concept in a meaningful way has proven to be a difficult venture. Although rough around the edges, no doubt due to Burton’s lack of directorial experience at the time, that short managed to work on a more relatable level and focused on the simple story of the love between a boy and his dog—almost like a more twisted version of Marley & Me. This animated remake tries to retain that quality, but squanders it by going over the rails in the back half of the picture. It transitions from that simple, but effective, boy and his dog tale to a monster movie amalgamation, which ups the excitement, but strips away the meaning. Unfortunately for the movie, the latter is far more important than the former.

There are a few interesting nods to past genre movies, including Sparky’s female companion, who is zapped with enough electricity to create a couple of white streaks in her hair, à la the Bride of Frankenstein, and a character named Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), who is essentially the standard “Igor” character, complete with hissing voice and hunchback, but the majority of the movie plays it too safe. For the first half of the film or so, it follows so closely to Burton’s original short that it fails to find a voice of its own, instead opting to recreate certain scenes and shots down to the letter. The original was limited due to budget and time constraints, so its occasional rough patch was understandable, but here, the sky’s the limit. With animation, what you can do is limited only to your imagination, but Frankenweenie has a surprising lack of it.

Although a pretty lackluster picture on its own, this is, of course, in comparison to August’s brilliant ParaNorman, a movie that managed to include scares, laughs, emotion, beauty and genre references—all of which Frankenweenie strives for as well—and did it in a unique and satisfying way. To top it all off, that movie had a wonderful message about tolerance and being yourself in the face of adversity. Frankenweenie tells that if someone or something they love dies, you can just bring it back to life, an irresponsible message if ever there was one. It may keep the kids in the audience happy as the credits roll, but it will ultimately create an unhealthy confusion by the very notion of death.

Few movies accessible to children have the guts to make death a central theme. This does and then squanders an opportunity to say something about it. Although the animation is solid and the black and white visuals are both striking and contextually fitting, Frankenweenie’s story and themes are a mess. It’s a blunder that worked relatively well in a more focused half hour form, but feels exhausted at 87 minutes. If not for Planet of the Apes, it would be the absolute worst thing Tim Burton has ever done. If doesn’t matter if your view of the man is positive or borderline contemptible. Frankenweenie is a horrible failure either way.

Frankenweenie receives 1/5

Friday
Jul302010

Charlie St. Cloud

I hate to see a good actor stuck in an abysmal movie. It’s happened throughout cinema history: someone deserving of much more working with material that is utterly unsalvageable. That person may even give a good performance, but the failures of the movie are so prevalent that his vigor and passion gets lost. Such is the case with the unbearable Charlie St. Cloud. Despite the bad rap he gets due to his roles in the High School Musical films, Zac Efron is a good actor and has shown that he has the talent to be a major star for many years to come, as evidenced by his roles in 17 Again and Me and Orson Welles. But his latest cinematic foray is a schmaltzy, confused and laughable film that easily earns a spot on my worst of the year list.

Efron plays the title character Charlie. He has just graduated high school and has a full ride to Stanford in the Fall for his athletic passion in competitive yacht racing. His younger brother Sam, played by Charlie Tahan, is his wingman and sticks with him through thick and thin. They have a strong bond, but one night while babysitting Sam, Charlie gets in a car wreck that leaves his life in the balance and, unfortunately, kills Sam. However, he dies for a short period of time before being revived and can now see dead people, including his now deceased brother. Shortly before the wreck, he promised to practice baseball with Sam every day until he left for school and because of his newfound ability, he plans on keeping that promise, but a pretty girl named Tess, played by Amanda Crew puts a kink in those plans.

Charlie St. Cloud doesn’t so much have a narrative arc as it does go through a sequence of Hallmark greeting cards. It begins with “Best Brother,” followed by “Missing You” and is capped off with “I Love You and Will Never Forget You.” Instead of progressing from scene to scene, it feels like it's reading the front of a card before opening to the inside where the emotional punch lies.

But the problem is that none of those punches work. For instance, it’s hard to find sympathy in your heart for poor Sam and his grieving brother because the film never gives you that chance. It accelerates through the prologue where Sam is killed off and buried. Before this terrible incident even sinks in, Sam is standing back in front of Charlie throwing the ball around as if nothing ever happened. You don’t miss him the way Charlie does because he never seems to be gone.

So what you’re instead left with are cheesy scenes between the two that fail to elicit goose bumps, much less tears. Stacked on top of that is Tess and Charlie's ridiculous romance that has a twist that was interesting 11 years ago in The Sixth Sense, but now feels outdated, followed by what can only be described as re-twist that doesn’t follow the film’s established rules. Toss in the paramedic prophet with cancer and you have a movie desperate to sadden the audience by any means necessary, no matter how manipulative or contrived.

What’s funny, however, is that Charlie St. Cloud meanders in search of a genre. It tries to be sincere, but instead comes off as just plain creepy. You already have a troubled kid seeing dead people, but the blue tint aesthetic coupled with textbook horror scenes, like a chase through a foggy cemetery, plague the tone of the movie and send it spiraling into dark and unsettling territory when it should be honest and sweet.

I exaggerate not when I say I despised Charlie St. Cloud. My mind raced with thoughts of hatred and condemnation throughout its runtime. It’s clumsy, inconsistent and has so many problems I’ve only begun to touch the surface. If I delved into my tiniest quibbles, including what I can only deduce as a nonsensical hybrid of necrophilia and self pleasure, I fear I may further exhaust myself and after watching this dreck, I’m exhausted enough.

Charlie St. Cloud receives 0/5