NEW THIS WEEK
-- A BRILLIANT, BUT DARK AND SPOOKY ANIMATED RE-IMAGINING OF TIM BURTON'S 1984 LIVE-ACTION SHORT:
"FRANKENWEENIE" PG -- This deliciously dark stop-motion animated 3-D feature from Tim Burton could transfix many kids 10 and older who like scary stuff, but it could also petrify some, as it surely will many under-10s. Burton has always let his dark side show, even in films for kids ("Alice in Wonderland," PG, 2010; "Corpse Bride," PG, 2005; "The Nightmare Before Christmas," PG, 1993). This tale about a sad boy who brings his dead dog back to life is even darker than those -- a reinvention of Burton's PG-rated 1984 live-action short. It is as gothic and expressionistic as 1950s (or older) black-and-white horror films. It is gorgeously rendered and very witty, but always with an undercurrent of weirdness and melancholy. It unfolds in a town where the kids look and sound like horror-movie characters. Talk about childhood alienation! Young Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan) is a quiet, friendless science whiz. When his beloved dog Sparky runs after a ball and is killed by a car (screeching brakes; nothing shown), Victor grieves. Then his new science teacher (Martin Landau) demonstrates how electricity can jolt a dead frog's muscles. Victor is inspired. He digs up Sparky, stitches him back together (nothing graphic), then raises the dog up into an electrical storm. Sparky comes back to life, sweet as ever. Victor tries to keep his experiment a secret, but soon less talented classmates hear of it and start experimenting on other dead animals. They create monsters.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With an unusual film like this, parents really need to think about what their own children can handle on a big screen and in 3-D. When the other dead animals are transformed, they emerge as monsters -- giant lizards, huge turtles -- and terrorize the town. The adults react like a mob and get Victor's teacher fired. While no one is shown being hurt or killed, the whole atmosphere, though animated, is definitely old-style horror.
-- THE "TAKEN" FORMULA STILL WORKS, BUT HAS BECOME SO PREDICTABLE, IT'S FUNNY:
"TAKEN 2" PG-13 -- This time it's former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) who are abducted by Albanian criminals, and their 20-ish daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) who must help rescue them. This sequel to "Taken" (PG-13, 2008; released in 2009 in the U.S.) maintains the original's fast-paced formula, but there's still time to giggle at the breathless improbability of it all. Nevertheless, the gunplay and scenes of nongraphic but strongly implied torture may be too harsh for middle-schoolers. Though he's chained and held incommunicado when first abducted, Bryan has skills and gadgetry, so he can direct daughter Kim's actions as the thriller unfolds in the back alleys of Istanbul. At the start, we learn that the father (Rade Serbedzija) of one of the thugs Bryan killed in Europe three years ago wants revenge. Back in Los Angeles, Bryan, ever the controlling parent, has been sweating the small stuff, checking out Jamie's new boyfriend (Luke Grimes) and prepping her for her third driver's license test. He's also trying to reconcile with Lenore. Only after mother and daughter surprise him in Istanbul, where he's had a freelance job, do the black vans and bad guys close in.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The mayhem features much plaster-shattering gunplay, but with little blood. Bryan also kills several people with his bare hands and the fights are intense. The dialogue includes occasional mild profanity (the S-word in particular). Bryan makes reference to the fact that the young Albanian men he killed in the first film were kidnapping girls to sell into prostitution. At several points, Kim, too, faces mortal danger and her mother sustains injuries.
-- THIS SMARMY ADULT SAGA GETS DOWN IN THE SWAMP WITH THE 'GATORS, BOTH HUMAN AND REPTILIAN:
"THE PAPERBOY" Not rated -- No one under 20 or so is quite ready for the raunch in "The Paperboy." This isn't to say that the film isn't energetically and inventively acted, and directed by Lee Daniels ("Precious," R, 2009) with deliciously grungy atmospherics and noirish humor. It's just that a tale like this (based on the novel by Peter Dexter), with its explicit sexuality and violence, is not for the young, nor for the prim of any age. Our narrator is Anita Chester (Macy Gray), who looks back at an episode from the 1960s that occurred during her time as a maid with a whiskey-soaked family of newspaper folk in South Florida. Dad (Scott Glenn) owns a small-town rag. Older brother Ward (Mathew McConaughey) works as an investigative reporter in Miami and lives a risky private life. He comes home with a black writing colleague, Yardley (David Oyelowo) -- this causes ripples in 1969 -- to check out the purported innocence of slimy death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack). They have documentation from a tarty prison groupie, Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), who has corresponded with the man. Ward gets his kid brother Jack (Zac Efron) to be their driver as they check out the story. Jack develops a lustful crush on Charlotte. Such tales rarely end well.
THE BOTTOM LINE: This unrated film is not for anyone younger than 20. Sexual encounters become very graphic and in a couple of instances turn into violent rape and assault. Other acts of violence include stabbing and fighting. We see a swamp-dweller gut an alligator in vivid detail. Toilet humor also gets a workout. Characters drink and smoke nonstop and use profanity and racial slurs, including the N-word.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.