David Strat­ton re­views Tim Bur­ton’s Frankenweenie

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - David Strat­ton

Frankenweenie (PG) ★★★★✩

Na­tional re­lease

Dredd (MA15+) ★ ✩✩✩ Na­tional re­lease

The In­touch­ables (M) ★★★✩✩

Lim­ited re­lease

BE­FORE he be­came a maker of idio­syn­cratic fea­ture films, Tim Bur­ton worked as an an­i­ma­tor for Dis­ney where, in 1984, he made a short film ti­tled Frankenweenie. Now the cult di­rec­tor of Ed­ward Scis­sorhands, Ed Wood, Mars At­tacks!, Big Fish and other less suc­cess­ful films has re­turned to his ear­lier work and, in the process, has cre­ated one of his most de­light­ful fan­tasies.

Frankenweenie is the story of a boy one sup­poses must be pretty much like Bur­ton was as a child — a bit geeky, a bit shy, good at sci­ence, bad at sports. When we first meet him he’s show­ing his par­ents an am­a­teur movie he has made star­ring his beloved dog, Sparky, and it is, of course, a mon­ster movie.

The boy’s name is Vic­tor Franken­stein, and no­body re­marks on the fact this was also the name of the no­to­ri­ous sci­en­tist cre­ated by Mary Shel­ley in her fa­mous book, Franken­stein; or, The Mod­ern Prometheus, first pub­lished in 1818 and the source of fas­ci­na­tion for film­mak­ers since the first pic­tures moved at the very end of the 19th cen­tury.

Bur­ton’s Vic­tor lives in Amer­i­can sub­ur­bia with his par­ents and Sparky in what ap­pears to be the 1970s, though it could be ear­lier. Sparky is Vic­tor’s clos­est com­pan­ion, so when the sweet-na­tured but not-too-in­tel­li­gent hound comes off sec­ond best in a con­fronta­tion with a speed­ing car, the boy is dev­as­tated.

Sparky is buried with due solem­nity in the town’s pet ceme­tery, but then Vic­tor re­mem­bers the les­son taught by ca­dav­er­ous sci­ence teacher Mr Rzykruski in­volv­ing the re­an­i­ma­tion of a dead frog by means of an elec­tric charge. Af­ter dis­in­ter­ring Sparky’s corpse, Vic­tor fol­lows more or less the same for­mula of Baron Franken­stein in James Whale’s 1931 film ver­sion of Shel­ley’s novel to bring Sparky back to life — some­what worse for wear, it must be said, with some nasty scars and a ten­dency for some parts of his body to be­come de­tached.

That might have been the end of it had not Vic­tor’s jeal­ous school­mates dis­cov­ered his achieve­ment and ex­per­i­mented on other forms of wildlife, re­sult­ing in, among other strange crea­tures, the cre­ation of a Godzilla-like mon­ster that threat­ens the town.

This charm­ing spoof of hor­ror films is, like Bur­ton’s The Corpse Bride and The Night­mare Be­fore Christ­mas, which he pro­duced for di­rec­tor Henry Selick, made by the process of stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion, a painstak­ing pro­ce­dure in­volv­ing pup­pets. In ad­di­tion, the film has been pro­duced in black and white and 3-D — which pos­si­bly makes it the first black-and- white 3-D movie made since the early 50s. Tech­ni­cally it’s a mar­vel, but that alone doesn’t ex­plain Bur­ton’s achieve­ment. Un­like some of his more bloated live-ac­tion films — in­clud­ing Dark Shad­ows, re­leased ear­lier this year — Frankenweenie is com­pletely charm­ing. Its sweet and funny ref­er­ences to the dif­fi­cul­ties of be­ing a non-sporty child; to the fears of a Mid­dle Amer­ica for whom the un­known, in­clud­ing sci­ence, is a kind of threat; the ref­er­ences to movie mon­sters of an­other era — all are de­picted with sly hu­mour and great af­fec­tion, and in-jokes, such as the Bride of Franken­stein ef­fect on the next-door poo­dle, are a movie buff’s de­light. The voice cast is fine, par­tic­u­larly Martin Lan­dau as the for­mi­da­ble Rzykruski. Frankenweenie is a con­sid­er­able achieve­ment. DREDD, the sec­ond screen adaptation of the John Wag­ner-Car­los Ez­querra graphic novel, has been widely praised be­cause of its ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of its source, un­like the 1995 Judge Dredd. Fair enough: fans of the book will be well served by Alex Gar­land’s adaptation and Pete Travis’s di­rec­tion. They’ll also ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that, un­like Sylvester Stal­lone, Karl Ur­ban never re­moves the hel­met that ob­scures most of his face.

For non-fans, how­ever, the new film doesn’t of­fer a great deal we haven’t seen a great many times be­fore. It’s set in the fu­ture when Earth is di­vided into over­crowded mega-cities that are po­liced by so-called judges — ac­tu­ally, heav­ily armed law of­fi­cers who act as cop, judge and

ex­e­cu­tioner. Judge Dredd is on a tour of MegaC­ity One with a newly ap­pointed Judge, Cassandra An­der­son (Olivia Thirlby), who has psy­chic pow­ers. They en­ter a 200-storey high­rise build­ing in an at­tempt to ar­rest mem­bers of a gang of drug man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors led by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and find them­selves trapped there, af­ter which the film con­sists of an al­most non-stop se­ries of gun bat­tles and ul­tra-vi­o­lent ac­tion.

One of the prob­lems I had with this rather squalid af­fair was that we’ve seen a very sim­i­lar film all too re­cently: the Indonesian mar­tial arts ac­tioner The Raid, re­leased ear­lier this year, has a very sim­i­lar premise and is rather more in­ter­est­ing than the re­lent­lessly vi­cious Dredd.

It’s true that Travis’s film con­tains some skil­fully han­dled el­e­ments and uses 3-D quite cre­atively (if you rel­ish the prospect of see­ing a bul­let en­ter a man’s face or a char­ac­ter fall from a great height to dis­in­te­grate be­fore your eyes). Maybe it didn’t mat­ter in the graphic novel, but a film with so lit­tle char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and so much ugly vi­o­lence dis­plays a dead­en­ing lack of am­bi­tion.

So how­ever clever some of it may be (and cin­e­matog­ra­pher An­thony Dod Man­tle does some sterling work) I heaved a sigh of re­lief when it was all over.

THE In­touch­ables has been a sen­sa­tional box­of­fice suc­cess in France, is slated for a Hol­ly­wood re­make, and will cer­tainly be talked about among lovers of for­eign lan­guage films in the weeks to come. I wish I liked it more. It’s based, loosely I pre­sume, on real char­ac­ters. Philippe (Fran­cois Cluzet) is a mil­lion­aire who, as the re­sult of a paraglid­ing ac­ci­dent, has be­come a quad­ri­plegic. To the dis­may of his per­sonal sec­re­tary, Ma­galie (Au­drey Fleu­rot), and other mem­bers of his house­hold, Philippe hires as his new carer Driss (Omar Sy), a Sene­galese man just re­leased from jail af­ter serv­ing six months for rob­bery.

The un­con­ven­tional, non-PC Driss wastes no time in turn­ing Philippe’s con­strained world up­side down, get­ting him out into the fresh air and giv­ing him a new lease of life.

This is po­ten­tially in­spi­ra­tional ma­te­rial, and many will see it that way. But the han­dling of it, by the writer-di­rec­tor team of Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, is res­o­lutely un­sub­tle and at times bor­der­line offensive in the de­pic­tion of a ‘‘ lov­able’’ black man.

The ba­sic idea is some­what sim­i­lar to that of Driv­ing Miss Daisy, but the di­rec­tor of that film, Bruce Beres­ford, never de­scended into the sort of ba­nal­i­ties we find here. The film has a con­sis­tently low-brow ap­proach to the arts: mod­ern paint­ing, clas­si­cal mu­sic and opera are all mocked by Driss and the au­di­ence is in­vited to laugh along at these easy put-downs.

On the other hand, Cluzet and Sy both give fine per­for­mances and there are some im­pres­sive scenes in a film that, in the end, left me dis­turbed by its sim­plis­tic ap­proach.

Mr Rzykruski gal­vanises his class with some life lessons in Frankenweenie

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