David Stratton reviews Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie
Frankenweenie (PG) ★★★★✩
Dredd (MA15+) ★ ✩✩✩ National release
The Intouchables (M) ★★★✩✩
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