Tag Archives: Tim Burton

‘The Boxtrolls’: Cheesy Stop-Motion Goodness

The Boxtrolls
Three stars (out of four)
PG (action, peril, mild rude humor)
96 minutes

Hollywood’s animation heavyweights tend to be studios like Disney-Pixar and DreamWorks, which specialize in cranking out cleverly scripted, pleasingly bubbly, brightly colored fables enjoyed by kids and parents alike.

But there’s something to be said for stop-motion animation, the scruffier, more tactile, more exquisite alternative to the computer-generated onslaught of perfect, glossy images served up in films like “Frozen” and “Despicable Me.”

The beauty of stop-motion is found in the medium’s imperfections and quirks. The original 1933 King Kong was all the more lovable because human finger smudges could be seen in his faux fur. Technology has evolved — CG and 3-D printing are part of the art now — but the tradition remains the same.

There’s something makeshift and magical about stop-motion. The mark of the creators who spend hour upon hour painstakingly moving puppets a fraction of an inch remains, breathing humanity into those tiny, vividly lifelike creations.

There’s a pioneering rebel spirit to stop-motion animation that lends itself to the eccentric and the macabre. Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and Aardman Animation’s “Wallace and Gromit” are two excellent examples of this phenomenon.

But no one has pushed the limits of the genre quite like Laika, the studio behind the gorgeously unsettling “Coraline,” with its creepy, button-eyed Other Mother, and the delightful “ParaNorman,” which featured Puritan zombies. (How awesome is that?)

Laika’s latest foray into the weird and wondrously gothic is “The Boxtrolls,” which may not be as dark and hypnotic as “Coraline” or as nuttily hilarious as “ParaNorman,” but will inspire just as much affection from stop-motion fans.

The film is set in the dreary, cobble-stone-paved village of Cheesebridge, where the fromage-obsessed citizens live in fear of their subterranean neighbors, adorably stubby-fingered, snaggle-toothed little scavengers who only emerge at night.

The Boxtrolls are so named because, a la the hermit crab, they don cardboard coverings for protection and modesty’s sake. They’re sweet-natured tinkerers who put the discarded gizmos and gadgets of Cheesebridge to inventive use in their underground lair.

Thanks to the fear-mongering of oily exterminator Archibald Snatcher (richly voiced by Ben Kingsley) and cheese-worshiping aristocrat Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), the townspeople are convinced the trolls kidnap and eat small children. The only one who knows better is Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), a young boy raised as a Boxtroll by tender-hearted surrogate father Fish (Dee Bradley Baker).

When the trolls’ numbers begin to shrink, thanks to Snatcher’s aggressive nocturnal schemes, Eggs is forced out of hiding onto the day-lit streets of Cheesebridge, where he uncovers an insidious plot.

Eggs is a likable enough character, as is his spunky ally, Lord Portley-Rind’s feisty, red-headed daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning), but if there’s one thing a movie called “The Boxtrolls” could use more of, it’s actual Boxtrolls.

The jolly little mechanics are featured in a brief introduction and reappear in the film’s raucous finale, but they’re woefully absent for much of the story, which centers around Cheesebridge’s dairy-fueled class conflict and Eggs’ reentry into the village’s snobbish human society.

A scene in which Eggs and Winnie crash a fancy ball, attended by the fabulous and quite possibly cross-dressing Madame Frou Frou, is a lot of fun, but even it could use more troll.

Parents should know “The Boxtrolls” isn’t as potentially scary or disturbing as “Coraline” or even “ParaNorman,” which unexpectedly veered into the realm of child murder. Dark themes are touched upon briefly but with a generous dose of humor.

Visually, the film is a feast for the eyes, embedded with brilliant detail and character design that evokes a garish but mesmerizing oil painting.

A lively voice cast brings a welcome dash of silliness to the proceedings, especially comedians Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade and Tracy Morgan as a trio of philosophical but confused henchmen.

And the film’s obsession with everything from Gouda to Gruyere plays like an elaborate homage to a certain British stop-motion classic. Cheese, Gromit!

Photo: YouTube

 

 

 

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Looking Forward to Films of Fall

Fall may be the best season of all.

And not just because it begins with the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Along with sweaters, scarves, Halloween, turning leaves and a welcome chill in the air, fall is a time of renewal for Hollywood as a late-summer slump at the movies gives way to a fresh supply of films we’re actually looking forward to.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been AWOL from the movie theater. I couldn’t bring myself to watch Idris Elba — who deserves better — terrorize Taraji P. Henson — who also deserves better — in “No Good Deed.” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” looked as dreary and depressing as its title. “This Is Where I Leave You” has a wonderful cast, but then I read the reviews. I meant to see “The Maze Runner,” but was less than impressed with the book and haven’t gotten around to it.

Starting this weekend, however, there will be reasons galore for moviegoers to get off the couch and get their butts into the cineplex once again. Film buffs, rejoice — the fun won’t stop until after Christmas.

Here are the fall (and winter) movies I’m most looking forward to.

“The Boxtrolls,” Sept. 26: Stop-motion animation studio Laika brought us the exquisitely dark “Coraline” and hilariously macabre zombie comedy “ParaNorman.” The painstakingly rendered “Boxtrolls” — which features more than 200 detailed puppets — looks to be just as enchanting.

“Gone Girl,” Oct. 3: Gillian Flynn’s poisonous he-said, she-said thriller was impossible to put down. Watching director David Fincher pull off the book’s epic twists should be interesting. So should watching Ben Affleck inhabit the role of douche-baggy murder suspect Nick Dunne.

“Kill the Messenger,” Oct. 10: The underrated Jeremy Renner takes a break from playing the loneliest Avenger to tackle the meatier role of real-life journalist Gary Webb, who investigated the CIA’s alleged involvement in drug smuggling in the mid-1990s. Sure, I’ll miss the spandex and the crossbow, but it will be nice to hear Renner say more than three lines in this drama.

“Whiplash,” Oct. 10: Young up-and-comer Miles Teller (“Project X,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Divergent”) stars as a drummer under the sway of a maniacal music instructor (J.K. Simmons) in a drama that caused a sensation at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. It sounds just strange enough to be awesome.

“Birdman,” Oct. 17: This dark satire appears to be a significant departure for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“21 Grams,” “Babel”), who isn’t exactly known for his comedies. Michael Keaton steps into the role of a washed-up actor once celebrated for playing a superhero. Could he be riffing on his stint as a certain caped crusader? If this movie has anything intelligent to say about our comic book obsessed culture, it could be fascinating.

“Fury,” Oct. 17: There are so many movies about World War II, coming up with a new angle on the conflict isn’t an easy task. “End of Watch” director David Ayer seems to have done it though, telling the story of a Sherman tank crew on a mission behind enemy lines. Brad Pitt plays a philosophical sergeant — am I the only one who’s tired of the actor’s incessant speech-making in recent films? — but I’m more excited about the underrated Michael Pena as the Fury’s driver.

“St. Vincent,” Oct. 24: Anytime Bill Murray decides to come out of his eccentric, hermit-like shell and make another movie, it’s cause for celebration. It’s a bonus that the comedy, about a cantankerous Brooklyn veteran who becomes a boy’s unlikely babysitter, looks so darn hilarious. It also stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, which can’t be bad.

“Horns,” Oct. 31: The boy who played Harry Potter is all grown up and has been busy carving out an eclectic career on the stage and screen. Daniel Radcliffe’s latest choice, a bizarre thriller by horror director Alexandre Aja, may be his strangest and most intriguing endeavor yet. The former wizard plays a man on a quest to find his girlfriend’s killer. He’s aided by supernatural horns that spontaneously sprout from his head.

maxresdefaultMatthew McConaughey in “Interstellar” (photo YouTube)

 “Interstellar,” Nov. 7: After the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Inception,” I would travel many miles and shell out a lot of cash to see anything director Christopher Nolan dreams up. His latest is an enigmatic sci-fi odyssey we know little about, thanks to a typically obscure Nolanesque advertising campaign. We do know “Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey, who has suddenly become one of Hollywood’s most intriguing actors. This is a must-see if there ever was one.

“Rosewater,” Nov. 7: Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with a drama, starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal, about Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned and tortured following his country’s 2009 presidential election. This is the movie that managed to temporarily lure Stewart away from his beloved “Daily Show,” so it better be good.

“Foxcatcher,” Nov. 14: Steve Carell in a non-comedic role that requires him to wear a creepy prosthetic nose? Sounds like a recipe for disaster … or wild success, considering the raves coming out of the Toronto Film Festival. Carell stars as millionaire John du Pont, who became embroiled in a murder while sponsoring an Olympic wrestling duo in 1996.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1,” Nov. 21: I’m not the biggest fan of the final chapter in author Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series. That last book was a letdown and it’s too slight to be divided into two parts, as studio Lionsgate has deemed necessary in an obvious grab for more box-office cash. Still, the trailers for “Mockingjay — Part 1” suggest the film could actually be thrilling as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss becomes the unwitting leader of a revolution.

“The Imitation Game,” Nov. 21: Benedict Cumberbatch is the only reason needed to anticipate this period drama about genius politician Alan Turing, who cracked a notorious Nazi code during World War II and was later persecuted for his sexual orientation. When it comes to playing brilliant minds, “Sherlock” star Cumberbatch is the best. This “Game” could be even more thrilling than “Mockingjay.”

“Wild,” Dec. 5: Based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir about her harrowing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail after a crisis turned her personal life into a shambles, “Wild” seems poised to strike a chord with moviegoers. I hope so, if only to see Reese Witherspoon reclaim her spot at the top of Hollywood’s A-list. She’s gunning for another Oscar. Godspeed, Reese!

“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Dec. 12: Biblical epics are all the rage again. After the cheesy misfire that was Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” I know I shouldn’t be looking forward to director Ridley Scott’s Moses biopic, starring Christian Bale. But I just can’t help myself. The film looks so fabulous and corny, from Joel Edgerton as an eyeliner-wearing Rhamses to “Breaking Bad” bad-ass Aaron Paul as Joshua. And who doesn’t want to witness the Red Sea part in spectacular CGI?

“Inherent Vice,” Dec. 12: Director Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with “The Master” star Joaquin Phoenix for a psychedelic 1970s-set noir film about a private detective investigating a string of juicy conspiracies. “The Master” was sometimes difficult to sit through. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I found it just hypnotic enough that I’ll be back for more of Anderson and Phoenix’s bizarre collaboration.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies,” Dec. 17: The first installment of director Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy was a slog, overlong and sluggishly paced. Last year’s “Desolation of Smaug” was a marked improvement, zippier and more engaging. Now I can actually look forward to the finale, which will test all of visual effects house Weta’s computer wizardry as they bring to life the show-stopping skirmish of the film’s title.

“Big Eyes,” Dec. 25: Tim Burton re-creates the dysfunctional marriage of painters Walter and Margaret Keane, who in the 1960s produced a series of memorable paintings of children with creepy peepers. The couple is played by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, a match made in cinema heaven, considering these two are amazing in everything they do.

“The Interview,” Dec. 25: There is no homoerotic comedy union more hilarious than that of Seth Rogen and James Franco, from “Pineapple Express,” to “This is the End,” to the duo’s brazen parody of the Kanye and Kim video “Bound 2.” In their latest wacky endeavor, the pair play tabloid TV journalists who travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un. The dictator reportedly denounced the movie, which somehow makes it even more hilarious.

“Into the Woods,” Dec. 25: Fairy tales are in again, as evidenced by the insane popularity of “Frozen,” “Maleficent” and “Once Upon a Time.” Stephen Sondheim’s bedtime story mash-up could be a dark and cynical anecdote to the sugary sweetness of Disneyfied fables. The only catch is that it’s a Disney movie with director Rob Marshall catering to a family audience. At least it boasts a stellar cast, including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine.

Into-the-Woods-Movie-Meryl-Streep-as-the-WitchMeryl Streep in “Into the Woods” (photo teaser-trailer.com)

 

Some Good Things Should Come to an End, Even the Batsuit

Zack Snyder continued his efforts to blow up the Internet Tuesday by revealing the first glimpse of “Batman vs. Superman” star Ben Affleck wearing the latest incarnation of the Batsuit.

The Gotham Knight’s new duds are gritty and gray, as if they were carved out of stone, clinging to Affleck’s musculature like a second skin. It’s a marked departure from the heavy body armor that characterized Batsuits of the past and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that there were no Joel Schumacher-style nipples to be seen.

Pardon me, though, if I can’t muster up too much excitement about Batman’s latest costume change. From the days when Adam West donned purple tights to Christian Bale’s brooding interpretation, there have been no less than five major incarnations of the Batsuit with countless variations in between as one franchise gave way to another.

As a kid, I was a fan of West’s corny comic book shtick. I still have a fondness for Michael Keaton’s unconventional take on the character in Tim Burton’s stylized stab at the franchise. Schumacher’s attempts were unfortunate but I’ll admit I kinda dug Val Kilmer’s return to the less self-serious Batman of West’s era. I definitely loved what director Christopher Nolan did to mature the comic book movie with the Dark Knight trilogy.

Batman has always been one of my favorite superheroes but since 1966 there have been eight feature films centered on Gotham’s savior. I know other fans might not feel the same way, but I’m tired. I need a break. I’m not ready to invest my time and energy in yet another reboot, even if it is actually a thinly veiled Justice League movie.

A similar feeling of weariness overtook me Tuesday with the announcement of a release date for the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The first in a planned series of new films, it will debut Nov. 18, 2016, with a much anticipated script by author J.K. Rowling.

Am I the only Harry Potter enthusiast who doesn’t crave another adventure in Rowling’s world of wizards and Muggles? Few book series have captured my imagination as this one did but I can’t think of a more perfect finale than the one Rowling delivered with Book Seven. The ensuing movie adaptations by Warner Bros. were wildly enjoyable as well and when that franchise came to an end with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” it was a cathartic farewell to the boy who lived and the hours upon hours of joy he brought me. I’m so satisfied, I don’t feel the need to revisit Rowling’s universe.

I’m not saying all sequels, reboots, remakes and “reimaginings” are a bad idea. We’re a society programmed to demand more and more of a good thing with our giant SUVs, super-sized fast-food meals and endless cycles of entertainment on multiple screens. Hollywood is only too happy to feed that obsession, especially if it means making millions by recycling something they already know will work instead of taking a risk on something original.

Director Peter Jackson has taken this philosophy to an extreme and I don’t mean that as a criticism. His “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies were born out of genuine passion for J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpieces and the resulting films are mostly stunning, although it’s difficult to understand why the filmmaker feels the need to stretch each installment to interminable lengths. The studio is all too happy to rake in millions with each entry of “The Hobbit,” but Jackson could have quite easily crafted one tightly structured, beautifully executed film instead of three sprawling, sometimes tedious movies.

Must we really sit through yet another “Terminator” reboot when the last one, 2009’s “Terminator Salvation,” was at best forgettable, at worst a flop? And speaking of people who don’t know when to make a grateful exit, “Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger keeps trying and failing to resurrect a movie career no one else but him is interested in reviving.

Does our world need five “Twilight” movies and four adaptations apiece of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” when the book series could barely sustain themselves to their final chapters?

Must every Pixar movie now have a sequel? Just remember, for every “Toy Story 3” there’s bound to be a “Cars 2.”

Of course, we all want more of a good thing but is it worth it to keep flogging a champion horse when we know at some point it will start to limp before eventually collapsing into a sad, dead heap?

I’ve already expressed my reservations about the new “Star Wars” trilogy in a previous blog post, but George Lucas’ ill-advised prequels are still my best argument against reopening a book that should have been left closed. If something is beautiful and perfect and perfectly complete unto itself, why poke it and prod it and struggle to jolt it back to life?

There is some evidence that Hollywood’s more is more approach isn’t always the best one. Earlier this month, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opened to a $92 million box office haul, which isn’t too shabby but is considered a disappointment compared to other movies featuring the web-slinging hero. Box Office Mojo attributed its decent but less than stunning reception to “franchise fatigue,” noting audiences seem to be tiring of Spidey’s constant presence at the cineplex.

I confess I haven’t bothered to make the trip to the theater to see “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were charming in the first installment of director Marc Webb’s reboot but I couldn’t shake the feeling of déjà vu that hung over the entire affair. I felt like I had seen pretty much the same thing before, and recently, which I had, courtesy of Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi.

I think it’s time we faced the fact that some good things should come to an end. Many fans will doubtless disagree. They’re so enthralled with a beloved show, or movie, or book that they want it to go on and on forever. But even if Disney and Lucasfilm never made another “Star Wars” film, we’d still have the original trilogy. The Harry Potter books still exist. They’re on the shelf, waiting to be reread. We don’t need more movies for Rowling’s world to continue to expand within our imaginations.

Sure, there is a place for sequels to stories rich enough to continue and if someone has a good idea for rebooting an existing property, so be it, but we don’t need multiple installments of every wonderful thing.

Otherwise, we may not have the time or energy to discover the next original good thing.