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Take My Dead Dog ... Please!

With Frankenweenie and Taken 2, Hollywood reanimates old corpses




FRANKENWEENIE. Everything Tim Burton touches turns into Johnny Depp. Frankenweenie is Burton's first film since Big Fish to not star Depp (and Burton's ever-trusty sidekick, Helena Bonham Carter). Depp's high cheekboned, creepy countenance is all over Frankenweenie, despite his absence from the cast. His visage is worn blaringly by the main character, Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan). It's off-putting, distracting, and one of the many flaws of Frankenweenie.

Long before Frankenweenie was a full-feature twinkle in the eyes of Disney, it was a 1982 short film that never reached the theatres. Fans of Burton may remember it from the bonus features on the DVD of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The original was live-action, 30 minutes long, and pretty much brilliant. It was of an era when Burton was still a filmmaker and still had everything it took to be an auteur. The feature-length animated version of Frankenweenie is a lot like most of Burton's recent work: completely unnecessary.

The setup is the same in both versions. A quixotic 10-year-old, Victor Frankenstein, loses his beloved dog, Sparky. After a disturbing science lesson with his new instructor, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), Victor decides to resurrect his dog with electricity (specifically, lightning), thus killing two birds with one stone: He gets his dog back, and he has a project for the science fair.

This is where the plot starts to differ. In the original, Sparky wreaks mild havoc in the neighborhood and then valiantly wins over the hearts of everyone in town by saving Victor from a burning windmill (one of many visual allusions to the 1931 Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff). This time, Sparky's revival leads the children of New Holland to begin resurrecting their own pets. Each pet creates its own disaster, and a large Godzillian battle takes place.

Both versions share essentially the same beginning and end, but this animated version lacks the heart of the original. It complicates the moral by twisting the main character into a kid who's antisocial and lonely, rather than a gregarious boy who just loves his dog too much.

Bypass the remake. The original is easily accessible, and I strongly recommend adding it to your collection. You'll get Daniel Stern, Shelley Duvall and Barret Oliver (Neverending Story, D.A.R.Y.L.) and some brilliant camerawork. This is in contrast to the remake, which gives you hackneyed animation, Winona Ryder and a sense of buyer's remorse. PG. 87m.

TAKEN 2. Revenge is the cornerstone of action movie sequels, particularly if the first film was riddled with loopholes or left conveniently unresolved. Taken 2 is a little of column A and a lot of column B. Screenwriter Luc Besson was careful in Taken (2008) not to shut the door completely on Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his ex-CIA asskickery.

After Mills rescues his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from an Albanian sex trafficking ring in the first film, everything seems to go back to normal for him. His ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) returns to her new husband, his daughter goes off to college and he returns to his crappy LA apartment.

Taken 2 opens with the funeral of the Albanians Mills killed in the first film. Before the men are buried (literally), the father of the now-deceased ringleader swears vengeance. The narrative is now in place: Angry, radical Islamists are taking their revenge on a heroic American (played by an Irishman).

That shaky premise is the least of Taken 2's problems. Even if you can get past the idea that Mills would take his family to Istanbul so soon after their last experience, you still have to force yourself to believe Neeson and Grace are young enough for their roles. Neeson's age, 60, is disguised by jittery handheld camerawork in the action scenes; buying Grace as a teenager (she was 28 during production) requires suspended disbelief, particularly if you're familiar with her as Shannon from Lost. Then, there's Neeson's accent: a mild Irish twang hiding below a thin layer of overly shortened vowels. Despite having dozens of American films under his belt, Neeson has yet to perfect his accent. I think it's safe to assume, at this point, he never will.

After picking away all the flaws you're left with the shell of an action movie: car chases, fight scenes and 'splosions. In this realm, Besson and director Olivier Megaton (Colombiana, Transporter 3) receive high marks. Istanbul's narrow, cobblestoned streets make every car chase extra crashy. Cars hitting cars, cars hitting trains, cars hitting guys carrying fruit -- you name it and a car hits it. Gunfights are intermixed with hand-to-hand combat and the occasional grenade-flinging.

Taken 2 is more novelty than film. The same general effect can be achieved by a visit to YouTube and a search for "Neeson Season." You'll get all the hilarious and exciting action without all the pesky attempts at plot and character development. PG13. 91m.

--Dev Richards


ARGO. Ben Affleck stars in and directs this political thriller about a CIA scheme to rescue six American diplomats held hostage in Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis by pretending to make a sci-fi movie. Sounds unbelievable, but it's based on a true story. R. 120m.

HERE COMES THE BOOM. This sports comedy from director Frank Coraci (Zoolander) stars Kevin James as a high school biology teacher who becomes a mixed martial arts fighter to raise money so that his school's cash-strapped music program won't be cancelled. PG. 105m.

SINISTER. Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime novelist whose family gets plunged into a world of terror in this supernatural thriller from the writer-director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. R. 109m.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. What a cast! This dark, foulmouthed comedy from Martin McDonagh, writer-director of 2008's underappreciated In Bruge, stars Collin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and -- swoon! -- Tom Waits. R. 109m.

ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART 2. Ayn Rand's didactic 1957 novel has become a handbook of sorts for right wing politicians like Paul Ryan. Despite bombing at the box office, last year's adaptation of Rand's dull libertarian treatise spawned this sequel. PG13. 112m.

This is an Arcata Theatre Lounge Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night twofer week, starting with a Thursday, Oct. 11, double-feature focused on giant atomic monsters, specifically Them!, a 1954 classic about an infestation of oversized irradiated ants, plus schlockmeister Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters from 1957. (The title says it all.) Wednesday, Oct. 17, it's monster smackdown time with Japan's famed Toho Studios pitting the giant ape King Kong against the fire-breathing dinosaur Gojira in King Kong vs. Godzilla. That's paired with Yongary, Monster from the Deep, a 1967 South Korean film about a humongous gasoline-eating dinosaur unleashed by an earthquake in the Middle East. Is that why gas prices are so high?

In between the ATL has a Saturday, Oct. 13, screening of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), the fourth installment in the young wizard series, and a Sunday showing of Hocus Pocus (1993) to help you get ready for Halloween. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy star as a trio of goofy witches executed during the Salem witch trials who return to wreak havoc 300 years later.

The Humboldt County Library's "Based on the Book" film series continues with Raymond Chandler's film noir classic Murder, My Sweet, directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Dick Powell as gumshoe Philip Marlowe -- Tuesday at the Eureka branch.

--Bob Doran


END OF WATCH. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña star as hero beat cops of the LAPD who get targeted by the Mexican drug cartel. R. 109m.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA. Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) runs a posh, monsters-only hotel, catering to the likes of Frankenstein (Kevin James) and the Mummy (CeeLo Greene). PG. 91m.

HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET. A divorced mom (Elisabeth Shue) and her teenage daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) move into a house furnished with a psycho. PG13. 101m.

LOOPER.  Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a mob hitman in the future who's supposed to kill an older version of himself (Bruce Willis), sent back from the future's future. R. 118m.

PITCH PERFECT. Anna Kendrick heads the cast in a music-drenched tale of an all-girl acapella group striving to win a championship. PG13. 112m.

RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. Milla Jovovich's fifth turn in the critically reviled, commercially boffo zombie-slaughter franchise. Mmm, brains! R. 95m.

SLEEPWALK WITH ME. Storyteller/comedian Mike Birbiglia spins a semi-autobiographical story about his somnambulism. Not Rated. 90m.


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