Friday, October 26, 2012

Cloud Atlas: Fair to partly opaque

Cloud Atlas (2012) • View trailer
3.5 stars. Rating: R, for violence, profanity, nudity, sexuality, drug use and often disturbing dramatic intensity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.26.12

Shirley MacLaine will adore this film, and I’m sure she already has done her part to goose sales of David Mitchell’s source novel.

Investigative journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), poking about behind the scenes at a
nuclear power plant, is surprised when scientist Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks, center)
doesn't turn her in to CEO Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant). She soon learns that Sachs has
just as much reason to be concerned by what is taking place under Hooks' watch.
Rarely has the interconnectivity of past lives been conveyed so cleverly on screen, and certainly never before with such audacious snap. Even if you snicker at the premise and the multiple casting gimmick — about which, more later — it’s impossible to deny the skill with which these half-dozen interlinked stories unfold.

Despite an indulgent length of nearly three hours, directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski maintain an impressive degree of suspense and momentum, layering cliff-hanger upon cliff-hanger. We can’t help being caught up in the vastness of this sweeping fantasy, or the intimacy of its individual storylines.

And yet, when all is done and the screen fades to black, it seems like a lot of fuss and bother about very little. Just as Christopher Nolan’s Inception was an overcooked journey to discover the identity of Rosebud, Cloud Atlas builds to its climax only as a means of reflecting upon the endurance of true love, and the notion that — historically, contemporarily or in a future yet to come — individuals can make a difference, and always have.

As one character says, “What is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but I suppose the thought is comforting.

The interlaced narratives are driven, to a degree, by the shared memory of a piece of music: the Cloud Atlas Sextet, a symphony written by young ne’er-do-well Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), during his 1936 stint as amanuensis to cranky old composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent), years beyond his prime. The spirit of this music — actually composed by Tykwer and score collaborators Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil — imbues these and all other characters, and the theme itself bridges events from one time period to the next.

Chasing Mavericks: Catch a wave!

Chasing Mavericks (2012) • View trailer
3.5 stars. Rating: PG, for mild dramatic intensity
By Derrick Bang

Chasing Mavericks, a sweet, earnest little film about following your passion, appears to have been dumped into theaters, with little fanfare, by 20th Century Fox.

That’s a shame, because it deserves better.

Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston, right) wants only to surf, and he particularly wants to surf
the giant waves that crash to shore in California's Half Moon Bay. To his frustration,
mentor Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) insists that the teen first learn everything about
the surrounding ocean currents, along with building up his endurance and breath
control. Needless to say, 15-year-olds aren't big on patience!
Surfing movies are pretty rare to begin with; good ones are practically nonexistent. 1978’s Big Wednesday is one of the few to take the sport seriously; other dramas slide into the melodramatic silliness of 1991’s Point Break or 2002’s Blue Crush. For the most part, this sub-genre remains defined by documentaries such as Bruce Brown’s iconic The Endless Summer — despite dating back to 1966, still one of the best — and more recent efforts such as 2003’s Step into Liquid and 2004’s Riding Giants.

Even as a drama, Chasing Mavericks belongs in their company: both for its sensational cinematography and exquisite ocean footage, and for the respectful manner in which it depicts the life of legendary surfer Jay Moriarity, made famous by his iconic photo on the cover of the May 1995 issue of Surfer magazine.

Northern Californians will particularly love this film, since it takes place in Santa Cruz and nearby Half Moon Bay. Kario Salem’s screenplay — adapted from a story by Jim Meenaghan and Brandon Hooper — takes the usual Hollywood liberties with some elements of Moriarity’s life, but the essential elements feel authentic: most particularly the student/mentor relationship between Moriarity and veteran coach/surfer Frosty Hesson.

A lengthy prologue establishes Jay as a plucky kid (Cooper Timberline) who learns to gauge wave size by timing the seconds between swells, a skill that can’t help impressing Hesson (Gerard Butler), who happens to live in the beachside house just next door. Jay’s home life is scattered, to say the least: His father abandoned the family; his mother, Kristy (Elisabeth Shue), has just as much trouble holding onto a job, as holding herself together.

Jay naturally gravitates toward Frosty as a father figure, a dynamic noted with gentle amusement — and definite approval — by Brenda Hesson (Abigail Spencer), absolutely the world’s most patient, tolerant and understanding wife. Chasing Mavericks is an unabashed valentine to several things — Moriarity, Hesson, surfing in general —  but perhaps most to Brenda. Spencer plays her with almost angelic wisdom and devotion, yet somehow manages to make this woman feel authentic: no small feat.

Fun Size: More trick than treat

Fun Size (2012) • View trailer
2.5 stars. Rating: PG-13, for teen misbehavior, sexual content and plenty of implied raunch
By Derrick Bang

In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, Josh Schwartz, who brought us television’s Gossip Girl and The O.C., cited several kid-friendly classics as inspiration for his big-screen directorial debut.

When Wren (Victoria Justice) and Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) take a wrong turn, winding
up in the downtown cruise zone on Halloween night, they run afoul of a hot-tempered
Thor (Patrick de Ledebur). Trying to elude this angry bully will result in a vulgar sight gag
that typifies what is frequently wrong with this clumsy film.
It’s an impressive list, ranging from Adventures in Babysitting and Home Alone to The Goonies and Sixteen Candles. Any director would be proud to land in their company.

Alas, that’s unlikely to happen with Fun Size, thanks to the bewildering and frequently distasteful level of raunch contained within Max Werner’s screenplay.

Werner, a longtime writer for TV’s The Colbert Report, seems to have misplaced his target audience. Parents aren’t likely to appreciate exposing their young children to this script’s sleazier elements — the PG-13 rating is well earned — but, at the same time, the film certainly isn’t cheeky enough for teens. In that respect, Fun Size is neither fish nor fowl, and probably won’t please anybody.

Which is a shame, because the core story’s heart is in the right place, and some of the elements in Werner’s screenplay are quite funny. They’re simply overshadowed by sniggering sex jokes that land like lead balloons.

Really, what were Paramount and Nickelodeon thinking? Victoria Justice is well known as a wholesome presence on the latter’s Zoey 101, iCarly and Victorious; dumping her into a storyline that tries to milk humor from (for example) the image of a giant mechanical chicken humping a car — don’t ask — seems the height of miscast folly.

Justice stars as Wren, a mildly geeky teen hoping to enjoy an exciting Halloween with best friend April (Jane Levy). With some luck, they might score an invite to the party hosted by hunky Aaron Riley (Thomas McDonell): definitely the social event of the season.

Wren’s home life is a shambles, thanks to a bratty younger brother who never talks — Jackson Nicoll, as Albert — and a mother, Joy, who is trying to recapture her youth by dating a loser half her age. Joy is played by Chelsea Handler, who’s definitely in search of a smuttier movie. (Schwartz and Werner try to oblige.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Alex Cross: Impossible to bear

Alex Cross (2012) • View trailer
Two stars. Rating: PG-13, and somewhat generously, for considerable nasty violence, disturbing images, profanity, sexual content, drug references and nudity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.19.12

I realize James Patterson writes trashy airport novels, but he still doesn’t deserve this sleaze-wallow.

After finding the tortured and maimed body of a wealthy young woman, Alex (Tyler
Perry, right) and his partner, Tommy (Edward Burns), uncover an unusual clue: a
charcoal sketch that is a gory nod to Picasso. Alex soon will notice a clue in this
drawing: a truly ridiculous hint that will help them anticipate carnage to come.
Director Rob Cohen signals his intentions right from the start, with a prologue that finds our hero and his Detroit Police Department colleagues pursuing a perp through a dilapidated slum building: ear-splitting gunshots, battered down doors, pell-mell chases, smash-cut editing and cockeyed camera angles.

Forget all about the thoughtful profiler and methodical, imperturbable Alex Cross played so well by Morgan Freeman in 1997’s Kiss the Girls and 2001’s Along Came a Spider. That Alex Cross doesn’t exist any more; as re-imagined by Cohen, scripters Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson, and star Tyler Perry, our man of science and sociology has morphed into John Shaft.

The results aren’t pretty.

Cohen made his rep on noisy, brain-dead action thrillers such as The Fast and the Furious and xXx: unapologetic eye-candy that reveled in audacious stunts and testosterone-fueled characters who traded dialogue in words of one syllable. Nothing wrong with that, of course, since we viewers understood that such films are the live-action equivalent of Road Runner cartoons.

But Cross exists in the real world — at least to some degree — and Perry tries to play him (during the rare quieter moments) as devoted husband, loving father and loyal partner. But those fitful efforts at emotional authenticity are wholly at odds with the nasty, brutal storyline into which Cross gets dumped in this film: a kitchen-sink amalgam of elements more or less suggested by Patterson’s Cross, the 12th novel in his ongoing series (19 thus far, with No. 20 due next year).

Thing is, I can’t imagine Patterson’s fans will be happy with this film. Names and relationships have been altered, behavior and motivation are wholly different ... often for no reason. Why, for example, would Moss and Williamson change the name of Cross’ childhood best friend from John Sampson to Tommy Kane (played here by Edward Burns)? Is it that important to leave clumsy screenwriter footprints all over Patterson’s original story?

The biggest change, however, concerns the depraved serial killer whom Cross faces: the Butcher (actually Michael Sullivan) in Patterson’s book, here re-christened Picasso (!) and played with chilling, scary-eyed credibility by Matthew Fox, late of TV’s Lost.

I’ll give Cohen credit for drawing such a memorable performance from Fox, who dropped 35 pounds in order to play this gaunt, heavily tattooed, bone-and-sinew pain freak. Fox’s Picasso is the stuff of nightmares: a believably unstoppable force who derives shuddery erotic pleasure from — as one example — snipping off a woman’s fingers with pruning shears.

Yes, this is that kind of story. Be advised. And while the pruning takes place off camera, we are later treated to the sight of bloody fingers in a bowl ... because Cohen is that kind of director.

Cross is, to a degree, the character’s origin story; Patterson’s novel begins with an extended flashback that depicts our hero’s early days as a Detroit police detective/psychologist, long before he becomes an FBI profiler. This glimpse into the past explains many of the details given as basic character background in the earlier Alex Cross books.

Moss and Williamson take that flashback as this film’s starting point; we meet Cross, his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and two children, and their feisty “Nana Mama” (Cicely Tyson), whose word is law in the attractive suburban home they share. At the precinct, Cross is teamed with Kane and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), the latter a young detective looking to earn her department rep.

Kane and Ashe are having an affair, which is completely contrary to department policy; Kane, genuinely concerned, warns that it could adversely affect Ashe’s career (no worries, apparently, about his career). No problem, she replies; that’s why we’re keeping it secret. Uh-huh, he answers, knowing full well that nobody can keep secrets from their senior partner, whose snap deductive skills could give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money.

Such trivial issues are put aside, however, when Cross and his team catch a multiple homicide at the home of a wealthy, hedonistic Asian woman whose carnal pleasures include betting on mixed martial arts cage matches. Her three bodyguards are dead; she’s also dead and missing her fingers. Cross studies the scene and labels this carnage the work of a single methodical and ferociously intelligent killer, albeit one with a few screws loose. (This would be Picasso.)

Somehow — and the frequently sloppy script never makes this clear — this woman is tied to German corporate bigwig Erich Nunemacher (Werner Daehn), who in turn is allied with multi-national industrialist Leon Mercier (Jean Reno), who has a bold vision for transforming downtown Detroit into a city of the future.

For reasons unknown, the shadowy Picasso is working his way up the food chain, with Mercier as his ultimate goal. Cross and his team are assigned by their precinct captain (John C. McGinley) to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Things ... don’t go as planned. (Are you surprised?)

Longtime Patterson fans who worried about whether Perry could handle this role — he is, after all, best known for cross-dressing comic turns in the likes of Madea’s Big Happy Family — can rest easy; he’s eminently credible ... at least, initially. Perry displays both a no-nonsense investigative manner and a sweet, sensitive side; he and Ejogo share a pleasant, easy chemistry as a couple.

Burns is properly laid back as the laconic Kane, who functions as Cross’ walking conscience: the longtime bro’ who often challenges his partner to be a better version of himself. Burns and Perry also do well at trading this script’s few quips: mordant commentary and gallows humor, which is appropriate, given the circumstances.

Fox, as mentioned, is the ultimate adversary: a presence felt throughout this story even when Picasso is nowhere to be seen.

Tyson is a delight as Nana Mama, and Yara Shahidi is superb as Cross’ young daughter, Janelle.

Nichols never successfully inhabits her character, mostly because she lacks the necessary acting chops; it’s impossible to get a sense of who Ashe is. McGinley is wasted in a one-dimensional, take-charge role that the screenwriters manipulate to ludicrous extremes; Brookwell’s “command decision” in the third act is too stupid for words.

But, then, “too stupid for words” is pretty common in this inept screenplay. The reason for Picasso’s name is specious at best, and a detail quickly abandoned. One prominent character’s off-camera death is so sudden — and so inexplicably forgotten, from that point forward — that I couldn’t help wondering if some key exposition scenes had been left behind.

Cohen’s bombastic directorial flourishes are irritating throughout, and the jumpy editing — by Matt Diezel and Thom Noble — is equally exasperating. This isn’t a film to relax and watch; it’s something to be endured. Everything builds to a silly, pell-mell climax in Detroit’s former Michigan Theater, now (sadly) transformed into a three-story parking lot with its ornate 1920s plasterwork ceiling hanging mostly intact 60 feet above the cars.

One gets the impression — from the way Cohen stages this scene, and cinematographer Ricardo Della Rosa shoots it — that the setting is far more important than the characters battling within in. And that, I think, says it all.

Patterson is one of 12 (!) producers credited on this mess. Clearly, he should have held out for a better jury.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Argo: The best film Hollywood never made

Argo (2012) • View trailer
4.5 stars. Rating: R, for profanity and dramatic intensity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.12.12

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

The events depicted in Argo wouldn’t be believed in a novel; the wild ’n’ crazy premise defies credibility. And yet this bizarre CIA mission actually took place during the Iranian hostage crisis; indeed, it was a rare burst of sunlight during the 444 grim days that Islamist students and militants held 52 captives in Tehran’s American Embassy.

Makeup expert John Chambers (John Goodman, left) and veteran Hollywood mogul
Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, center) understand the complexity of what CIA operative
Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) has proposed: the fabrication of a Hollywood movie,
complete with script and publicity campaign (note the background poster). The ersatz
film must appear to be genuine ... because lives will depend on that charade.
Argo can be placed alongside 1995’s Apollo 13, as a thoroughly engrossing drama that loses none of its tension despite our knowing the outcome. Chris Terrio’s script blends established fact with third-act dramatic license and some unexpectedly droll dialogue; yes, it’s possible to derive humor from these life-and-death events.

The package is assembled with directorial snap by Ben Affleck, who also grants himself the plum role of Antonio “Tony” Mendez, the CIA “exfil” (exfiltration) specialist charged with a real-life impossible mission. Affleck — as director — capably introduces the key players and sets up the plot elements, slides into a scheme as audacious as any caper thriller ever concocted by Hollywood, and then tightens the screws until the tension is unbearable.

The film opens with a prologue, depicted in movie-style storyboards, that outlines the post-WWII American “meddling” that restored Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power in Iran in 1953. Although a well-protected monarch for the next quarter-century, the Shah was recognized in his own country as little more than an American puppet; he eventually was deposed in February 1979 by a revolution that led to the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The fractured relationship between the United States and Iran worsened as that year progressed, then splintered entirely when the despised Shah — ill with cancer — was admitted to the United States for treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Two weeks later, on Nov. 4, an enraged mob broke through the American Embassy gates, stormed the building and orchestrated the stand-off that kept us — and much of the world — glued to news channels for the next 14 months.

Affleck begins his film at this point, immediately hitting us with feelings of horror and helplessness: Nothing has improved in the meanwhile. Here we are, in 2012, and there’s absolutely no doubt that Taliban terrorists would attempt the same bold act, given the opportunity. The only apparent change is that Islamic extremism and religious intolerance have grown even worse.

The powder-keg build-up to the embassy storming is deeply unsettling, the American efforts at damage control — and document destruction — akin to spitting in the wind. Then comes the detail often forgotten when we recall these ghastly events: Although the aforementioned 52 Americans are captured quickly, six others manage to slip away in the confusion; they’re given shelter — and concealment — in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

The situation is precarious: The Iranians soon realize that the six embassy people are missing, although their identities remain unknown ... for the moment.

Seven Psychopaths: Deranged in all the wrong ways

Seven Psychopaths (2012) • View trailer
One star. Rating: R, and generously, for strong violence and gore, pervasive profanity, sexuality, nudity and drug use
By Derrick Bang

A very thin line separates clever dark comedy from tasteless crap; this film crosses and permanently disfigures that line.

Then again, one probably shouldn’t expect much from a flick titled Seven Psychopaths.

Marty (Colin Farrell, left) only wants to finish his next screenplay. Unfortunately, he gets
sucked into a dog-napping scheme orchestrated by his best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell,
right) and the oddly calm Hans (Christopher Walken). Everything goes to hell when
they snatch a pooch belonging to a violent mob boss, but that's only the tip of the
terrifying iceberg; poor Marty soon finds himself surrounded by all manner of
deranged psychopaths.
But that’s the problem; I did expect better. London-born writer/director Marin McDonagh previously brought us In Bruges, a compelling morality play that delivered precisely the right blend of mordant humor, interpersonal angst and jolting — but not gratuitous — dollops of violence. The film worked on several levels, and McDonagh garnered a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for his script.

Apparently, success has gone to his head. Just as apparently, he misjudged which elements made In Bruges work, and has chosen to amplify the wrong stuff for Seven Psychopaths. It’s neither funny nor compelling, and it certainly can’t be called a morality play. This repellant mess barely qualifies as a film; it feels more like a series of disconnected scenes and half-assed concepts, strung together and granted a provocative title, in an effort to trick viewers into purchasing tickets before word gets out.

Don’t be among the victims.

I can’t help wondering what better-skilled purveyors of pop sleaze — such as Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez — would have made of this fitful premise. At the very least, they’d have injected the necessary levels of giddy energy and ghastly insouciance that are wholly absent here. McDonagh obviously intends his long stretches of inane dialogue to capture the mesmerizing wordplay that Tarantino delivers so well, but the results here aren’t even close.

Aside from repugnant, this film is boring. Deadly, deadly dull ... even when it descends to levels of gore more appropriate to direct-to-video horror swill.

Colin Farrell stars as Marty, a Los Angeles-based screenwriter suffering a case of writer’s block that isn’t helped by his tendency to drink too much. He has nothing beyond a catchy high-concept title for his next project: Seven Psychopaths. The gimmick here is that everybody Marty encounters, during the next few days, will offer increasingly vicious and deranged anecdotes, urban legends and (ick!) personal experiences that they believe will “help” Marty flesh out his screenplay.

These sagas unfold as mini-movies themselves, wholly disconnected from the primary storyline.

This may sound clever. It isn’t.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Taken 2: Familiarity breeds ennui

Taken 2 (2012) • View trailer
Three stars. Rating: PG-13, for relentless violence and action
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.5.12

I often lament the market-driven ubiquity of sequels, many (most?) of which not only fail to live up to their predecessors, but often taint those happy memories.

Do not get between this man and his family. When Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) runs into
a kidnapping plot resulting from unfinished business lingering from this film's
predecessor, he does what he does best: shoots and kills, shoots and kills. Sadly,
though, the bloom has worn off this particular rose.
Case in point: Taken 2, which became inevitable after its 2008 predecessor turned into a surprise hit that earned $224 million in worldwide box office.

This new entry isn’t a bad film, per se; it’s simply unnecessary. It covers no new ground, except to soften the long-estranged relationships between Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and their outrageously spoiled teenage daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace).

But that’s not the meat of director Olivier Megaton’s amped-up action thriller, which exists mostly so that Bryan can meticulously execute dozens of anonymous tough guys, who clearly flunked out of Thug School. Rarely have we seen such a careless, sloppy and unskilled collection of ruffians; even with automatic weapons, they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. They dishonor the tattoo that marks their clan.

In fairness, contrivance and coincidence also played a major role in the first Taken, but we weren’t quite as distracted by narrative implausibility; it was fun to see Neeson emerge as an unlikely but persuasively competent black-ops veteran. Mostly, Neeson’s Bryan was mesmerizing because of his shrewd and almost uncanny intelligence. Sure, he kicked plenty of ass, but mostly he out-thought his opponents. The concept felt fresh.

Yes, Taken 2 finds a way to further explore Bryan’s smarts; scripters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen are savvy enough not to mess with success. But that’s the point; they also haven’t expanded upon that formula. In some ways, Taken 2 feels less like a sequel and more like a remake; it suffers badly from a sense of sameness.

But to cases:

Things have indeed improved between Bryan and Lenore, in part because Stuart, her second husband — never seen and only referenced; I guess Xander Berkeley wasn’t available to reprise the role — has been exposed as a louse. Bryan still monitors Kim too closely, although most parents could forgive his paranoia; after all, she was kidnapped and almost sold into white slavery.

Bryan’s insistence on ├╝ber-scheduling includes helping Kim pass her driving test, in order to secure a license: a plot sidebar that blatantly telegraphs an eventual car chase with an ill-prepared Kim behind the wheel. In fairness, it’s a corker of a chase, but I’m getting ahead of things.

Frankenweenie: Delightfully ghoulish dog's tale

Frankenweenie (2012) • View trailer
Four stars. Rating: PG, for dramatic intensity and whimsical horror
By Derrick Bang

Sometimes, revenge truly is a dish best served coffin-cold.

In the early 1980s, several years before Tim Burton became the deliciously macabre fantasist we all know and love, he was just another young animator at the Walt Disney Studios. Early assignments included conceptual art and animation on The Fox and the Hound, TRON and The Black Cauldron, although he received no credit for these efforts.

The family, during happier times: Young Victor shares his most recent amateur movie
with his mother and father, while the short film's primary star — Victor's beloved dog,
Sparky — takes his usual place, front and center. Sadly, things are about to get
rather grim for poor Sparky.
Young Burton was much more interested in making his own shorts, which was encouraged by Disney at the time (as always has been the case with Pixar). The first, 1982’s Vincent, was a six-minute, black-and-white, stop-motion tone-poem about a little boy who imagined that he was Vincent Price; the actor himself supplied the narration.

Next up was 1984’s Frankenweenie, a 29-minute live-action short — again in black-and-white — about a little boy who took rather desperate measures after his beloved dog was hit and killed by a car. The cast featured Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern and young Barret Oliver, who had a popular run during the ’80s in films such as The NeverEnding Story, D.A.R.Y.L. and Cocoon.

Frankenweenie was to be Burton’s last act at Disney. The studio fired him, insisting — and you gotta love this — that he had wasted the company’s money while making a film that was too dark and morbid to be viewed by children.

Happily, Paul Reubens was among the few who saw Frankenweenie, and he immediately hired Burton to helm Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. The rest, as they say, is history.

Flash-forward to the present day, as Burton unveils his expanded, full-length version of Frankenweenie ... but now animated, in the stop-motion style of Vincent, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. Needless to say, it’ll be adored by his legion of fans.

And the irony is scrumptious: The film is released by Disney.

The stop-motion medium notwithstanding, this updated Frankenweenie is impressively faithful to its source, with whole sections and dialogue exchanges lifted intact. (This can be verified easily; both Vincent and the original Frankenweenie are packaged with the DVD of Nightmare before Christmas.) The entire first act is essentially identical, as is the aftermath of the climax.

The new material — supplied by scripter John August, who has written for Burton since 2003’s Big Fish — comes by way of a hilariously ghoulish second chapter, as some of our young hero’s schoolmates rather unwisely tamper with things best left alone.