ParaNorman DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

ParaNorman DVD

Starring the voices of Cody Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin and John Goodman

Written by Chris Butler

Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell

New this week on DVD and Blu-Ray from Alliance Films is the stop motion animated wonder, from the same studio that brought us Henry Selick’s Coraline, which scared up some decent box office this summer, ParaNorman. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell bring us the story of a boy with the gift to talk to the deceased and a mission to fulfill. So what does the DVD have in store for us?

Norman Babcock (Smit-McPhee) is an awkward child with an extraordinary gift, he can see and converse with ghosts. Norman regularly converses with his dead grandmother, much to the exasperation of his incredulous father (Garlin), mother (Mann) and his sister Courtney (Kendrick). An outcast at school, Norman is constantly tormented by Alvin (Mintz-Plasse) and his cronies, and is constantly made fun of over his gift. But when the anniversary of a heinous act in his town’s history approaches, Norman’s estranged Uncle Prenderghast (Goodman) tracks him down as Norman must take over his role in order to save the day. But when all hell breaks loose it’s up to Norman, his friend Neil (Albrizzi), Neil’s hulking brother Mitch (Affleck), Courtney and Alvin to save the day and put everything right.

ParaNorman is a film that actually works even better at home. It remains a smart film that doesn’t pander to the audience while never getting scary enough to truly frighten its target audience. The script is smart with the more adult targeted humor playing better on the small screen. The story does borrow from films like the Sixth Sense quite a bit, but the endearingness of Norman and his friends more than compensates for some of the more familiar story beats.  The animation style works extremely well and the stop-motion is fantastic. It does not try to be anywhere near photo-realistic thankfully and I found it very reminiscent of the old Rankin/Bass TV specials I grew up on and still watch around Christmas every year. Directors Butler and Fell keep the film tightly paced and on target as it clocks in at a satisfying 93 minutes. The actors performing the voice work all work well here, especially our leads Norman and Neil along with Norman’s perfectly casted parents. Kendrick’s work as Courtney is really solid here as well, as the nuances of her character play better on the small screen.

The DVD is packed with a ton of great features to check out as they really go deep behinds the scenes and into all aspects of the production. We get a feature length commentary track going into all aspects of the filming with Directors Butler and Fell along with some pre-visual animatic sequences used for the filming. At around 40 minutes in total, the multi segmented Behind the Scenes package “Peering through the Veil” is full of informative and fun facts. And if that weren’t enough there are 7 additional featurettes covering other aspects of the film. A great pack for adult and child alike.

Sure to be present under many a Christmas tree this year, if you can hold out that long, ParaNorman is a treat and delight for the entire family. Loaded with special features and featuring a brilliant crisp and clean digital transfer, the DVD really becomes a can’t lose package. Based on this, ParaNorman on DVD is a must buy DVD and will be a fun holiday watch for the whole family.

You can read my original ParaNorman review HERE

Also Noteworthy : Rise of the Guardians Review  and Wolf Children Review

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Sinister Review (Kirk Haviland)

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Sinister (2012)

Starring Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, Fred Dalton Thompson and James Ransone

Written by C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson

Directed by Scott Derrickson

In theaters this weekend from Alliance Films, just in time for Halloween, we get the newest horror title from director Scott Derrickson, the director of the Exorcism of Emily Rose. With the mainly lackluster theatrical year we have had to date for the horror genre, Cabin in the Woods withstanding, the real question is can Sinister deliver where others this year have failed? And can one of us, online film Critic C. Robert Cargill, aka Ain’t it Cool News’ Massawrym, really write a film that lives up to the hype?

Ten years ago, true crime writer Ellison Oswald (Hawke) made his reputation with a best‐selling novel based on a notorious murder. Now, desperate to replicate the critical and financial success of that book, he moves his loyal wife (Rylance), none too happy son (D’Addario) and daughter (Foley) into a home where a suburban family was brutally executed and a child disappeared. Not telling his family of the home’s past, hoping to find inspiration in the crime scene, Ellison discovers a mysterious box containing Super 8 footage of a series of murders, including the ones from the house. Rather than going to the local authorities and reporting the find, he keeps the movies to himself and takes on an unassuming Sherriff’s Deputy (Ransone) to unwittingly do his research, hoping to publish another acclaimed book based on these series of crimes. As Ellison starts to piece together the truth behind the horrific images on the films, unseen intruders and inexplicable goings‐on disrupt his once peaceful household.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Sinister works because it focuses less on simply staging a line of jump scare tactics, and more on building tension while never hitting the release valve. The script is smart and tight, although it’s not entirely original in that it uses and falls prey to some of the most obvious of horror conventions, but it also uses them more effectively than most. Ethan Hawke does some very solid work here, the level of paranoia involved with his performance adds to the building sense of dread surrounding the family in the film. The rest of the cast does admirable work as well, the child actors in particular show they can hold their own amidst the veteran actors. Ransone’s deputy may have been the hapless goofball in any other film, but he and the script give the character some surprising depth and even a more level head than the deteriorating Oswald can muster.

The score is brilliant and unnerving, building layer upon layer as the film progresses and tensing up the audience as it goes along. Director Derrickson proves that he may be best suited for genre pieces as this is a giant step forward from the abysmal Day the Earth Stood Still remake. Sinister is far from perfect mind you. Can Oswald please stop bumbling around in the dark and just turn on a light? And seriously, does every character here sleep like they are dead? You figure with the crashing, falling and multitude of other actions going on in the house somebody else in the family would wake up. But taking the good with the bad the film is still miles above most of the genre fare we have seen in multiplexes this year. The villain of the piece could have been an awful campy nightmare, but instead it works brilliantly. My only qualm is with the last shot of the film, when the film has already been wrapped up nicely, we get what appears to be an unnecessary studio addition. Also we get a way too brief appearance from an un-billed star that I will not mention other than to say I wish it was much longer.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Sinister is successful because of its ability to develop and sustain atmosphere and tension for its almost tw hour running time, a feat in its own with the amount of 85/95 minute disposable genre films we are subject to most of the time. Sinister is a very solid recommend, go out and see it this weekend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Lockout Review (Kirk Haviland)

Lockout (2012)

Alliance Films

Starring Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joesph Gilgun, Lennie James and Peter Stormare

Written by Stephen St. Leger, James Mather and Luc Besson

Directed by Stephen St. Leger and James Mather.

Busy time for releases this weekend with Friday bringing the revival of the Three Stooges back to big screens, The Cabin in the Woods (my pick for best film of the year so far) and the Guy Pearce Sci-Fi/Snake Plisskin wannabe vehicle, Lockout. St Leger and Mather, two new filmmakers under the tutelage of Luc Besson, have clearly watched a lot of Neveldine and Taylor productions and have set out to deliver a similar non-stop action romp to those of the Crank films. What follows is a completely irrational, implausible and downright nonsensical 90 minutes that defy the rules of common sense and logic gleefully. It’s all wrapped up with a very fun and funny Guy Pearce performance that’s 100% bravado and ego, and a formidable psychopath villain with an itchy trigger finger.  When it works it works very well, when it misses, it misses terribly.

We start off in the middle of Snow (Pearce) being interrogated, and physically abused, over a job gone bad by the effectively slimy and hate-able Secret Service agent Langral (Stormare). Langral claims to have seen Snow kill another former CIA agent, like himself, during a meet in which Snow was brought onboard as backup by one of his best friends. Snow escapes with a brief case, during a particularly awful looking motorcycle chase, which he passes off to his partner Mace (Tim Plester) who hides the case prior to being arrested by the police himself. Snow is convicted and sentenced to spend his time on MS1, a high security prison in space where prisoners are kept in cryostasis for the duration of their sentence. On MS1, the president’s daughter Emilie (Grace) visits and a jailbreak is triggered from recently revived Hydell (Gilgun), a nasty little psychopath who figures out how to open all the pods and then the chaos begins. So of course Snow is recruited and given orders to rescue the President’s daughter, before it’s too late, in exchange for his freedom. Snow’s friend Shaw (James) also informs Snow that Mace is on MS1 as well. As the convicts start running the asylum a true leader among them emerges, equally capable of Hydell’s flair for violence yet much more mentally stable; Alex (Regan) manages to organize the cons and soon realizes how special one of his hostages is, but not before Snow gets her first. What follows is a cat and mouse race throughout the space station and beyond, with an ending so ludicrous I dare not describe it here.

Pearce’s performance here makes you wonder why he’s not chomping on a cigar a la Hannibal Smith, blowing holes in space with a Colt .45 a la Dirty Harry or wearing that infamous eye patch of the aforementioned Snake Plissken. He’s unrelentingly ego driven with no apologies. Grace is nothing much more that background here as the privileged daughter of the president who has decided to take up her cause of the week, this week being prison reform. Stormare does well as the stubborn and entitled Secret Service agent who believes he knows the best action for everything going on around him, while James is the laid back agent whose known Snow for years and never doubts him for a second. Of the baddies it’s Gilgun who steals the show and chews scenery left and right as the psychopathic Hydell, obsessed with Grace’s Emilie. Regan plays well off Gilgun as the brains behind the Convicts actions.

Lockout is crazy, stupid fun, emphasis on the stupid. This is the type of flick you throw on at 2 am at the house party where everyone is drunk and you want to watch something crazy. This is the type of film that becomes a guilty pleasure. I assure you this, if you go into this film expecting any semblance of an intellectual script or engaging plot you will hate this film. But if you just want to be entertained by the sheer lunacy of it all, with some fun action set pieces, improbable as they may be, then Lockout may be a fun 90 minutes in the dark.

Til Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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Don’t be Afraid of the Dark

Last night I was very excited to catch an advance screening of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark. The tickets were free, thanks to an online contest courtesy of the kind people at Alliance Films and the ghastly ghouls at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. On a side note, I’ve read some interesting tweets about eight films (a total of 19 films will be at the festival)  that Toronto After Dark has announced at the currently running Fan Expo. If these reports are accurate, then we have some great films to look forward to! More on this when the films are officially announced.

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark is the latest offering from producer Guillermo del Toro. I’ve been a huge del Toro fan for a while now. He is the director of the fantastic Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy films, the unsettling The Devil’s Backbone and he produced one of my favorite haunted house movies, The Orphanage. Basically, anything horror related with del Toro’s name on it should be good time.

Minor general plot SPOILERS ahead.

The film begins with young Sally (Bailee Madison) moving into a creepy historical fixer-upper with her architect father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his interior designer girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes). The couple is currently working on restoring the home in order to revive Alex’s career. Shortly after discovering a sealed basement door, Sally begins to hear mysterious voices beckoning to her. She mistakes these voices as those of friends and sets to work trying to find their source. Unfortunately for Sally, she manages to unleash an archaic horror in the old house. Will she be able to convince Alex and Kim about the true nature of the unsettling events that begin to transpire in the home?

Going into Don’t be Afraid of the Dark I was expecting an atmospheric haunted house movie with a twist. The twist being the use of creatures instead of traditional ghosts. I will not go into details regarding the creatures, but I will say that the film delivers a type of monster not often seen seen in horror movies. Also, I was expecting the horror aspects to be rather tame, low on blood and high on jump-out-of-your-seat scare tactics. This was not the case. Although there are a number of ‘startle’ scares, there are also two to three scenes that are not for the squeamish. In particular, the opening and closing action sequences of the film are the two most thrilling parts. However, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark never commits to one type of audience. I feel that this decision hindered rather than helped the film.

The film suffers from a number of issues which prevent it from being as enjoyable as it could have been. The issues also made me feel like there was a Jekyll and Hyde battle going on behind the camera or during the script writing phase. For starters, the slow, creepy atmospheric build up and light horror fare places Don’t be Afraid of the Dark in a category with Joe Dante films like Gremlins or The Burbs (two of my favourite light horror films), not a bad category to be in. However, the more gruesome moments in the film shock the viewer out of this comfortable atmosphere, but they are far too few for the film to be considered a bloody or terrifying film. Also, the audience at times seemed to be confused as to whether they should laugh or not. Intentional and unintentional jokes in the film are very difficult to differentiate between. If the film committed to being a horror-comedy or straight horror, it would be stronger for it. Finally, the story had a major flaw in that it was not convincing why the characters would continue to stay in or return to this house. In one scene Sally is picked up in a car by her father and taken back to her home. The entire audience emitted a loud groan. Intelligent plot devices are a necessity if the main character returns to the scene of the horror time and time again.

I don’t think I will be watching Don’t be Afraid of the Dark anytime soon, but in the end I think that the film will find a group of movie-goers that will enjoy it. It is certainly for the casual horror fan as there is nothing truly terrifying about the film, however these casual horror fans should not be of the squeamish variety due to the few scenes that contain some uncomfortable moments.

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