The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Winnie and Frankenweenie: reviews
A short menu this week, but two of the four are very good films.
Here’s the list...
The Parks of Being a Wallflower: 3.5 stars
Taken 2: ––
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER: This is different. It puts to shame those raunchy high school comedies we usually get. It has heart, deals with the trials of growing up and resonates with our memories of secondary school. And, it’s got Emma Watson in only her second film since Harry Potter. She drops Hermione’s stiffness and puts on an American accent to play a bubbly teenager, who used to be a boy toy and now dreams of seeing the world, in suburban Pittsburgh. She’s got a gay stepbrother, played by Ezra Miller, last seen as that Kevin we need to talk about. Miller steals this film with his flamboyant energy.
The wallflower is Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, a freshman who arrives with psychological baggage and a loner attitude. He calculates he’s got 1,385 days of high school ahead of him. The two seniors take him on as a friend (unrealistic but OK) and an English teacher (Paul Rudd) senses Charlie's potential as a writer and gives him reading ideas. There are parties, cafeteria quarrels and the usual dances. The jocks do some gay bashing; the cool kids perform an amateur Rocky Horror Picture Show and Emma and Logan get close. All in all a pretty good and likeable snapshot of that time in our lives, adapted and directed by Stephen Chbosky from his own novel. The ending doesn’t work though. It’s a jolt because it wasn’t foreshadowed. The film did not seem to be heading there. Until then, though, it’s a nostalgic treat.
Playing at Fifth Avenue Cinemas, International Village and two suburban theatres. (3.5 out of 5 stars)
FRANKENWEENIE: Almost 30 years ago, before he made Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and all those other eccentric films, Tim Burton was working for Disney. He made a short in which he combined his love for his dog and for the old Frankenstein movies. But, rather than release it, Disney fired him. Later, it appeared as an extra with a VHS movie and now here’s a brand new, much expanded version in 3D. Skilful stop-motion animation and glorious black and white.
Sparky the dog is run over. His master, young Victor Frankenstein, inspired by a sonorous science teacher (voiced by Martin Landau), brings him back to life, just like in the old movies, by harnessing the power of lightning.
Not so fast there. Things happen. Sparky loses body parts now and then and has to be hidden from the family and the kids at school. Some do twig, thanks to a blabbermouth, ghoulish kid who talks creepy like Peter Lorre.
They try to duplicate the experiment for a science fair with monstrous results. This is a fast, crisp, sometimes frantic, occasionally too scary for little kids movie that plays best with people familiar with 1950s monsters, the old Universal horror films and the colour remakes from Hammer Films.
In fact, Christopher Lee does a short voice reprise as Dracula. There’s no message here but in a home movie at the start Burton perfectly communicates the passion of young would-be filmmakers. The ones who started out with just a Super 8 camera. Like he did.
Playing at Scotiabank and suburban theatres everywhere. (4 out of 5 stars)
WINNIE: I’m not familiar enough with the history of South Africa to say how accurate this biography of Winnie Mandela is. It seems solid, hits the good and the bad spots and I learned a lot about the “Mother of the Country” and ex-wife of Nelson Mandela.
Her early story is told with rich colors and lush music, much like the biopics out of Hollywood decades ago. She lands a job as a social worker (the first black woman to do so) and is soon courted by Nelson when he was a civil rights lawyer sparring with apartheid.
Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard put on the right accents and are convincing in the roles. Too saintly and nice, though, even as he’s moved to accept violence as a political tactic and she's grown angry with the political system.
The script is convinced they’re justified. Nelson is tossed in prison, for, ultimately, 27 years. He’s been menaced by a persistent police official played by Elias Koteas. She’s frustrated by the many indignities of the apartheid system and also jailed for over a year.
The scandal of her thuggish bodyguards (or football team) is there but seems to be under-told and her divorce from Mandela is unexplained. This South Africa-Canada co-production, directed by Darrell Roodt, works hard to portray Winnie as a strong woman. It doesn't feel like the whole story.
Playing at International Village. (3 out of 5 stars)
Also now playing …
TAKEN 2: Has it been four years already that Liam Neeson got a second career wind as an action star? Yes, it has. Taken came out in 2008. He rescued his daughter by going violent with her Albanian kidnappers. He also shot an Arabian sheik in the eye. Since then he’s been on The A-Team, a Battleship and fighting wolves in The Grey. Well, the Albanians are back. They want payback. Liam is in Turkey, too close for them to disregard. Soon, he will be in prison and his daughter (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife (Famke Janssen) will have work to do. This film was not previewed for The Vancouver Observer, so there is no rating here.
Playing at Fifth Avenue Cinemas, Scotiabank and almost everywhere else.
NOTE: All images in this story are supplied by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.