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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

PARANORMAN

By D.E.Levine

ParaNorman is an animated feature about an 11-year old boy, Norman Babcock (Kodi  Smit-Phee) who lives in Blithe Hollow and can communicate with the dead and the undead.

Offered by the makers of Coraline and based on stop-motion automation, the film is co-directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler.

Norman's habit of conversing with the undead and watching TV with the ghost of his Grandmother (Elaine Stritch) has made him the local freak among his peers and the other residents of Blithe Hollow.  This view is shared by his father (Jeff Garlin) and sister (Anna Kendrick).

However, his uncle Pendergast (John Goodman) sees Norman as a kindred spirit and decides that the boy is the only one who can prevent a stubborn witches' curse that includes all types of hellish things, including the zombie-like resurrection of the town's founding fathers.

ParaNorman has a fascinating combination of stop-motion and zombie like features, with an underlying story line about bullying by peers and adults.  It's engaging and technically demonstrates the fluidity of Laika Studios' stop-motion animation techniques, enhanced with 3D.

Mixing Tim Burton and Maurice Selick concepts together, the film may be rather scary for very young children but has a definite appeal for older youths and adults.  It's well worth a visit to the movies to see the technically advanced stop motion animation techniques.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

By D.E.Levine

A TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION 2012

He was supposed to be the next Bob Dylan.  At least that's what Clarance Avant, the head of Motown thought when he signed the  Detroit-based musician-composer-performer Sixto Rodriguez in the 1960s.

Known simply as Rodriguez, he made two albums in the early 1970s but they didn't sell well and he never achieved the fame and wealth that was forecast.  Painfully shy, Rodriguez frequently performed with his back to the audience.

In fact, people thought he was dead.  There were various stories about how he died and he was pretty much written off and faded into oblivion.

Except that wasn't the case in South Africa.  The protest songs Rodriguez had written and recorded struck a deep cord in a society that was struggling with apartheid and his bootlegged albums sold millions of copies without his knowledge or any royalties for him.

This amazing documentary, that unfolds like a mystery story, is the result of the Swedish director Malik Benjelloul's quest to fill in the blanks and find out what actually happened to the son of Mexican immigrants who never rose to the prominence anticipated but conquered and entire African nation.

The sound track of original music is stunning and resonates with the audience.  But, it is the story of Rodriguez himself that carries the emotional impact that makes this film great.

Now 70 and having remained in relative obscurity for 40 years, Rodriguez is achieving fame through this riverting documentary which enjoyed great success at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, and has begun to give a limited number of performances.

He has been, in a sense, reborn, after raising a family in Detroit, supporting them as a day laborer, and dabbling in political activism.  As a man he never strayed from his beliefs.  As a performer, he was never accepted and raised to the heights anticipated.

Now, in large part due to this documentary that began because a small group of ardent fans sought to know how Rodriguez died, Rodriguez is enjoying the long overdue notoriety and acceptance that previously was only found in South Africa.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TOTAL RECALL (2012)

By D.E.Levine

A remake of the original science fiction action film that starred Arnold Schwarenegger, this is an exciting film with lots of action and special effects.  But viewers agree the original was better.

Updated to encompass a slightly different story line with top name actors, the film provides excitement and some confusion throughout.  Unfortunately, unlike the original, the characters are not fully developed and this version lacks the humor found in the original.

Frustrated with his life, colony factory worker Douglas Quaid  (Colin Farrell) goes to Total Rekall to have a more exciting memory implanted.

Somehow, the procedure goes horribly wrong and Quaid, unsure of whether he's functioning on the implanted memory or is actually a spy, becomes a hunted man on the run.  With the police controlled byThe United Federation of Britain's Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) pursuing him, Quaid teams up with a rebel fighter (Jessica Biel) to find the leader of the resistance (Bill Nighy).

Since his beautiful wife Lori (Katte Beckinsale) is working for Cohaagen's police force and pursuing him, and a factory co-worker tries to convince him he's imagining everything as a result of the Totall Rekall experience, Quaid doesn't know who he can trust, especially after discovering he's really an agent working for the Chancellor.

Without the substance of the original film, this Total Recall depends primarily on stunning special effects in the hand-to-hand combat and the mass battle attack scenes.  The colony where Quaid lives and where the major battles take place resemble the environment in Blade Runner proving that some of the older films had originality that survives.

While not a great film, for a hot summer evening Total Recall can provide some release and the special effects seem destined for awards.