Tuesday, July 2, 2013

DVD(s) of the Week: Frankenweenie and Fast Five

Cripes, a double header of movies this weekend! This largely due to absolutely nothing being on the TV that isn't Tennis, apparently, and needing to fill that gap between tea and putting the kids to bed so we could start on watching Breaking Bad. So, we had Frankenweenie via lovefilm-in-the-post and, because Ewan had expressed interest in wanting see Fast Six, we streamed Fast Five over lovefilm-over-the-internet for him. First, Tim Burtons latest.


In a lot of quarters, Frankenweenie has been hailed as a "return to form" for Burton and to an extent I think that its a fair thing to say. The problem is that the Tim Burton of late hasn't been an interesting filmmaker for many years, seemingly happy to push out vaguely Gothic styled adaptations of variable quality. A quick glance down the recent filmography suggests that the last original script he directed was Corpse Bride, back in 2005, a gothic-styled fairy-tale, and even that is straddled by his gothic-styled fairy-tale take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his gothic-styled musical Sweeney Todd. Both of which I quite liked, certainly more than the god-awful gothic-styled fairy tale version of Alice in Wonderland, but it feels like his output is stale and repetitive and lacking the energy and verve of something like (the flawed but interesting) Mars Attacks or the personal commitment behind Ed Wood.

Frankenweenie is a feature-length version of a short film Burton made when he was starting out (I have a copy on my The Nightmare Before Christmas DVD) expanded out to a larger story. Young Victor is a loner whose only love is his dog, Sparky, but when Sparky is killed (indirectly, it is implied as a result of Victor being forced to go out and act "normal") he is inspired by his science teacher to re-animate him using Science!, and hijinks ensure, etc. The resulting film is....OK, I guess, but suffers from two major problems.

The first is that it's just so damn familiar you can see the beats coming a mile off. There is really very little in it to surprise or keep you hooked, and its various messages about outsiders, fear and superstition and grief and loss are well travelled in films for older kids these days. Ewan was pretty much just bored but it for much for the film and I'm hard pressed to blame him. Even the black-and-white works against the film, rather than giving it a striking, original look, just leaves it looking more lifeless than it should.

The second problem it has is that all of this, thematically speaking, was done much better in Paranorman, which had stronger visuals, a pacier story, and much more focused emotional core. So to be honest, I'd recommend going to watch that instead. Its not that Frankenweenie is bad, per se, it just really doesn't have anything to recommend it.

The other movie of saturday evening was Fast Five, of the seemingly never-ending Fast and the Furious franchise. I'd heard good things about the recent entries from a couple of places, enough to overcome my natural suspicion of any movie with a "5" in it's title, and so with Ewan wanting to see it we stuck it on with a shrug of "well, probably won't be awful". The thing is, it's not awful; its actually quite good.

I should qualify that a bit. Fast Five is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It's not trying to push any boundries or do anything especially new. It's just focused on doing what it wants to do particularly well. I know I just criticised Tim Burton for feeling like he's out of ideas, but that familiarity drains his recent films of energy and distinctiveness, whereas here, the firm stays laser-focused on delivering pace and action and that lack of originality is much less of a problem. Its all about fast cars and things crashing and exploding and looking cool.

And really thats all Fast Five does. There is a workmanlike plot about needing to rob a crime lord whilst avoiding the forces of the Law, and it all moves very cleanly if un-originally. But if there is any whiff of any of that messy character or plot stuff slowing things down, then, its into the cars for a bit of a chase, culminating in a truely daft-yet-exciting chase through the streets of Rio di Janeiro. Its daft, it doens't seem to think it's not daft, and its honestly really good popcorn fun.