3 1/2 stars = Very good
"Frankenweenie" looks nothing like the typical animated movie. It's in black and white, but that dovetails perfectly with its homage to classic horror movies and it's done with stop motion as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Corpse Bride" were.
Tim Burton directed "Frankenweenie" based on an idea he spun into a stop-motion animated short called "Vincent" in 1982. It was about a boy who fantasizes he is Vincent Price.
Here, Victor, a 10-year-old long-legged loner, loses his beloved bull terrier, Sparky the wonder dog, and after watching a new teacher, a Vincent Price look-alike with a thick Eastern European accent, send jolts of electricity through a frog specimen, Victor is inspired to try something similar with Sparky. Like Mary Shelley's scientist, Victor devises a way to restore life to Sparky's freshly exhumed body employing the lightning that regularly crackles over the suburban town of New Holland.
And he's alive ... he's alive!
Victor couldn't be happier, but his attempts to keep Sparky's resurrection a secret from his classmates are far less successful in this madcap monster movie that runs along twin tracks delighting children (and maybe spooking them if they're not elementary-school age) and adults.
Martin Landau, who won a supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood," talks for the teacher while other alumni of Mr. Burton's movies chime in, too. Winona Ryder is Elsa while Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short talk for the parents of Victor, who is voiced by Charlie Tahan (Zac Efron's younger brother in "Charlie St. Cloud").
More than 200 puppets, with huge, expressive egg-shaped eyes and human hair, were created for the film, which proves to be clever, funny, surprisingly moving and spiked with emotion.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include making-of featurettes, original live-action "Frankenweenie" short, the short film "Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers" and the music video "Pet Sematary" by the Plain White T's.
' House at the End of the Street''
2 stars = Mediocre
Jennifer Lawrence, of "The Hunger Games" fame, emerges with her dignity intact, but this horror movie looks low budget and depends on cheap tricks and outlandish twists.
"House at the End of the Street" is where the outcast Ryan (Max Thieriot) lives, four years after his sister apparently killed their parents. When a divorced woman (Elisabeth Shue) and her 17-year-old daughter, Elissa (Ms. Lawrence), move from Chicago and rent the house next door, they hear stories about the girl and how she drowned, but her body was never found. And the urban legend is that she lives in the nearby woods.
Elissa befriends college student Ryan, even as her mother cautions her about spending time alone with him. She works nights at a nearby hospital and befriends a police officer (Gil Bellows) who seems to be the only cop in town.
But the house at the end of the street harbors more than its share of secrets, as the newcomers and others soon discover.
"House," directed by Mark Tonderai and written by David Loucka, who wrote "Dream House," was shot in 28 days in Ottawa, which cheated for an unnamed suburb in Pennsylvania. It resorts to some clumsy filmmaking and springs a couple of surprises that should be spine-tingling but are not.
' Hit & Run''
2 1/2 stars = Average
"Hit & Run" stars Dax Shepard and real-life fiancee Kristen Bell as a couple residing in a small rural town in central California. He's Charlie Bronson, obviously not his real name, living under the bubble of the witness protection program, and she is Annie, a specialist in nonviolent conflict resolution who is handed the interview of a lifetime.
If she doesn't go after the job -- in Los Angeles -- her boss at the local college will fire her. But if she does and lands the gig, she will be separated from Charlie.
When he decides that he will drive Annie to LA, a city he left behind four years ago, he doesn't count on Annie's former boyfriend, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), deciding to punish Charlie for stealing away Annie. Before you know it, a parade of people are on the road, including an accident-prone U.S. marshal (Tom Arnold) and a former bank robber (Bradley Cooper) with messy dreadlocks and an even wilder violent streak.
The chase is on, with surprises and revelations at a couple of turns in this movie inspired by the spirit of 1977's "Smokey and the Bandit."
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "Dredd 3D" (1-1/2 stars): Karl Urban, who re-created the role of Bones in the new "Star Trek," puts his spin on Judge Dredd in a futuristic neo-noir action film. Dredd's challenge is ridding the city of a "Slo-Mo" drug that allows users to experience reality at a fraction of the normal speed.
• "Game Change": You might argue with the politics of this cable movie, but the one thing that isn't debatable is the performance by Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. Her brilliant work is the true strength of the production.
• "Smash: Season One": The NBC series about staging a Broadway musical hits a few sour notes along the way, but the overall production works as a character study about those who put art above everything else.
• "Dallas: The Complete First Season": This is the first season of the re-launched prime-time soap starring Larry Hagman.
• "The Goode Family: The Complete Series": Short-lived Mike Judge animated TV comedy.
• "Anger Management: Season One": New Charlie Sheen cable series.
• "Enlightened: The Complete First Season": Laura Dern stars in the cable series.
• "An Idiot Abroad: Season 2": Karl Pilkington continues to complete tasks from his bucket list.
• "George Lopez: It's Not Me It's You": Comedy special starring George Lopez.
• "Archer: The Complete Season Three": Cable animated spy series.
• "The Jazz Singer": The first feature-length film with completely synchronized dialogue and musical sequences is on Blu-ray to mark the film's 90th anniversary.
• "Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden": Recounts the behind-the-scenes decisions that brought the world's most wanted man to justice.
• "The Assassins": Director Linshan Zhao's action-adventure film starring Chow Yun-Fat.
• "Samsara": A look at the world of nature and mankind's place in it.
-- PG staff and Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers