Frankenweenie

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

After two dud movies in a row, it was a relief to watch this sweet little stop-motion animated movie about a boy and his (mostly dead) dog.

Little Victor Frankenstein is a geeky kid, a loner in the little town of New Holland. His best friend is Sparky, a sweet dog of indeterminate breed. When Sparky gets hit by a car, Victor is inconsolable, but inspired by his science teacher… gosh, look at the kid's name, the movie's title, and the picture over there on the right. Can you guess what happens next?

But once that happens, Victor finds it impossible to keep Sparky's secret to himself. His classmates, desperate to outdo Victor's achievement for the upcoming science fair, determine to replicate his feat. Their experiments turn out badly, but also hilariously. And there's also (of course) a mob with torches to persecute poor reanimated, misunderstood, Sparky.

The movie is filled with imaginative characters and little shout-outs and gags from old-time movies and TV. New Holland's mayor, for example, is named "Burgermeister", and he's a dead ringer for Burgermeister Meisterburger, the memorable bad guy from 1970's stop-motion Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. (If you watch the movie, check out IMDB's connections page to see how many you caught and how many you missed.) (Actually, they miss a few themselves. Bambi Meets Godzilla anyone?)

The Paperboy

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Consumer note: Despite this movie's title, we only are treated to one brief scene of newspapers actually being delivered.

It's set in 1969 redneck Florida, in a little town called Lately. The main character is Jack, played by Zac Efron; he's been tossed out of college for misbehavior, and is hanging out at home doing stuff for his newspaper-publishing dad. But to demonstrate that his heart is in the right place, the movie goes out of its way to show that he enjoys an unusually friendly relationship with the African-American part-time maid, Anita.

Meanwhile, white-trash Charlotte (Nicole Kidman) has started a campaign to free her fiancé-by-correspondence, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), from prison; he was convicted of a cop-killing a few years back, and he was (arguably) railroaded. Charlotte and Van Wetter have been exchanging R-rated letters, and she's become convinced that of all the convicts she's been writing to, he's her one true love.

The effort to free Van Wetter brings Jack's brother, Ward (Matthew McConaughey), back to Lately; he's working for a big-time Miami newspaper. He has co-worker Yardley (David Oyelowo) in tow, an African-American newspaper writer. They smell a possiple big crusading-journalist story of justice miscarried.

Zack, Ward, Charlotte, and Yardley form an unlikely, unstable team of investigators. And the movie becomes more about them than their investigation: Charlotte is a devious slut, Jack has the hots for her, Ward and Yardley have their own secrets.

It all gets quite sordid and (eventually) violent. (Key quote: "If anyone's gonna piss on him, it's going to be me. He don't like strangers peeing on him.") If you have the urge to see Nicole Kidman act and talk dirty in a southern accent, this is your go-to movie. (She was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award.) Otherwise, I can't recommend it.

Dredd

[0.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Why yes, I did watch Dredd after Ted. What's next? Fled? Dead? Head?

Dredd may claim the widest disparity yet witnessed between critical/viewer consensus and my personal reaction to a movie. IMDB users thought it was OK; Metacritic gives it a 59 metascore (with an 8.3 user score). And Netflix's algorithm thought I'd like it. But I really hated it.

It's set in a dystopian future where nuclear war has rendered all of earth uninhabitable save for a single megacity stretching between Boston and Washington. And that city teeters on the brink of chaos due to rampant poverty and criminality. In response, law enforcement is put in the hand of Judges, cops who can sentence perps on the spot. And mete out capital punishment, if warranted, and it often is.

The biggest, baddest judge is Dredd. (Dredd is played by Karl Urban, but it could just as well have been Enzo Cerusico, because he wears his helmet all the time.) He and a rookie psychic girl partner investigate a triple homicide at a 200-story tower filled with the dregs of a dysfunctional society. (It has a atrium going all the way to the top, which is good for hurling victims into.) The situation develops into an all-out war with the "Ma-ma Clan", a gang led by a ruthless female drug dealer.

And it's all loud and stupid, just an excuse to have people and scenery shot up, blown up, and otherwise f'd up. Dialog is mechanical, characterization is minimal. Nothing hangs on the outcome.

But the set is impressive. Half a star for the set.