With Frankenweenie, Tim Burton goes back to a couple periods of his own history. One is his childhood, during which he was alienated from average school life, and found solace in monsters and movies. Another is his early career, when he created a short film for Disney that, creatively, was his first big success, and professionally his first major failure. Meant to run before the re-release of Pinocchio, the original Frankenweenie, about a boy who reanimates his dead dog, was deemed too dark and weird, and shelved for years.

Today Burton sees the release of a new, feature-length version of Frankenweenie in which the characters are gloriously rendered via stop-motion animation. The film is a nostalgia trip on many levels, but it is a loving one. Burton came to Fantastic Fest a couple weeks ago to present the film, and he and I sat down for a conversation about going back to your past, and the reliability of memory. Read More »

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Michael Stephenson earned audience appreciation with his documentary Best Worst Movie, which chronicled the strange fandom evolved to celebrate the rather terrible film Troll 2. While Best Worst Movie was nominally about that 1990 release, one of the real thrusts of the film was obsession, articulated to us as Troll 2 actor George Hardy is introduced to the grinning, enthusiastic followers of his mostly forgotten starring role.

Now Stephenson returns with a new documentary focused on three families who spend months and precious funds assembling “home haunts,” which is insider jargon for backyard haunted houses. Though each builder has the same nominal goal — scare and entertain Halloween thrill-seekers — all approach the home haunt interest from a different angle. In The American Scream, Stephenson peers behind the taped-up curtain to find the driving interests for each family, and to celebrate the joy they find in delivering simple scares.

The subjects range from driven to eccentric, and a less humane film would might mock some of these Halloween enthusiasts. This doc edges right up to that line, but never crosses it. More so than the occasionally indulgent Best Worst Movie, The American Scream is a focused vision; it is a sweet, tender portrait of an odd American Dream. Read More »

There are several major take aways from the latest trailer for Paranormal Activity 4. One is that Katie and the boy she kidnapped, Hunter, are definitely back. Another is that the evil spirits from the first three films still really, really love to drag people down hallways. A third is that your XBox Kinect is the devil. It all adds up to a very intriguing bit of marketing.

Paranormal Activity 4 opens October 19 from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who did Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3. This time around, the story is back in the present, following the neighbors of a mysterious new family whose son may, or may not, be the aforementioned Hunter.

After the jump, you can not only check out the revealing new trailer, but read a bunch of early buzz from a work print screening at Fantastic Fest 2012. Either way, you’ll never look at XBox Kinect the same way again. Read More »

With a shock of blond hair, braces, and a physique that has yet to even begin thinking about filling out, PK is an unlikely general. He’s a relatively tiny kid, maybe eleven or twelve years old, and the undisputed champion of War amongst kids at school. In I Declare War, PK (Gage Munroe) plays by the rules in games of capture the flag: two teams, two immovable bases, gunshots incapacitate for ten seconds, grenades “kill.” A fan of the movie Patton and a student of war history, PK believes in the rules of the game, and the rules of engagement, and winning.

His game of War is the same game many of us played as children, with sticks standing in for guns, and a give and take between honor and rule-bending dictating the outcome of a fight. But in this film, the combat is rendered as real, with splashes of blood, and hands full of real pistols and automatic rifles. When the bouncy, imaginative Frost (Alex Cardillo) finds a particularly choice tree branch, we see it in its natural state for a few shots, but the next time it appears the branch has transformed into what Frost sees: an olive drab bazooka.

The “game as realism” approach of I Declare War is the hook, but the reason to stick around is the way that writer/co-director Jason Lapeyre, who directed with Robert Wilson, weaves enduring ideas about friendship, betrayal and adolescence into the film. Their movie won the audience award last night at Fantastic Fest, and it’s easy to see why. The scenario transitions seamlessly from playground fluff to effective exploration of the causalities incurred as one kid follows his drive to secure victory at any cost.  Read More »

I should have skipped out of The Collection five, maybe ten minutes after it began. It took just that much time to realize that the movie really is only a basic exploration of a simple premise, and ultimately (for different reasons) not for me. The sequel to 2009′s The Collector is once again written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, with Dunstan directing. Crafty masked machinist killer the Collector returns to menace more innocents, this time losing hold of Arkin (Josh Stewart), one of his last victims, as he attacks a rave full of revelers and takes a new living prisoner, Elena.

Knowing based on the Collector’s previous patterns that Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) is likely alive, her father’s commando-like right-hand man recruits Arkin to pursue the killer along with a small team of mercs. This does not end well. Presumably, that’s a good thing, as there’s really no reason to watch The Collection other than to see the various ways that characters are dispatched. Read More »

It’s the rare genre anthology film that satisfies entirely; at best, we can usually hope for a couple great stories amid the near-misses in any given collection of short stories. Many, however, don’t even achieve that, and the South Korean effort Doomsday Book falls in with that large crowd of mostly unsatisfying story collections. Directed by Yim Pil-sung (Hansel & Gretel) and Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the DevilThe Good, the Bad, the Weird), with the former tackling two tales and the latter one, Doomsday Book presents three visions of humanity’s future, and ways that it might end, or at least change.

Fitfully entertaining, with occasional flashes of black humor and  philosophical insight, this is a tome that isn’t even valuable as the sum of its parts — which isn’t much of a surprise, given the low individual value of each chapter. Read More »

Frankenweenie is an unusual film, which is the sort of thing that people always used to say about Tim Burton movies. In this case it is unusual because unlike Burton films such as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, which seemed like uncontrollable explosions of the director’s own childhood impulses, Frankenweenie feels like a very calculated trip back down memory lane. It’s less a meander than a guided Star Tour.

To an extent, the calculated feel is pretty typical of Burton’s recent output. It is also an unavoidable byproduct of the stop-motion animation employed to recreate Burton’s early story of a boy who reanimates his fallen dog, Frankenstein-style. Stop-motion, particularly when using models and sets as intricately detailed as those in this film, requires meticulous planning, and while it can create stories that feel spontaneous and uncontrollable (see A Town Called Panic), Frankenweenie simply isn’t that sort of film.

Instead, this is a movie about gaining control. As a return to the story idea that famously saw Burton fired from Disney, Frankenweenie is more than ever a movie about doing things right the second time, whatever the consequences may be. In Burton’s case, the consequences are likely pretty good, as this is his first movie in some time that points directly to what people liked in his films in the first place. Frankenweenie is a pleasing, endearing movie, even when it fails to follow through on some of its own best ideas. Read More »

I don’t know much about the film The Conspiracy at this point, other than the fact that it is playing at Fantastic Fest. That implies a few things about the film that features a documentary crew that is covering the theories of one seeming conspiracy crackpot. But that “crackpots” disappears, the crew starts to think there might be more to the theories than they’d initially imagined.

While this trailer features some histrionics that are a little difficult to swallow out of context, there are also some very effective, unsettling scenes here. Writer/director Christopher MacBride seems to be using low-fi found-footage and other techniques to good effect, and as the central theorist Terrance, Alan C. Peterson looks like he’s got a juicy, fun role. Read More »

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