Movies: 'ParaNorman,' 'Celeste and Jesse Forever' & 'Ruby Sparks'
Published 3:47 pm, Friday, August 24, 2012
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Let me get right to the point: 11-year-old Norman Babcock sees dead people. When his mother tells him, "Your grandma is in a better place now," Norman knows different: "She's right in the living room."
This macabre, stop-motion animated feature is about an adolescent medium's morbid "Sixth Sense" encounters with ghosts, ghouls, zombies and other ectoplasms who have unfinished business. Voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Norman, distinguished by his spiky, Eraserhead-like hair, is undoubtedly odd. Not only is he watched over by his deceased grandma (voiced by Elaine Stritch) but he also has to cope with his incredulous mother (voiced by Leslie Mann), disapproving father (voiced by Jeff Farlin) and bubble-gum snapping teenage sister, Courtney (voiced by Anna Kendrick).
At middle school, where he's mercilessly tormented by a bully, Alvin (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Norman's only confidantes are his chubby classmate Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi) and his dumb-jock brother, Mitch (voiced by Casey Affleck).
Raised in Blithe Hollow, Mass., inquisitive Norman researches the legend of the New England witch who was killed there 300 years ago. But only he knows that her spirit is restless and, according to his deranged, psychic uncle Prenderghast (voiced by John Goodman), she's about to bring the dead back to life. No one will believe Norman -- even when he interrupts the school play, screaming, "The dead are coming!" Until, suddenly, a bunch of decaying bodies begins to haunt the town - and only Norman can reverse the witch's curse.
Wittily written by Chris Butler and directed by Sam Fell ("The Tale of Despereaux," "Flushed Away"), it's cleverly animated at LAIKA by the same British stop-motion designers and artists who made the Oscar-nominated "Coraline" (2009), and effectively augmented by Jon Brion's creepy score.
As a protective parent, it's up to you to decide when and if your youngster should see this eerily gruesome horror/comedy, which culminates in an intense climax. While it's rated PG, I'd consider it PG-10.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "ParaNorman" is a spooky 7, screening in both 2D and 3D.
"CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER"
It's understandable why Rashida Jones got tired of the type-casting that's dogged her since her debut on TV's "Boston Public," continuing through her voice-of-reason role on "Parks and Recreation." So, as a bright, 1997 Harvard grad and progeny of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton, she wrote this off-beat comedy for herself with actor Will McCormack, who plays her buddy on-screen. Made in 23 days on a tiny budget, it's bound to make money -- but it should be better.
Snarky Celeste (Jones) is a hard-driven "trend-spotter" with her own Los Angeles media-consulting firm and dorky Jesse (Andy Samberg from "Saturday Night Live") is her immature, lounge-lizard ex-husband who still occupies a studio behind what used to be their house. Together since high school, they're legally separated but remain best friends who chant and do Swedish accents together, primarily for their own amusement. While Celeste promotes her new book "Shitegeist," she's fervently hoping that he'll grow up and get his artistic act together, which he does -- only not with her. Jesse's stunning new girlfriend Veronica (Rebecca Dayan) gets pregnant after a one-night stand, and he's desperately trying to do the right thing.
Celeste and Jesse's behavior totally weirds out about-to-be-married close friends (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen) as they routinely indulge in raunchy routines, like cutely, cloyingly playing with a ChapStick tube, carrots and other suggestive objects.
Unevenly directed by Lee Toland Krieger ("The Vicious Kind"), the story not only lacks character development but seems to drag interminably from awkward, cliche-filled scene to formulaic, cliche-filled scene.
The best moments come supporting players like Will McCormack as Jesse's dejected pot dealer/buddy; Elijah Wood as Celeste's gay, sarcastic colleague; Emma Roberts as a pampered pop star, and underused Chris Messina as an affable guy from Celeste's yoga class who comes to a costume party as a "serial killer," clad in cereal boxes with dinner knives.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" is a tiresome, shallow 6. While it's only 90 minutes in length, it somehow seems like forever.
In classical mythology, the sculptor Pygmalion fell in love with a beautiful statue he created which -- by the grace of the gods -- came to life. That theme inspired George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" and formed the basis of the musical "My Fair Lady."
Inspired by that theme, actress/writer Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of director Elia Kazan) indulges in some magical realism in this quirky, witty, romantic fable about a contemporary Los Angeles novelist, played by her current, real-life boyfriend Paul Dano, which is delightfully directed by the husband-and-wife team, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who scored with "Little Miss Sunshine" back in 2006.
Having achieved early acclaim, neurotic literary prodigy Calvin Weir-Fields (Dano) is not only recovering from a painful long-term relationship break-up but he's also suffering from acute writer's block. When he envisions saucy, red-headed Ruby Sparks (Kazan) during a walk in the park with his dog Scotty (named after F. Scott Fitzgerald), he follows a suggestion from his psychiatrist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould) and develops a full-fledged story about this idealized young woman, making her into a talented painter from Dayton, Ohio.
In the midst of Calvin's creative frenzy, his concerned older brother Harry (Chris Messina) discovers bits of female lingerie scattered about his stark, minimalist Hollywood Hills bachelor pad. Bewildered, Calvin claims no knowledge of them until, one morning, he finds effervescent yet ethereal Ruby cooking breakfast in his kitchen. Confused and convinced he's hallucinating -- like Elwood P. Dowd in "Harvey" -- he's stunned when they go out and others can see Ruby, too. After a visit with his disarmingly free-spirited, widowed mother (Annette Bening) and her furniture-making, live-in lover (Antonio Banderas) in Big Sur, where Ruby begins to assert her independence, ambivalent Calvin comprehends that he can change and control Ruby by simply rewriting her. Talk about masculine manipulation!
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Ruby Sparks" is a humorous, slyly sentimental 7. Or, as the Dalai Lama once said: "Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck."