Reel Critics: Monster mash-ups take over movies

Tim Burton's wonderfully strange imagination is on fire in "Frankenweenie." A lonely boy loves his dog, loses his dog, and re-animates his dog.

It's a charming reworking of the old Frankenstein movies, but here the only monsters are loutish neighbors and classmates. Creepy, funny and sweet, the visuals appeal to kids and the in-jokes delight grownup fans of Burton's unique style of filmmaking.

The stop-motion, black and white animation is moody and macabre, and Danny Elfman's lush score is truly gorgeous. This is a real Halloween treat.


Clever twist on Transylvania

"Hotel Transylvania" gives us scary-looking, raucously funny monsters who are deathly afraid of humans.

Adam Sandler is lively Count Dracula, who runs a hotel for his ghoulish friends and tries to keep his daughter (Selena Gomez) from venturing outside the castle.

The plot is basic, the humor broad and the pace is frantic. It's typical cartoon lunacy guaranteed to make kids of all ages laugh. I especially loved Steve Buscemi's droll Werewolf: no longer a scary beast but just a beleaguered dad.

The animation is amazing, and the visuals so fast and furious it's hard to take them all in at once. It's sure to garner repeated viewings and sequels.

But between the two, I think the tale of a boy and his little terrier, with more stitches than a baseball, wins my heart.


Grit we've seen before

The original "Taken" broke no new ground. The screenplay contained often repeated formulas from many revenge films that preceded it. But after making more than $200 million worldwide, it was inevitable that "Taken 2" would appear in a theater near you. Liam Neeson reprises his role as Bryan Mills, the ex-CIA agent whose daughter was kidnapped in the first movie.

This time around, Bryan and his former wife are now the kidnap victims. You've seen this plot used over and over from the old spaghetti Westerns of Clint Eastwood to the bloody murder scenes in "Eastern Promises." The demonic villains are presented as evil incarnate. They torture and kill without mercy. They intend to send Bryan's captured wife home "piece by piece."

This instills overwhelming hatred in the audience for the bad guys about to kill our hero. Of course, the good guy then breaks free of his chains. Against all odds, he begins a wild bloodbath hoping to send all his enemies to Kingdom Come. The action is gritty and well crafted. But it's all been done so many times before and no doubt will be done again.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

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