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'ParaNorman' brings stop animation back to life; 'Brake' a great indie flick

Date: 12/4/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

Two good movies — what are the odds? — are featured in this week's DVD column.


Not just do I love animation, I'm a sucker for stop motion animation — the technique used to create such diverse properties as the original "King Kong" and the "Gumby" shorts.

In this era of computer-generated animation, the rule of thumb was initially that stop-motion was dead, at best a nostalgic throwback. Nothing could be less true. Animation is an art form and different disciplines are available for artists to use to tell their stories.

"ParaNorman" is about a boy named Norman growing up in a New England town renown for its history involving the condemnation and execution of a witch. Norman isn't the most popular boy at school — and even at home his family hassles him — because he can see and speak to ghosts. Shunned by all, Norman's only friend, Neil, is also a social pariah.

Norman has a vision during his school play about the town's witch and her legend that leads him to his crazy uncle. Voiced with gusto by John Goodman, Uncle Prenderghast reveals a role that only Norman can play in saving his community from the supernatural events that are about to happen.

There are some great horror film comedy moments in this film as well as a surprising adult and moving plot point. "ParaNorman" may be well too intense for young children, but kids ages 8 and older, as well as their parents, should enjoy it.

The animation is wonderful as is the design of the characters. I was really impressed with this film and its success shows that stop motion animation continues to have a future.


Not to repeat myself — but I will — the biggest problem confronting the film industry today is lack of distribution and the unwillingness of theater owners to take any sort of chance on independent films.

"Brake" is a great example of an indie film that could have found a theatrical audience. It's a superior thriller that would have captured the attention of people who enjoy action and suspense films. When a theater owner has 16 screens in a multiplex, one would think a single screen could be devoted to such product.

Stephen Dorff plays Secret Service Agent Jeremy Reins who wakes up to find himself locked in a plexiglass box in the trunk of a car. At first he has no idea why he is there but soon he learns his captors are terrorists who want him to reveal the location of a bunker the president would be using in a domestic attack.

Reins won't cave, though and the terrorists use a variety of ways to try to break his will. I can't give away any more of the plot as the film takes audiences places one couldn't anticipate.

This film is a bravura performance by Dorff, an actor who has a long resume but has never really had the breakout role he needs. This really should have been it as the film is a showcase for his talents.

Director Gabe Torres shows he has some major creative chops by keeping the suspense high, despite the limitations of having one character on screen in one set.

"Brake" is a film well worth the search.