"Frankenweenie" — Tim Burton reminds us of why we love Tim Burton with this feature-length version of the 1984 short that revealed early glimmers of the veteran director's darkly humorous style. Beautifully detailed and painstakingly rendered in 3-D, black-and-white, stop-motion animation, "Frankenweenie" is a visual and thematic return to the best Burton has offered in his earliest films, such as "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice." And it is a welcome return, given the reheated, unfocused nature of some of his more recent films like "Dark Shadows." Burton has said he'd always intended for "Frankenweenie" to be a full-length, stop-motion-animation feature, but he didn't have the means; instead, he made a 30-minute, live-action short. Both films are about the powerful bond between a boy and his dog, one that goes on even after death — a heartrending subject, to be sure, but one that Burton infuses with his trademark mix of lively energy and macabre laughs. Even then, you could see Burton's sympathetic, protective portrayal of an outsider, an affectionate skewering of the sanctity of suburbia and a deep love of monster movies. Charlie Tahan provides the voice of Victor, a 10-year-old loner who's understandably devastated when his only friend — his bull terrier, Sparky — gets hit by a car. But a lesson from his science teacher (a wonderfully melodramatic Martin Landau) inspires Victor (whose last name happens to be Frankenstein) to try and bring Sparky back to life. Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short and Winona Ryder are among the Burton veterans in the strong voice cast. PG for thematic elements, scary images and action. 88 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Writer
"The Paperboy" — Soaked in sweat and reeking of cigarettes, director Lee Daniels' follow-up to the Oscar-winning "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" is, quite literally, a hot Southern mess. It's got sleazy characters wallowing in bloody crimes and sloppy sex, all of which seems even more lurid during a steamy summer in the racially divided Florida swamps of the late 1960s. It's certainly never boring, led by an accomplished cast of actors including Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack who seem all-too willing to get down and roll around in the muck. It's stylish trash, shot to look as if it were made during the period in which it takes place, with a mixture of gauzy, dreamlike imagery and startling, graphic intimacy. And yet, "The Paperboy" feels too scattered from a narrative perspective to have any kind of real emotional impact beyond simple, gratuitous shocks. Strong individual moments make you wish the vision as a whole had been more focused. Daniels and Pete Dexter co-wrote the script, based on Dexter's novel, about a hotshot Miami journalist (McConaughey) who returns to his hometown to investigate whether a greasy swamp rat named Hilary Van Wetter (Cusack) was placed wrongfully on death row for the murder of a local sheriff. He and his writing partner (David Oyelowo) are there at the urging of the tarty, boozy Charlotte Bless (Kidman), who's become Hilary's prison pen-pal and true love. Zac Efron, as McConaughey's younger brother, serves as the group's driver but mainly goes swimming and lies around in his tighty-whities all day. Because, you know, it's really hot out there. R for strong sexual content, violence and language. 106 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Taken 2" — Planning to pay out good money for this action sequel? To paraphrase Liam Neeson, you're about to be taken. Whatever novelty there was watching Neeson go commando in 2008's "Taken" is gone in the sequel, a mix of third-rate action, dreary family melodrama, laughable bad guys and even more laughable plot devices. Producer-writer Luc Besson and director Olivier Megaton ("Colombiana," ''Transporter 3") draw giggles from the start with a graveside tableau of Albanians mourning their dead — all the thugs Neeson's ex-CIA Bryan Mills killed in the first movie for kidnapping his daughter in a prostitution ring. The family patriarch (Rade Sherbedgia) proclaims that the dead are crying out for justice — so he and a countless band of goons head off to Istanbul to exact revenge from Mills, his daughter (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife (Famke Janssen). There was something primal about "Taken," a father putting all his brains and brawn into saving his little girl, and doing it with startling ferocity and ingenious trade-craft. Neeson just looks like he's yawning his way through a light workout here, using one big Irish paw to snuff bad guys and holding the other one out to the studio for his paycheck. PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality. 92 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.