Tag Archives: ghosts

ParaNorman: Paranormal fun

Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as the “parNormanly” gifted in ParaNorman. Courtesy of Alliance Media

Like Cole from The Sixth Sense, Norman has the paranormal ability to speak to the deceased. Norman’s story differs as he tries to help the friendly ghosts break an ancient curse that threatens to destroy his town and its inhabitants.

ParaNorman pioneers new and innovative techniques in stop motion animation taking on massive sets and action packed sequences never seen before in this medium. It also tells a heart-felt story combining laughter, horror and poignant social commentary regarding the way people are treated when they don’t fit the “norm” (hard not to pun).

Chris Butler and Sam Fell successfully bring Butler’s massive dream to the screen. The movie powers forward with wonderful pace, only slowing down at stirring moments to deliver their impactful message.

The talented Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road, Let Me In) delivers a solid voice-over performance alongside his cast members. There are only a few moments when the dialogue suffered from feeling read and not acted.

Speaking of the visuals, you’re in for a real treat with easily one of the best stop-motion animation experiences you’ll ever have alongside Coraline. On top of that, you’ll definitely want to immerse yourself in the palpable 3D option that really helps draw you further into the already first-rate film.

Bottom Line: Without a doubt, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth from ParaNorman.

Grade B+

Runtime: 93 minutes
3D: Yes

Interview with ParaNorman director Sam Fell

Courtney, Alvin, Mitch, Norman, and Neil in PARANORMAN, directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler, the new stop-motion comedy thriller from LAIKA and Focus Features.

ParaNorman tells the story of a young man gifted (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to talk to ghosts. The movie strikes an excellent cord between, comedy and horror, while instilling a sense of heart and morality.

I’m very lucky to have sat down with one of the directors, Sam Fell (The Tale of Despereaux, Flushed Away), to find out how this great story came to be.

Do you believe in the paranormal?

I believe there is more to us than flesh and bone. There’s obviously something in our consciousness that’s beyond what we see. I haven’t seen a ghost, but I’m happy to just know that there’s more. I’ll come back and haunt you to let you know that they do exist.

How would you react to having Norman’s ability to see and speak to ghosts?

I think it would be cool to see those ghosts that he sees because they’re friendly ghosts. I’d probably go look a few people up. I never got to meet one of my grandfathers, so I’d like to talk to him.

Can you briefly describe what differentiates the way you shot ParaNorman versus other stop-motion animated movies?

At its heart, it’s the same process. Build a miniature world, light it, build miniature puppets out of clay, and then it’s one frame at a time. You start in frame one and days or weeks later you’re finished that shot. One of our shots was about 1000 frames long and that took about ten weeks to shoot!

That’s insane!

Tell me about it! It’s a living performance, captured very slowly. What made our process different is we used a 3D colour printer to create thousands of faces to switch for each frame. Amazingly innovative stuff!

I’ll let the pros show you how they did it:

Is this the future of animation?

I think there are multiple futures for animating a film. I’ll never forget that moment when I saw Toy Story on the big screen for the first time, when CG animation was new, exciting and novel. It blew me away! I don’t get that feeling very much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I really like a lot of animated films. It just feels like the genre has been dormant for a long time. It wasn’t until Coraline where we got to see this tactile world in stereoscopic 3D for the first time that I got a similar sensation again. Felt uncanny. I actually hope hand-drawn animation makes a comeback.

Me too!

So far in your career, you’ve only directed animated films. Do you have any interest in taking on some living actors?

I would consider it. Actually, before this movie came along, I had been dabbling in writing and had some live action stuff in development. So I’ve touched on that world. In many ways, shooting ParaNorman has been sort of a live action film on a smaller scale. I think you should want to tell a story more than just entering a medium for the sake of it.

Are you very selective when it comes to the projects you take on?

I’m as selective as I can be, you know. It’s tricky, because on one side it’s a business and I’m a working director who wants to work. I want to make films. So I hold off as long as I can and read a ton of scripts. I actually develop my own work too. But somewhere along that road, you’re just itching to make another film and you grab the best one you’ve been presented with and you go with it. Directors aren’t built to sit around, you see.

For the voice work, did you do the traditional method of every actor doing solo recordings or did you manage to get them together to record?

We were lucky to get some of them together, actually. We got Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin, the Babcock parents together. They were great at ad libbing. We also got Casey Affleck and Anna Kendrick together, which was great since neither had done animation before, so they got to find their way together. And we got Kodi Smit-McPhee (Norman) and Tucker Albrizzi (Neil) together. They were so good together, that we didn’t even edit out their mistakes. It just made it more beautiful.

Were there any whacky mishaps that happened during production?

It’s weird, but there weren’t any big mishaps that happened on this movie. The only difficult aspect of this movie was the ambition of it. Crazy ambition! In the first year when we were planning and storyboarding it, we got carried away. We were so excited about doing car chases with multiple cameras and the big storm in the sky to connect to the zombies. On top of that, we wanted a mob! Halfway through, it all started to hit us just how much we wanted to push everything. That was the only moment when we gulped at the vastness and scale of the project.

Did the final product deviate from the original script in anyway?

No, actually. We just turned a great script into a great movie.

That you did, Sam! Check out ParaNorman in 3D in theatres everywhere on August 17, 2012.

Here’s another look at how they brought this movie to life:

The Innkeepers: Blu Ray Review

Ti West's latest horror flick is available on Blu Ray May 1st. Courtesy of eOne Media

Time has not been kind to the horror movie genre. While there seems to be a cult following, most would agree that horror films are without a doubt some of the worst films to have ever been made. The Innkeepers manages to avoid the garbage heap but keep your expectations low.

In horror specialist Ti West’s (The House of the Devil) latest movie, a pair of workers at an Inn (that’s going out of business) try to find signs from the spirit world only to find more than they bargained for.

West managed to impress with his great use of camera movements instilling a chilling sense of unease. His script, however, could use a few re-writes as some of the dialogue lingered on the strong side of smelly cheese.

Surprisingly, the acting from the two main actors, Pat Healy and Sara Paxton, is pretty good this kind of movie. Sara Paxton manages to make the funny scenes believable and keeps the “corny meter” from reaching dangerous levels. Keep an eye out for 80’s star, Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) as well.

However, the real star of the movie is provided by the original score of Jeff Grace (The House of the Devil). There’s a palpable eeriness to his work, which acts to enhance the unnerving vibe of the movie. The only failure lays in the over emphasized bass tones seemingly used as cues for the audience; unfortunately it was more distracting than anything else.

Special features included in the Blu Ray release include two commentaries with various cast and crew, as well as a fun The Innkeepers: Behind the Scenes featurette.

Bottom Line: Fans will be happy to own this home release, but everyone else should make due with a rental for their night of fright.

Movie grade C+
Blu Ray grade B

Runtime: 101 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1

The Moth Diaries: Made for TV, not the cinema

Sarah Bolger stars in The Moth Diaries. Courtesy of Alliance Films

Are movies that premiere at a film festival automatically given a higher stature over films that do not? The answer is a resounding no, and The Moth Diaries, which premiered at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) last year, is a perfect example of this.

In this movie, a teenage boarding school student is losing her best friend to a new girl suspected of having supernatural abilities.

It’s hard to believe that filmmakers and studios automatically feel the need to lower the standards of their work depending on their target audience. Most every aspect of this movie is mediocre at best.

The cast of adult actors playing teenagers, including Sarah Bolger, Lily Cole, Sarah Gadon, Valerie Tian, and Melissa Farman either received poor direction or they simply can’t act. Either way, there is no connecting with the characters or their dilemmas.

Mary Harron (American Psycho), who wrote and directed the movie, could have done a much better job adapting Rachel Klein’s novel. More or less, the entire story is a “paint by numbers” portrait of teenage drama with a weak horror twist.

In the end, this film would find a better home in the made for television genre rather than a feature film.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a higher dose of entertainment from a superior film, check out The Craft (1996) and keep your distance from this movie.

Grade D-

Runtime: 82 minutes
3D: No