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ParaNorman (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

As of right now, this is my pick for Best Animated Film of the Year, over Pixar's Brave. I'm not a Brave hater ... I actually find that film quite enchanting. But this one feels like a greater achievement.

For starters, the stop-motion animation is top-notch, better than the stuff in this year's Frankenweenie, from Tim Burton. Watching this movie, I felt like the people who were manipulating those little figures moved the art form ahead with their accomplishments. They managed to pull off some visual tricks that I hadn't seen before, including human faces that are surprisingly fluid.

For example, I was quite pleased with the way the title character looked when he was doing something as simple as brushing his teeth. It's a simple detail that most filmmakers might overlook, but here, it is something that makes the film feel authentic. I also loved the shiny lip gloss on a character's lips, and the exaggerated butt of Norman's mom. There's an attention to weird detail that I appreciate.

Plus, I love the story. It's dark; it's funny; and it's solid. I think this may have alienated some of the younger kids, but adults and kids older than 10 probably loved its scary tendencies.

In short, I felt like I was watching something totally new with this movie, and that's quite an accomplishment, considering stop-motion animation has been around for a very long time. This movie is a great achievement in storytelling, on top of being visually fantastic.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A fun commentary with co-directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell, who also participate in some behind-the-scenes looks at the making of the movie. (There is a bunch of cool stuff about how they made this movie look and feel so different.) You also get some storyboards for a few scenes.

The Expendables 2 (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

The first installment in this franchise was somewhat of a creative bust. They didn't have enough money behind their ideas; Sylvester Stallone perhaps took on a bit too much by writing, directing and starring in the film; and something was just a bit off. It wasn't nearly as fun as it should've been.

Chapter 2 is a different story. It's a big, goofy, fun movie—what you'd expect with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis and Norris onboard.

It helps that Stallone handed directing duties over to Simon West, the man who gave us Con Air. Stallone can do a decent job of directing (Rocky Balboa) but gets in over his head sometimes (The Expendables, Rambo). I like it when he's freed up to just be Sly. This film feels like a companion piece to Con Air, in that it is equally insane, and full of great fiery explosions and good humor.

It also helps that Schwarzenegger and Willis get bigger roles this time out that require them to pick up some really big guns. I wanted to see Terry Crews shooting his really big gun a little more, but seeing the old greats is a good trade. And I love the way they threw in a good Chuck Norris joke.

Big names like Nicolas Cage and Harrison Ford are being pursued for the third installment. I'd love to see H.I. McDunnough and Indiana Jones mixing it up with these bad boys.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A director's commentary, deleted scenes and a gag reel are the best features. There is also some fun behind-the-scenes stuff about assembling the monster cast, and a look back at the rise of the action film in the 1980s.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

I concur with fellow Weekly critic Colin Boyd: This is an amazing movie.

It's unlike anything you have seen before. It's the story of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a 6-year-old girl living with her father (Dwight Henry) in a place called the Bathtub, a makeshift Southern community built near a levee that's dangerously susceptible to storms.

As directed by Benh Zeitlin, the film is shown through Hushpuppy's eyes, with the movie alternating between reality and the fantastical. The results are enchanting, sometimes scary and ultimately breathtaking.

Wallis is nothing short of incredible; she's a child actress with astonishing power. There's some buzz regarding her getting an Oscar nomination, and I second that motion. This young actress knows what she is doing as far as commanding a moment onscreen. The movie would be far less powerful without her. Henry, as her father Wink, also delivers the fireworks.

The whole thing plays like a fairy tale updated for modern times—but the modern times here feature very few modern amenities. It will draw many an emotion out of you.

It's one of the year's best films.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Some of Zeitlin's short films, deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes are included.

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