The Boxtrolls (Focus)
If Charles Dickens collaborated with Dr. Seuss, he might have produced this charmingly bizarre urban fable about rich and poor and things that go bump in the night. This 3-D adventure, featuring impressive stop-motion animation, is based on the 2005 children's book "Here Be Monsters!" by Alan Snow.
The setting is Victorian England and the quaint village of Cheesebridge, marketed as "A Gouda Place to Live." Yes, the residents are obsessed with dairy products, and the mayor, Lord Portley-Rind, rules the roost from a mansion on Curds Way (get it?).
His plucky daughter, Winnie, longs for attention, but her father only has eyes for brie and camembert. Her world is turned upside down when she discovers "monsters" roaming the streets at night.
These are the Boxtrolls, aptly named as they are short of stature and wear recycled cardboard boxes (which double as hiding places). Scavengers by nature, they scour the garbage heaps for junk which they transform into magical inventions in their underground world.
Fearing for his cheese, Lord Portley-Rind accepts an offer from the wicked Archibald Snatcher to root out and eliminate the Boxtrolls. In exchange, Snatcher will be elevated to the ruling class, and obtain a seat at the hallowed cheese-tasting table.
To underscore Snatcher's evil nature, he sidelines as the drag queen Madame Frou Frou in a desperate attempt to mingle with high society. His assistants, Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles, offer a running commentary, questioning their boss's motives and reminding the audience of the difference between good and evil.
The Boxtrolls have a bad rap, because once they allegedly stole a baby along with the garbage. Lovingly raised underground, the boy, named Eggs after his box outfit, is now 11 and curious about the "upper" world.
Eggs bumps into Winnie, and she discovers that Boxtrolls are benevolent creatures who value family and loyalty. She joins forces with Eggs to expose Snatcher and the truth to her father and society. To succeed, they must work together and, yes, think outside the box.
Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi set a manic pace suitable to the absurdity of the material, which is served well by stunning animation and a first-rate voice cast. But parents beware: the overall tone is darker and scarier, which may be unsuitable for younger viewers.
The film contains scary moments, brief rear "nudity," and some bathroom humor. (A-II, PG)
nThe Song (City on a Hill/Samuel Goldwyn)
Taking its inspiration from the Old Testament's Song of Songs, "The Song" offers a modern-day parable on love, marriage and remaining open and faithful to God's plan.
Writer/director Richard Ramsey cleverly weaves passages from the scriptural canticle (attributed to Solomon) to illustrate love's eddies and currents, from courtship to marriage, children, and building a life together. The result is a fresh, honest, and very Christian take on timeless issues.
Jed King (Alan Powell of the Christian rock band Anthem Lights) is a singer-songwriter looking for his big break. He's also trying to escape the long shadow of his famous musician father, David, a legend on stage, but a train wreck off. So it's not surprising that the sins of the father will one day be visited upon the son.
But first, things look up for Jed. Performing at a harvest festival, he meets Rose, and it is love at first sight.
After a sweet courtship, they marry and have a son. Jeb, still madly in love, writes a song for Rose — called, simply, "The Song" — and to his surprise it becomes a breakout hit. Seemingly overnight, Jeb is a big star, and hits the road for a worldwide concert tour.
The years pass, and the pressures of fame and frequent separations put a strain on the marriage. Rose remains faithful, keeping the home fires burning. Jeb is inspired, seeing himself as an evangelizer and healer.
Unfortunately, temptation arrives in raven-haired Shelby, Jeb's new opening act who mocks Jeb's "religious" nature — she prefers to call herself "spiritual" — and encourages him to get a tattoo (never a good sign). Needless to say, it's all downhill from here, and Jed succumbs, eerily reminiscent of his father's downward spiral.
Granted, the resolution of "The Song" is predictable, but it is no less refreshing for that. Hollywood can take a lesson from an entertaining film which is openly — and happily — Christian in its outlook, and eager to remind viewers about forgiveness and redemption, as well as the sacredness of married love.
The film contains adulterous situations, suicide, and drug use. (A-III, PG-13)
nThe Trip to Italy (IFC)
Think carefully before embarking on this occasionally tasteless grand tour through the Italian peninsula. What can be an enchanting travelogue, with breathtaking scenery and mouth-watering cuisine, is, regrettably, offset by some vulgar humor and sexual situations which place this film squarely in the adult camp.
Two British actor/comedians, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, set out on a road trip, along the lines of their 2010 film, "The Trip," a restaurant tour through northern England, with the lines blurred between real-life documentary and fictional drama. Fine cuisine and grand hotels are the primary goals, plus a bit of history as the travel buddies retrace the steps of poets Byron and Shelley.
Hollywood movies are a shared passion, reminisce about Italian-set classics and make a number of vulgar jokes. As the lads wend their way from Turin to Naples, both fret about work and relationships as much as their next meal. Coogan, divorced, misses his teenage son. Brydon, married with a young daughter, has a roving eye that gets him into trouble.
The film contains adultery, implied nonmarital sexual activity, sexual humor and innuendo, and occasional crude language. (A-III, no MPAA rating)