Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘The Boxtrolls,’ ‘Lucy’ and ‘Annabelle’

The title characters from the stop-motion animated movie “The Boxtrolls” are sadly misunderstood.   Photo courtesy of Focus Features

The title characters from the stop-motion animated movie “The Boxtrolls” are sadly misunderstood.

Photo courtesy of Focus Features

This week’s major home video releases include two R-rated thrillers and a family friendly animated film.

The Boxtrolls

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, digital download and on demand

Laika, the studio that brought us “ParaNorman” and “Coraline,” continues its outstanding theatrical work with “The Boxtrolls,” an animated feature based on the Alan Snow novel “Here Be Monsters!” The stop-motion project, which is nominated for best animated movie at the Academy Awards, is set in the fictionalized town of Cheesebridge during the Victorian era.

Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi establish that a powerful and pompous aristocracy rule Cheesebridge. The town elite loves nothing more than sitting in posh surroundings while wearing fancy white hats and dining on fine cheeses, and the city exterminator, Archibald Snatcher, is so obsessed with this upper class that he tries to deceitfully worm his way in.

Scary-looking, subterranean trolls who adorn themselves in cardboard boxes live beneath the streets of Cheesebridge, and Snatcher sees them as perfect fall guys. Although the trolls are harmless and friendly, Snatcher convinces the populace that they are horrid monsters that must be destroyed. Furthermore, Snatcher agrees to do the dirty work if welcomed into the upper class.

“The Boxtrolls” also focuses on a young, human boy named Eggs. He was raised by the trolls and admires their kindness and generosity. Ultimately, Eggs is forced to square off against Snatcher when the man’s extermination campaign reaches fever pitch.

Animation has grown increasingly impressive over the years, but there is something special about old-fashioned, stop-motion work. And it looks particularly good when paired with modern technology. Every frame of “The Boxtrolls” looks lovely, and the images are particularly deep and compelling on a 3D Blu-ray setup. The film also has an outstanding voice cast featuring Ben Kingsley as Snatcher. Other notable voice actors include Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Tracy Morgan, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Elle Fanning.

The Irena Brignull and Adam Pava script is also a winner. The story departs from Snow’s novel but works well as a 96-minute feature that is fun yet contains serious themes. These big ideas include a condemnation of greed and snobbery that youngsters may or may not dig into. Either way, they should enjoy themselves.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a number of making-of featurettes and an audio commentary by Stacchi and Annable.

Lucy

3½ stars
Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and sexuality
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Writer-director Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Léon: The Professional”) has crafted another fun, inventive thriller in the form of “Lucy,” a science-fiction drama about the untapped potential of the human mind.

The film focuses on its title character (Scarlett Johansson), an average young woman who is kidnapped and forced into working as a mule for an international drug cartel. The bad guys knock her unconscious, sew freshly manufactured product into her abdomen and order her to deliver the package … or else. Before she completes the task, however, the drug packaging ruptures, sending a huge dose into her bloodstream.

The newfangled drug allows humans to tap into more of their brainpower than ever, and the overdose gives Lucy a host of radical abilities, including the power to telepathically manipulate matter and defy the laws of gravity. The drug also turns her mind into a sort of supercomputer and reduces human emotions like fear.

As she gains greater control of her abilities, Lucy becomes determined to pass on the knowledge she is acquiring. To do so, she seeks the help of a well-known scientist (Morgan Freeman) and decides to attack the drug cartel in an effort to acquire more of its transformative product.

The science behind “Lucy” seems hokey at best, but anyone who can move beyond this will find themselves immersed in an action film of the first order. Much of the credit goes to Johansson, who is winning both as the frightened girl who is originally captured and as the superhuman thinking machine she becomes. Besson’s work is also terrific. The movie’s editing is smart, and the director packs a variety of big ideas into a compact, easily accessible package.

In many ways, “Lucy” is reminiscent of the 2014 Wally Pfister film “Transcendence,” which tells the story of a scientist who uploads his consciousness into a computer. “Lucy” addresses many of the same topics, including the untapped potential of humanity, but it moves faster and it’s more fun to watch.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes feature.

Annabelle

2½ stars
Rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror
Warner Brothers
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

It’s disappointing when a Hollywood studio cashes in on an outstanding movie by manufacturing a subpar companion piece. That fact, more than anything, hurts “Annabelle.” The film, which is sold as a prequel to the outstanding 2013 feature “The Conjuring,” isn’t particularly bad, but it isn’t special.

The focus of the movie is on John (Ward Horton) and Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis), a young couple living in Santa Monica, California. One terrifying night, their next door neighbors are murdered, and the killers make their way to the Form home, injuring Mia and painting a Satanic symbol on a bedroom wall before being killed by the police.

From that point forward, the Forms are faced with a horrifying series of events that convince them they are being targeted by supernatural forces, many of them manifesting in a doll named Annabelle. Director John R. Leonetti proves capable at creating a frightening atmosphere, and he produces a number of good scares.

The main problem is that viewers don’t get anything new. Everything depicted in “Annabelle” has been shown in other horror films about demonic possession. The cast, which also includes Tony Amendola and Alfre Woodard is likable, but the material is so sterile that the performances are easily forgotten.

“Annabelle” also makes one wonder why anyone would own a doll like the one depicted on screen. Annabelle’s face is prominently displayed in the film’s marketing materials because it’s so creepy. It would be more unexpected – and far scarier – if the filmmakers attached the evil doings to a toy that looked harmless and friendly. Of course, doing that would require some semblance of originality.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes feature.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Drop”: Drama starring Tom Hardy as a bartender at a joint that serves as a money-drop point for organized criminals. He lands in a mess when the bar is robbed. Noomi Rapace and the late James Gandolfini also star. Directed by Michaël R. Roskam.

“Rudderless”: After his son dies, a grieving father (Billy Crudup) forms a band and performs his boy’s compositions. Anton Yelchin also stars. Directed by William H. Macy.

“Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Tough Love”: Animated film in which Tyler Perry’s Madea character turns a court-required community service stint into an effort to save the local youth center. The voice cast includes Perry, Cassi Davis and Rolonda Watts. Directed by Frank Marino.

“May in the Summer”: Story of a woman whose carefully scripted life begins to unravel when she travels to her hometown of Amman, Jordan, to get married. Written, directed by and starring Cherien Dabis. Presented in English and Arabic with English subtitles.

“The Green Prince”: Documentary film about the son of a Hamas leader who became an Israeli spy. Directed by Nadav Schirman.

“The Internet’s Own Boy” – The Story of Aaron Swartz: Documentary about Swartz, a programming whiz and political activist who killed himself while battling criminal charges levied by the federal government. Directed by Brian Knappenberger.

“My Winnipeg”: Criterion Collection restoration of writer-director Guy Maddin’s unusual 2007 documentary about his Canadian hometown.

“The Palm Beach Story”: Fresh transfer of the 1942 screwball comedy starring Claudette Colbert as a wife who decides to divorce her husband (Joel McCrea) and marry a millionaire to help her financially struggling ex. Written and directed by Preston Sturges.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

NOTE: Blu-rays, DVDs and screening links are provided to the reviewer at no charge. This enables us to run reviews the day titles become public, but it does not influence the opinions expressed.
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