(PG, 103 minutes, Sony): Jack Black plays author R.L. Stine in this adventure-comedy based on Stine’s popular “Goosebumps” series of YA horror novels. It’s a tongue-in-cheek love note to spook stories of yesteryear – and a kid-friendly crowd-pleaser adults can love, too. It reworks R.L. Stine’s scary novelettes into a wildly clever fusion of yuks and yikes. Reading Stine time after time to my kids, I thought his stories were rudimentary, formulaic time-fillers. Really, a vampire poodle? Reinventing the tales on-screen makes all the difference. Digging into Stine’s 100-odd yarns with an anarchic sense of fun, adding a charming cast and building an entire domain of monsters and mummies and skeletons with its own cultures and rules all make “Goosebumps” a demented frolic.
Let’s give away no surprises but just say that “Goosebumps” is a delightful exception to the view that the source material always tops the film version. The story becomes a never-ending battle against nasty garden gnomes, carnivorous Venus flytraps and horrid aliens with freeze rays. They trample across the town’s ultra-amateur police squad and head toward the unsuspecting kids holding that evening’s high school prom, bludgeoning every human they encounter with comic enthusiasm.
Written with tongue-in-cheek genius by Mike White, who also scripted Black’s sublime sugar rush “School of Rock,” there are countless forms of family conflict among the various characters here, each slice uproarious. The film takes high-level inspiration from a grab bag of bookstore detritus, reworking Stine’s boogeymen just as he revised them from antique campfire stories. If Stine were not already one of the world’s most popular children’s authors, this wild delight would push him there.
Contains fantasy action, scary images and some crude humor. 103 minutes. Extras: “Beginners Guide to Surviving a Goosebumps Creature,” “Strange Things are Happening ... On-Set.” Blu-ray: Alternate opening, alternate ending, deleted scenes, cast blooper reel, All About Slappy,” “Creaturefied!,” casting gallery. Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
(R, 105 minutes, Central): Set in the waning days of the Tang Dynasty, “The Assassin” stars a serene and hard-to-read Shu Qi as Nie Yinniang, a woman trained in combat, trained to kill. She returns to her childhood home, to the palace and gardens of Weibo, with a mission she is reluctant to fulfill. There, she finds Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), the governor, his children, his wife, his concubine.
Winner of the best-director prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, “The Assassin” unfolds in long, soft breaths. The landscapes of northeastern China are like a slide show of classical paintings: shrouds of mist descend on craggy mountains; a lake ripples, mirroring the sky; a stand of silver birches reveals the film’s star, clad in dark robes, standing like a statue. Hou – a linchpin of Taiwan’s New Wave movement – evokes the magic, the majesty, the artistry of the martial-arts movie tradition, and brings a Zen-like sense of observation to the proceedings. Philadelphia Inquirer
Also out Jan. 26
- “Black Mountain Side”
- “A Brilliant Young Mind”
- “Comin’ at Ya!”
- “Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise”
- “The New Girlfriend”
- “Night Will Fall”
- “Black Work”
- “Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete Third Season”
- “Downton Abbey: The Final Season”
- “French Village (Un village francais), Season Two”
- “Spiral (Engrenages): Season 5”