Henry Selick‘s Coraline (Focus Features, 2.6), a visually dazzling 3D animated children’s film, is about a young girl who feels bored and listless and neglected by her parents and longs, as many kids do, for a better, more lustrous life. She finds one in a magical fantasy realm that she one day disappears into, Being John Malkovich-style, by crawling through a trap door and then through a long psychedelic tunnel. (But with no mud.)
Sensually delightful and too good to be true at first, Coraline’s fantasy world eventually, of course, turns out to be nightmare. (It reminded me of “A Nice Place to Visit,” a Twilight Zone episode with Larry Blyden as a thief who gets shot and ostensibly goes to heaven — a place filled with riches, girls and endless good times. Which eventually drives him bonkers.) And then she’s trapped there, unable to return to the normal humdrum. And then it’s a mildly scary touch-and-go situation for 15 or 20 minutes.
Based on a respected 2003 children’s book by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is flawless from a technical standpoint. The stop-motion animation, which Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) is an obvious master of, is as good as it gets, and the 3D aspects only enhance. It’s first-rate family fare.
But by the standards of me, myself and I, Coraline felt too slow and deliberate. It runs about 95 minutes, give or take, but it would have played better at 70 or 75 minutes. The story is bit too simplistic — Coraline unhappy, finds fantasy realm, delighted with fantasy realm, concerned with fantasy realm, attempts to escape fantasy realm but can’t, finally does. I starting looking at my watch around the 80-minute mark. I was quietly moaning 10 minutes later.
The only thing that kept me going was the creepy notion of all fantasy-realm inhabitants having button eyes, which I took as an analogy for the blotto, disconnected, spaced-out condition of a typical drug user. (You can always tell if someone’s high by their peepers.) You could interpret the basic story, in fact, as a metaphor about a tweener kid falling prey to drug use. Lord knows it happens often enough in real-life suburbia.
The voicings by Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman and Ian McShane are well and good.
More interesting than Jude Law playing a tranvestite named “Minx” in Sally Potter‘s Rage, which will have its first press screening at the Berlin Film Festival this Sunday, is a post from Potter (appearing on her site) about the unusual cutting style of the film:
“Rage has been a consistent experience at every stage of the working process,” she states. “None of the usual rules seemed to apply. In the cutting room the handheld material (no cut-aways, no reverse angles) dictated a different way of editing. The so-called ‘language’ of film — where and how to cut to create pace and energy — seemed irrelevant, even fake, and was not an option.”
There’s always some kind of curious stylistic scheme going in in a Potter film, isn’t there? Always some kind of high-aesthetic gimmick.
“Similarly, the sound world seemed to reach such degrees of ’emptiness’ in order to feel ‘full’, that we found we had to re-think the process of hearing itself. This is in large part because most of the big events and action in the story happen (audibly) off-screen. In parallel with listening to the character who is talking we have to absorb a lot of activity that is happening out of sight.
“The criteria was to search always for what kept us connected with the core of the material or the character. No empty effects, nothing redundant or gratuitous. It was kind of exhilarating to not be able to take anything for granted.”
As for Law’s character and the general subject matter:
“Part of the subject matter of Rage is the ugly use of beauty in the pursuit of profit,” Potter writes. “Drugged by marketing, sapped by fear of aging, conned by the cult of celebrity — image becomes all.”
“Law, whose beauty has sometimes been held against him as an actor, made the courageous decision to accept the role of Minx — a ‘celebrity super-model’ — and took on a kind of hyper-beauty for this persona…a ‘female’ beauty which gradually unravels as the story unfolds. Strangely, the more he became a ‘she’, coiffed and made-up, the more naked was his performance. There was great strength in his willingness to make himself vulnerable. It was an extraordinarily intense part of the shoot.”
The thrust of this 2.3 L.A. Times Claudia Eller piece is that the current economic calamity makes the 2.13 release Confessions of a Shopaholic, a comedy about overspending and subsequent debt, seem almost absurdly unappealing.
Eller runs optimistic, damn-the-torpedos quotes from Shopaholic producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney marketing chief Jim Gallagher. But the quote that sticks is from USC entertainment business instructor Mark Young, to wit: “If you just lost your home and can’t pay your bills, the last thing you want to see is someone representing greed and excess.”
I ran a short quoteless riff on this same idea last January 8th.
[Update: Most of the following applies even if the Lionsgate/Summit story is b.s.]. I’ve just been told by a reliable source that Kathryn Bigelow‘s The Hurt Locker — despite everything I wrote yesterday about Summit dodging a release-date commitment, and despite the two film fest/series showings happening in March — will not be opening in March or April. Unfrigginbelievable. It’s not a summer movie so they’re probably thinking the fall. A full year and then some after the Toronto ’07 debut that got everyone so excited! Unless they’re thinking of summer as a counter-program strategy.
“Despite its layer of darkness, He’s Just Not That Into You is a fantasy,” writes Variety‘s John Anderson. “No one has a problem except romance. Neil sails a yacht. Ben and Janine are giving their Baltimore apartment an overhaul that would embarrass Architectural Digest.
“Perhaps that’s the point. No one has anything to distract them from the minutiae of their love lives, which they proceed to incinerate through overanalysis. It’s a moral fable, maybe, if you make half a million a year.”
Money fantasy issues aren’t restricted to He’s Just Not That Into You. 90% to 95% of all relationship dramas and comedies ignore financial profiles and purchasing power. The last film that dared touch this topic was Friends With Money (i.e., Jennifer Aniston playing a house-cleaner with pals who were either reasonably well off, well off or loaded). The irony, of course, is that while women often say they choose guys based on their warmth, kindness and ability to make them laugh, the truth is that a prospective boyfriend’s income level (i.e., ability provide some degree of financial security) is usually a deal-maker or -breaker with the vast majority of the girls out there.
The last romantic drama that even flirted with acknowledging this? Beats me.
Anderson says that HJNTIY “may also be the first contemporary escapist comedy that feels fully aware of its place in the economic vortex. The lushness, the leisure, the vicarious wealth are all balms to soothe our savaged selves as we look away from the news and onto the screen. Given the state of things, such a movie almost seems like an act of charity toward the public. It’s not screwball comedy, but the underlying sentiments are the same.”
Some have the impression that I’ve turned into some kind of Benjamin Button hater. I haven’t. I’ve always respected David Fincher‘s film as far as it goes. It just never got me that much. I’ve more or less been a half-and-halfer from the moment I first saw it. But I love the way that New Yorker critic David Denby tears it apart. Denby’s wrath is so strong and urgent that he’s just posted an Oscar summary piece in which he takes it down again.
“Brad Pitt‘s modesty when he comes into his own handsome flesh is becoming, yet his eyes are unforgivably blank. Where is Benjamin’s exhilaration at shedding his infirmities? He tells us very little of what we want to know, which is how he feels about what has happened to him. Perhaps if you’re born old with an infant’s brain and get younger, you never know much of anything (including the ardencies and the anxieties of youth), but that kind of mental void doesn’t yield much of a protagonist.
“Benjamin leaves his loving girlfriend (Cate Blanchett) and travels all over the world and announces, ‘It’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be.’ Someone at Paramount Pictures must imagine that this sentiment is a gift to the world, because a full-page ad that the studio took out in the Times, on Inauguration Day, proclaims it as such. (The quote continues, ‘I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.’)
“Courage is definitely a good thing to have; lots of money (which Benjamin inherits) helps, too. It seems that Roth has gone back to the fatuous simplicities of his screenplay for Forrest Gump, with its dopey hero who conquers the world. Whatever else it might be, Benjamin Button is a celebration of ignorance; it could be a wan kiss goodbye to the Bush era.”
Denby isn’t very appreciate of Slumdog Millionaire either, now that I’ve read the piece again. Here’s his final graph:
“Almost every movie, of course, is a fantasy, or a fable, or a fairy tale of one kind or another. In a great movie, though, narrative and technological magic combine to produce heightened intimations of the real, and that ecstatic merging of magic and reality is what imprints the movie on our emotional memory. Besides the children, what I will remember of Slumdog Millionaire is a disorderly exploitation of disorder, a kind of visual salad of glowing rotten fruit, constantly tossed. The envelope, please — I guess.”
I wrote a note this morning to the other journos (Kim Voynar, James Rocchi, Jen Yamato) who will also be visiting the Oxford Film Festival this weekend. “Sometime between Thursday and Sunday, I’m going to rent an Enterprise car and drive 40 miles to Tupelo, Elvis Presley‘s birthplace and the presumed geographical inspiration for Van Morrison‘s ‘Tupelo Honey.’
“Does anybody want to split the rent/gas expense and come along? Can’t be much. There’s also a Rent-a-Wreck in Oxford.
“I also want to visit Rowan Oak, the William Faulkner homestead in Oxford. Tupelo and Rowan Oak together should take maybe four or five hours, I’m guessing.
“I briefly considered driving all the way the fuck down to Philadelphia, the town where the Mississippi Burning civil-rights murders happened in ’64, but 150 miles down and back again would eat up the whole day so I guess not.
“I’d like to have breakfast or lunch in a really out-of-the-way mom ‘n’ pop diner somewhere between Oxford and Tupelo. Someplace really small and run-down with good food. Like the little joint Clint Eastwood was sitting in at the end of Million Dollar Baby. An HE reader wrote me yesterday and said to have a meal of fried catfish at the Taylor Grocery in Taylor, Mississippi which is about 5 miles south of Oxford. “Look for Jimmy Buffett‘s autograph scrawled on the wall there,” he wrote.
“How times have I visited rural Mississippi in my life? Donut. How many more times am I likely to visit rural Mississippi, given my profession and tendencies?
“And one way or another I want to work in a visit to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. King was killed. And what about visiting the legendary Sun Records? I think we need to make it a three-fer in Memphis on Thursday before driving down to Oxford — Graceland, Sun Records and the Lorraine motel. It’ll probably take two or three hours. Okay, three. So we arrive in Oxford a little later than expected…big deal. You only live once.
“If the Oxford Film Fest driver doesn’t want to do the Memphis trifecta, maybe it would make sense to rent a car in Memphis airport and keep it for the three and a half days (and obviously work in the Tupelo thing in the bargain).
“I realize you can’t do everything so I’m foregoing a visit to the Memphis locations used in Sydney Pollack‘s The Firm, specifically the Mud Island footbridge and monorail and the Peabody hotel at 149 Union Avenue.”