Monday, October 24, 2005

WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT

WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT
Written by Bob Baker, Steve Box and Mark Burton
Directed by Steve Box and Nick Park
Voices by Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter

The small farming town where this fair story takes place is home to good, peaceful folk, who spend the majority of their time and energy attending to their prize-winning vegetable gardens in preparation for the annual vegetable harvest festival. They are simple people with simple values like hard work, community and being humane to all creatures. Perhaps the same can be said for WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT creators Steve Box and Nick Park. Years of dedication and attention were required to assemble this first feature for the Academy-Award-winning characters of Wallace and Gromit, and this film highlights similar themes to Park’s previous claymation feature, CHICKEN RUN, like being kind to all the animals. However, choosing all the right vegetables does not a great stew make.

Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) is a goofy, awkward, good-natured fellow who owns and operates his own security company to protect the villagers’ prize vegetables, along with the help of his reliable and crafty dog, Gromit. They are always successful, always humane and always admired until the appearance of the Were-Rabbit (a giant freak cross between a rabbit and a werewolf). It is their mission to save the vegetables so that the festival can go on as planned. Without this festival, these people will have nothing so there is a lot hanging on Wallace and Gromit’s heads. Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) is Wallace’s potential love interest and her persistent suitor, while Victor Quartermaine (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) acts as the counterpoint to Wallace’s humane approach to pest control by insisting that violence is the only way to effectively attack their problem.


It’s a solid story with solid characters and some solid laughs but WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT is about as exciting as well, a vegetable festival in a small town. I first wondered if perhaps I had not tried to see the film through the intended audience’s eyes. After all, it’s colorful, the characters are enjoyable (in fact, Gromit is downright endearing) and there are sporadic moments of excitement and laughter. Then I noticed that none of the children in the audience seemed to be having very much fun either. Without trying to sound extremely cliché, the film lacked heart and today’s kids (this larger one included) didn’t bring theirs from home to make up for what was lacking ... But damn those rabbits were cute.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED
Written and Directed by Liev Schreiber
Starring Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz and Boris Leskin

When a movie is called EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, does this mean that the film is well lit? If that’s the case, then I guess everything actually is illuminated in actor-turned-director Liev Schreiber’s first film. However, if the intent was to refer to some mental or spiritual illumination, I would say “everything” is a vast exaggeration.

Quirky characters do not automatically translate into funny ones. Three men make up the main characters on this road trip. They are Alex (Eugene Hutz), a young Russian, gangsta breakdancer who helps his father out by assisting author Jonathan Saffron Foer (Elijah Wood) on a tour to find a woman who can connect him to his grandfather during the second World War. They are driven around on this tour by Alex’s grandfather (Boris Leskin) who played his own sordid part in the war. Alex’s grandfather does not speak English and is the designated driver despite being legally blind. The assumption is he fakes it. Meanwhile, as the author of the book this film is based upon, Wood has white, pasty skin, a slick, geeky haircut and thick, dark-rimmed glasses. As a collector, he picks up little reminders here and there and places them in tiny plastic baggies. The image is comical but more caricature than character. Consequently, by the time anything meaningful or painful happens in these characters’ journey, you feel nothing as they were never real people to begin with.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

PROOF

PROOF
Written by David Auburn
Directed by John Madden
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins

Hal: What are we trying to prove? Who are we trying to impress? Why am I always looking for answers?

PROOF answers all three of these questions in its first thirty seconds as Catharine (Gwyneth Paltrow) stares blankly at the television, her 27th birthday having just begun. She flips through channel after meaningless channel, settles on nothing and turns to look directly into the camera. Her eyes staring directly at me say, “Nothing, no one and it doesn’t matter.” Of course she’s disastrously unhappy but when did that stop anyone from pretending like they knew all the answers?

When the sun rises, she will celebrate both her birthday and the burial of her father (played by Anthony Hopkins), a mathematical genius who drastically changed his field three times before losing his mind. Before the day is out, her sister (Hope Davis) will fly in almost solely to push her further into her hole and she will take a chance on life by allowing a young man (Jake Gyllenhaal) to hold her through all of the crazy mess. The events of the day will give her the courage to share her own mathematical findings, her own proof. Only now she’s actually got something to prove, because it isn’t clear that she is this proof’s genuine author.


A mathematical proof, one that checks out, shows that there is order in the world, that there are definitive answers. If Catharine wrote it, than she’s got plenty to prove. And whom does she need to prove this to? Her sister who spends all of her time completing mundane tasks from her meticulous “to-do” list to show that she is functional, structured, successful? Her boyfriend who’s got to get Catharine’s proof checked by the guys at the math department because he obviously doesn’t believe that girls can do math? To her father who was thrilled his daughter’s interests followed his own but only really wanted her to work along side him? And what of herself? If she proves that she wrote this proof, that she has the talent, the ability, the genius that may very well surpass her father’s, how long will it be until she begins to lose her mind? And does she want to know the answer to that last question?

Catharine ponders aloud that sometimes everything makes sense in her head and other times, it all seems crazy. Perhaps we don’t always need proof to say which of these realities is the true reality. Perhaps a little blind faith would do us all some good.


FLIGHTPLAN

FLIGHTPLAN
Written by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Jodie Foster and Peter Saarsgard

There is a moment about half way through FLIGHTPLAN where I began to wonder how the mystery that drives this film was going to maintain my interest. There are only so many times an airplane captain can debate with a passenger as to whether or not a certain other passenger was ever in fact on board this particular flight. Of course, Jodie Foster plays the passenger he is arguing with here and the missing passenger is her daughter. Understandably, she isn’t backing down. Consequently, logic takes on instinct and filmmaker Robert Schwentke allows us to debate her sanity on our own. Combine this with the camera moving frantically, yet stylishly, through the maze of this massive aircraft, peeking in and out of every possible hiding place and you’ve got a movie soaring miles above whatever in-flight movie the passengers of FLIGHTPLAN were subjected to. (For their sake, I hope it wasn’t the infinitely less superior RED EYE.)

Throughout the search, a range of complexity washes over Foster’s face, from fragility and fear to determination and will. In the confines of her claustrophobic world up above the clouds, she never gives up hope amidst a group of people who care more about the disturbance to their sleep than the fate of a small child. It’s this hope that dispelled my concerns and kept me involved until we landed safely at the closing credits.


Monday, October 10, 2005

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE
Written by John August, Pamela Pettler and Caroline Thompson
Directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson
Voices by Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Emily Watson

A tiny, blue butterfly flutters about after being set free from the clasp of two frail, pale hands. It flies aimlessly up the streets and down the alleys of the fictitious British city of yore that is the setting of TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE. It is a tiny burst of colour in an otherwise dark and gloomy (read: typical for Burton) city and consequently dark and gloomy life of Victor, who has just set this creature free after having immortalized it with paint and paper. Victor, voiced effetely by Johnny Depp, is to be married to a woman he’s never met the very next day in order to increase the stature of his family - a fate equivalent to keeping a beautiful butterfly under glass until its inevitable death.

These nuptials must go according to plan, as much is at stake for both families involved. What fun would all this be if that’s what actually happened though? While trying to get a grip on his pre-wedding anxiety in the forest just outside of town, Victor meets Emily, the "Corpse Bride", voiced by Helena Bonham Carter. Emily’s story is the stuff fairy tales are made of. Once in a love with a rich, handsome type, that her parents did not approve of, she made the decision to elope. Only her fiancé had other plans. To be more specific, he killed her and ran off with her dowry. Not one to be deterred from her quest for true love, Emily decided to stick around the forest until a gentleman came along who would love her the way she deserved and for the rest of her afterlife.


Who hasn’t been there before, more or less? Jilted by love one too many times, we wait for the perfect someone to come along and find us sitting there, sweeping us away with promises of forever. Like Emily, we might end up waiting a while. Are we as good as dead if we just sit and wait for love to find us? I know we’re tired and broken but we’re certainly not proactive, if that’s our approach.

Being dead isn’t so bad in this town though. In fact, the underworld is a hell of a lot more swinging than the one up on the ground. Skeletal folk living it up, singing of love, in vivid, wild colour while the living focus on their bank balances and inappropriate behaviour at the dinner table. This contrast could have ended up being terribly blatant but Burton and co-director, Mike Johnson, aren’t satisfied with leaving it so black and white. Victor and his intended bride-to-be are actually in love. Thus there is something worth fighting for, something worth living for, something ripe with possibility that grows amidst the drab, dark despair of this supposed life.


To both push this story forward and kill some time, Burton and Johnson rely heavily on misplaced musical numbers, the opening song is promising but so much time goes by without another song popping up that you forget you’re even watching a musical. And despite my reluctance to make obvious comparisons, I can’t help but miss the jubilant and disturbing soundtrack to Burton’s previous, more cohesive stop-motion film, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Thankfully, the characters are both animated and voiced so symbiotically that the visual feast is more than enough to keep your stomach from growling with discontent. In fact, it was mostly during scenes where no one was singing that I was hungry for more.

Hope always manages to make its presence known in the demented world of Burton films and, in the case of TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE, it carries you through to the end believing in love and the sacrifices one must make to let that love grow. One character asks, “Can a heart still break once it’s stopped beating?” The answer is found in the awesomely lively eyes of the already decaying Corpse Bride herself, a woman subjected to understand that if you try to keep life locked under glass, be that yours or someone else’s, death is the only inevitability.