Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

I know I'm very unhelpful reviewing all these movies that have been out for years, but hey, it's what I'm watching. Library movies are a heck of a lot cheaper than going to a theater. (and frankly, the only thing I'm remotely interested in is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
I'll be reviewing a slew of Pixar movies, but before I get to them, here's a Tim Burton stop-motion gem: Corpse Bride. Nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2004, it lost to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. (I like to believe they gave them that award simply because it was 'owed' for all the outstanding shorts they've made, because I enjoyed BOTH other nominees much more)
The premise, while not entirely original, is certainly not the typical Hollywood based-on-something-with-an-established-fanbase format. The ideas of a corpse bride and the butterfly spoiler-y thing at the end of the movie are based on Russian and Jewish folktales. Victor, a young, nervous, yet very handsome (because he is voiced by Johnny Depp) fishmonger's son is set to be married to Victoria, a young woman (voiced by Emily Watson, not to be confused with Emma Watson, thoughyou certainly won't once you hear her voice) of a noble yet penniless family. The marriage is arranged, and neither have seen the other before the start of the movie. Johnny-- I mean, Victor is also a talented artist and pianist. Victoria is not, but he still manages to fall in love with her at first sight. At the rehearsal, however, Victor cannot managed to do a single thing correctly, and humorously sets Victoria's mother's dress on fire.
Victor retreats into the woods where he practices his vows. After many botched attempts, he finally gets them right, inspired by a flower given to him by Victoria. He places the ring on a branch which turns out to be the skeletal hand of Helena Bohnam Carter, whose character name is listed simply as "corpse bride" in the credits even though we know what her name is, and both Victor and Barkis even call her by name. (they couldn't even put it in parentheses? Really, Tim Burton. Not to mention your ego at insisting your name comes before the title. It's like Nightmare, where you created but didn't direct. You directed. You have your credit. AND it's based on folktales!)
Victor's unexpected marriage sends him to the world of the dead, where we are recounted with Emily's tale by Danny Elfman as Bonejangles, a gravely-voiced skeleton. Elfman's music is wonderful as always, but perhaps just a little too forgettable. You'll be humming "Halloween" more often than Victor's theme or "Remains of the Day". (It's seriously called "Remains of the Day"? But it's all about the corpse bride...?) But at least he helps bring back the movie-musical. Baz Luhrman deserves much, but not all of the credit. There's Disney and Burton, too, you know. (and I suppose Twentieth Century Fox, but who really remembers that Anastasia WASN'T Disney?)
A common misconception is that both Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride are claymation. They are, in fact, filmed using models, the latter with very advanced mechanical heads that change expression at the turn of a gear rather than the entire replacement of a head. There is a bit of CG mixed in, but it's been a few years since I've watched the special features and don't remember where and what.
Tim Burton certainly creates an original world with this movie, reminiscent of Nightmare, but completely different at the same time. His fascination with the dead is entertaining, so we'll overlook the borderline morbidity of it. It's a good film, with fun music and very unique visuals, but it's not quite at the level of Nightmare, though it's refreshing to have a much more active heroine. (two, if you count Victoria) Did I mention that I like strong female characters? I recommend it, but not over Nightmare.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


By far the best movie I've seen for a long time. It's amazing how much a character can be developed when he, for the most part, doesn't speak. Our friendly Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class says "WALL-E", "Eva", (a cute mispronunciation of "Eve" that may or may not be a reference to the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion) "Wow", "directive", and I swear I heard a "no" in there somewhere. Eve is a bit more talkative (a whole word more) and much easier to understand.

Pixar has always been on top of the computer animation field, which is one of the reasons I dislike Disney's animated movies so much. Disney jumped on the bandwagon. In fact, just about everyone except perhaps Dreamworks jumped on the bandwagon, and no one can even remotely compare. WALL-E has some of the greatest computer animation I've ever seen. The detail in the garbage-covered Earth, including a stumbling WALL-E in the background, and a "camera" that changes focus between the two was (at least to me) a groundbreaking animation technique. This type of shot was repeated a number of times in the film, also when WALL-E was chasing after the spaceship. There may have been more, but unless you're looking for it, you really don't notice. The Earth sequences especially, but the whole movie was put together as though it was shot live-action, and indeed, this is the first Pixar movie to have any live-action at all. It blends so well into the movie, though, you don't really notice. I had to physically read the trivia on IMDB to think. "...huh. The 'Hello Dolly' parts were live-action".
Most reviews of WALL-E have been very positive, but a few concerns have been raised. Does lack of dialog make the movie boring? Honestly, American films could do without quite a bit of dialog. I wasn't bored in the slightest at any point during the film, but I also make a habit of watching everything ever produced by Studio Ghibli, who can be very sparse with dialog. Is it boring to an American audience? I think the animation alone ought to keep you entertained, not to mention WALL-Es garbage-searching antics, and his cute cockroach-like friend. (who lives in a Twinkie that is still intact in its wrapper after 700 years)
There are some very obvious environmental themes in the movie. Does this make it unsuitable for kids/do these themes dominate the movie? Hardly. The main plot is WALL-E and Eve's romance, followed by the fate of the Axiom. I don't believe Stanton necessarily meant anything by having the world covered in trash; it was simply the setting for his movie. Miyazaki's heavy influence on Pixar is certainly a factor, and yes, Stanton may share those views, but it seems that people's interactions with each other and their actions in their lives was a much larger theme--people relying on technology meant they never had to do anything for themselves, which led to what you see on the Axiom. The environment being completely destroyed was just the means to that end. Now, if the people had returned to Earth only to find it permanently uninhabitable, or found no other plant life, that would change things. But as it was, yes there are environmental themes, but no, they do not dominate the movie (unless you dwell on them, in which case, you're probably looking for them)
WALL-E and Eve's romance is now one of my favorite cinema romances, and I was watching Casablanca last night. I find it pretty ironic that the first Pixar movie where romance is the MAIN plot features robots. A Bug's Life I'm not incuding in that, because I'm pretty sure Flick's actions were driven by his want to set things right for the colony, while WALL-E's decisions mostly revolved around Eve. Chase after the spaceship and leave Earth? Trying to follow Eve. Rescue the plant? Most likely as a present for Eve, though it can be hard to tell with no dialog. ^_^;; Continue to give Eve the plant, even after the run-in with Otto? Trying to help Eve finish her "directive". Anyway, one of the cutest romances I've ever seen in a film.

I would recommend this film to anyone. It's rated G, so for once, it's entirely kid-friendly. There were no "adult" jokes, no innuendos, no pretty much anything bad at all. It was the best movie I've seen all year.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Happening

It wasn't even like a normal scary movie with monsters and creepy things and phone calls in the middle of the night. It didn't have some weird twist at the end like most of his movies. But I am horrible at scary movies, and it freaked me out. I think it might have just been the way he did it, the music, and lack of music. I didn't look at half of it. When the guy was in front of the lawn mower, I yelled at my friends "I wanted to see WALL-E!".
But despite the various creative methods of death, it really wasn't that great of a movie. I didn't like any of the main characters. The trigger for the mass deaths was very easy to figure out, and doesn't even entirely make sense. (why would the bees vanish? bees pollinate plants, so plants need the bees, right?) I still don't understand why the old lady freaked out a couple of times. But it was entertaining, and scared the heck out of me, so I guess it was good enough. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, though.