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by George Tiller

20 Jul 2009

On a dark night in 1965, a busload of Scottish children is driving down a deserted road. The bus comes to a stop and the children nervously get out. A bright light appears in the sky and the children go towards it. As they get closer one child runs away unnoticed. The light gets brighter and suddenly the night is dark again and the other children have vanished.

Switch to a bright sunny day in 2009. Children are playing in the park or at school recess. Then they suddenly stop everything and are frozen in place. Frantic parents and teachers desperately try to find out what’s wrong but the children are mute and immobile. After a few moments they say in a flat voice “We are coming” over and over. Then it stops as suddenly as it started and the children resume what they were doing completely unaware of what has happened. It all happens at the exact time to every child in the world.

Now of course as anyone who’s been watching the Torchwood series knows, that the obvious thing for the British government to do at this point is to call the Torchwood team and ask them to sort it all out. But not this time since it turns out that the government has a secret that they want kept very badly. So the Prime Minister (Nicholas Farrell) wants all evidence of the secret to be literally wiped out and instructs a senior civil servant, Mr. Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) to make sure it happens.

by Diepiriye Kuku

20 Jul 2009

4:30. Back inside to the A/C. It’s raining outside and I’m out of breath. Out of breath but not hopeless. I exhausted myself dancing under the rain on the rooftop. I danced- rehearsed—on the rooftop and made out with the rain. I can do this here in India; folks probably chuck it off to monsoon dance. Unless it’s immediately money-making, unless I show quick returns on investment, then this behavior would be considered crazy back in America.

My neighbors here in Delhi have heard monsoon ragas, perhaps since they’ve known life. And knowing this heat…! Really!!! The break is dynamic. I, too, celebrate the rain (I worship the sun in winter).

There’s little better than dancing in the rain. Yet, somewhere through my creation—fumbling with my earphones, which I keep pulling out as I move, so I have to restart. Somewhere in this dance I do, the rain forces me to arch my back. This choreography is truly inspired. It comforts me knowing that man others are dancing beneath this force, too, perhaps even right now. Yet, I see no one else and all rooftops are emptied. Yet, this is Delhi, there are people everywhere and someone is bound to be watching.

I bow back and let the rain fall on me. My hips are fully pressed forward, legs absolutely straight, knees locked; neck stomach, back and thigh muscles fully engaged. This beat has me going. And the rain, the rain, lightly but briskly slapping my concrete rooftop, silences this city. And I am calmed.

by Matt Mazur

20 Jul 2009

Ok, “girl power” is not new territory for Barrymore, and it is nice to see her breaking into the directorial boys club, but after a career-altering performance in Grey Gardens, this is what she has to offer? It looks fun, the politics look safe, and hopefully it will probably make her a lot of money to parlay into future endeavors, but everything about this looks stale and aimed toward the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants crowd. But it is Drew Barrymore and she can be extremely charming. I’m torn.

by Rob Horning

19 Jul 2009

The NYT Ideas blog linked to this essay by Paula Marantz Cohen about the lack of modest swimsuits in The Smart Set, and I was reading along, completely buying into it. “Bathing suits: absurd, wrong-headed garments. I continue to be mystified by how people continue to buy and wear them.” Yes, I thought. I have often heard these complaints. It seems crazy that bathing suits are so immodest. Why don’t we wear dignified bathing costumes like they did in the olden days? “We laugh at the old bathing costumes, but we should be laughing at ourselves. It’s a lot more ridiculous to see her thunder thighs and his man breasts.” Yes, there is something shameful about prurient self-display. Let’s close up the beaches until common decency returns!

Then I mentioned the article to a friend, and she said patiently that it would be extremely uncomfortable to actually try to swim in one of those Victorian get-ups, and that the reason swimsuits have become more immodest is in part because they are more functional that way. It’s not necessarily some crazed conspiracy to humiliate women concocted by the bathing-suit industrial complex. It’s quite possible that the article is entirely ironic.

This seemed blatantly obvious suddenly, and I wondered how I couldn’t have thought of that immediately. I had fallen under the sway of the peculiar fascination of Victoriana, the same sort of blinding lapse of judgment that must lead people to listen to the Decembrists.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of conflating prudishness with proper respect for the mysteries of life, easy to imagine that widespread modesty might lead to a restoration of the link between sexual passion and some kind of holy transcendence like you read about in euphemistically engorged D.H. Lawrence novels. Maybe the bare ankle could again stoke the fire in the loins and heat our elemental urges and forge our link to the divine. Or maybe not. But the body of iconography that we know associate with the Victorian period—bathing costumes, etc.—exist to service those longings we may occasionally have for an era in which desire was more difficult to arouse and therefore must have seemed much more precious. Now, of course, an elaborate industry of persuasion and an ever-more infiltrative media apparatus works to keep us in a perpetual state of desiring from which it’s hard to garner relief. Victoriana offers a fantasy of escape into an era of less intensive marketing, where desire felt sacred because it was much easier to believe it was generated from deep within oneself.

by Bill Gibron

19 Jul 2009

We critics are often accused of celebrating the theatrical experience to the detriment of those who can only afford (or socially tolerate) the home video version of same. There’s no real difference, they argue, and point to DVD and its newest format cousin Blu-ray as a means of making their commercial point. With clarity and crispness of image no longer an issue and the lack of etiquette challenged audience members to contend with, the living room beats the Cineplex every time - or does it?

Henry Selick’s Coraline is a perfect example of this entertainment dichotomy. On the one hand, the new Blu-ray from Universal is so special, so jam-packed with added content goodness, that it’s not hard to see why some would wait a few months to experience the film in such an expansive, insightful manner. On the other hand, no amount of technological tweaking can recreate the stunning Real 3D image offered when the movie opened last March. The two color process offered as part of the two disc collector’s edition, while acceptable, drains some of the magic from the movie.

And Coraline is all about magic. The wistful nostalgic effect of stop motion animation is indeed potent. The moment a member of an earlier generation sees the static, superlative work of such single frame artistry, visions of Ray Harryhausen, George Pal and his Puppetoons, and the dream factory forged by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass instantly come to mind. It’s all Mad Monster Parties and the adventures of Tubby the Tuba. As the format flourished during the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, the love for all things Clokey (Gumby), O’Brien (King Kong), and Danforth (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) grew. In the ‘80s, Will Vinton carried the magic mantle, while the ‘90s saw Nick Park and his Wallace and Gromit gain international approval.

Yet somewhat lost among the mythic mix is aforementioned genius Henry Selick. Sidelined by his association with Tim Burton, a lame live action misstep (Monkeybone), and an under-appreciated if terrific take on Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach), he’s now back - and he’s brought English icon Neil Gaiman along for the ride. Together, they tap into areas heretofore unheard of for a family film, bringing both the singular and the sinister to the mix. The result is a quirky dark fantasy which while grounded in a kind of every kid reality, transcends the mundane to become something quite special indeed. 

When her family moves to rainy, gloomy Oregon, Coraline Jones finds herself lost in a new and wholly unfamiliar apartment house. Her upstairs neighbor is an eccentric Eastern European named Mr. Bobinsky. He once ran a famous mouse circus. Now, he seems insane. Downstairs live the equally odd actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible. The former burlesque style glamour queens are obsessed with their slobbering terriers and their inflated figures. And then there’s Wybie, the grandson of the woman who owns the building. He’s a jabbering pain in Coraline’s already sour demeanor. 

One day, our heroine discovers a door to another dimension, a place where her gardening book author parents are attentive and thoughtful, where Mr. Bobinsky is a regal ringmaster, and the team of Spink and Forcible offer their own naughty nightly floorshow. But something is not quite right with this fanciful place. All the people have big black buttons sewn into their faces - in place of their eyes - and in order to stay, Coraline must agree to do the same. Little does she know that dark forces are plotting to keep her prisoner in the other realm forever!

In a genre packed with derivative visuals and too hip for homeroom pop culture jibes, Coraline is a welcome return to pure animation splendor. It’s gorgeous to look at, inspiring to experience, and satisfying in ways few modern motion pictures - no matter the proposed demographic - ever strive to achieve. In the hands of Selick, we witness the kind of imagination and invention that only Pixar can provide - and with none of that newfangled technological twaddle to get in the way. This is untainted artistry, plain and simple, skill sets unseen in today’s joke a minute cinema-nipulation.

Granted, Selick does take liberties with Gaiman’s prize winning novella, reconfiguring the setting to a dreary Pacific Northeast and expanding on characters barely considered in the book. As a result, Coraline feels like that motion picture rarity - a true collaboration between author and interpreter. Make no mistake, this director still admires and abides by the tome’s “horror’ overtones, never lightening up the material to make it more mainstream. Instead, Coraline is a film you have to fall into fully, an outrageous statement of childhood fear fashioned out of wish fulfillment, candy floss, and a whole lot of sharp, pointy things.

Selick excels within this brooding big picture, and he certainly brings the spectacle here (enhanced, naturally, by the application of excellent 3D effects). He pays homage to Pal and the Puppetoons with an amazing mouse marching band that has to be seen to be believed. The level of precision and overall scope is jaw dropping. Similarly, Madams Spink and Forcible give a floorshow that will sail right over the heads of prepubescent audiences, but definitely satisfy a depressed drag along dad or two. Selick sets much of the film outside the perplexing pink apartment house, utilizing the surreal garden set-up and the surrounding forest to find new avenues of expression. And there’s no denying the man’s eye for set and character design. The figurines employed here and the backgrounds they exist in are fully realized and ridiculously alive.

Of course, character is very important to this film’s success, and Coraline doesn’t skimp on personality. Thanks the wonderful work by the voice actors (Dakota Fanning, Terri Hatcher, Ian McShane, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders all acquit themselves more than admirably here) and the way in which these entities are employed, we experience untold amounts of depth. Some might see this film as too edgy or cold, calculated without adding the necessary nuances of emotion or identification.

Frankly, it’s a foolhardy argument. Coraline is involving, entrancing, heartfelt…and in the end, rather hopeful. We want this young girl to be happy, and fear she will take up with the Other World residents because they promise things that are superficial and instantly gratifying. If there’s a singular theme here, it’s the tagline currently being used for the film’s promotion - “be careful what you wish for”. Such unearned satisfaction can only lead to pain and disappointment.

Present for almost every bit of added content here, Selick explains the journey of Coraline from page to screen in such a compelling fashion that we forgive the occasional directorial foolishness of the people making the bonus features (quick jump cuts, random editing jumbles). His commentary clarifies facets about Coraline’s home life, while the deleted scenes show that not every inch of stop-motion footage makes it into the film. The voice actors get their say, as does Gaiman, who is very proud of the results.

Technically, the movie looks amazing, the Blu-ray capturing the level of detail Selick strived for flawlessly. But we are still along way off from viewing the film in the perfected 3D of the theatrical experience. The two color concept does work, but drains a lot of the color out of the image in the process. Other elements like U-Control and BD Live! add even more to the overall experience. 

In combination with the qualities Selick typically brings to the party - passion for stop motion, an attention to detail, a true love of the overall artform - Coraline can’t help but be charming. It’s like a trip back in time, to the moment when you first realized that a giant ape could actually climb to the top of the Empire State Building, or a creature from Greek mythology could ‘come alive’ scare you to your core. It’s a flawless illustration of why pen and ink cartooning (and its modern computer-based companion) just can’t compete with the painstaking approach of this old school medium. Perhaps audiences will finally understand and appreciate what Selick and his cohorts have been championing for decades. This kind of animation is truly amazing, and Coraline is a perfect example of its remarkable, resplendent wonders.

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