Knight at the Movies Archives
A stop motion feature with style and substance, an enoyable relationship dramedy centered on the M word
The fascination with stop-motion by directors Tim Burton and Henry Selick is easily traced back to 1964’s holiday special “Rudoph the
Red Nosed Reindeer,” the beginning of a long run of similar specials from producers Rankin-Bass (ironically these specials were
created in a variation on stop-motion which the producers termed “animagic”). Burton and Selick worked together on 1993’s A
Nightmare Before Christmas and each has gone on to other films utilizing the process (James and the Giant Peach for Selick, Corpse Bride
for Burton). But none of these movies has managed to stick in the mind as indelibly as the Rankin-Bass special from which they
sprang. That is until Coraline, Selick’s latest foray into the process – this one, the first shot in 3-D. The movie’s a gently twisted
variation on “Alice in Wonderland” and it’s a charming winner.
The story centers on the oddly named heroine (voiced by Dakota Fanning), a new resident at the eccentric Pink Palace Apartments
whose distracted parents (voiced by Teri Hatcher and “The Daily Show’s” John Hodgman) are constantly busy at their laptops trying to
finish copy for a gardening catalogue. Bored and out of sorts, Coraline goes exploring. She meets a nerdy kid next door, her
eccentric neighbors, the two theatrical sisters living in the basement (voiced by the hilarious Dawn French and “Ab Fab’s” Jennifer
Saunders), a once renowned circus acrobat living upstairs (voiced by Ian McShane), and a knowing black cat (voiced by Keith David).
Then she finds a little, Being John Malkovich-like door which acts as a rabbit hole to a new, rather trippy world that’s a gloriously
intoxicating doppelganger of the one she’s left behind (the garden, with its exotic blooms, in particular, seems inspired by a very
pleasant LSD trip).
Each time Coraline goes through the vortex like tunnel (a pulsating combination of bright blue and pink that suggests Georgia
O'Keeffe’s painting “Music - Pink and Blue II”) the fantasy world gets more lush and inviting. A dazzling circus performance, a
theatrical experience shared with an audience of flying terriers, and a room filled with the coolest toys, not to mention all her favorite
foods soon convinces Coraline that this is the place for her – until she awakens to its enormous danger.
Though the film shares the same delight in all things gothic that Nightmare, Corpse Bride and Monster House did Coraline is sweeter in
tone and the visual panache (and there’s tons of it helped by the 3-D effects which have the frozen in place charm of antique
stereoscope postcards) is matched by a substantial story and a memorable leading character that one can root for (and the crackpot
eccentrics are a hoot to boot). Selick has also gone with a delicate music score by French composer Bruno Coulais and They Might
Be Giants that helps sustain the dreamy tone of the picture.
The film, adapted by Selick, is based on the graphic novel by Neal Gaiman (which is darker and in addition to “Alice” has hints of
“Hansel & Gretal” and even “The Stepford Wives”). Gaiman was also responsible for the source material for Stardust, the 2007 live
action fairytale that I think is a classic of the genre but got unfairly overlooked by audiences. Hopefully, Coraline won’t fall down
another rabbit hole and suffer that same fate.
Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johanssen, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connolly, Ginnifer
Goodwin, and Justin Long all take turns pontifically about love in He’s Just Not That Into You, an all-star Grand Hotel-sized
romantic dramedy based on a best selling novel by stand up comic Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.
The film relays a quartet of intersecting stories involving a group of friends and acquaintances living, sometimes loving, and always
kvetching in Baltimore (far from the usual John Waters locations). All of them revolve around relationships or hoped for
relationships at various stages. Goodwin, the most insecure character at the outset (who naturally, will be the one to find herself at
the fade out), narrates. Barrymore (whose company also produced) plays an ad rep at Baltimore’s gay newspaper whose online
dating life is daily vetted by a trio of limp-wristed, pearl clutching gay co-workers (Wilson Cruz, Leonard Nam, and Rod Keller). The
stereotypical portrayal of these characters isn’t particularly surprising or offensive because the straight characters are predictable and
Still, the picture’s enjoyable in the easy, familiar way that many other variations on the original French La Ronde have been (think
Love, Actually without the wackiness or British accents). None of the main characters are gay or are involved in anything other than
typical relationships (these folks wouldn’t be caught dead at an after hours sex club like Shortbus) and the question of marriage –
getting married, not getting married, giving up on a marriage, etc. – is the top angst producing topic that engages everyone.
After watching this gaggle of straight folks go through all manner of anxiety about their unfulfilled lives – which they seem to mostly
blame on the lack of a marriage license – I suddenly felt a sigh of relief. When the lights went up I turned to the female film critic
next to me and said, “At last – a movie that’s made me realize how lucky I am that I can’t get legally married.” He’s Just Not That
Into You, a nice, breezy comedy once again reminds me that being straight ain’t all its cracked up to be.
Coraline-He's Just Not That Into You
2-4-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.