Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Movie reviews: AVATAR/CORALINE(even better)

Am having a movie orgy on vacation and just saw one that blows AVATAR out of the water-- CORALINE. If CORALINE was only half as brilliant as it is, it would still be 100 times more brilliant than AVATAR. I saw AVATAR a few weeks ago at a critics screening, and while I was initially blown away by the visuals, the 3-D began to look a little suspect: murky, ghosty, blurry action sequences. We were informed there was something technically amiss, and another screening was held wherein a special tech was sent to push the right buttons. I couldn't get to that screening, but some of my colleagues who did, thought the the film greatly improved. What I had noticed in the initial screening, however, was a moth-eaten plot laid bare. I was bored. As my colleague Janice Page of the Boston Globe remarked, it was DANCES WITH WOLVES all over again. She was absolutely right. I had seen DANCES and loved it once, set in the wild west with Kevin Costner speaking Lakota, but I didn't need to see it again. It seemed clear that James Cameron--a stickler for technical detail, mistakenly thought the familiar plot set in outer space, jazzed up with aquatic imagery left over from TITANIC, and laced with PC ethics and pseudo-religious overtones would hold an audience's interest. And maybe it does if the visuals are that astounding, but the bad screening revealed the fatal flaw, and the film on close inspection proves less than the sum of its parts--especially when some of the parts aren't working. It remains titanic at the box office --#1 again this week.

All of which leads me straight to the ravishing stop-action animated film CORALINE, the first ever to be shot in 3D. Like AVATAR, CORALINE also deals with a virtual world, but unlike James Cameron's one-dimensional inter-planetary adventure, director Henry Selick's (THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS) journey is endlessly kaleidoscopic, the 3D truly in service of a multi-dimensional universe and an infinitely-layered story. CORALINE resonates far beyond the borders of the movie screen. The story is deceptively simple. An unhappy little girl with a name no one pronounces correctly,(!) has just moved into a new house and discovers a secret door to a world where everything is perfect. The images of her tumbling through what looks like a birth canal and popping up into a house where mom is making her favorite foods, and dad is singing songs while leading her through an astonishing garden of unearthly delights beggar the imagination. The visuals are eerily stunning, accompanied by music as dangerously seductive as siren-song to mythical voyagers. It's Carmina Burana and Enya with a backwards twist. The film packs the deep punch of fairy tales from Hansel and Gretel to Hamlet (which it references as well as Alice In Wonderland and her Cheshire cat, contemporary video games, Fellini's movies, and Jung's forays into the collective unconscious. In short, CORALINE must find herself by navigating the treacherous corridors of her worst fears, here played out in a tricky mirror world of her own desires. What more can I say? Plenty. But I'm starting to foam at the mouth. Let's just leave it at "holy shit--what a great film. " (What are the odds that quote will appear in the ads?)

More tomorrow.
--stay tuned!

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