Movie Review: Coraline
3-D films have been a gimmick for decades, nothing more than a simple novelty. At a time in the 1950’s it was taken seriously by many directors – Alfred Hitchcock went so far as to even shoot 1954’s Dial M For Murder
in 3-D, but insufficient technology and general public interest faded. In the 2000’s, when the public thinks of 3-D they recall cheesy Sci-Fi
films and child-like red and cyan cardboard glasses.
There has been a resurgence however, and major studios are investing much time, money and effort into 3-D, which they view as the next “big thing.” In 2008 some theaters had Bolt in 3-D, while Journey To The Center Of The Earth and My Bloody Valentine‘s main (read: only) attractions were 3-D films finally released in over 1,000 screens.
Which leads us to Coraline, a film where the 3-D is enhanced by the story and stop-motion animation and not the other way around. This isn’t mindless 3-D where things constantly jump out of the screen to scare you (well, it happens a few times) but uses subtle 3-D to successfully build on the animation. It’s a fine movie without the 3-D aspect which is a testament to the film maker’s brains being in the right place.
Coraline tells the story of a young girl by the name of, you guessed it Coraline (voice by Dakota Fanning). She just moved to a desolate area in Oregon. She’s not the nicest little girl but her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) are neglectful writers, leaving Coraline to her own devices. She meets her eccentric tenants: The former actresses (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French) living on the lower level, the circus man Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) who lives on top floor, and her the next door neighbor Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.), always with his cat. While rummaging through the mansion, she finds a hidden door which at first glance seems to lead nowhere. At night however, opening the door creates a portal to the “other world.” The other world has the same people (curiously with buttons for eyes) but they’re all much nicer to little Coraline and everything has gone from dark and mundane to extravagant and beautiful. Of course, since every movie needs conflict, she finds out this isn’t all as it originally seemed.
With director Henry Selick’s resume that includes The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, you can assume correctly the visual style of the film: Gothic flavor but with enough color and wonder to keep children’s attention. But it’s PG for a reason, I expect that it may be too intense and nightmare inducing for children under 6.
Coraline easily has the most smooth stop-motion I’ve ever seen, I actually thought it was CGI going into the film. That’s not the only thing it has going for it: It’s unpredictable and can be easily enjoyed by all ages. Too many animated movies masquerade as “family” films when really they’re children’s movies. Films like these, and notably Pixar releases, satisfy the intelligence level of all age groups.
Some critics are already saying this will be nominated for Best Animated Film for next year’s Oscars and I wouldn’t be surprised, its combination of lushness and maturity will appeal to the cranky old Oscar voters – let’s just hope they don’t get a headache after the movie like I did.
Album Revew: Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
The album’s two lead off tracks, “Everyone’s At It” and “The Fear” are acceptable, though not distinctive, which tackle, respectively, the prevalence of drugs and the spoiled culture of young female celebrity (“I want loads of clothes and f**kloads of diamonds / I heard people die while they’re trying to find them“). They’re polished, clean, and single ready (indeed, “The Fear” is record’s first single) but ultimately disposable.
It’s Not Me, It’s You takes a turn for the better on track 5 with the sublime “I Could Say,” starting a block through track 10 of the album’s best songs. Here is where her well written, offbeat style meets maturity to a satisfying level. “Who’d Have known,” the album’s best track, bears a White Album era Beatles piano stomp that looks at a budding relationship through a sophisticated lens. It’s followed by the dreamy “Chinese,” which paints a fully realized portrait as well as Lily ever has.
This album will appease Lily Allen fans who loved her first record, even if this is more dance oriented verses her debut’s more ska leanings. But one has to wonder if on her third album she needs to litter it with “controversial” tracks like “Not Fair” and the awful “Him” which ponders, among other things, if God is ever suicidal or tried cocaine. She’s established enough to where her mature tracks can top the charts; Lily should be able to move away from doing Eminem’s trademark of making the over the top, funny, zany song the lead single to hook the record buying public. This will set her apart from the Katy Perry’s of the pop world.
Album Revew: Franz Nicolay – Major General
Even though Franz Nicolay is one of the most recognizable people in punk rock, for the most part he has been relegated to the side man in his most popular gigs, The Hold Steady and The World/Inferno Friendship Society. With his solo debut, Franz, who double majored at NYU in jazz performance and classical composition, tries his hand at many different genres, and he has a surprisingly high Tony Gwynn-level success rate. Franz drifts from World/Inferno-esque vaudevillian punk, jazz, folk, pub rock with a twist of gypsy influence. Interestingly, for such an eclectic album with busy instrumentation, it’s not overwhelming to the listener. Major General does have a few weak tracks, but it’s from some bloatedness, not because of Franz’s music exploration.
Franz doesn’t pull any punches as he starts the album off with its best track, “Jeff Penalty.” As you may have deduced it deals with Jeff Penalty’s stint as singer for the currently comical-in-their-very-existence Dead Kennedys. Through ringing, punk rock gutiars he wails “I’m sorry Jeff what’s-his-name if we didn’t take you serious / but the punks all still sang along when you got to the chorus.“
Franz has a booming voice, sounding like Jack Terricloth with a bigger frame. Non-coincidentally, Jack Terricloth wrote the lyrics for two songs including “Dead Sailors.” Franz goes go over the top at points: “This World Is An Open Door” is a bit much vocally, it sounds like he’s trying to be weird for weirdness sake. Perhaps unexpectedly his best songs are the more contemplative restrained ones. “X-Games” hosts an acoustic guitar with a light pitter-patter of drums and is utterly beautiful, “Do We Not Live In Dreams?” has a jazzy kick that I hope to hear roll through the credits of a Woody Allen film in the near future, and “Note On A Subway Wall” is as effective as any mournful, moonlight piano ballad I’ll hear all year.
Recorded in six days, Major General will appeal more to fans of World/Inferno than The Hold Steady, though a few songs like “Quiet Where I Lie” sound right out of the Craig Finn songbook. Truth be told we all know he is a little wilder than Finn is. Franz sits alphabetically in my iTunes between Frank Zappa and Frederic Chopin, and I’m sure if asked, he would say he is comfortable there.
*****I’m sorry if this confuses anyone, but I rate movies out of 4 stars and albums out of 5 – it’s just the way I grew up reading reviews and it stuck. I guess if enough of you (a.k.a. all 3 of my readers) find it confusing I’ll move film reviews of 5 stars to keep them both in the same ranking system.*****