Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review of Coraline

At the screening in late January, Jeffrey Lyons was one of the guests. What's weird is that I expected him to be with someone, like Michael Medved or that woman he's with now. I didn't have the chance to say hello, but he seemed like a nice guy.

With insider stories like this, it's only a matter of time before a corporation snatches this blog.

By the way, my hardiest congratulations to Chris Null. is now the property of AMC--American Movie Classics--which is awesome for everyone.

Anyway, the review was originally published in the Februrary issue of ICON, which is run by the hardest working woman in publishing, Trina Robba.

February is a pretty fallow period in the movie world, highlighted by the media attention devoted to the Academy Awards and the various nominees, their reactions, what they're wearing, and what they do to stay trim.

New movies are still being released, of course, though it's doubtful many will be remembered by the time the summer starts. The fact that Coraline, adapted from Neil Gaiman's novel, opens February 6 is both a blessing and a curse. It's great that a wonderful movie exists during a time that's dominated by titles riding Oscar buzz and the utterly unwatchable. That same environment, however, makes it easy for the public to ignore great movies (e.g. In Bruges).

Eleven-year-old Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning, nixing the adult presence) has just moved with her parents to Oregon from Michigan and is not in good shape. Her neighbors--a top-heavy Russian acrobat and two elderly British showgirls--are just plain weird, as is the boy who keeps hanging around her. Mother and Father (Teri Hatcher and Mac anti-pitchman John Hodgman, both well-cast) are too busy writing about plants to entertain Coraline, who goes about counting windows and doors in the house to keep the boredom at bay.

While on her mundane search, Coraline finds a small, painted door on a wall. She begs her mom to open it, only to find her anticipation answered by a bricked-over entrance. Nighttime is an entirely different story. Coraline is guided to the door and finds that it's a portal to another, far more entertaining version of her home. The dinner table looks like something out of FAO Schwartz, and the meals are better than the presentation. The previously weird neighbors put on wonderful performances that would put P.T. Barnum to shame. The outside garden is a merging of Las Vegas and Better Homes and Gardens.

So what if the super-cool "Other Mother" and "Other Father" have buttons for eyes? For the blue-haired, previously repressed Coraline, this is living. As she keeps visiting the other side, things turn from fun to weird to horrifying. Eventually, she has to team up with a talking cat (voiced with urbane perfection by Keith David) to save her real parents and herself from extinction. Coraline captures the young heroine's struggle with dazzling stop-motion animation--be sure to grab your 3-D glasses--but writer/director Henry Selick doesn't solely rely on the visual stimulation of a fantasy world. Coraline is a great influence for young girls--smart, resourceful, and built in their image. The story is taut and full of consequences, so children and adults will be hooked. Selick (The Nightmare before Christmas) has been here before, and his confidence shows. Coraline never stalls and never panders. It just entertains the hell out of us--visually, verbally, and emotionally.

For those who cast an unforgiving eye on the animated genre, that's fine. I hope you enjoy enduring another three hours of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or the shrieking theatrics of Bride Wars, which apparently endorses shrewish, catty behavior among marriage-minded women. In light of such alternatives, Coraline is a warm house in the moviegoer's winter of discontent. Let's hope enough people take advantage of that.

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