Day: February 27, 2011

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

2005
Warner Bros.

Directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson
Produced by Tim Burton and Allison Abbate
Written by John August, Pamela Pettler and Caroline Thompson

There’s only two types of filmmakers that would do a stop-motion animation film these days: one who is either insanely patient or one who has a genuine and deep love for the art form. Most animation is done on computers these days and stop-motion animation just simply isn’t done any more because…well, let’s put it this way: you don’t do a stop motion animated film if you’re in a rush. Simply put: the process involves building extraordinarily detailed model figures and then moving them just a millimeter, shooting one frame of film, then moving the character another millimeter, shooting that frame and so on and so on. I’ve read that when this process is going well, stop-motion animators can get two minutes of film every two weeks, which they consider fantastic.

Ray Harryhausen is the undisputed master of stop-motion animation and the battle between half a dozen live actors and nearly a dozen skeleton swordsmen in “Jason And The Argonauts” is still considered to be the greatest stop-motion animated sequence of all time and even Mr. Harryhausen has said that doing that sequence nearly drove him crazy. There’s a nice little homage to Mr. Harryhausen in TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE that I liked. I like it when I see acknowledgments to artists like Mr. Harryhausen as it’s easy to forget that men like him were the ones who were able to pioneer their art form that give us movies like TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE.

And the movie should be seen and appreciated for the brilliant technical work that’s gone into making it but as for the actual story itself…well, that’s another matter altogether….

Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) is roped into an arraigned marriage by his parents (voiced by Tracy Ullman and Paul Whitehouse) who have gotten rich from selling fish, if you can believe it. The marriage will bail out the parents of Victoria Everglot (she’s voiced by Emily Watson while Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney are the parents) who have position, breeding and social standing but are stone cold broke. The marriage is advantageous all way around: The Van Dorts get social credibility while The Everglots get a much needed transfusion of cash into their blue blood veins. The only ones not happy about the marriage is Victoria who was hoping that she’d be in love with the man she going to marry while Victor is simply too much of a nervous wreck to be able to go through with the rehearsal.

Victor goes to the graveyard behind the church to practice his wedding vows and while doing so places the ring on what he thinks is a rotted twig but is actually the finger bone of Emily (Helena Bonham Carter)

whose arm is sticking up out a hastily dug grave. Emily was murdered by the man she was supposed to run off with and marry and when she comes up out of her grave, still garbed in her tattered wedding dress she falls in love with Victor and takes him with her to the land of the dead where their marriage is celebrated. Meanwhile, back in the land of the living, The Everglots have decided that since Victor has apparently run off, they quickly fob Victoria off on the mysterious and sinister Baron Barkus Bittern (Richard E. Grant) whose eventual role in the story will come as no surprise. Will Victor be able to return to the land of the living in time to prevent Victoria’s marrying Baron Barkus? And even if he does, what will happen to Emily since he did marry her of his own free will and even though she’s dead as Julius Caesar, she do love that man of hers and has no intention of giving him up to some floozy whose heart is still beating.

TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE is the kind of movie that I expected I would fall in love with as I did with “The Nightmare Before Christmas” but I just couldn’t get into this one. It’s absolutely wonderful to look at and the stop-motion animation is spectacular but the story didn’t grab me at all. Only Tim Burton would make a love story this gothic and dark, filled with murder, death, betrayal and good-natured mean-spiritness.  But I found myself admiring the technical aspects and not really paying much attention to what was going on story-wise. I liked the voice work a lot and I liked how the animators even managed to make Emily sorta sexy even though she’s a rotting corpse. But the movie isn’t horrific enough or romantic enough or funny enough. Tim Burton throws in a lot of elements but none of them seem to come together, especially the big musical number, which explains the story of The Corpse Bride. The sequence is just thrown in there mainly because I think Burton wanted a sequence with a chorus line of dancing skeletons.

In fact, the land of the dead doesn’t seem to be such a bad place as everybody seems to having a better time dead than they did alive. The colors are brighter, everybody’s partying and wisecracking all over the place and Victor is happily surprised to be reunited with his dead dog Scraps who is now just a playful skeleton. “You should have seen him when he had fur,” Victor says fondly while tickling the dog’s skull.

I think Tim Burton was going for a different sort of Halloween movie just as his “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was a different kind of Christmas movie but I thought that earlier film much more fun and entertaining with characters that really moved the story. That doesn’t happen here and actually, the movie seems slow moving and even plodding in spots and even though it’s only 76 minutes it seems twice as long. But most of the wisecracks coming from the dead folks are really funny and The Town Crier has what is perhaps the best line in the movie and the only one that made me laugh out loud.  But the Peter Lorre inspired maggot who lives in Emily’s head was just downright annoying and a distraction from what was really going on.

So should you see TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE?  It’s a magnificent movie if you’re looking at it strictly from a technical standpoint and as a Tim Burton movie it’s definitely worth a viewing if you’re a fan of the director.

Rated PG
76 minutes

Popeye

1980
Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Productions

Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Robert Evans
Written by Jules Feiffer
Based on the “Thimble Theater” comic strip created by E.C. Segar

POPEYE is kinda like the bastard child that nobody talks about or even acknowledges at family reunions. Whenever discussions about movies based on comic books or comic strips are mentioned nobody ever remembers POPEYE. Hell, people will remember really obscure films based on comic strips such as “Friday Foster” starring Pam Grier or “Brenda Starr” with Brooke Shields and Timothy Dalton. But I mention POPEYE and people give me a look of honest surprise, saying : “They made a movie out of POPEYE?” Which is a shame because POPEYE is really outstanding in a lot of ways.

It’s an origin story we’re given as Popeye (Robin Williams) comes to the remote seaport town of Sweethaven. searching for his long lost poppa, Poopdeck Pappy (Ray Walston) who abandoned his orphink (that’s how Popeye pronounces ‘orphan’) son years ago. Popeye is regarded with hostile suspicion by the townspeople but finds lodging in the home of the Oyl family: family patriarch Cole Oyl (MacIntyre Dixon) his capable wife Nana Oyl (Roberta Maxwell) their well-meaning but slightly shifty son Castor Oyl (Donovan Scott) and their beloved daughter, the vain, prissy and impossibly skinny Olive Oyl (Shelly Duvall).

During the course of his search for his poppa, Popeye meets the other residents of Sweethaven: Olive’s ex-boyfriend Ham Gravy (Bill Irwin). The greengrocer George W. Geezil who is constantly at odds with and continually threatens to murder his best friend, professional moocher J. Wellington Wimpy (Paul Dooley). The Taxman (Donald Moffat), town drunk Bill Barnacle (Robert Fortier), the gambler Harry Hotcash (David McCharen), professional dirty fighter Oxblood Oxheart (Peter Bray) and His Mudder (Linda Hunt). And then there’s Bluto (Paul L. Smith) the hulking mass of muscle who runs the town and collects the taxes for the mysterious Commodore who no one can ever remember seeing.

Popeye and Olive don’t take to each other right away. He thinks she’s a dizzy dame and she thinks he’s too short. But their feelings for each other soon change when they find an abandoned baby Popeye names Swee’pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt) which Olive thinks is a stupid name but Popeye comes back with one of the movie’s best lines: “Well, what were you going to name him? Baby Oyl?” This doesn’t sit very well with Bluto who was supposed to be engaged to Olive. He beats the hell outta Popeye and taxes the Oyls into bankruptcy. But salvation comes from an unexpected source: Swee’pea, who can apparently predict the future by whistling to signify ‘yes’ when he’s asked a question. Bluto learns of the baby’s talent and hatches a plan to get Olive for himself and use Swee’pea to find The Commodore’s treasure, located somewhere on the treacherous Scab Island.

That’s not much of a plot but then again how much of a plot do you actually need? The real fun of watching the movie comes from the extraordinary sets and performances. An entire town was actually built on the island of Malta and it still exists today as a tourist attraction/theme park http://www.popeyemalta.com/ so the town of Sweethaven has a solidity that you don’t normally see in other movies of this type. Sweethaven doesn’t look like a movie set on screen. It looks like a real town.

Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall do such a great job of bringing Popeye and Olive Oyl to life it’s scary. Shelly Duvall in particular does an amazing job of giving Olive an incredibly unique gangly body language. Robin Williams has Popeye’s well known mutterspeak and hilariously mangled mispronunciations down so well that if you decide to watch this I’d advise you to turn up your TV’s volume a couple of notches higher than usual or turn on the closed captioning or you’ll miss half of Popeye’s best lines. But it’s the little things in this movie I find amusing. Such as Cole Oyl’s constantly insisting that everybody owes him an apology. Or the way Olive holds her head and the look on her face when she answers other characters. Or the character of Roughhouse who would seem to be a pretty tough guy in his own right as there’s a couple of scenes where Bluto intimidates the citizens of Sweethaven but actually goes around Roughhouse or ignores him totally. And Ray Walston is always a joy in anything he does. Look closely at the gang of toughs Popeye has a brawl with in Roughhouse’s Café and you’ll see one of ‘em is Dennis Franz.

And for somebody like me who really only knows Popeye from the cartoons I was amazed at how many supporting characters there actually are in his universe. I’m only familiar with Popeye, Olive, Bluto, Swee’pea and the Jeep and until I saw this movie and did a little research I had no idea all of those other characters existed. And they are some characters indeed. POPEYE benefits from some of Robert Altman’s signature directorial traits such as overlapping dialog and there’s always something going on in the background. The characters aren’t just standing around to give the scene window dressing. A lot of times they’re not even reacting to what the main characters are doing. They’re going about their own business, doing something totally unrelated to what the main characters are doing. In other words, living their own lives.

The musical numbers are written by Harry Nilsson and they’re not done like your traditional musical numbers where everybody stops to sing. They’re interwoven with the dialog and don’t so much start and stop as just fade in and fade out. They’re not memorable songs by any means but they’re cute and charming enough. I’m particularly fond of the “Sweethaven Anthem” and “Everything Is Food”. Ray Walston has a catchy number called: “It’s Not Easy Being Me” But “I Am What I Am” and “I’m Mean” end abruptly just when they’re starting to get cooking. And the ending is something of a letdown because the whole movie has been building up to a massive knockdown slugfest between Popeye and Bluto but it never happens. There’s a really silly swordfight before we get to the moment we’ve been waiting for: Popeye eating that can of spinach and walloping the piss outta Bluto. The resolution of the fight is over much too fast to be satisfying. But we do get to learn what Popeye really thinks about spinach and it’s the biggest laugh in the movie.

So should you see POPEYE? Sure. It’s so good spirited in its desire to entertain that only a rock hearted person could dislike it. The best word I can come up with for this movie is ‘charming’. It’s a nice little movie for the whole family to watch together.  POPEYE is a great Saturday or Sunday afternoon fun movie. Enjoy.

Rated: PG
114 minutes

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

20th Century Fox

2010

Directed by Oliver Stone

Produced by Edward R. Pressman and Eric Kopeloff

Screenplay by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff

Curious thing about WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS.  The whole movie is about money.  People in this movie talk about it constantly, obsess over it, worship it, and revere it.  But never once in the movie do we actually see anybody handling money or using it to purchase anything except for one important scene.  And I’m inclined to think that Oliver Stone excluded the actual appearance of money for a reason.  Instead we see the things that money can buy.  The luxurious condos and lofts.  The elegant mansions.  The beautiful clothes and stylish cars.  The exclusive restaurants you can eat in and the clubs you can party at.  And we see the effect the pursuit of money has on people as well.

But as Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) himself says, money even isn’t the point.  It’s playing the game.  The game is all there is and the more money one has is just the way the game players tell who’s winning and who’s losing.  And who should know better than him?  The character of Gordon Gekko became the symbol for Wall Street in the 80’s and 90’s.  Michael Douglas has said in interviews that for years after he made that movie, young stockbrokers would come up to him and tell him they got into the game because of his performance.

The movie picks up on one time corporate raider Gordon Gekko after he’s done time in jail following the events of “Wall Street”. Upon his release he writes a successful best-selling book and goes on the lecture circuit.  It’s at a book signing he’s approached by Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf) a hungry and ambitious young trader who also happens to be engaged to Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).

Jake wants Gekko’s help to get revenge on Bretton James (Josh Brolin) CEO of a major investment bank.  James engineered the collapse of the investment firm Jake worked on.  The collapse of the firm and the humiliation of the way it was done caused the managing director and Jake’s mentor Lew Zabel (Frank Langella) to take his own life.  Gekko’s willing to help, working behind the scenes to gather information and advising Jake on the best way to use it to get back at James.  But in return, Gekko wants Jake’s help so that he can reconcile with Winnie who wants absolutely nothing to do with her father.

Jake is walking a fine line here as Winnie tells him plainly that her father is not to be trusted and he’s only using Jake for some reason.  But Jake is undeniably attracted to Gekko’s uncanny business insight and knowledge and is eager to know what Gekko knows.  It’s an unenviable position to be in.  Especially when Jake learns first-hand that James is as manipulative and cruel as Gekko himself.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS is one of those movies where I didn’t understand a blessed thing the characters were saying when it comes to stocks and trading and securities and anything having to do with that world.  But on the other hand I felt smarter listening to them talk.  And it’s to the credit of the screenwriters that they break it down so that you can follow who’s doing what to whom and who’s manipulating what and why without making the characters sound as if they were dumb.

Michael Douglas is clearly having a ball playing Gordon Gekko.  He’s all smiles and charm with a ‘Hail and well met, good fellow!’ type of cheerfulness.  I didn’t get the impression he was trying to top his legendary performance in “Wall Street” but instead simply slipped back on Gordon Gekko’s skin and walked around in it.  It’s an effortless performance that provides the movie with a lot of the best lines and best scenes.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Shia LeBeouf as an actor.  He’s professional, sure.  And he’s enjoyable to watch.  But he hasn’t yet mastered the knack of disappearing into his role and letting the character do the work.  Josh Brolin is always worth watching and he doesn’t disappoint here.  No matter what he’s in, I’m guaranteed a good performance.  Carey Mulligan holds up her end quite well but her character is a puzzle and even in the movie other characters wonder why she’s engaged to a Wall Street guy when she hates her father so much.  There are also a couple of cameos in here that are worth looking for.

If there’s any surprise here, it’s in Oliver Stone’s direction.  He’s mellowed out as a director and the man who directed such angry movies as the original “Wall Street” “Born On The Fourth Of July” or “Salvador” isn’t directing this movie.  He’s gotten more thoughtful and even-handed I think.  And it shows in his solid direction.  I love a director who puts the camera down, doesn’t jiggle it all over the place, puts the actors in front of the camera and lets them act.  And that’s what Stone does here.  But he seems to have relaxed a bit and his usual political slant isn’t in evidence here or at least I couldn’t see it.  In fact, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS plays out as a more-or-less conventional drama set in the financial world and isn’t the searing indictment of Wall Street and the nation’s current financial crisis I expected it to be.

So should you see WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS?  I think so.  It’s entertainment that has enough of modern day relevance to provide just enough of thought to edge it out of the “it’s just a popcorn movie” tier.  And it is fun to see Michael Douglas give life to his most famous movie character again.  It’s not as good as the original “Wall Street” but after all these years it’s a whole lot better than it had to be and that’s something right there.

Rated PG-13

133 minutes