October 7th, 2005

Corpse Bride

--or "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," to give it its proper title (although, as another critic said, who's else?), is a charming, beautiful, sweet, sentimental and macabre movie. It is a stop-motion animation piece, although made with sophisticated puppets rather than claymation like "Wallace and Gromit," and was voice recorded during the making of Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," with many of the same cast members. Johnny Depp voices Victor Van Dort, an introverted and inexperienced young man who is being shanghaied into an arranged marriage uniting his families fish-mongering fortune with the name of impoverished, sheltered noblewoman, Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). His shyness causes him to fumble the wedding rehersal so disasterously, he flees into the nearbgy forest to collect himself and practice his vows. Thinking it is merely a handlike twig, he puts the wedding ring onto the shriveled finger of the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) as he recites the vow, which rouses her from the shallow grave where her murderer concealed her body months before. The Bride (she actually has a name, Emily) was lured into the forest by a seducer promising marriage, and then was murdered and robbed of the money she brought to finance the wedding. Since then, she has waited for the promised nuptuals, and is only too willing to have Victor in place of her robber bridegroom. Emily is sweet and not at all vampiric, but nevertheless succeeds in dragging Victor to the Underworld with her, where the two of them work out whether or not a mixed marriage (he unwilling, she willing; he alive, she dead) can work out.

Musical prodigy Danny Elfman provides a score and songs that are very Gilbert-and-Sullivan in tone, very enjoyably so. The one stylistic departure is the song of the Bride's story, sung in jazz style by Elfman (as "Mr. Bonejangles"). --There's just something about dancing skeletons that suggests jazz--.

The puppets are capable of highly nuanced expression--the Bride, especially, expresses wistfulness, frustration, puzzlement, and love as well as the easier expressions of joy, rage and sorrow.

The production is beautifully designed, with the topsy-turvy Oz-like touch that the land of the living is gray and dull, while the Underworld is full of lurid color. This is carried over thematically as well: the Underworld's wedding celebration is raucous and joyful, while that of the living people is mingy and nearly lifeless.

There isn't much mystery about who killed Emily: the small cast and Mr. Bonejangles' shadowplay make that pretty obvious. The real plot concerns whether or not Victoria will succeed in rescuing Victor from Emily's bony clutches when their families think they've both gone mad, or if Victor and Emily can be dead happily ever after, and does work out in surprising fashion with a wonderfully poigniant final scene.

Excellent support from Christoper Lee as Pastor Galswells, Burton stalwart Deep Roy as General Bonesapart, Enn Reitel (channeling Peter Lorre) as Emily's maggot version of Jiminy Cricket, and Paul Whitehouse as the dead's "head waiter," among other roles. Veteran big-name actors Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney came out to voice Victoria's snooty parents, showing that being in a Burton film may be "the thing" to do.

In my opinion, a beautiful movie and an artistic triumph, and has my highest reccomendation. Young children probably will not get the plot, and may be creeped out by scenes such as the one where the Bride's eyeball falls out of her head revealing a toothy talking worm within--.

'Serenity" with spoilers

On the opening night of "Serenity," the feature-length adaptation of the too-soon ended "Firefly" television show, created by Joss Whedon (of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV fame), we rallied twenty or so local fans and descended upon the local AMC Cinema. Like lots of others, Georgie and I had come to the "Firefly" phenomena late, only catching a couple of episodes on television before its cancellation. We bought the DVD set, and were croggled by the spectacular stupidity of televison executives. The show had great characters, interesting (although not always very science-fictional) plots, and crackling dialog.

"Serenity" the movie gives us a season's worth of story arc regarding traumatized River Tam (Summer Glau) and her brother, Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher). In what initially seems to be a flashback, we see how Simon rescued his sister from what is now explicitly shown to be a Alliance brain-washing program, where she is being "enhanced" to become a psychic assassin. We then see that the escape sequence is being reviewed on security camera records by The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who has been assigned to track the pair down--at any cost. This is because she may unwittingly have plucked even more important state secrets from the minds of officials who viewed her progress.

Cut to Serenity: Inara (Morena Baccarin) and Book (Ron Glass) are not with the ship, having gone to separate retreats. Mal (Nathan Fillion) and Simon are at odds over Mal's insistence on using River as psychic cover on a bank robbery, and the arguement blows up when a badly timed Reavers raid nearly overtakes the crew. Mal won't brook Simon challenging his authority on shipboard and is determined to set the Tams on shore. He paradoxically rescinds his decision whan an implanted psychic trigger causes River to demonstrate her abilities as a killing machine. From that point on, it is a race to keep ahead of the ruthless Operative to discover and release the secret held in River's mind.

The movie has all of the series' witty dialog (which, oddly enough, includes times when Mal is lost for words--*) and clever characterizations, including girly-man pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), competent/innocent engineer Kaylee (Jewel Straite) and agressive coward Jayne (Adam Baldwin).

Everyone who was there thouroughly enjoyed the movie. It was well written and well-paced, and had some interesting philosophical things to say about the power of belief for good and evil, and the road to hell that is paved by good intention.

The thing that interests me is, if this film is successful, what does it bode for any return to televison? I think perhaps there will be none. The movie has given us much of River's secret, although not all, and, although it is likely that Alliance agents will continue to hunt her, we've reached an endpoint in that story arc, and a new ongoing plot will need to be started. We've also seen the secret of the Reavers, and, although they continue to be a potential danger, they've lost their mystery. Given what happened in this picture, notably the destruction of a sizable Alliance space fleet and the release of a very embarassing state secret, Malcolm Reynolds and crew ought to be numbers 1 through 7 on the Alliance Most Wanted List, and I wonder if that level of tension could be sustained. Also, there are the shocking deaths of continuing characters Wash and Book to consider. Wash and Zoe's relationship was charming and unique to TV. Book had a lot of stories left untold, something teasingly hinted at in the story. If the TV show recommenced, would Wash and Book be dead? Is the movie part of "real" continuity, or, if the TV series recommenced, would none of this have happened? I think that by dealing honestly with his fans and giving us a story that dealt seriously with real and important elements of the Serenity universe instead of doing as some "Star Trek" films have done and just giving us an extended TV episode, Joss Whedon may hav shot his bolt and snookered himself out of the chance for another ongoing series. Only time will tell.

Very well done film, with intense "fantasy violence" as one critic put it. "Fantasy violence" in this context means that although River ends up standing Kali-like literally knee-deep in dead Reavers, there's minimal blood and gore--.

*Mal:Do you want to run this ship?
Jayne: Yeah, I do.
Mal: Oh.
Mal: Well, you can't!