Do you believe in super-natural shenanigans? Hollywood sure does. There might not be a more consistent genre over the years than the unexplained – be it ghosts, goblins or other things that go bump in the night.
Some of cinema’s biggest surprise hits have come from the genre, movies like “The Sixth Sense” or “The Blair Witch Project,” that truly tap into our desire and curiosity about the unknown.
Henry Selick is a master of the macabre, cementing his legacy with “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach.” And he’s put another feather in his cap with the release of CORALINE (PG-13, ***1/2), a creepy, yet fun tale for kids decked out in his trademark stop-motion animation.
Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) has just moved with her parents to a rainy boardinghouse in England, where she’s bored and ignored – that is, until she finds a miniature door in the family den.
It turns out that this mysterious door is the entryway to an alternate universe – one where Coraline’s mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman) are much cooler, have more fun and serve a lot better food than the slop she gets at home.
There’s just one difference – all the people in the alternate world have buttons for eyes. For a while, that’s OK, as Coraline enjoys the magical fruits of this world while merely tolerating her boring life during the day.
But things are not exactly what they seem through the door, and when things turn sinister, it’s up to Coraline and a streetwise cat (David Keith) to rescue her parents from her wicked Other Mother.
“Coraline” is a feast for the eyes, thanks to Selick’s inventive visuals, and they are aided here by a strong 3-D presentation, especially on the Blu-ray format. This isn’t the kind of film where things leap off the screen, but the added depth of field plays a big role, especially in the fantasy world.
This is a faithful adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved children’s book, so little people familiar with the story will enjoy seeing it on the big screen. However, I don’t think this is a movie for all kids – there are some unsettling images that will likely lead to nightmares for those too young.
But considering that most kid’s films pour on the cuteness like sugar, it’s nice to see a film that’s not afraid to show the dark side.
We have a lot of fun laughing at Nicolas Cage, but there’s no denying that’s he’s got some sort of sixth sense about choosing his roles. Oh sure, there’s a few stinkers here and there, but for the most part, he’s been a steady hitmaker.
His latest surprise smash, KNOWING (PG-13, ***), doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but it’s an effective little thriller that only goes a little off the rails at the end.
Cage stars as John, an astrophysics professor who takes a letter his son receives during the unveiling of a time capsule at his school, and discovers that it actually some sort of complex numerical pattern detailing all the tragedies of the world over the last 50 years.
As it turns out, there are three events still to come, and as John discovers when he is witness to both a plane crash and a subway derailment, the numbers don’t lie.
Searching for answers, he finds the daughter (Rose Byrne) of the young child who wrote the message 50 years ago. Skeptical at first, she comes to realize that her mother wasn’t crazy after all.
So what’s behind this mysterious message? Throughout the film we get glimpses of weird men in black, whispering voices and presages of eventual doom, but we don’t find out exactly until the final reel. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say I found this to be the weakest element of the film, although I also want to add that it’s refreshing to see a downbeat ending.
Director Alex Proyas is an old hand at these moody sci-fi pieces, having helmed both “The Crow” and “Dark City,” and his visual style is apparent throughout in its dark hues and shadowy figures.
This is the kind of role that Cage can nail – his manic, restless energy is perfect for the kind of harrowed desperation his character undergoes over the course of the film, although there are certainly some laughs to be had as well.
I am not a fan of PG-13 horror movies, so I skipped out on THE UNBORN (PG-13, * 1/2) during its run in theaters.
And while it is nothing more than your average possession flick, I must give credit to the filmmakers for unleashing some of the most bizarre and unsettling imagery to the PG-13 set in quite some time.
I imagine that if some teenage boy took a girl to see this, she was going to be all over him – a good quality when it comes to horror flicks.
The film’s weakness, however, is in its story, which takes itself far, far too seriously for a trifle like this. Anytime the Nazis get invoked in these kinds of movies, you’ve gone a little too far.
Anyway, the story revolves around Casey (Odette Yustman, who looks like Megan Fox’s little sister), a girl who loves to roam around the house in the tiniest of underwear. She starts seeing these weird visions about a demonic looking boy and messages like “Jumby wants to be born.” Oh, yeah, and one of her eyes turns a different color.
As it turns out, she was actually a twin, and her younger brother died in utero. Apparently, this drove her mother (Carla Gugino, in an uncredited role) crazy, although her father (James Remar) seemed to be OK with it.
This all has something to do with the Jewish folklore creature called the dybbuk, and Gary Oldman shows up to help explain it all, but really, writer-director David S. Goyer falls into all the traps to today’s horror – spooky kids, slimy bugs, a sassy black friend, quick jump cuts.
Yet, watching someone’s head spin completely around followed by said thing crab walking up the stairs is not without its small joys. And for that, teenage boys around the world are thankful.