Posted at 12:39 PM on February 6, 2009
by Euan Kerr
In recent weeks I've heard several parents say they read Neil Gaiman's 'Coraline' to their kids, and a) they loved it, b) it scared the bejabbers out of them, and c) the kids aren't sure if they want to see the film as a result.
It's a testament to the power of Gaiman's writing that it produces such a reaction. The reaction also underlines an on-going challenge to film makers: sometimes it's scary to be left with your own thoughts and reactions to an idea in a story, and the moment you see someone else's interpretation on screen the terror wanes.
And in this case, it's probably a good thing.
"Coraline" follows the adventures of a girl who moves to an apartment in creaky old house in the country. Her parents are gardening writers, and they pay more attention to their computers than their daughter, so she goes off to explore. Much to her amazement she discovers a door to a world which looks much the same but where life is much more exciting. The only thing is her ultra-entertaining "other" parents have buttons instead of eyes.
The horror of "Coraline" lies in the contract her "Other Mother" offers her. She can stay and enjoy the high life if only she agrees to.... well let's say it still makes me shudder seven years after reading the book. And the fact that it's the person who claims to be her mother making the offer, just makes it all the more horrible.
The film adaptation softens the horror. although it is still a richly creepy story which will delight both young and old. Stop motion master Henry Selick ("Nightmare before Christmas") creates a wonderful atmosphere filled with totally believable characters. It's a delicate balance of the delightfully quirky and the mildly gross which makes this film so special. It's also in 3-D, an effect which Selick uses with a refreshing subtlety. (If you are not in a rush, it's a lot of fun to sit and watch the credits which are filled with winged Airedale terriers.)
So to answer the question I have heard again and again: parents you know your children best, but this is a spinetingler that most youngsters will love.
Wendy and Lucy
A couple of weekends ago I asked an audience of about 100 people who had just watched "Wendy and Lucy" how many of them loved it and how many hated it. There was little equivocation: about half loved, loved, loved it, the others hated, hated, hated it.
I count myself as being in the first group.
The storyline is deceptively simple: Wendy (Michelle Williams) is on her way with her dog Lucy to find work in Alaska when her car breaks down in Portland. Then she loses Lucy, and now carless, homeless, and phoneless in a strange town, has to search for the single thing she loves most in the world.
What we end up with is a portrait of a young woman who is trying to make sense of a difficult world. As with her other feature "Old Joy," director Kelly Reichardt has based her film on a short story by Jonathon Raymond. In the DVD for that first film, she said she likes the space in Raymond's writing, because it allows readers to bring their own baggage,
Reichardt gives her audiences the same space. We see Wendy thinking a great deal, but it's rare that she gives voice to what's on her mind. It's natural for people watching to fill that vacuum, and suddenly you find yourself inside her head - or is it yours?
Michelle Williams does a remarkable job as a blank slate for us to write out our hopes and fears. Coupled with the gentle beauty of the cinematography, the elements of "Wendy and Lucy" combine to create an experience which is not for everybody, but deeply rewarding if you are one of the lucky ones.