Saturday, October 01, 2005


So after some problems along the way, I've finally gotten to see Joss Whedon's directorial debut, Serenity. Back in January, I watched the whole Firefly series, and enjoyed it. Whedon's work is most notable because the way that he allows characters and plots to develop and evolve over the years. That's why with both Angel and Buffy it was years towards the end of the series, (5 and 6 respectively) that were my favorites. We knew the characters so well, and they held so much baggage, it was riveting to watch that conflict unfold.

Firefly had a better start than either Angel or Buffy, the pilot was great, and though there were some rough patches in the middle, they really seemed to have things together by the end, and we were looking at a lot of potentially interesting stuff ahead. Alas, the series was cut down thirteen episodes in, and with this film we get a chance to see what could have been.

I was a bit surprised by how successful the film was at reconciling the need to simultaneously make sense to new viewers and appeal to fans. I never felt like there was really obvious exposition, even the stuff at the beginning with River was new to series viewers. Some points might have been hit a little too hard, like Kaylee's feelings for Simon, but that's acceptable and doesn't really take away from the film. I loved the long tracking shot that introduced all the characters, it recalls the bravura steadicam in the season premiere of Angel: Year Five.

The film moved really well, unlike a lot of recent action movies, it actually told a developed story, it wasn't just jumping from one fight scene to another. But at the same time, there was always a feeling that the characters were in peril, either from the Alliance or from River. And as the film built to its conclusion there was a great sense of escalating tension, particularly with Wash's sudden death.

My favorite part of the film was River and her unhinged fighting talent. Like Joss, I love female action heroes who fight in a graceful, stylish way. I loved her fight in the bar and the way it was as much an element of visual spectacle as narrative. Like the fight scenes in The Matrix it's largely about just showing off cool choreography.

The only element preventing it from reaching the heights of the best stylized fight scenes was the music, which was servicable, but never outright cool unto itself. Now, there's a school of thought that holds that score music should be invisible, the same goes for visual technique, but I think it's best when the music is simultaneously serving the story and cool unto itself, as in something like Oldboy. If they had a score on the level of Oldboy's, this movie would have been even better, but Joss was clearly aiming for a score that was subtle, not calling attention to itself. And I did like the fact that the show's theme song returns for the end credits.

I liked the fact that it felt like all the characters had a reason to be in the movie. A lot of times in a film that's based off an existing property you end up with characters who are there because the fans demand it, but have no reason to be in the movie, like in the X-Men films. However, here everyone has something to do, and the gradual introduction of Inara and Book meant that they actually had a more important role to play in the story than if they'd been there from the beginning.

Visually, the film was quite cool. The effects weren't always completely convincing, but the most important was that the visuals they were creating were great. I loved the 3-D hologram of River and Simon at the beginning, and the worlds they moved in were all interesting to look at. Clearly creating a world is important to Joss and this film does that.

I really liked the new villain, 'The Operative.' He reminded me of Lilah in the sense that there's a mutual respect even as our heroes know that what he/she fights for is wrong and has to be opposed. And the final confontation between him and Mal was great, though was overshadowed by the great fight in the tunnels versus the Reavers. I love the image of River with the ax standing over the dead bodies.

Still, it was not a perfect film. Joss' work gave me a much greater appreciation of the virtues of longform serial storytelling, to the point that the traditional three act story film seems woefully underdeveloped. A couple of years ago, my love of film split down two paths. I look to features for style and great filmmaking, with people like Wong Kar-Wai, while I look to TV stuff for stories. It's not a strict divide, but after experiencing Buffy, a film like Spider-Man 2 seems woefully underdeveloped when addressing the same themes.

So, compared to Joss' other work, a lot of the character stuff in this film seems strictly by the book screenplay writing, set up a character's problem, have them go through stuff, then resolve it. Kaylee's arc is a great example of this, here her desire for the doctor is easily resolved and we end at the point where the series would start to go deeper and explore the issue surrounding this new creature, her relationship. But as in film, a kiss at the fadeout is code for a presumed happy ending. Similarly, the Alliance threat isn't exactly easily dispatched, but it doesn't have the epic feel of a Buffy season ender. The film was a great ride, but it lacks the issues and subtext of Whedon's best work.

I can understand wanting the respect of working in features, but considering the fact that Whedon's primary strength is as a writer, a storyteller, he's just not able to do as much in film. Watching a lot of series made me realize that having a single main character is woefully inadaquete, because the people around him frequently have equally interesting stories, and to focus on a single narrative misses that. That's why I love something like Magnolia, because it explores the lives of a whole bunch of characters. The stuff I've written recently all has a whole bunch of characters, I'll create someone to serve a plot point, but as I write I 'discover' their story, and I have to write it in, and the beauty of serial storytelling is that you have the freedom to do this, to write in additional people.

But it's difficult to criticize a film what it didn't do. Serenity finds the right balance between satisfying new viewers without alienating viewers of the series. As much as I love Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, it's a film that's so exclusive, referring to detailed aspects from all episodes of the series on top of Lynch's already complex storytelling, it's not a film made for mass consumption, and even though this is part of why I love it, it's also something that led to a critical drubbing and Lynch's inability to get financing for his films for five years. Even if Serenity isn't a hit, I think it will show execs that Whedon can make a great action film for a low budget, and that's going to lead to a lot more.

Friday, September 30, 2005

David Lynch at Yale

Last month I found out that David Lynch would be giving a lecture at Yale, as part of a promotional tour for the David Lynch Foundation, an organization he's in charge of that's designed to promote meditation as a part of education in schools. Lynch is one of my favorite filmmakers, and is the creator of my favorite TV series, Twin Peaks, so this was an essential event for me. According to the promotional material, the lecture was going to be on "Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain," so I wasn't expecting something exclusively about his films, but still, I was rather disappointed by what went down.

The event opened with a roughly twenty minute Q&A period with Lynch, where people could ask questions about his films. I got on line to ask a question, but never made it to the front. Anyway, there was some interesting territory covered here. Someone asked about whether Lynch would work with Kyle McLachlan again, and he said he wanted to, but there just hadn't been a project where Kyle would fit. And looking at the three films he's made since Fire Walk With Me, I'd agree. Personally, Kyle was so good at playing Cooper, I have trouble seeing him as any other character. So, Lynch would either have to place him in someone very close to that role, or someone so far removed from it that he's barely recognizable.

Lynch also talked a bit about the process by which he created the music for his films, describing scenes to Angelo Badalamenti as Angelo worked out music to accompany it, which is pretty cool. Angelo's stuff for Twin Peaks is phenomenal, but I don't notice it that much in Lynch's other work, he's got some great cues in the second half of Mulholland Dr., but I don't see his music as so completely essential to most of Lynch's films as some other scores are. Lynch also made the good point that you can't just use your favorite songs in the movie, which is why he had to wait ten years to find a way to fit This Mortal Coil's 'Song to the Siren,' into one of his films.

He also talked about his move to digital filmmaking. He's using the Sony PD150, a camera I love. I used the PD170 to shoot 'Ricky Frost,' so I'm actually using a better camera than Lynch. I'm using film in my production class this semester, and coming from digital, it's extremely annoying and restrictive, something Lynch echoed, discussing the freedom that digital gives him. I love being able to hold the PD170 in my hand and just shoot a scene anyway I like, instead of having to have someone else doing focus, and struggling to run the camera as I shoot. So, I'm in total agreement here, digital is much better as a filmmaker, though the question still lingers of whether the footage looks as good as film.

He also talked some about his intuitive creative process, relying on instinct to construct films. However, the vast majority of the event was focused on the meditation stuff. Now, I'm well aware of the beneficial effects of meditation, but the way it was presented here was both off putting and boring. Lynch was used as an attraction to get you in the door, so that you'd have to listen to Dr. Jon Hegeland, a physicist who appeared in the awful film 'What the Bleep Do You Know?' This was a film that touched on many of the same issues he discussed tonight, fit into a story that starts out as an educational video level narrative, then descends into an absoultely bizarre blend of lowbrow humor and scenes that are supposed to comment on the stuff they're discussing, but just turn out being bad.

Anyway, this guy was an awful speaker, going on forever in a boring way, and the subsequent demonstration of the power of meditation on the brain using an EEG was so fraught by technical difficulties, it was rendered essentially meaningless. But, I've got a greater problem with the whole foundation. They're all about spreading the power of meditation, so during a two hour presentation they don't actually show you any of the techniques, they just try to get you to sign up for their programs. That leads me to believe that the event isn't so much about promoting meditation as promoting what their organization is selling.

I think it would have been much more effective to give us a how to guide to TM, step by step, simple, and encourage people to pursue it on their own. This would have been much better than just going on about its power and how easy it is, without telling us actually how to do it. That's all I wanted to know, and they didn't give it to me, but I don't really want to go to a class or something to find out, so now I'm not going to pursue it.

So, I sat through this presentation because Lynch was going to be doing more Q&A after. Now, I suspect a couple of the people in this segment of the Q&A were plants, just because they asked very specific questions that allowed David to go on about meditating for a while, and they used all the terminology he had used, in a way that indicates they had pre-existing knowledge of what David's speaking about, and the specific terms he uses.

Anyway, the event was marred by the fact that people asked the worst questions I've ever heard, absoultely apalling. First off, everyone prefaced their question with a couple of minutes about themselves, absoultely pointless speaking about how they're big fans, and respect him and stuff. If you're at the event he probably knows that, and we don't need to hear. There's three minutes of intro and then ten seconds to ask the question, just ask your question and get off the mic, nobody cares about you.

And then there's people who took a step further, one girl did that speech just so she could give David a copy of one of her films, and another guy was there just to tell David about his psychiatric condition (seriously), and another to ask David if he'd seen a film about another meditation technique.

If you have a chance to ask David Lynch anything, don't ask him these stupid questions. The man who created Twin Peaks does not need to hear about your schizophrenia when he could be talking about his creative process and clarifying things about the films. This guy has such a font of knowledge that only one man in the world has, so let's hear from him. It's like if Jesus came back and did a Q&A, and people spent all the time saying how they're big fans, you've only got Jesus for an hour, there's more important things to discuss than the fact that you're a fan.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to ask Lynch a question, and he left the venue so quickly after the event I couldn't talk to him at all. I think it's a nice thing to do to stick around for a few minutes after and talk with your fans. It means a lot to them and doesn't take you long. I know with the most recent Joss event, I was annoyed by the questions, but I left with a good feeling because I got to talk to him after.

So, I'm glad I went to the event, but I'm a bit annoyed that Lynch was just used to get people in the door to listen to this presentation on TM, and I feel like they're approaching that in the wrong way. Meditation isn't something that should be bought or sold, as they seem to be doing, I'd love it if they went on a tour teaching people to meditate, instead they're trying to get people into their organization and no actual meditation happened. And the awful questions made me think more negatively of humanity as a whole. My god, those questions, there were three decent ones out of roughly fifteen asked.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

X-Men 139-161

The journey through Essential X-Men continues, I finished Volume 3 a couple of days ago, and I've read a few issues of issue four, but I'm going to save the brood storyline for my next review. Anyway, last time I was talking about X-Men, it was more about the issues surrounding Chris Claremont's standing in comics history than the actual book, and this sure was riveting, but I'm going to try to touch a bit more on what happened in these issues.

So, we pick up right after the Dark Phoenix saga, generally considered to be the high point of the book, and I wouldn't argue with that. It's huge scale storytelling, a really long, well developed plot that provided a sort of backbone to the early part of Claremont's run. You don't really notice how essential the Phoenix stuff is to giving the book a sense of direction until it's gone. In these issues, the book sort of drifts, there's some good storylines, but not as much character development and the plot doesn't really seem to be going anywhere.

For starters, there's the awful Wendigo storyline. Alpha Flight are barely even characters, yet they turn up again, and another awful Marvel universe character finds his way into the book, namely Wendigo. The X-Men work much better in they're in a world with a sharp dichotomy between human and mutant. The whole metaphor of a world that hates and fears them is undercut if the world simultaneously loves the Fantastic Four. And for that reason alone, it's better if these other Marvel Verse characters don't find their way into the book. However, there's also the fact that they're generally speaking awful characters. Wendigo is the same as Sauron, a man who turns into something evil and attacks people. The story hits the same awful beats and drags on.

However, Claremont and Byrne return to from with 'Days of Future Past,' the issue that inadvertantly led to some of the most complex continuity in any mainstream property. But, while the issue may have wrought Cable, Bishop and more, as a standalone piece it's a great chunk of storytelling. I always enjoy an alternate world or dystopian future and we've got it here. The future segments are really well done, and I like the foreshadowing of having them working with Magneto. This is also the first issue of the book to credibly present the idea of mutant prejudice as a realistic concern. Seeing the future X-Men being ripped apart is still pretty harrowing.

This issue is clearly the major inspiration for Buffy's season three episode 'The Wish,' right down to all the main characters getting killed at the end. And the fact that Rachel Summers eventually turns up in the main timeline may have been a loose inspiration for Dopplegangland.

Claremont and Byrne's 'breakup' issue is the fun Kitty Pryde attacked in the mansion piece. However this issue begins the annoying trend of completely destroying the mansion in every storyline for a while, to the point that they even start to comment on it in the book.

After Byrne leaves, Dave Cockrum returns to the book. His art has a much simpler, silver age feel, which I don't think works as well for the book. He makes me appreciate Byrne's consistently great art more, though his reputation in comics would certainly be better if he had died right after completing this run. Time has not been kind to Byrne, or Claremont for that matter.

Anyway, this book closes out with an issue where Cyclops fights a surreal battle against someone named D'Spare. There's some pretty cool dream sequence within, and it sets up a nice subplot with Scott and Lee Forrester stranded on an island that's eventually revealed to be Magneto's. I really liked the character development there and the Bond movie style villain-hero social interaction between Erik and Scott.

Even as that going on, we've got a fairly weak main storyline, involving Arcade and Dr. Doom. Arcade is an awful character, I'm almost ashamed to be writing an analysis of a story that Arcade is involved in. Speaking of Bond movie style interaction, there's a good scene with Dr. Doom and Storm, but that storyline goes on too long and doesn't really lead anywhere.

The highlight of this chunk of the series is undoubtedly the stunning X-Men 150. In Morrison's run 150 was the ultimate battle with Magneto, the highlight of his run, and Claremont's 150 is probably the highlight of his so far. This issue is critical because it's the first time we get the sense of Magneto as a sympathetic character, and the ending where he break down in tears over Kitty's body is genuinely effective. This issue redefines the character and forces you to question whether he might actually be doing the right thing. Hero/villain ambiguity is always a plus for me, and this issue is a total success.

From there, things go a bit downhill. There's the Emma Frost/Storm bodyswitch storyline. Emma isn't a particularly developed character here, so it's a fairly standard trying to get the body back thing. Emma is actually my favorite character by the time of Grant's run, though from what I hear Joss is messing with her a bit, making her move back towards evil, which isn't good. Grant's treatment of her was genius, and the whole X-Men series could really end with her and Scott kissing in his last issue. No more was needed. But, I'll find out more about what Joss is doing in October when the trade of his second story line is released.

Anyway, this is followed by the return of Corsair and the start of the Brood storyline. There's some good stuff with Scott adjusting to the idea of Corsair being his father, but on the whole these issues are pretty weak. Things just seem to happen and there's no sense of the story going anywhere.

However, in 161, things improve. This issue is Xavier's flashback to his time working in a hospital with Magneto, and though I'm a bit uncomfortable with a concentration camp playing so prominently in the story, it's pretty respectful and works well.

Throughout the end of these issues there's a lot of dwelling on the idea that the X-Men don't kill, not even creatures like the Brood. I'm a pretty nonviolent person, but I think it's odd to have Claremont constantly putting them in situations where they need to defend their life, or the lives of others and killing is the only way to do that, yet they won't. You want them to just kill these things and they would be perfectly justified, yet you've got these characters who refuse to.

So, now I'm into unread territory. I'd read through the first three Essential volumes before, but I've never read the stuff after 161 and I've heard pretty good things about it, with some people claiming it's better than the Byrne run. It still astounds me that Claremont could write the book for 186 issues, not to mention what he did on the spinoff books. That's mindblowing, if I were to work on a book for as long as he worked on X-Men, I'd be writing it until 2021. And again, even though I'm a bit negative here, the fact that he built this entire world is astounding, and it's tragic that he doesn't actually won any of it, and after all this issues, taking X-Men from nothing to the biggest comic on the market, he could just be thrown off the book, it's tragic.

Gilmore Girls: 'The Ungraduate' (6x03)

This episode sees the show further settling into the new status quo that's been created with the rift between Lorelai and Rory. The emotional intensity has been taken down a bit since the first episode, and things haven't gotten quite as dark as I thought they would. This episode was fairly bright all around, entertaining, but not particularly substanative.

The one plot line I did love was seeing Lane's band back on the show. They're my favorite supporting characters, and the only ones who can be consistently interesting without interacting with the main characters, which is good because they're really off in their own world, disconnected from the rest of the characters. The thing I really like about that plot line is how different it is from other stuff on both this show and TV in general. You usually don't see that much about creating art and seeing as how that's something very important to me, it's cool to get to see it. I think some people feel that doing a show about makign a piece of art is too insular, and a lot of complaints were leveled against the Claire art school storyline in Six Feet Under for that very reason, but I love those episodes, and I really like the way Lane's band keeps moving forward, gradually becoming more and more successful. And it seems like they're going to continue that way with their new recording money.

With Lorelai we get a relatively goofy plot, the construction stuff. It worked pretty well, but wasn't too consequential. Similar stuff went on with her meetings with Paris. The show has a problem that it's got too many peripheral characters, who don't organically fit into storylines. Michel, Paris, Sookie, Kirk and Lane all really have no connection to the main plots and with the exception of Lane, don't have too much development of their own. And the more they mess with the show's status quo, the more difficult it is to fit them in.

I missed Rory's rage a bit here, last episode had her suitably angry with her station in life, but here she seems to be relatively back to normal and happy, though I did like the echoing of the scene where she's introduced to Yale.

And then the big news at the end of the episode is Lorelai putting off the wedding. It's a generally accepted rule that to put your characters in a happy romantic relationship is a mistake, and a wedding is particularly final, used in movies and TV as an ending, with the promise of future happiness, rather than the beginning of more potential drama.

But things don't have to be that way. Six Feet Under's Nate and Brenda were a Luke and Lorelai type couple, where you know they're going to be together eventually, but what that show did was show their married life as a source of real drama and issues for the two of them, rather than as a mythical happy ending. Admittedly, they might have been a bit too harsh, I really don't see either Luke or Lorelai dying anytime soon, but the basic principle could work. Lorelai's definitely someone who would have issues in a final long term relationship, with no more outs, much like Nate had a lot of issues. And I think they could get married and still have real issues, the only thing is, I'm not so sure that the creators want to go down that route and have really wrenching issues between the two of them.

So in that case, putting off the wedding is the best dramatic choice, and could provide a big happy ending when Rory reunites with Lorelai. However, I think that won't happen until at least the season finale, and even they do solve their current argument, there's a lot of big issues between Rory and Lorelai that still need to be resolved.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Next Weekend

Next weekend is looking to be one of the high points of the year, fitting a whole bunch of great events into one three day stretch. It all begins Friday when I'm going to Yale to see David Lynch give a lecture called "Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain." I love Lynch's films, he's one of the most consistently challenging filmmakers out there today and his best films are enigmas that require multiple viewings to fully understand. I always like to meet the people behind the works of fiction I love, and Lynch is way up there on my list.

But besides the fact that he's made so many great films, I'm also really interested in hearing what Lynch has to say about the brain and the creative process. The reason for this lecture is that he's doing a tour of colleges in order to raise awareness about his foundation devoted to making meditation available to school children. In Lynch on Lynch, he spends a long time talking about his creative process, and how he's not so much making the story as tapping into some higher plane that he receives the story from. So, he'll sit in a chair and wait for the story to come to him, quite similar to the idea of the Immateria that Alan Moore talks about in Promethea. So hearing him talk more about this in person should be pretty interesting.

And maybe he'll give some details on Inland Empire, it's supposedly been in the works for a couple of years now, and is supposed to premiere at Cannes in May, so he's probably pretty far along with it. Plus, he's got a great voice, and hearing Gordon Cole live should be fun.

So, that's Friday, then Saturday I'm going to see Serenity, Joss Whedon's film. I was supposed to see it a few weeks ago when Joss appeared here, but I was shut out, so I'll finally get a chance Saturday. It'll be cool to see what Joss can do with these characters to build off the series, though I doubt it'll be one of the all time great films, it's almost guaranteed to be entertaining. Plus, I'm really interested to see how it does at the box office, I just don't see high grosses, but considering its low budget, I doubt it will lose money.

Then Sunday is another major event, the Across the Narrows concert in Brooklyn. The premise of this music festival is to have simultaneous concerts in Brooklyn and Staten Island, one on each day of the weekend, for four concerts total. They're all pretty good, featuring such bands as Oasis, Doves and The Killers, but the best one for me was the second Brooklyn one featuring The Polyphonic Spree, Belle and Sebastian, The Raveonettes and Beck.

The Polyphonic Spree put on the best concert I've ever been to when I saw them last. The sound was completely overwhelming as 25 people played with such enthusiasm. After a really long wait, followed by a flute solo, the pounding entrance on 'We Sound Amazed' was a completely overwhelming wall of sound, literally shaking the floor beneath me. The whole show was phenomenal, the lights coming on as they sing "It's the sun!" Most Spree songs fit perfectly in a live setting, with their anthemtic choruses and massive instrumental portions.

This show will probably feature some material from their new album, the Thumbsucker soundtrack. Being a soundtrack, there's not that many fully realized songs on there, but 'Move Away and Shine' is one of the best songs The Spree have ever done and I'm really looking forward to hearing that one live. They're just so energetic, it's impossible not to enjoy one of their shows.

The other band that made this show an essential one for me is Belle and Sebastian. I started listening to them earlier this year, and I've become a huge fan. Their songs are very smart, lyrically clever like The Smiths. I usuallly don't care much about lyrics, but theirs really capture your attention, most notably on 'Storytelling,' a song about the rules of writing a story which is really funny and catchy.

But, even without the great lyrics, the music on their songs is great. They use a lot of big instrumentation, featuring strings, synthesizer and most notably a trumpet. The instrumental solo on 'Sleep the Clock Around' is beautiful. I also like the way they integrate the multiple vocalists. One of the best moments in their work is on 'Lazy Line Painter Jane,' when a female vocalist comes in, just taking control of the song, elevating it. I've been binging through their alubms lately, trying to get caught up for this concert. So far all their stuff has been pretty solid, though the best is 'If You're Feeling Sinister' and 'The Boy with the Arab Strap.' I've still got to get through the second disk of Push Barman Open Old Wounds and Dear Catastrophe Waitress before the concert.

These two drew me to the concert, but knowing about the other bands, I figured I'd check them out so it wouldn't just be waiting around be the two bands I did like, and I'm really glad I did. The Raveonettes are one of my new favorites, I've been listening to a lot of their most recent album, Pretty in Black. The album reminds me a lot of David Lynch in the way it has a very dark, yet 50s feel. The songs have guitar and vocal parts that are very 50s, and they even cover 'My Boyfriend's Back.' But, their 50s is a darker version, it's almost a post apocalyptic reconstruction of the 50s.

The best track is 'Uncertain Times,' a love song that reaches epic heights, with a great guitar part driving it. 'Sleepwalking' is a bit more rocking, driving track. But nearly every song on the album is solid, seeming to come from a distorted time warp. Their earlier work is more conventional and modern sounding, but still fun to listen to, and I'm really psyched to hear them live.

So, this will be one long, hopefully awesome concert. I've got the dream that The Polyphonic Spree and Belle and Sebastian will combine for a track, bringing it to 35 people on the stage, though the tone of their songs are so different, it might be tough to do. But regardless, seperately they'll have enough awesomeness to carry it.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

So, the second time in three months, Tim Burton has a new film out. Even though I loved Nightmare Before Christmas, I wasn't that anxious to see Tim go back to stop motion animation. With a few exceptions (Nightmare, Cowboy Bebop) I'm not usually that big a fan of animation. Even though I'm all about the visual aspect of filmmaking, I really do enjoy seeing the work of real actors and it's alchemy of director, script and actor that makes a film great. Animators, for all their technical skill can't match the performance skill of a great actor. Only in Cowboy Bebop have I seen really subtle acting from an animated character, and that's largely because of the time the creators could take to develop their characters.

But regardless, it's a new Tim Burton film and that alone is reason for excitement. However, I wasn't too into this one before its release, and actually seeing the film hasn't made me like it that much more. This is Tim Burton's weakest film since Planet of the Apes, and while it fails to succeed for vastly different reasons, it too lacks the magic that makes the best Burton films feel incredibly wacky and unhinged, filled with innocent emotion.

Where Corpse Bride does succeed is visually, the stop motion is gorgeous, even if the characters bare an unfortunate resemblence to those in the Puffs tissue commercials. They move thoroughly realistically, and the way they make Victoria's hair wet, among other little touches, is great.

However, the film really suffers from feeling like a retread of Nightmare Before Christmas. Admittedly, that's a film that's been built up from good film to legend status in the twelve years since its release, to the point where I'm now in love with every aspect of the film and fully accept the songs and characters. So, this film suffers from Phantom Menace syndrome, where I can't forgive this film's negatives, even as I gloss over the bad parts of Nightmare.

But, the film does so many things that are precisely reminiscent of Nightmare that you can't help but compare. For example, one of the great bits of Nightmare is the 'Making Christmas' montage, where we see a bunch of characters from Halloweentown singing about how they're making a grotesque version of Christmas. Here we get the residents of the land of the dead singing about their grotesque version of a wedding. The jokes are virtually the same and the song has the same structure, only without the great driving melody.

The songs in Nightmare are what really makes it great, and the music here barely qualifies as songs. There's no chorus or variation, the songs are like those gap bridging speak-songs in operettas, where plot information has to be conveyed to get us to the next emotional song, except here there are no emotional songs, the weak songs lead nowhere. Other than the Cab Calloway style land of the dead piece, there's no good music, and even that song is a weaker version Oogie Boogie's song in Nightmare. After Elfman's phenomenal songs in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was expecting something really exciting here, but instead we get stuff that's just weak and unmemorable.

The jokey land of the dead characters are like the rejects from Halloweentown, and a lot of the gags tread the same ground, just they're not as funny here. Maybe it's targetted at kids, but Nightmare worked for all ages, and this film should be held to the same standards.

Where the film does work is in the relationship between Victor and Victoria. I really did want them to get together, even as I was also sympathetic to the plight of the Corpse Bride. Johnny Depp and Emily Watson were great together, and I'd love to see Emily Watson appear in Burton's next live action project. She has a great doll-like look that would really fit into Burton's world. And even though he's treaded this ground many times before, the idea of two innocent people crossing the boundaries of a corrupt society is always great stuff for Burton.

But, even as the core works, there's too much time spent on humor that doesn't hit, and broadly drawn characters with no depth. This is one of only two Burton films that I would consider a failure. The whole point of it is to spotlight stop motion animation, but the stop motion has become so good, so perfect, that it doesn't have the eccentric charm that made stop motion unique, the knowledge that it was fake, but that very knowledge made it all the more entertaining. The joy of the Harryhausen skeletons isn't in the fact that these look like real skeletons moving, it's in seeing something that looks kind of real, but not quite, moving in an impossible way. Nightmare captured this, but the clean look of Corpse Bride makes it look more like a CG film than traditional stop motion.

So, Tim needs to drop a great new live action project soon, because it's been a long time since he's made a great movie. Hell, none of his four most recent films were even as good as Mars Attacks! I want to see him get back to something a bit messier and nastier, not filled with special effects or schmaltz, just the raw angry emotion of Edward Scissorhands or Batman Returns, or the genuinely odd humor of Beetlejuice. Lately, Burton feels like someone copying his style rather than the genuine article.