Two films that couldn’t be any more different from each other but are both fantastic in their own little way – seriously getting worried now, what will be the film that breaks the run of great films at the cinema that I’ve enjoyed for well over a year now?
Even if it wasn’t a near perfect children’s film (i.e. everyone will find something to enjoy within it) Coraline would win plaudits for being one of the most beautiful films to be released for a long time. The sheer attention to detail is incredible and there isn’t a single scene you couldn’t freeze-frame and just gawp at. Combined with the 3D technology that it’s been filmed in it’s nothing short of wonderful, the 3D never feeling a bolted on gimmick where things are thrown at the screen for effect but actually adding a genuine sense of depth to the proceedings.
Add on top of that the hand of Neil Gaiman and it becomes something really special. For once the director completely understands the idea behind the book (as good as Stardust was, it’s still a fairly conventional narrative) that fairy-tales should be both alluring and scary at the same time (admittedly I knew about the buttons going to see it so was prepared), and that sometimes no matter how weird the idea provided it has it’s own internal logic everything is fine. Gaiman normally only works if you allow him to work within his own little world rather than trying to crowbar him into ours. Fortunately the director understands this perfectly.
As much as Gaiman’s hand is present it should be Henry Selick who gets all of the praise for delivering what is clearly a labour of love. Each frame feels lovingly wrought; no detail is too small not to have been lavished with care and attention (and we are talking about near obsessive attention to detail in some cases. The aesthetic that he developed in Nightmare Before Christmas and James & The Giant Peach is now fully realised without the Burton-esque history. There are scenes where you will sit trying to figure out how you achieve that effect with stop-motion, as it maintains an old-fashioned hand built feel.
At the other end of the scale is Doubt, which is hard to describe without giving away key elements of the plot. It feels like a companion piece to A Few Good Men and Glengarry Glen Ross in that it’s a stage play that has been expanded to a more cinematic form in order to reach a wider audience, and like those two it’s the quality of the dialogue that shines through (although it doesn’t soar like Mamet – sorry, nothing will ever match “Fuck You, that’s my name” for it’s crown of quotable dialogue). All three leads are excellent, Streep in particular presenting the type of performance you used to remember from her as the scariest nun outside of The Blues Brothers as a sort of Catholic version of The Terminator. However it’s very much an ensemble piece relying on good performances from everyone, with everyone having an important role to play in the way that things pan out. It also has one of the best child casts I’ve seen, in that none of them come off as being precocious, something that sometimes film struggles to do.
It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and the Batman-esque weird camera angles sometimes got in the way by making me question why we needy to see the scene at such a jaunty angle. However it’s a very good film about faith that also happens to be about religion – not as weird as it sounds when you’ve seen the film.