NEW AT THE MOVIES: Style over substance in 'Coraline'
Photo courtesy of Focus Features, Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) and Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.) cautiously take a look down an old well in the stop-motion animation flick "Coraline."

PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor. 100 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

The first stop-motion animated film to be conceived and shot in 3-D is visually dazzling but strangely joyless.

Henry Selick previously directed “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach” for producer Tim Burton, and the darkness that permeates “Coraline” calls to mind Burton’s trademark twisted sensibility.

“Coraline” is wildly imaginative, distinctly detailed and painstakingly rendered. Blessedly, the three-dimensional effects are only reach-out-and-grab-you gimmicky a few times — mostly, they provide texture and perspective. But there’s no lightness to the adventures; they feel overstuffed and airless. What whimsy there is often feels labored and smothers the story.

And the movie might actually be too scary for many children.

Selick also wrote the screenplay, based on Neil Gaiman’s best-seller about a little girl who becomes trapped in a parallel version of her world.

Eleven-year-old Coraline (voiced with gusto by Dakota Fanning) discovers a door in the living room of the dreary boarding house where she lives with her parents (Teri Hatcher and Hodgman), who are too busy working to pay attention to her.

Once she crawls through a long, spooky corridor, she finds a home that looks just like hers, only it’s welcoming and vibrant. And the woman preparing goodies for her in the kitchen — the Other Mother, she calls herself — is warm and nurturing.

That is, until her psychotically possessive tendencies take over.


PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language. 124 min. Two stars out of four.

This isn’t exactly a romantic comedy — at least, not in the most traditional sense.

Yes, the characters work themselves into the same sorts of tizzies over falling in and out of love — or even finding love in the first place — but frequently mixed in with the fizziness is an unexpected seriousness, an attempt at injecting honesty, realism and even failure.

All those A-list stars in the ensemble cast (Jennifer Aniston! Scarlett Johansson!) are smiling in the movie’s posters, but don’t let that fool you. Some heavy stuff falls upon their pretty heads.

 But while it’s admirable that director Ken Kwapis’ film tries to shake up a typically frivolous formula, too many other elements undermine his intentions. Based on the best-selling relationship advice book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, the script from Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (“Never Been Kissed”) follows nine intertwined characters struggling to make sense of their love lives.

The women, especially Ginnifer Goodwin’s hopeless romantic Gigi, tend to be needy and demanding; the men, like Bradley Cooper’s cheating Ben, are caddish and evasive. And their stories are broken up with title cards taken from the source material’s chapters (“… if he’s not calling you,” for example) that make “He’s Just Not That Into You” feel an awful lot like episodic television.


PG for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action. 96 min. One and a half stars out of four.

The huge error here — other than the mistake of producing the sequel in the first place — is pairing Steve Martin with John Cleese, then failing to capitalize on their potentially explosive verbal exchanges.

Anyone familiar with Cleese’s outrageous accent as the French knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is in for a disappointment when he first opens his mouth as Chief Inspector Dreyfus — and a crisp British voice oozes out.

Why does a Parisian police official speak with a British accent? Probably because the filmmakers couldn’t have a supporting player continually upstage Martin, who reprises the Peter Sellers role as France’s supreme imbecile Inspector Clouseau with nothing more than a passable parody of a French accent again.

This wafer-thin crime romp is amusing in spots as Clouseau joins an international team of detectives to track a thief swiping the world’s rarest treasures.

But the movie’s mostly a waste of time and talent, including Martin’s reunion with “All of Me” co-star Lily Tomlin, who has a few pointless walk-ons.

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