Corpse Bride

Nobody does Disney like Tim Burton – which might be saying less than you’d imagine.
No one but the director of the cult classic The Nightmare Before Christmas could reinvent Jiminy the cricket as a talking maggot living in the skull of an undead bride. What’s incredible about Burton isn’t so much his grotesque imagination as the way he reels it in to create weird but accessible films. Burton’s goth is less creepy than oddly amusing, less Marilyn Manson than Addams Family, and this lends a kind of sweetness to his new film Corpse Bride.
Like any good Disney film, Corpse Bride has its villains: Parental figures that use their children as pawns, a good-for-nothing gigolo, and a stern cleric who try to lock love away in customs. The world is colored in grays and silvers, washed out, exhausted: An old place where people linger through life, a kind of purgatory, and only a love sacrifice can save it from ruin.   
Victor (Johnny Depp) and Victoria (Emily Watson) are forced into a planned wedding that will lock his wealthy working-class family to her failing aristocratic one, consolidating wealth and society to both houses. It’s a seedy union, blessed by a priest who seems more concerned with ritual than true love, but when Victor finally meets his soon-to-be bride he feels relieved.
Although the wedding is outside of their control, Victor and Victoria are kindred souls strangely outside of the political forces drawing them together. He’s an affected androgynous fop; she’s a mousey, pouty bundle of mumbles. You wouldn’t expect sparks to fly from these wallflowers and they don’t, but it’s obvious these two are meant to be together.
When Victor bungles his vows during rehearsal, however, the families turn on him, practically chasing him from the chapel. Alone in a dark forest he tries to memorize the ceremony when he accidentally summons a restless soul, the corpse bride, Emily (Helena Carter). Cursed to linger as an undead zombie until she can fulfill matrimonial vows cut short by a diabolical murder – her own – Emily brings Victor home with her, happy to have completed her destiny.   
But Victor is understandably dismayed at the turn of events that have left him married, not to his mousey soul mate, but to a walking corpse.
Still, Emily is more voluptuous and sultry than Victoria with her full Angelina Jolie
lips and stunning figure. True, one of her eyes has the unfortunate tendency to roll out when she laughs, but she’s a much better developed character. In a lovely song and dance routine performed by a maggot and a black widow, the pair urges Emily to show Victor her real self, and discounting the moral imperative against necrophilia there’s no good reason why any sane man would choose Victoria.
But this being Disney as reinterpreted by a harmless goth, Victor chooses Victoria. As with The Nightmare Before Christmas, the final third of the film documents how worlds collide, showing ghouls in the living realm. Some of it is funny, some mildly touching, but it never reaches the level of surreal imagination of Burton’s earlier film.
It could well be that Corpse Bride suffers from comparison to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Although it is in virtually every respect a better film, it doesn’t seem nearly as innovative or daring. Like Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory released earlier this summer, Corpse feels derivative and trite; charming, but ultimately unsatisfactory.
Burton has risked remarkably little in this gothic retelling of what is – basically – a Disney film, and because he has wagered nothing, he gains very little, like Poe doing a Mad-Lib.


The Cave

You would have to dig really deep to find a worse film than The Cave, the latest bad film in a season remarkably bad.
Those who thought our culture had reached a low with its remake of a bad television series about southern yahoos run amuck – that would be Dukes of Hazzard – ain’t seen nothing yet. Every film this summer has seemed more dismal than the one it follows, and The Cave is an apt artifact of stupidity in an era that is becoming dumb and dumber every minute.  
The Cave opens promising enough, with a group of explorers set to excavate a massive cave system in Romania. The international team finds a temple over the entrance of the cave. A mosaic depicting Templar Knights battling demons seals off the opening, so they blow it up, scale down into the darkness, and are giddy with joy until an unexpected earthquake (set off by their explosion) buries them in the underground world.
Twenty years later a group of cracker-jack American cavers are called in to finish the job. Never mind that they seem like divers, not cavers. Lucky for them, the cave is more of a vast underground waterway than an actual cave anyhow. The team consists of a two or three interchangeable dudes and one hot tomboy.
If you can tell the main characters apart you’re a better man than me. I began thinking of them as not so much as characters as walking, talking advertisements for ab machines, failed GQ models forced to act as goldfish food to a silly monster, poster-boy honkies of the lowest order. Even the big, bald, black dude seems somehow incredibly white, sanitized and harmless as an underwear model. I think one was named Strobe, which sort of set him apart somehow, but the cast’s ubiquity is truly awe inspiring.
Let’s face it, we white guys all look alike. Get a room full of six-foot tall frat boys together and the only way you’ll be able to distinguish between them from one another is if they wear name tags. This explains why makers of action figures invariably rely on eye patches, facial scars or weird uniforms to set them apart from one another.
The Cave simplifies its women, too, using the old Charlie’s Angel’s method of casting. The brainy scientist is, of course, a brunette named Katherine (Lena Headley) while the tom-boyish, extreme-sport hard body is a blond named Charlie (Piper Perabo). Charlie also says things like, “Sick!” and “This is totally rocking!” which gives away that she’s probably not a geneticist.   
Much of The Cave is a blur to me – literally. Shot in a fast-speed, chaotic manner than reminds me of home movies made from the perspective of the family dog, the movie not only rips off the Blair Witch Project’s use of shaky camera footage, but also Predator’s weird first-person (first-creature?) visuals. The result is a bumpy ride through a dark, wet chute.
In fact, most of the film feels like it was shot in a Disney ride gone bad. A typical scene involves the whole goofy crew sliding down a water chute until it empties into an underground lake, just like at Water Country. The only thing missing is the dramatic snapshot of people having fun that will be sold back to you for $10. Although it features some of the dullest climbing footage ever, the film really is more like Jason in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride – though it’s much less than this, of course.
I’m no evolutionary biologist, but I found the movie’s creature to be less an example of dynamic adaptation than simple theft. Before you see the entire shambling mess that is the monster you would swear you were dealing with Ripley’s Alien or maybe some version of the Predator. When it reveals itself in a dumb scene toward the end of the film as a giant reptilian flying squirrel it’s impossible to hide your disappointment that it’s not more derivative. It turns out to be so far less than your least expectation, such a total let down that it makes your nostalgic for the early parts of the film, where the creature is mostly hidden.
I didn’t really expect The Cave to be scary, but I thought it might be unintentionally amusing. It’s not. In fact this is the least fun movie I have seen all year, a solid block of dullness so dense that it blots out any reasonable response. It is not funny; not scary; not interesting, and definitely not worth your time.

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