Monday, September 26, 2005

Why Not Wait for Halloween?

Although a memorable artistic triumph, Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” features off-putting subject matter more appropriate for a Halloween release. And yet, this unique, quirky film also boasts a touching love story, catchy musical numbers and a haunting message about how dreary life (or death, for that matter) can become without romance.

Based on a Russian folk tale, the movie follows the adventures of Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp), a shy and dreamy young man whose parents have betrothed him to Victoria Everglot (voiced by Emily Watson). Extremely nervous at the wedding rehearsal, he messes up the vows and is told to go away until he can say them right. While practicing in the woods, Victor places the ring on what he thinks is a scraggly branch. Oops! Not a branch at all. It’s the finger of a beautiful corpse (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) who now believes she and Victor are man and wife. The Corpse Bride drags Victor to the Land of the Dead, where – surprisingly -- everything is considerably more lively and colorful than in the somber Land of the Living.

Meanwhile, Victoria, the woman Victor really loves, is being forced to marry another man, the mysterious and sinister Barkis Bittern (voiced by Richard E. Grant). Victor needs all the help he can get to find his way back to her in time.

The look of “Corpse Bride” is like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s done in stop-motion animation, which means a LOT of work went into creating the sets and puppets. Sometimes a crew had to work as many as twelve hours to come away with one or two seconds of usable footage. Many of sets and characters are elongated, which gives them a surreal appearance. Because of special lighting for the Corpse Bride in certain scenes, she glows with old-fashioned movie star glamour.

I know I’m not the least bit objective where Johnny Depp is concerned (be still my heart), but I think his voice was perfect for Victor – shy and halting plus barely recognizable as Depp’s own smooth, velvety tones. This is Depp’s first animated voiceover appearance, and he probably did “Corpse Bride” because it was Tim Burton’s project. “If Tim wanted to shoot 18 million feet of film of me staring into a light bulb and I couldn’t blink for three months, I’d do it,” Depp declares.

And I’d probably pay to see it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Spirited Love Story

Too bad the disappointing previews of “Just Like Heaven” might prevent some filmgoers from seeing this clever romantic comedy. Based on Marc Levy’s popular novel “If Only It Were True,” the movie is a real treat.

Reese Witherspoon, who became America’s sweetheart in “Legally Blonde,” stars as a spirit hovering in an apartment rented by Mark Ruffalo. He’s a disheveled, morose guy who spends most of his time slacking off and sitting on the couch drinking beer. Witherspoon’s spirit suffers from amnesia, then finally remembers she’s a medical doctor with a Type A personality who became the victim of a car accident. Ruffalo’s character is still grieving over the death of his wife.

Both of these befuddled people insist that the other must leave the apartment, so there’s a lot of yelling and arguing at first. But in the push-pull of their relationship, they get to know a lot about each other. The more they find out about one another, the closer they bond. In fact, they end up taking drastic steps to help each other. The most hilarious one involves recruiting a series of exorcists and ghost busters to assist them.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it by giving away other plot details. But I will say that this film is full of surprises. There’s more than meets the eye going on, and it’s deeper than you think. Finally, as in most romantic comedies, much of the film’s success comes from the chemistry between the co-stars. Happily, Witherspoon and Ruffalo make magic together on the big screen.

Guess how I can tell that a romantic comedy is really working? It’s when my husband laughs most of the time while watching it instead of falling asleep. As the end credits rolled for Just Like Heaven, he turned to me and said, “I sure did enjoy this movie!”

Saturday, September 17, 2005

"Made-Up" Now on DVD

Emmy-winner Tony Shalhoub ("Monk") makes an impressive directorial debut with “Made-Up,” now available on DVD at This hilarious movie is a film adaptation of “Two Faced,” a play written by his sister-in-law Lynne Adams. Adams also wrote the witty screenplay, served as producer, and portrays one of the film’s main characters -- a woman who persuades her sister to be the subject of a student film project.

In this terrific movie, a teenage wannabe cosmetologist (played with delightful enthusiasm by Eva Amurri, Susan Sarandon’s daughter) does an elaborate make-over on her mother Elizabeth (Brooke Adams). The complicated "beautifying" process includes a tape-on facelift, eye tucks, and a wig. Elizabeth’s sister (Lynne Adams) documents the transformation for a video class she’s taking. Shalhoub also has a key role here. He plays the confused new guy in Elizabeth’s life.

"Made-Up" is truly a family labor of love. Sisters in real life, Brooke ("Days of Heaven") and Lynne must have a keen understanding of the inevitable differences among siblings -- for it shows in their believable performances. I also found Brooke and Shalhoub, who are married off-screen, to be an intriguing on-screen couple. They complement each other in both dramatic and comic situations. Shalhoub projects an endearing befuddlement over his character's relationship with an unusual woman, and Brooke reminds me of the great Lucille Ball, particularly in a sidesplitting sequence where Elizabeth gets a bit tipsy to "loosen up" before filming begins.

I absolutely loved this movie! It’s an entertaining and thoughtful treatment of issues relating to beauty, aging and family. Unfortunately, although honored at various film festivals, “Made-Up” received limited release. Now that it’s out on DVD, everyone can enjoy it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Ruby Slippers Caper

I’m sorry to report that a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” was stolen recently from a Grand Rapids museum. Evidently, the thief entered through a window and smashed the glass display case holding the slippers. Most of my friends know how much I covet those slippers -- but, honestly, I DIDN’T DO IT!

Still, I admit being tempted to steal them once. While visiting the Hollywood Wax Museum several years ago, I spotted the ruby slippers gleaming at me from a glass display case. After leaving the tour, I couldn't stop thinking about those legendary shoes. I wanted them for my very own! A colleague of mine felt the same way. But we didn't resort to stealing. Instead, we began writing a script about a group of children who outsmart Museum officials by substituting a fake pair for the real slippers, then having a change of heart.

Please believe me. I’m not guilty of this dastardly deed.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Stars to the Rescue

Kudos to the following actors for their Hurricane Katrina relief efforts:

John Travolta, who used his private jet to deliver five tons of food and 400 doses of vaccine to Baton Rouge.

Sean Penn, who took a boat to New Orleans to rescue survivors.

Nicolas Cage, who donated one million dollars to the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund.

Morgan Freeman, who is organizing an Internet auction to raise funds for Hurrican Katrina disaster relief.

Harry Connick Jr., who personally helped a group of survivors in New Orleans.

Efforts like these may be a drop in the bucket, but they prove that the stars mentioned above care about what’s happening and are willing to do something to help.

To make your own donation, go to

Saturday, September 03, 2005

More Hurricane Katrina

My good friend Don Grady, host of the popular Louisiana Live radio show which is bradcast from Baton Rouge, sent me the heartbreaking e-mail message below on September 1. He has given me permission to share it with other friends and colleagues.

"Thanks for joining our program today. It was good to hear from someone outside this area and learn what how the rest of the country is viewing this devastation. For a few minutes today I lost it, but the extent of the damage is unimaginable. The death count from 9/11 will pale compared to the count here and on the Gulf coast.

"The people of New Orleans were warned, told to leave two days before the hurricane struck, but too many chose not to. There have been similar warnings in the past, but the storms weakened before making landfall, or the path changed, To some it was a case of 'crying wolf.' This time it wasn't a wolf, but Katrina.

"There is anarchy in New Orleans. A truck with medical supplies, food and water was held up at gunpoint. 96 carjackings in the city Wednesday night. A percentage of those thugs are now in Baton Rouge, and most likely, other cities. Our governmental building was evacuated today and workers told not to return until Tuesday. There was a 'disturbance' at the River Center (convention facility) and there was fear it would spread. Downtown offices were in lock-down for the safety of employees. A precautionary move. A wise move.

"Arkansas National Guard troops, 300 who just returned from Iraq, will be in New Orleans tomorrow. Governor Blanco says their weapons are 'locked and loaded' and they will not hesitate to shoot lawbreakers. It's about time.

"The New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, is fighting mad. Federal help got to the Tsunami area than it's getting to New Orleans. He says the feds are thinking small for a problem that is huge. He spared no words. He was livid. And more power to him!

"Some people in shelters are beginning to realize the extent of the damage, and that they likely do not have a home.

"The PMac (Assembly Center) and field house on the LSU campus are now medical facilities. The track is a chopper pad. FEMA is actually building a hospital on the LSU campus to replace 'big' charity hospital in New Orleans that has had five floors of windows blown out, is flooded and has had no power or water since Monday. Finally, patients are being evacuated to other hospitals in the state. Nine New Orleans area hospitals are in a similar situation.

"I'm sitting here watching new video from the Mississippi Gulf coast and it looks like a Hollywood production. A few months after I moved here in 1969, I flew over the Gulf coast and saw the damage from Camille and had no idea Mother Nature could wreak such havoc. This is so much worse.

"Baton Rouge is about 70 miles northwest of New Orleans. We were on the left side of the storm, the milder side. It's the right side that gets the brunt of wind and surging water, along with tornados. In 1965, Betsy hit Louisiana hard and Baton Rouge sustained major damage. In 1992, Andrew hit Louisiana and did a lot of damage. I was living in New Orleans at the time and power was out for a few hours. Some trees were down which stopped the St. Charles streetcars from running for a day. But the next day the cleanup was well underway and life returned to normal for most people in a week or so. A lot of Andrew damage was done by tornados.

"Now on TV there is a NOPD lieutenant who has horror stories about the Superdome where there is no electricity or plumbing. Tens, perhaps hundreds of women were raped in the bathrooms. Men were beaten to death and their bodies thrown about. Superdome Police were evacuated by the National Guard while the refugees remained inside. He said the 'dome' was filled with smoke and the smell of blood and death. And the people in the 'dome' are being bused to the Astrodome in Houston. Does Houston realize what they may be getting? Officials here apparently do since we've heard each bus will have a law enforcement or military troop on board to ensure safety, I can only imagine when this news gets out, and it will, what the rest of the country and the world will think of the people of Louisiana.

"I guess I've rambled on enough. We're high and dry at 'Louisiana Live' and extremely grateful for being so. At 4:57 everyday I close the program with 'Kiss and hug the ones you love.' Now more important than ever."

Again, here's the link to make donations for Hurricane Katrina relief: