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BY Steven D. Greydanus
New on DVD, Coraline is a near
masterpiece of darkly surreal fantasy from stop-motion animation filmmaker
extraordinaire Henry Selick (The
Nightmare Before Christmas).
on the children’s fantasy/horror novella by Neil Gaiman, Coraline’s original
inspiration was stories made up by Gaiman’s young daughter Holly about a girl
(named Holly) whose mother is kidnapped by a witch who resembles the mother.
clever use of parallel worlds and fairy-tale tropes, Coraline explores
the dark side of wish-fulfillment fantasies, monstrous distortions of parental
affection and the perennial wisdom of gratitude for what one has, however
imperfect. Not to all tastes, but as a modern-day equivalent to the Brothers
Grimm, Coraline is a rare achievement.
new on DVD, Spectacular
Spider-Man — The Complete First Season offers all 13 episodes of the sharply written new animated series on
episodes pit the teenage hero against a battalion of foes, including the
Lizard, Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Black Cat and the alien-suited
Venom. The battles aren’t mindless violence: Pete’s brains and science chops
are his edge. (How to slow a rampaging lizard at the zoo? Make him chill out in
the polar bear pool.)
writing isn’t perfect: Eddie Brock is too decent in the early episodes to
credibly become the villainous Venom. But the series’ overall decency is also a
key strength. Friendship, responsibility and love are important themes; Aunt
May is a warm and wonderful authority figure, and the late Uncle Ben, seen in a
fantasy/flashback sequence, represents Pete’s moral compass. Highly
a couple of ambitious mature fantasies to pass on:
Proyas’s apocalyptic thriller Knowing got some attention in Christian circles for the
biblical resonances of its imagery. It’s a sincere effort, but it botches its
philosophical dichotomies (determinism vs. randomness isn’t equivalent to
meaning vs. meaninglessness) and doesn’t hold together plot wise. Not without
interest, but I can’t really recommend it.
its source, Watchmen, Zach Snyder’s lavishly faithful adaptation of
the highly acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore, is a work of considerable
density and sophistication, a deconstruction of the superhero genre.
Unfortunately, it also follows its source in succumbing to nihilism — and amps
up the sickening violence and sexuality already present in the graphic novel.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Coraline: Disturbing domestic themes in a fantasy setting; creepy
imagery, scary scenes and menace to a child; a couple of instances of
divination (dowsing, tea leaves); a scene of mild burlesque-style humor. Might
be okay for adventurous kids. Spectacular
Much fast-paced animated action violence, menace and scary images; romantic
complications; a fleeting suggestive remark. Fine for all but very sensitive
kids. Knowing: Disaster imagery (people and animals on fire, corpses amid wreckage,
etc.); limited profanity and crude language; a couple of mild suggestive
comments. Watchmen: Graphic violence; some
sexuality; sexual and other violence against women; profanity and much obscene
and coarse language.