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EW Review: Macabre 'Corpse Bride'

Also: Nonsensical 'Flightplan' and mopey 'Thumbsucker'

By Kirven Blount
Entertainment Weekly

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Tim Burton
Jodie Foster

(Entertainment Weekly) -- Could it be that Tim Burton's entire career has been a slow and steady PR campaign for the other side, a sort of showbiz version of Jim Jones-style Kool-Aid?

In Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" tale of Victor Van Dort, a 19th-century bumbler/charmer who finds himself betrothed to a Miss Havishamesque dead person instead of his lovely and living intended, Burton looks for heart in the macabre yet again.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter voice their stop-action-animated puppet doppelgangers from this drab mortal coil to a jazzy afterworld and back again (with bouncy help from supporting voices Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Albert Finney, and others) in presenting one of the more piquant relationship challenges: the periodic loss of body parts.

It's a thin postcard of a plot, and lines like "He couldn't get far with those cold feet" typify most of the humor, but the animation team's real achievement is how they so richly and convincingly vivify (and vivisect) Burton's vision with minimal CGI.

EXTRAS In an "Inside the Two Worlds" doc, codirector Mike Johnson touts the "organic openness of the Land of the Dead" as if he were selling prime real estate. Featurettes on the animators and puppeteers peer into what producer Allison Abbate calls the "herculean" process of stop-motion and the labyrinthine machinery inside a puppet's head, while Depp is impressed enough to aver: "Victor is a better actor than I am." Pre-production galleries trace the path from rough sketch to animated vitality; composer Danny Elfman, whose score is sublime, gets his own doc; and in "Tim Burton: Dark vs. Light," cast member Christopher Lee, who's worked with Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, and Peter Jackson, says Burton "really is my favorite director."

Grade: B+

'Flightplan'

Reviewed by Jeff Labrecque

"Flightplan," Jodie Foster's second consecutive starring role in a mother-under-siege action thriller (following 2002's "Panic Room"), nosedives after a nearly flawless takeoff. The riveting first half, when Foster's grieving widow puts an entire airborne plane at risk to find her missing 6-year-old daughter, will keep you in the upright position. But the film hits turbulence when it ditches the psychological angle for nonsensical action typical of any in-flight potboiler.

When director Robert Schwentke says in his commentary that one of his villains "has painted himself into a bit of a corner," he may as well be talking about screenwriters Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray, whose major plot twist undermines 66 minutes of well-crafted tension.

EXTRAS Models, CGI, and 250 feet of sets were used to create the massive airliner, documented in two making-of featurettes. The set was built from scratch too, since the Hollywood cockpit used in dozens of previous movies had been destroyed during the crash scene in "Cast Away." The original draft revolved around terrorists and a male protagonist, but Foster's interest required revisions, which might have thrown the script off course. Schwentke's commentary frankly admits iffy plotlines and an uncertain ending, all of which ultimately strand the film in the last row of coach without so much as a bag of peanuts.

EW Grade: C+

'Thumbsucker'

Reviewed by Alisa Cohen

Newcomer Lou Pucci has a wounded-looking face you can't help fixating on. Too bad an actor with such animal magnetism is trapped in all-too-familiar surroundings in "Thumbsucker." His obsessive, oedipally conflicted Justin is a true indie-film staple: the odd-duck teen trying to find his place in a bizarro suburban world.

For inspiration, the film dips into the bag of tics from Walter Kirn's novel, but the loony yet incisive humor that defined the book is often overshadowed by mopey sentiment. (The Elliott Smith-laced soundtrack says it all.) It's a trip to see Vince Vaughn ditch his frat-boy cool to play a debate coach and a good-natured Keanu Reeves as a Zen-master orthodontist. Something just got lost in adaptation.

EXTRAS Kirn, however, gives director Mike Mills his blessing: In a tete-a-tete, they massage each other's egos and share the challenges of bringing "uncomfortable" content to life. Then Mills flies solo in a self-deprecating commentary, revealing his affinity for simple, repetitive camera work and "The Ice Storm" ("I love the way the kids and adults are treated at the same level"). Plus: a director's blog for the DVD-ROM-savvy and a by-the-numbers mini-doc.

EW Grade: B-


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