Sunday, October 09, 2005

Wallace & Gromit & laughs galore

When I was in college, a good friend told me she would no longer accept my opinions about movies because, as she put it, I like everything.

While that wasn't true then and is less true now, as Richard Nixon put it best when talking about art, "I know what I like."

I've reached the point in my life when I can tell in advance when I won't like a movie, and am therefore surprised when it happens. I tell you all this as a qualifier before delivering this unconditional love letter to the creators of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." Accept it for what you will.

Although I had never heard of Nick Park, and certainly not Aardman Animation, I remember seeing in 1992 a series of claymation commercials for British Electric featuring cute sheep, chickens and other creatures talking about how much they enjoyed electric heating. They had the same sly wit that Park has perfected in his signature characters: British batchelor Wallace and his silent canine companion Gromit.

If you've never heard of them, don't let that stop you. They're instantly accessible characters, and in "Were-Rabbit," the laughs fly fast and furious.

In their first feature-length flick, the duo have a pest-control company called, of course, Anti-Pesto. Just in time for the town's annual giant vegetable contest a terrible beast called the Were-Rabbit starts ravaging all the gardens, and our heroes have to stop it.

The true joy in watching it unfold, along with the great animation, is the voice work of Peter Sallis as Wallace. He makes noises you'll hear no other human being make to bring to life Wallace's many eccentricities. Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter also clearly had fun as, respectively, Wallace's nemesis, Victor Quartermaine, and the noble but ditzy Campanula Tottington.

And the jokes. I thought they might go over the heads of younger viewers, but I found them laughing louder than me at exchanges like this:

Quartermaine (after his hairpiece has been sucked up in the bunvacc: I want my ... toupee.
Wallace: Oh, yes, of course. We take checks or cash.
Quartermaine: No, you idiot. My hair is in there.
Wallace: Oh, no, only rabbits in there. I think you'll find the hare is a much larger creature.

A G-rated flick for moviegoers of all ages? I'm just crackers for it.

"The Gospel" makes a lot of joyful noise

The late Steve Goodman once said the song "I'll Fly Away" proves you don't have to know much about Jesus to enjoy spirituals. In the same vain, I ask: Do you have to be black to enjoy gospel movies? No, but it probably helps.

Rob Hardy's "The Gospel" has been released into theaters, rather than straight to DVD, thanks to the trailblazing work of Tyler Perry. After Perry's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" made $22 million in its opening weekend and more than $50 million at the box office, Hollywood executives realized it's not really about black and white, it's about green. And there's much of it to be made in this welcome new genre.

"The Gospel" tells a simple and familiar tale, basically that of the prodigal son, in this case Boris Kodjoe, who returns to his childhood church after his father, the pastor, becomes ill. It features solid performances, in particular from Idris Elba and Donnie McClurkin as rival pastors who square off over the church's future. The story, though it drags at a few points, is told soap opera-style: Short scenes that mostly move at a brisk pace.

What really makes "The Gospel" sing, if I can put it that way, is the music. About half the movie is gospel singing by great choirs, most of it arranged by Kirk Franklin, culminating in the inevitable revival featuring gospel greats like Yolanda Adams and Martha Munizzi. The scenes are electric. (One quibble: Why put McClurkin in a musical movie and not let him sing?)

Filming scenes with large groups of people is difficult to pull off. For examples that work perfectly, check out the end of Robert Altman's "Nashville" or the beginnings of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" parts one and two. Hardy himself succeeds in bringing to life the world of black churchgoers in the spirit, and you will feel in the moment.

As I left the theater, my dark side couldn't help wondering if Tyler Perry ever had to sit in a room full of Hollywood executives and tell them that black people are much more than the pimps, pushers and thieves we usually find in movies. One thing I do know is he won't have to again.

Demko's DVD shelf

If it weren't for sports, I could probably get rid of my cable TV and get along just fine. It's not that I don't like some of what the networks offer us, it's just that I much prefer watching the shows on DVD, so I can watch them in order, or if I'm feeling particulary couch-potatoish, in a marathon viewing session.

This week is a bonanza for TV on DVD: three of my favorite shows.

For topical humor that spares no targets, you still can't get much better than "South Park." Though the show has lost some of its edge over the years, the sixth season, out this week, features the pitch-perfect parody of "Lord of the Rings" in which our little foul-mouthed friends go on a mission to return the one video.

I'll also be Netflixing the second season of "Arrested Development," which is somehow still on the air on Fox. If you watch it, you know why it's great, and if you don't, I probably can't convert you.

Finally there's the first season of "Veronica Mars." Veronica, a sort-of teenage private eye played byKristen Bell, is the rightful successor to Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," but without the superpowers. It's not too late to catch up on the running mystery and jump on board for season two, now unfolding on UPN.

1 comment:

Raven said...

Cool blog I have a site about video codes you can add a music video to your site and people who come can see it! check it out at video codes