‘Corpse Bride’ and ‘Just Like Heaven’ reviews
For coming out at the same time, and sharing the same offbeat subject – loving the nearly and dearly departed – two new movies hold little in common.”Corpse Bride,” opened in the big-city theaters two weeks ago and spread to smaller venues last weekend, and “Just Like Heaven” opened nationwide last weekend. By coincidence, their subject matter seemed very similar: In the former, a skittish fiancé accidentally marries a corpse; in the latter, a brokenhearted man suspects his new roommate might be bound to another plane.But for all that common ground and plot – and the No. 2 and No. 3 spots at the box office, respectively – these are two wildly dissimilar movies in intent, look and tone.
“Just Like Heaven” sets that tone immediately with, you probably guessed, the Cure song of the same name. While the original version, about as poppy as the Cure got, would be appropriate for the movie, the gooey, ethereal cover by Katie Melua that leads off the soundtrack sets the stage for what viewers are about to get. (There’s another song of the same vintage out there that encapsulates the movie “Just Like Heaven” even better, but its title would give away its only decent twist. Besides, naming movies after Cure songs is risky enough – no director in his right mind would cull a title from the Smiths catalogue … )Matter of fact, the most fun I had with both movies was trying to come up with a score of late-’80s and ’90s alt-pop for either or both. The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” wouldn’t be out of place with the bubblegum-Goth feel of “Corpse Bride.” Tim Burton’s latest foray into animation reminded me more of the two covers of the same song: Like both Dinosaur Jr.’s barnstorming lo-fi “Just Like Heaven” and Goldfinger’s blistering ska version, “Corpse Bride” is fun, engaging and over way too soon. Maybe the reason I was thinking of cover songs is “Corpse Bride” plays like a sequel to Burton’s 1993 animated “Nightmare Before Christmas.”Even though digital technology that wasn’t available to Burton in the early ’90s helps smooth out the edges of “Corpse Bride,” the same stop-motion animation that propelled “Nightmare” drives both movies. They’ve also got the same flaw – all that painstaking craftsmanship translates to very little screen time, and viewers barely get a chance to soak in the ambiance before the rollicking adventure whisks the titular bride (the voice of Helena Bonham Carter) and her groom (Johnny Depp) toward a resolution.
By contrast, “Just Like Heaven” just wallows. It’s only 95 minutes, but it seems far longer. Maybe that’s because heartbroken David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) and type-A doctor Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) are scarcely more believable than the cartoon characters in “Corpse Bride.” Or maybe it’s because for all the madcap careening – and it’s laugh-out-loud funny at times – “Just Like Heavens” stays firmly on the conventional romantic-comedy track.Ultimately, “Corpse Bride” is a more fun ride into the hereafter. Burton and company are just playing around, whereas with “Just Like Heaven” – like that Smiths song – I know it’s serious.
If “Corpse Bride” wasn’t animated, it would share too much in common with “Just Like Heaven.”Without trippy skeletons, “Corpse Bride” would be just another contrived romantic comedy that forces audiences to accept “These people are in love” without setting scenes for emotions to flow naturally. Tim Burton’s Goth animation is the only thing that saves it from falling into the average romantics of “Just Like Heaven.””Just Like Heaven” starts by depicting two separate people’s lives: Elizabeth as the type of professional Reese Witherspoon can’t help but play (doctor or lawyer seems to be her latest typecast), and David (Mark Ruffalo) as the down-and-out, lost-love, beer-guzzling single man. When Elizabeth crashes her car and her spirit starts roaming, she discovers David has moved into her apartment, and, what a surprise: They fall in love. (Obviously, they encounter complications, which generate a fairly interesting plot.)”Corpse Bride” begins with an arranged marriage between Victor Van Dort (voice of Johnny Depp) and Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). Though the compressed story time forces viewers to automatically buy into the characters’ attraction to each other, “Corpse Bride” still manages to develop tension by not letting the audience know exactly which woman – the arranged bride or the Corpse Bride – they should pull for. Both brides are sympathetic, and though 76 minutes aren’t enough time to flesh out, as it were, each scenario to its fullest, the characters go beyond one- or even two-dimensional stick figures.
“Corpse Bride” elevates animation by presenting themes and images to capture adults, making it an artistic film. “Just Like Heaven” could have been an art-house film if it had trusted the audience to be adults and catch subtle character development and messages.Instead, “Just Like Heaven” hits viewers over the head with scenes that scream, “Pay attention to this symbolism; it will play a predominant role in a later scene.” And so, we have to watch the spirit of Elizabeth and her unexpected roommate, David, linger too long on cups and glasses and the way they can ruin a wooden table.On the other hand, symbolism in “Corpse Bride” is more delightful than dreadful. Technicolor livens the underworld, while the world above plays out in shades of gray and brown.I didn’t get as deep into “Name that Soundtrack” as Dan did; I just thought Deadheads would have a field day with the near-psychedelic, far-out skeletons that danced and sang their way through the land of the dead. Animation usually doesn’t dig this deep down to the bones.
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