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With Corpse Bride, Tim Burton returns to the stomping ground of his previous foray into stop-motion animation, 1993’s Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Compared to Christmas, which featured better songs, more interesting characters and a darker sensibility, Corpse Bride can’t help but qualify as a mild disappointment. Yet compared to the insipid drivel that passes for animated entertainment these days, this is an unqualified success. And the unlikely source that elicits most of its goodwill isn’t its horror but rather its heart. Based on a Russian folk tale yet set in Victorian England, Corpse Bride finds Johnny Depp, working with Burton for the fifth time, providing the voice of Victor Van Dort, a shy lad who’s set to marry a shy lass named Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). While practicing his wedding vows in the village’s adjoining forest, he places the ring on a spindly branch, only to watch in horror as the branch reveals itself to be the finger of a corpse that rises from the ground like a zombie extra in a George Romero feature. This corpse bride turns out to be Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), a lovely (if decaying) young woman who died on her wedding night and who’s been waiting ever since for her true love to come along. Against his will, Victor is dragged by his newfound spouse below the earth into the Land of the Dead, which resembles nothing so much as a jazz joint populated by beer-swilling skeletons, men with hacked up bodies and a buck-toothed maggot who sounds like Peter Lorre. Yet even as Victor plots his great escape from this apparent purgatory, he finds himself becoming increasingly sympathetic to Emily’s plight. Corpse Bride is a marvel of craft and imagination, yet what’s most surprising about the film is its ability to make us care about the fate of Bonham Carter’s character, a lovely woman who suffered a cruel betrayal she didn’t deserve.


Say, is it too late to modify my opinion of Red Eye? August’s plucky-woman-in-peril-while-aboard-an-airplane thriller was a nifty “B”-styled flick that only went down as it hit its conventional third act. By contrast, Flightplan, September’s plucky-woman-in-peril-while-aboard-an-airplane thriller, is an involving “A”-list project that doesn’t just go down as it reaches its preposterous third act -- it then proceeds to explode on contact, creating fireballs of flaws so massive that they obliterate entire theater auditoriums and even singe the concession stands. Both films require some suspension of disbelief, but Red Eye at least took care to dot every i, cross every t, and shovel dirt into every gaping plothole. Flightplan has trouble even getting past its basic set-up: Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster), a recent widow catching a Berlin-to-New York flight along with her six-year-old daughter (newcomer Marlene Lawston, a bit too studied for my taste), becomes frantic once the girl disappears during the course of the flight. The entire premise rests on the fact that no one else aboard the plane, from the crew to the passengers, ever once caught a glimpse of the moppet, thereby establishing in their minds Kyle as a woman who’s delusional and possibly dangerous. Once Flightplan gets over this expository hump, it begins to work its magic as a competent thriller. Director Robert Schwentke exhibits aptitude in his ability to stage tense confrontations between Kyle and her doubters, while the meticulous recreation of a jumbo airliner, with all its decks and compartments and personnel-only passageways, provides the film with a setting that feels as expansive and full of mystery as Baskerville Hall. Yet what really sparks this portion is Jodie Foster: Glimpsed at the beginning of the film as a lost soul still shell-shocked by the sudden death of her husband, Kyle springs into action once her daughter goes MIA, alternately scaring passengers, ignoring the flight attendants and berating the flight’s pilot (Sean Bean) and air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard). Foster doesn’t hold back in these scenes, and the intensity she brings to her character reminds us that few things are as driven and desperate as a parent seeking to protect its own.


Proof is a movie about two beautiful minds. One has been drained dry of all creativity and inspiration, with only madness choosing to rent the suddenly available space. The other leads a life of exile, so paralyzed by fear and regret that solitude seems like the best course of action for all concerned. There’s no hope for the former, but can the latter be saved? That’s the pressing question at the center of this screen adaptation of David Auburn’s acclaimed play. Like Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, the film tries to turns mathematics into a cinematically sexy beast; unfortunately, John Madden (Shakespeare In Love) possesses even less visual flair than Howard, so try as he might, he can never fully disguise this piece’s stage roots. Luckily, the scripting and acting exist at such a lofty level that the picture’s lack of mobility is never a drawback. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Catherine, the daughter of a math professor named Robert (Anthony Hopkins) who recently passed away. In his prime (which, for mathematicians, is supposed to be in their early to mid-20s), Robert was a genius whose various proofs revolutionized his academic field. But as he grew old, he was gripped by madness, and now his daughter, who took care of him during the waning years of his life, must come to grips with her own talent -- and sanity. Has she inherited her father’s astonishing analytical skills? And if so, has she also inherited his madness? No one seems to know -- not Catherine’s anal-retentive sister Claire (Hope Davis), not Robert’s former student Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), not even Catherine herself. None of this interplay would amount to much if it wasn’t for the superb performance by Paltrow, whose melancholy descent into possible madness produces a kick that was noticeably absent in her recent Sylvia Plath biopic.


A sober look at international gunrunning, and the opening credit sequence, which follows a single bullet from its creation in a factory to its final destination inside the skull of a young boy, promises that this picture will take no prisoners. Yet what dooms Lord of War right from the start is its central character. Speaking to the camera as if he fancied himself Ferris Bueller, Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) informs us he’s an international arms dealer who’s made a successful life for himself by acquiring and selling weapons to anyone, anywhere. It’s Scarface all over again, to such an extent that I almost expected Yuri to point at his arsenal of AK-47s and bellow, “Say hello to my little friends!” The improbabilities and contradictions make this an impossible character to play, and Cage immediately falls back on his established mannerisms to coast through this film.


The latest Reese Witherspoon vehicle that makes ample use of her winsome appeal while largely ignoring the deeper acting chops employed in earlier pics like Election and Freeway. Yet a clever concept and ideally cast roles make this more bearable than it has any right to be. This romantic comedy casts the plucky actress as Elizabeth, a workaholic who seemingly gets killed while driving home from her job at a San Francisco hospital. She continues to haunt her apartment, which proves to be a problem since the place is now occupied by David (Mark Ruffalo), a new tenant who for personal reasons has shut himself off from the rest of the world. Hostile at first, the pair eventually try to bring each other back to life -- physically in her case, emotionally in his.