Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
With the Giant Vegetable Competition (an annual event that has taken place in the tiny Northern England town for over 500 years) only days away, Wallace and Gromit’s humane pest-control company, Anti-Pesto, is busy, busy, busy. But, with business being so good, they’re running out of space for all of the rabbits they catch, so Wallace decides to use his Mind-O-Matic to change the bunnies’ behavior. But things go terribly wrong and the veggie competition may well be ruined in “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”
Laura's Review: A-
Wallace (regular Wallace voicer Peter Sallis, "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?")) and his trusty dog Gromit have begun a new business, Anti-Pesto, an automated protection service from garden pests based on one of Wallace's Rube Goldberg-like mechanical designs. Anti-Pesto has become particularly prominent because it is four mere days away from Tottington's Giant Vegetable Festival. But once again Wallace alarms Gromit by taking things too far, inventing a Mind Manipulation-Omatic in order to rid bunnies of their need for 'veg.' Wallace tests it out one dark and stormy night while he's still attached to one end of it while Hutch, their latest bunny nab, receives his conditioning in "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." At about the same time claymation creator Nick Park won the 1989 Animated Short Oscar for "Creature Comforts," he introduced his cheese loving bachelor inventor Wallace and Wallace's loyal, silent dog and assistant Gromit (clearly the smarter of the two) in "A Grand Day Out." Four years later brought an even better adventure, "The Wrong Trousers," which was followed in 1995 with "A Close Shave." It's been a long ten year wait to see if these half hour short subjects could be successfully extended into a feature length film, but Aardman Animations has done it again with a rousing good romp stuffed to the gills with visual gags and film references a' plenty. Aardman is as homespun as Pixar is high tech, but both animation studios recognize the importance of a good story (screenplay by Bob Baker ("A Close Shave," "The Wrong Trousers"), Nick Park (all previous "Wallace & Gromits"), Park's codirector Steve Box and Mark Burton ("Madagascar")). The puns begin during an opening credit sequence when a slow pan across family pictures show Wallace and Gromit over the years, including Gromit's graduation from Dogwarts University. Across town, a garden gnome sensor sends an alarm and Wallace and Gromit are roused, clothed, deposited into their trade truck and on the way to save the celery. Armed with a large burlap sack, Gromit grabs the latest bunny while Mrs. Mulch (Liz Smith, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") sings their praises. The next day Wallace is overwhelmed to be called by the local aristocracy, Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "The Corpse Bride"), to solve her rabbit problem. She's pleased as punch to see the humane Bunny Vac 6000 in action (and so are we!), but her suitor, Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes, "The Constant Gardener"), prefers the macho hunt. Once Wallace's latest experiment goes awry, letting a monstrous bunny loose upon the village carrots, it's Victor and his rifle versus Gromit's quick wits. There's no need to change a formula that works and Parks follows his usual theme of Gromit saving Wallace from the results of his own dubious inventions. It's all in the delightfully simple characters (Gromit's eye hollows may have always obviously been thumb indentations, but on the big screen, we can even see fingerprints in the clay) and the details. We're given two visual payoffs for Gromit's attempts to curb Wallace's cheese (Stinking Bishop, anyone?) intake. Wallace gets stuck in his own trapdoor. Cut to Gromit in the kitchen, a jar of 'middle age spread' in the foreground. When Victor attempts to shoot a bunny on Lady T's lawn, the panicked rabbit sees a light at the end of a tunnel which turns out to be the exit dome at the end of the Bunny Vac 6000's vacuum hose. The impressed Lady Tottingham invites Wallace into her rooftop conservatory greenhouse where she tells him that 'Victor's never shown any interest in my produce' as she fondles the two large melons in front of her (a later sexual innuendo is more original and far more hilarious). Later, in the climatic chaos Lady T's held down by a pitchfork stabbed through her horizontal red afro only to reappear in the next scene with two bandaids affixed to her hair. Film references abound, particularly classic horror, with the duality of the werewolf theme neatly dovetailing into "The Fly" and "Frankenstein," which spring from the mad inventor that is Wallace. The Vegie Fair climax folds in King Kong, complete with Gromit aloft in a kiddie ride airplane, an angry mob armed with garden tools below. Vocal talents are spot on with guest stars having a ball. Bonham Carter, who stars in two stop motion animations within as many weeks, gives Lady T the right air of tweedy upper crust to the flighty baroness. Ralph Fiennes goes all Dick Dastardly with a supercilious alto - who knew he could be so super silly? The bunnies bleat with bubbly 'whees!,' a landscape of giddy sound effects. The world of Wallace and Gromit is a wondrous one where creatures are cared for, evil is overcome and friends are loyal through thick and thin. It's got the bright, colorful spirit of British pluck.
Robin's Review: B
J.R. (Ridge Canipe) was the son of a sharecropper, Ray Cash (Robert Patrick), eking out a backbreaking living growing and picking cotton in the post-Depression Arkansas. Young J.R. loves music and, even more, adores his older brother Jack (Lucas Till). Jack is his father’s favorite and seen as a lad that will make something of himself, unlike J.R. whose head is in the clouds. But, tragedy strikes when Jack is mortally injured in a sawmill accident and the only thing Ray has to say to his younger son is an accusatory, “Where were you?” Jump ahead ten years and grown up J.R. (Joachim Phoenix) is about to join the army during the Korean War. Ray, still blaming his son for not being the one to die instead of Jack, is barely civil as the young man leaves for assignment in Germany. There, John fights the boredom of Army life when he buys a used guitar, learns to play it and gives his first, tentative try at writing a song. Marriage, though, comes before music and Johnny proposes to his sweetheart, Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), and settles down in Memphis to work as a door-to-door salesman. The music bug is never far beneath the surface for John and he forms a band, Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. They go to the local recording studio run by Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) and audition with one of the gospel songs popular on the radio. Sam doesn’t want more of the same, though, and is about to send John and his friends packing. Cash decides to play the song he wrote when overseas, Folsom Prison Blues. Sam is blown away by the tough, gritty song about desperate men and inherent violence, records it and a star is born. John begins his fast paced career on tour with other up-and-comers like Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Payne), Carl Perkins (Johnny Holliday), Roy Orbison (Jonathan Rice), Waylon Jennings (Waylon’s son, Shooter Jennings) and the King himself, Elvis (Tyler Hilton). It’s the beginning of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and Johnny gives into it with gusto. He meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), the only woman on the tour, and is taken by her talent and keen sense of humor. He falls for the pretty singer but they are both married and nothing, except for platonic friendship, can come from it. Johnny’s career takes off and his star rapidly rises, garnering the singer a million dollar music deal and renown when he announces, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” to tumultuous applause. But, the drugs stop being fun and Cash becomes addicted. His meteoric rise becomes an equally rapid fall but his friend, June, sticks by him. “Walk the Line” is as much about John and June as it is about the man and his music, culminating with his triumphant Folsom Prison concert and, finally, in 1972, his marriage to June. As I watched “Walk the Line” I could not help but think about the far superior “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980). Where that film immersed you into the world of Loretta Lynn and earned it’s star, Sissy Spacek, a well-deserved Oscar, the Johnny Cash biography never rises above routine. I have always liked Joachim Phoenix as an actor but I never felt that I was watching anything but an actor pretending to be Cash. Sure, Phoenix gets Johnny’s on stage moves and peculiar guitar style right but when he’s not performing I never felt like I was watching Johnny Cash. This might be because the actor lacks Cash’s hulking build, craggy and weatherworn features and gravelly voice. Jamie Foxx did a far better job making his “Ray” look and feel like Ray Charles. The eminently likable Reese Witherspoon does her best but, as with Phoenix, I never thought of her as June Carter. The players that personify the other talents of the time, like Elvis, are just namedropped to show the who’s who of the burgeoning music world of the time. Robert Patrick gives a one-note perf that doesn’t change one iota from start to finish, always critical of his famous son. The script, by Mangold and Gill Dennis, is base on the Cash biographies The Man in Black and Cash: An Autobiography, but never breathes life into the story of the rise and fall and rise of the man. It is more a series of episodes strung together, interspersed with stage performances of Cash in concert. Impressively, both Phoenix and Witherspoon did their own singing and, through the magic of electronics, do sound like the artists themselves. Both actors – Phoenix on guitar and Witherspoon on the auto harp – learned to play their instruments for the roles. It’s too bad that their efforts were wasted on a mundane biopic. Production techs are very well done with good attention paid to period costume and set. The musical performances are uniformly well handled and seem faithful to their sources. Walk the line” is anticipated to be a big contender for acting and film awards but I don’t see that happening.