Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Freaky Dolls in 3D: Baby Blues & Coraline

Most of the time, I prefer Ned at the Brattle or someone else to program my double features; as someone who has trouble choosing just one movie when standing in front of the "unwatched discs" shelving unit, asking me to assemble a themed pairing is, well, ridiculous. I am so legitimately terrible at choosing between likely-good options that I come up with ways to take the decision about what to watch/read/etc. next out of my hands.

In this case, I saw G Storm the night before and, for the fifth time in that series I said something like "hey, I like the actress who plays Tammy; what else is she in?" This time, though, I went to IMDB or HKMDB, saw that I actually had one of them on the shelf, and pulled it down.

This was a mistake.

I mean, I wasn't expecting greatness; I don't know whether I grabbed Baby Blues more or less and random because I figured I'd never see it again while poking around one of the video stores in the basement of the Ladies' Market during my HK vacation or if it was something I got off DDDHouse because they've had their 3D stock on sale for a while and I figure I should try and grab every 3D disc I can before they're impossible to find. At any rate, let's just say that this thing was on my shelf less out of curation than hoarding, and its obscurity/blowout pricing was deserved.

Not wanting to go to bed on that note, I figured I'd grab something else, and a Coraline chaser seemed pretty natural - it also involved a creepy doll, I already had the 3D glasses on, and, hey, that disc was already on my shelf for similar reasons: When Shout Factory announced that they had acquired the license for the Laika catalog, I went on Amazon and found the 3D editions of Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls (I already had Kubo and I don't know if Missing Link got a 3D release anywhere).

This was not a mistake; I don't know that I was quite so taken with the movie as before, but it's still pretty darn good, and what Laika does with the stop-motion/3D medium never ceases to amaze.

The lesson? Dunno; maybe something about running with an idea when you've got it rather than worrying about finding the right answer. Yeah, it gets you Baby Blues sometimes, but it also reminds you to watch Coraline - and you've got time, because there's no twenty minutes of dithering up front!

Gui ying (Baby Blues)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong 3D Blu-Ray)

The first thing you think when watching Baby Blues is "I have never seen a doll so obviously cursed in my life" and, okay, sure, it's the 21st Century so "cursed doll" is not going to be anyone's first explanation for things, but when the creepy thing appears to be bleeding from its eyes, get rid of it! It was left behind by the house's previous owners, so it's not like you've got any real attachment to it.

That aside, this isn't what you'd call a good movie by any means; it's full of inexplicable decisions, things that are just vaguely connected, and a last act that feels like the filmmakers shot a lot of possibilities so that they could figure out what ending they liked while editing. None of it makes a damn bit of sense, and it's not even in the headspace to run with its randomness and its goofy, never-believable killer doll, which at its most ambulatory makes it clear there's no CGI budget and that they haven't really figured out how to manipulate the puppet so that the audience can suspend disbelief just enough to worry. You also can't just tease the audience with a song that's so sad that it apparently drives people mad and only have it show up kind of obliquely.

Maybe all of this being a little more winking would work, with Tao (Raymond Lam Fung) and/or sister-in-law Qing (Karena Ng Chin-Yu) kind of incredulous about the whole situation or something, or new mom who somehow previously made a living by blogging Tian-Qing-(Janelle Sing Kwan) not shifting to obviously crazy like a switch was flipped. Or maybe if the writers had just found some way to make all the various pieces have a unifying theme - you have to stretch things a great deal to get from the doll inspiring Tao's tremendously sad song to the other ways it drives people mad - it would be creepy. Instead, it's just a bunch of pieces of other scary movies.

Someone had fun with the 3D camera rig, at least, not going for subtlety at all but always making sure a pointing finger or flying knife is ready to enhance a jump scare. It figures - the one thing which this movie kind of does right is the part that will be harder and harder to appreciate as time goes by.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 3D Blu-Ray)

As mentioned, this is an exceptionally good thing to notice on one's "unwatched disc" shelf right after watching a disappointing 3D evil doll movie, and I am very glad I got my hands on the Canadian 3D disc before it became impossible to find!

I'm not sure I've seen this since its original theatrical run, and the amount I loved it then makes me suspect that I was more or less completely floored by the 3D stop-motion animation and was not yet wondering who the heck this movie was for. I'm probably more pro-horror-movies-for-kids than most, but if you're going to do that, I'm not sure you want the burlesque sequence in the middle, for instance. I've probably got even less instincts for what's age-appropriate than I did at the time, so maybe it's just hitting me weird. At any rate, the film is eccentric in the way Neil Gaiman and Harry Selick things often are individually, only more so, either striking a deep chord or keeping you at arm's length and hoping you admire the individual eccentricity, which is about where I was this time.

It's close to unparalleled on a "look at this!" basis, though, with gorgeously colorful designs used to offset the initially bland world in which Coraline lives, and a world that's just busy enough without going overboard the way Laika could occasionally find themselves doing in later films. It's still one of the most fantastic uses of 3D in a movie and has just enough of a visual stutter at times that a viewer can't forget that someone made this and maybe pays slightly closer attention because that means that there is meaning and intent in every detail.

Every time I see a Laika movie, I find myself kind of stunned that they aren't more popular; they're clever and meticulous and don't talk down to kids. It's the second time around when one maybe finds oneself nodding and thinking that, okay, maybe these things are going to be hard sells for both parents and kids expecting something a little more straightforward.

Original review from 2009

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