Jim Henson was like a father to me. He was everywhere in the 80s; a puppet didn’t appear on TV or in film without Henson’s imprimatur. My images of childhood are mostly foam or fur-covered, thanks to him. I’m eternally grateful that I grew up in the halcyon days before CGI, when puppets were king. The kind of wholesome anarchy Jim favoured was paradise for kids. He was Walt Disney without the evil. His most famous creations, The Muppets, didn’t have that weird, repressed quality you find in Mickey Mouse. They’re free-wheeling, loose-limbed, all-too-human. Kermit the Frog is wonderfully frayed. You can’t feel so tenderly about pixels, or a drawing. There’s a vacuum of sentiment. Jim Henson’s legacy is tactile.
The dead are all celebrities; they don’t exist in our world. We think of the dead by way of the roles they once played. We let go of all the times when they weren’t who we wanted them to be. It’s easy to be wonderful when you’re dead. The same logic applies to celebrity crushes: so if, let’s say, Amy Adams plays a fairy princess (in Enchanted), it follows that she must swish around set sprinkling moonbeams on the crew. Now, I admit, Amy Adams looks like she goes through life like a fairy princess (moony eyes; mischievous nose), but then again – she’s 34. Her new movie, Sunshine Cleaning, won’t help anyone with a crush on Amy (she’s still adorable), but we should try to remember: she may stab kittens.
This movie says one thing indelibly: a play is a play is a play. Why Hollywood keeps mistaking theatre for cinema is beyond me. Maybe all the accolades get in the way. But no matter how great a play, it must be destroyed if it’s to make a great movie. That’s why Baz Luhrmann was right to wreck Romeo + Juliet. If you worship words, you shouldn’t be making movies. Movies are pictures, not text. The trouble for writer/director John Patrick Shanley is that he’s made Doubt into a monument to his own (award-winning) stage play. As a movie: it would make a great play.
This could be great. I realise “could be” is a phrase loaded with doom in Hollywood; that every movie could be great, if only it had the right director, the right star, the right luck. But here is a great novel that paints a world as you read it. It is beautifully written, and at the same time (this is rare) it’s filled with moments that would work equally well on film. The Brief History of the Dead is – it’s true – not easy to categorise; it wouldn’t fit neatly into any one genre, but with its viral Apocalypse, its city of lost souls and its Antarctic survival story, it reads like everything What Dreams May Come could have been, if it hadn’t stalled in heaven… if it had grasped life.
Junebug is a TV movie for people who don’t watch TV. Its setting, its premise and its characters are all stock only in prospect. In execution, Phil Morrison’s movie is strange because no-one acts like they’re acting, or that there is a dramatic structure to their travails. This is a movie about a man from North Carolina taking his big city wife to meet her backwoods in-laws. We know from lengthy experience how things should pan out: an awkward beginning leading to an inevitable mutual acceptance, punctuated at intervals by laughter and tears. But things do not conform to expectation. The awkward beginning never ends. This is life.