Wallace & Gromit cheese off a Were-Rabbit.

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
Oct. 7 2005 2:52 PM

24-Carrot Bliss

Wallace & Gromit cheese off a Were-Rabbit, Clooney has a Good Night, and Baumbach harpoons a squid and a whale.

A delightful big-screen debut. Click image to expand.
A delightful big-screen debut

In a perfect world, we would not need the righteous civics lessons of Good Night, and Good Luck, or the bitter dissection of divorce that is The Squid and the Whale, or any of the brilliant works that help to reconcile us to a violent and chaotic reality. But we would need Wallace and Gromit.

"There will always be an England," TheNew Yorker tells us, and Wallace and Gromit suggest that we'll always need that, too—an England of row-house backyard vegetable gardens under low, gray skies and proper, oblivious (and obliviously proper) gardeners, an England that never much concerned itself with the loss of the Suez Canal or the dimming of an empire. For that England, the more urgent problem is rabbits.

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In their first full-length feature, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (DreamWorks), an absolutely magical fusion of deadpan Ealing comedy and Gothic horror, the pair run a pest-control outfit called "Anti-Pesto" that "humanely" dispatches the beasts who threaten potentially prize-winning carrots, pumpkins, etc. Wallace and Gromit's alarm system and rabbit-vacuum-cleaner (which deposits the creatures in a glass jar, in which they spin around with apparent pleasure) would make Rube Goldberg sit up and salute; and Wallace (voiced, as ever, by Peter Sallis) has even managed to endear himself to an aristocratic sock-puppet beauty (with red hair sticking out at right angles from her head like a pair of sausages) called Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter).

Alas, the ever-enterprising Wallace isn't content with giving hundreds of rabbits a home in his basement. He wants to reform them. He wants to brainwash them into swearing off vegetables altogether. And his Frankensteinian endeavors end up producing the most fearsome rabbit since Monty Python and the Holy Grail—requiring his dog, Gromit, always the smarter of the pair, to bail him out of a bigger and potentially more lethal mess than ever before.

Directed by the knighthood-worthy Nick Park and Steve Box, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a bloody delight on every level. The puns, it is true, are cheesy—but only in the sense that the cheese-loving Wallace reads East of Edam and Waiting for Gouda. The double-entendres will have parents in a cold sweat trying to explain why the grown-ups in the theater are choking on the floor. "Well, you see, nuts are sort of ... like cashews ... but they can also be ... dash it ..."

The stop-motion animation represents the best of both worlds: the meticulously hand-fashioned and the miraculously computerized. Peter Jackson will be lucky to have anything as thrilling in his upcoming King Kong as the revelation of the giant Were-Rabbit—in pieces, as Gromit gives chase in an automobile across once-manicured, now serially trashed lawns. But Jackson will not have Gromit to cut to: Gromit with the young-old face that sees all but says nothing, Gromit that acts when only absolutely necessary. For he knows what we know—and love: that there will always be an England... 11:50 a.m. PT

Click image to expand.
Saintly, but not totally off the mark

Elsewhere in this magazine, Jack Shafer has brought such fine, principled skepticism to bear on the historical foundation of George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck (Warner Independent Pictures) that my case for it will no doubt seem lightweight. Here goes: It's a damn good movie!

There is no contesting that it's a self-congratulatory hagiography of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and that Clooney and his co-screenwriter, Grant Heslov, are highly selective in how they portray Murrow's fight to broadcast a damning assessment of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his overweening anti-Communist crusade on the timorous CBS network. But it's also a passionate and rousing piece of filmmaking—a civics lesson with the punch of a good melodrama.

Although most of Good Night, and Good Luck is set in the CBS studios, it's anything but static. Clooney and his cinematographer, Robert Elswit, use high-contrast black-and-white to evoke both the era in TV and the starkness of the forces in play. The movie never settles into one of those loitering period pictorials. It feels electrified; it has the chain-smoking jitteriness of its protagonist. Cigarettes, by the way, are everywhere, and the way the white smoke curls against the deep blacks is both beautiful and ominous: You don't need to be told that Murrow perished from lung cancer.

Jack is obviously correct that Murrow did not lead the charge against McCarthy. But since when does TV news ever lead charges? With the exception of such programs as Frontline (and, at the opposite extreme, administration mouthpieces like Fox News), the medium generally lags behind print in afflicting the powerful, constricted as it is by the interests of its sponsors (Murrow's principal underwriter, Alcoa, looms large in this movie) and the celebrity status of its anchor people. (They are fat targets, indeed: See "Rather, Dan." A weighty subplot here revolves around the disintegrating psyche of Ray Wise's local anchor Don Hollenbeck, who finds himself regularly pilloried as a pinko by a powerful tabloid columnist.)

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