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Moriarty Tries On Gaiman & McKean's MIRRORMASK!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I saw this film about a week and a half ago, on an exceptionally dark and rainy night in Los Angeles. Driving to the CAA building was like being in a submarine. I was sick, hopped up on Nyquil, so everything felt vaguely dreamy anyway, with the weather only magnifying the effect.

Truth be told, that may be the perfect way to enjoy this strange, surreal little fantasy film, a bold and stylish fairy tale doodle that represents yet another triumph in the ongoing artistic collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.

I discovered SANDMAN while I was a freshman in college. That was a glorious year for me and graphic novels. It was also the same year I read Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN for the first time. I was still just getting back into reading comics after taking some time off. I tried out a number of titles and authors, and there was no real rhyme or reason to what I was reading. Often, it was as simple as liking a cover. That was certainly what spurred me to pick up whichever of the SANDMAN collections it was that served as my gateway drug to all things Gaiman. “A Doll’s House,” I believe. Dave McKean’s moody, abstract cover may not have been the same as the art that was inside, but it was a perfect emotional match for what Gaiman wrote.

I can understand why the two of them would want to work together on a film. It’s something new and exciting, a media they haven’t jointly conquered yet. When I first heard mention of MIRRORMASK a few years ago, someone described it to me as “an unofficial sequel to LABYRINTH.” It’s not, but it certainly shares ideas and themes with that film, as well as others like TIME BANDITS and THE WIZARD OF OZ. This is a pretty familiar story shape. A young person, experiencing personal problems in his or her life, falls into a troubling, surreal dreamscape of people and places they sort of recognize before finally waking back to a new clarity about everything. Simple enough.

What makes this type of story work (or not) are the particular details used to flesh things out. In this case, Gaiman’s wit is perfectly complimented by McKean’s truly unique visual style, a remarkable translation of his paintings into something like flesh and blood. There’s a quiet revolution underway right now with films like Rodriguez & Miller’s SIN CITY or Conran’s SKY CAPTAIN and this film. These are movies that could only exist in the digital age, wholecloth fabrications of complex worlds that don’t even try to replicate reality. People who are still talking about the “photoreal” have missed the point. MIRRORMASK is almost completely impressionistic, even during the early scenes set in the “real” world. I have no idea what McKean would do with a more conventional type of film, but he’s stone-cold perfect for this material.

The best thing that happened to McKean as a director was the casting of Stephanie Leonidas as Helena, the film’s lead. Like Jennifer Connelly in LABYRINTH, Leonidas is a confounding mix of overripe innocence and sensual charisma. It’s impossible to pinpoint just how young or old she is, which seems to be the point. Helena is just old enough to be embarrassed and irritated by her role in the family circus. It’s something her mother (Gina McKee) and father (Rob Brydon) both love. It’s in their blood. And it’s something that Helena just barely tolerates. One night, she has a huge fights with her mother just before the show, and in an ill-considered moment of childish petulance, she tells her mom that she wishes she would die. During the performance, a mystery ailment cuts her mother down. Helena’s immediately plunged into a series of frightening hospital visits and overheard conversations about the dissolution of the circus. Helena knows it’s all her fault, and the guilt starts to eat her up. One night, she falls into a fitful sleep, and when she wakes up, all the rules of reality seem to have changed around her in classic Wonderland fashion.

She finds herself in a world where everyone wears a mask, where books float through the air as ably as fish, and where darkness and light perpetually wrestle for territory. A world where a woman who looks just like her mother hovers on the line between life and death, sleeping, with no one able to wake her. A world in which Helena seems to be the only one able to fix what’s gone so terribly, terribly wrong.

As is many fantasies of this type, there are doubles here for any number of familiar faces, worn now by strangers. What Helena doesn’t realize is that she has a double of her own who arranged the switch, one world for another, a double who is perfectly happy to live the life that Helena’s so dissatisfied with. Helena ends up with a companion on her journey, Valentine (Jason Barry), an enigmatic figure of somewhat questionable character, and their interplay is the heart of the film. It’s a hard role for Barry because his face is hidden for much of the film, except for a memorable and hilarious look at who he is in the “real” world. He and Leonidas have an easy charm together, even when Valentine’s stabbing her in the back.

Make no mistake... MIRRORMASK is a small film, an experimental film. This isn’t a broad, obvious movie. There’s a real delicacy to the film, an ethereal quality, and it feels very personal. The film lulls you, like a painting that only gradually shifts from one lush landscape to the next. I like the fact that this was made by a group of artists who don’t have dozens and dozens of films to their names. Iain Bellamy, who wrote the score... Tony Shearn, the cinematographer... the exceptional visual effects animation team... they’re all relatively unproven, and it feels like they invested their all into this film. The results are beautiful and otherworldly. I think it’s entirely appropriate that Lisa Henson is one of the producers of the film, and that her father’s name is on the film. Jim Henson followed his heart and his conscience like few people who have ever navigated the minefield of mainstream success. He made projects he was passionate about. That’s what made his films and his TV shows so effective and enduring. If you loved LABYRINTH or, even more so, THE STORYTELLER, then it’s fair to assume that you’ll feel the same way about this special film.

I’ve got a lot more to share with you all weekend long, and I think Warner Bros. is getting ready to lift the embargo on my FOUNTAIN set visit. I hope so. I’ll be back later today with a look at MAIL ORDER WIFE, a great little black comedy opening in NY and LA this weekend, and I’ve got a great big slice of DVD SHELF set for this weekend, ASAP. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • March 11, 2005, 6:52 p.m. CST

    by Lolthien

    ummm anyone here? Never seen an empty talkback before.

  • March 11, 2005, 7:35 p.m. CST

    Moriarty is so right

    by eraser_x

    The "quiet revolution", as he put it, is super exciting. I cannot wait to see all the crazy cool, never-before-seen type of movies that will be coming out from now on. By the way, Moriarty should be a bit more careful with his media/medium and compliment/complement. One thing that has set Moriarty's stuff apart from Harry's is that Moriarty's stuff seems more "professional", somehow. So, grammar errors hurt Moriarty's articles more than they would Harry's.

  • March 11, 2005, 9:04 p.m. CST

    For all the shitbag Lucas has taken for making the prequels "too

    by Tall_Boy

    They aren't just straight up FX movies anymore, where you have actors on the sets and FX shots for the wide shots - we're talkin entire different worlds created on computers and shit. Its insane, but I like it. Anyone who complains about "too CG" for any of these types of movies, where creating a different world is the point, needs to knock it off.

  • March 11, 2005, 9:24 p.m. CST

    Gaiman's short film

    by Hoke Mosley

    Has anyone seen it? Is it any good?? God, I'm looking forward to mirror mask.

  • March 11, 2005, 11:32 p.m. CST

    Hensons, eh?

    by CZ

    Well, as a muppet maniac who can't seem to get through a month without rewatching a "Storyteller" short or two, I look forward to it.

  • March 12, 2005, 12:06 a.m. CST

    sony has a page for this

    by seekshelter

  • March 12, 2005, 1:46 a.m. CST

    "float through the air as ably as fish"

    by Boxclocke

    Sure it was just NyQuil you had in your system? Anyway, this seems like a really, really cool movie.

  • March 12, 2005, 3:59 a.m. CST

    A Short film about John Bolton (Gaimans short film)

    by gigaloff

    It's alright, the guy playing John Bolton is hilarious and the story is pure Gaiman. I thought the ending was a bit obvious though. The DVD is worth a look, it has a full Gaiman reading on it as well.

  • March 12, 2005, 10:41 a.m. CST

    Driving to the CAA building...hopped up on Nyquil,

    by the G-man

    Mori, with all due respect, driving while hopped up on Nyquil is no better than driving drunk.

  • March 12, 2005, 1:50 p.m. CST

    Neil Gaiman writes the same four characters in everything he doe

    by Fuck You Moses

    And they are as follows: (1) the Precocious Whimsical Child, (2) the Out-of-their-depth Stray Youth, (3) the Snottily Superior Mage/God/Higher Being, and (4) the Lovably Rough-Hewn Dodgy Bloke. All of them are as deep and as fascinating as the paper they're printed on. This overreliance on stock characters wouldn't be so harmful to Gaiman's projects if he weren't so ludicrously inatuated with them, wrapping thin strands of plot around flat caricatures that felt old after the first couple years of Sandman.

  • March 12, 2005, 2:56 p.m. CST

    Ah Yes

    by Anton_Sirius

    What's a TalkBack without ludicrous slams at the talented from insecure pustules? Yeah, only a hack could have done, let's say, Signal To Noise, just to pick one of Gaiman's lesser-known but still brilliant works. Idiots.

  • March 12, 2005, 7:38 p.m. CST

    Mori is by far the best thing about this site.

    by Barry Egan

  • March 12, 2005, 9:52 p.m. CST


    by Anton_Sirius

    And here I thought that whole "duh, you must live in your parent's basement, duh..." cliche was too pathetically lame for anyone to bother using anymore. I guess the classics never do go out of style. Next time try not to undermine your entire insult by being even less original than you claim the person you're bitching about it.

  • March 12, 2005, 11:55 p.m. CST


    by Right Bastard

    Try listening to a Sun Ra live album hopped up on NyQuil. I'm doing it now, and I see special colors. It's great to finally be on the defensive, after all those Star Wars TBs. Gaiman is a fantastic and incredibly creative writer. His mix of mythology and modern themes is carried through out his work, because most all of his work has an underlying connection (in much the way the Stephen King's stories are). I always found his aliterations extreemly fascinating, especially with this twisted and unexpected symbolism he gives everything. It's hard to truly enjoy his work unless you are well read. Gaiman and King may not be remembered in the way that Jack Kerouac, Oscar Wild, or Poe will be in one hundred years; but they will be remembered for their unique creativity. I've read a lot of Bradbury, and even if Neil chanced upon a similar theme (which I'm sure he'd admit to), their writing styles would be like apples and oranges. They're different creatures.

  • March 12, 2005, 11:57 p.m. CST

    F*ck grammer & spelling

    by Right Bastard

    I'm sick and it's only a friggin' internet message board. Anyway, sorry 'bout all those errors.

  • March 13, 2005, 7:44 a.m. CST

    Nice One Mori

    by DannyOcean01

    Great review and good news about the Fountain report. Looking forward to it.

  • March 13, 2005, 12:53 p.m. CST

    You've made me interested in seeing it now Moriarity.

    by morGoth

    My oldest daughter has been panning it but I think I'll check it out now. She also got me into reading Sandman but neither of us think much of his regular books. Ah well, looking forward to this...

  • March 13, 2005, 1:05 p.m. CST

    Really LemmiWinks...

    by morGoth

    ...couldn't you come up with something a bit more creative than the stupifyingly over-used "mom's basement" bit? What's next, "twelve sided dice rollers?" Geez, trollers have been using those mindless clich

  • March 13, 2005, 2:44 p.m. CST


    by Anton_Sirius

    So it's their egos that are bloated now, Lemmi, not their prose? Methinks somebody got dissed for an autograph by Grant Morrison, and has been nursing a grudge ever since...

  • March 14, 2005, 4:53 a.m. CST

    What's to "debate?"

    by morGoth

    We haven't even seen the movie yet. Otherwise, it's another infantile AICN flame-fest over personal taste where those don't like (fill in the blank) call those who do petty names and engage in mind numbing semantic wars. There is no debate, only an attempt to win a petty argument. However, I do appreciate flattery even when it's in the lowest form of imitation {[:^)

  • ie the effects are important but only as subordinate to and enhancing the narrative. That is LOTR etc. Lucas proposes empty effects with no soul and no story. Completely different thing entirely.

  • March 14, 2005, 9:44 p.m. CST

    FYI :: The trailer is here:

    by silent_light

  • March 15, 2005, 5:55 a.m. CST

    Hey Mr. Right Bastard

    by coolhive

    Grammar and spelling isn't something you "turn on or off" depending on where you are writing. Either you know your 5th grade English, or you don't. Learn to spell, shitbag. It only makes you look stupid. That attitude won't get you very far when you finally put together your first resume and fail to land that job because you can't spell "nukeular" or "liberry" or "excape". Grow up.

  • March 15, 2005, 5:53 p.m. CST

    The evils of Ny-Quil...

    by Childe Roland

    ...are far too familiar to me. In one of my first post collegiate apartments I contracted a wretched case of walking pneumonia and, before having it professionally diagnosed, decided to self medicate. However, being a poor journalist who hadn't been to the grocery store yet, much less had time to unpack his bathroom boxes, I had no means readily available other than some Jack Daniels and tea. After three of these concotions failed to alleviate my symptoms or render me unconscious, I embarked on a search of the cabinets in my new domicile and discovered a six-months-expired bottle of cherry flavored Ny-Quil beneath the kitchen sink. Being young and relatively convinced of my immortality, I took a shot. The next several hours are a hazy series of half-remembered dreams in which I was fairly certain that pets throughout the city were dying inexplicably only to rise up as zombie creatures and attack their masters. The friendly news anchor on my TV (which I later confirmed had been off the entire time) was issuing survival instructions even as my cat, having crawled beneath my couch to hack up a hairball, expired and returned in horrifically exaggerated zombie housecat form. Knives were useless, the anchor said with a smile as I rummaged through my drawers, as were blunt instruments. Only fire could stop the zombie pets. I came to lucidity on the floor of my bathroom with my back against the tub and my feet braced against the door, trying to light the hallway carpet on fire through the space beneath with imaginary matches as my cat scratched and pawed at the dancing shadows my fingers made. I thank God to this day that I was, apparently, unable to locate actual matches. Oh... and LemmiWinks is a pugnacious, half-educated idiot. Even a guy who took expired cold medication and tried to kill his cat could tell you that.