Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was actually Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, given that it was the latter who actually directed the film. Here, he displays his mastery again, helming an eye-popping animated extravaganza he adapted from Neil Gaiman’s best-selling book. Dakota Fanning provides the voice of Coraline, a lonely little girl who discovers an alternate world hidden behind a small door in her family’s new house. Initially, life does seem more pleasant on the other side -- her alternate parents are hipper, the food is tastier, the entertainment is more dazzling -- but it’s not long before things take a dark turn, and, with the help of a sage black cat, Coraline soon finds herself fighting for her very soul. The visual scheme -- as with Nightmare, stop-motion animation is the order of the day -- is remarkable enough in any dimension, but do make an effort to catch the film in one of its 3-D presentations.
The International is an action flick with smarts, but that’s not to say the brain and the brawn always coexist easily. Clive Owen stars as an Interpol agent who, with the help of a New York assistant D.A. (Naomi Watts), tries to bring down a banking institution that’s long been involved in illegal activities on a global scale (backing coups, purchasing weapons, that sort of thing). Although loosely based on a real-life scandal, The International adheres more to cinematic conspiracy-theory conventions, thus emerging as a pale shadow of such great works in the same mold as The Parallax View and The Manchurian Candidate. Still, director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) keeps the film moving (Run Clive Run would have been an acceptance title, given how much mileage Tykwer gets out of his star), and there’s one spectacular (if overlong) shootout at the Guggenheim Museum that’s alone worth the admission price.