Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Alice in Wonderland" / Mini-Reviews: "Hunger" / "The Invention of Lying" / "The Damned United"

Alice in Wonderland - Directed by Tim Burton, starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter - Rated PG

The Kurgan digs the Mad Hatter...he just wishes he was a little evil.

Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s latest collaboration, is equal parts strange and goofy. This is not a bad thing, I was just hoping for something a bit darker. The film is still enjoyable and it certainly held my interest.

This version of the classic story by Lewis Carroll is really a combination/reimagining of both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.” So you get the usual cast of characters (the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, the White Queen, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat), but with a more traditional, linear plot. I am not a Lewis Carroll scholar or anything, but the books, from the skimming I did, came across as more of a random series of crazy events. To be honest, I was happy to see a linear plot added. I suppose a purist might have problems, though.

The linear story I mentioned above starts off simply enough. Young Alice has just awoken from a nightmare involving the above cast of characters. Her father let’s her know that even if she is a little crazy, it’s okay (lesson to all little girls: it’s okay to be yourself). Cut to eleven years later, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now a young lady, expected to marry a lord and lead a very boring life. Instead, she chases after the White Rabbit and falls down the rabbit hole. And this is, of course, where the story picks up a bit. Alice quickly learns that she is foretold to be a great champion who will slay the Jabberwocky with the vorpal sword and help bring peace back to Wonderland. She and the inhabitants of Wonderland, however, are not sure if she’s the right Alice for the job.

I’ve summarized the story enough. Suffice it to say that all of the expected encounters have a point behind them and they all lead up to the showdown between the Red Queen and the White Queen. I enjoyed the story of the film, especially since it gave the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) a back story and a purpose. Still, though, do not expect this to be a Mad Hatter movie just because Depp’s face is plastered all over the marketing. The Hatter is still a side character, though Depp’s scenes were the most enjoyable in the film. You really can’t go wrong when Depp is given free rein to crazy up the screen.

Depp is great and he is backed up by some other fun performances, both live action and voice. Helena Bonham Carter and Crispin Glover (as the Red Queen and Stayne, Knave of Hearts, respectively) work very well together. Carter handles the famous “Off with their heads!” outbursts quite well and Glover is a creepy guy no matter what he does so his presence alone made his character work. Among the voice actors, I enjoyed Alan Rickman as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar and Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat the most. They both seemed to embody each character perfectly.

Since there are voice actors, that obviously means that a good portion of this film is done with computer animated effects, and they are quite well done. The world created for the screen looks great. I found myself just looking around the screen picking up the little details here and there (of course it was easy to pick up the smaller elements since I was watching it in IMAX). Wonderland might not be Pandora or anything, but it is still interesting enough to keep your eyes busy throughout the film.

Inevitably, Alice in Wonderland is going to be compared to Avatar since this is the first IMAX/3D release since that blockbuster came out. First off, the 3D is not as impressive as it was with Avatar. This may be because Alice wasn’t shot in 3D; it was converted to 3D later. This is becoming a common practice since Avatar started breaking records and I’m not sure I like it. Don’t get me wrong, the 3D is still impressive at times and it helps you feel like you’re in Wonderland along with Alice. I just wish they would’ve have actually filmed it with 3D cameras instead of converting it later.

Alice in Wonderland still looks good, it just could have looked so much better. I enjoyed the story more than the visuals, if for no other reason than it was quite different than I expected it to be. It may have been a bit goofier than I would have liked (the Mad Hatter’s little dance at the end was quite stupid), but it has some great moments as well (Alice’s showdown with the Jabberwocky was my favorite). The film makes for a decent family film. I don’t think it’s going to go down as a beloved classic or anything, but I certainly think Alice in Wonderland is worth checking out.


Hunger - Co-written and directed by Steve McQueen, starring Michael Fassbender - Not Rated
This film, which seemed to take forever to get a video release, is best known for Fassbender's performance and for good reason. Fassbender plays Bobby Sands, an Irish political prisoner who died during a hunger strike in prison. Fassbender deserves every bit of praise he gets. He's actually not on screen as much as you would think, but his moments are extremely effective. It's not only his physical transformation (which I found even more shocking than Christian Bale's weight loss in The Machinist) that is impressive. I found the lengthy dialogue scene with a priest to be just as effective. And that is really saying something for this movie in general: I found a twenty-plus minute dialogue scene in which the camera never moves to be completely enthralling, not to mention impressive, as it was one continuous take. That scene alone makes this film worth watching. That doesn't mean the rest of it isn't good, though. Steve McQueen did a great job of putting the viewer in prison. It's not pleasant and it shouldn't be. And it is very effective.

The Invention of Lying - Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, starring Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, and Louis C.K. - Rated PG-13

This high concept comedy takes place in a world where lying hasn't been invented yet. Although, technically that's not correct. Characters in the film just blurt out what they are thinking sometimes. So it's not that people can't lie, it's also that they cannot stop themselves from telling people what is on their mind. Of course, this factor makes character interactions much funnier so I'm okay with it. I'm not going to ruin any of the gags for you, just rest assured that you'll laugh at least a few times during this one. I found it quite funny, but I could see some people getting tired of the joke halfway through. Oh, and some people will definitely be turned away by the film's treatment of religion, so if you're easily offended when it comes to religious matters, you may want to skip this one. If you're not easily offended, give this one a try.

The Damned United - Directed by Tom Hooper, starring Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, and Timothy Spall - Rated R

I wasn't expecting much from this film. Mainly due to the fact that it's about a soccer (sorry, rest of the world, I mean football) coach rivalry during the 1970's between Brian Clough (Sheen) and Don Revie (Meaney). But it turns out that it is actually a character study of Clough. He is ambitious to the point of obsession, but it's hard not to like the guy because Sheen plays him so well. But what really hooked me with this one was the way the story was told. It jumps around a bit and that makes things much more interesting than if it was in order. I was worried about having to watch a lot of soccer scenes but that turned out to be a complete non-issue as well. This simply is not a sports movie. I know nothing about the sport of soccer and my lack of knowledge did not affect my viewing at all. So if you were put off by the subject matter with this one you might want to think again because The Damned United is much more than a soccer movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment