The Wrong Alice Indeed

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Dir. Tim Burton, 2010)

I had forgotten that in my review of SWEENEY TODD (January 13th, 2008) I had joked that I was only going to see Burton/Depp productions at Movies At Timberlyne in Chapel Hill. Since I now live in Raleigh, I’m so glad that wasn’t a strict vow because this really wouldn’t have been worth the 40 minute drive.

This is exactly what I thought it was going to be – another CGI fueled fantasy fest with Depp dancing around like a maniac as dark yet ostensibly beautiful imagery bombards the viewer.

We all know the basic story here so I’ll try and keep it brief. A 19 year old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) in Victorian times escapes from her oppressive family and the unwanted marriage proposal from a chinless Bourgeois doofus of a suiter (Leo Bill) into a magical land. She encounters, you know, a White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), a Blue Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), a Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), and twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both voice
d by Matt Lucas).

For villainy’s sake there is the Red Queen – Helena Bonhma Carter (you knew she’d have to be here somewhere) with a disturbingly huge head, who has stolen the reign of the land from her sister, the blindingly White Queen (Anne Hathaway) – who strangely has little presence. Also there’s Crispin Glover, who doesn’t look like he likes working in ginormous budget world, plays Stayne Knave of Hearts, the ominous head of the Red Queen’s army.

But of course most folks won’t care about any of that stuff – they care about Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.

For some reason his make-up with his green eyes and fiery orange hair made him look like Madonna at times. His patently wacky performance will surely please hardcore Depp fans, but his take on the character, much like his turns in previous Burton work as Willy Wonka and Sweeney Todd, has that not so fresh feeling.

I personally feel that Depp and Burton should be separated for a decade. If they want to come back then and make another Disney re-imagining of something that’s been done to death in the past, so be it. But give us, or at least me, a break for a bit!

The film builds to a big battle climax which too greatly resembles the terrain and aesthetics of the STAR WARS prequels. The humorless execution and the distinct lack of charm made the third act particularly hard going.

Still, I can’t completely slag it off. On the whole it’s a well made and reasonably entertaining movie that I think a lot of people will enjoy. There are inspired flights of animated fancy and some close to great Gilliam-esque visual splendor.

I just felt overall that as played by Wasikowska, Alice was too much of a blank slate, Depp was too weird, Glover not weird enough, Bonham Carter not as amusing as she’s supposed to be, and the whole remake enterprise ambiance was a bit off.

All through the first half of the film, seemingly every character says that Alice is the “wrong Alice.” I’m not going to spoil why it is they say that, but of the dozens of adaptations out there in which to experience Lewis Carroll’s immortal story, it’s an apt statement because this sure isn’t the right one.

More later…

9: The Film Babble Blog Review

9 (Dir. Shane Acker, 2009)

I have the feeling that future historians are going to think that we, or at least the film makers of our time, had a ginormous global death wish – what with all the post apocalyptic movie premises out there. And we haven’t even gone down THE ROAD yet either! So with another “world after war” weary setting comes the animated 9 – releasing conveniently enough tomorrow on 9/09/09 (mind you, this year also offers DISTRICT 9 and NINE). In the film though 9 isn’t a date, it’s the number given to a “stitch punk” – the ninth sentient rag doll made by a scientist (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer) as the world was on the brink of destruction.

After 9 (Elijah Wood) comes to in the home of the scientist he finds the other rag dolls (1-8) hiding in the rubble from evil creature-like machines that are hunting them through the darkness. This is not a movie that necessarily needs name actors to provide voices but they’re there – joining Wood as his fellow stitch punks is Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, and seemingly the sole source of humor and warmth in the entire project – John C. Reilly (Reilly has what may be the one single funny line). 9 rallies the rag dolls to stand up and fight the tyrannical mechanical monsters, believing that he’s discovered the means and the meaning behind it all to defeat them.

Resembling a TERMINATOR movie as imagined by Tim Burton (who executive produced), 9 is too dark and scary for kids (hence its PG-13 rating) and it’s strained structure may be too dragging for adults. It’s too thin a narrative to even fill its short running time (79 minutes); it’s as if its only ambition was to be aestetically absorbing. Still, there are a few top notch action sequences and I adored one intensely striking scene in which the stitch punks find a phonograph and put the needle down on “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” for a brief relaxed interlude while the machines slowly approach on the horizon. 9 is an admirable effort on many levels, mostly in the high caliber of the animation, but ultimately comes off as cold and dystopian as the world our rag doll rebels are struggling to rise above.

More later…

Depp & Burton Together Again At The Multiplex

I went today with my Varsity Theatre co-worker friend Molly to see SWEENEY TODD: DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at Movies At Timberlyne. I realized as we pulled up that the last time I’d been to this particular multiplex was for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY – another Tim Burton/Johnny Depp deal. So I decided that I’ll only go to Timberlyne to see Burton/Depp movies from this day forward. So I won’t be back ’til 2010 when Burton’s live action ALICE IN WONDERLAND is released. Depp as the Mad Hatter – can’t hardly wait.

So onto the picture show:

(Dir. Tim Burton, 2007)

I went in to this completely unfamiliar with the original 1979 Steven Sondheim musical (I say “original” loosely – that was based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond which was based on…oh, you get the idea) so I liked letting it play out with no comparing notions. To me it was essentially the 6th in the Burton/Depp series – which are usually gothic twisted stories with a misunderstood but still magnetic protagonist with an odd affliction or vision and all the visual splendor that a crazy haired madman director can provide.

This time though Depp is singing and not badly I admit. Burton’s wife and reporatory member Helen Bonham Carter has good pipes too. In fact all of the cast -Sasha Baron Cohen (BORAT!), Alan Rickman, and Jamie Campbell Bower all sang without embarrasment – I just wish they had better songs to sing. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first let’s get onto the obligatory plot description.

Depp in the title role, with all the strained intensity he brought to Captain Jack Sparrow, shows up in London after years in exile. He finds that his beloved wife poisoned herself and a daughter is being held captive by an evil Judge (Rickman) – the same Judge who had him exiled.

His old landlady (Carter) runs a scummy roach-ridden meat-pie emporium and after a taste of one of her ‘orrible pies she returns his treasured set of razors – which shine like EDWARD SCISSORHAND‘s blades in the light. Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) – the young sailor who brought Todd home, falls in love with Todd’s daughter (Jane Wisener) and plots to save her from the evil Judge. Todd, while planing his revenge against the Judge, goes into an odd business venture with his lusty landlady. He, with Barber shop set-up, slits the throats of his customers and drops them through a chute to her basement to be used for meat in her ‘orrible pies.

Maybe, as I was told, the editing down to 2 hours from 3 of the original score made for a lot of concessions but the amount of fragmentary non-gripping verses without choruses and then overlong sequences based on a flimsy overdone melody left me buried musically. None of the songs were catchy enough for me to remember right now is what I’m saying. The look of the film with its grey hued tones contrasting with the bright rich red color of blood lives up the best of Burton except that the flour whiteness of Depp’s and Bonham Carter’s skin almost gave me snow blindness.

Typical of Burton there are a handful of fitfully funny bits – Depp’s unchanging gloomy mug in the one sunny fantasy scene song that Bonham Carter sings (“By The Sea”) is one that comes to mind. Still the whole thing seems to lack ommph. Full sequences are better than passable but there was no real passion present.

Depp and Burton next time out should sink their teeth into such material not just nibble. I mean a musical mind you, one with a costume ball rape scene and scores of bloody slit throats, should be a full meal not a glorified Hors d’oeuvre. Just sayin’ that this choppy LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS meets DELICATESSEN could’ve been so much more.

More later…