Archive for March, 2010
Zero Stars out of 4
The Boondock Saints is a sinner’s vision. An unholy work and a castrated version of a barely endurable crime film. Every attempt director Troy Duffy tries to manipulate you into Boondock’s violent mockery, the more you will begin to hate it. The saddest thing about Boondock Saints is that it tries to make killing seem like a game, a fun past time. Duffy leaves behind the realism, and even if Boondock Saints is an absurdist mob film, the charades are cliché ridden and tedious. (continue reading…)
MOVIE: Real Time
3 Stars out of 4
Real Time was a real surpriser. Coming out of Hamilton, Ontario and slipping through theatre’s grasp so quickly, there was not a very high expectation for this film. But this film impressed me, more than most of the film dramas nowadays that are so self-conscious that they get caught up in their own intelligence. Directed by Randall Cole, this a fairly modest film with two very good performances by lead actors Jay Baruchel and Randy Quaid.
It takes place probably during the late 1990′s and is about an unyielding, punk gambler over his head in a crime world that we appropriately learn little about here. He is forced into the car of a hitman named Ruben, whose character says he should get a degree in psychiatry than in the bounty hunting business. He tells the miscreant, Andy, that he has one hour to live before he gets a bullet in his skull. Considering Andy owes the mob 68000 dollars and only grandmas piggy bank money is in sight, he doesn’t have enough time to land a job at McDonalds to pay off this debt. We now endure a fairly short film presented in real time and the anxiety we feel waiting for that one hour to end is excruciating and in a good way.
Cole uses the classic Tarantino aspect of having a local radio station demonstrate the passing of time. Its music is fittingly Canadian based and the characters constantly react to each song and so do we. It sets a tone. Andy, neurotic that he is, can barely come to understand that he has only a twenty-fourth of a day to live. He feels no need to redeem himself in this hour, only solicit hookers and roast out his “abusing” boss at a chicken eatery.Some may find it odd that a hitman happens to be so compassionate but this is important because due to Andy’s unlikeable presence we need something to counterbalance this. Ruben may be Andy’s grim reaper, but this reaper has wings, angelic ones. He reveals every flaw in this character and how execution is no a result of others but from his own stubbornness. We are sadly in favour of the hitman; he, in fact, has a point.
Real Time really questions how you think. It takes a hired killer and characterizes him as good. A philosopher with a baretta. Andy is an ignoramus with an empty wallet. Andy has always blamed bad luck for his problems, while Ruben asserts that there can never be just bad luck for someone, there needs to good luck, a COUNTERBALANCE.
But Real Time is not just a dead pan drama. It has comedy, emotion, and intensity. Some may find this as an identity crisis or struggle for a definite tone. This could be true to a certain extent, but I succumbed to Real Time’s dark humour and knack for a visceral edge. Andy and Ruben’s counterbalance form a rather intimate relationship and we thus care about both characters. Some may find the conclusion contrived, maybe a little forced, but I found it to be special. It tells us that good luck may exist when you least expect to find it. Most of all, Real Time is effective because it never plods and you really wonder: will Ruben, with the heart he has, ever pull that trigger? The result is crushing but redeeming and shockingly not anticipating. Real Time is a wild card pulled out of rotten hand: it delivers when you least suspect it–what luck.
I SAY: SEE IT.
2 Stars out of 4
Clint Eastwood’s Invictus is a film that strives to turn heads but it does not know what it wants to provoke. His last film Gran Torino did a swell job of showing a withered-xenophobic man developing a touching relationship with a minority he denied respect for and Changeling postulated the levity quite demonstrated by the corrupt LAPD. (continue reading…)
2.5 Stars out of 4
Never has cinema been so exposed with coitus set pieces and homoerotic sequences in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. The film, really needless to say, takes place in New York City. This is a vignetted storyline more bare bone than the explicit nudity in which various genders of mixed sexualities unite at the underground Shortbus and fuck. The film is literal in its message, pedestrian in its approach. Shortbus is well-received as an activist film that unites gays and straights. All this is genuine but the film makes many plot lapses and, as expected, can fall in love with its own meaning after a while.
Though there are various subplots, the main focus is on the sex therapist Sofia (Sook Yin-Lee)–she prefers to call herself a couple counsellor. The film doesn’t centralize itself around the ideas of Sofia’s job, but rather her problems exterior to it. Interesting. But Shortbus falls short on Sofia’s complexity. We soon find out she is pre-orgasmic, an ironic twist that feels totally trite. She converses often with a gay couple (Jamie and James, played by Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy who are very good) and they are the ones who inform her of this Shortbus. James and Jamie have problems of their own–they have troubles satisfying each other sexually–a predictable sexual dilemma, but it somewhat works. However, instead of having Sofia and the couple having similar problems, why not make her a therapist whose ideas of sex are altered based off varying problems of her clients. There’s a nice complexity. Is it proposed? Inadvertently at times, but not really. Mitchell gives Sofia this issue to ultimate advance the plot–her loss of sexual pleasure brings her to the domain of satisfaction–Shortbus. Here is where the experience really starts.
Sofia endures the rest of the 90 minute duration au naturel. We are introduced to various other idiosyncratic characters–transvestites, bisexuals, gay couples, lost lovers, et al. The best performance in this movie is not of Yin-Lee but of Justin Hagan who plays Brad, a transsexual with the heart of a lion. He brings out a soul in a character who could be potentially caricatured. He is like Sofia’s sexual prophet; I mean, they make out, but his words of wisdom are more important than actual lip contact and Mitchell sometimes overlooks this.
Mitchell sets a tone immediately with a close-up of a penis in a bathtub. It isn’t crude; it is upfront and slightly comedic. The characters in Shortbus have problems of their own, but to what end. James becomes suicidal but his reasons are fairly underdeveloped–would dissatisfaction in sex be an immediate cause of death? Sofia is on a hunt for “the big O” and she is befriended with Severin (overplayed by Lindsay Beamish), a lesbian photographer who could be a fairly complex character, but her lines are never delivered that compelling, emotional touch. Eventually and fittingly, Severin and Sofia get it on–but for what purpose? This would be an intricate moment for Mitchell to express Sofia’s newly discovered capability or still incessant incapability to reach a climax, but the scene gets bogged down with Severin reaching her orgasm. It feels out of place, when it shouldn’t.
That being said, Shortbus is quite witty and means well. Its attempt to unite sexuality is noble and works at times. The ending number somehow works because it adds to Shortbus’s overly risqué edge. People hug, kiss, screw, and love as the diegetic singing sequence (sung well by Hagan) continues to harmonize. It is affective, thus proving that Shortbus can be effective through risqué cinematic style, but there is not enough of it.
Shortbus almost falls in love with its out-there explicitness. It tries too hard to be persuasive through constant nudity and unflinching scenes of masturbation and fornication. Does it work? For a little bit, but then it becomes too much with little purpose. It is a fairly well-written film that should slow down on the pelvic thrusts and more on the foreplay. As a result, Mitchell creates a film that is commendable in itself because it is a pacification of people’s sexual interests. No matter if you are gay, hetero, or bi, you are welcomed at the Shortbus, and that’s saying something–conversing and intercourse can lead to happiness. Sadly for Shortbus, there’s too much of the latter.
I SAY: RENT IT.
3.5 Stars out of 4
Sean Penn is a nifty director who knows how to pull at your heart strings. When watching Into the Wild, you won’t know whether you agree with how this character thinks or not, either way, you’ll deeply respect and adore him for his persistent sense of hedonism. This is not just a hippies galore lengthy two-and-a-half hour film, Penn offers us something more than that. A brutally honest character study of Christopher McCandless (pseudonym: Alexander Supertramp), who decides to take the long way home and travel across Alaskan plateaus in that little search for nothing at all. “What are you doing?” Wayne (played well in his brevity by Vince Vaughn) asks. Chris replies with a sigh of joy: “just livin’.” The film–just touching. (continue reading…)
MOVIE: Alpha Dog
3 Stars out of 4
This story is about parenting, submits Sonny Truelove (Bruce Willis) at an opening interview to Alpha Dog. Truelove’s harsh, recollecting manner implies that some devastating event has occurred, something of the unforgivable nature. Alpha Dog doesn’t centralize around a sins of the fathers thematic but it has a story about a bunch of suburban delinquents who go in over their head and can never come back to the surface. Director Nick Cassavetes smartly underuses the parents of the film. They are the absentees of the film and when the teenage drug runners are running wild, we must stop to ask where are their parents. But Alpha Dog doesn’t muddle itself down as an overzealous parental infomercial, it puts the parents to the side as the objects of strife and tells a story of the boy that snuck out the window, not the parents who sat crying at home. In exchange for that we get Emile Hirsch speaking in the tough-guy dialect, Justin Timberlake sputtering his lines as if he should be a rap star, and Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone flaring their lines along the chewed up scenery. But Cassavetes makes all the right choices–he puts the parents to the side, directs Timberlake to a strong performance, and Hirsch proves his talent once again. Alpha Dog just continues to get better.
Johnny Truelove (Hirsch), Frankie Ballanbacher (Timberlake), and his goons are having business problems. Jake (Ben Foster) hasn’t paid up Johnny over a little drug deal and tempers flare. Johnny and Jake go their separate ways, both threatening each other that their rivalry is far from over. By chance, Johnny and his gang drive by Jake’s younger brother Zack (the perfectly casted Anton Yelchin) and they take him as a marker. What turns out to be a completely innocuous hostage situation escalates into something Johnny and his boys cannot handle.
Cassavetes knows how to treat the youth in Alpha Dog. He does not revere this way of life they’re living through flashy out of place camera work or over the top party sequences. Well, there’s tons of parties but Cassavetes tones the scenes with this idea of mayhem. These kids may think they have it all, but they are in over their heads with the booze, drugs, and incessant fornication. And before they can realize they’re just kids, it is all too late.
Cassavetes’s narrative is a back-and-forth mantra of interviews, action, and titles illustrating the ‘witnesses’ of the entire happening. Cassavetes doesn’t necessarily tie everything together but he lets us know that these people are witnessing something. The recollecting parents are contemplating the aftermath. An interesting build that goes to and fro without relaying the answers. Cassavetes would rather that we vicariously question the whole ordeal.
Undoubtedly, Alpha Dog has its sloppy moments. The thuggish banter between the boys are delivered in rhyme to a supposed rap song, with extra cheese. With swear words every sentence, these boys talk as if they’ve seen to many gangster movies. Despite Cassavetes inconsistently adequate script, his direction is intelligent, modest, and effective. Alpha Dog lets its actors act and doesn’t rely on silly action sequences to boost its beat. Cassavetes takes care of that problem by inundating us with rap tunes, be it non-diegetic to dramatize the scene or diegetic to crank up a party’s atmosphere.
But the real highlight is Anton Yelchin. He’s really the only youth with a chance in this story. He is bashful, but he has smarts, benevolence, and a genuine appeal. The thug life hasn’t snared him yet. He’s the guy who we want to care for–and Cassavetes gets this. He doesn’t absorb the film in a promotion of Timberlake’s curious capability in acting–Justin does that himself; Yelchin gives a steadfast performance to make his interactions with the characters heartfelt and convincing. Even him and Timberlake’s character have a bromance but that bond is torn from a devastating climax, when decisions are made and the impulsiveness of the falling youth characters emits.
Perhaps the final interview of Alpha Dog is a misstep. Sharon Stone sheds a overly doleful tear and Bruce Willis sits in a chair with a devastated frown that almost show his eyebrows bouncing. The melancholy is a little too much. We realize the kids aren’t all right–the message is clear enough but Cassavetes feels the need to bombard us with an impassive interview that flushes out the climax’s already-established effectiveness. Cassavetes makes one minor error, but his superior correct directorial choices cannot go unnoticed. He handles the youth in the film with care and gives them an edge of authenticity. His interpretation of the youth’s impulsiveness isn’t ageist, just honest.
Alpha Dog will surprise you with its non-linear progression. It has humour, sorrow, and potent tones of nostalgia. The finale of Alpha Dog makes Henry Hill from Goodfellas seem like the lucky one. To recall, Henry’s last line from that masterpiece was “I have to live the rest of my life as a schmuck.” Cassavetes’s Alpha Dog is a modest inadvertent little response to that–at least, Mr. Hill, you’ll live the rest of your life.
I SAY: SEE IT.
MOVIE: South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
2 Stars out of 4
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut never lets up with the edgy satire and risqué subject matter. Sometimes you want to yell at Cartman and his pals to give it a rest after a while. But the controversial humour doesn’t bother me (for the most part) here–it’s the longevity. The fact that director Trey Parker try to make an 80 minute film with material that only has the stamina of maybe a 22 minute episode makes South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut a tedious parody. It is hardly worth the jingle bell numbers and the sporadicly clever one-liners to endure this satirical grease machine.
The opening, albeit, is a nice little kickoff. We get Cartman, Kenny, and the other misfits going to an R rated Canadian film starring Terrance and Philipp (interestingly enough the T and P relate the initials of the director). The tongue-in-cheek is au courant and voraciously smart. South Park: B, L, and U knows it’s an animated film with the silly animation and over the top profanity–and they love it! So do we…for the first twenty minutes or so. For the remaining hour, the film plays out all the same–the same jokes, the same satire, and the same old do re mi. With some often yet brief, mildly funny music numbers, South Park’s film could be classified more as a musical than a consistently strong satire.
Expectantly, the dick jokes are aplenty. Kenny (spontaneously) combusts by trying to make his fart flame out. Kenny does this because he saw it in the Terrence and Philipp movie and the hyperbolic result triggers a war between the United States (or rather MAC–Mothers Against Canada regime) and Canada.
But Kenny endures greater moguls. He descends into Hell, where Satan gives a warm (pun intended) welcome via intense torture shenanigans. This part of the film comes off just plain wrong–lacking satire and is purely awkward. But even Lucifer has character depth; his fuck buddy and potential partner is Saddam (who was alive at the time, which stirs up the controversy). They want to take over the world once the MAC execute Terrence and Philipp. Apparently in Hell they can work their own wonders. But the relationship between the devil and Saddam is obvious in satire and more acutely offensive in the homophobia.
The movie is undoubtedly smart. Its sexual innuendo is succinctly focused upon and rightly so, the film doesn’t become too pornographic in its profaneness–it just remarks on it. Cartman pursues the definition of clitoris and that it’s the only way to gain the love of his crush. The plot thread is weak, but the ideas are there. And arguably so, this film isn’t about plot, it’s about the humour and the satire. Here, especially when Cartman proclaims that “the clitoris has spoken” the feminized pun is intriguingly intelligent.
Other than that, South Park: B, L, U grows tiring very fast. Saddam is the personification of Hell, Cartman and his friends are the misguided, malleable youth, and the war on USA and Canada is pointless in its futility. I get it. But Parker (and Matt Stone, the co-writer) run out of ideas. The climax relies on the plot and then the film becomes jarringly violent and more like a war movie a la animation. In the first half, I’d rather be watching The SImpsons Movie and in the second half I’d rather be watching Saving Private Ryan (or Constantine for that matter).
The Simpsons Movie was much superior because it never let up with the originality. The plot was more pursuable and it wasn’t just a preachy narrative about environmentalism. It had strong allusions to celebrities, Alaska, tongue-in-cheek satire (something South Park: B, L, and U had at its beginning) and a revolutionary nude shot of Bart’s nether parts. Heck, even the Spider Pig gag was moderately funny and more laconic then the over abundance of songs in South Park that always come up when you really don’t want or care for it.
I’ve never been a South Park fan, but putting my subjectiveness to the side, I can confer that the show is very very smart. But it has that image and delivery because it only runs a mere 22 minutes. South Park: B, L, and U may have been an acceptable episode on political and social conflict but the result here after the episodic length becomes painfully stale. South Park: B, L, and U may never let up with the coarse language and pushy-offensive material, but it lets down in its energy. To recall, Terrence asks Philipp: “Philipp what have you learned from this experience?” If I were Cartman, I think I’d say “absolutely dick-fucking all, douche bag!” Does the wording of this response sound unnecessary? It should.
I SAY: SKIP IT.
MOVIE: Get Rich or Die Tryin’
2 Stars out of 4
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is a rags-to-riches story with as much originality as a rapper with heavy bling. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is in his acting debut and his sombre eyebrows, ripped muscles, and heart of gold emit a rather one-note but somewhat convincing portrayal of a surviving American rap star. Don’t expect to learn anything new about the streets (for that, watch Scorsese’s Mean Streets), don’t expect to learn anything fresh about gangster life (for that, see Scorsese’s Goodfellas), don’t expect to learn anything at all. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is far from a commendable movie; it’s cliché-ridden, a plot-based catastrophe, and is muddled down in some poor performances. But where does the film pull through at times? Its unflinching violence, its headstrong rap tunes, and a pursuable third-quarter.
For this film, think Truffaut’s The 400 Blows meets Goodfellas. This isn’t French New Wave cutting edge film noir obviously, but Get Rich tries to portray the contemporary thug life, in accordance to an actual rap icon. Usually it works, but as for the film, it has a very predictable almost campy narrative where every bullet sounds the same. Where my analogy pulls through is that this is a semi-biographical depiction of a street soldier just trying to survive. People get rich, people die tryin’. Can 50 Cent pull a surprisingly astounding performance as Eminem did in 8 Mile? No, but Get Rich, I submit, is a better film due to its circumvention of the typical prolonged dull rags-to-riches story that moves slower than molasses. Get Rich does have that overly familiar premise, but it is actually mildly entertaining, and it has that visceral punch these films require, feed off of. Something 8 Mile didn’t. Ultimately, Get Rich gets by with its action and doesn’t muddle itself down too much with poorly written conversations.
That being said, the first half of Get Rich is particularly frustrating. Every scene seems as if it is a copy-paste construction of other gangster films. An opening where some heat goes down and it opens up various questions; we see the gangster growing up (though there are some nice scenes with 50 Cent and his mother); then his journey into gang-banging, robberies, and murder. It’s all the same. The execution? All the same. But wait, don’t turn off the film yet, it gets better. Well, maybe a little.
Despite Get Rich’s tedious build, it comes to surprise you with its emotional appeal and unpredictability by the end. Though the events leading up to 50 Cent’s infamous shot-9-times divine intervention are a silly mess (a trite Colombian war with ‘Fiddy’ and his boss, Majestic–played with cliché menace by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje from LOST, which may have the favourable action but the originality is painfully astray), the last quarter of Get Rich calms down and recoils. Curtis starts to progressively get better with his rapping. His homeboys go about their day in prudence–and that offers up a nice-intense scene or two, such as when Barna (Terrence Howard) barely survives a set-up hit at a diner. 50 Cent proves he isn’t quite an acting virtuoso as you never see a change in his character. He is sombre in the first half and an equally solemn character in the second half. He may have gotten rich, but his chance to convey an intriguing character transformation died tryin’.
The last scene of Get Rich is satisfying enough–despite the ridiculously contrived and over-played final showdown–50 Cent gets up on stage doing what he does best. This is the life we only see of Curtis in today’s society and we are left with that rather narrow view of him as well. A convincing finish. The rest of the film? Not so convincing, but the guns looks cool.
I SAY: SKIP IT…or rent it for 50 Cent fans.
MOVIE: How To Train Your Dragon
2.5 Stars out of 4
If I told you the pseudo-3D Avatar film had released already, you would have sent me to Bedlam. How to Train Your Dragon is not as ambitious as Avatar, with Cameron’s stylistic action sequences and invention of foreign linguistics, but it succeeds and fails just as that best picture nominee did. It’s not that I am totally against familiarity, clichés, and utter cuteness (when it’s for the kids), but How To Train Your Dragon never breaks that animated wall. Nothing, other than the 3D visuals, really come to life. Dreamworks gives us a good-intentioned animated film that never really humanizes itself. I’m sure the kiddies will enjoy this reasonably short, amiable film, but I’m not sure that I thoroughly did, to a certain extent.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the viking that couldn’t. It’s like we dipped Michael Cera in the Viking era and expected him to adapt nicely. Ah hmm. Hiccup barely finds his Valhalla. He’s just too nice to be a viking. Hiccup directs to us, in a competent enough opening, a line claiming: some people have cows, but we have dragons. It’s not the pests or crows that eat the crops or the infestation of ants in the springtime that these villages worry about, it’s the dragons. They breathe blistering hot fire across the landscape and thrust their jagged teeth at their foes (shockingly, we see no one perish on screen–how fortunate, ho hum). We get the gist: dragons are bad, so kill them. A dead dragon a day will keep the doctor away.
Hiccup is keen on becoming a ferocious viking warrior like his father Stoick (Gerard Butler, barking in his ’300′ shrills again). Baruchel is the perfect voice for our little benevolent protagonist–awkward, sarcastic, nonchalant, and sympathetic. He is not a viking, he is a person. He is hesitant in Dragon slaying training. He wants to fend and kill these dragons off, but somehow he can only raise the dagger, not plunge it downwards into those beasts’s flesh. He comes to realize something: for all you kids out there, killing animals is bad and I will be the good guy and train them. Hiccup decides to train these dragons, but he has to keep it all a secret. Too bad the printing press wasn’t around back then, Hiccup could have published Dragon Training for Dummies, that would have been a nice satirical touch.
The narrative moves on trying to pull you into the emotions. Hiccup befriends a young dragon and gradually, via a Dances with Wolves summarized series of events, Hiccup realizes that we can discipline these creatures, not massacre them.
Even Hiccup has a love interest. Astrid, the viking gal with a heart of stone, who becomes jealous of Hiccup’s unusual ways of making the dragon’s yield to him. Her hatred of him eventually pulls them together. Once again, the nerd gets the girl — and indeed the beauty did get the beast. Note that down, children.
I am totally content with Train Your Dragon’s noble intentions. I’m sure the kids will warm up to it nicely and not grow too restless in its wildly stunning visuals and entertaining storyline. I am more concerned with the adults here because the signature criteria for animated films is that it appeals to both children and adults. But for the older folk, the jokes will come off a little callow and thin. It’s no doubt cute and cuddly, but so is a puppy dog and even those get hungry for some meat after a while. The meat in Train Your Dragon is a little stale. The emotions are animated, the characters are hard to relate to, and the plot seems to be running on autopilot. Train Your Dragon is not a poor effort, it just fails to break that dimension animated films always instil. Drawn up characters need to surpass the caricatured but they never do here, with the exception of Hiccup, who thrives off Baruchel’s coy tone.
Train Your Dragon definitely delivers on that third dimension. Being made directly for 3D, Train Your Dragon has vivid scenery, meticulously drawn characters, and swooping aerial shots of dragons flying amuck. The set pieces involving the dragon and Hiccup soaring through the sky is a vicarious experience. You feel there with these characters, but when Train Your Dragon grounds itself, the experience is too familiar, glued to sticky clichés that may be respected by the kids, but will disgruntle the adolescent and beyond.
But the plot is pursuable enough and when the vikings are forced to face a very foreboding behemoth, the action escalates into a pungent battle flick that all can enjoy. The effects fly at you, the visuals cast off, and the characters all emerge together on screen as one animated ensemble. We get what we expect: a cordial ending with a just as welcoming take- home message. The kids will have a good sleep that night. But I never did; one eye stayed open, not in fear of the vivacious fire breathers, but of something else–this cute and cuddly film was still a nothing-special practice of the more-to-come Avatar remakes. Let that incessant charade begin but expect the insomnia.
I SAY: RENT IT.
MOVIE: Alice in Wonderland
2.5 Stars out of 4 (viewed in 3D)
Tim Burton (Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow) just has that touch to rattle you with his dour expressionism. Nightmare Before Christmas was a comedically dark adventure into the pseudo-Christmas charades and his more newer works Sweeney Todd was a very concrete yet theatrically gifted play turned movie. Alice In Wonderland undoubtedly has that sparking originality. This is a concoction of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, 19th century novelties turned psychedelic fantasy. Alice is back, the Mad Hatter is Depp, the Queen is Helena Bonham Carter. What could go wrong? Nothing much, but Alice In Wonderland this time around just feels too ordinary and this will probably leave most people cold.
We start off in the lush and lustrous England, where the grass is as green as lime and the English folk speak with the Aristocratic upper lip. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is different from them. She is more of an adventurer. She is being forced to merry the highly flippant and far from alluring Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill). Alice is not as precocious as she looks. She is eager to go down the rabbit hole and she indeed does. She, nervously, goes through several potions, like an ambivalent acid trip, and shrinks herself to proportion of this whimsical wonderland. My problem lies exactly here: this Wonderland is way too typical. When Alice opens that door to that entrancing land of magic you expect Burton style to fly at you like that ominously smiling kitty cat. But he never really does.
The first few scenes in Wonderland are odd enough. The Mad Hatter pulls Alice onto a tea table talking with an effeminately quick tone, the Hatter asserts: “you’re awfully late you know…naughty!” In the midst of this, the hysteric bunny pulls his ears as if on a high frenzy and the mouse cheerfully snickers. Note–Burton’s soaring aptitude here: bringing these minor characters to life. THey have their fetishes, their facial nuances, and eccentric personalities. What attracts us to Alice, to that Queen, to the Hatter? Nothing much. It’s not that their performances are mediocre, they just don’t go beyond. The chewed up scenery needs to linger here and it never does. This adventure is absurd and crazy enough, so make it that.
Alice in Wonderland works modestly well as an adventure story. But that’s too typical for an atypical premise. You want those out there themes, the dark humour, the bewitched characters, but after a while, this is a very ordinary wonderland. Bonham Carter has the totalitarian menace as the Red Queen but she is only that. Tim Burton is so good at given his characters that fourth dimension–something that makes them human but also something a little more than that. The quirks here are died down, albeit competent. Alice In Wonderland almost tries to exude itself as an epic, but then Burton’s attempted whimsical tale avoids that mind trip the audience will want.
That being said, Alice In Wonderland is not a bad movie. Alice seems to learn from her experiences, she is likeable enough, and she has a heart–she’s the little wonder girl that we can cheer and root for. Her importance in the film makes her the Neo of Wonderland–the one meant down to bring the authoritarian queen. You will find yourself somewhat exhilarated by the action sequences, but the ground isn’t broken. It’s a step ahead of Golden Compass combat, a step below Lord of the Rings territory. So where does Alice in Wonderland lie? A moderately adequate adventure story, perhaps, but its expressionistic touches are too vague.
Even the 3D is a slight let down. I am always hesitant from 3D being used to pop things at your face like this is a venture into a Disney land haunted house. Alice In Wonderland avoids that gimmick, but it never immerses you. We need, or rather should be immersed into this place–we need to vicariously participate here. Instead, the 3D just enhances the visual feast. It makes the silver a little shinier, but the quality remains just as same. For better or worse. Avatar found a way to put you in Pandora by having ash floating down in front of you. Here, the 3D is strikingly distant. All we are left to do is observe: Alice in Wonderland looks mighty beautiful, but is it worth that 3D trip?
Alice In Wonderland will leave you satisfied in its attempt to wow with its action narrative. But Carroll’s story thrives off its peculiarities and exaggerated and highly expressionistic environments. The spectacle sure has that dour appeal, but the rest of the film is way too normal. Tim Burton certainly loves the weird, but Alice in Wonderland will leave you in too deep with moderation. Refrain from the 3D glossiness and endure that second dimension—maybe that trip down the rabbit hole would be just the same.
I SAY: RENT IT.