Review: Alice in Wonderland (and the Oscars)

A whirlwind of fantasy and imagery, vivid colours and wonderment…signifying “meh” – much love given to the assist from Billy Shakespeare on the VERY loose rip-off.

After Edward Scissorhands and the Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton put out movies more known for flash than for substance.  Why mess with tradition? Alice in Wonderland may be a visual marvel but it gives us characters with no emotional tether to the audience and a storyline we’ve seen a hundred times before.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is all grown up.  She’s 18, dreading an arranged marriage with the local nerdy Lord, and plagued by dreams of a “Wonderland” she can’t seem to escape. Yep, sounds fun.  When she’s finally overcome with real world doubts, she runs away and after a familiar rabbit, only to fall into a fantasy that feels she’s been before. Alice spends the rest of her time trying to wake up from her ‘dream,’ helping to overthrow the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) to return the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to power, and surviving the madness of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). Is this the same Alice?  Will she get home?  Will she marry that nerdy Lord? How big is the Red Queen’s head? Well a couple of those questions get answered.

I like Tim Burton.  I can’t help myself.  The man can direct a visual masterpiece…I’m finally now questioning his story telling skills.  With regards to Alice…, Burton is even quoted as saying that he never liked the story of Wonderland because it felt like one encounter after another with crazy people, with no narrative.  Well kudos for creating a narrative, you just didn’t make me care Timmy B.

Newcomer Mara W is a very bland Alice.  She looks like Gwenyth Paltrow with less charm…which would have come in handy when she has to go through some very familiar paces.  A mom that knows best for her, an absent father she relates to, a fiancée that she doesn’t want to marry, a brother-in-law that doesn’t treat her sister as she should… Is this a Woody Allen movie?  I know there doesn’t seem to be any new ideas in Hollywood just rather new ways of telling stories…well this isn’t it. It all feels done before…and better. We don’t feel anything for Alice and her plight. Not good when her names in the title of the movie.

The rest of the cast are just over the top caricatures.  I feel like Burton just said to the actors, “Go. Be over the top and take over every scene you’re in.” The few standouts were the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Michael Sheen) and the White Queen. Characters that are fun to watch but not onscreen enough for you to root for them, which is supposed to be the role of Depp’s Mad Hatter.  Oh he’s zany and fun, and suddenly Scottish (or was he always? Probably missing something from the source material but you never know. RESEARCH!), but there isn’t enough of the character besides his crazy outbursts and his ability to make hats. Again, another character that looks great…but that’s it.

Finally, the special effects were indeed special. Wonderland was indeed wondrous.  From the Queens’ castles to the chessboard battle to the card/chess knights, this movie is some sweet eye candy. Maybe this movie should be a display screen for Blu-Ray to sell TVs…  Question: Why was this movie in 3-D? It wasn’t created with that in mind, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction with the success of Avatar. The effect didn’t really add to the experience. With 3-D, there should be some WOW moments because of the technology but nope, that didn’t really happen.  Hey Burton – story first and figuring out whether you need to add the bells and whistles second.

1 star – a renter. If you are an uber fan of the story, by all means check it out.  But really the only thing going for this movie is the pretty pictures. If movie theatres want to get more asses in the seats and away from big screen TVs, they need to focus as much on actually drawing the audience in as the visuals. A missed mark here.

82nd Academy Awards OR 1
° Degree of Oscar Separation
Well it’s that time again when millionaires congratulate each other and egos get more egoey (yes you James Cameron). This is a pretty predictable year so may have made my picks but also, in vein with my blog, I thought I’d take those winners that will probably take home the prize and suggest a movie that you may benefit from checking out. (I really should get a dime from local video rentals, pushing their back catalogue).

Best Picture Prediction: The Hurt Locker
My Suggestion:  Near Dark (1987) – Kathryn Bigelow started her career strong with this look at vampires.  Don’t let the Twilightesque packaging fool you. That’s marketing baby. This is a dark, funny and different take on the well exhausted blood-sucker formula.

Best Director Prediction: James Cameron for Avatar
My Suggestion: Solaris (2002) – I wanted to recommend something that not everyone has seen.  Hard to do with Cameron flicks. So I went back to a movie he produced, Steven Soderbergh directed and George “I do so mancrush him” Clooney.  A remake of a Russian sci-fi flick, Clooney is alone in space going a little mad, seeing those that are long dead.  A little heady but very interesting.

Best Actor Prediction: Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart
My Suggestion: Seabiscuit (2003) – Saw this in the theatre and picked it up on DVD the minute it was out. A great biopic of Seabiscuit and the three men that were so instrumental in the racehorse’s victories.  Toby McGuire, Bridged and Chris Cooper do a great job and are really complimented by William H. Macy as the play-by-play guy. Fun, heartfelt true story.

Best Actress Prediction: Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side
My Suggestion: While You Were Sleeping (1995) – Cutesy.  It’s Bullock.  It’s what she does. After Speed, she was riding high and made this movie to cement her as a romantic comedy lead. With Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher, it’s about a lonely girl that creates a fake relationship with a coma patient to spark something in her own life. Aaaand it’s not as dark as that description sounds.  It’s well written and it’ll make the girls happy.

Best Support Actor Prediction: Christoph Waltz for Inglorious Basterds
Suggestion:  Oldboy (2003) – Waltz came out of nowhere with background of tons of films I’ve never heard of or can pronounce. His performance alone is worth seeing Basterds…HOWEVER, I have to recommend something so I’m going with a violent foreign flick of my own. Oldboy is twisted, full of action and one of the most disturbing endings of any movie ever. Not for everyone. But then, the best movies aren’t.

Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
My Suggestion: The Woodsman (2004) – Produced by Precious’ Director, this isn’t a light movie. Oh hell no. Kevin Bacon is a reformed(?) criminal who’s been relocated to try to come to terms with the brutal acts he’s committed while establishing a real connection with a local (Kyra Sedgewick). Dark dark dark dark. But good if you can handle the topic.

Oscar Honourable Mention: (500) Days of Summer. How the hell this wasn’t nominated for Best Original Screenplay, I do not know. Just a freaking nomination! It doesn’t even have to win.  Geeeez. An original romantic comedy and when was the last time that was said and meant?

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  1. Well, it’s about time you said something about the Oscars.

  2. Better late than never? I was soooo close too.

  3. I just saw “Alice in Wonderland” in 3D and was quite entertained. Was it the best story? No. Was it visually stunning? Yes. This was the first time I’ve seen a digital 3D movie (just climbed out from that pesky rock), and I was impressed. Watching Alice fall down the hole in 3D was worth the extra $3 to me. The only real annoyance was Anne Hathaway’s perpetual bent elbow bent wrist look. Which is too bad because I usually like her.

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