Friday, March 12, 2010

Alice in Wonderland: It Ain't Yer Mama's Disney

alice in wonderland,tim burton,movie poster,johnny depp

I grew up with the Disney version of Lewis Carrol's "Alice in Wonderland," like many people of the last fifty years. I've tried reading it, and the guy was so fueled by drugs (evidently) that it's difficult to get through. I'll have to make another stab at it, after watching Tim Burton's interpretation. Not to say that Burton's interpretation is extremely accurate; in fact, I'm quite sure there are many departures from the original material. Tim Burton has put forth a lot of interesting adaptations in the last few years, though this is somehow even more light-hearted than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Tim Burton's interpretation stars Johnny Depp (the Mad Hatter) and Helena Bonham Carter (the Queen of Hearts), of course, as well as Anne Hathaway (the White Queen) and relative newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Alice. Alan Rickman has a brief cameo as the Caterpillar, and Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts. One of the best characters has always been the Cheshire Cat, which is marvelously CG'd, and voiced perfectly by Stephen Fry. It really is great casting, and if anyone was to play the Mad Hatter as a primary character in a Tim Burton Movie, it had to be Johnny Depp. Mia Wasikowska pulls her own weight throughout the film, which is interesting considering she's presented at varying heights and sizes thanks to potions and cakes.

Now, I really enjoy Tim Burton's films. It is kind of strange that he's only directed adaptations in the last few years, and nothing original. It's not terrible, per se, but I kind of wish he'd come up with something new. Of course, I like new versions of classics or well-established film institutions. But I kind of miss new things like Edward Scissorhands. Oh well. It remains a visually intriguing, sweeping film with subtle and cinematically relevant 3D effects, with a whimsical touch to the original story and a strong attention to character and emotion.

There have been a lot of complaints and criticisms out there about the lack of plot in this film, and I'm not entirely convinced that these detractors actually recognize what that word means. This film clearly has a plot, and is much more attentive to character and overall story than previous versions. Generally, Alice in Wonderland is little more than a random series of bizarre interactions that eventually stop. However, I feel that Tim Burton was able to turn this into something compelling and filled with action, as well as humour and good character. This is partly due to the writing (not by Burton, but Linda Woolverton), and partly the depth of performance.

I may be gushing a bit too much, since I have a near-perpetual soft-spot for Tim Burton movies and the absolute insanity of Lewis Carrol. It's still a good film, worth watching, entertaining, and engaging. Plus, it's almost always worth seeing a film in 3D if you can help it. Johnny Depp is an interesting Mad Hatter, truly crazy, with big crazy eyes, and the occasional Scottish Braveheart-esque accent when he's feeling particularly determined. The Queen of Hearts is comically evil, with her giant bobble-head. The final chess-board showdown is pretty intense as well, where Alice must face down a dreaded monster to win a war she's barely even aware of.

Go see it in the theater in 3D if you can, it's a great experience. Otherwise, I guess you can wait to rent it, but I don't see much point in it. Of course, I'll probably buy it when it comes out on DVD, and I'll hope it's released in 3D there, too, like Coraline. Plus, I just like seeing the Lady wearing those big ol' Buddy Holly glasses. I just wish they'd release it in the same formatting as the theatrical release, that way I can use these dumb glasses again.

I give Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland three and a half rampaging bandersnaches out of five, or three and a half delirious, Scottish, mangy, twitchy, manic and tea-loving March Hares out of five. EAVB_BAEKJGFYIL

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Give 'Em Hell, Malone: Give 'Em A Plot, Instead

thomas jane,give 'em hell malone,russell mulcahy

The title of this post probably sounds a little harsher than it really needs to. However, I couldn't think of anything more clever. Give 'Em Hell, Malone is a stylistic and action-packed neo-noir, full of hard-boiled, square-jawed, gravel-voiced pile of weirdness. It lacks the snappy, intelligent dialogue often characterized by traditional noire or neo-noir. It's basically comic book noir, lots of hard-punching, hard-shootin', gritty-ass action.

Directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, The Shadow, Resident Evil: Extinction) and starring Thomas Jane (Hung, The Mist, Dreamcatcher) as the titular Malone and Ving Rhames (Mars Attacks!, Mission: Impossible, Surrogates) as a hired gun set out to butt heads, this film is totally ridiculous. It's written by Kurt Wimmer though, and he wrote Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, The Recruit, and the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, so...

It opens with a completely arbitrary gunfight, where Malone is only distinctive in the fact that he's Thomas Jane. The audience isn't even completely sure that he's a "good guy," because he shoots and kills a building full of henchmen. It gets even more nonsensical from there!

Basically, Malone steals a briefcase, which contains "The Meaning of Love," a small toy. He's contracted to do it, and when he meets his client, a beautiful woman, he's instantly suspicious. Why wouldn't he be? It's not set in the '40s or anything; it's completely contemporaneous. Yet he wears a fedora, classic old-school suit. He's misogynistic, quick to shoot, quick to punch, and a raging alcoholic. While investigating who set him up to steal the case, he's being pursued by multiple assassins, hired by a crime boss trying to go legit. Sort of. I guess. Also, his mom's a drunk and patches his gunshot wounds, and his cat won't take his medicine. These are real sub-plots.

Overall, it's not terrible. Thomas Jane is really, really good at the ol' lantern-jawed ass-kicker. Ving Rhames is pretty brilliant as a hitman named Boulder whose wife is dying, and wants to go legit as well. There aren't that many interesting characters, because they're either liars, drunks, thugs, or a combination therein. He also drives an extremely awesome car, a 1952 Chop Top Buick Straight 8, primer black with red rims and white wall tires. It's a huge, imposing, ridiculous car. Much like the film itself.

Give 'Em Hell, Malone is a huge, lumbering, staggering, face-punching pistol-shooting dame-swatting rampage through noir wearing an action costume. Thomas Jane is anachronistic, flat, and predictable, but he's entertaining. Uh, I mean, his character is. It's fairly entertaining, somewhat thin in plot, and it's fairly stylishly directed. One thing I hate about movies these days is the continuous use of computer generated blood; I miss the old days of squibs and blood-packs. It's too fake, it's too strange. Oh well, I guess.

I give Give 'Em Hell, Malone two-and-a-half dudes being lit on fire, only to come back and get lit on fire again later out of five, or two-and-a-half "meanings of love" that turn out to be toys in the end for some reason out of five.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Saw VI: Six Times Not As Good

saw VI,horror film,gore porn,film criticism,modern horror

Unfortunately, I already own Saw I-V, so I pretty much have to buy Saw VI now. At 1hr 30something minutes, it's the shortest one that I can remember, but I may not have noticed before. It picks up right where Saw V left off, which is to say, right in the middle of Crazy Murder Town. I don't want to give too much away in terms of plot, since none of these films are very old, but it's not quite as good as the others. Directed by little-known Kevin Greutert, he was an editor on several of the previous Saw films. He's also filming Saw VII as we speak, despite the tagline "Game Over" associated with the sixth installment. I'm honestly wondering how many more of these they're going to end up making...

Quick plot run-down: Jigsaw is a crazy mo-fo. He designs Rube Goldbergian deathtraps for "bad" people to sacrifice themselves out of; in essence, his victims "kill themselves" trying to escape their traps. Throughout the previous five films, various police detectives have tried to track him, as he constructs more and more elaborate traps and machines for his victims. They also attempt to show the audience some sort of "pattern" involved in the victims and the accomplices Jigsaw ends up roping together. Jigsaw (or John) was a cancer victim that decided to use his last days, somewhat considerable money, and criminally insane mind to show people the value of life by making them face their death (and prior sins) head on.

In this installment, Jigsaw's accomplices capture an Insurance Vice President that, through his decision to deny coverage, has been responsible for the deaths of several validly sick people (including Jigsaw). He forces him to go through four tests in order to save his loved ones; he ultimately ends up killing seven of his employees in the process, as part of the game. Meanwhile, the police are catching up to the accomplice(s), and John's widow receives a mysterious box from her husband with his final wishes as Jigsaw.

All in all, these movies are generally enjoyable for fans like me. I didn't like Hostel, but mostly because I found the European Sexcapades portion of the first half quite arbitrary and frankly boring. I just wanted all the gore and horror and violence! Saw never disappoints in that respect; the first "throwaway" trap (often used in these later films to show some quick victims that don't necessarily affect the overarching plot) features people required to remove "pounds of flesh" from themselves to prevent time-released bolts from screwing into the sides of their skulls. I know this doesn't sound entertaining, but for some reason, it kind of is.

I studied horror film somewhat in college, and have read many articles that liken horror to pornography. It's essentially designed to elicit an involuntary bodily response. In horror's case, that response is fear, terror, revulsion. The impulse to recoil, cry out, and hide your faces. For people like me (more or less casual sociopaths, people that watch eagerly as the guy cuts his love-handle off to put on a scale, or watch a woman hack her own arm off with a butcher knife), it's engaging and entertaining, we look up at the screen and enjoy. It's over the top, of course, and clearly not realistic in any possible fashion.

I wouldn't say I'm maladjusted, or desensitized to violence. I'm sure if a woman walked up to me on the street and cut her own freaking arm off, I would probably vomit all over myself in sheer pants-shitting terror. However, when I watch Saw VI, I'm constantly, acutely aware that this is a movie, and nothing more. At best there are some metaphors here somewhere, but it's unlikely. This film has no great love for good directing; Greutert's job is to point that camera at someone getting shot, or crushed to death, or injected with acid, or getting hot steam blown in their faces. He's not trying to create visual metaphors or some deeper meaning. He's trying to scare the hell out of anyone that he can.

If you like Saw, or have seen any of the other five, you may want to check it out. They really are trying to tell one big, long, crazy-ass story across all these movies. I'm curious as to how many there will be, and where it's really going. However, if you've never seen them, don't start here. Overall, they're all pretty terrible. But they're a special kind of terrible, known to every true horror fan out there.

I guess I could give it a cliché'd three severed fingers out of five, but I think I'd rather give it three terribly edited "frenetic" scenes of screaming faces out of five, or three pounds of human flesh self- removed out of five.

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