Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

I must first confess that I've never read the story. I think the Disney film creeped me out too much as a child or for one reason or another, I've never seen it all the way through (or that I can recall). The only definitive Alice in Wonderland that I'm familiar with is its treatment with the character of Jervis Tetch a.k.a. The Mad Hatter in the Batman universe, and more specifically, his appearance in several episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. Any of the other adaptations that I tried to watch, including some 1999 TV movie that NBC aired starring Tina Marjorina and Gene Wilder was too bizarre, and frankly, the story is bizarre. I can't be alone in thinking that clearly Lewis Carroll must have been on some kind of opiate while writing it, and yet watching a special employees' screening of the new one, and having perhaps been too overly-saturated with the trailer playing on the lobby televisions at work, the bizarreness didn't scare me off. Instead, I could sit back and relax and see the more whimsical qualities of the story.

Some of my colleagues, most film aficionados, were somewhat displeased given Tim Burton's penchant for bizarre and acidic storytelling (the only film of his I've seen all the way through and that I've enjoyed is Big Fish). Despite all the HotTopic merchandise and the atypical-turned-typical demographic targeted by the film, they didn't think most people would like it. But I did. Having never been that familiar despite the larger pop-culture references to it, it was a new experience for me. One of my friends said that it was alright "but it didn't bring anything new" to the story for her, one of her most beloved since childhood. As I journeyed home, though, I thought that maybe that was the point. While we're constantly being given "groundbreaking" films and whatnot to assimilate into our compendium of what makes for a great film, maybe this wasn't intended to be. Or at least, if you've already been oversaturated like myself into the more bizarre and initially alarming aspects (such as Johnny Depp's hair and makeup), it shouldn't be.

It's an enjoyable film, to say the least. Honestly, once you've gotten past the initial barriers of the bizarre, you can enjoy the wordplay and the whimsy that just is Carroll. You can see the moral and not feel like it's beating you over the head. You can enjoy the fabulous witticisms and the vibrant colors (perhaps the latter more if you were intoxicated or sampling some of Absalom's "finer" hookah product). I don't think Burton intended for this to redefine Alice, but as the mantra of the film surmises, it's meant to remind us of being "Almost Alice," of revisiting and holding on to that childlike wonder and imagination that keeps us young and keeps us more sane even when the world thinks we are otherwise. "Do you think I've gone mad?" "Yes, but the best ones always are."

The Wolfman

(CAUTION: embedded trailer at the bottom of this post starts playing automatically so SCROLL DOWN AND PAUSE IT IMMEDIATELY until you're ready to watch it...I didn't know how to pause the flash.)

I had made plans to see the classic horror remake with my uncle after first viewing the original 1941 version starring Lon Chaney, but sadly a bad cold changed my travel plans last week, and I had looked so forward to seeing the new one starring Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, and Hugo Weaving with Benicio Del Toro in the title role that I couldn't wait any longer and went Sunday night. After an early failed attempt for the 7:40 showing (only three people besides themselves and dumbass smokers lit up in MY theater?? Movie magic completely ruined as I was riled up, I told my manager I was coming back later), I went to the 10:15 late show with a local critic friend.

I knew it was supposed to be gory, and while my eyes certainly widened at parts, it wasn't too bad given the dark cinematography, and frankly, if any movie could organically incorporate gore, it's one about a beast unleashed on a violent rampage or two. I also went in to the film with a renewed vigor of my old fondness for wolves in general (thanks, Blood and Chocolate) so it was far easier to watch and observe the interesting motif of that fine line between Man and Beast.

I was glad Danny Elfman's score stayed given the numerous production problems with the film, because it perfectly accented the delicious thrill of each jump-out-of-your-seat moment. I used to hate that kind of thing, but now I can highly appreciate it with a well-done story. My critic friend felt that some of the logic didn't quite work with the villagers figuring out the identity of the Wolfman, but I disagreed given the often overly-superstitious and very gullible nature of the period. And while I felt Hopkins was brilliant as usual in his subtle way of wearing a new character's skin like only he can; Blunt's sensitive yet bold portrayal as the love interest and redemptive agent; Weaving's role as the detective trying to maintain order and keep as many alive as possible, Del Toro's performance, for me, felt uneven. In an otherwise great scene with a mixture of emotions between himself and Blunt, he doesn't seem to quite meet her in tone. I had heard some critics disliked Del Toro's performance, but as I'd never seen any of his work before, I decided to reserve judgment. Sadly, despite his very doggish features and the number of times I'd seen the trailer playing in the lobby at work, he did seem a bit...bipolar? Of course, some of this might have been intentional given the duality of his role, but I felt he could have done a bit better.

Still, the film wasn't "stupid" as some of my colleagues thought, given that most of them wouldn't catch all the subtler philosophical aspects of the script. I would definitely like to watch it again just for that. I suppose too, that with the delivery so like those films of old as opposed to modern acting (as I discussed in my last post) and the rather quick transitions for the action of the plot, the task of assessing such things was made more difficult in such a limited amount of time.

I found some amusement, though, in viewing this film, as I kept thinking, "Huh, this seems eerily familiar..." I'd never seen the original with Lon Chaney, remember, but the more it played, the more I realized that there was a significant amount of Disney's Beauty and the Beast - including specific camera shots and everything. I laughed at the thought. It was more than a little reminiscent of it, just with more violence, no singing, and lots of gore.