Archive for alice in wonderland

The Line on Nine

Posted in Action, Comedy, Drama, Horror, Oscar winner, Oscar-nominated with tags , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2010 by ericstraus

I’ve been getting very lazy with my movie reviews lately, so here’s a quick synopsis of the latest DVDs to penetrate my corneas.

The Wolfman – Unlike most of the werewolf films of the past couple of decades, this one is about as close to a remake of the original Lon Cheney film from 1941.  Set in Victorian England, Joe Johnston’s film tells the story of Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro), an actor who returns to his homeland after learning that his brother has died under mysterious circumstances.  Reunited with his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), he begins to unravel the mystery of who – or what – has been attacking villagers under the full moon.  After Lawrence is bitten by the creature…well, you know the Wolfman story.  Visually the film is quite lovely – misty woods, cavernous mansions, etc.  But ultimately the film does nothing new for werewolf movies.  There is no new twist, nothing to really separate this one from the original, save for better special effects.  It’s not bad, but not particularly engaging either.

Final Grade for The Wolfman: C+ 

Legion – I’m a sucker for Biblical Armageddon stories, which is why I bothered watching this movie.  God has lost faith in humanity (gee I wonder why), and decides not to be so benevolent any more – he sends his army of angels to destroy mankind.  But one angel, Michael (Paul Bettany), defies God’s orders and comes to help the humans survive.  Michael’s explanation has something to do with wanting to have God regain his faith in man, but it’s not important.  Creepy ghoulish creatures begin destroying the world, and the final battle comes down to a lonely diner in the middle of the desert, where a handful of common folk must trust Michael to guide them to safety.  It’s a standard good vs. evil story, with clichés about God underestimating the humans’ courage and ability to do good…but the entertainment factor, which would be the only thing I’d hope to get out of a movie like this, was quite lacking.

Final Grade for Legion:  C

An Education – Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2010 Oscars, this coming-of-age story follows Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a very mature 16-year-old who’s only goal, according to her father (Alfred Molina), is to get into Oxford.  Jenny is exceptionally bright and talented, but everything changes when she meets David (Peter Saarsgard), a much older man who, along with two other friends, begins to show her a much larger world than she has experienced.  Eventually she becomes romantically involved with David, but as the affair goes on and she learns more about who David really is, the more she begins to question if she’s doing the right thing.  Superbly acted by the entire cast, the film is very good.  Mulligan is outstanding, and pulls our emotions from side to side as we sympathize with her yearning to be free from her parental bonds, but we fear for her as she dives headfirst into this new world.  Molina is also marvelous as the father who knows what he wants for his daughter, but also wants her to be happy.  The story is well written and succeeds on every level.

Final Grade for An Education: A- 

The Book of Eli – Why did I watch this?  Same reason I watched Legion.  Plus this one has Denzel Washington (who should have known better).  A virus has wiped out the greater population of the world, leaving a violent post-apocalyptic society in its wake.  Eli (Washington) has managed to survive and drifts from town to town, hunting for food and supplies.  We learn that he carries with him a very special book, thought to be the last of its kind left on Earth, a very powerful book that could unite people in a way that many of them had never known (much of the current population was born after the apocalypse).  Eventually a man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who rules over one of the larger towns left on the planet, discovers Eli’s secret and sends his goons to recover it, as the book would undermine Carnegie’s hold on the people.  To be fair, Denzel is good in anything, even a movie as silly as this one, so just his presence makes the film watchable.  But the underlying religious message gets a little too pervasive toward the end; it’s hard to believe that a book which has caused so much war and violence could now be mankind’s savior.  But the story is good enough to keep you interested, provided you’re bored enough to want to watch it in the first place.

Final Grade for Book of Eli: C

Crazy Heart – Jeff Bridges won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Bad Blake, a one-time superstar country musician who has fallen on hard times of late.  He has been reduced to playing bowling alleys and dive bars, which has caused him to become an alcoholic, estranged from his ex-wives and his son.  After meeting young journalist Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who wants to do a piece on him, his fog begins to lift.  Inspired by spending time with Jean and her young son, he tries to get back on track both career-wise and with his personal life.  But his self-destructive behavior won’t just fade away, and he tries to balance the good with the bad.  The film is enjoyable to watch as a musical bio-pic.  The music is actually pretty good (I say that as a non-country music fan), and Bridges’ performance is terrific, as is Gyllenhaal’s.  But some of the story is too clichéd – the alcoholism, the family problems, the struggle for resolution…we’ve seen it many times before.  But the characters do keep the viewer interested, and the film ends on a nice note.

Final Grade for Crazy Heart: B-

Runaways – Speaking of musical bio-pics, this one tells the true story of Joan Jett and the start of her rock career as the founder of the all-girl band The Runaways.  The film focuses largely on the relationship between Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning).  The film is actually based on Currie’s book Neon Angel, where she describes her rise to fame, her issues with sex and drugs, and her eventual burnout.  The story details how Jett and producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) started the band, with Fowley seeing a market for teenage girl rockers.  The band quickly becomes famous as people flock to see what Fowley calls “jailbait rock,” and the Runaways start opening for big 70’s acts like Cheap Trick and the Ramones, and they become huge stars in Japan with an almost Beatle-like fan craze.  But of course things fall apart – the media begins to focus on 15-year-old Cherie as a sex symbol, Jett and Cherie have sexual tension which spills into the creative process, and Cherie leaves the band.  The music is good, as far as punk rock goes.  The girls’ message is one of power (“Think like a man!” Fowley implores) and sex.  Stewart is very good as Jett – her passion for music really shines through.  Fanning has really come of age with this film.  Only 16 years old, she goes through the sex and drugs cycle with great poise and maturity.  It’s a good musical bio-pic, with the strongest moments stemming from the acting.  Shannon is really intense as Fowley, and is quite entertaining.

Final Grade for Runaways:  B

Alice in Wonderland – Tim Burton puts his twist on the Lewis Carroll classic, this time forming a sort of sequel to the original Alice story and Through the Looking Glass.  Alice has forgotten all about Wonderland, but she still dreams of it every night.  Just before being forced to marry an older gentleman, she sees the famous white rabbit, and follows him once again down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.  We see all the familiar characters again – the Cheshire Cat, the Blue Caterpillar, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Mad Hatter and of course the Red Queen.  They try and make Alice remember that she’d been there before, but sadly the Red Queen has taken over Wonderland.  The White Queen’s sword, the one that can defeat the monstrous Jabberwocky controlled by the Red Queen, has been stolen. Alice learns that she is the one who must restore order to Wonderland.  The characters are all well done and very funny.  Alan Rickman’s droll, sarcastic voice of the Caterpillar is terrific; Johnny Depp is truly mad as the Hatter, with his voice switching to a Scottish accent when he is angry; and Helen Bonham Carter is hysterical as the evil Red Queen.  The story is not great – it takes on a whole Lord of the Rings battle feel, which doesn’t work well.  The film succeeds with the special effects, the acting and the writing.  It’s a very funny film, particularly the scenes with the March Hare who cartoonishly hurls breakable objects everywhere, the Red Queen who likes to rest her feet on a live pig, and with Depp, who combines silliness with cleverness in a, well, clever way.  Burton’s creativity is obvious in the digital landscape of Wonderland, from the vivid colors of the forest to the majesty of the castles.

Final Grade for Alice in Wonderland: B-

Hot Tub Time Machine – This screwball comedy follows friends Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry).  Their friendship has waned over the years, their lives are all somewhat pathetic, and after a suicide attempt by Lou, they decide to reconnect by going back to Kodiak Valley, a ski resort where they spent their glory days during the 80’s.  The resort has since become a dump, but the friends get drunk and end up in a hot tub which somehow transports them back to 1986 in their 1986 bodies.  They learn that in order to get back to the present, they must do everything exactly as they did 24 years ago or the future will be different.  So of course they change the future – but for the better?  There are actually a lot of laughs during the first half, but as the film goes on, the laughs get fewer and fewer as the movie tries to make some point about friendship and the choices we make in life.  It’s disappointing, as they could have just gone for a straight-forward gross-out comedy and not tried to infuse some sentimentality into it – the Hangover was so successful because it didn’t attempt any kind of message; it just delivered laugh after laugh.  The 80’s references are amusing but ultimately don’t really add much to the film.  Corddry is hilarious – a lot of his style that made him fun to watch years ago on the Daily Show comes through.  And Crispin Glover is also hysterical – good to see him working again.  There are still some laughs at the end, but by then the momentum has died.

Final Grade for Hot Tub Time Machine: C+

Kick-Ass – A movie for comic-book lovers and superhero movie aficionados, Kick-Ass tells the story of average kid Dave, who wonders why nobody has ever tried to become an actual superhero.  So he dons a costume, does some minor physical training and hits the streets.  He is quickly disillusioned when he tries to stop a car break-in and gets his butt kicked.  But soon he learns that there are two real superheroes in town – Big Daddy and Hit Girl.  Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) has trained his daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) to fight crime, as they plan to take revenge on the city’s crime boss Frank D’Amico.  Eventually Dave (who calls his superhero alter ego “Kick-Ass”) gains a reputation around town, and must team with Big Daddy and Hit Girl to topple D’Amico’s empire.  The film isn’t very good, filled with every comic book cliché you can imagine.  The saving grace is Moretz’s performance as Hit Girl.  She is an action star in the making, combining feminine cuteness with hard-ass brutality.  But overall the story is dull and doesn’t leave much to think about.

Final Grade for Kick-Ass: C-

Smoke Screen

Posted in Family/Kids with tags , , , on March 5, 2010 by ericstraus

A movie screen, that is.  A certain commercial has been airing during my favorite morning radio program in the last week or so; it’s an anti-smoking ad that focuses on smoking in movies.  The organization behind the campaign is called Reality Check.  They say that kids and teens that see people smoking on TV and in movies are more likely (something like 40%) to take up smoking.  Ok, makes sense to me.  But here’s the problem – the radio station airing the ad then promotes a contest for tickets to a screening of the new Alice in Wonderland film.  Well guess what happens in the film – you remember a certain caterpillar in the original Alice in Wonderland, yes?  Remember what he does?  He smokes!  From a giant hookah!  Wait, wait, you say…this film is like a sequel of sorts to the original story, so maybe that part is left out, right?  Here’s a shot from a promotional photo for the film:

Alan Rickman voices the caterpillar.  And what’s that he’s holding?  A hookah!  So the anti-smoking-in-movies group is having a promotional event with a movie that – you got it – has smoking in it!  Brilliant!  How did this slip past…well, everyone?

I called the radio station to inquire about this apparent hypocrisy, and the woman I spoke with seemed to be fully aware of it.  With humor in her voice (or maybe nervous laughter?) she explained that at the screening of the film, people would be encouraged to sign a petition to get smoking out of family films.  I then asked if that was odd, since there was a caterpillar inhaling some smoke-able substance in the movie.  She just giggled and said, “Yeah, I don’t know…”  Yeah, me neither.  Let me know when the petition to ban witchcraft in movies is circulating at the next Harry Potter film.