Archived January 15, 2011
One Man, One Woman, Two Films
by Bob and Lori May
Film Review #1: "Alice in Wonderland" (2o1o)
When I heard that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were teaming up to remake the classic Alice in Wonderland story by Lewis Carol, I was admittedly rather surprised. However, upon closer recollection of the story—even Disney’s adaptation—I remembered that Alice in Wonderland is a rather chaotic, graphic, and even troubling story. Something about a young woman trapped in a world full of fanciful creatures, half of them out to destroy her for utterly no reason, isn’t exactly a formula typically explored by Disney studios.
So it occurred to me that Tim Burton, a director who is legendary for his trek into the absurd and demented, could be the perfect person to convert the whimsical versions of Alice in Wonderland into the visually disturbing mess it could be. Adding Johnny Depp as one of the most popular roles—the Mad Hatter—was genius; if anyone could lend authentic insanity to a Wonderland character, it was Depp. Anne Hathaway as beloved White Queen was another superb choice, though I would have enjoyed a less clichéd version of the “good” Queen.
I was also under the impression, prior to reading previews about the film, that this movie was a retelling of the classic tale—not an unsatisfying sequel. My anticipation was that this take on Alice in Wonderland would be a hilarious, acid-trip inspired summer smash—especially when paired with the magic and highly appreciated nostalgic charm of 3-D.
I was wrong.
If someone had told me that I would be bored to tears half-way through this retelling of the story, I would have laughed—it’s Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, how could that combination possibly be boring? Well, they managed it; I would have been happy to get up and leave the theatre midway through the ordeal if it wasn’t for the high cost of movie passes and Bob’s resistance to missing a perfectly good film finale. I suspected that he would enjoy Wonderland if for no other reason than the legendary top cat himself, Cheshire. Fortunately, the depiction of the disappearing marvel was a suitable tribute to the character that coined the term “smiling Cheshire.”
My first complaint lies with the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). What is it about our modern society that makes movie writers and directors refuse to simply allow a woman to “be a bitch” for no other reason than she feels like it? Instead of allowing this classic villainess to be evil for the sake of her own amusement and agenda, Wonderland creators decided to explain away her vileness on an unfortunate social disability: an enlarged head.
Seriously--she can’t be evil simply because she just is? What’s next, Maleficent had IBS?
The second serious disappointment was none other than Johnny Depp himself, whose ingenious casting as the Mad Hatter could have been a free license on total comic insanity. Instead, he delivered a performance which seemed to more closely resemble Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean fame with a fanciful hat and exaggerated makeup. His tone of voice, even his swagger-y walk, felt too much like a recycled role. In addition, the Mad Hatter seemed more a mistreated and misunderstood minority than a mad hatter; what is it with this movie and turning classically extreme characters into products of abuse or physical deformation?
The visuals and the soundtrack were passable, although I would argue that anyone who paid for a 3-D ticket over a regular version of the film should write to the powers that be and demand a refund; a 3-D movie should contain at least a dozen implementations of special effects which emphasize the 3-D feature in order to reasonably excuse a 50% or 100% increase to the ticket cost. I noticed that numerous theatres weren’t offering this film in 3-D even if they had the facilities; I’m certain the low amount of 3-D scenes is the culprit there.
Ultimately, Alice in Wonderland is a film better left for a DVD rental. While I still believe that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp make a better combination for retelling this Lewis Carol classic than anything Disney studios could produce, I can only rate this movie an unimpressive 2/5 stars. Anything directed by Tim Burton which puts me to sleep 45-minutes into the show goes down as a failure in my books.
Good day to you, I am back again to review Tim Burton’s attempt at a sequel to Alice in Wonderland. Yes, I said sequel, as it is based on a 19-year-old Alice instead of a 9 or 10 year-old Alice. I thought it was a remake, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I happened to be wrong.
Lori and I went to the theatre to watch this film, and felt so strongly about it that we wanted to review it for you. The movie starts out as many do, showing us a younger Alice who adores her father. They live somewhere in England, I believe it was London, but they didn’t really focus on that too much. Alice tells her father that she had a dream, and it was so real that it was like a memory. Her father tells her not to worry, and that the best way to wake up from a dream is to pinch oneself. Alice smiles and nods and all is right in her world once again.
Fast forward about 10 years. Alice is a teenager, and her father has passed away. More boring plot setting ensues and I looked over and Lori, and she looked at me and we both had the same thought: “This better pick up soon.”
Well, it didn’t. After some peer pressure from a friend of hers and her sister, and her mother’s influence and a botched marriage proposal, Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Finally we start to see something constructed by Tim Burton, and less like a scene from Pride and Prejudice. The setting was as dark, gloomy and twisted as I expected and hoped it would be. However, the characters were a tremendous disappointment.
The first half of the movie, I really felt like I was watching The Matrix. We watched as all the characters are asking, “Are you the Alice?” and like Neo, Alice responds, “Um, no,” and the characters are a mixture of disappointed and stubbornly insistent that she is. Mia Wasikowska’s performance as Alice was fair to good; I was convinced that she was a teenager struggling to find herself and her way in life. However, when we finally meet the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) I was immensely disappointed. His costume was designed as I would have expected, but the character was dull and listless. Oh, and as Lori said to me, “A little too Jack Sparrow.”
Then the plot twist is revealed to us, and we learn that Alice has this amazing fate in Wonderland (again, like Neo) and all of the other characters look up to her to save them. Now the movie shifts over into Tim Burton’s remake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
We find that there’s a White Queen (Anne Hathaway) in addition to the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). The White Queen (Hathaway) is wonderfully righteous and beautiful and the Red Queen is deliciously evil and twisted, not that I expected anything less from Carter.
Without giving away too much, there is a dragon, and no, this time it is not cute and kitty-like. This was a big disappointment for me since the Cheshire Cat, who should have stolen the show, “evaporated” from this movie without leaving a trace. Oh, and it was obvious to me that Tim Burton had to break out his Dungeon Master’s Guide when trying to name the key weapon in this script, because it certainly wasn’t original, even if it was intimidating. But maybe it was only intimidating because I play D&D and knew what the weapon was?
In closing, while Lori felt the 2 hours was wasted, and I doubt she’ll give the movie better than 2 out of 5, if even that good, I have to give the movie 2.5 stars out of 5. I wasn’t angry after watching it, and I didn’t rain popcorn or soda down on the people sitting in front of my by throwing them at the screen in blind rage, but I certainly won’t make an effort to see this film again. The acting was mediocre, at best, and I really say that with a heavy heart, because I love you, Johnny Depp, and you’re better than this. Oh, and so is Tim Burton. This was a sub-standard performance for you guys, and you should feel ashamed.
Film Review #2: "How to Train Your Dragon"
I hadn’t expected, when I decided to become a freelance writer, that good portion of my articles would actually be reviews. Even more unexpected was my enjoyment of writing—and researching—those reviews, especially ones involving video games, movies, and even television. The best part about sharing my opinion, especially while lending a female’s perspective to predominantly male topics like gaming, is the bantering which ensues after my husband reads the review.
And who said married couples have to agree, anyway?
Fortunately, we do share similar interests in movie, game, and TV genres; this, however, does not ensure that upon leaving the threatre or shutting-down the Xbox we will either share the same sense of satisfaction or a cry of defeat—quite the opposite, normally.
But if they can make his and hers towels, why shouldn’t there be his and hers reviews?
Any couple who has argued over the next “date night” movie or activity knows how quickly the topic can become a thorn in everyone’s side. Movie disasters such as this year’s My best friend’s girl are testimonial to the horrors caused by film makers trying to make a chick-flick guy friendly—neither gender enjoyed that mess. So, if you’re looking for his and her takes on everything our media-obsessed culture demands, look no further.
All in good fun, right, Honey?
I will admit up front that my expectations for How to Train Your Dragon were pretty low; Hollywood hasn’t exactly delivered an impressive array of fantasy movies so far this year, and I miss the charm of the old school Disney animations which become more obsolete with each successful computer animated film.
That being said, How to Train Your Dragon managed to impress me. While the cast lacked the A-list names which usually catch my attention for voice actors, each of the characters had a charm and believability that I didn’t expect. Hiccup, the boy who no one appreciates or understands, makes for a delightful underdog among a sea of bulky Vikings. His pseudo-love interest, Astrid, is a refreshing change from the usual doe-eyed damsels in distress, though I would have been delighted to see her refrain from falling in with Hiccup and his crew—after that, she lost a lot of her finesse.
I immediately knew my husband would leave the viewing of this movie satisfied; Toothless, the not-so terrifying dragon that Hiccup is fascinated by, greatly resembles a kitty. Ultimately, there are only a few key elements a film needs to incorporate to gain my husband’s seal of approval: breasts, big guns or explosions, or a kitty.
Maybe some Matrix-like fight scenes would help, but definitely a kitty.
I’m always fond of the underdog protagonist, and Hiccup certainly fits the bill. I think John Goodman would have been a better casting of his Viking Chief father Stoick, but that’s simply because I love John Goodman, and isn’t a reflection on the performance by Gerald Butler. And while only the supporting cast of dragons actually resembled what I think of as “dragons,” Toothless does make for a Disney-worthy sidekick.
All in all, this was a 95 minutes well spent. I was entertained, I cared about the characters (at least the dragon), and I felt my concerns were satisfied by the ending. I would have enjoyed an epic soundtrack—something by James Horner would have done nicely—but at the end of the day I would recommend it to movie goers with kids and without. I’d give it a healthy 3.5/5 Stars, which is much better than many of the movies we’ve been watching lately.
However, the cat doesn’t appreciate her new nickname of “Dragon.”
My name is Bob, and I am enthusiastic fan of the fantasy and science fiction dramas. I say enthusiastic, because I have been known to talk to, yell at or even throw things at the television, computer or book that I am watching, playing or reading. Lori, my wife, encouraged me to start writing down my comments, rantings and ravings, since they often make her laugh. She figures that others might want to laugh at them too, so here we are.
This past week, Lori and I watched the movie How to Train Your Dragon, and I rather enjoyed it. While the target audience was the PG crowd, I enjoyed it even as an adult. I have a soft spot for the mythical dragon, and think I would rather watch a movie regarding them than unicorns, though my wife might feel differently. No, I don’t think it was solely a young Tom Cruise, either. Anyway, I felt that this was an all-around good show, as I didn’t feel bored, I didn’t scream angrily at the television and I didn’t feel like my 95 minutes was better spent on something else.
The plot of the movie was simple. The main protagonist, Hiccup, is a boy who is short and scrawny in a large village of Vikings who are as wide as they are tall. He wants to live up to his father’s and village’s reputations by killing a dragon. With two hands, he can barely lift the weapons that his peers wield in one. To make up for it, he creates a small ballista to throw a bolo so he can take down a dragon. Naturally, during the next dragon attack, he goes out against his father’s orders to try out his weapon. His target is the Nightfury dragon, the most dangerous dragon the Vikings knew of, the one dragon in the Book of Dragons where the recommended action is to “run away” instead of “kill on sight”. The Vikings don’t know what the Nightfury looks like, as they are black, attack in the night and no one has survived an encounter with one to tell his/her tale.
As the movie progressed, it was easy for us to predict the plot line and ending. However, that is typical for a movie designed for young children. Despite this, I found that I really enjoyed it, because there was real character development in the movie, solid humor and just enough heartfelt emotion. Like the plot, the character development was predictable, but I still felt refreshed that it even had character development, since most of the movies we’ve been watching lately seemed to be written by authors or screenwriters who wouldn’t know what real character development was if I took it and beat them with it. Both Hiccup, and his father, Stoick, learn to appreciate each other for who they really are. Secondly, I feel this is an important lesson that should be taught to every generation of young children, so I may be lenient on the plot in that regard.
The final thing I wish to mention is that the dragons didn’t seem to be reptilian at all. I felt that they had more in common with my cat and my dogs that with a real lizard (or reptile, or whatever you think dragons should be). Yes, the expressions and attitudes of the dragon were so hilarious that my wife poked our cat on the nose, saying “Dragon,” then removed it and said “Cat!” I laughed so hard the cat got annoyed with me and left. Naturally, after she had filled the empty hole in her heart with food, she returned for more petting.
I rate this movie a solid 4 out of 5. I will watch it again, and probably pick it up in twelve to eighteen months when I see it on the bargain rack. I enjoyed it, and I think you will too.