Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Well, this was a first. I was bored at a Tim Burton film. Bored! I wasn’t bored during Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. Pissed off, yes, but never bored.

Yet, by the time Alice makes it to the White Queen’s castle, I was squirming in my seat, hoping the end was near. Actually, I wish I’d left the theater before I witnessed the waste of time for Sir Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky and the AWFUL dance from the Mad Hatter.

Oh, what a waste of an evening. And yes, this was while watching the 3D version.

As with horror films, fantasy movies are reaching a crossroads. thanks to CGI effects. After the Lord of the Rings trilogy, computer effects have infected fantasy movies like a virus. Scripts, character development and the like have taken a back seat to the spectacle generated with the right computer program. And Alice is the perfect example of this illness. We never get a quite moment with the characters. Every time the movie slows down, it feels like all the life is drained out of it, as if everyone involved is just waiting for the next cool computer scene.

It doesn’t help that Mia Wasikowska plays Alice as if she’s half asleep. Yes, I know Alice believes it’s all a dream and has forgotten everything about her last visit to Wonder/Underland. But she never seems to react to anything without looking dazed and confused. Even as she turns into Alice, Warrior Princess (maybe a spoiler, but you know it’s coming within a few minutes of her falling down the rabbit hole), she doesn’t convey her determination or fear with any more than a puzzled look.

That fact that she was surrounded by a green screen stage during most of the filming might not have helped Wasikaowska’s performance. Reacting to a tennis ball is not an easy job. But imagine the added pressure of having to play off the incredible cast of character actors assembled for this film.

But that’s another problem with this movie. The rest of the cast was hired because their persona fit the role. Depp’s Hatter is just a more maniacal version of Captain Jack Sparrow, Carter get’s to act regal and scream, and Hathaway simply looks around with placid acceptance. While it’s not fair to say the cast didn’t perform their parts well, it’s a shame they didn’t demand a script with a bit more depth, more character development for them to build upon. Or that Burton didn’t make some unexpected casting choices, giving some up and coming actors a chance to build the characters, not just cash a paycheck by playing themselves.

In all, a rather bland offering that is obviously pleasing audiences. I just wonder how much of the box office is due to the 3D spectacle, though many of shots in the "real" world are surprisingly weak. This is likely a result of converting the filmed scenes (shot in 2D) to 3D. But it seems to be working, as the public kept this movie at the number one spot for the second week in a row. I guess you can polish a turd, with 3D and the right marketing campaign.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some Reviews for you: The good, the bad and the warning....

Well, as I start working on the third part of my attack against Universal Monster movie remakes, here's a few reviews of interest.

The Relic:

Currently available on Hulu, this is an enjoyable monster movie from the 90's. A museum in Chicago becomes the hunting ground for a monster that needs to eat a section of the human brain to survive. Of course, as in any monster movie, the museum has a big fund raising preview of their newest exhibit that can not cancel. The police are forced to keep the museum open, allowing more victims to line up for a monstrous buffet.

The film has lots of gory moments, as peoples stumble across the monster's victims. The decapitated heads are incredible, thanks to Stan Winston's crew.

The film holds off showing the main beast until the last half of the film. This allows for some nice moments of character development and keeps the audience on edge for the big revel. The acting is solid, with Penelope Ann Miller perfect as a grad student (both looking and acting the part). Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt and James Whitmore are very good as well, while Audra Lindley steals the show in a bit role as the head coroner.

And the monster is a great creation from Stan Weston. While some of the CGI is a bit dodgy, the combination of computer and practical effects works well. And a scene were the monster takes off a policeman's head is stunning.

Available on Hulu right now, so check it out. It's not a classic, but a fun little monster movie.

The Final Destination:

AKA The Way to Kill a Franchise.

The original Final Destination movies are not classics by any stretch. The first one was fun, introducing Death as an entity that becomes really pissed off if its grand design is messed with by someone with a premonition.

The second was, in my opinion, the best of the bunch. We get the outstanding opening car crash, the kills are interesting and the characters, while somewhat stereotypical, are at least interesting enough to garner some sympathy.

The third was simply okay, a rather forgettable entry with an over-reliance on CGI effects. Now we have the fourth, released in the theaters and on DVD in 3D.

Now, I didn't see the 3D version, but I don't think any of the effects would save it. The film is simply a collection of kills, with no interesting characters to keep the audience's interest. And the actors tend to read their lines like they're in a high school play.

Also, the film breaks the rules set up by the earlier entries. We have a second premonition for no reason other than to set up a outlandish scene of mass destruction. And that's a problem, as Death has never taken out innocent victims during the re-taking of a victim. The film also has a set up trap that fails for no reason other than to generate a jump scare. And the kills just aren't that interesting, being too set up for the audience not to see it coming.

Not awful, but nothing to keep you interest. It was worth the free rental I got from Redbook, but I don't think I would have felt the same if I spend my own buck. Rent at your own risk.

Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell:

It seemed like a good idea. I was in the mode for something low brow, the movie was free off Hulu and I had picked up a good supply of microbrew beer on my way home. Time to nestle in and watch something cheesy on TV.

The film opened with the trailer, which really looked promising. Stop motion dinosaurs, mutants, barbarians and a girl running around in a leather bikini. The movie started with a tacked on opening tying it to Tromaville in the flimsiest way. But that's fine, as it's narrated by the Nymphoid Barbarian, in a breathless cross between Marlyn Monroe and a valley girl.

If only Lloyd Kaufman had spend a few more buck on this movie and given it a What's Up, Tiger Lily treatment. He might have created a classic instead of dumping a film that deserves to stay buried.

I don't believe Troma made this movie. I think they picked it up for cheap, set it up to look like a classic cheesy movie, then released it upon an unsuspecting horde of schlock fans. It's a classic bait and switch, and I wasted over 80 minutes of my life hoping it would get better.

The plot is simple. Barbarian girl is captured by Evil barbarian. Barbarian Boy goes out to rescue his Barbarian girl. Evil barbarian's henchmen can't seem to keep Barbarian girl from getting away, but they always recapture her until Barbarian boy saves her.

Oh, and there are a few dinosaurs.

Look, I'm a fan of cheesy movies, the type that are so bad most viewers can't watch without losing their sanity. But this one pushed me to the brink.

First, only one person is carrying a sword, which is a wardrobe requirement of any barbarian. Sure, Barbarian boy has a mini crossbow and a knife, and eventually graduates to a firearm. But no sword? Barbarian girl doesn't carry ANY weapon at all, fighting with any broken tree limb she can find. And without swords, we get a lot of hand to hand combat that comes off like grade school kids wrestling on the playground. It's that lame.

The dinosaurs are infrequent but not too bad. Sure, they look like something from a Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning show and they do eat a few people. But the battles between humans/mutants and dinosaurs are pretty silly, as the animation doesn't really interact with the actors.

Come to think of it, the Evil barbarian's mutant henchmen do look very similar to Sleestaks. And Barbarian boy and Barbarian girl are aided by a couple of older male characters.....

Maybe Will Ferrell's remake isn't that bad after all.

I'm warning you all. Avoid this movie, no matter how tempting the title sounds. It's not worth your time, even if it's free.