Posts Tagged ‘johnny depp

09
Jun
10

“Alice in Wonderland’s” Queen Trumps the Mad Hatter

Parable or allegory?

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Crispin Glover. Directed by Tim Burton. Based on the books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.

NOTE: I watched this in Disney Digital 3-D.

I’ve never been a big “Alice in Wonderland” fan. I know the gist of the story: girl follows a white rabbit into a hole and enters a strange land inhabited by the translucent Cheshire Cat, the insane Mad Hatter, befuddled twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, March Hare, blue hookah-smoking Absolem the caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts with the signature phrase: “Off with their heads!” That’s as much as I remember.

As of late there has been a lot of discussion about Alice’s adventures and whether or not it was really kid story material. Granted the initial novel was written over a hundred years ago, and yes times have changed, but what was the story about? The current consensus is that it’s a weird tale of a girl running into even weirder characters, moving from event to event. Tim Burton saw this challenge and decided to give his own spin and story structure to Carroll’s famous characters.

When this tale begins, Alice is four years old and confesses to her father that she’s been having a weird dream filled with these various characters. Her father reassures her that even though she may be mad/bonkers/off of her head, some of the best are a little mad.

It’s now fifteen years later and Alice’s father has recently passed. Alice (Wasikowska) is now nineteen years of age and being taken by her mother (unknowingly) to an engagement party. Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) is a red-headed Lord with digestive problems who plans to propose to Alice. Everyone at the party knows that he plans on asking for her hand in marriage at the gazebo. Hamish has title and money and in interest of those times, Alice would be a fool not to accept. Her only other option is to wait and end up like her Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour), a woman physically in account but mentally in her own world, forever waiting for her prince to come. Standing at the gazebo, Hamish on his knees proposing, Alice is emotionally overwhelmed and runs away, chasing after the white rabbit and falling into a hole.

After getting past the “cake makes you bigger, potion makes you smalle” debacle, Alice enters Wonderland and finds a weird wasteland that unfolds. She’s escorted by the chubby, dimwitted twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voiced by Matt Lucas) and the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) to Absolem, a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. The White Rabbit swears that she’s the correct Alice and Absolem replies that she’s not quite Alice yet. The Oraculum,” a scroll detailing the chronological history of all events regarding Alice, is produced and Alice is foretold to be the one who will save Underland by slaying the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s dragon.

Meanwhile, we meet the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), a small tyrant with a giant, heart-shaped head of red that has a moat filled with the heads of the beheaded including her husband, the former King. The Knave (Crispin Glover) is her right-hand man. He’s incredibly tall with a scar across his face and a heart-shaped eye patch that changes from black to red. After retrieving the Oraculum, he commissions a bloodhound named Bayard (voiced by Timothy Spall) to find Alice. Alice must evade the Knave and slay the Jabberwocky, along the way befriending the Mad Hatter (Depp), March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse), and Mallymkun the Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor). She must also get the Vorpal Sword and conquer the dragon, Jabberwocky.

But the real question is: does it live up to the hype?

If not for the fact that this is based on books whose characters have permeated pop culture history (“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, anyone), probably not. If not for the fact that Johnny Depp is in it, probably not. If not for the fact that Tim Burton directed it, probably not. If one were to take out any of these three crucial elements, the film would’ve suffered. All three, and no one would have bothered to go see it.

Which brings me to say that as it lays, “Alice in Wonderland” is a good movie. Not great, but good enough. There’s a solid structure to the story going on which plays as either a parable or an allegory; you be the judge. The characters Alice meets in Underland are abstract caricatures of those back in the real world and just like the real world, Underland is forcing Alice to grow up; no more living life on her own terms of what she does or doesn’t want to do.

As noted in the title, the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) really sets this movie moreso than Depp. Depp is an interestingly complex Mad Hatter, sure enough, but this film really rests on the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and in that department, Carter delivers. The Queen is more of a brat than a bitch per se which makes sense in Alice’s world.

On a filmmaking level this movie probably harkens more to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” There is a level of kid-friendliness to it, mixed with Burton’s grasp of visual desolation, but underneath it all is a heroine who needs to come to bat in order to save the world/grow up. On a visual level it’s not “Avatar” nor is it meant to be, but Burton does a well-enough job mixing live action green-screen technology and CG characters.

One problem I had with the film was The White Queen (Hathaway). Imagine if Arwen from “Lord of the Rings” danced around prim and proper and was shot with a creme-colored filter. I have heard that the White Queen was supposed to be as mad as the Red Queen but not show it, and that’s acceptable, but the character just didn’t work for me; she seemed to belong more to Middle Earth.

The other problem I had with the film was in the final act, and there are two: first, the Mad Hatter is supposed to do a dance better than anyone else. He does a funky jig (infused with some hip hop music) that just looks too goofy for any seriousness. Then again, I might be taking it too seriously. The second problem is that attention is diverted from Alice trying to slay the dragon to the battle between the White and Red Queen’s armies. This was unneeded, seeing as the movie was about Alice learning to grow up and take responsibility as opposed to two sides waiting eternally for some prophetic day when both will battle for sole control of wherever.

One final note: my favorite character was the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). Great, cool character that was well done.

TRIVIA: Christopher Lee does the voice of the Jabberwocky. And for those who didn’t know, Lewis Carroll wrote that, too.

My grade: B

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

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25
Feb
10

Movie Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Visually fascinating and bleedin’ boring.

Starring Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Andrew Garfield. Directed by Terry Gilliam

I’m not a big fan of fantasy movies. There are a few I’ve liked such as “Legend” (Tom Cruise, Tim Curry, Mia Sara) the “Lord of the Rings” saga, and even “Stardust,” but Terry Gilliam is a different type of fantasy movie director. On one hand I can appreciate the fact that the guy can craft a scene and make it feel three-dimensional through the use of various lenses. On the other his ambition can exceed his grasp and the story he’s trying to tell suffers. Such is the case with “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”

The film opens with a wagon that’s seen better days navigating the streets of London like a naval carrier. It stops outside a bar and the stage unfolds. A guy (Garfield) dressed up as the messenger god Mercury traverses the stage, calling for people to hear of the exploits of the 1,000-year-old Doctor Parnassus (Plummer). A drunken guy climbs onstage and is thrown into a mirror. Once inside he is treated to a few punches from Valentina (Cole) and his undoing is wherever his imagination takes him, which happens to be jellyfish aliens that release him to crash to earth where he stumbles into a bar that explodes soon after he enters it.

And who is Doc Parnassus? Parnassus was once a monk living a thousand years ago. He held a sacred order in one of those inaccessible mountain areas where it snows all the time. On a personal note I’ve always wondered how these places are made, why they have a fairly decent population, etc. (movies never explain this). The monastery’s monks share a magic that allows them to float on carpets and their one mantra is that by telling stories the world continues to perpetuate existence. Hence, if no one tells stories then the world ceases to exist. The Devil (Tom Waits, wouldn’t ya know?) visits the Doc and gets him to gamble. The Doc wins and the Devil gives him immortality as well as the “itch” and in return, Parnassus becomes the Devil’s pet project.

Fast forward to modern day where Parnassus falls in love with a woman at first sight. He makes another deal with the Devil to become young and youthful again but the Devil puts in a stipulation: his first child would become the property of El Diablo once they turned 16. Parnassus’s wife turns 60 and dies during childbirth. Parnassus now finds himself an aged, immortal single father who has to keep the secret of his pact with the Devil from his daughter. This little fact becomes the subtext the movie rides on.

Fate or fortune intervenes when the crew of Anton (Garfield), Valentina (Cole), and Percy (Troyer) find a man (Ledger) hanging from the bottom of a bridge. When he comes to he can’t remember who he is, why he was hanging from the bottom of the bridge, etc. He exerts his wile, professional demeanor, and smooth capacity for salesmanship and brings money and attention to the traveling troupe’s show. It also attracts the Russian mobsters that tried killing him by hanging. He throws himself through the mirror (the entrance/exit of Parnassus’ mind) to get away from them.

For a moment let me discuss the mirror. The mirror allows people to enter a world they imagine. If more than one person enters the one with the most vivid, or prevalent, imagination trumps any other imagination. Otherwise the world is whatever the main person’s makes it. Eventually the “ride” ends when the Devil comes to claim the souls of the pure, part of the pact Parnassus makes with him.

Back to Ledger’s character Tony Shepherd. Tony apparently took money from the Russian mob for a children’s charity and didn’t know they were laundering their money through it. Or that’s the story he tells. While in the “mind” of Parnassus, Tony’s face keeps changing and it symbolically reflects the changing of his lies. He goes from looking like Johnny Depp, to Jude Law, then finally Colin Farrell. All the while he tries holding onto his flute which he shoves down his throat in order to keep his windpipe from crushing while hanging.

Note: this probably makes more sense while you watch it as opposed to me translating it on the page here.

So how did I feel about this one? If you’ve worked a full 8-10 hour day you would seriously need some coffee to get through this one. There are some really cool visual moments but Gilliam’s leaning on CG environments doesn’t always work and some instances look as if the graphics weren’t completed. The story flounders majorly and Ledger’s death caused various shifts in the movie. Or maybe Gilliam isn’t great on directing the “quiet moments” of the movie as opposed to the fantastical sequences. Whichever it may be I was hoping for more “umph” from the movie or at least something that felt more magical. This felt like someone going through the motions interjecting sad footnotes along the way.

And hey, I may not be the audience on this one; this plays more for those fans of Gilliam’s work. I liked “Tim Bandits,” and “Brazil” is almost a guilty pleasure for me, but that’s it. If you’re a Gilliam fan, this may be your movie.

Most of the actors do well with the parts they have to play. Plummer is good, Waits as the Devil was interesting, and Ledger worked for the scenes he was in but again, the tonal shifts with the various actors playing his character throw the story off. Lily Cole was beautiful and did a great job. Then again, the story didn’t really feel complete to begin with. My friend John said that it’s a literal re-translation of the Parnassus tale and I’ll have to research that…

Can I honestly recommend this? I recommend coffee (or some form of caffeine) before seeing it but if you’re a true blue Gilliam fan, go for it. Otherwise you may want to rent it.

My grade: C

06
Jul
09

Movie Review: Public Enemies

public_enemies

 

The timeless institution of bank robbing.

Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup, and Marion Cotillard. Directed by Michael Mann

The story begins in 1933. America is in steeped in the Depression and folks are looking for “heroes” who come in the form of Chicagoland gangsters such as Al Capone, George “Babyface” Nelson and this movie’s lead, John Dillinger (Depp). We watch Dillinger and an associate walk into the Indiana State Penitentiary and bust out a few members of his gang. From there it’s on the road to more bank robberies.

Cut to Melvin Purvis (Bale), a lawman in his own right. He hunts down “Pretty Boy” Floyd and delivers a gut shot via shotgun. Purvis is so good at tracking down offenders that his boss, J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup), puts Purvis in charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau he’s trying to get Congress to recognize and help fund. Purvis accepts the job and makes Dillinger Public Enemy Number One.

Which is just fine with Dillinger who is having too much fun going from robbery to robbery. Along the way he meets, and falls in love with, Billie Frechette (Cotillard), a hat and coat-check girl at a local motel. Dillinger persists to have Billie with him and after many attempts to get away, finally concedes. Dillinger vows to protect her.

But the outside world is closing in on Dillinger. His gang is shot or captured one-by-one. Other criminal associates are going high-tech. Congress is about to pass a bill that will change the prosecution of crimes across state lines. Purvis has tapped Billie’s phone and kept her under close surveillance. Dillinger’s days as a free-wheelin’ “Robin Hood’ bank robber are numbered.

Let me mention what I liked about the movie: Mann went as far as he could to make the film feel authentic. From the radios to the phone taps, clothing to cars, Michael Mann and his crew diligently recreated mid-1930’s Chicago. The film was shot hand-held, which “amplifies” the feeling of being there. The color scheme has a sort of “O Brother, Where Art Thou” muted-down browns, blacks, and whites.

My problem with the movie is the pacing. The first hour+ is bamm-bamm-bamm-bamm-bamm-bamm. Don’t get me wrong, Mann knows how to construct an action sequence (“Heat, “Collateral”) but here it just seems too much; we as an audience don’t have time to connect to who Dillinger is aside from being a bank robber. Then again, maybe that’s all the info Mann had; I don’t know. I began liking Purvis and felt his frustration in trying to capture Dillinger using the “clean cut” officers given to him by Hoover (which were ineffective if not killed) but Dillinger came off as a cowboy that couldn’t be stopped. Maybe he was. And there was that subplot about not following Dietrich’s points, which may have kept Dillinger alive, which seemed underplayed.

In any case the second half of the movie slows down for what people know is going to happen: the assassination of Dillinger. We all seem to know more about that than the man himself. This is where we, the audience, enjoy the movie because 1) characterization and 2) empathy buildup for Dillinger’s end. “Peter Pan” has to grow up only to find that it’s too late. He tries to find a way to save the love of his life. We all know it ends at the Biograph Theater. This is the best part of the film, in my opinion.

There are scenes here and there that are notable. My favorite is when Dillinger walked into the Chicago Police Headquarters and walked around the Dillinger Division. Nice.

I’ll also throw in my two cents on the soundtrack. Great stuff. “Ten Million Slaves” by Otis Taylor was a great song to use. Check it out.

Watch for Giovanni Ribisi as Alvin Karpis and Leelee Sobieski as Polly Hamilton.

It’s a good movie that could’ve been great.

My grade: B

24
Oct
08

Where’d HE come from? Freddy Krueger

You wear gloves with blades in them. A hat covers your head, giving shade to your mottled, burned skin and sinister grin. You can enter a person’s dreams, twisting and turning them as you wish and even causing death. But, how did you get here?

 

 

 

Let’s take this one back to the Greeks: everyone has heard of Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. What some do not know is that he had two brothers: Phobetor, who creates “fearsome” dreams, and Phantasos, who creates unreal dreams. This triumvirate ruled the world of dreams.

 

 

 

With all the stories based on “bad dreams” and Morpheus taking the heat of it all it was only a matter of time before a being to control them would rise from Hollywood. In 1984, Wes Craven delivered “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to the American cinematic doorstep. Filmed for $1.8 million (and earning $25 million), “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” involved a group of teenagers who collectively are experiencing bad dreams. When cuts and bruises that happen in dreams transfer over to reality, the teen Nancy Thompson finds out that the “demon” in her dreams with the knife-finger gloves and the hat is Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a child murderer who had been killed a decade earlier. Devising a trap for Freddy the teens make a go of it, but Freddy wins in the end.

 

Being written and directed by Wes Craven, he claims that the character was based on a homeless man who stared at him from the street as he looked through a window in his house (the hat), and a bully at his school (the name of the character). As for Freddy wearing a bright red and forest-green striped shirt, he had read an article in Omni magazine stating that the worst combination of colors would be those two, which is why he used them. And as for the kids dying from dreaming in their sleep, that was based on an article in the L.A. Times about such an event occurring.

 

“A Nightmare on Elm Street,” went on to have 4 sequels, and Freddy himself was featured in three more films after that. Add to that a short lived TV series called, “Freddy’s Nightmares.” Oh yeah, and novels and video games, too.