March 03, 2010

Alice in Blunderland?

An opportunity here to start a sort of pre/post-talkback string about Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland sequel/reboot. I did see it last night so I won't reveal more until the review is live - but I will say that I was cool on this film until I heard several months back that Mia Wasikowska was tabbed to be Alice. Wasikowska is going to be a star - not, perhaps, on the basis of this film, but her talent is prodigious. I became familiar with her work through the HBO "In Treatment" series that we covered on the muthasite.

My relationship with Tim Burton is a rocky, ambiguous one. There are films of his I adore and know why - and others I do and don't. In planning a Halloween film series at a library that asks me to facilitate seminars for them, I suggested doing Burton - seemed like a good zeitgeisty grab given his recent exhibit at MOMA in NYC, the release of this film, and the way that a non-directed film of his A Nightmare Before Christmas has become something of a perennial holiday classic for two holidays. A friend suggested that I program Beetlejuice, a movie that I've seen probably a hundred times (and could quote any five minutes from given the prompt) - meaning that I saw it at almost exactly the same obsessive compulsive time of my life as Cronenberg's The Fly. What brought me up short was that I have no idea why I like Beetlejuice - or if I like it - though I've seen it within the last five years. What is it about Burton? And why do the films of his which suck (like Planet of the Apes and, sorry, Batman) not only suck but appear so instantly ancient?

Curiouser and curioser.

Anyway - what should have made me really worried about the new Alice is that the screenwriter is one Linda Woolverton: a Disney house hack who's made her name with work on Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. The question is, then, which of the two - Woolverton or Burton - win?


Dan said...

I'm guessing... Burton wins out. I think he'd be able to overcome what I assume from your tone is a bad script, if only through pure force of FX, casting, design and style. I mean, they can't fuck up the STORY that badly, can they? It's all there to be retold for the latest generation. Hmm.

Anonymous said...

The first time I heard Tim Burton was directing a version of "Alice in Wonderland," my instantaneous response was "...too obvious."

I don't know, an Alice in Wonderland directed by Tim Burton just doesn't seem like it would bear fruit to me. They're *too* well-matched. I don't know what insights that combination would provide.


Walter_Chaw said...

Let me add to the discussion by saying that it's a sequel, sort of, to Alice with more elements taken from Through the Looking Glass than the first book. It's also not a bad place to talk about Dennis Potter's Dreamchild if anyone here's seen/adores it as I do.

Funny you mention the "too obvious" aspect of it, Kim, because I felt that way about this, about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and about the casting of Johnny Depp in both. What wasn't obvious to me initially was their collaboration on Sweeney Todd which, of course, was immensely satisfying. I also feel like casting Depp as The Riddler in Nolan's last of his Batman trilogy would also be too obvious if the rumors are true.

It raises the interesting sort of game/question of what wouldn't be too obvious a role for Depp nowadays. I mean, who doesn't love Johnny, right? But is there anything that I actually want to see him in, anymore?

Bill C said...

I've seen DREAMCHILD, but not since I learned who Dennis Potter is/was. Would like to revisit it through that prism. I remember the rabbit in it freaked me out a bit.

Jonathan said...

I also feel like casting Depp as The Riddler in Nolan's last of his Batman trilogy would also be too obvious if the rumors are true.

Oh my God, seriously? Obviously, Ledger's Joker is going to cast quite the long shadow over whomever ends up landing the next villain role, but Depp as The Riddler? Really?

As for Alice, the strongest impression that Depp gives in all of the trailer and online material is of Elijah Wood's creepy, coked-out Yo! Gabba Gabba! appearance, which Ed Gonzalez hinted at in his review. I'll be interested to see how that works in the context of the whole film, but, even in small doses, the performance strikes me as a whole lot of what it is. I'm not optimistic.

(Wood in his Sin City mode might actually make a good choice for The Riddler, though, come to think of it...)

Ryan said...

It's crazy to see this post, Walter, as I was wondering the exact same thing while perusing Alice's reviews on Rotten Tomatoes during some downtime today at work. What is it about Burton that works for me, and what is it that doesn't? And my completely non-helpful answer is that I have no fucking clue. I know why Ed Wood is my favorite, I know that Pee-Wee holds a special place in my consciousness (and is still hilarious, as far as I'm concerned), and I know that his Batman movies and Apes are piles of crap. But I don't know why I love Sleepy Hollow and only modestly like Sweeney Todd, while conventional wisdom says it should be the other way around, or why I can't stand Big Fish.

For a totally lame, reductive answer, I think it comes down to the script he chooses: he's only as good as what his writers give him. He said himself that he doesn't know a good script if it bites him in the ass (from "Burton on Burton", I believe), but sometimes his stuff his so good and shaded with such irony that I think he's just taking the piss. Othertimes, he seems so lost in his designs that I write him off as a glorified set decorator. So I guess to me, he's a fantastic visual stylist with a nasty sense of humor who gets lucky most of the time.

Ryan said...

And as far as the "Depp as Riddler" rumors, I'm pretty sure they're entirely the creation of internet fanboys. Nolan has been mum on specifics, and given his superb track record with casting, I think the choice is far too obvious. Although this can be seen as flavor-of-the-week, I think Jeremy Renner could be great in the role.

Alex Jackson said...

My two favorite Tim Burton movies are his least Burtonesque: Ed Wood and Batman.

Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow are... all right. They have only a mild appeal to me. Really liked the Willy Wonka reboot, but that's mostly sourced in the genuinely frightening Mike TV character. The whole movie, I liked the doodles in the margins better than the text. I thought the doodles made it worth it. So there you go, I suppose.

And I thought that Planet of the Apes was better than Mars Attacks at least. Even after taking into consideration Paul Giamati's "can't we all just get along" crack memorably referenced in the comic strip "Boondocks", the Ape-braham Lincoln statue at that awful twist ending, and Helena Bonham Carter being made to look like Michael Jackson.

But Tim Roth was great wasn't he? And I liked, in a kind of perverse way as a simple reversal of the original, the move of making the Mark Wahlberg character so aggressively (but blandly) uncharismatic. Planet where the apes rule over the humans and Estella Warren is making eyes at him? Dude can't give half a shit about it. Mark Wahlberg is the anti-Chuck Heston.

DJR said...

My favorite Burton from the last decade is Big Fish, whereas the worst has easily been the Willy Wonka reboot, which I found intensely irritating. Planet of the Apes is lame as well, though I almost admire it for its relative restraint, in that it bears few Burton-ian trademarks/cliches, Depp included. Corpse Bride and Sweeney Todd were okay, and otherwise, Beetle Juice is the strongest in its first, pre-Keaton act, but the whole thing is agreeably demented, and I still like Batman.

Anonymous said...

What's the general opinion of Batman Returns? I thought it was light-years ahead of any of the pre-Nolan Batman films..

Dan said...

I haven't seen Batman Returns in a very long time, but as a kid I preferred it over Batman. I guess because it was more accessible to kids. I've grown to appreciate Batman more since then, but I still think Returns has more spirit to it. The Penguin's origin sequence and, well, every second spent with Michelle Pfeiffer (making the definitive Catwoman, imo), was a joy.

BTW, I think it's worth mentioning that Burton seems to pick projects are adaptations/remakes nearly ALL the time. The only films I can think of that were original are Scissorhand and Ed Wood, and the latter's a biopic. It's a shame he never had a screenwriting partnership with someone (like Depp and Elfman) who could have given him scripts that play to his strengths. He often seems to pick things that just *feel* like a natural fit (Wonka, Sweeney Todd, Alice, etc.) and does his best with whatever script gets delivered.

BLH said...

I still think Batman Returns is light-years ahead of any other Batman movie...

I know why I love the Burton films I love (Batman Returns, Sweeney Todd, Ed Wood, Beetlejuice), though I do suppose it'd be hard to explain exactly what qualities differentiate the ones I like from the ones I don't like. I dig Sleepy Hollow quite a bit, but doubt I'd be able to argue very persuasively that the film is any more substantive than the Willy Wonka picture. It might simply be a matter of preferring one set of visual designs to another.

For me, there's a pretty clear divide between his earlier pictures and his later pictures. Sweeney Todd is the only thing he's made in the last decade that I'd save from a house fire, while the first Batman - an ugly, lame film with a z-grade subplot - is the only thing he made prior to this last decade that I actively dislike. But, again, this divide is purely functional. I couldn't come up with a theoretical explanation for it.

I guess it's time to look forward to Frankenweenie.

Anonymous said...

Batman Returns just doesn't work for me. Part of it is A) man, they just flog the shit out of that whole feminist avenger thing with Catwoman, don't they? Pfeiffer is great in it and she has a lot of good scenes, but I just felt beaten over the head with the fact that SHE'S A WOMAN -- YOU GET IT? SHE'S A WOMAN! Even 18 years ago, this should not have been a revolutionary concept.

The other thing is the whole Elephant Man aspect of The Penguin. They're playing at it the whole movie, and at the end, The Penguin explicitly says it: "I am not a human being! I am an animal!" And the thing is that the movie clearly agrees. He's not a human being. He's an animal. And I just can't get behind that, you know?

jer fairall said...

I think I need to throw most of Burton's 80s and 90s work onto my insanely long "to rewatch" list. Exception: Batman, which I already know I love and will defend as being superior to Nolan's two until I'm blue in the face. My memories of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and even The Nightmare Before Christmasand Ed Wood (which, like the same year's Pulp Fiction I loved when I discovered, but which unlike PF I have failed to check in with over the years) seem to entwined with my childhood for me to have developed an honest critical perspective on them.

Later Burton--like, Sleepy Hollow onwards--almost always has the effect of sounding great on paper and then not playing so well in execution. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seems to me to be the quintessential late Burton film: a "how could this fail?!" concept grounded by his thematic heavy handedness. If I'm not looking forward to Alice as much as I should be, it's because everything I've seen/read seems to point to it being another Charlie.

Granted, Sweeney Todd was pretty awesome, though I don't know whether to attribute that more to his not having to worry about making it even remotely kid-friendly or with my previous unfamiliarity with the material.

Scott Mendelson said...

Alas, the screenwriter clearly won out here. Burton deserves the blame, but the terrible script is the fatal element.

Paul said...

Re: Commando review.

Dug it, as it seems like a more serious-minded version of this classic review:

Patrick said...

Ah, a shame about the Burton. But I wasn't looking forward to that too much, anyway.

Re: 3D, this is what I'll do next time when I go see a 3D movie (link to video).

Alex Jackson said...

Really quick, just wanted to second Walter's reviews of the original Crazies and the remake. The Romero film is a derivative snore and a major disappointment.

But the remake is really good stuff, kids. Not quite as sold on it as Walter. There are a few too many jump scares and a few too many of those close calls where the monster gets shot by another character off-screen at the very moment where all hope seems to have been lose.

But you gotta love the dual reference to the Dawn of the Dead remake and Dr. Strangelove by using a Johnny Cash cover of "We'll Meet Again".

And Timothy Olyphant is indeed always good as sheriffs.

And you sure do get your money's worth. The movie never lets up and there is a constant sense of danger. Anybody and everybody seems to be up for grabs.

Good picture. Good picture. I've reluctantly been recommending to people over Shutter Island.

Alex Jackson said...

Recommending it that is.

Jefferson Robbins said...

Considering Breck Eisner's last accomplishment was Sahara, I'm amazed to hear so much praise for his newest. Is it an accident, y'think, or was he overwhelmed by the machinery surrounding the McConaughey feature?

Kurt Halfyard said...

I could be a lot more forgiving of The Crazies if it wasn't so painfully derivative. I think Walter Praises the film for reasons that many would rag on it. It is derivative, predictable, and it tends to grab what others do better (The Cash song opener for Snyder's Dawn, the entire plot, forward momentum of the FAR FAR FAR superior 28 Weeks Later.)

I didn't hate the movie, but was unwilling to issue it a pass for simply carbon copying better aspects and ideas of better films.

And the "SATELLITE CAM" was about the lamest thing ever. Boo.

Did like the Carwash and the Knife-Hand-Kill though, and the Drunk dude at the baseball game.

Kurt Halfyard said...

Apologies for the dreadful grammar above. Ouch.

A further question to Walter: Was Crazies 2010 a possible hangover cure for the dodgy Crazies 1973? Perhaps too much forgiveness? Or rather, in which order did you watch the two versions? And could this have affected possible critical judgement.

corym said...

I'll probably see Alice this weekend. Hoping for the best.

On a side note, I caught Sleepy Hollow on TV last night--the first time I've seen it since the theatrical release. It left me cold the first time, but I was surprised how much I liked it this time around. Without all the expectations, I was able to enjoy it for the goofy, awesome monster movie that it was. I think I'm going to have to get my own copy.

Walter_Chaw said...

Saw Romero's first.

"Derivative" is only pejorative for me when it's handled without a sense of cleverness or wit - I've seen chases, and "fast zombies", and remakes, and apocalyptic survival stories; except that what it boils down to for me is that none of the characters in this picture do things that I wouldn't necessarily do. They act like smart, experienced, principled adults placed in a peculiar situation.

I think that the movie looks great, is about something, and doesn't condescend to its audience.

I also saw the Romero Crazies before Alice in Wonderland - didn't make Alice seem better. I'm not saying it's impossible to be swayed - I'm saying that I don't think I was. I do like 28 Weeks Later, of course, but I'd invite you to consider that the rag of "derivative" could as/more easily be slathered all over that one as it's not just a rehash at that point of Zach Snyder's "fast zombie" thing, but also a sequel.

I love that Crazies 2010 is ambiguity.

And I don't mind that satellite thing. Reminded me in a good way of the great Enemy of the State.

Walter_Chaw said...

Schickel, man.

corym said...


They should've replaced all the photos in that article with pictures of Grandpa Simpson. What a sad, confused bunch of old men.

Anonymous said...

Saw "Alice in Wonderland," and to be honest, I think I'm less impressed with it than Chaw was. He seems to have seen much more wonder in Wonderland than I did -- everything seemed pretty stock to me.

I'm not sure it deserves to be called an adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland", really -- it's more like a separate work that happens to quote Lewis Carroll every now and then. It has much more in common with a Narnia movie. And it's not a very good Narnia movie. Alice is not a very interesting hero (her whole character arc is finding inner strength, except it totally isn't, it's about accepting Wonderland as a real place??), and the Red Queen, though more interesting, isn't very threatening. (How horrible, she... uh... uses a flamingo as a croquet mallet.)

Alex Jackson said...


I was rooting for The Hurt Locker and Precious and rooting against Avatar. I honestly believe that The Hurt Locker was the best of the nominated films. (Haven't seen An Education, Blind Side, or Up in The Air but I still feel confident about that assertion). Still, it's too bad that Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man didn't get much love.

Wasn't too excited about the production though. The ten nominees idea wasn't a very good one, I hope they go back to just five. Also found myself missing the live performances of Best Original Song nominees. They should get rid of the actors gushing over the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees and go back to giving us clips.

The tribute to horror movies was alright. But because I saw everything excerpted it felt like they weren't digging very deep. The John Hughes tribute included Home Alone and National Lampoon's Vacation, confusing his work as writer with that as writer/director.

I miss the formal lifetime achievement awards and there was nothing that compared with Thelma Schoonmacher's Best Editing win for The Aviator.

I actually liked Ben Stiller's Avatar bit, but the Paranormal Activity parody badly fizzled.

I might be the last to do so, I sure don't think that I say this every year, but I beginning to believe that I'm outgrowing the Oscars.

Patrick said...

technical question re: oscars:

For most of its running time, Avatar is a wholly computer-animated film. Why is that still called "cinematography"?

Rick said...

Yea, that Paranormal Activity parody really had nowhere to go. And I really hate to pile on K-Stew, but couldn't she get through a 10 second intro without coughing? So now her repertoire includes twitching, fidgeting, stammering and coughing.

Carl Walker said...

Good question, Patrick. At the time, I wondered aloud if this opened the door for Pixar films to start winning cinematography awards as well. :P

Anonymous said...

While on first glance it seems odd for Avatar to have a cinematographer (and hence a nomination in that category), keep in mind that in addition to the handful of live action sequences (i.e. the ones not featuring the N'Avi and/or within Pandora), even many of the CGI sequences involve principal photography of some sort. Whether it was worthy of a nomination is another matter, but Avatar certainly included elements of traditional cinematography. Pixar films, on the other hand, are created strictly within a hard drive, and while artists use their mice to create lighting and photographic effects, there is nothing like what is thought of as traditional cinematography. Just review the full credits of Up and Avatar at IMDB and you will see the former has no traditional Director of Photography/Cinematographer while the latter does.

Anonymous said...

As an addendum to my previous post, I'll acknowledge that Avatar's live action sequences seem fairly pedestrian at a cinematographic level (among others). Once in the CGI realm, it is pretty striking, and I would imagine the nomination was intended to recognize the pretty seamless blending of traditional and CG photographic techniques.

BLH said...

In 1974, the cinematography Oscar went to The Towering Inferno (in a year of Chinatown and Godfather II) and the Sound and Editing Oscars went to Earthquake (in a year of The Conversation). Considering the historically-solid set of nominess across all the major categories that year, I'll never again be surprised to see the Academy botch the tech categories.

KayKay said...

3 cheers for Katherine Bigelow and The Hurt Locker!

I hope this at least puts her on the road if not actually catapult her to the long overdue A-List Director league and we get a slightly more prolific output from her.

A career spanning almost 30 years and less than a dozen movies to her credit? Glass ceiling or her own choosiness I wonder?

In Locker I feel Bigelow finally found a script worthy of her ability to paint gorgeous cinematic landscapes, a bridging of content and visuals where her previous movies used to be notable for the often yawning chasm between the two.

Loved Near Dark for it's sombre meditation on the drudgery of small town existence but it didn't quite work for me as a vampire flick (and the Terminator like climax with "reversing vampirism through good blood infusion" was a put off).

Blue Steel was hobbled by a preposterous plot abetted by an abominably stupid climax.

Strange Days simply didn't do enough with it's premise of experiencing another's sensory input, and 2 hours with a greasy, pussy whipped Ralph Fiennes is no picnic.

Dazzling action scenes in Point Break that unfortunately came with a plot so perfectly generic, Rob Cohen could "drag and drop" it with little or no effort (and variation) a decade later into a Vin Diesel flick with cars and Paul Walker.

K19 The Widowmaker..Harrison + Liam + Submarine..and still boring as shit.

But it all comes together beautifully in Locker. White-Knuckle tension combined with an exploration of the macho Man Of War psyche with a pitch perfect Jeremy Renner (pity about the Bald Guy going to Starman instead).

At least the "right" ex-spouse won:-)

Jake said...

Seems like critics are finally getting over their lovefest for the shitty Greengrass aesthetic. Heck, Michael Bay seems a more cognizant and coherent formalist. Now you FFCers need to repent. Chaw, beating your DP with a stick to render most of his footage a blurry smear is not smart direction.

DJR said...

Been catching up with 2009 releases, and so far, I'd rank recent viewings as followed:

Hype justified: Antichrist

Solid but Overrated: The Headless Woman, Where the Wild Things Are, Drag Me to Hell, The Hurt Locker

What's the Big Deal?: Bright Star, Of Time and the City, Zombieland

Deserves More Hype: Sita Sings the Blues, The Limits of Control, Public Enemies, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Cargo 200