Archive for April, 2010

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Alice In Wonderland (2010)

April 13, 2010

Alice In Wonderland certainly wasn’t a terrible movie.  I enjoyed watching it.  It was very entertaining.  The costumes and makeup were great (except Johnny Depp, he looked awful) and it had a good, solid plot.  The only real problem was, it had absolutely nothing to do with Alice In Wonderland.

Sure, it had some of the character’s names in there.  Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Red Queen… but they weren’t actually playing their roles at all.  It was like someone went out looking for the Mad Hatter, and brought back someone named Mad Hatter and it was the wrong one.

Alice was always the sensible one in the book.  Always trying to correct the Wonderland characters, trying to make them make sense, trying to use logic to justify her position.  But in the movie, she was the silly one.  Maybe they were trying to say the first visit to Wonderland had changed her, made her silly, but I think at the same time they were implying they got her weirdness from her father.

Alice really needed to simply be a voice of reason in a silly, weird, wonderful world.  Because really, when everything’s mad, you need at least one to play the “straight man”.  But instead they made her some sort of hero, living up to her destiny, slaying the dragon (jJabberwocky).  It would have been very appropriate for one of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe movies, or for a Harry Potter movie, or any other type of child hero fantasy movie.  But it wasn’t at all appropriate for an Alice In Wonderland movie.

Really, what the film needed was a script and a director who can handle having absolutely no plot.  Because there really wasn’t any plot in the Alice in Wonderland book.  It was just one scene next to another, one set of sillyness next to another set, completely unrelated and untied to any story.  The only director I can think of who can pull off such a feat would have been Terry Gilliam.  Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas or The Meaning of Life would have been much more closely related to any Alice in Wonderland adaptation than The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  It just needed one scene after the other, linked with only Alice.

Sometimes studios place way too much emphasis on plot.  After reading through the Avary Sandman script, I realized sometimes movies really don’t need a plot.  Sometimes all they need are some really interesting characters and a proper mindfuck to do the source material justice.  And that’s all Alice was supposed to have been.

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Fah talai jone (2000) Tears of the Black Tiger

April 4, 2010

The only reason I added this film, and the only reason I watched it through, was because of the stunning visual effects.  I think of each shot as being like a panel in a graphic novel, and the director has painstakingly colored each outfit, every eye color and set of lips, and the sky, each piece a whole in an artistic frame.  To think of film as art first, entertainment second, can lead to some wonderful results.  Kurosawa was an artist first, and it shows.  It’s said he used to paint the most beautiful, detailed storyboards, whereas most directors stick to simple line drawings.

One of the most amazing scenes came early on, when Dom was playing harmonica on the tree, with the sun in the background.  The entire sky was just a mural, in a very expressionistic style that reminded me of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), one of my favorite films of the German golden age.  It’s often occurred to me that the world could use another art film, where the background, the sets, and the clothing all fit in perfect harmony to make each scene a work of art in its own right.

Unfortunately this film falls a bit short on that.  Though it is very beautiful, and the carefully colored world persists throughout, it’s not the work of art that Caligari or Dreams were.  Additionally, the story is less than compelling.  It’s a simple spaghetti western where the hero fights for the honor of his father, and the love of his life.  Perhaps it was meant to be deliberately corny, but the comical style of acting didn’t seem to match the more romantic, old visual stylings.  Perhaps the plot would have been better served with more cartoony type effects, something akin to Sukiyaki Western Django.

I certainly wouldn’t watch it again for the story, but the visual effects I will remember for a long time.  I wish more directors would pay attention to the artistic aspects of film making.

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Bottle Shock (2008)

April 4, 2010

This film tells the story of how California wine became respected among wine connoisseurs.   It details specifically one family’s winery, the Barretts of Chateau Montelena, and the organizer of the blind tasting, Steven Spurrier.

The film seemed rather disjointed and choppy.  The scenes with Gustavo were especially out of place, such as the part where he breaks off a truckers antenna, or when he has a fling with Sam.  He should have either been given a more central part in the film, or left out entirely.  And I wonder if they ran out of time post-production, because it seemed so unpolished in the end.  In most movies, if the editing is good, you don’t ever notice it.  But in this film the editing was so poor it was distracting.

I love wine, and I wish I could have the knowledge of wines that a taster would.  This movie could have been so much more educational, talking about the process or grapes used to make the award-winning wine.  But instead it glossed over the specifics, going instead for the father-son relationship between the Barretts and the friendships of Bo, Sam and Gustavo.  Honestly by the end I really didn’t care much for any of the characters.

For such a talented cast, I was disappointed with the way the movie turned out.  It could have been so much better with a finely tuned script, better editing, and better direction of the actors.  But it ended up looking very much like a low budget indie film that ran out of money in the last 2 weeks.