Nearly a century and a half after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland first acquainted readers with the Mad Hatter the Cheshire Cat and the rest of the peculiar inhabitants of author Lewis Carroll’s fertile imagination filmmaking technology has finally developed the tools capable of properly rendering Carroll's exquisitely twisted world on the big screen. And who better to oversee the translation than Tim Burton Hollywood’s foremost mass-market purveyor of dark quirky fantasy? If there’s any director working today who can lay claim to Carroll’s creative inheritance surely it is him.
His creation Alice in Wonderland is fashioned not as an adaptation of Carroll’s two Alice-centered books but rather a kind of sequel to them its titular heroine (Mia Wasikowska) redrawn as the mischievous 19-year-old daughter of English aristocrats. Given more to chasing small animals than attending society functions Alice is the kind of adventurous free-thinking Victorian renegade who thinks nothing of drinking suspicious beverages found at the bottom of rabbit holes.
If only she were more interesting. Burton’s Alice isn’t so much a character as she is a tour guide leading us through the director’s $150 million museum of digital delights. Virtually everything on display in the film from the giant mushrooms of the Underland forest to the bulging eyes of Johnny Depp’s (literally) mercurial Hatter was either created or enhanced inside a computer presumably one with a direct connection to Burton’s cerebral cortex. (Interestingly the enhanced Depp bears a more than passing resemblance to Elijah Wood who the producers could have gotten for a lot less money.) Much like Alice herself it’s gorgeous to look at but never particularly engaging.
Were he alive today — and reasonably coherent — Carroll himself would no doubt marvel at the visual grandeur of Alice in Wonderland its CGI world as detailed and immersive as the most vivid of his migraine-induced hallucinations. But he might frown at the short thrift given to his characters. Esteemed cast members like Anne Hathaway (The White Queen) Crispin Glover (The Knave of Hearts) and even the mighty Depp can’t hope to compete with the beauty of their surroundings — instead of actors chewing the scenery the scenery devours the actors. (A notable exception is Helena Bonham Carter the cast’s lone standout as the screeching acerbic Red Queen.)
Alice in Wonderland is really designed to function as an inoffensive family flick and in that regard it boasts more than enough pretty fluff to keep the minds of most pre-teens occupied for the duration of a Saturday matinee. But afterward they might be hard-pressed to recount details of the story which involves Alice having to find a magic sword so she can slay a giant dragon and unlock the Legend of Zelda. Or something like that.
Filled with moments of fleeting exhilaration and empty whimsy Alice in Wonderland never really grabs the viewer in any meaningful way its overall experience more akin to that of a theme park ride than a movie. Which I half suspect was Disney’s intention all along.
Dreamer is another one of those family films--based on a true story no less--that makes you feel guilty for not liking it because it means so well. The film revolves around the Cranes who have worked on their Kentucky horse farm for generations. But gifted horseman Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) loses his love for the job when the farm hits hard times. His estranged father Pop (Kris Kristofferson) feels like his son has given up unnecessarily. Even Ben’s young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) can’t get through to her dad. The only way this family can heal is by helping an injured horse named Sonya get ready for a seemingly impossible goal: to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Say it together: “Awww!” At least the film gets it half right in its casting. Russell is perfect as the beleaguered Ben a man who needs a little inspiration to get back on track and he thankfully never takes it over the top. Same goes for Kristofferson who is aptly crusty and unwilling to give his son an inch--that is until his granddaughter and that darned horse melt his heart. And the family resemblance is uncanny; apparently the two actors have been told quite often how much they look like each other. The one misstep here is Fanning. Yes she is an extraordinarily gifted actress for her age but Cale should have been played by a happy sunny child. The oh-so-serious Fanning doesn’t really qualify. Also Elisabeth Shue as the mom is all wrong. A horse farmer’s wife? Please. Writer-director John Gatins takes a big gamble making his directorial debut with a movie about an underdog horse. First there’s the underdog part. This year seems a bit saturated with the plot device what with films like Cinderella Man and most recently Greatest Game Ever Played. Second there’s the whole horse thing. It’s just going to be hard to top the Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit--the quintessential true horse-racing movie to beat them all. True Dreamer is based on a true story and is nicely--albeit conventionally--framed. But the film isn’t unique in any way. It’s the same feel-good family stuff we’ve been swallowing all year. See? I told you I’d feel guilty for knocking it.
October 31, 2001 12:15pm EST
The 53rd Annual Emmy Awards will take place Sunday in Los Angeles under heavy security. According to Reuters, organizers have worked with the Federal Aviation Administration, FBI and local police to close the airspace around the Shubert Theater. All guests will also be asked to go through a metal detector.
A Los Angeles judge has ordered Tom Cruise to pay $27,900 in legal fees to Kristina Ann Kristin for frivolously including her in a $100 million defamation suite against her ex-husband, Chad Slater, People.com reports. Kristin had talked to the National Enquirer about Slater's claim that he had an affair with the actor.
The heirs of Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick are suing Turner Entertainment Co., claiming the company has not accounted honestly for profits. According to Variety, Selznick's heirs collectively own a 5 percent interest in the film.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned whether a 1996 law barring the distribution of pictures depicting a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct can be applied to movies in which older actors play sexually active children. According to Reuters, Justice Stephen Breyer named Traffic, Lolita, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Julietand Titanic as examples of films showing simulated sexual activity by a minor.
Gil Scott-Heron, the creator of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and Whitey's on the Moon received a one- to three-year sentence Monday after failing to show up at a Manhattan Criminal Court to begin mandatory rehab, PageSix.com reports. The rehabilitation was part of an earlier plea bargain on drug charges.
An archive showcasing the development of The Lord of the Rings is expected to fetch up to $50,000 at Christie's as part of a sale of 20th century books, Reuters reports. The archive includes proof copies, first editions and letters by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Liam Neeson has been cast to star as the young Father Merrin in an upcoming prequel to the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. According to Reuters, the project will be helmed by director John Frankenheimer (The Island of Dr. Moreau) and go into production in the spring of 2002.
A wizard's hat and three gold coins from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone that went missing from the set during filming have shown up on an Internet auction site, Reuters reports. Police could not confirm newspaper reports that crew members were believed to be behind the thefts.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, VH1 is looking to create its own West Coast version of MTV's Total Request Live hosted by Carson Daly. The network is looking to convert a Hollywood complex into a studio for live daily music performances.
Napster is considering getting congressional help to resolve licensing issues. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Napster CEO Konrad Hilbers hopes congress will consider compulsory licensing of music for on-demand services.
Guess there's something to be said for that sun-burnt, leathery look. Clint Eastwood, onetime municipal politician, Oscar-winning director/producer and all-around movie tough guy, turns an inconspicuous 70 this very day, looking just as he did in his 60s and 50s.
Eastwood, whose iconic credits include 1971's "Dirty Harry," has faltered rarely at the box office since making it big with 1964's "A Fist Full of Dollars." Next up: Eastwood's upcoming space actioner, "Space Cowboys," due out Aug. 4, which teams the veteran actor with Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones as retired pilots in charge of saving the world.
But are Eastwood's days as a leading man numbered? After all, not even John Wayne made it as a 70-year-old movie star. (His last feature, 1976's "The Shootist," was released when he was 69.) Well, we brainstormed a list of other guys (and, sorry, this is a boys' club only) who have passed the septuagenarian bar and tried to carry a movie (or two) with them.
Sean Connery Sean Connery: Turning 70 this August, the ex-007 was last seen making Mrs. Michael Douglas swoon in "Entrapment" at age 69. At 70, he will be seen playing a reclusive novelist in Gus Van Sant's "Finding Forrester."
Paul Newman: The prolific 75-year-old can be currently seen as an escaped jewelry thief in "Where the Money Is." Before that, he was seen leading an ensemble cast including Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon in 1998's neo-noir "Twilight" at the age of 71. Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman: He may not be pretty, but he sure is cool (we think). Born January 1930, Hackman, has just reached our qualifying age. To celebrate, the character actor will be seen playing coach to football quarterback Keanu Reeves in "The Replacements" this year, and "Heartbreakers" and "Pearl Harbor" in 2001.
Marlon Brando: So what if he never really dropped the weight after "Apocalypse Now?" Since turning 70, the mumbling Brando has been in "Don Juan DeMarco" (1995), "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1996), among others. Next year, the 77-year-old will be seen co-starring opposite Edward Norton and Robert De Niro in Frank Oz's "The Score." For Eastwood fans with cable, note that Turner Classic Movies will be showcasing four of the actor's films tonight starting at 8 p.m. (EDT).