Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reel News: Corey Haim 1971-2010

Various media outlets are reporting Corey Haim has died of an accidential drug overdose in Los Angeles.

The former child-actor was probably best known for his roles in THE LOST BOYS, LICENSE TO DRIVE, and LUCAS.

Haim was 38.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


This latest rendition of ALICE IN WONDERLAND is Tim Burton’s attempted masterpiece of craftsmanship, held together with scotch tape and Popsicle sticks instead of nails and wood. Using Lewis Carroll’s novels as a merely a backdrop for his dark and whimsical vision, ALICE is a dull film that is occasionally cute to look at, but is overall ineffective and dull.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska), now in her twenties, falls back into the hole leading to Underland, a magical world she once visited as a young girl, but has little to no memory of. The world is now ruled by the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, in her 5,000th Burton film), who has devastated the once lush and beautiful landscape. Hooking up with old pals in the form of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, in his 5,001st Burton film), the Chesire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the looney-tunes-looking Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), Alice reluctantly looks to restore Underland back to its rightful rule under the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), all while fulfilling her prophesized destiny of slaying the wicked Jabberwocky.

As stated, this Wonderland serves merely as a backdrop and playground for Burton, who doesn’t give us a straight-up adaptation, but more of an alternate tale of what would have happened if a grown-up Alice came back (HOOK, anyone?). It’s not a horrible idea, but Alice’s character doesn’t develop deep enough and never seems to feel any dread or longing to get away from this bizarre place and back home. The storyline is a fresh take on a tale seen a million times over, and it does have teeth at times, but the overall script lets it fall into just another big-budget retread that is bland and predictable.

Burton has always had an excellent eye for striking a perfect balance between dark and whimsical, and here he leans more towards dark. The storyline of an Underland falling into ruin gives him a pass to avoid a Disney-like design and lean towards his trademark bleakness. In this forum it works, but it’s sure to anger many purists loyal to the source material. The CGI work is cartoonish at best, and nothing is convincing or jawdropping. The lack of practical filmmaking leaves things feeling heartless.

Wasikowska looks and feels right as Alice, but is lost amongst the overused green-screen. Depp succeeds as the Hatter, and he mugs and rambles away in front of the camera seemingly on his own with no direction. Hathaway doesn’t do much as the White Queen, but carries what she has to do well. The voice talents are the real stars, with Rickman and Fry getting the best lines and what laughs there are here. Probably the nicest touch is Christopher Lee’s short but sweet work as the voice of the Jabberwocky. His unmistakable pipes are a nice touch to a CGI-overloaded creature with little dread.

Probably suffering the most from the thin script is Bonham-Carter’s Red Queen. Manipulated by CGI to give her an XL head, she looks and feels the part, but there is no dread or malice coming out of the character other than saying “off with his/her head” every other scene. She’s an uninteresting villain that no one would care how she may meet her end or morality lesson.

Younger audiences will be drawn to the film courtesy of the talking animals and wildly colorful palette. Older audiences (anyone over 13), will walk away un-entertained and looking for a bit more. It would have been interesting to have seen Burton attempt this film during his BEETLE JUICE years, where the lack of crap CGI would have kept him grounded with more attention paid to character and script. ALICE is not a disaster, but is far from a stroke of genius.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reel Talk: Oscars are this weekend

The 82nd Academy Awards will be presented Sunday, live on ABC 8pm eastern.

Hosted by the tag team duo of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, this year goes back to an older format of ten (10) nominated films for Best Picture.

The field of Best Pic Noms looks crowded, but only five of the ten have been nominated for Best Director. That makes AVATAR, THE HURT LOCKER, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, PRECIOUS, and UP IN THE AIR the real contenders. With the exception of AVATAR, all those films have been also been nominated for their screenplays, which hurts James Cameron's epic. THE HURT LOCKER and BASTERDS seem to be the favorites on paper, with nominations in acting and technical categories. However it's hard to ignore what AVATAR has done in both the box office and in the visual arts. This writer is filling in the circle next to AVATAR in his pool, as it's just too BIG of a monster to ignore. By the way: the last film to win Best Picture without a screenplay nomination: Cameron's TITANIC in 1997.

My other pics:
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges CRAZY HEART
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Best Actress: Gabourey Sidibe PRECIOUS
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique PRECIOUS

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Director Spike Jonze's adaptation of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is released today on DVD and Blu-ray. Released in theatres in October of 2009, the film was met with mixed reviews and took it on the chin from fans of the original childrens' book. It earned $77 million at the U.S. Box Office, and was nominated for several awards from the Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics Association, and the Art Directors' Guild.

Below is my review posted on Facebook in October of 2009:

Director Spike Jonze returns to the big screen with a charming, engaging, and emotional re-telling of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

WILD THINGS follows the adventures of young Max (Max Records), an imaginative, lonely, and misbehaving boy. His sister is outgrowing him, and his mom is busy with work and a new boyfriend. After a major temper-tantrum, Max runs away from home, and sails away to the land of the wild things, centered upon a group of fantastic creatures who crown him their king.

Max’s story is told through his eyes, and is done masterfully well. There are touches here that will take the viewer right back to childhood, as Max hides, plays, interacts with his mom, and builds things with vivid imagination. With low and unique angles, coupled by well-used shaky-cam, Max’s world is shown from his perspective, and there are elements that will touch the inner-child in everyone.

As good as his home life is presented; it’s his journey to the wild things’ land where things really come to life. In each of the creatures, a portion of Max’s life is represented; from his childhood, to his mother, to the part of him that never gets the attention he seeks. His behavior is reflected back at him, and it makes for great character development. There is a LOT of allegory here, and nothing should be taken literally. Some of the allegory is obvious, and some of it requires some thought and hindsight. Messages concerning the way children play, think, and act are abundant here, and it’s a fulfilling experience. Elements we see from his home life in the early goings are expanded upon in this new world, and it’s fascinating to see.

The creatures are brought to life using animatronics, suitronics, and some CGI . The CGI work is used for the wild things’ faces mostly, and it is beautifully realized. The wild things carry their emotions on their faces, and it is remarkably easy to connect with each one.

The technical work here is superb. Jonze’s camera work is awesome with his unique angles and perfect framing. The score is perfect for its environment and very moving.

Acting-wise, things are perfect. Young Max Records is a great find, as he displays fear, wonder, and anger in a convincing performance. The voice talents of James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, and Chris Cooper are perfectly cast, and the voices blend in well with their characters. Catherine Keener is perfect as Max’s mom, as she displays all the love and emotion needed and them some.

Despite being a film about childhood, WILD THINGS doesn’t really lend itself as a kids’ film. There is no villain, no vivid colors, and no colorful characters to catch attentions. Kids will easily become restless in viewing this, as there is a lot of dialogue and few action sequences. Where kids may struggle with it, adults will be taken back to places they had not visited in a long, long time. WILD THINGS is thought-provoking and powerful, and Spike Jonze’s first masterpiece.