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Martin Csoskas

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The Mad and the Sinful.

A few other trailers that popped up via Comic-Con ’14…

Reborn as Tom Hardy, Australia’s most notable post-apocalyptic survivor looks to need a hand or three from Charlize Theron in the first trailer for George Miller’s long-anticipated Mad Max: Fury Road, also with Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Zoe Kravitz. Eh, ok…looks like The Road Warrior with better production values.

Meanwhile, the survivors of the enjoyable first film look to go all Smokin’ Aces on Powers Boothe in a new red-band trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, with Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Jaime King, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Martin Csoskas, Christopher Lloyd, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, and Lady Gaga. Not particularly inclined to throw any more money at Frank Miller, but the first one was good fun.

Update: One more: Julianne Moore and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman briefly discuss the political ramifications of one Katniss Everdeen in the most recent teaser for Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. I, with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Gwendoline Christie, and Natalie Dormer. Alrighty then – Not bad, but I thought the two recent addresses by President Snow were savvier (and creepier) marketing.

No Alice Aforethought.

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. And why this film was stinking rot, and so darn bad it stings… Sigh. Well, if you were going to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the box office numbers seem to indicate that you probably already have. Nonetheless, I’m sorry to report that — Mia Wasikowska, some of the art direction, and perhaps a scene or two notwithstanding — this Alice is a thoroughly woeful enterprise, and just an aggravatingly bad adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s world. If you hold any fondness for the book, trust me, you’ll leave Mad as Hell.

I say Lewis Carroll’s “world” because, as you probably already know, this is not a straight-up adaptation of (the often-combined) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass. Rather, this movie takes up Alice’s tale as a teenager on the threshold of womanhood (Wasikowska), who, while weighing the pros-and-cons of betrothal to a rich, haughty, and very Burtonesque suitor (Leo Bill), finds herself Down the Rabbit Hole and back once again in, uh, “Underland.” So, in other words, at best this iteration of Alice already feels like reading somebody’s random Lewis Carroll fan-fiction on the Internets.

Worse, the fan in question seems to have really dug The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, to the point of just grifting liberally from Narnia to write this sequel-story. Now, Alice is basically a Pevensie-ish “Daughter of Eve” prophesied to free Won…uh, Underland from the tyranny of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Note the picture of Alice at the top of this post, brandishing the sword and armor on the battlefield(?), and standing next to Hathaway the White like she’s at Minas Tirith — Does that look anything like Alice in Wonderland to you?

So yeah, all the playful word games and off-kilter logic puzzles of Carroll’s book, and your usual Alice adaptations for that matter, have been thrown out the window here. Instead, we are left with…well, basically your average dumb summer movie. The Mad Hatter has become a major character, for seemingly no other reason than to accommodate the presence of Johnny Depp. We are told Alice is destined to slay the Jabberwocky early in the second reel, which means we spend the rest of the film just sitting around waiting for this prophesied shoe to drop. And — spoiler alert — when our heroine finally accomplishes the deed at the Big Battle and puts the dragon (and by extension the audience) out of its misery, she even gets to throw in a John McClane/Schwarzenegger one-liner. (“Off with your head!)

Put simply, this is just a blatantly stupid movie, and looking back on it, I can think of only one or two grace notes worth mentioning. As you might expect from most any Tim Burton production, the art direction is quite impressive at times (The 3-D, on the other hand, is muddy, and really doesn’t add anything to the experience.) So, for example, the design of the Red Queen’s soldiers is rather appealing, but these flourishes still aren’t really enough to keep things moving along. There’s one very brief scene involving frog and fish servants of the Red Queen that made it seem like the overall film would be much more fun and imaginative. And, while Wasikowska herself is actually quite solid throughout the movie, this Alice only manages to capture some of the real Wonderland magic in the Eat Me/Drink Me sequence early on.

Otherwise, tho’, hoo boy. While Tim Burton and the screenwriters clearly deserve the lion’s share of the blame for this fiasco, there’s more than enough Terrible to go around. (For his part, Depp is strange as usual, but is neither a plus nor a minus, really — Just don’t get me started on the breakdancing scene.) Somehow, someway, Crispin Glover, a.k.a. the one-eyed Knave of Hearts, seems like he’s overacting even when surrounded by talking dogs, rabbits, and pigs. But even he isn’t as lousy here as Anne Hathaway, who is high-school-production-bad. (I should know — I was in one.) As the White Queen, I couldn’t tell if Hathaway was trying to riff off of her Princess Diaries co-star Julie Andrews, or whether she was just totally lost amid the CGI, Natalie Portman-style. Either way, this isn’t a career highlight.

So, to sum up, Alice in Wonderland is pretty much just a travesty. (Or, to quote the lady of the hour: “Of all the silly nonsense, this is the stupidest tea party I’ve ever been to in all my life.“) One way or another, and just like Alice, Tim Burton has managed to accomplish an impossible thing here. He’s taken a beloved children’s classic that seemed very well-suited to his strengths, and somehow managed to suck all the magic out of it.

Aeon Aeoff.

Ok, Aeon Flux is obviously a bad, bad movie. But, I was surprised to discover the other day that, for maybe about a quarter of its run, it wasn’t all that bad an Aeon Flux movie. I’m not recommending it, mind you…Lordy, no. But there are flashes here and there which approached the psychotropic weirdness of Peter Chung’s 2-minute cartoons on MTV’s Liquid Television back in the day (which is all I ever saw of the Aeonverse.) If you’re the type of person who enjoyed, say, Equilibrium, there’s a good bet you might find yourself watching this some Saturday afternoon on TNT and wondering why.

Aeon Flux is well-cast, I’ll give it that. Charlize Theron is probably the closest you could get to the spindly assassin of the cartoon, and she’s assuredly easy on the eyes (although her Hitler Hairdo was making me feel ill…still, she’s got nothing on Frances McDormand’s Bad Hair Day here. One has to wonder if the two of them sat around the set of North Country laughing about this gig.) And Pete Postlethwaite and Johnny Lee Miller in particular look like they stepped right out of one of Chung’s animated cels. (Marton Csokas, a.k.a. Celeborn, who plays Trevor Goodchild, Aeon’s mark, is neither here nor there…he rightly seems somewhat embarrassed to be in the movie.)

Nevertheless, all the hefty acting talent on display here doesn’t add up to much. From the costumes to the set design to the quick-edit fight scenes to the gamy sci-fi-topical script, Aeon Flux basically looks and feels like your average Away Team episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This movie cost $60 million? Where did all that money go? Clearly not towards the production values — I mean, The Island flopped too, but at least that film looked expensive. Well, guess the catering must’ve been awesome. At any rate, as you already knew, Flux is thoroughly lousy. Still, I have to concede that the first 30 minutes or so were ever-so-slightly better than my abominable expectations.

Cogs and Grunts and Hirelings.

More trailers for your perusal: Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Cooper and Jamie Foxx brave Operation Desert Storm in the trailer for Sam Mendes’ Jarhead, Charlize Theron channels Liquid Television for Frances McDormand in MTV’s live-action version of Aeon Flux, and Robert Downey Jr., Michelle Monaghan, and Val Kilmer attempt to solve a Hollywood murder mystery in this look at Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.

Heaven’s Gate.

Well, I don’t think being feverish at the time helped by any means — still, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven is, well, kinda blah. It’s got its heart in the right place, and I’d say I was mildly diverted by it for the first 75 minutes or so, but after that I was just waiting for it to be over. In terms of recent sword-and-sandal and/or historical siege pics, I’d say it’s better than King Arthur or the woeful Alexander, but probably on a par with Troy or The Alamo.

Put very bluntly, the gist is this: Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is an ornery, grieving blacksmith somewhere in France who, after a visitation from a world-weary crusader, Lord Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson, playing yet another expository mentor/dead-duck), and his hospitaler, Prof. Lupin (David Thewlis), decides to embark to the Holy Land to seek Christ’s forgiveness for the suicide of his wife. Along the way, he makes a Muslim friend in Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and a Christian enemy in Celeborn (Marton Csoskas), and discovers that zealots are generally rather unlikable people on both sides of the religious divide. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Legolas is feted at the court of leper King Tyler Durden (a masked Edward Norton), whereupon he makes more friends (Jeremy Irons, Eva Green) and enemies (Brendan Gleeson, hamming it up like a community-theater Brian Cox), all before an interminably long siege against the forces of Saladin (a charismatic Ghassan Massoud.)

Are all those fanboy comparisons unfair? Well, not after sitting through the last hour, which basically played like Helms Deep and Minas Tirith all over again. Yes, the production values are immaculate and all the (fetishized) weaponry is used in suitably historic fashion, but, really, how many historic sieges can one be expected to sit through in a given couple of years? Frankly, Kingdom of Heaven was more interesting in the early going, when there was more acting amid the fighting.

As for the politics, well…the message of the film — religion good, religious zealots bad — is laudable and well-worth hearing these days, perhaps even brave. But, while confessing a near-total ignorance of medieval history, Kingdom of Heaven sure doesn’t seem very historical in its 21st century forward-mindedness. At one point before the siege, Legolas not only makes the case for religious tolerance but completely dismantles the feudal caste system — I was almost waiting for him to institute the ballot box and universal public education while he was at it.

In short, even though I’m in sympathy with the general pluralist worldview of Kingdom of Heaven, the movie could have definitely done with less anachronistic liberal humanism and more dramatic complexity. (In fact, I can’t think of a single character in the film who displayed more than one dimension.) And, even notwithstanding the history, there just needed to be more characterization and less CGI-battling here. As both an historical epic and a summer popcorn film, Kingdom of Heaven felt only a step or two above Purgatory.

Rock of Ages.

The new trailer for Ridley Scott’s Crusader-pic Kingdom of Heaven is now online, and while it looks nice enough, I have to concur with the AICN guys: It’s hard to take the movie seriously with the goofy college-metal in the background.

Liquid Cinema.

The web site for the live action Aeon Flux, starring Charlize Theron and Francis McDormand, goes live with a short intro and flash images of some of the main characters. While this doesn’t seem like a must-see by any means, it might make for a decent B-movie, I guess. I’ve yet to figure out how they’re going to capture the feel of the cartoon, tho’.

Trailer Park Xmas.

Hello all…I finished up the end-of-term grading yesterday evening, at which point Berkeley and I started settling in to the christmas spirit down here at Murphy Home Base in Norfolk. Here’s hoping everyone out there is having a safe and merry holiday season, and that you get something better from Santa than Dubya’s warmed-over right-wing judges.

Also, if you’re looking for some trailers to tide you over, here’s Leggy & Liam battling freedom-hating infidels in Ridley Scott’s crusader pic Kingdom of Heaven, Russell Crowe trying to out-Seabiscuit Seabiscuit in Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man, a slew of A-listers vamping and vicing in the Robert Rodriguez version of Frank Miller’s Sin City, MTV Films butchering another needless remake in The Longest Yard, and creepy undead kids claiming yet another victim in Boogeyman. Enjoy, and happy holidays, y’all.(Aragorn pic via Fark.)

Eyes, Spies, Tom, and Cat.

It’s Friday, and at the end of a grim-visaged week, the world needs more trailers. In the bin today, we’ve got a new view of The Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel and David Twohy’s follow-up to Pitch Black (sadly, it still looks like a very expensive Sci-Fi Channel original movie), evil Tom Cruise in Michael Mann’s Collateral (The LA gunplay of Heat meets the visual style of The Insider), the first look at The Bourne Supremacy (Identity was a nice surprise, although this one seems very similar), and the teaser for Halle Berry’s embarrassing-looking Catwoman (The early buzz has been awful, and this blah clip won’t change it.)

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