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Tim Pigott-Smith

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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.

Prince of Thieves, Queen of Hearts.

In the trailer bin, Russell Crowe grunts, growls, and generally looks very Maximus-ish in the new trailer for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, also with William Hurt, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, Oscar Isaac, and Cate Blanchett (nee Sienna Miller) as Maid Marian. And two colorful new trailers for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland suggest Tim Burton might have gone pretty far afield from the original Lewis Carroll tome, and that Johnny Depp might get Willy Wonka-annoying here after awhile.

Update: But does he know the street value of that mountain? It’s The Hangover meets Back to the Future as John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke travel back to 1986 in a Hot Tub Time Machine, also with Lizzy Caplan, Crispin Glover, and Chevy Chase. Um, yeah.

Fawkes News.

Verily, my view on V for Vendetta vacillates. Even with visage veiled, the venerable Hugo Weaving’s voice brings vim and verve to the verbose, volatile, and vindictive vigiliante. Natalie Portman is vivacious enough as V’s volunteer, and varied English veterans (Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt) bring valuable versimilitude to V’s environs. But, various vignettes notwithstanding, this vaunted venture is less vibrant and versatile than I’d hoped. V is too virtuous, and the villains — from a venal vicar to a vainglorious video host — too vile. Vendetta is a viable version of Alan Moore’s violent vision, I suppose, but a vulgarized one.

If you thought the last paragraph was clunky, be prepared for more of the same in V. Vendetta is an enjoyable night at the movies, and definitely an above-average, smarter-than-usual actioner. And Weaving is amazingly dynamic behind the static mask — It’s hard to think of anyone else who could’ve pulled this off quite as well. But, like the last two Matrix films, V‘s bravura moments — the escape from the BBC, V’s talk with the botanist (Sinead Cusack), the domino scene — are too often interspersed with leaden, expository-heavy scenes where the pacing of the film just goes slack. Particularly egregious in this regard is our Batman-ish introduction to V very early in the film, where even Weaving’s mellifluous phrasing can’t salvage a similarly V-intensive monologue. (Frankly, the whole scene needed a rewrite.) The film does eventually recover from this Act I stumble, but it takes awhile.

And the larger problem with V for Vendetta is that, for all its pretense of moral complexity, it stacks the ethical deck in favor of our terrorist-protagonist. It’s been awhile since I’ve read the graphic novel, but I remember V coming across as a much more unlikable character. He’s a monster created by monstrous circumstances, and as much a symptom as the cure of his society’s larger sickness. But here, V is too (anti-)heroic and charismatic, even given the second act twist, and the government too Orwellian and depraved by far. Who wouldn’t sympathize with rising up against this Taliban-meets-the-Tories outfit? As such, the subtler elements of Moore’s moral economy have been flattened out, and all the choices have been made for us. But perhaps it’s a problem of medium — what worked well on the page comes across as overkill on the big screen. (Exhibit A: Big Brother John Hurt…I liked him better as Winston Smith.)

All in all, I’d say V for Vendetta is much better comic adaptation than LXG or, say, Fantastic Four, and on par with the other Vertigo films, From Hell and Constantine. But it’s not a slam-dunk: Vendetta‘s heart is in the right place, but, sadly, something doesn’t quite translate.

On Wrongs Swift Vengeance Waits.

The new trailer for V for Vendetta is now online. This premiered at BNAT 7 last week and got universally great reviews from the AICN fanboys, most of whom know their Moore…but, frankly, I’m not really feeling the “Matrix with knives” angle of this trailer, and John Hurt seems like he’s overdoing it.

Vendetta Mondatta.

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November…” The Comic-Con trailer for V for Vendetta is now online, starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving (formerly James Purefoy), Stephen Rea, and John Hurt. Look like it’s Winston’s turn as Big Brother.

Gimme a V.

A thespian-terrorist connection? The upcoming film version of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta receives an infusion of grade-A British talent, including Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, and Sinead Cusack. (They join James Purefoy, Natalie Portman, and Stephen Rea.)

Team Alexander: World Police.

Alexander the Great. Seeker, despot, conqueror, legend…and who knew he anything to do with the Kennedy assassination? Ok, Oliver Stone’s Alexander doesn’t actually pin the events of November 22, 1963 on the Macedonian conqueror, but, to be honest, I kinda wish it had — it might have injected some much-needed energy into the film. Over the past two decades, Oliver Stone has made films that are stunning, controversial, wrongheaded, and unforgettable, but never before has he made one so flat-out dull.

To its credit, I guess, Alexander shows signs of being an absolute train wreck right from the first reel. After a very brief nod to Citizen Kane, which suggested we may at least be getting a gloriously over-the-top outing from Stone this time around, the film settles in to Anthony Hopkins wandering around the set of the “Losing My Religion” video and spitting out long, interminable chunks of Basil Exposition. (Speaking of which, Stone must have been watching his VH1-Classic…there’s a scene on a mountaintop later that seems lifted straight out of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.”) Then, we’ve got Mommy Dearest Angelina Jolie writhing around with snakes for a bit (women = serpents = temptresses = deceivers, get it? Don’t worry, in typical Stone fashion, the point will be beaten into the ground over the next three hours.) Twenty minutes in, by the time young Alexander is channeling the Horse Whisperer, it’s pretty clear we’ve got a real stinker on our hands.

From there on, it’s just a pile-up. Other than a neat camel charge or two, the battle setpieces are completely inscrutable, and not in a good “Fog of War” kinda way. For some reason, the men all speak with Irish brogues, while both women (Jolie and Rosario Dawson) sound like Brides of Dracula. Give them credit, though. Jolie, Dawson, and Val Kilmer (as Phillip of Macedon, by way of Dr. Moreau) seem to be the only three people involved with this project who saw it for what it was and racheted up the hamminess dial to 11.

Much has been made in some reviews of Stone’s decision not to shy away from Alexander’s bisexuality — namely his love affair with the doe-eyed Hephaistion (Jared Leto, who fulfilled close to the same function for Tyler Durden in Fight Club) — and I suppose he should be applauded for it, given the recent trends in Red State country. But, frankly, what with all the earnest looks and pre-established Freudian baggage, it all comes off as high camp, and not nearly as open-minded as it thinks it is. Not that heterosexual relations fare much better, mind you…when Colin Farrell and poor, lovely Rosario Dawson hiss, scratch, and wrestle naked on their wedding night (yes, you guessed it, snake flashbacks are involved), it’s just about the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen.

To sum up, Alexander is a flat-out disappointment and easily the worst Oliver Stone film I can think of offhand. This review notwithstanding, it’s not even fun-bad. Think of it more as Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie.

It’s All Greek to Me.

The final trailer for Oliver Stone’s Alexander hits the web. I dunno…I like Stone’s movies more than most, but I’m getting a serious Moreau-vibe from Val Kilmer, and Angelina Jolie appears to be channeling Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing.

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