Film Friday: ‘Alice In Wonderland’ and ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’

by W. Andrew Powell

Mia Wasilkowska wanders Underland in Alice In Wonderland

Mia Wasilkowska wanders Underland in Alice In Wonderland

Opening in a theatre near you this weekend, Tim Burton directs the trippy remake of Disney’s Alice In Wonderland; and a look at Antoine Fuqua‘s crime drama, Brooklyn’s Finest.

Alice In Wonderland
Starring: Mia Wasilkowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall
Director: Tim Burton

Even all these years later, Walt Disney’s original 1951 animated classic, Alice In Wonderland, is a hard act to follow. Ask most people about their memory of this well-known story and they tend to think back to what they remember from the film, rather than Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That must have made director Tim Burton’s job just a little bit harder, although if anyone could reinvent Wonderland, there is no question in my mind that Burton is a great choice.

Set in the Victorian era, Burton’s Alice is a 19-year-old girl, played by Mia Wasikowska, who doesn’t want to be the average woman in a corset, waiting for others to tell her what her life should be like. This Alice wants to do things her way. So, when a wealthy Lord proposes marriage, in front of everyone she knows, Alice runs off to clear her head for a minute, and ends up on an adventure to a place that seems oddly familiar.

Following the White Rabbit, voiced by Michael Sheen, Alice finds herself among the talking plants and animals of Underland, a world where she is apparently very well known. For Alice though, it all feels like a dream, and even as she confronts the evil Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter, and her minions, Alice has a hard time believing that any of it is real.

As the world unfolds though, and we get to know a little bit more of the story, Alice starts to take Underland more seriously, and moves to help recrown the White Queen, played by Anne Hathaway.

Featuring a cast that could almost not be better suited to the story, the performances are very, very good. Depp once again steals another of Burton’s films as a decidedly Mad but tender-hearted Hatter, Crispin Glover plays the Knave of Hearts, and Stephen Fry voicing the Cheshire Cat.

Carter is also the perfect Red Queen, even if her career is beginning to smudge together from a general lack of variety. Otherwise, Wasikowska is an intrepid Alice, all the way from playing the quiet, but resilient Alice, to the much more fiery Alice we meet in the end.

Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is flawed though, on a scale beyond the performances, which reflects badly on both Burton, and the script.

Not content to merely remake the cartoon or book, the filmmakers and screenwriter Linda Woolverton, who wrote The Lion King, have blended the first book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with a elements of the second book, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. The concept is sound but the plot makes the film feel like a mishmashed mess of themes ranging from the Lord of the Rings to the Chronicles of Narnia films.

The elements are unmistakable, and it is merely in the way the story has been interpreted that feels like it stomps on the toes of these other films.

Lastly, while I found the story a little weak overall, I was also let down by Disney’s 3D effects. At times the film’s visuals can be impressive, but the quality just does not live up to what we have seen in the reigning champ of 3D, James Cameron’s Avatar, especially in terms of eye-popping 3D effects. The opening scenes in the real world came off looking dark, like something was wrong with the projector, and much of the film is either rendered a little simplisticly, or fuzzily.

Alice In Wonderland is still a treat, it’s compelling, and Burton deserves credit for the style, but it’s far short of what many of us remember of Disney’s original Alice.

Brooklyn’s Finest
Starring: Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes
Director: Antoine Fuqua

From the director of Training Day comes Brooklyn’s Finest, a crime drama about three New York City officers dealing with a drug cleanup project that centres on one of the most corrupt and violent areas in Brooklyn.

Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, and Ethan Hawke play the roles of the three officers, pushed together and apparently connected through some kind of destiny that will force them to a crime scene that will ultimately prove fatal.

Reviews overall have not been kind to the film, or Fuqua’s direction, which many critics have called clichéd.

“Filled with every cop-movie convention since the invention of gunpowder and curse words,” Robert Wilonsky wrote for the Village Voice, “Brooklyn’s Finest is three movies in one, all of which you’ve seen before.”

While Sara Vilkomerson of the New York Observer commented in her review, “Antoine Fuqua is a master of this kind of anxiety — much like his acclaimed Training Day, there are moments so nerve-racking one is actually afraid to look directly at the screen.”

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