“Wonderland” disappointing, “Louvre” shines

Posted May 28, 2010, at 5:34 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

“Alice in Wonderland”

DVD, Blu-ray: When it was released in theaters less than three months ago, Tim Burton’s “Alice: Struck Down by Banality,” (sorry) “Alice: What a God Awful Bore Your Movie Is” (let’s try this again), “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” — (OK, fine) — “Alice in Wonderland,” was presented in 3-D, which was ironic because the movie itself lacks dimension. Here, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” are updated to feature Alice not as a child caught in another world, but as a 19-year-old young woman (Mia Masikowska) seeking to escape the possible ruins of a bad marriage to a man with irritable bowel syndrome. That’s only one of the (*cough*) inspired ways the story has been updated. Since Alice is being pressured into a marriage she wants no part of, this curious girl with the pale skin and the concealed pluck takes flight from the situation when a rabbit (voice of Michael Sheen) catches her eye. She chases after it and falls down a rabbit hole into another world called Underworld. But is this Alice that Alice? Many want to know, including Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), Tall Flower Faces (Imelda Staunton), Absolem the Caterpillar (Alan Rckman), and Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas). All have their doubts that she is save for the one person who knows that this is the Alice of their memories. That person is Mad Hatter, who is played by Johnny Depp in a role he obviously was game to play, so it’s a shame the script didn’t play back. The movie is colorful and colorless, which is surprising since this usually terrific director misses his mark by forgetting to tell the sort of unforgettable story audiences have come to expect from him. There is mold all over this “Alice,” and while some of it features the brightest of greens, a lot of it is predictably grim, but not in the way that Burton fans have come to savor. Rated PG. Grade: C-

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“Sculptures of the Louvre”:

For those who have visited Paris’ sprawling Louvre Museum only to come away feeling as if a bottle of absinthe is in order (and who can blame you?), this set is for you. For those who haven’t visited but always have wanted to, this set also is for you. This seven-part series offers a satisfying look into some of the most famous sculptures housed in one of the world’s most chaotic, comprehensive museums — it allows for a measure of clarity to cut through the clutter and the hype. If there ever is a museum that needs the focus, clarity and steadiness offered here, it’s the Louvre. Grade: A-

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“The Tennessee Williams Film Collection”:

Five films, some among our best, all inspired by the great playwright, Tennessee Williams. Included are 1951’s “A Street Car Named Desire,” with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh; 1958’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives’ Big Daddy faced with big secrets; 1964’s “The Night of the Iguana” with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Keborah Kerr; Elia Kazan’s 1956 film, “Baby Doll,” with Karl Malden; 1961’s “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone,” which smolders with Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty; and 1962’s “Sweet Bird of Youth,” with Paul Newman, Geraldine Page and Rip Torn. Includes a bonus DVD, “Tennessee Williams’ South,” that makes great strides in getting to the core of a complicated, fascinating man. Grade: A

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“War of the Worlds”

Blu-ray: Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake stars Tom Cruise as a divorced father of two whose life is changed by alien life. So! If you know anything about Cruise, his personal life and his religion, Scientology — which believes that 75 million years ago planet Earth, then known as Teegeeack, was ruled by some soul-smoking alien dude named Xenu — then you know right away that he’s perfect for the part. As New Jersey dockworker Ray Ferrier, Cruise begins this tense, sometimes genuinely scary movie right on the edge. His Ray is a selfish, deadbeat dad who behaves more like a child than his two kids. There’s teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and precocious, 10-year-old daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning), neither of whom wants anything to do with him. Meanwhile, roiling high in the backyard is a gathering of clouds tunneling in on themselves. When lightning strikes the first time, it’s all fun and games. But when it strikes and strikes and strikes the same spot with devastating force, the game is on, with Spielberg digging in to deliver a blistering homage to the postwar, apocalyptic, sci-fi B-movies of his youth. Based on H.G. Wells’ 1898 book, “War of the Worlds” transforms the architecture of Wells’ work, taps into the hysteria Orson Welles generated in his infamous 1938 radio adaptation, and offers a broad nod to Byron Haskins’ classic 1953 movie version in the process. Until its bum final act, the film is lean and alive, a visceral thrill ride designed to move audiences to the edge of their seats and maybe, for those too young to handle the film’s surprisingly dark streak of violence, right into their parents’ laps. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+

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“The Wolfman”

DVD, Blu-ray: Benicio Del Toro’s latest movie, “Hirsute and Hatin’ It,” is so ripe with the stink of fouled fromage, it should have taken place in France instead of Victorian England. But here we are, wet and slumming it, and while the set decoration is excellent, the same can’t be said for the film itself, which is an altercation of the 1941 original. For instance, instead of being an astronomy student in California, as Lon Chaney Jr. was in the original, we now have Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, a Shakespearean actor in New York circa 1891 who returns to England when word comes that his brother has been murdered. And by murdered, we’re talking torn apart. By what? Lycanthropy! Determined to find his brother’s killer, Lawrence takes to the woods and starts his dumb search. Naturally, he has a nasty brush with the werewolf who killed his brother, and he’s bitten. Cue the moon. Larry’s questionable father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins in a performance that’s over the moon), is a sorry replacement for Bela Lugosi, who had the capacity to elicit sympathy. Hopkins doesn’t — at least not here — where he’s featured as a cold caricature with a feasting heart, in which is tucked a secret that suckerpunches the movie. Providing a bodice and a trembling bottom lip is Emily Blunt, who is Lawrence’s dead brother’s former intended. Who wants to bet that she takes a moonshine to Lawrence? Also here is Hugo Weaving, who plays a detective from Scotland Yard. For those craving to see this bloody circus, don’t eat before watching because what’s on the menu — severed heads, ropes of entrails, kidneys ripped free from messy midsections, and the transformation of Lawrence into the Wolfman himself — might turn your stomach. “The Wolfman” is filled with so much over-the-top gore, you have to wonder whether director Joe Johnston knows how to build suspense at all. You want to take his hand, pat it, and say, “Less is more, Joe. Less is more.” But no. His heavy-handed approach harms a movie that should have been ensconced in Lawrence’s confusion and self-loathing, not blood for the sake of blood. It’s a choice that costs the movie plenty, beginning with its soul. Rated R. Grade: D+

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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