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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Alice In Wonderland


Description
Tim Burton was born to bring Alice in Wonderland to the big screen. Ironically, his version of the Victorian text plays more like The Wizard of Oz than a Lewis Carroll adaptation. On the day of her engagement party, the 19-year-old Alice (a nicely understated Mia Wasikowska) is lead by a white-gloved rabbit to an alternate reality that looks strangely familiar--she's been dreaming about it since she was 6 years old. Stranded in a hall of doors, she sips from a potion that makes her shrink and nibbles on a cake that makes her grow. Once she gets the balance right, she walks through the door that leads her to Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), the Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), and the Cheshire Cat (a delightful Stephen Fry), who inform her that only she can free them from the wrath of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter channeling Bette Davis) by slaying the Jabberwocky. To pull off the feat, she teams up with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp in glam-rock garb), rebel bloodhound Bayard (Timothy Spall), and Red's sweet sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway in goth-rock makeup). While Red welcomes Alice with open arms, she plans an execution for the hat-maker when he displeases her ("Off with his head!"). Drawing from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Burton creates a candy-colored action-adventure tale with a feminist twist. If it drags towards the end, his 3-D extravaganza still offers a trippy good time with a poignant aftertaste. --Kathleen C. Fennessy 






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Date Night


Description
Tina Fey and Steve Carell are two of the most charming performers in entertainment today. Their goofy attractiveness makes them a perfect couple in Date Night: an unremarkable husband and wife from New Jersey, they get mistaken for crooks in Manhattan, sending them on a wild night replete with snooty wait staff, crooked cops, glitter-specked strippers, a shirtless superspy (Mark Wahlberg, as buff as ever), and a preposterous car chase. The movie makes no effort to be remotely plausible and the last third really goes off the rails, and it would probably be better served by less familiar faces in minor roles (bit parts are played by Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, Common, James Franco, Mila Kunis, William Fichtner, and Ray Liotta). It's disappointing that the dialogue doesn't crackle the way it does on 30 Rock or The Office. But Fey and Carell carry the movie along through sheer nerdy pluck. Rarely does a couple in a movie seem genuinely devoted to each other, not out of wild passion, but for all the things that a real marriage is built on: patience, shared humor, a willingness to deal with day-to-day annoyances, and simple affection. Fey and Carell seem like a couple you'd actually enjoy going out to dinner with. In today's world, that's more romantic than sunsets and bouquets of roses. --Bret Fetzer


The Book of Eli


Description
With unflappable cool and surprising gentleness, Denzel Washington strides a bleak and barren world in The Book of Eli. Eli is headed west, but on the way, he passes devastation and squalor, and occasionally he must mete out some devastation of his own with a sharp blade. But when he arrives in what passes for a town in this dust-and-ash future, the power-hungry owner of the town's bar, Carnegie (Gary Oldman, looking a million years old), covets his one important possession. (Spoiler alert, sort of: it becomes apparent pretty quickly that it's a King James Bible.) Conflict ensues! Though the plot is simple and the "mystery" of the book doesn't last long, The Book of Eli is carried along effortlessly by its star. Washington has always had a compelling mixture of authority and tenderness, and it's this latter quality that makes this contribution to the testosterone-and-violence-drenched post-apocalyptic subgenre unexpectedly human. The script, while not particularly original, has effective dialogue and is smart enough not to explain too much. The supporting actors--including Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jennifer Beals (who hasn't aged a day since Flashdance), and Ray Stevenson (Rome)--are all capable and easy on the eyes. The movie's bleached-out, sepia-tone look isn't new either, but it suits the subject matter. Anyone who wants to be offended by the movie's spiritual conclusion would be wiser to enjoy the subversive insinuation that religion can enslave as much as save. All in all, a competent action movie with some enjoyably atypical elements. --Bret Fetzer



Kick-Ass

Description
The cinematic equivalent of a half case of Red Bull chased with donuts, Kick-Ass is a giddy, violent experience--and not your average superhero movie. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., it offers a set of heroes who are decidedly without superpowers: Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides he'll be just like a comic-book character, and puts on a ridiculous green suit to fight crime as the mysterious Kick-Ass. Luckily, somebody else had the same idea and comes along to rescue the incompetent crusader: Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), who also happen to be running around town wearing masks and vanquishing evil. And here we have the movie's masterstroke: Hit Girl, a pint-sized preteen who slaughters bad guys and swears like a sailor on leave (and was the focus of a measure of controversy when the movie was released). The main target of our heroes is a gangster (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes), whose neglected son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin from Superbad) figures he might just pull on a costume himself and become… Red Mist! (One of the many funny things about Kick-Ass is that the superhero names are hopelessly lame.) Director Matthew Vaughn is operating at the same glib level as his Layer Cake, with cutesy song cues galore and a freewheeling appetite for cartoon violence. This means the movie's high wears off quickly, but it does get high--a crazy, hilarious (and by the way: decidedly R-rated) kick. All that, plus Nicolas Cage executes a deadly Adam West imitation when he pulls on his cape and cowl. That's entertainment. --Robert Horton


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