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Burton's wondrous 'Alice' more sequel than remake

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Posted: Saturday, March 13, 2010 12:00 am

You know how I love playing the role of curmudgeon, but I've gotta level with you: I'm getting pretty excited about the next few months' offerings.

We've already got great films from auteurs Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton (see below) playing in wide release, and "Green Zone," "Hot Tub Time Machine," "Clash of the Titans," "Kick-Ass" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" are all set to open ahead of "Iron Man 2," which will kick-off what looks to be a promising summer movie season.

Let's enjoy the good times while we can.

"Disney's Alice in Wonderland"

**** (out of four)
2010, Tim Burton, U.S., PG-13

With the exception of his wildly miscalculated "Planet of the Apes" remake, I've never outright disliked a Tim Burton film. But, even as a fan, I must concede that his output over the past 15 years or so has been somewhat disappointing overall.

Films like "Sleepy Hollow" and "Big Fish" and even the strong "Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" are fun, but none compare to the filmmaker's most ambitious earlier works, such as "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and "Edward Scissorhands."

It's almost as if after "Mars Attacks!" he became too concerned with critical judgment and began playing things relatively safe, becoming a tad self-conscious in his efforts to balance critical appeal with marketability.

Now comes "Disney's Alice in Wonderland," a big-budget blockbuster that, ironically enough, seems like most genuine and complete film since 1994's "Ed Wood."

By framing his story as a sequel to the original Disney cartoon rather than a direct adaptation of Lewis Carols' books, Burton was able to free himself of artistic restraint, and delivers his most engaging, eye-popping, fiercely imaginative and entertaining work in many years.

He's aided by a top-notch cast, which in addition to Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter also boasts the considerable talents of Helena Bonham-Carter(-Burton?) as the large-headed Red Queen, the suitably weird Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, and Barbara Windsor as the voice of the Dormouse (one of several peripheral characters from Carol's stories who is given an expanded role in Burton's universe).

As impressive as the film's 3-D visuals are, they take a back seat to the uniformly excellent cast of players, who bring the story to life with wit and panache.

Purists will scoff at the action-movie structure, and still more will call for Burton's head after seeing the battlefield climax with the Mad Hatter getting busy with a sword, but the fact remains that such things work in the context of the film, which is quite simply one of the breeziest, most consistently wondrous kid-lit riffs I've ever seen. If you can't roll with that, then stay home and read Proust or something while the rest of us enjoy a rollicking, unpretentious good time.

Wallis' commentary on lackluster Oscar telecast

Hollywood didn't give us the most thrilling Oscar telecast ever, but there were a few points of interest that warrant brief discussion:

  • I went six for six in correctly predicting the major races, but it must be noted that this was no great feat, as this was perhaps the least suspenseful awards season in memory, with all major categories having a clear front-runner. I went 16 out of 21 overall (I don't count things like the live-action short category, because really, who cares?), with my most devastating losses occurring in the screenplay races, where I anticipated wins for "Inglourious Basterds" and "Up in the Air" rather than "The Hurt Locker" and "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire." Oh, well.
  • I like the idea of having two Oscar co-hosts, and this year Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin both did relatively well despite some "blah" writing. (The "Paranormal Activity" spoof, though, was choice.) Here's a wild idea: Instead of relying on out-of-touch, tired Vaudevillian schtick to earn the laughs, how about actually hiring some skilled writers to put on the biggest awards show of the year? I bet they could have even bribed a few "30 Rock" writers to contribute some material. In the meantime, I guess we're stuck with lowest-common-denominator jokes about the Toyota recall and Salma Hayek's facial hair.
  • In a rare triumph of artistry over stupidity, "Avatar" received just three Oscars (all technical), half the number that went to "The Hurt Locker." To be fair, I'm sure James Cameron would much rather have $2 billion than a few more Oscar statuettes, but you just know he had to be at least a little peeved. And when James Cameron is peeved, God smiles.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the most random Oscar appearance imaginable: Fisher Stevens accepting the award for Best Documentary Feature. Yeah, why don't you just let that just sink in for a minute?
  • A request for next year's telecast: More interpretive dance! I didn't quite know what was going on (I was about half a bottle of scotch deep by this point in the ceremony), but hot damn if it wasn't just about the strangest, most unintentionally hilarious thing I've ever seen at the Oscars.
  • It seems some people are miffed that I refuse to see "The Blind Side," and disagree with my assertion that it is not necessary to actually see such a film in order to evaluate it with a reasonable degree of accuracy. However, I maintain that the idea that all films are created equal, and require the same amount of critical consideration, is naïve and childish at best, and at worst absolutely insane. For instance, would you say that a critic should feel obligated to scour the walls of Hollywood Video, checking out every cardboard-box slasher flick and soft-core porn available, out of some misguided impulse to give everything a chance and not judge a book by its cover? Would you say that a food critic should sample a crusty movie theater hot dog before being deemed qualified to declare that it's terrible? Of course not. And by the same token, I think it's perfectly reasonable to not waste my time with an obviously mediocre assembly-line commodity like "The Blind Side," especially with so many other, more worthwhile films competing for my time. So there.
  • "Hi, I'm Tom Hanks. 'The Hurt Locker'!" Best. Award presentation. Ever.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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