'Alice in Wonderland'
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Three out of four stars.
"Curiouser and curiouser" could certainly describe the careers of director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp.
Since their first pairing in 1990's macabre but heartfelt "Edward Scissorhands," the duo have forged (together and separately) bizarrely engaging cinematic paths. At face value, either's creations could be seen as jest, thumbing their noses at high theatre and the mainstream. Was Hollywood a mere Candyland to them, a play place in which they could frolic in their irreverence? Their quizzical take on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" may have soured some critics. But their later collaboration on "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" — a musical about a serial killer — earned sweeping accolades, including a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Depp.
What a peculiar recipe for success.
The two meet again for a re-envisioning of "Alice in Wonderland," a 3-D spectacle that might leave you out of your head — in a good way.
In this new take on Lewis Carroll's literary classic, the title character is a fanciful 19-year-old (newcomer Mia Wasikowska) about to be engaged to a peaked nobleman in a stuffy Victorian ceremony. Distracted in a hedge maze by the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), she follows the critter down a familiar hole, but she emerges in a Wonderland audiences are unaccustomed to seeing onscreen.
Burton's "Underland" is a twisted, baleful realm Dr. Seuss might inhabit. And instead of the well-known fairy tale characters being daffy or flighty, they are weighed down by war. The Tweedles (both portrayed by Matt Lucas), the Dodo (Michael Gough) and the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) assume Alice to be some great savior for their world that's been torn apart by the maniacal Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Despite what looks like drudgery, this "Alice" is truly an adventure, on par with another captivating Disney-lit franchise, "The Chronicles of Narnia." Here, our heroine really is a heroine, and not just some petulant youngster convincing herself of her sanity. Wasikowska's Alice embraces the suspension of disbelief in her quest to free her kooky comrades from darkness. This Alice, and the actress playing her, is downright admirable, combining maturity and wonderment effortlessly. She battles not only riddles from the Mad Hatter (Depp) and the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), but also fearsome dragon-like Jabberwockys and husky Bandersnatches.
Burton and Co. impressively rejuvenate Carroll's work for today's overstimulation-craving audiences. This movie packs a wallop in 3-D, the fantastic scenery swallowing the viewer, instead of just leaping out on occasion as a parlor trick. The script, fine-tuned by Linda Woolverton, seamlessly marries Burton's flair for the absurd with Disney's emphasis on tenderness. It's one party that will fit any audience to a "tea."
Rated R. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. 4 stars.
Brain-rotting sickness aside, "The Crazies" is the most clearheaded zombie-style horror movie since "28 Days Later." It knows exactly what it aspires to be and does it far better than you'd expect.
Based loosely on horror master George A. Romero's 1973 film of the same name (Romero executive produced this version), the plot is simple. A small town in Iowa is struck by a mysterious sickness that turns normally nice Midwestern farmers into homicidal, rabid maniacs (called Crazies). When the U.S. Army quarantines the town and begins exterminating the tainted population, the town's sheriff, David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), and his loyal deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) try to escape. Between the Crazies and the heavily armed soldiers in gas masks, they've got a lot of running to do.
For a film with such a simple story — survival — screenwriters Scott Kosar and Ray Wright do an impressive job of sustaining suspense all the way through (and without drowning you in excessive displays of blood and gore).