The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Malice in Wonderland (2009)
I caught wind of this a little while ago, before it came out on DVD yesterday. Luckily Netflix sent it out to me the day it was released, and I got it in the mail today. I must confess I one: haven't seen the new Johnny Depp Alice in Wonderland, and two: haven't really seen anything to do with Alice in Wonderland since I saw the Disney movie in school in the 80s. It might mean I missed some of the references, but I think I knew enough to get what was going on.
Malice in Wonderland stars Maggie Grace in the role of Alice, a US law student in London being chased by two men through a tube station. She makes her way to the street, when she's hit by a taxi, driven by Whitey (the White Rabbit). He scoops her into his car and takes her with him as he goes to pick up a present for Harry Hunt (The Queen of Hearts). Alice has amnesia, and is trying to remember who she is, and as she does, she runs across other characters based on Alice in Wonderland, trying to find Whitey again, who has dropped her off at a bus station. I don't want to give away too much of it beyond that.
For an 85 minute movie, I liked the first 75 quite a bit, but I'm not sure what happened at the end when all these loose ends started flying together. The movie should've come with a warning to wear goggles. Beyond that, the film was great. It had the perfect mix of reality and trippiness for this kind of a take on the story. Also, all of the actors took their parts and ran with them, recreating characters they all grew up with in England. Throw in Maggie Grace, who was precocious, confused, yet capable and heroic-- all traits we want out of a good Alice. I get the sense this would've been a boring 100 minute film if they didn't wrap up the oversized plot in the quick ten minutes they did, but it put an unnatural cap on what was an otherwise great film.
According to imdb, Mischa Barton was originally picked for the part of Alice. They don't say why Grace replaced her, and I don't know if Barton would've been better or worse in the part, I just know Grace worked. Sometimes just the way she stood in a certain scene was enough-- it was just very Alice, if that makes sense; and though the script seemed to be a little uneven at times in the way it handled her character, she had a way of making it work (except for the end too, of course). I haven't seen much of Lost, and didn't see her in Taken, but based on this role I'd like to see her again.
As I said above, I didn't see the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Alice in Wonderland, so I can't really comment, but setting it in a liminal space outside of London seems more inspired than loading a more faithful to the book version with famous actors and actresses and tons of CGIs. Again, I need to see it to really be able to comment, but the ensemble CGI thing has been done too many times with too many things. A surreal Film Noir-esque take is more my speed anyway, so maybe I'm biased, but it just goes back to my feeling that Hollywood is afraid to give us anything that's really new, and maybe American audiences as a whole are afraid to go see anything really new either, because I can't imagine Malice in Wonderland doing anywhere near as well as the Burton/Depp film if the two were pitted against each other in the States.
Saying the English have a very rich literary tradition is an understatement: between Dickens and Shakespeare alone, they have tons of ready-made plots that would make for great adaptations the way this one was here. It's interesting to see, then, how many of those stories end up as period pieces instead. Perhaps it's Laurence Olivier's legacy, or a need to keep Colin Firth working, who knows. When I think of some of the best film versions of England's best writing, as much as I think of Olivier's Hamlet or Lean's Oliver Twist, I also think of Francis Ford Coppola's version of The Heart of Darkness in Apocalypse Now (I know Conrad was Polish, but he spent much of his life in England, and wrote in English), or Kurosawa's Ran and Throne of Blood (King Lear and Macbeth respectively). Unlike Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which is just remaking the book again, I like how this film takes that latter approach, and uses the basic story in a new setting.
It's funny to think that I too could adapt Alice in Wonderland to my own local setting, because the closest Boston subway stop to me is named Wonderland, after the dog track in Revere that's nearby. I'm sure the dog track took it's name from the book, as has everything named Wonderland, but I never made the connection until this movie, when Alice is waiting for a bus, and she sees on a map one end that says "Wonderland", and the other that says "London". Now that I mention it, I'm not even sure if that dog tack is still open...
Anyway, before I digress too far, I better wrap this up. I think this is worth looking at. If you're unfamiliar with the story or don't remember it that well, you can click on my imdb link below and watch the trailer. That will tell you who all the characters are supposed to correspond to in the original story. If you're up for a trippy, Noir-esque take on Alice in Wonderland, I think you'll like this.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0374853/