New films reviewed by Roz Laws and Graham Young.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND * * * *
Cert PG, 108 mins
It is 20 years since director Tim Burton gave Johnny Depp his movie break in Edward Scissorhands. This is their seventh collaboration, a visual delight with some flaws.
It’s really a sequel to the traditional tale. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now 19, an imaginative rebel who refuses to wear a corset and isn’t overjoyed to receive a very public marriage proposal from a stuffy aristocrat.
She escapes by following a white rabbit down a hole, emerging into Underland (she misheard its name on her first visit).
She soon bumps into old friends like Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), Dormouse (a giggly rather than sleepy Barbara Windsor), a cleverly disappearing Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and March Hare (Paul Whitehouse).
But it’s the orange-haired Mad Hatter (Depp) who is most pleased to see her, convinced she has come to fulfil her destiny by saving them from the tyrannical Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). To restore the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to the throne, she must kill the fearsome Jabberwocky.
This magical world looks fantastic, especially in 3D – look out for the flying hedgehogs when the queen starts playing croquet. Bonham Carter steals the show, though she does resemble Miranda Richardson in Blackadder. Depp’s performance is suitably schizophrenic, especially when he lapses into a Scottish accent, but reveals a poignancy to the Hatter’s disturbed mind.
Despite a fabulous British cast, there aren’t quite enough funny lines. Like Avatar, this film has problems with plot and script, but like Avatar you’ll want to keep watching just to see what wonderful things will appear on screen next.
CRAZY HEART * * * *
Cert 15, 111 mins
Received wisdom says that Jeff Bridges will ‘get the Oscar’ this weekend for his performance as Crazy Heart’s washed-up country singer Bad Blake.
And that it’s his body of work which makes him odds-on to do so.
Although he’s one of my favourite actors, there are several flaws with this argument. How can Bridges win this year when Mickey Rourke’s extraordinary performance as an even more washed-up wrestler went unrewarded at last year’s Oscars?
Sean Penn won instead for playing the gay man at the heart of Milk – in which case Colin Firth then ought to win this year for A Single Man (and I actually think he’d deserve it).
Crazy Heart features Bridges impressively playing, singing and acting all at the same time as he’s stumbling around on and off stage. It’s a first class performance that’s superior to the story about Bad Blake jumping into bed with young mother and journalist Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and his relationship with younger protégé Tommy (Colin Farrell, better than usual).
If you adore country music and have actually been in a band, you’ll love Crazy Heart. Despite Bridges’ brilliance, non-aficionados might find it underwhelming.
LEGION * *
Cert 15, 100 mins
There have been so many apocalyptic movies in the past six months, it’s a wonder the world hasn’t been annihilated by their sheer weight of numbers.
This one, debut directed by visual effects specialist Scott Stewart, has a religious overtone which never really convinces.
Opening on December 23 in LA, the beginning is The Terminator all over again, with the Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) arriving on Earth in the dark and later stitching his wounded back over a sink.
Most of the action is set in the remote Paradise Falls diner, where there’s an impressive sense of foreboding. After a fabulous sequence with a baby-toothed granny, Stewart surprisingly resorts to half an hour’s worth of increasingly tedious dialogue.
A series of set pieces offer individual moments of self-satisfied gratuity, but collectively add up to precious little.
At least for Dennis Quaid, who could have been a Harrison Ford-sized superstar in another life, his performance as diner boss Bob Hanson is a great improvement the sci-fi flop Pandorum.
CASE 39 * *
Cert 15, 109 mins
What seems to start out as a topical story – a young girl is horribly abused by her parents who try to kill her – becomes something entirely different in this below-par horror.
Renee Zellweger is the social worker who rescues 10-year-old Lillith (excellent Jodelle Ferland) and, in an unlikely move, gives her a home. But the girl isn’t as sweet as she looks and soon people start dying around her.
Quite scary at times, intriguing ideas and a good cast, including Ian McShane and Adrian Lester, are used badly.