Category: film

Remember what the dormouse said

Alice In WonderlandI, too, can believe 6 impossible things before breakfast.

1) One can enjoy a film for its own merits, and not simply because of its use of fancy new 3D technology.

I’ll confess being a snob on this one, but from Avatar (my brother calls it Blue People) on, I have been unable to take 3D films seriously. 3D is a gimmick which distracts from the reason we truly enjoy cinema … you know, things like characters, umm plot… little stuff like that.

2) A story written with none of Lewis Carroll’s original wit and verve can still manage to be decently compelling.

I’ll admit it: when I first read that this was not to be a remake but a continuation of Carroll’s work I had trepidations. Would this be the doomed threequel? the Matrix Revolutions of the Alice sagas? And although much of the dreamlike logic of the originals is lost, and it plays suspiciously like real life, my nightmares did not take shape.

3) The White Queen can be played as a “punk-rock vegan pacifist”.

Quite simply: after Rachel Getting Married I believe in Anne Hathaway like some people believe in God.

4) Matt Lucas can surpass his performances in “Little Britain”.

The first time I was shown this sketch, I thought, no way. This is it. This man is brilliant, and this is the perfect role. This is the pinnacle … of … of … of everything. And then he played Tweedledum. And at that, he also played Tweedledee. And I changed my mind.

5) Roger Ebert is fallible.

Ebert’s review of the film ends with this complaint.

Why does Alice In Wonderland have to end with an action sequence? Characters not rich enough? Story run out? Little minds, jazzed by sugar from the candy counter, might get too worked up without it? Or is it that executives, not trusting their artists and timid in the face of real stories, demand an action climax as insurance? Insurance of what? That the story will have a beginning and a middle but nothing so tedious as an ending?

Sure, Rog, the action sequence was a bit overwrought. My friends and I even giggled when the Jabberwock’s head came — dare I say “gallumphing” ? — down, and down, and down the stairs. But I wouldn’t peg that as a real ending, but rather the foreshadowing of a second, real-life ending. After all, Alice is adamant the entire time that Wonderland isn’t real. The battle is symbolism of the most obvious order, a coming-of-age story in which Alice proves she is truly her father’s daughter. In that case, the business meeting in which Alice becomes not a daughter-in-law but a business partner to the pompously-named Lord Ascot is the real-life counterpart to her beheading of the Jabberwocky, and may perhaps be read as an alternate climax.

A note: Ebert doesn’t really seem to be too picky about getting his minutia straight. In his review, he refers to a “wedding scene,” which, if you watch the film, is merely the most public proposal ever. This reminds me of his review of Marlowe, in which he refers to Bruce Lee as the “japanese karate expert.” Sure, these mistakes make very little narrative difference to the movie. But really?

6) Feminist fantasy films exist.

We’re used to fantasy films either ignoring women or placing them in clearly defined categories. Even filmmakers’ concessions to feminism — the foregrounding of Arwen and Eowyn in Lord of the Rings, for example — are limited by the traditional conservatism of fantasy’s gender roles. And sure, these recur in Alice. The Red Queen (read: female villain) is irrational, rage-filled, unstable. The White Queen (read: damsel in distress) has delicate, Hummel-figure poses and has taken a vow of non-violence. But mediating between these two figures is that of Alice, who must embrace her role as hero, donning armor to fight the Jabberwock. And who can forget the spunky Dormouse, who in this version is a swashbuckling, sharp-tongued little thing — a far cry from Minnie, y’all. (Good job on that one, Disney.)

I’m not saying it was perfect. The preponderance of “3D moments” where one is jerked out of the diegesis to notice, oh wow something was supposed to look as if it flew past my head there — pure annoyance. And, as few fantasy films can escape, Alice builds to a largely stereotypical end. It is testament to Burton’s skill that these elements didn’t kill the magic. On my part, I would have liked a little more of the Carroll-style dreamlike wandering, but, like childhood, all good things must come to an end, and Alice must grow up.


When In Bruges …

“For two weeks? In fucking Bruges? In a room like this? With you? No way.”

Theatrical Release Poster

It might be a repellant concept for Colin Farrell’s character in the film In Bruges, but it certainly makes for a wonderful movie. In the vein of “Lost In Translation”, the film similarly documents the escapades of two semi-awkward foreigners (in this case, British assassins) in a foreign city (Bruges, not Tokyo. I know, came out of the blue, that one). Farrell plays Ray, who obviously isn’t very enthusiastic about sightseeing (“Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”) Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson, takes the opposite view, indulging in all the sightseeing he can, and dragging Ray around with him.

In Bruges is a feature-length film that views like a short, but with lots more stuff crammed in. As the film takes a turn for the violent, it becomes more of a Lost In Translation/Pulp Fiction hybrid, except with all white people and, of course, in Bruges. (Hope I’m not giving too much away.)  During a pivotal chase/gunfight scene, I got the feeling that fully half of the camerawork was still meant to show off the beautiful scenery.

Oh yes, and Ralph Fiennes swears. A LOT.

Below is a list of the things I learned from this movie.

When In Bruges:

  • Make sure to do cocaine with midgets… er, dwarves. Even though you’ve been warned that he’s been taking horse tranquilizers.
  • Never assume the douchebag sitting next to you is American, and accidentally knock both him and his girlfriend out, regardless of whether or not she comes at you with a bottle or even knows karate. He’s probably a vengeful Canadian who will get you killed.
  • Be a prostitute — you’ll make more than you did in Amsterdam.
  • Make sure you know someone who you can buy horse tranquilizers from. They’re a good excuse not to greet people on the street. Except maybe horses.
  • When under great stress, the dried blood of Jesus reliquefies.
  • Don’t do anything in half-measures. If you’re going to blind a man by shooting blanks into his eye, at least do it to both eyes.
  • As long as you can introduce it in a charming way, pretty girls are all right with dating hired killers. Also, if you moan a lot about how you never thought a “girl like her” would “actually be into” a “guy like you”, she’ll give you a kiss before she takes her half-blind ex-boyfriend/con partner to the hospital to get an eyepatch. Which will then give you an opportunity to steal drugs from her, which she won’t mind even though it’s high-grade cocaine and ecstasy. And possibly horse tranquilizers.


Today I started my visual research for the Villa graphic short story project (haven’t thought of a catchy title yet, what do you think of Pancho Villa and the Sorcerer’s Stone? No? Le Fabuleux Destin d’ Pancho? Fear And Loathing in Chihuahua?) In the process, though, I came to a disturbing realization and that is this:

I am going to have to learn to draw horses real well.

They’re all over the place in the photos I’m finding, not to mention every statue of him ever (and there’s a lot of them, apparently). And as a large part of his self-created image consisted on his emphasis on his skill on horseback, I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming earlier.

In the banner below, you can get a feel for the general tone of the film I was talking about earlier: And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself, an HBO film starring, who else, Antonio Banderas as Pancho (my teacher got a little upset about this when she was introducing it before we watched a clip in class: “He’s not even Mexican, he’s Spanish!”) Another interesting tidbit that I found out today: another famous actor who has portrayed Pancho Villa is Yul Brynner.

And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself

Anyway, I want to convey this feeling: this glossy, attractive and ultimately badass version of Villa. The concept of the project is to highlight the differences between the above image and the one below, an actual photograph of Fransisco “Pancho” Villa. That’s what I’ll be writing about in the accompanying paper and presenting to the class: the way in which we impose elements of fiction (drama, narrative structure, etc) onto real life figures. Thus our exaggeration of revolutionaries such as Villa (click on the thumbnails for more detailed images):

Fransisco “Pancho” Villa Pancho Villa

And drawing Pancho Villa as himself… er… Antonio Banderas

Just ordered yet another DVD from, but this one’s for class, I promise. We watched part of “And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself” in my Spanish class, and for the final project she gave us the option to do a “creative visual project.” So I’m drawing a “graphic short story” (read: comic) in the style of the aforementioned made-for-TV Antonio Banderas HBO film, focusing on the way revolutionary figures are mythologized. I’ll post sketches and process work (probably) and will welcome comments. Now I have to go write my project proposal. Let’s all have one collective sigh over the necessity of paperwork.