Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Alice in Wonderland"

Logically, the most passionate viewers of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” will be the fans of Burton, Johnny Depp and Lewis Carroll. However, while the first two elements do live up to expectations, the third one certainly doesn’t. In fact, I would highly not recommend anyone to reread either of the original “Alice” books before watching the movie. Because truth be told, there is just as much Carroll in Burton’s “Wonderland” as there is Conan Doyle in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes.”

A curly blonde Alice Kingsley – eight years after her Wonderland adventure – is being forced to marry a young lord so obnoxious, that hardly anyone could reproach her for not wanting to have him. Taking time “to think,” she runs off, and … follows a white rabbit to a hole in the ground. For a bit the plot goes on just like the original. Up to the moment when Alice walks into a talking flower garden. First she gets to meet many of the famed Wonderland characters all at once, next she’s being chased by a monster dog, and has to do a lot of running and hiding.

Soon enough Alice runs into Mad Hatter – Depp in his most extreme makeup yet. As one of the story's centerpieces, Hatter takes up a lot of screen time which is a real treat. Others – vile Red Queen (Helena Bohnem-Carter) with a hydro-cephalic head, Crispin Glover’s Black Knight, Tweedldee and Tweedledum, the nutty Mad Hare, and of course, the toothy Cheshire Cat – keep him good company. But you still can’t help asking questions like: “Why just the Queens - where are the Kings?” “Where is good old White Knight?” “And why the Dormouse, famous for her lethargic tendencies, keeps on restlessly running around?” And finally: "Why so serious?"

The original “Alice in Wonderland” was partly a parody of life in Victorian England, partly an intriguing parable wrapped as a children’s fairy-tale, but saturated with double meanings, wordplay and philosophical explorations. “Alice” movie leaves all the sensible “nonsense” completely out, instead focusing on the fairy-tale base, only taking, at times, a dramatically serious approach. Burton’s “Wonderland” and its inhabitants sacrifice their depth for extreme grotesqueness which is delivered generously and in full. The visual part of the film is an impressive piece of work and the cast is perfect. If you can manage to appreciate just that, you can as well enjoy the movie immensely.

What is, nevertheless, deeply disappointing, is that the story is modeled after the most trivial formula of all – the battle of good and evil, with Alice as a messiah whose task it is to save all. Isn't that the most overused plot of all time?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscars 2010 winners

The good news of the 82nd Academy Awards was the victory of common sense over 3D hype and insane box office success of "Avatar." It only received visual and technical awards. On the other hand, the win of "Hurt Locker" as Best Film, Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay, looks strictly political - after all the Iraq war theme is still such a hot topic, and there was still no major film done about that.

Jeff Bridges was named Best Actor for what is said to be his best role in "Crazy Heart" (better than Lebowski?? Let's see about that). And Sandra Bullock went from a Worst Actress at Razzies for "All About Steve" (she actually received the "honor" herself) to Best Actress at Oscars for "Blind Side" - in just two days. Good for her! Cristoph Waltz, quite expectedly, added an Oscar to his big bunch of Best Supporting Actor nods for "Inglourious Basterds" which he previously received at Cannes, Golden Globes and most recent BAFTAs.

Indie hit "Precious" received Best Supporting Actress for Mo'Nique and Best Adapted Screenplay. Emotional cartoon "Up" was marked out as Best Animation and for Best Score, and Best Song went to "Crazy Heart."

See a complete list of winners and nominees at and a detailed recount of the ceremony with pictures at

Sunday, March 7, 2010

25 original illustrations inspired by film

Film geeks and design geeks collaborated to present you those 25 pictures/posters based on iconic films. Some works some works are just plain cool, others are strange, but all very imaginative. See the full collection here.

Oscars on the way: "Up"

Nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Animated Feature Film of the Year and other awards

Just slightly over ten hours before the Oscars 2010 ceremony, I finally saw one of its favorites as well as most talked about cartoons of the year – “Up.” And yes, I understand how it earned all the praise, even though “Coraline” is still more like my type of cartoon.

“Up” features all the customary elements of a Disney animation – sympathetic heroes bound to prevail over caricature villains, cute and friendly pets, adventures, colorful landscapes, pleasant score and an action-packed third act. What marks it out is outstanding cinematography, charming story and a very moving emotional basis.

Grumpy old man Carl Fredricksen, devastated and lonely after the loss of his wife, devises a way to escape being moved to a retirement home and fulfill his and his late wife’s dream - take an adventure trip to Paradise Falls (somewhere in South America). He ties a mass of multi-colored balloons to his roof and takes off, soon to discover, that a chubby scout kid Russel involuntarily came along for the ride.

Through an incredible stroke of luck, they do end up right next to the Falls, but before Carl can relax in his chair and enjoy the scenery, he and Russel have to deal with a fantastic giant bird, a fluffy dog with a “talking” collar and explorer Charles Muntz – Carl’s childhood hero, living in his flying ship anchored in the wilderness.

Naturally there are plenty of ridiculous moments that only adults would notice: Muntz, who must be at least 20 years older than Carl (who looks at least 65) shows wonders of physical strength (must be wonderful mountain air), not unlike Fredricksen, who alternatively uses his walker for moving around, and then runs, jumps and climbs hanging ladders without any assistance.

In the same time, “Up” should be seen for what it is – a Disney fantasy which lacks real life logic, but offers what many cartoons don’t – a genuine human touch and feelings that both children and adults can connect to.

Razzies winners

So right before Oscars, we get winners of best awards ever - Razzies! Worst picture is "Transofrmes: Revenge of the Fallen" - transformers can only blame bimbo Megan Fox for that I think. Sandra Bullock, who is among the favorites to win an Academy Award today for "Blind Side," was "honored" at Razzies for "All About Steve" (honestly you just need to see its poster to tell the movie was crap).

"Battlefield Earth" is worst film of the decade - to my mind there were much worse, but if you consider Battlefield's ambitions, than yeah, probably right. Poor Eddie Murphy was named worst actor of decade - well, he can only blame his choice of movies.

But what really made my day (so far) is decade's worst actress win for PARIS HILTON. I was one of happy journalists invited to opening of "Pledge This" in Kyiv - I lasted about 15 minutes. "Hottie and the Nottie" was a totally worthy follow-up. Hail Paris!

Go to The Hollywood Reporter for more.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Oscars on the way: "An Education"

Nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published

“An Education” is an airy and smart, if slightly moralistic, coming-of-age drama about a quick-witted schoolgirl and her relationship with an older man, set in the 1960s suburban London. 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) has great marks, plays a cello and is fascinated by everything French. Lazily hopping through her last year at school, she can’t wait to move to Oxford University where she can finally be free. But a chance encounter with David – a 30-something sweet-talking man brings a change to her plans.

A real “charmer,” David managed to whisk Jenny away to a weekend in Oxford and a trip to Paris by feeding plausible lies to her loving but grounded dad (Alfred Molina). The couple spends evenings at theaters and restaurants often with David’s best friend and his posh but dumb blonde girlfriend (Rosamunde Pike). As Jenny gets carried away with those new experiences, she begins to despise her strict school that frowns upon such frivolous lifestyle.

From an enchantingly playful opening sequence to a life-affirming finale, “An Education,” based on Nick Hronby's celebrated novel, balances witty dialogue, great acting on every part and attractive visuals. Jenny is charming and cute, but she’s no lolita and there is nothing even faintly vulgar about her subtle sexuality. However, what really sets the movie apart from most stories about young girls learning love and life from older men is that little Jenny, with her intelligence, ambitions and thirst for knowledge, stands high above her boyfriend and his flashy friends.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Top ten films of the 1990s

A nice chart of best 1990s flicks, with a top ten for each separate year. If I had to pick out my fav films of each of those years (choosing only from the ones in the given rating) it will go like this: 1999 - "Being John Malkovich" and "Fight Club"; 1998 - "The Big Lebowski" and "Run Lola Run"; 1997 - "As Good as It Gets" and "Jackie Brown"; 1996 - "Fargo" and "From Dusk till Dawn"; 1995 - "The Usual Suspects"and "Se7en"; 1994 - "The Shawshank Redemption," "Clerks" and "Natural Born Killers" (that was a momentous year); 1993 - "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "Groundhog Day" and "True Romance"; 1992 - "Reservoir Dogs"; 1991 - "Barton Fink"; 1990 - "Gremlins 2: The New Batch." And that reminds me how many gaps I still need to fill...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Oscars on the way: "The White Ribbon"

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Best Achievement in Cinematography

By now "The White Ribbon" has collected a bucketful of awards at all major film festivals, most notably a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film and a Golden Palm at 2009's Cannes, so now it only remains to be recognized by the Academy.

The action is set in a German village, where it begins just two years before the start of the World War I and ends right when the War breaks out. The narrator is a school teacher reflecting on this short period in his life, when he was preoccupied with the idea of getting married.

The quiet bucolic life of the village is disrupted by several incidents that soon grow in number. The doctor gets severely wounded when his horse trips on a transparent wire placed between two trees. Someone opens a window in a room with a baby on a cold night. Baron's son disappears, and is found tied to a tree in the forest. Soon every adult is under suspicion, and the school teacher is the only one who directs his attention to children instead.

The latter are stern-faced boys and girls dressed in ascetic clothes. Raised in austerity, they are completely submissive to adults, but while little ones appear quite innocent, the older ones bear a look that can be interpreted as obedience and loathing at the same time. The name of the film comes from the white ribbon that the strict village pastor ties to arms of his eldest children - as a way to remind them of their purity. It is meant as punishment, but rather appears to be an act of desperation.

Michael Haneke's black-n-white film is a complex, layered story, that doesn't offer easy answers. There is no direct evidence to prove children's guilt, apart from some subtle hints and suspicious behavior. Instead, Haneke paints a vivid picture of the world, about to be transformed forever, and the children's suspected acts of violence serve as dark omen of things to come.

See full list of Oscar nominees here.