The Friday Movie Blog

What I watched this week: an overdone Alice; a familiar Green Zone. Plus: my guiltiest guilty pleasure

My Grading System
G — Glorious
PG — Pretty Great
R — Run of the mill
NC-17 — Not a Classic
Unrated — Un-Rentable

Alice in Wonderland: in Disney Digital 3D
Perhaps it’s me, but I miss non-computerized movie effects. I miss watching the original Star Wars because I knew every Cantina alien was just an actor in makeup (this was before Lucas began tinkering and re-re-releasing it on DVD). Now don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-digital effects—far from it! From Lord of the Rings to Avatar, this technology has revolutionized filmmaking and made it creatively limitless. Nonetheless, this vast imagination can sometimes weigh down its actors and scripts, like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. [SIGNUP]

For the majority of the movie, I was overcome with the breathtaking imagery. The completely animated, Oz-ian Wonderland and its inhabitants (specifically, the Cheshire Cat and the blue caterpillar Absalom) are absolutely astonishing — like a child’s dream or nightmare. Bespectacled in the digital 3D glasses, I was able to further explore this imaginative and somehow familiar universe. Yet for all its wonder, these effects begin to drag down the story and hinder most of its non-animated actors.

The taffy-pulled, animated body of Crispin Glover (Knave of Hearts) comes across more Gumby than black knight. Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), though visually striking with an orange wig and mood-ring pupils, becomes quite exasperating with his constant whimpering, lispy mumblings. The lone exception is in the creation of the Red Queen. The appearance of Helena Bonham Carter’s head on top of a tiny, ballet-dancer body only enhances her uproariously sardonic and wonderful portrayal. I couldn’t help but smile every time she was in a scene and screaming the iconic, “Off with her head.” Her delivery of the hilariously random line, “I love a warm pig belly for my aching feet” might make it this year’s “I drink your milkshake.”

A lot of attention and magazine pages have been devoted to the magical collaboration between Burton and Depp. But in the digitally beautiful Alice in Wonderland, it is the other Burton-ite, Helena Bonham Carter, who walks away with the movie. (In theaters.)
My Grade: PG

Green Zone
The other night I went with some friends to a 10 p.m. showing of Green Zone. After about an hour, I fell asleep. Now, I wasn’t out cold. Honestly. But for about 30 minutes I fought the sleepy head-bob. It is entirely possible that the show time played its part (after all, my friends call me grandpa due to my penchant for early bedtimes). Yet, I cannot exonerate Green Zone’s predictable and confusing storyline from being the true soporific agent.

Matt Damon (Roy Miller) plays an army officer tasked with finding WMDs in Iraq. When each potential WMD storage facility comes up empty, he begins a covert investigation of the intel source. What begins as a dramatic examination of Wag the Dog-like war politics quickly devolves into a formulaic action flick. Damon, and fellow co-stars Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, and Brendan Gleason, do their best to bring depth to their one-dimensional characters, but the rote action completely swallows them whole. Late in the movie there is a chase scene that goes on for at least 15 minutes. I believe some guys are chasing some guys who are chasing some other guys. The filming is exciting (and occasionally vertigo-inducing), but, plot-wise, I had absolutely no idea what was going on — between short naps, that is.

Paul Greengrass has directed Matt Damon in two visually electrifying and intellectually driven action thrillers in the past few years, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. The use of rapid-fire editing and handheld camerawork pulls the viewer directly into the action. While these same techniques are employed in Green Zone, it ends up feeling more like a lesser Bourne sequel. The Bourne Derivative? (In theaters.)
My Grade: R

See It: The Secret of Kells (2009). A beautifully drawn, quiet Celtic fantasy that received a surprise Oscar nomination for best animated feature. Only scheduled to play at Ritz at the Bourse for one week. My Grade: G

Rent It: The Lookout (2007). While this movie is not perfect, it does have one of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s most stellar performances. See why he has become one of the best young actors working in independent film today. My Grade: PG

Queue It: Scotland, PA (2002). What happens when Macbeth takes place in the 1970s… in Pennsylvania… in a fast food restaurant. My Grade: PG

I cannot believe that I’m about to admit this, but National Treasure is probably one of my guiltiest of movie pleasures. Every time it’s on TV or when it accidentally falls out of its case into my DVD player, I have to watch… and groan at the exact same spots. (I mean, come on! When looking for the ship buried in ice, they dig in the exact location of the boat’s nameplate? Come on!!) So what is that one movie that you embarrassingly love?