Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

May 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem
Directed by: Joachim Ronning (“Kon-Tiki”) and Espen Sandberg (“Kon-Tiki”)
Written by: Jeff Nathanson (“Catch Me If You Can”)

Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is unlikely to turn any newcomers into enthusiastic fans of the franchise, but if you’re planning on making the fifth entry in this 14-year-old franchise your starting point, then please do yourself a favor and watch “The Curse of the Black Pearl” before heading to the theater this Memorial Day weekend. Gore Verbinski’s 2003 film remains one of the all-time great adventure films, deftly mixing sharp-witted humor, unsettling creepiness, and exhilarating action. The series has been chasing that magic to varied results ever since, but directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have created an installment that continues to steer the franchise away from the overlong, convoluted mess that was “At World’s End.”

Since its inception, one of the recurring motifs of the Pirates franchise (not to mention countless other series) has been fathers and sons. That notion rears its head again in “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” where a fresh-faced Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is searching for the trident of Poseidon, which can help free his father from his eternal servitude as captain aboard the Flying Dutchman. The way that search unfolds is, in trademark “Pirates” fashion, complicated and devoid of logical motivations, but somehow Ronning and Sandberg fashion a slick and entertaining summer movie.

With a running time of 129 minutes, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the shortest entry in the franchise, and the absence of Verbinski’s bombastic approach occasionally makes the film feel small in its scope. To its credit, the film never stalls or drags its feet. In fact, the script from Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio spends a lot of time setting up story and fleshing out characters. It’s not Tennessee Williams levels of character depth, but it creates a level of investment.

That level of investment is heightened by the familiar faces of Captain Jack, Barbossa, and Gibbs. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll be pleased with great character moments and interactions. Johnny’s Depp’s Jack Sparrow seems a bit dialed down and sometimes even more Mad Hatter than Jack. This is probably due to the fact that the script requires him to be a bit of a bumbling idiot and not the “greatest pirate ever” we know from previous installments. That being said, the moment between him and Paul McCartney’s Uncle Jack is even better than you could have imagined.

The addition of Thwaites Kaya Scodelario, theoretically the future of the franchise, isn’t as devoid of chemistry as the tepid romance we were given in “On Stranger Tides.” The two make a fun bickering couple. Scodelario plays an astrologer who sports both brains and brawn. I’d be interested to see how they flesh her character out in future installments. Golshifteh Farahani steals the movie as a creepy witch, but her character exits the film far too soon, as does David Wenham’s Scarfield. Finally, Javier Bardem’s Salazar makes for a truly memorable and terrifying villain, injecting the dark and violent edge that had been missing from the franchise.

Characters in a “Pirates” movie are nothing without the action scenes they are thrown into, and “Dead Men Tell No Tales” has some really great set pieces. There’s a “heist gone wrong” scene early in the film that reintroduces Captain Jack in a humorous way, an exciting “guillotine execution gone wrong” scene featuring multiple levels of competently filmed and slickly edited chaos, and a chase scene in the film featuring undead sharks is unarguably a franchise highlight.

This is the second time that the “Pirates” franchise has advertised its latest movie as the final adventure. Given the way the story unfolds in “Dead Men Tell no Tales,” particularly an enticing post-credits tease, it’s clear that Disney fully intends to keep their swashbuckling franchise going as long as it keeps selling tickets. It’s a mixed bag, but an entertaining one nonetheless. If you’re a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, you’ll find lots to love here. In a market saturated with superhero franchises (entertaining as they may be), why should we complain about more adventures with Captain Jack Sparrow?

Yoga Hosers

September 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Depp, Johnny Depp
Directed by: Kevin Smith (“Tusk”)
Written by: Kevin Smith (“Clerks”)

There seemed to be a time in Hollywood when the industry was ready to take Kevin Smith seriously. On the heels of the vulgar, credit card-financed success of “Clerks,” crafting an oh-so-‘90s love story set firmly in the world of comic books with “Chasing Amy,” and co-producing the Ben Affleck and Matt Damon launch-to-superstardom-and-Oscars movie “Good Will Hunting,” Smith seemed to be ready to join fellow Miramax darlings Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez at the adult’s table. Hell, by 2000, Smith already had a failed, somewhat brilliant animated series and a heavily-protested religious comedy with an all-star cast under his belt—that’s an entertainment cult hero starter kit in itself.

Of those three, two decades later, only Tarantino still stands as a force in Hollywood. One could argue that the trio never stopped making movies for themselves and their fans, just that Tarantino was the only one who actually made good films to begin with. But I digress–enough about QT and Rodriguez, we’re here to talk about what the hell happened to Kevin Smith and his ability to tell a funny story on a movie screen (he’s still a great monologist, FYI). The ragtag, overwritten, friends-hanging-out charm of “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy” is long gone, replaced with unfunny inside jokes and a just-as-unfunny fascination with a cartoon version of Canada. It’s that lazy attitude that birthed 2014’s really awful “Tusk” and its sort-of sequel, the equally-awful “Yoga Hosers.”

Colleen M. (Harley Quinn Smith) and Colleen C. (Lily-Rose Depp) are yoga-obsessed clerks (yep) at a Canadian convenience store called “Eh-2-Zed” who aspire to be rock stars and say “aboot” a whole bunch as they sell artisan maple syrup to their Canadian clientele. The plot has them sing at least two full songs before anything really happens, namely two cute boys want to party with them. Only thing is, they’re Satanists, who want them for sacrifice—that is until some tiny Nazi bratwursts (known as “Bratzis”) literally jump up the asses and out of the mouths of the boys, leading to their grisly deaths. So forget those Satanists, now it’s time for private investigator Guy Lapointe (a Quebecois-accented pile of makeup with Johnny Depp underneath, admittedly less annoying that he was in “Tusk”) to show up, revealing to the Colleens that the Eh-2-Zed is built on land previously owned by Nazis as a staging area for a North American invasion. Now they have to find a secret passage and kill some old Nazi scientist (Ralph Garman) before he unleashes a critic-murdering monster (sigh) on the world.

Look, there’s one decent running joke in the movie, and it comes from Justin Long’s yogi, groaningly named Yogi Bayer, and his bafflement at receiving cease-and-desist letters from Warner Bros. regarding his copyright infringement on their intellectual property related to cartoon character Yogi Bear. It’s stupid, sure, but a legitimate funny joke in a movie devoid of such things. Unfortunately it’s underplayed in the movie and shoved aside in favor of characters saying “soory” and “eh” and talking about moose and hockey or watching Depp’s grotesque moles migrate all over his face at random. Shit, calling this a “movie” is really stretching the definition, and it’s difficult to reconcile this snickering sideways glance at some old joke that probably wasn’t that funny to begin with as coming from a writer-director who was at least interestingly profane so many years ago, and one who still has the ability to tell great, dirty stories on stage behind a microphone. It’s not that Kevin Smith’s filmmaking hasn’t changed since 1994…it’s that he’s actually gotten worse.

Ep. 87 – Yoga Hosers or, just what the hell happened to Kevin Smith?

September 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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On this Labor Day weekend edition of The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod tackle writer/director Kevin Smith’s worst movie ever in “Yoga Hosers” and remember the good times they once had with Smith’s work. They also talk college, water park injuries, recap “RiffTrax Live: Mothra,” and, oh, congratulate the absent Kiko on the birth of his son.

 

[00:00-43:15] Intro/college/water park pain/RiffTrax Live

[43:15-1:50:57] Review – Yoga Hosers

[1:50:57-2:01:18] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Black Mass

September 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Scott Cooper (“Out of the Furnace”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“Get on Up”) and Mark Mallouk (debut)

As fascinating as the true life story is of one James “Whitey” Bulger, a South Boston criminal-turned-FBI informant (see a better albeit still flawed retelling of it in Joe Berlinger’s documentary “Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger”), one might imagine the intense nature of the narrative pouring out of every scene in “Black Mass.” Alas, what audiences receive is a worthy attempt at a gangster movie that sort of dissolves from memory once you leave the theater. It’s a couple of steps up from Johnny Depp’s last crime biopic “Public Enemies,” where he plays pretty-boy John Dillinger, but still far from anything in the realm of greatness.

With that said, “Black Mass” isn’t a failure by any means. While it doesn’t entirely succeed in transforming Depp’s Bulger into evil incarnate, it is Depp’s vigor and commitment to the more terrifying traits Bulger possesses that keep the film from flat-lining halfway in. Let’s face it. As an A-list actor, Depp makes more bad choices in roles than most. Fault his ambition to try something totally different from anything he’s done before or fault a slew of underwritten scripts he’s been given, but Depp is the kind of actor that seems to be intrigued only by a character’s surface qualities. With a character as complex as Bulger, however, there is a lot more to explore even when the screenplay meanders into territory that never factors into who he is as a person.

Along with Depp, there are some other noteworthy performances, specifically from an underutilized Peter Sarsgaard and Julianne Nicholson. Basically, everyone not named Depp or Joel Edgerton is shortchanged, which is why any emotional connection between Bolger and other characters feels incomplete. It’s especially true with actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays William Bolger, Whitey’s brother and the President of the Massachusetts State Senate. Why screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk treat this relationship like a mere blip on the radar doesn’t make much sense.

Still, this is Depp’s movie and he has just enough material to do some interesting things with the character. It’s just unfortunate that no one else was given the same attention. If they had, “Black Mass” might’ve cut deeper.

The Lone Ranger

July 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (“Rango”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“Snitch”), Ted Elliott (“Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy),  Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy)

Every so often, one reads articles about a film, sees the cast, watches trailers and marketing campaigns and can smell a box-office bomb from a mile away. Remember last year’s “John Carter?” An ambitious project based on a nearly 100-year-old book, Disney spent approximately $250 million on the project. Starring in the lead role was an actor whose biggest role was a strong albeit supporting role on TV’s “Friday Night Lights.” The results were predictably disastrous with mixed results from critics. Even worse, the film earned a domestic gross of only $73 million prompting Disney to publicly blame the film for their earnings loss that year. Early looks at Disney’s latest film, “The Lone Ranger,” caused many to draw parallels to “Carter” and wonder if the bloated failed blockbuster will become something of an annual Disney tradition.

In “The Lone Ranger,” district attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) comes home to visit his brother (James Badge Dale), who is a Texas Ranger, and is deputized to help them hunt down a dangerous outlaw (William Fichtner). Soon after, the team is ambushed and Reid finds himself the only ranger left not riddled with bullets. Left for dead, Reid joins up with a revenge-seeking Indian named Tonto (Johnny Depp), disguises himself with a black mask, and goes in search of the ruthless criminal who killed his brother in hopes of bringing him to justice.

At this point in his career, it seems like Depp has agreed to sign onto any movie where he is allowed to wear make-up and act goofy. As Tonto, Depp is less than inspiring, though his performance is not nearly as racist as it had potential for. Depp’s screentime is relegated to unfunny one-liners, weird stares and making dim-witted faces in a failed attempt to capture the fun best seen in the original “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Unfortunately, Depp’s gag is getting tired and a return to traditional acting would be more than welcome. As for Hammer, he simply doesn’t bring the onscreen charisma of a leading man needed for a film like this. His version of Reid as a do-gooder feels blasé and he puts no urgency into the role.

One of the strangest decisions of the film was to tell it through a framing device where a withered old Tonto rehashes his story to a child visiting the museum section of a carnival. It adds absolutely nothing to the narrative and feels shoehorned and awkward each time it is revisited throughout the film. There are some decent set pieces, but overall, even the film’s action sequences are pretty mundane. Like a lot of westerns, there are shootouts and train hopping scenes, but nothing memorable in the way of adventure. At one point late in the film, the familiar sounds of the William Tell Overture crank up during an extended action scene involving runaway trains and the film actually kicks into high gear. Hopes are promptly squashed as the film’s ridiculous tone gets in the way and a child slingshots a grape into Tonto’s mouth.

So let’s recap: the film is based on a character that debuted in 1933, which hasn’t seen a meaningful iteration since the 1950s. One of the film’s major stars (Hammer), while a promising up-and-comer, is nowhere near the level he needs to be to anchor and sell tickets to a tent-pole blockbuster. The film’s budget is also estimated somewhere in the eye-popping $250-million range. Sound familiar?

But the worst offense of all? The film is just flat out bad. It fails not only as a western, but as an action comedy and a good old-fashioned summer family film. Put that and the constant struggle for a consistent tone together and you can see why “The Lone Ranger” is well on its way to being the biggest dud of the year. In the film’s closing moments, Hammer retorts to Depp and asks, “Do you even know what Tonto means in Spanish?” We certainly do, and chances are, some of the folks who greenlit the film at Disney will know soon enough, too.

Dark Shadows

May 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Eva Green
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland”)
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith (debut)

Since the days of “Edward Scissorhands,” the cinematic pairing of director Tim Burton with mega-star Johnny Depp has brought with it certain expectations: a Gothic tone, a chilly color palette, and Depp in some form of fright wig/pancake make-up combination. When it works, as in “Scissorhands” or “Sweeny Todd,” it’s a delightful marriage of style and quirk. When it doesn’t, however, as in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” or “Alice in Wonderland,” the end result is an exhausting mess of, well, style and quirk. But in a bad way.

In their eighth collaborative effort, Burton and Depp tackle a project seemingly tailor-made for their sensibilities: a big-screen adaptation of “Dark Shadows,” the cult TV soap opera from the late-’60s best known for it’s main character, vampire Barnabas Collins. Depp, of course, plays Collins, who narrates a grim prologue detailing his youth spent in colonial Maine. As the son of a wealthy fishing family, Collins meets with tragedy after romantically spurning Angelique (Eva Green), a family housekeeper who also happens to be a witch. Soon afterward, Collins’ parents are killed in an accident engineered by Angelique. She is also responsible for Collins’ fiancee Josette (Bella Heathcote) being bewitched into throwing herself off a cliff, as well as Collins himself being cursed to live out eternity as a vampire buried alive in a locked coffin.

The story jumps ahead to 1972 as a young woman, Victoria (also Bella Heathcote), travels to Collinwood to take a job as a governess for what remains of the Collins family. Led by matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfieffer) and featuring weaselly brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), rebellious teenager Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) and haunted child David (Gully McGrath), the family is in shambles both financially and emotionally. The arrival of Victoria is meant to bring stability to David, who is grieving the loss of his mother. However Victoria has her own problems, namely a tragic childhood and ghost that looks just like her prowling the halls of the sprawling mansion passing on cryptic messages. And all of this happens before a construction crew accidentally frees Barnabas Collins, whose return prompts retaliatory action from the still-living Angelique (now known as Angel, the town’s powerful fishing magnate) as well as a whole mess of fish-out-of-water jokes. Crap, I haven’t even gotten to the fact that Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earl Haley are hanging around Collinwood, too.

If you think that sounds like too much plot and too many characters for a movie running just under 2 hours, you’re right. Threads are picked up and dropped at a moment’s notice. Heathcote’s Victoria is saddled with a laborious back story that fails to pay off in any way. On the flip side, Moretz’s Carolyn is given an out-of-left-field third act twist that’s explained away by one throwaway line of dialogue. Helena Bonham Carter’s Dr. Hoffman doesn’t offer much to the story beyond an eye-rolling set up for a sequel that is likely dead on arrival. And even with a fine performance by Depp, Collins is given little to do but stalk from plot point to plot point to deliver wry lines in an aristocratic accent. Pair things like that with a wildly inconsistent tone that veers on a whim from straight-faced melancholy to winking dry humor and we’re left with another tiresome disappointment from Burton wherein the only element given any attention seems to have been Johnny Depp’s make-up.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

May 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by: Rob Marshall (“Chicago”)
Written by: Ted Elliott (“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”) and Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”)

On the high seas again for the fourth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” action-adventure franchise, this one penned as “On Stranger Tides,” three-time Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp returns as the slurry and always-peculiar pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, a character he first brought to the big screen in 2003’s “The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

Eight years and two inexplicable sequels later, Capt. Jack is still up to his mischievous ways — drinking rum, wielding his sword, and looking for booty — this time in all its 3D glory. With a fantasy series like Pirates as bankable as ever, it’s safe to say Disney may still have a few installments to go, despite the fact that “Tides” is basically a quest we’ve all been on before.

This time, Capt. Jack finds himself on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a menacing-looking ship belonging to the much-feared pirate of all pirates Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Swabbing the decks with the rest of the crew, Capt. Jack has set sail to find the Fountain of Youth, a mythical spring needed by Blackbeard to save his life should an ominous prophecy come true. On the ship with Capt. Jack is Blackbeard’s daughter Angelica (Penélope Cruz, bringing the sex appeal provided in the first three films by Keira Knightley), who seems to have some kind of romantic past with our buccaneer hero.

Former Pirates Director Gore Verbinski is replaced here by Academy Award-winner Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), a filmmaker with the grandiose mindset to pull off a blockbuster like this, but who instead plays it cautiously by following his predecessor’s by-the-numbers approach. Even with Marshall’s enthusiasm for musicals, don’t expect a song and a dance from any of the mateys here. Capt. Jack is flamboyant enough without help from Gilbert & Sullivan.

Back for another round of swashbuckling is Academy Award-winner Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”) as the vile and peg-legged Barbossa, who proves more of an ally to Capt. Jack on this journey. Like Depp’s captain, Rush has embraced his character so thoroughly that without him or Depp there would be no point to continue the charade.

Whatever the case may be, the narrative of this series needs a major wake-up-call if it doesn’t want to lull audiences to sleep with the same old fantasy plotting and repetitious action sequences. Pay no mind to the four or five swordfights we get in “Tides” – the best scene comes during a mermaid battle that is heavy on CGI and imagination. Take all the scenes where the boys are banging blades and mix them in a barrel and you’d be hard-pressed to tell which one goes to which “Pirates” movie.

Besides its overall unoriginality, “Tides” just doesn’t have the same magic “Black Pearl” had back when Capt. Jack was something special and not just another option for a Halloween costume. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s had enough time to fiddle with the equation and turn it into a spectacle. For failing that, he deserves to be tossed overboard.

Rango

March 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”)
Written by: John Logan (“Gladiator”)

Industrial Light and Magic sure knows how to make a great first impression. “Rango,” the first-ever animated feature created by the George Lucas company, is an impressive adventure film set in the Old West featuring a scrawny pet chameleon as it’s courageous hero.

When Rango (Johnny Depp), an aspiring thespian, strolls into the small town of Dirt after landing in the desert, he is given the chance to start on a clean slate and become whoever he wants in his new surroundings. No one in Dirt knows who he is, so he conjures up a few lies and jumps into character as a mysterious gunslinger who isn’t afraid of anything the big, bad desert has to offer, including the villainous Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy).

Reminiscent of the storyline in the 1986 comedy “The Three Amigos,” the towns people, made up of some bizarre looking creatures, accept Rango into their dried-up community and make him sheriff when he accidentally kills a terrorizing hawk. As sheriff, it’s now up to Rango to somehow bring water to the thirsty people of Dirt before more of them pack up and take off in search of the one thing they need to survive the desert heat.

As an animated spaghetti Western, “Rango” takes its original narrative and sets it on a dark and dangerous path most cartoons would never tread. Leave it to director Gore Verbinski, who teamed up with Depp in the first two “Pirates” movies, to find inspiration from Western classics like those from director Sergio Leone. Along with exquisite imagery and witty dialogue from the title character, “Rango” is an imaginative and sort of hallucinatory tribute (see if you can spot the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” reference) to a genre most kids aren’t exposed to nearly enough. With a lizard as the lead, this is as kid-friendly as it’s going to get.

The Tourist

December 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”)
Written by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”), Christopher McQuarrie (“Valkyrie”), Julian Fellowes (“The Young Victoria”)

Hollywood star power can’t get much more extravagant than Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Set on a picturesque backdrop of Venice, Italy, “The Tourist,” a remake of the 2005 French film “Anthony Zimmer,” has breathtaking set pieces, but the superficial script – with all its generic twists – makes this romantic espionage thriller the perfect example of style over substance.

From German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won an Academy Award for his gripping 2006 film “The Lives of Others,” “The Tourist” marks the first American feature of his career. It’s a decision von Donnersmarck might regret especially if he made more concessions than he’s used to just to sample the mainstream. It could pay off in the long run, but right now this should leave a bad taste in his mouth until the next opportunity comes up.

Depp plays Frank, a college math professor who is easily captivated by a woman he meets on a train. Although it seems like a chance encounter to Frank, Elise (Jolie) has underlying intentions. She needs Franks’s help to evade Scotland Yard (Paul Bettany is the lead detective) who is trailing Elise so she can lead them to her thieving lover Alexander (identifying Alexander is supposed to be part of the intrigue, but it’s fairly obvious to figure out who he is if you don’t get caught up in the far-fetched plot).

Despite its elegant look, “The Tourist” lacks any real intense moments where we actually think our attractive leads are in any danger. Sure, Jolie sashays as lovely as any actress, but without any character development or chemistry between her and Depp “The Tourist” is a wasted vacation.

Alice in Wonderland

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”)
Written by: Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King”)

Director Tim Burton’s visual sensibility is once again at the forefront of another dark spectacle full of big ideas but ultimately hollow at its core. This time it’s “Alice in Wonderland,” a beautifully-realized take on the popular 19th century Lewis Carroll tale, which has been remade numerous times in the past 100 years.

In the newest version, “Alice” takes the best of what Burton does and buries it under an incoherent narrative by animated film screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”). It’s not so much that the magic or overall look has been squandered. The twisted tale of a Mad Hatter, a waist-coated white rabbit, and Cheshire Cat is quite stunning with the characters going through a computer-generated makeover. Burton’s version, however, must overcompensate on imagination when the sluggish story sucks all the adventure out of what could have been an epic reimaging of a beloved classic.

Fresh-face Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (“Defiance”) is entrusted with the role of the title character. In a sort of sequel to any of the preceding films, here Alice is actually returning to the fantasy world most people know from the trippy Disney film of 1951. In this adaptation, Alice is an unconventional 19-year-old who visits a place called Underland after she rejects a suitor who has asked for her hand in marriage.

Bothered by nightmares of her first journey down the rabbit hole (an event she hardly remembers), Alice stumbles yet again into a land where flowers talk, frogs are royal servants, and oversized facial features are signs power. Woolverton’s script even finds room for Carroll’s Jabberwocky, a monstrous character first introduced in his novel “Through the Looking Glass.”

Since her last visit, the vile and bulbous-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over. Alice does her best impersonation of the kids from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to try to stop her and her loyal army. A prophetic scroll shown at the beginning of her second coming reveals Alice to be the one who will put an end to the queen’s reign. Most of the characters, however, think she is the “wrong Alice” and won’t be able to help.

Cast near-perfectly especially with Johnny Depp as the eccentric Mad Hatter, Crispin Glover as the sinister Knave of Hearts, and Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry lending their voices for the hooka-smoking Blue Caterpillar and the hypnotic Cheshire Cat respectively, “Alice” definitely transports us to the world we all new Burton could create. It’s unfortunate, however, that the digital enhancements outweigh a story that is more aware of its dreamlike marvels than before. Because Alice is older, that childlike sense of wonderment is absent. Woolverton (off with her head!) compounds the problem by fashioning a whimsical yet convoluted tale that often becomes dull and gaudy all at once.

Public Enemies

July 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Michael Mann (“Collateral”)
Written by: Michael Mann (“Heat”), Ronan Bennett (“Lucky Break”), and Ann Biderman (“Primal Fear”)

The scintillating cast may be blinding at first glance in director Michael Mann’s new gangster flick “Public Enemies,” but even the star power of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale can’t save the era piece from making a surprisingly ordinary entrance into the genre.

While all the style and technical work is masterful, there a little something missing between the lines of the 140-minute tribute to Chicago’s crime wave of the 1930s that most people would notice if it wasn’t for all the intense shootouts. Who knew that when Johnny Depp says, “Let’s go to Chicago and make some money,” that’s really all they were going to do?

Set four years into the Great Depression, bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) has just broken out of prison with a group of men who will help him rob more banks. Dillinger starts off enigmatic and screenwriters Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett, and Ann Biderman make sure he stays that way for the entire film. As a matter of fact, all we really find out about Dillinger is that he leads a spontaneous life, can handle a Tommy gun with the best of them, and is extremely slick with the ladies. Dillinger might have been an icon, but “Public Enemies” seems fine in simply promoting his cool factor as the basis to which he is remembered the most. There a sense of the loneliness that director Mann should have been more capable of exposing, but that character trait is left undiscovered until the finale when there not much left to say.

Despite his character’s shortcomings, Depp is the center of this show and delivers as much as the script allows. The same can’t be said about Christian Bale and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard (“La vie en rose”) whose characters, Agent Mevlin Purvis and Dillinger’s love interest Billie Frechette, are sorely underwritten. It’s not their fault. Their motivation to pursue Dillinger from a criminal and personal aspect never amounts to more than a few systematic scenes, which falls on the shoulders of screenwriters once again.

The writer’s biggest fault comes from skimming over the emotional impact in one of the most emotional times in U.S. history. And while the era and setting are very convincing (costume designer Collen Atwood should be getting some recognition by year’s end) nothing else develops around the picturesque scenes other than more bullet holes.

If you go into this film like Dillinger would – scene-by-scene without worrying about what is around the corner – “Public Enemies” could be a fairly interesting biopic minus the historical inaccuracies. But tie everything together and the film is deeply flawed and disappointing. Just when you’re hoping Mann will throw everything on the table, he folds without an ounce of expression.