Maybe Sundays – I’m Here

I’m Here (2010, dir. Spike Jonze)
Starring Andrew Garfield, Sienna Guillory

I’m Here is available to watch at
I would recommend you go here instead:

Brief note on the presentation of the film, before I get into my review: The film is sponsored by Absolut Vodka, who decided to offer the film to online audiences in one of the stupidest ways possible. The film has scheduled showings, forcing you to wait in a queue to watch it. There’s no reason why this should be, as plenty of other video media is offered on demand. This seems to have been a move on the marketing department, and who knows how many countless viewers they will lose because of this nonsensical wait time. Onto the review:

Spike Jonze knows how to work with very little, and create a lot. Here he employs his trademark marriage of low-tech and high tech to create a very fleshed out world in just about 30 minutes. The story is a science fiction one, but a sort of retro-futuristic Los Angeles. Humans and robots live together, the robots appear to be built of those unattractive beige computer cases from the 90s. The only CG employed are in the eyes and mouths of the characters, and that is done in a subtle way.

The story follows Sheldon, a librarian robot who is introverted and nervous, returning to his apartment every evening, plugging into the wall recharger and sitting alone. One day he happens to meet Francesca, a female robot who is driving a car, something robots are not allowed in this world. The two hit it off and a romance develops. During a concert, the crowd gets a little rough and Francesca loses her arm. In an act of love, Sheldon unscrews his own and gives it to her. As their relationship continues, it becomes apparent a larger sacrifice will be made. The film is an interesting mix of heartbreaking and unsettling. A lot of the choices made in this relationship appear to be one sided, and it can be read as an act of unconditional love or of a selfishness. Definitely worth a watch and a beautiful looking film from director Jonze.

Import Fridays – Ricky

Ricky (2009, dir. Francois Ozon)

Starring Alexandra Lamy, Sergi Lopez, Melusine Mayance, Arthur Peyret

Ricky would be just another sappy, sentimental film if it weren’t for that opening scene. Where in the film’s chronology does it fall? The middle? The end? Both are completely plausible. The scene in question is one in which working class Katie (Lamy) is speaking to an off camera social worker about being unable to pay rent and care for her two children. Only when the end of the film is reached does the ambiguity of these scene truly surface.

The plot follows Katie who is raising a daughter and working in a chemical factory to make ends meet. One day, she meets new employee Paco (Lopez) and two begin a relationship and Katie ends up pregnant. Katie gives birth to a little boy, Ricky, and slowly but surely Paco makes a run for it when he gets scared. In the meantime, Katie and her daughter discover Ricky growing strange appendages out of his shoulders and finding ways out of his crib and onto the top of an unreachable dresser. Things develop in an odd way from there, ending with paparazzi chasing Katie and her miracle child around. The film has a touch of the bittersweet in its finale and, as I mentioned before about the film’s opening sequence, it can be seen as a downbeat film.

Ozon is balancing realism in his first half with fantasy in the second. It almost feels like two films, yet never loses a consistent style; an admirable achievement. The explanation behind Ricky’s special abilities is never explained and Ozon never shows an interest in explaining it. There are some hints: Paco’s unknown origins or the chemical factory where Katie works. But it doesn’t really matter WHY Ricky is the way he is, but that there is an unquestioning love between he and Katie. Sadly, the film doesn’t delve into this as deeply as it should and fails to earn its finale scene between Katie and Ricky. Overall, an intriguing film from a French director who is doing some stunning work in contemporary cinema.

Maybe Sundays – Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Alice in Wonderland (2010, dir. Tim Burton)

Starrin Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman
So visionary director Tim Burton takes on the classic surreal children’s tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Johnny Depp at his side as The Mad Hatter. Sounds like a formula for success, right. Well, if this had been 10 years ago, maybe. However, with Burton’s work output in the 21st Century being less than stellar and lot of the visual tricks used here being old hat from previous films, the picture comes off an a utter bore. And I really didn’t want it to be.
Alice Kingsley is a teenaged girl being married off to a disgusting noble. During the engagement party she runs off and comes across a White Rabbit, whom she follows down a mysterious hole. Alice finds herself in Wonderland and the creatures there recognizing her as a prophesied savior. The two monarchs, Red Queen and White Queen and Alice is needed to defeat the evil Jabberwocky and save the day. The film is a mishmash of elements from Lewis Carroll’s two Alice tales and the 1951 Disney animated feature. And it all adds up to an uninteresting mess.
None of the Wonderland characters feel interesting in the least. Yes, they are strange and meticulously designed, but beyond their quirks they lack anything remotely resembling personality. This shouldn’t be a problem in a film based on a novel that really has no character development in the first place, and is merely a series of absurdity philosophical encounters. But, Burton has chosen to make the film a semi-sequel…or is it a reimagining? I couldn’t figure that out how they fit in with the original story. There are hints that this Alice could be the little girl from the story, but then there is a mention of Alice merely being some sort of title.
This is such a huge disappointment, especially with the exceptional cast gathered by Burton. Instead of giving us some new and interesting look at Wonderland, we get it blandly Burton-ized, with the typical spiral patterns and zany color schemes. Its nice decoration, but a great film it does not make. What the film misses are the more interesting goings on of the real world. I found myself paying more attention during the moments where Alice navigates her engagement party and, when she returns from Wonderland, and sets things straight with the people around her. I want to see a movie about THAT Alice!

Hypothetical Film Festival #8 – Visions of Wonderland

So Tim Burton’s rendition of the Wonderland story has been unleashed upon theaters. This, of course is not the first time this story has hit the big screen and it won’t be the last. In fact the archetypal elements of Lewis Carroll’s 19th century novel have been incorporated into films that might not be immediately recognizable as Wonderland. Here’s a line up of pictures that re-tell Alice’s adventures in a new way, with new twists.

Dreamchild (1986, dir. Gavin Millar)

Starring Ian Holm, Coral Browne, Peter Gallagher
It’s the 100th birthday of Lewis Carroll and a radio station in Depression-era New York has brought the real Alice, Alice Lidell, overseas to recount her friendship with the late author. As Alice is asked to think back to her childhood, she begins to lose track of the line between reality and fiction. We see her hallucinates as she walks from her hotel room into the Mad Hatter’s tea party where is berated for having become so old. The film also doesn’t shy away from addressing the possibly inappropriate nature of Carroll and Lidell’s relationship. The author was known for his photographs of young girls in various states of undress and in the years that followed his death this had led to much speculation. While this is no masterpiece, it is a very inventive look at the mind of Lewis Carroll.

Labyrinth (1987, dir. Jim Henson)

Starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, Terry Jones, Elaine May
You have a young girl who is pulled into a magical world where she encounters absurd and insane creatures. Labyrinth is very much influence by Alice and her adventures. If you haven’t seen this classic 80s flick, young Sarah wishes her younger brother away and this is granted by the Goblin King (Bowie). Now Sarah has 13 hours to navigate a giant maze before her younger brother is transformed into a goblin. The creative force of Jim Henson is behind this film which means it is a art director’s dream. The set and creature design is of the highest caliber and reminds us of a time when not every thing in a fantasy film was computer-generated.

Spirited Away (2001, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Starring (in the English version) Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Michael Chiklis
The very different and wonderful Japanese take on Alice in Wonderland. Master animator Hayao Miyazaki takes young Chihiro on a journey through a strange tunnel in the woods. She ends up in a world where her parents have been transformed into pigs and she is forced into servitude by an evil witch at a bathhouse for ghosts. She befriends a young wizard, Haku who helps her discover the secret of defeating the witch and rescue her parents. The animation in this film proves that this form of art is not just for children. It is amazing that a human hand could create such lush and gorgeous worlds.

Tideland (2005, dir. Terry Gilliam)

Starring Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly
This is a very dark and twisted take on the Wonderland myth, but that’s to be expected when dealing with Gilliam’s work. Jeliza-Rose is the daughter of a burnt out and drug addicted rock star (Bridges) who takes his girl to his mother’s old house in the middle of a unnaturally beautiful field somewhere in middle America. Jeliza doesn’t realize it but her pop O.D.s on drugs and is dead in the house for days as she ventures out to explore. She meets a mysterious veiled woman and her mentally challenged son who believes there is a land shark lose in the fields. Jeliza become more and more wrapped up in this fantasy world until she may be lost in it. The direction this film goes in its finale is very unexpected.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Starring Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Maribel Verdu
As expected, del Toro puts both a Spanish and uniquely fantastic spin on Carroll’s original story. Here the instigator of the White Rabbit is replaced by a demonic faun who convinces young Ofelia that she is the long lost princess of a magic kingdom. Ofelia explores the forest surrounding her new home and encounters a series of mystical and fantastic challenges. Del Toro adds a real world flipside which is infinitely more horrific than anything Ofelia faces. Not only is this a great reinterpretation of the Wonderland source material, it is one of the best pieces of Spanish cinema ever made.

Phoebe in Wonderland (2009, dir. Daniel Barnz)

Starring Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman, Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott
Phoebe suffers from a form of Tourettes which leaves her feeling like the odd one out at school and home. Her parents try to take deal with her condition in very different ways, dad acts like it doesn’t exist and mom wants to face it head on. Only when Phoebe becomes involved in her school’s production of Alice in Wonderland and meets the director, Miss Dodger does she find a place where she can express herself. This film is such a loving and gentle piece of cinema that never comes off as maudlin or dishonestly manipulative of the audience’s emotions. Phoebe is no angel and can be quite snarky. In addition, the fantasy sequences where Phoebe loses herself in Wonderland are visually rich and impressive that they used no computer generated effects.

Jolly Good Thursdays – Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Alice in Wonderland (1966, dir. Jonathan Miller)

Starring Anne-Marie Mallik, Peter Sellers, Leo McKern, Michael Redgrave, Peter Cook, Michael Hough, John Gielgud, Eric Idle
Lewis Caroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been adapted in many ways and forms since the advent of film. The majority are informed by the 1951 Disney animated feature and, because of that constant influence, seem bland. Not so with this BBC television adaptation. Jonathan Miller, a popular director and comedian who worked with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore extensively, brings us one of the most surreal and abstract versions of Wonderland. Here no one is dressed up like a white rabbit or caterpillar, instead they resemble the British aristocracy Carroll was mocking in his text.
The image above, which is the opening title of the film, evokes a very strong tone. Alice is something primal here, this is not the light-hearted English schoolgirl but a figure with a sinister air about her. Alice doesn’t speak for the first 20 minutes of the film, what we get is a whispering stream of consciousness. The most intriguing evolution of this conceit is how the whispering voice becomes the Cheshire Cat later in the film. It ends up highlighting pieces of dialogue from Carroll’s work that portray Alice as deep in contemplative thought about identity. This extends to her experiences eating and drinking items that distort her physical self, and as emphasized int this film, her psychological perception of herself and her environment.
It’s quite jolting to hear the silly dialogue, attributed originally to anthropomorphic figures, coming from the mouths of English nobility. That aesthetic choice emphasizes the absurdity of British aristocracy in Carroll’s time. The Caucus Race, which is Alice’s first major episode in Wonderland, occurs in an Anglican cathedral and involves stodgy nobles running around the pews and performing the sign of the cross. Every thing has an atmosphere of malaise, intensified by the wandering sitar music of Ravi Shankar. Alice sits at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, slumping down in her chair, washed over by the utter boredom and inanity of the dolts surrounding her.
This is by no means a children’s adaptation or one meant for mainstream audiences. This is a very masterful and crafted adult interpretation of classic story that operates on multiple levels of satire and philosophy.

Film 2010 #17 – Legion

Legion (2010, dir. Scott Stewart)
Starring Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Adrienne Palicki, Charles Dutton, Lucas Black

Interesting concepts, poor execution. Par for the course with a lot of sci-fi and fantasy on film these days, and Legion is no exception. The film has a few little twists but at the end of the day fails on pretty much all fronts.
Michael the Archangel (Bettany) learns of God’s plan to finally wipe out humanity and cannot go along with this plan. He rejects his angelic nature, falls to Earth, and gets a bunch of machine guns to fight with. Michael makes his way to a diner in the middle of New Mexico where a young woman lives who is pregnant with a child that is somehow the last hope for mankind, though what exactly this kid can do is never explained in the film. Michael even goes so far as to say if the child lives or dies it doesn’t matter near the end of the film. Okay…then why all the hubbub?
There is a lot in this film that is never explained and that is incredibly frustrating. In an arthouse film like Eternal Sunshine, the tone of the film never takes itself too seriously, hence we never wonder how the memory removal process works. In a film like Legion, which can’t laugh at itself once, the tone dictates that when action is taken there is a concise rhyme and reason. The biggest example is of how exactly does a machine gun hurt a being like an angel. Not a single effort to justify that one.
The biggest concept I like from the film was the idea of angelic possession. The movie is basically a zombie film with angel-possessed human hordes attacking the diner and trying to kill the pregnant woman. While the execution of the idea is downright yawn-inducing, the concept itself is incredibly originally. I’ve read a hell of a lot of comics and seen a lot of films but have never encountered the idea of angelic possession. Pretty cool idea, would like to see it implemented in a different film.