Newbie Wednesday – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009, dir. Terry Gilliam)
Starring Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Peter Stormare

After filming the first half of this picture, director Gilliam learned the tragic news that Heath Ledger had died due to an accidental drug overdose. Gilliam is no stranger to films having to overcome obstacles before their release. His 1985 picture Brazil was the victim of an unexcited studio and Gilliam had to break the law to get his version of the picture shown. His attempt to make a film version of Don Quixote at the beginning of the century was ultimately scrapped when financial and natural conditions fought against him. With Imaginarium Gilliam found a way that the film could continue without Ledger’s presence and it hinges on the movie’s core theme: Imagination.

The movie opens in modern day London and follows a old time traveling show made up of the ancient sage Doctor Parnassus, his daughter; Valentina, his right hand man; Percy, and the boy in love with Valentina; Anton. Their show is no longer captivating to contemporary audience and during the opening performance a drunk man stumble through a mirror on stage that places him inside his own imagination. Parnassus has been in a centuries old struggle with Mr. Nick, the Devil who is in a competition to see who can collect the most souls before Valentina’s 16th birthday. If Nick wins he takes Valentina from Parnassus. Into this scenario comes an amnesiac man found hanging underneath a bridge. The man slowly but surely takes over creative control of the show explaining he has Parnassus best interests in mind. As the date moves closer to the bet’s end more of this stranger’s secrets are revealed.

The film is better than much of Gilliam’s more recent films and I credit that to his choice of working with co-writer Charles McKeown. McKeown previously worked on the scripts for Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen which are two of Gilliam’s strongest pictures. The story here can be a bit straining on the brain but its able to keep up with Gilliam’s visuals the whole way through. I also like the use of CG effects here not in an attempt to replicate reality (see Avatar), but to make surreal landscapes feel tangible. In my opinion, that should be the purpose of using CG in films. While I didn’t care for the story of The Lovely Bones is also did an excellent job of created fully realized surreal worlds.

The subtext in the film seems to be Gilliam’s own examination of his profession. Parnassus starts out as a man sequestered in a Tibetan monastery where he and his disciples sit around telling the story of the universe. He makes a deal with the Devil and travels out to make his fortune with these stories, being told he will be immortal if he does. Valentina is a living breathing creation and the idea of turning her over to the Devil is what drives Parnassus to fight for independence. In his desperation he turns to a smooth talker who assures him he will be present the show in the way the doctor wants, but instead we see the integrity of Parnassus slipping away.

Like most of Gilliam’s work this will never appeal to a mainstream audience. He is very much an artist who makes the things that amuse him and its always coincidental if they appeal to anyone else. If you are open to a film that prefers to play rather than dictate and hit plot beats then I think you’ll enjoy this picture.

Newbie Wednesday – Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans (2010, dir. Louis Leterrier)
Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Artherton, Jason Flemyng

When I was 8 years old I went through the entire Webster’s Dictionary so I could catalog the Greek gods and monsters listed therein. Afterwards, I got the idea the library might have books on these things, and from there I devoured the stories of Greek mythology. Once, while visiting Nashville’s local to scale replica of the Parthenon around the age of 10, I began telling my mom and visiting aunt whom all the figures in the statues and carvings were. An man touring the structure began following and listening and remarked to my mom “Your son knows a lot!” I tell you these things to show that I am onboard when I hear about films based around Greek myths. How does director Louis Leterrier’s (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk) remake of the 1981 fantasy film stack up?

Perseus, son of Zeus and a mortal woman has his adoptive family taken from him when they are bystanders to an vengeful act of the gods. The hero ends up in Argos, where its citizens are rebelling against the Olympian Pantheon and Zeus has decided either they all die or they sacrifice the princess to his beast, the Kraken. Perseus and a rag tag group of Argosian soldiers head out into the wilderness to figure out if there is a way to defeat the unstoppable beast. Along the way they battle giant scorpions, blind witches, a beast who bleeds acid, and finally the classic Medusa. Oh yes, there’s flying horses, too.

Why does Hollywood insist on continuing to cast Sam Worthington (Terminator: Salvation, Avatar) in films? The man is an uncharismatic bore. He has two acting settings: “grunt” and “brooding”. It can be said that the action films of the 1980s and 1990s were inane, but at least the leads were charismatic. Think about Schwarzenegger, Willis, Stallone, etc. They all had charming personalities that made us root for them. With Worthington you root for him out of default, he’s the protagonist on the screen so you hope he wins because that’s what mainstream cinema has taught you. I also was flabbergasted at the actors cast as gods. Why cast Danny Huston as Poseidon if you give him one line? Just cast an generic actor for the role! And Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy, Skins) as Eusebios, what a waste of great talent. And he’s a million times more charismatic than Worthington!

The plot is a mix of the original film, mixed with attempts to “bad ass” it up. It became apparent to me that the screenwriters and art directors seemed to want to make a God of War film rather than a remake of the 1981 Clash of the Titans. Every encounter feels like a stage in a video game, complete with boss battles. I can forgive discrepancies between the original myths and the film (Example: Pegasus is the name of one specific winged horse, in pop culture we refers to the species as Pegasi now), I’m not one of those fanboys who harumphs when they change a detail. I understand the need to create a fluid, organic script. However, there are some pretty glaringly dumb subplots in the film that were attempts to blend elements of the original picture. I also rolled my eyes at their attempt to be clever by giving Bubo the Mechanical Owl from the original film a cameo. Bubo has more charisma than Worthington, people!

At the end of the day, this is yet another dull CG-dependent action flick. Leterrier’s previous films have left me bored and with this one I was literally falling asleep halfway through. His upcoming Captain America movie has my expectations about as low as they could get. But, if you are hoping to cleanse your palette for Greek myth based flicks, Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall) has one coming out November 11th, 2011 titled Immortals. Hoping he shows Leterrier how it is done.

Newbie Wednesday – How To Train Your Dragon

How To Train Your Dragon (2010, dir. Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders)
Starring Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig

In 1981 we got Dragonslayer, which was a step up in the medieval film genre in terms of effects. In 1996 Dragonheart was released, and while its hard to dislike a film with both David Thewlis and Sean Connery, the picture never stuck with me as a re-watchable one. In 2002, the movie was Reign of Fire…and well, lets try to forget that one. The latest dragon-centric film is Pixar Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon, from the writer/director team behind Lilo and Stitch and Mulan. And how does this flick stack up against its fire-breathing brethren?

Hiccup (Baruchel) is the son of a gruff Viking king (Butler) whose village is regularly attacked by a variety of diverse dragons. During one of these attacks, Hiccup witnesses an elusive go down in the forest outside of his village and ventures into the wilderness to find it. The two are confrontational at first, but grow on each other. Simultaneously, Hiccup is being pressured by his father into being a dragonslayer. What is he to do as he begins to understand this creatures better than anyone in his village?

What this movie does best is put you on the back of a dragon. The flying scenes are far and away the best aspect of the picture, many times done from the POV of Hiccup. There’s also an interesting variety of dragons presented in the film, each with quirk that makes them unique and different. The look of the flick is thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins (“No Country for Old Men”, and pretty much every other Cohen Brothers film ever). I also liked that the film focused on thinking your way through a problem over just rushing into battle. Hiccup’s tendencies to go to books and conduct scientific study pay off and save his father and the entire village.

I liked that the film shied away from previous Dreamworks ventures, which seem to rely so heavily on modern pop culture references. It felt more like a Pixar film in establishing its own universe. However, every character except for Hiccup feels underdeveloped. It would have been nice to get some backstory on the village and how their conflict with the dragons developed. Despite these hiccups (pun intended) in the story, its still one of the better and more intelligent films marketed towards kids.

Newbie Wednesday – Bunny and the Bull

Bunny and the Bull (2009, Paul King)
Starring Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby, Veronice Echegui, Richard Ayoade, Julian Barrett, Noel Fielding

Note: This film has no planned release date for either theaters or DVD in the US. So, your best bet is to torrent the sucker.

“Come with us now on a journey through time and space”. If you are familiar with the immensely popular British series The Mighty Boosh then those are familiar words to you. The director of that series, Paul King, embarks on his feature film debut, bringing with him some familiar faces in supporting roles as well as the quirky aesthetic sensibilities of his television series.

The premise puts agoraphobic Stephen in the midst a year long hermit period. He is dealing with a trauma that occurred in Europe while he was on holiday with his friend Bunny. The two follow Stephen’s idea of fun by touring the various museums of the continent, but once Bunny takes the wheel things become a lot crazier. They meet waitress Eloisa who is looking for a way back home to Spain, and Bunny decides that once they arrive there, he is going to fight a bull.

The strongest thing this picture has going for it are the inventive visuals. King is definitely a peer to a director like Michel Gondry, in the way he intentionally lets the audience in on the hacked together set pieces. A fast food delivery bag becomes the setting for a flashback in a restaurant. A snow globe becomes the Swiss mountain chateau the men stayed in. A photograph of their train becomes a chain of photos, set against a landscape made of similar snapshots. The Mighty Boosh did the same, and it caused the universe to feel like a timeless fantasy-scape.

The plot on the other hand is not very strong. There’s no real depth to the two main characters, Stephen is a very stereotypical neurotic and Bunny is the typical crazy risk-taker. There’s not attempt to give us more about these characters or attempt to explain their motivations. The rest of the film is populated with set piece characters, such as the dog-milking Polish man, an innkeeper overly fond of her stuffed bear, and a former matador who uses a shopping cart with horns for practice. The film is very pretty to look at, and showcases the cleverness of the director aesthetically, I just hope he can find a richer level of writing for his next film.

Cinematic Television – Science Fiction & Fantasy

One of the television genres to really rise to the level of cinematic programming are those based around science fiction and fantasy. Television is full of shows that either go the hard sci-fi route (Stargate, Battlestar Galactica) or incorporate their elements more subtly (Lost).

Twin Peaks (1990 -1991, created by David Lynch and Mark Frost)
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Sherilyn Fenn, Madchen Amick, Sheryl Lee, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jack Nance, Grace Zabriskie, Ray Wise

There had never been a show like, and probably never will be another show like, Twin Peaks. The series was a perfect combination of the avant-garde sensibilities of filmmaker David Lynch and primetime soap producer Mark Frost. The show is at moment high camp and melodrama, then switching to tense neo-noir thriller, and over to creep-infused cinematic horror. The premise is incredibly simple: Young girl’s body washes up on the shores of her small Washington state town, FBI eventually called in to investigate. Out of this premise rises one of the most eclectic casts ever assembled on the small screen. Kyle MacLachlan plays Special Agent Dale Cooper, an investigator the likes of which you have never seen. He doesn’t put much stock in typical detective work, but rather relies on Eastern philosophy and his enigmatic dreams to guide the case. The series will introduce you to the wonders of the Log Lady, the Backwards Talking and Dancing Midget, The One-Armed Shoe Salesman, and a coffee percolator with a trout inside. You’ll never have coffee and pie the same way again. Though the series lacks horribly in the middle of its second season (Lynch was away from the series to work on a film), it is still light years better than anything you’ve ever seen on TV.

Battlestar Galactica (2004 – 2009, created by Glen A. Larson, Ronald Moore, and David Eick)
Starring James Edward Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katie Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Michael Hogan, Tamoh Penikett, Aaron Douglas

When I first heard they were doing a remake of the cheesy Star Wars knock-off Battlestar Galactica I was a bit suspect. It wasn’t till 2006 that I actually sat down and began to work my way through the first two seasons of the series and was amazingly surprised. The names were the same, and original premise was fairly intact (Cylons destroy the Twelve Colonies, forcing a small fleet of ships to begin searching for a new home), but the themes and tone of the remake was startlingly fresh. What was done so well in BSG was that is stayed true to the great science fiction trope of being more about our present society and context, much more than any future environs. The series manages to capture a lot of tension in post-9/11 America, with characters finding it easy to dehumanize their enemies, debating if authority has the right to seize power in the midst of crisis, and approaching issues of religious conflict. Despite the first half of the third season being one of the most brilliant things ever, the show begins to crumble in the second half and never recovers during the final season. The show’s focus began to get tied up in trying to explain its overly dense mythology and characters behaved in erratic ways. The series is definitely one of the best science fiction series ever aired and spawned a spin-off prequel series, Caprica.

Lost (2004 – 2010, created by Jeffery Lieber, JJ Abrams, Damon Lindeloff, and Carleton Cuse)
Starring Matthew Fox, Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson, Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly, Jorge Garcia, Daniel Dae-Kim, Yunjin Kim, Naveen Andrews, Henry Ian Cusick

I must admit my bias. Lost is one of my favorite things ever. EVER! I was less than interested when I watched the premiere during its original airing, but returned to the series when my roommate ‘s obsession pulled me back in at the start of the 2nd season. I have been hooked ever since. What makes Lost great is that it took its time to get to its big mysteries. The entire first season is all character based, with slight touches of mystery sprinkled throughout. Because we have an emotional investment in these people when the trouble goes down, we feel it more. The production values of the series are astonishing. Every episode features beautiful cinematography, gorgeous music, and writing that is very clever and knows how to dole out pieces of a mystery perfectly. The show has a dragging point in the first half of season three, but quickly recovers and hasn’t let up since. The current and final season has been carefully pulling the layers of the onion back before the full reveal is made. The creators of the series have an apparent love of classic crazy sci-fi TV, particularly the shows of Irwin Allen (Land of the Giants, Lost in Space, Time Tunnel). That is mixed with some fascinating spiritual themes and literary references, that make the show enjoyable if you want to simply watch for fun or mine it for all its thematic richness.

True Blood (2008 – present, created by Charlaine Harris and Alan Ball)
Starring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammel, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Chris Bauer, Nelsan Ellis, Todd Lowe, Carrie Preston

If Tennessee Williams wrote a vampire novel, this would be what was produced. The accents are garish, the acting sickeningly melodramatic, and the plots are over the top. But I can’t stop watching it! Set in the fictional hamlet of Bon Temps, Lousiana, True Blood focuses on Sookie Stackhouse, a dive bar waitress with psychic powers and in love with a Civil War era vampire, Bill. In the world of the series, vampires have “come out of the coffin” and are attempting to become integrated into modern society. The impetus behind this is that scientists have managed to synthesize blood, meaning vampires can crack open a cold one rather than gnawing on a warm one. However, there are certain vampires who see this as selling out to the establishment, and there are humans who have fetishized being the playthings of the living dead. The heart of the show are not the leading romantic pair, but all the supporting citizens of Bon Temps. The short order cook is secretly dealing “V”, vampire blood used to trip like acid but better. His replacement is an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD. The bar’s owner vanishes on certain nights, showing up naked in the middle of nowhere. A voodoo priestess lives in a trailer just outside of town performing exorcisms. This is not for people looking for Mad Men, though you can enjoy both shows. If you like some supernatural insanity then definitely check this one out.

I’d like to know what dramas, comedies, and sci-fi/fantasy series YOU are watching that I haven’t included and you believe should be. Reply to the comments here or e-mail me at

The Burton/Depp Collaborations – The 2000s

Director Tim Burton’s style of filmmaking began to change in a not so wonderful way in the new millennium. His work became much more adaptation and remake based, rather than producing original ideas and scripts. Stylistically he fell into a major rut, reusing the same aesthetics over and over again, which felt much more bland now that we had been consuming them for a decade already. However, he did have films that rose above the repetition of his tropes.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, Helena Bonham Carter

This remake had been in production limbo for around a decade. At one point, Marilyn Manson had been attached for the Wonka. Now that would have been an interesting pic. The studio decided on Burton, who brought along his old collaborator Depp and new wife Helena Bonham Carter. Despite earlier shakiness with the Planet of the Apes remake, I was still fairly confident in Burton. Big Fish had been a huge departure from his typical style of filmmaking. However, upon seeing this picture I found that the visual flourishes that had once captivated me caused me to literally fall asleep. The first time I saw this film, it was the middle of the day and I actually fell asleep in my chair, something that never happens to me when I am watching a film. Afterwards, I realized that Burton seemed to using his aesthetics as a crutch, providing us no real meat to the film. Oh yes, there was some half-assed attempt at giving Wonka an origin story (such a terrible idea), but if you had seen the first film there was nothing here that added to it except updated CG graphics.

The Corpse Bride (2005)
Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee

The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the most beautiful and perfectly made stop-motion films in history. Its an art style of animation that is rarely attempted, compared to its CG brethern, but when done right it stands above all else (Also remember, Burton only produced and did design work for that film, not direct). I was very excited to see Burton returning to that method of filmmaking and interested to see the story he told this time. For the second time in a year I was utterly bored. The film’s look was basically Victorian Nightmare Before Xmas, the shape of characters and the way ghosts were designed. I don’t remember much of the plot of this film, because I found my mind wandering and uninterested. It’s definitely a beautiful film. Let it never be said Burton doesn’t know how to fill a frame. However, like with Charlie, it lacked substance underneath the surface. The humor and characters were both ultimately forgettable.

Sweeney Todd (2007)
Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Jeremy Irons, Sacha Beren Cohen

This was a semi-return to form for Burton. The key this time wasn’t his aesthetics (they were as bland and repetitive as usual), but the writing of Stephen Sondheim that caused this picture to rise above the rut. Because this film was an operatic tragedy, the bleak landscapes of Burton felt perfectly at home. London came across the dirty, grime-covered hellhole Sondheim originally tried to get across on stage. The casting for the film was wonderful, though Depp wouldn’t have been my first choice for the lead. He does a good job, but its the supporters who really carry the film here. For me, this was the single true highlight of Burton’s in the 2000s. It kept my interesting throughout every frame and has a truly devastating and heartbreaking finale. It’s my hope that Burton is able to reproduce this sort of emotional resonance in his coming work.

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.