The Bestest – Brick

Brick (2005)

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, and Emilie de Ravin.

The second movie to make mah bestest list is Brick, the 1930s detective film set in a modern American high school starring a pre-500 Days of Summer Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The film opens on the hero, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovering the dead body of his ex-girlfriend, Emily, in a ditch. Through a brief flashback we learn that Emily had called him earlier for help; he stands at a lonely payphone booth as a passing car (or rather the people in it) cause her to hang up and flee. A cigarette butt is sent flying from the passenger window, the first of many clues Brendan uses to piece together her murder.

From this point on Brendan transforms into a classic noir gumshoe, tracking down Emily’s movements through a seedy high school drug ring with the help of his mysterious brainiac ally, aptly dubbed The Brain. If any of this sounds remotely familiar, that’s because it absolutely is. The plot of Brick is nothing particularly different and special, but the way it is told is refreshingly unique.

The characters in this film are less that and more character types. For instance, Brain is a role typically seen as a newspaper reporter hanging around dark bars or dreary alleyways, which Rian Johnson adapts into a typical high school nerd leaning against the back wall of the school or hiding in his private nook in the library. These archetypes keep coming as Brendan ignores threats and strikes deals with the Principal (a role usually filled by police captains in the old detective films), fights the seductions of tough and sassy dames (in the form of the “queen” of the drama department and the popular girl on campus), battles a crippled crime kingpin, and loud-mouthed tough guys whose bark is bigger than their bite (the star of the high school football team, and dope head junky). These adaptations not only make the dissonance between the character’s actions and their modern portrayal all the more interesting, but allow the noir style to be more accessible to modern audiences.

I own that duck cane. Just sayin'.

This isn’t the first modern film that’s combined and adapted elements of noir, just look at Reservoir Dogs, but what sets it apart from the others is that it sets the attitudes and dialogues of classic detective fiction in a modern American High School. The characters all speak like they’re straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel with lines like, “No, the bulls would gum it. They’d flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin, probably even the right one.”

None of the dialogue throughout is like anything seen in the countless other movies set in high schools, nor can it in any way be described as “modern”. Which is exactly what makes it so mesmerizing. The combination of a modern setting and updated character types with old detective dialogue creates such an interesting dynamic that is more and more entertaining each time you watch.

If you’re unfamiliar with the genre that Brick draws such heavy inspiration from, don’t worry. This film’s got just enough indie quirks in it to keep you interested and if none of that floats your boat then at least watch it for the stellar performances. JGL is flawless as the brooding Brendan, completely embodying the archetype both physically and emotionally, and the rest of the cast all step up to plate, delivering a set of engaging performances.

While the plot may not be anything different, it’s told in such a creative and unique way that you forgive it for that fault and enjoy the noir-iness (made that one up). Find this movie now and go watch it. Please? Thanks.

JIGGLE


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The Bestest – Plan 9 Style

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Directed by Ed Wood Jr. Starring Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Gregory Walcott, Dudley Manlove, and John Breckinridge

A lot of people ask me what my favorite movie is (not actually true) and after a long, drawn out, awkward silence where I stare into space, desperately raking my brain searching for the movie that stands out above them all, only to come up with images of Gary Oldman or Anchorman, I answer I don’t know. It’s impossible for me to pin down one movie as “the best ever” so I’m going to do something nigh impossible for someone as important lazy as I am and create a list of the best. The best of the best. The bestest. Yeah, there we go. And what better way to kick off my “bestest” list than with what is widely considered the worst science fiction film to ever, Ed Wood Jr.’s Plan 9 from Outer Space!

“Wait, wait, wait, you’re putting what is arguably the worst B movie ever made on your ‘best of’ list?” Yes I am strange voice inside my head. Yes I am. But don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that Plan 9 isn’t bad, that thing is God awful. I could go on for hours about the hub-cap flying saucers on visible wires, scenes unexplainably switching between night and day, the countless plot holes, hammy acting, the posthumous performance of Bela Lugosi, and the oh so ridiculous dialogue. Hell, the movie’s opening lines are “we think most about the future because that is where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.” Suck on that prose Shakespeare.

But none of that matters, Plan 9 is so damn awful that it transcends criticism, you can’t help but smile and laugh when you watch the movie, immediately forgiving its countless flaws and instead taking in its creativity and wackiness. What is so fantastic about this movie isn’t so much the final product (although it certainly is something special in its own right) but rather the passion and determination that it represents. Plan 9 was nothing more than a brainchild of a man who loved movies and who would stop at nothing to make them. Absolutely nothing.

Ed Wood every Saturday night

Ed Wood is often criticized for this highly exploitative filmography, which technically is an accurate accusation since the guy did go on to make X rated movies in his final years (Plan 69 from Outer Space was not of his creation sadly). However he did take pride in his work and held a serious passion for cinema. While his films were cheesy, over-acted, and poorly produced, he put in his full heart and soul to each one, oftentimes holding multiple positions for each film such as director, writer, producer and sometimes even acting in them (much like his idol Orson Welles.)

Not even the untimely death of his good friend and film star Bela Lugosi would stop the production of Plan 9 as the ever crafty Ed Wood incorporated clips of an unfinished film starring Lugosi and had his chiropractor serve as a body double for the remainder of the scenes. Ingenuity at its finest. Let’s not forget too that Ed Wood’s ardor and spirit were the inspiration for Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood a “biopic” of the filmmaker’s life. A critically acclaimed film revolving entirely around someone considered one of the worst filmmakers of all time. That’s gotta be some kinda irony right?

Plan 9 from Outer Space is like the macaroni picture frame your kid brings home from arts and crafts. Yeah it looks like crap, but you hang it up anyway because it is full of creativity, hard work and love. The film is great for a laugh as well as a source of inspiration (if Ed Wood can make a film I can too!) So here you go Ed, I’m puttin it up on my fridge.

The LAST Exorcism?

The Last Exorcism

Directed by Daniel Stamm, starring Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum and Caleb Landry Jones. Released 2010.

Before I begin the review I’d like to start out with a little history lesson on the point of view (POV) style of filming.  A little low budget horror movie by the name of Cannibal Holocaust was released back in 1980 and for those of you unfamiliar with the film it was the first significant step into the POV/documentary sub-genre of horror, albeit an extremely controversial first step (several members of the cast were instructed to lay low for a year, leading people to believe they had actually died during filming.) Despite a few mainstream successes that use this found-footage technique, most notably the Blair Witch Project, it is still a relatively rare approach to film making that focuses more on atmosphere than gore. Feeling smarter?

The major benefit of filming in the POV style is the sense of immediacy and immersion it exacts on the audience; you feel right in the middle of the action and sympathize with the characters as the risks they’re taking seem that much more real. Such is the case with The Last Exorcism, a story that follows a Louisiana Preacher Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) and the events leading up to, as the title implies, his final exorcism. In a nice twist by the screenwriters, Cotton actually turns out to be a fraud: although he’s performed exorcisms, he frames them as a kind of psychiatric exercise, in that people believe they’re possessed by demons, and so an exorcism may actually be precisely what they need to free themselves of that belief. Through a serious case of good ol’ hubris, Cotton decides to have a film crew document his journey into the backwoods of Louisiana for what he says will be his final fake exorcism.

He arrives to the Sweetzer farm and comes across poor Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), a terribly frightened young girl who has apparently been murdering livestock in her sleep. Convinced that her behavior is all just a reaction to her mother’s untimely death, Marcus begins setting up his first “exorcism” and we see an in depth look at all the behind the scenes work he does to make it as real as possible (fake devil noises, battery-powered shock rings and the like). It is quickly revealed, however, after the first exorcism doesn’t take, that there is something deeply wrong with little Nell and Marcus may have to come face to face with the devil himself to save her.

The power of Christ compels...ah you've all heard it before

Exorcism follows the Paranormal Activity mentality that a creepy noise coming from the other side of a door can be just as frightening as actually seeing what’s making it. One perfect example of this is a terrifying scene where the film crew is running frantically around the house trying to find the source of a crying baby. The camera staggers as the crew bolts as fast as they can around the house, and with every dip and sharp turn the camera makes, you cringe at the anticipation of some creepy crawly jumping out at you. It’s a relatively simple effect, but it couldn’t be any more powerful.

While the majority of the scares come from the atmosphere and the slow hand-held shots, Ashley Bell’s performance as the possessed Bell is terrifying. While she never goes to the extremes that Linda Blair went to in The Exorcist, she is still able to be absolutely ferocious when needed, and her ability to convey threat by staring blankly at the camera or giving a sinister smile is uncanny. In addition to that, it is also surprisingly refreshing to have a horror movie without a ridiculously two dimensional protagonist. Too often we see the oblivious blonde wandering aimlessly about into dark rooms that couldn’t be any more apparent in their danger if they were marked with a sign that said “Walking into this room will lead to a slow, untimely death.” Patrick Fabian’s portrayal of Cotton starts out as a holier-than-thou showman and gradually transforms into a man struggling to find his faith in God. It makes for a character that is not only believable, but one that we want to see succeed.

She's just misunderstood

While it seems like I’m praising this movie, it most certainly isn’t perfect. It has its fair share of weak points, the most obvious being the ending which can be described as…questionable at best. Also, the short run time of only 87 minutes left me disappointed that they didn’t squeeze in at least one more major scare. But, for what it is, The Last Exorcism is one of the better horror movies to come out this year thanks to its reliance on atmosphere and its phenomenal performances. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel come out for this one, despite the obvious irony in the title. I don’t know though, I think The Last Exorcism 2: The Lastest Exorcism has a certain ring to it.

Awkward Humor Extraordinaire

Dinner for Schmucks

Directed by Jay Roach. Starring Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis, Stephanie Szostak, and Lucy Punch. Released 2010

Let’s face it, you already know if you’re going to like Dinner for Schmucks. Can’t get enough of Steve Carell’s painfully uncomfortable awkwardness or Paul Rudd’s seemingly effortless charm? Then this is the movie for you. Dinner for Schmucks suffers from a terribly slow first Act littered with too much expository dialogue, but with the introduction of Steve Carell’s Barry, the movie picks up some serious speed and becomes all that it promises to be: funny.

Dinner for Schmucks is inspired by Francis Veber’s French-language comedy The Dinner Game that follows Tim (Paul Rudd) an average guy on the come-up for a company he works for who finds himself invited to a dinner by the heads of the firm after impressing them in a board meeting. This isn’t any normal dinner, however, but rather a twisted comedy show where all the corporate execs invite “people with extraordinary talent”, a.k.a idiots, over and then make fun of them for their amusement. Going to this dinner and impressing the bosses could mean big time promotion for Tim, but Tim’s girlfriend (the talented Stephanie Szostak) won’t have anything to do with it.

In a dilemma, Tim can’t decide if he should take the noble path and stay on good terms with his girlfriend, or make fun of a couple of idiots and score a sweet paycheck. Fortunately for Tim, this dilemma doesn’t last long as he, literally, runs into Barry (Steve Carell). Barry is the epitome of awkward, someone with “extraordinary talent”. He is the embodiment of uncomfortable and to make matters even stranger, he happens to dabble in taxidermy; making lovely mouse dioramas he calls “mousterpieces” out of dead mice. As you can see, Tim’s choice has been made for him by some sort of higher power…or so he thinks, for Barry quickly reveals his true form, a loose destructive force that rages on and cripples Tim’s entire life to its knees through its bewildering incompetence.

As I mentioned earlier, this movie has a terribly slow first Act but picks up the pace and delivers some great comic moments as it rolls on. The writing certainly isn’t top-notch with a handful of jokes that fall flat, but what really makes this movie is the all-star cast. Steve Carell pulls out all his tricks for making the most uncomfortable human being ever in his creation of Barry, an almost otherworldly being whose interactions with other people come across as absolutely pathetic. You can’t help but feel sorry for the poor schmuck, right after you’re done laughing at him that is.

Paul Rudd plays the straight man in this and does so with his usual charm, and while he doesn’t have much to do other than fuel the comedy fire, he does an excellent job all the same. His ex-girlfriend, Darla is an absolute psychotic, driven by her obsession with Tim and bent on getting back together with him, or ruining his life. She is played eerily perfect by Lucy Punch and contributes to some of the most painfully awkward “comic misunderstandings” in the movie, and despite her creepy appearance was hilarious to watch.

The two standouts in this, though, for me were Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement. Zach plays Barry’s IRS rival, Therman, a man obsessed with mind-control and ruining Barry’s life. He has some of the funniest moments with Carell including his domination of Barry’s mind by simply telling him to do something, and one of the most amazing imaginary wizard battles that I’ve seen in a long time. Jemaine plays Kieran a totally insane photo artist with an apparently “untamable animal attraction”. Jemaine is the master of dead-pan as any of you Flight of the Conchords fans know, and he goes all out in his performance here saying lines like, “Have you ever had your arm in a Zebra’s vagina before Tim? You should try it, it’s magical” with such conviction, that you can’t help but think he actually believes it. He transforms such an absurd character into a believable one, making everything he says even funnier.

Barry and Goat-Boy having a heart to heart.

Dinner for Schmucks has its weak moments in some of the writing and the strange voice over epilogue at the end (which probably should’ve been left out) but the faults are over-shadowed by the jokes that land and the amazing cast that delivers them, making this a fun comedy that you’re sure to enjoy.

Review by William Bixby

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass

Director: Matthew Vaughn, Starring: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz. Released 2010.

It’s become increasingly rare for me to be thoroughly excited about a movie I’m watching, a movie that gets me so pumped up that once it’s over I’m on the edge of my seat, gawking slack-jawed at the screen and longing for more. Kick-Ass did just that.

A group of friends and I saw Kick-Ass about a week ago (from when I originally wrote this, which now is about 5 months ago) and it’s been on my mind since. We had so much adrenaline pumping through us afterwards that once we finally stopped talking about “how freaking awesome that movie was!” we started planning out our own superheroes, costumes, names, powers and all (even drawing the concept art, which could possibly end up on this site…).

I was looking at some other reviews for this movie and most of them (not surprisingly) were negative. What most critics failed to realize about this movie, however, is that it takes you on a ride. Sure, there isn’t that much emotional connection to the movie or any real kind of aesthetic appeal, but this movie is fun. From start to finish, I was having the time of my life and watching that movie went from being a pass time to an experience.

Matthew Vaughn creates a pitch-black satire of the comic genre in his film adaptation of the Marvel comic Kick-Ass.The movie follows the same basic structure that’s become increasingly popular over the years (Wanted andZombieland are just a few that come to mind), a loser protagonist narrating his experience from zero to hero.

The movie tells the story of an average-Joe High Schooler, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who transforms into an internet celebrity and local hero when a video of him risking his life to save someone from a brutal mugging (all while dressed in his make-shift super hero costume) becomes a viral hit on YouTube. Not only is his MySpace page getting thousands of views and requests for help, but he’s suddenly got the attention of his lifelong crush, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) although she’s only into him because she thinks he’s gay…

The plot thickens when Kick-Ass runs into actual super heroes, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), a crime fighting father/daughter duo who straight up murder people. The duo offer to team up with Kick-Ass, offering their assistance whenever he needs it. Up until this point, Kick-Ass has been enjoying his time in the lime light and the new found fame he has, claiming that “with no power, comes no responsibility”. However, he soon finds himself involved in a war between Big Daddy and local crime syndicate leader Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and quickly discovers this whole superhero business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Aaron Johnson played an excellent nerdy superhero, Mark Strong did what he does best-played the bad guy and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who plays D’Amico’s nerdy son) was an excellent rival for Kick-Ass and his McLovin-ish character made for an awesome nerd-on-nerd battle towards the end of the movie, but Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz completely stole the show.

Nicolas Cage has chosen you. Feel honored.

Nicolas Cage plays Damon Macready, a former cop who is framed by D’Amico and sent to prison. To make matters worse, his pregnant wife dies while giving birth to his daughter, Mindy.

After his release from prison (time he spent totally pumping up) he does what any single father would do, trains his little girl to be a killing machine.

Cage finally broke away from his seemingly endless line of movies where he played the same National Treasurey character, and his twisted, absurd performance reminded me of some of his earlier work (Raising Arizona and Adaptation specifically). He’s so engulfed with revenge, that he makes Batman look like a melodramatic teenage girl and Cage’s Adam West/William Shatner voice is absolutely hilarious.

Chloë plays Macready’s daughter,Mindy who takes on the masked persona of Hit-Girl. I would’ve been perfectly fine if this movie just revolved around her character because she was amazing. I’ve never seen a young actress say something like “contact the mayor’s office, he has a special signal he shines in the sky—it’s in the shape of a giant cock” and deliver it with such devastating wit. She has the most intense fight scenes in the whole movie, at one point single handedly taking out all of D’Amico’s guards and henchmen in the most gruesome ways she can think of, and behind all the bullet dodging and knife throwing, you can tell Chloë is having an absolute blast. And so was I.

On the surface, this movie seems like just another run-o-the-mill super hero flick, but it is so chock full of super hero references, that it becomes a shameless parody, completely self aware of what it’s trying to do. Kick-Ass satirizes the entire comic genre by making the ultimate comic movie and the result is an exciting two hours that you will never forget. In short: this movie kicks ass. You honestly thought I could make it through the review without dropping that joke? You’re a fool. So what are you waiting for? GO WATCH IT!

Precious Bodily Fluids

Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Director: Stanley Kubrick, Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Tracy Reed and Slim Pickens. Released: 1964

A great film is one that, despite being watched countless times, still seems fresh and undated. It is a film where you make a new discovery with every viewing. Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is a great film.

Dr. Strangelove is a comedy satirizing the Cold War and tells the story of a crazed Army General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) who orders an unauthorized nuclear strike against Russia. British Attaché Group Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers) realizes that Gen. Ripper must’ve made some sort of miscalculation and so tries talking him into calling off the strike, yet only manages to get himself locked in an office with the nutjob General. The situation quickly escalates, and the President of the United States (again played by Peter Sellers) holds a meeting with several Military leaders  in one of the most widely recognizable film sets of all time, The War Room, about what needs to be done. Top Military Scientist and crazy Nazi, Dr. Strangelove (yeah you guessed it, Peter Sellers) warns them of the devastating Doomsday Machine and the unavoidable destruction it would cause (all human and animal life obliterated) if a nuclear bomb were to strike it’s location (which happens to be Russia). As you can see, they’ve got a dilemma. Through a dark comedy of errors, the characters try and fail repeatedly to call off the nuclear strike until eventually, B-52 Pilot Maj. King ‘Kong’ (Slim Pickens) rides the H-bomb bareback into it’s target.

YEEEEEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWW!

To prepare for this review, I had to watch the film again for the first time in about two years or so since I needed to reacquaint myself with the material. I’ve read several reviews for this film, all of them praising George C. Scott’s performance, which I thought (back when I first saw it) wasn’t anything amazing. This time around, however, I knew exactly what everyone was talking about because I discovered what he can do with his face.

Come give ol' Buck a hug!

When I watched it again, all of his grimaces, facial tics, twitches and eyebrow arching were crystal clear. I passed over all of this the first few times because Scott’s work hides in plain sight. His face is so plastic and mobile, yet you don’t consciously notice it because he sells his performance with such conviction. Take, for example, a small scene where his character Gen. Buck Turgdison is running around the War Room and then trips, rolls on the floor, rights himself up and carries on all without dropping a line. Kubrick (known for being a perfectionist) left this unplanned fall in, because Scott made it seem so convincing.

Scott’s performance is just one example of the comedy in this film. As Roger Ebert put it, Dr. Strangelove’s humor is generated by a basic comic principle, “people trying to be funny are never as funny as people trying to be serious and failing”. All the characters in Dr. Strangelove are played so seriously that you can’t stop yourself from laughing when they all fall apart.

General Ripper’s dialogue is so sexually charged that it leads to the most ridiculous and awkward conversations between him and Captain Mandrake, as he goes on a tirade about how the commies are poisoning the “purity and essence of our natural bodily fluids” while fondling his phallic cigar. One of the funniest bits in the movie is when Ripper is explaining to Mandrake how he concocted this crazy conspiracy theory during “the physical act of love” where he suddenly had a feeling of great fatigue and loss of “concentration”. Naturally, his impotency was caused by those damn Ruskies poisoning the water supply.

Peter Sellers’ Oscar nominated triple performance accentuates the dead pan, failed seriousness humor of this film. He plays the roles of Group Captain Mandrake, President Muffley and Dr. Strangelove and gives each of them their own distinct accent, physical appearance and movement. His character of President Muffley is a great example of being extremely serious and failing. One of the best scenes in the film is where he is having a conversation over the phone with Russian Prime Minister Kissoff. He gets into an argument about how the President never calls Kissoff just to say hello, and then they fight over who is more sorry about the fact that nuclear warheads are on their way to Russia.

Dr. Merkwurdichliebe

Peter Sellers was known to be quite…uncontrollable on the set of films. He would go off script and improvise dialogue, was always doing different accents and acting out of character, and was just enjoying himself. Stanley Kubrick was known for his attention to detail and for being a perfectionist, so naturally you’d think these two would collide. On the contrary, Kubrick actually encouraged Peter’s improvisation and the character of Dr. Strangelove (a maniacal nazi scientist with a possessed arm) was actually developed through Peter goofing around the set and playing with one of Kubrick’s lighting gloves. Watching these two artists work together (although it was not the first time they have done so) is spectacular and their finished product is tremendous.

Dr. Strangelove captures the spirit of the cold war and the “we better attack before they do” mentality, yet it does so in a way that is absolutely hilarious. This film is a timeless masterpiece that is still as poignant as it was when it was first released. Go buy it on DVD, it is a classic that you must watch!

Down The Rabbit Hole

Alice in Wonderland

Director: Tim Burton, Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Stephen Fry, and Alan Rickman. Released 2010

Tim Burton’s latest film is adapted from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll. The original stories were a bizarre dream world full of contradictions, witty wordplay and smiling cats. Carroll’s work is littered with craziness and when translating this onto film, it’s only fitting that the director be someone just as strange as Carroll…and who’s a better choice than Tim Burton?

Now, I think it’s important to note here that I am a HUGE Lewis Carroll fan. I’ve got this big ass book (courtesy of Tyler, thanks hun) full of everything he’s ever written. Letters, poems, riddles the whole sha-bang. What attracts me to his work, in particular the Alice stories, is just how strange they are. They are devoid of any real plot (Alice just wanders from place to place until she wakes up) but what makes the stories so good is the weird conversations the characters have and how one event just sort of blurs with another, without any sort of transition.

The books force you to stop trying to make sense out of things, if you think you’ve got “the deeper meaning” figured out, Carroll throws something twice as crazy at you, just to screw with your head.

When I went to see the movie I was excited to see how Burton would handle the nonsense of the books and if he would tweak it to his signature dark style. I wasn’t impressed…

The movie’s main problem was that it tried creating a plot (fools) and a rather weak one at that. Basically, Alice returns to Wonderland (which is actually called Underland) to find the whole gang of fairytale creatures and talking animals waiting for her to explain how she has to slay the Jabberwock on the Frabjous day because the Compendium that predicts all events past, present and future says so. You follow?

Curioser and curioser...

The movie tried justifying everything that happened by holding the audience’s hand and walking them through the story. A small example would be giving names to the little cakes that Alice eats to grow bigger, or providing a whole back story on why the Mad Hatter is so…mad. It lost all of the strangeness and dream like flow wherein nothing is explained that made Carroll’s work a classic.

I've often seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat!

Despite this, the movie did have some high points, mostly the overall look of the film and the acting. Johnny Depp played a great Mad Hatter. The tea party was great at showing just how crazy all the characters are, and Depp’s random slipping in and out of a Scottish accent was one of the few small ways the movie included something that they don’t explain.

Stephen Fry did the voice of Cheshire Cat perfectly, delivering his lines with a small air of menace, as if he’s hiding something sinister behind that giant smile of his.

Helena Bonham Carter played the tyrannical cross between the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts. While her performance was stunning her character’s relationship with the Knight was a little odd because it tried to create some sort of sympathy for her character as if she wasn’t evil after all but just misunderstood.

Mia Wasikowska stood out above the rest. Her portrayal of Alice was just as rebellious and curious as her Victorian counterpart and she played the role beautifully.

Tim Burton created a unique take on the Alice in Wonderland story, but it lacked a significant amount of the strange, nonsense, dream like feel that made Carroll’s stories so much fun to read. It’s a movie you’ll watch once and then never have the desire to watch it again which, unfortunately, I did.

Oh and bonus points for whoever can come up with the most original explanation for why a raven is like a writing desk.

Those Bones Aren’t So Lovely…

Directed by Peter Jackson and starring Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Saoirse Ronan and Susan Sarandon.

The Lovely Bones suffers from a bad case of multiple personality dissorder. On the one hand it tries to be a very dark, crime thriller but on the other it’s a fantasy tale of a young teen’s journey through limbo. Had the film stuck to just one of these tones, it may have actually been watchable, but seeing as how it didn’t, it made for an unbearable two hours.

The movie tells the story of a 14-year-old girl, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) that is murdered by her neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) and that’s really where it should’ve stopped. It goes on, however, to show us Susie’s spirit running away to magical Limbo-Heaven-Place where she observes how her family and Mr. Harvey cope with her death.

Don't go into the light! DON'T GO INTO THE LIGHT!

This is where the movie quickly goes down in a spiraling ball of fire. We follow Susie around in her own personal Dayglo Limbo, full of giant rainbow balls floating in front of mystical mountains, and we sit and watch as she plays dress up and dances on giant Vinyl records with some random Asian girl (who’s character isn’t explained AT ALL until about 15 minutes to the end of the movie). These sequences don’t capture any sort of confusion or apprehensiveness that Susie is feeling but instead portrays Limbo as like this totally awesome place where like, teenager girls can like totally have an awesome time like!

Now hold on a second, ok so the sequences didn’t do it for you but at least they looked good right? WRONG! The CGI used in this movie seemed incredibly out dated and nothing amazing or new was done with the effects, leaving them not only confusing but unattractive. The best of both worlds.

Meanwhile back on Earth, Susie’s parents are mourning over her loss and as time goes by they begin to handle their emotions quite differently. Marky Mark plays her father, Jack who becomes obsessed with finding Susie’s killer, completely consumed with rage and bringing the killer to justice, pushing himself further and further away from his family. Or at least, I think that’s what was going on, it was hard to decode Mark Wahlberg’s blank staring.

"Man, I miss the Funky Bunch."

Having said that, Mark gave a better performance than I thought, significantly better anyway than Saorise Ronan, who’s dreamy, innocent narration came across as bored and nearly put me to sleep. It’s hard to stay interested in a film when the main character obviously would rather be dancing around on rainbow clouds than taking the time to tell us about her life-I mean death-I mean…you get it.

Abigail (Rachel Weisz) is Susie’s mother and is quite possibly the most bizarre character in the entire film. Instead of taking solace in visualizing the bashed-in skull of her daughter’s killer (like her husband Jack) she wants nothing to do with finding closure and is so engulfed with grief, or one of those other crazy emotions, that she leaves her family. It would be an interesting dynamic if it wasn’t so rushed that it just seemingly popped out of the blue in an “oh by the way I’m leaving all of you to become an apple picker, see ya!” sort of way.

The one diamond in this very, very rough movie is Stanley Tucci who plays Susie’s murder Geroge Harvey. Tucci does an amazing job of playing the obsessive serial killer and completely steals the show. George is a man full of internal struggle, constantly trying to ignore that hunger to kill again until it eventually consumes him and he targets poor Susie. Tucci was fantastic at embodying the character physically, and he was able to communicate such menace just by walking around in a room or by the way he stood, he never needed to say a word. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough of him in this flick, it spends way too much time on Susie in Limbo instead of sticking to its much stronger character, Harvey.

If I was forced to recommend this movie to anyone it would be solely for Stanley Tucci’s performance. However, seeing as how he’s only in the damn thing for about half of the movie, I’d go tell them to watch Julie & Julia instead.

So, in short do not watch this movie. Oh, and remember, if a forty year old man that lives alone and builds doll houses for a living asks you to come and check out his super cool underground club house … turn around and run away as fast as you freaking can.

On second thought, he looks like a nice guy.