#105 - And The Legend Continues
Charles B. Pierce
1938 - 2010
Howdy, pardners. There are a couple of bits of business to mention before we jump into this week’s cavalcade o’ fun. Don’t fret, I’ll be brief.
First of all, I made some changes to the Archives page (accessible via the fancy marquee to the left). Previously, I’d simply been linking to each installment of JET by the article’s title. This was fine and certainly much easier for me but it didn’t give any hint about what the content of the article might include. That didn’t strike me as a big deal until I realized that someone recommending a title for Tales From The Queue might actually want to see if they’re suggesting something I’ve already written about. The Archives page is now arranged by movie title, including every last picture I’ve reviewed since I began this little project. You might have to scroll down the page to find the review but trust me, it’s there. There’s also a separate Archive for DVD reviews and such for The Digital Bits. Obviously there’s still a chance of suggesting something for TFTQ I’ve already seen but I hope this will make it a bit easier for you to make a recommendation.
Meanwhile on the JET Facebook page, I’ve launched a new gallery called JET’s Most Wanted: Forgotten Films Not Available On DVD. It’s an offshoot of the old Wish List columns I used to do for the Bits, only more interactive and with cooler pictures. I don’t have the faintest idea if this will help get these titles released but it’s a welcome reminder that there are still hundreds of great flicks tied up in legal wrangling or just collecting dust in the vaults. And now, on with the show!
NOW IN THEATRES
Alice In Wonderland
Ten years ago, if anyone had asked me which filmmaker I would most like to see helm a version of Lewis Carroll’s work, my answer most likely would have been Tim Burton. Carroll’s books have inspired some of the most unforgettable images ever divined, from John Tenniel’s original illustrations to the vibrantly animated Disney version to Jan Svankmajer’s surreal stop-motion Alice. Sure enough, Burton’s interpretations of these iconic characters look absolutely fantastic. But visuals alone can’t make a movie work and my desire to see a Tim Burton directed version of Alice In Wonderland was based solely on how I imagined it would look. What I failed to take into account is that Burton’s best movies focus on eccentric outsiders at odds with their normal, conformist surroundings. And that’s exactly the opposite of what Alice is all about.
For quite some time, Alice In Wonderland can’t quite decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Mia Wasikowska’s Alice is now a young woman, haunted by recurring dreams of Wonderland (or as we come to find out, Underland). She’s expected to marry an upper-class twit. Desperate to buy time before she decides, she chases after the White Rabbit and plummets down the rabbit-hole. She assumes it’s another dream but the characters seem to think she’s been here before. Familiar scenes and motifs are replayed from the original, leading one to think this is a retelling of the story. Eventually Alice does remember her last visit and the film reveals itself to be a sequel. Fair enough but then why spend so much time rehashing old bits and pieces? It’s a bit like if The Empire Strikes Back had opened with Luke Skywalker back home on Tatooine and everyone had to go back and remind him of the events of the previous movie before they could get started.
Even worse, Linda Woolverton’s screenplay makes a completely wrong-headed attempt to impose a linear narrative onto Carroll’s nonsense. At one point, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter asks Alice, “Have I gone mad?” The Hatter would never ask this question. He hasn’t “gone” mad. He simply is mad. Depp should be much better in the role than he is but the film doesn’t allow him to really cut loose. By beefing up his presence and turning him into Alice’s ally, he’s robbed of any sense of real madness. His brief, embarrassing dance at the end hardly counts as insanity. Helena Bonham Carter at least seems to be enjoying herself as the Red Queen, although she’s a much more ineffective tyrant here than in any other version of the story. As for Alice herself, Wasikowska is fine but her insistence that this is all a dream grows tiresome. She seems vaguely bored by it all, even after she accepts her destiny as the champion of Underland. Instead of marching into battle, she strolls over with an air of, “Well, let’s get this over with.” I sympathize with her and felt much the same way at that point but it’s hardly the attitude of a young, independent woman coming into her own.
Despite the fact that Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass are two of my favorite books, I don’t have any problem with artists taking liberties with them. The books are a treasure trove of ideas and have been a springboard for some wonderfully creative works. But I cannot fathom why you would take material this rich and transform it into something so pedestrian. There’s very little wonder in Tim Burton’s Alice. His signature style is intact but he clearly doesn’t connect with the material. In a world where eccentricity is the norm, there’s no room for Burton’s brand of outsider. (* *)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
While there are countless movies that revolve around family dynamics, it’s frustrating how many of them get something so universal so wrong. There’s a tendency to exaggerate and over-dramatize situations, leading to a heightened reality that doesn’t bear much similarity to real life. The charming, low-budget 2006 film Quinceañera, written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, is a welcome exception. Its greatest strength lies in its quiet, low-key approach.
Emily Rios stars as Magdalena, a smart young woman approaching her fifteenth birthday. She becomes pregnant, which leads to a falling out with her minister father. She moves in with her octogenarian uncle Tomas (Chalo González). Tomas has already taken in her cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia), who left home after his dad found him looking at gay websites. Carlos begins a relationship with his uncle’s new landlords, Gary and James, while Magdalena is cut off from her boyfriend by his protective mother.
What’s most refreshing about Quinceañera is that none of these storylines are handled in typical movie fashion. Carlos at first comes across as a stereotypical cholo and you expect his sexual identity to lead to an explosive homophobic outburst of some kind. It doesn’t. He’s comfortable with that part of himself, even while he’s trying to put the rest of his life in order. Magdalena is a confident, intelligent, independent young woman forced to grow up too quickly. The relationship between the two kids and Tio Tomas is touching and utterly believable. He’s a man rooted in tradition but guilelessly open-hearted, loving and accepting his family for who they are no matter what.
This is a simple but lovely film about familial bonds, maturity, acceptance and forgiveness. Glatzer and Westmoreland get natural, unforced performances out of their actors and utilize their Echo Park locations so well that the neighborhood becomes another character. The final twenty minutes or so are extremely moving, not because the film is manipulative but because Glatzer and Westmoreland crafted real flesh-and-blood characters we become invested in and care about. Quinceañera is a pure delight, a real sleeper well worth seeking out. (* * * ½)
Thanks to Andrew Hansen for this week’s TFTQ recommendation! As always, please let me know about your favorite unsung movie gems, either on the Facebook or via old-fashioned email. Until next week, I’ll be sitting by the computer waiting to hear from you.