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Somewhere along the line from love of movies to love of cinema are the first films appreciated for more than their entertainment value. Maybe it was a performance you couldn’t forget, recognition of wit over slapstick, or lines of dialogue you’d repeat until your parents told you to stop, please stop.
At some point a movie impresses you and you can’t really say why beyond, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” And you know, that happens a lot when you’re 12. Anyways, it’s when you begin to get an inkling for the ringmaster, the person behind the scenes who is imparting a vision –successful or otherwise – for your consideration. That is, the director. There were many movies that impressed me as teen, but when I fell in love with Winona Ryder in Beatle Juice or left Batman saying “That is the Best Movie Ever!”, well, that was Tim Burton.
And so Director Burton has always had a special place in my heart since he was such a part of my education in movies. How disappointing then, that most of his work since Edward Scissorhands have not really struck a chord with me. Which isn’t to say his movies are bad, they’re almost without exception, well, exceptional. His achievements cannot be overstated. For 20 years, Tim Burton has walked the line between artistry and commercial success unlike any other director.
Any movie, whether the smallest character piece or a Tim Burton special effects extravaganza, must have a soul. The audience must care. I think Burton’s film became more about the atmosphere, weird and random worlds, and Johnny Depp’s face; pretty but cadaverous, eye candy with no pulse. And so I approached Alice in Wonderland with trepidation. I want to like his films. I’m rooting for the guy.
And I’m happy to say Burton has delivered. “Alice” is not a perfect film, it runs out of magic in the last 15 minutes, but until then, it’s a lovely ride. It’s a movie that leaves you with a Cheshire grin, chuckling at the audacity of whole thing. It’s a movie where the special effects serve the story a cup of tea.
The players are fantastic. Johnny Depp is predictably excellent as the Mad Hatter. Helena Boham Carter is a worthy of Nicholson’s Joker, making a meal of every second she’s on screen. Anne Hathaway is surprisingly effective as an effete and weakly constitutioned princess. Of all people, with long CG legs that must give Letterman nightmares, Crispin Glover comes out of his madhouse to grace us with a most un-McFly performance. And finally, Mia Wasikowska, a newcomer of dramatic hair plays Alice perfectly. Yet all of it would mean nothing if not for the singular abilities of one Tim Burton, Director. Bravo.
I hope, with Alice in Wonderland, that all the many 10 year olds who watched it with me that night were high-fiving each other afer the movie. Maybe saying, “This was the Best Movie Ever!” or even, “What great direction!” And they’d be right. Alice in Wonderland plays this weekend at Glacier Cinema. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.