The Dark Knight Rises

Wallpaper for The Dark Knight Rises

“Deshi Basara”

It’s been quite a while since my last blog post as life has gotten very busy for me over the past year.  Every once in a while though something comes along that reignites a spark deep within and for me that something was “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Anyone who knows me knows that Batman Begins is one of my favorite movies of all time.  There is something so intriguing to me about a Super Hero that is not actually Super.  Bruce Wayne may have the resources, technology, and ultimately money to fund and finance the creation of the weapons, vehicles, armor, and toys that he uses to combat crime but beneath it all he is still just a man with a mission to be a symbol.  He’s tangible.  The Batman could be me.  The Batman could be you.  That is the beauty of it when fed through my own personal aesthetic.

I have not been more excited to see a movie than I was to see “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Even my excitement for “The Matrix Reloaded” did not compare to this.  And I must say that this film did not disappoint me.  There were no trailers at my midnight showing, which I’m gathering was an error on the projectionists part but you’ll hear no complaints from me.  “The Dark Knight Rises” takes place eight years after “The Dark Knight” so it may be prudent to re-watch the second movie, if not both predecessors before seeing this one but it’s not a must.

The movie opens with a pretty intense escape/rescue scene in which Bane is introduced.  Tom Hardy’s take on Bane to me was rather incredible.  A la Hugo Weaving in “V For Vendetta” it is a difficult task to act through a mask of sorts that covers 70% of your face.  All of the emotion has to be played through the eyes with eyebrow gestures as punctuation and with the voice.  Throughout the whole of this two-hour and forty-five minute movie whenever Bane is on screen I believed him blindly.  Hardy’s acting technique was quite different; more honed and focused, here than I’ve seen him in anything else and it was amazing to watch.  As a terrorist Bane truly does not care about steamrolling barricades to his endgame and the fight training Hardy had to undergo is showcased well in the few physical fight scenes he has.  In his matter-of-fact bass-heavy and somewhat mechanical tone you believe him when he says, “when Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die.”

Christian Bale’s aging Bruce Wayne, now a recluse after Batman takes the blame for Harvey Dent’s crimes, is robbed by a hired “hostess” Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a determined and agile woman who warns him that a storm is coming for the privileged who “have lived so large and left so little for the rest of us.”  She has robbed more than just his mother’s pearls though, which brings Bruce out of the confines of the west wing of his mansion and back to the sub-level of his house, an underground lair that has seen little action as of late.  When Commissioner Gordon is hospitalized and urges The Batman to return to Gotham, Bruce is faced with the task of getting his body back in shape to return to Gotham as the symbol of hope that was lost with the death of Harvey Dent; the truth of which the city of Gotham is still ignorant about; a truth that Commissioner Gordon struggles with.  During this time Bruce is faced with re-involving himself with Wayne Enterprises, specifically a clean renewable energy source WI has been building for Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a mysterious woman who seems to be working her way into Bruce’s bruised and battered heart, something Alfred would like to see happen before it is too late.

The catalyst to The Batman’s return to Gotham is the arrival of Bane (with a bit of prodding by John Blake, a police officer played with nuance and resolve by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an excommunicated member of the League of Shadows, the organization that Bruce himself was trained in by Ra’s Al Guhl in “Batman Begins” and left to help save Gotham and not destroy it.  It seems that Bane is here to complete the plan that Ra’s had set in place many years ago but why? The answer to this question does come and with a cost.  This is as basic as I can make the plot structure without giving away important details as to the connections between characters and story elements.

Anne Hathaway is quite good as Selina Kyle, a character never referred to as Catwoman, a good script point.  She has trained physically for the role and it shows.  She transitions from a sly and undermining professional thief to a scared and anxious girl who wishes to wipe her slate clean with a computer program she was told existed.  When she is told no such program exists by her hired man, a man tied to Bane, she gives up hope of changing her life for the better and agrees to help this new enemy.  There is more to her than meets the eye according to Bruce but Selina disagrees.  Kyle is playing both sides to her own end but a villain she is not, something Hathaway’s performance remains informed of.

Gordon-Levitt’s character of “hot-headed” police officer John Blake shares a past with Bruce and urges Bruce to return to Gotham, knowing who he truly is.  Blake represents a persisting hope within many citizens of Gotham for the return of The Batman and never relinquishes his belief that good can prevail even in the midst of such a terrorizing enemy who lacks moral fortitude for almost everything and possesses an army that will die for their cause.  In the end Blake sees what his beliefs can do and finds solace in knowing that his city is not only safe but will continue to be protected.

The score for this film, composed again by Hans Zimmer, has all of the familiar themes from “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” but also has a new theme featuring the chant heard in the film’s trailer for many of Bane’s scenes.  This new theme is very smartly written as it not only quickly builds suspense but the music beneath the increasing chants reminds me oddly of a virus, composed of billions of nano-molecules, spreading throughout its host; much like Bane and his army spreading throughout Gotham, taking it over.  Hopefully that makes sense.  Mixed with Christopher Nolan’s directorial and cinematic choices, the film truly is epic.

There was a point halfway through the movie where I feel like the tone or action did plateau.  For me the movie never quite reached its crescendo or peak point but did come very close.  I would have liked to know more about Selina’s history as well as the exact circumstances behind the mask that Bane must wear to keep from feeling the searing and crippling pain he would without, however the movie would then have been well over three hours and I do understand that sacrifices had to be made somewhere.  As a conclusion to a trilogy “The Dark Knight Rises” does stand as the epic conclusion that Nolan promised.  The last five minutes of the film garnered cheers and applause from the midnight audience and when you see it you will understand perfectly why.

Unfortunately this day, something so many millions of people have been waiting years for, was marred by the horrific tragedy in Aurora, Colorado where a 24 year old dressed in a bullet-proof vest and a gas mask opened fire on a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” leaving 12 patrons dead and 59 wounded according to the Associated Press (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_COLORADO_SHOOTING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2012-07-20-14-47-26).  The victim’s ages started from just a few years old.  The gunmen apparently had no motive and did not resist arrest, claiming he was The Joker.  My thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to the friends, families and loved ones of those that were directly or indirectly involved in this.

It has been a long time since I’ve written a blog post and therefore I’m sure my thoughts are a bit scattered but I do want to end by saying that “The Dark Knight Rises” is a film definitely worth seeing.  It’s now intrinsic connection to the shooting will and has undoubtedly put many people off from seeing the film.  It is a quite unfortunate circumstance that a place where so many people venture to in the hopes of temporarily escaping was forced painfully and fatally back to reality by one armed man against a theatre full of innocent patrons and to seemingly no end; as if a motive would make the situation any more understandable.  This film and its predecessor are both mired in bad news unrelated to the films content itself so when viewing “The Dark Knight Rises” seeing it as part of cinematic history and not any harbinger of death or bad karma as some have suggested.  Rising up is a central theme to the film and now is the time for patrons to rise above the negativity that someone sought to cast over so many others.

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Spider-Man on Broadway

The upcoming Broadway Musical - Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

When considering this new musical, which isn’t really being billed as a musical as much as a technical extravaganza with music, there seem to be two sides of the same coin.  People think it will be one of the best and most revolutionary (technically speaking) shows to hit Broadway since Phantom of the Opera OR that it will be a complete flop in every sense of the word.  My opinion?  I not-so-secretly want it to reach opening night and be the biggest mess of a show because I think the idea is kind of absurd. Regardless of my desire to see it fail (its opening date being postponed by 10 months made my inner devil smile) I’m obviously still intrigued by it, and any show opening means hundreds of people being employed, which is good.  The intrigue is step 1 to this shows financial success, something this show MUST have if it is to survive especially as it has Broadway’s most expensive budget (upwards of $48 million) and a rumored weekly running cost of well over $1 million.

A Broadway show about Spider-Man sounds like there’s no way it could be good but when Julie Taymor (the woman responsible for “The Lion King” on Broadway) is directing and the music is being done by U2‘s Bono and Edge, it appears that this show would HAVE to be good (I actually like the rock-feel the 20 or so seconds of music on the website has).  So why does Broadway need this show?  In my opinion, whether Turn Off the Dark is a good show or not won’t matter in the beginning.  Yes this show needs to play to a sold-out house at the Hilton (one of, if not the biggest house on Broadway) for over a decade to even recoup its initial investment.  And yes, the chance that all the bad press leading up to its supposed November 2010 opening may be creating an unfair negative bias against the show in the critics’ eyes and minds.  The fact remains that Spider-Man on Broadway will be the “biggest” show to ever be on Broadway and that will draw people to the Box Office.

People who can afford to do so will snap up tickets quickly to this show because they want to confirm that the show is either amazing or awful.  Even if word spreads that it is bad people will still want to know how they managed to create such an iconic comic-book universe live onstage.  Not only will NYC residents who already see theatre purchase tickets but theatre-goer naysayers will go in the hopes that it is a mess of a show and they can say “see, I told you so.”  Comic-book “nerds” will wait in line for tickets simply to see their hero fly through the theatre battling the Green Goblin.  Tourists will pay to see it based on name recognition alone and, assuming the marketing/advertising team does their job well, families, specifically men and their sons, an often forgotten and underrepresented demographic for Broadway, will flock to it simply because they will finally have a show that they can enjoy apart from The Lion King.

Whether Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is a masterpiece or a piece of garbage remains to be seen.  My own feelings aside, its presence alone on the Great White Way will revolutionize not only how theatre-goers see theatre but also who incorporates Broadway into their entertainment psyche.  Furthermore it will change how producers and directors attack a show.  This show is clearly a risk (hopefully not a costly one) but if it does pay off I believe we will definitely see a new type of Broadway musical; a bigger type of Broadway musical especially once the economy reaches pre-crash levels and people become comfortable in spending money again.  If Spidey is successful, hopefully it will give creative teams the courage to helm shows (both adaptations and original works) that are truly dazzling and over the top while keeping the integrity of story-telling and originality.  In a few months we shall see if this absurd idea (IMO) coupled with this incredible creative team can become the greatest show to come along in many a moon… Or perhaps the Hilton will sit empty until the next revival of Ragtime

Bionic

“This is a rollercoaster that’s about to be long gone”

Fervent Cheer/Enthusiastic Applause

Now, I know this is a bit of a departure from the main focus of this blog, but perhaps if I kept up with it a bit more consistently, I could argue that this isn’t worth posting. But on the other hand, music is entertainment too… ANYWHO!  After obtaining a copy of Bionic (I didn’t say illegally downloaded, you did!) I put it on play and let it just run through.  Upon the final note of the 5th bonus track or whatever, I was left feeling kind of confused.  Don’t get me wrong; I love me a hot dance track and she’s got some pretty nice club songs that can be easily remixed but the content…. As a mother and wife, I just assumed the content wouldn’t be so sexual and profane. I don’t mind but I guess I assumed that she’d write music from a different perspective now.  Frankly, Bionic sounds like the high-priced call girl to the trashy street-walker that Stripped (specifically “Dirrty”… And her image) looked like.  I loved Stripped so perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but it just felt Dirrty (see what I did there?!)

Musically, a lot of Bionic sounds like a clusterfu*k of other artists, Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Adam Lambert.  Believe it or not though, not as Lady Gaga as one might think.  Maybe because the CD cover and her new “C” over the eye she’s doing now is Gaga enough.  The Song “Bionic” is a pretty cool intro to the CD but only prepares you for the funky half of it.  It’s an interesting mix of genres and I kinda got lost in its rhythms.  “Not Myself Tonight” however I’m not the biggest fan of.  I didn’t find it to be that first single song and not because it’s so reminiscent of Heidi Montag’s “Body Language” (I know!!! ugh) Go listen to them and see if you can hear the similarities.  Whether intentional or not, they’re there.  Track 3 – “Woohoo” featuring mainstream newcomer Nicki Minaj is one of those club songs and though it’s all about how Xtina wants you to touch her (whuuuut?) its beat is fun.  Same goes for “Desnudate” (a song about being nude) which is sung mostly in English with some parts in Spanish.  We get it!  You have Spanish heritage.  Why isn’t this more present?  “Desnudate” sounds like Pitbull should’ve been featured in it but alas he is not.  But this is a total dance track.  The first 1/3 of the album is about the same.  Funky tracks that are either about her being a “Primma Donna” and an in-control strong, independent and perhaps even bisexual woman or about how she wants you to touch her and rip her clothes off (gurl isn’t you married?).

“Glam” is about what she’ll do to you if you touch her man (you know she was influenced by black folk) and sounds, song title aside, like a song straight from Adam Lambert’s “For Your Entertainment” album. After “Glam” she gets into her ballads like “Sex For Breakfast” (yeaa, about that), the great vocal showcase “Lift Me Up,” “I Am” and “You Lost Me.”  Her ballads need know explanation even though I liked the “Back to Basics” ballads more.  Just when you start to feel like you’re getting a taste of the Christina we all knew and loved “I Hate Boys” comes on.  This song you don’t skip on the CD but you hope it never becomes a single. Why? I just don’t think “boys suck/make me sick/inflated egos/little d*icks” would sound so great on the radio.  But that’s just me!  Same goes for “Vanity” which is about how she is one “bad ass b*tch!” It starts out “I’m not cocky/I just love myself/B*tch!”  I have to say though, any song now whose first line ends with “b*tch” automatically makes me think of Britney Spears.  At least it ends with a long held out note but holy vocal damage Batman!  I can sort of see why this album exists sans a lot of Xtina’s upper register even though I do love it because when she goes there, it sounds a little raspy.  As a bonus though, she asks “who owns the throne?” and her son replies “you do mommy.”  So cute.  If only she hadn’t spent the past four minutes calling herself a badass b*tch and telling haters to kiss her ass.

“Bobblehead” is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine.  Its funny in a bad way and sounds like a song Katy Perry would do, or perhaps has done.  It’s quite a comical song that makes fun of essentially airheaded girls using Valley Girl vernacular to punctuate it (but wait, like… Whuuuut?)  Next is “Birds of Prey” which sounds a lot like Britney’s “Breathe On Me” from her “In the Zone” album but is a nice and mellow song.  “I Am Stronger” is an emotional ballad that Christina does well but even this sounds reminiscent of Pink’s “Family Portrait.”  “Little Dreamer” is the final song and is a message to her child a la Madonna’s “Ray of Light” album’s final song “Little Star.”

All in all I expected this collection of songs to be quite different. “Bionic” isn’t bad its just not where I feel her career is right now but then again I’m not a multi-platinum recording artist.  If “Bionic” came out instead of “Stripped” several years ago I would’ve completely understood it.  “Genie in a Bottle” is long gone in both sound and image.  But then again Christina Aguilera is unconventional and likes to push the envelope so perhaps this album is totally indicative of her career at present.  I suppose that’s for the fans to decide.

So I wasn’t going to post until I finished my Addams Family post and my blog is generally supposed to be only about entertainment (generally/only.. He writes but doesn’t know grammar, does he?) but given the location of the tonight’s Times Square Scare this warrants a post. I find it rather comical yet scary that I found more information about what was going on in Times Square from Twitter posts, Facebook comments and text messages from friends. Furthermore, some of the information I discovered from say CBS.com was incorrect.  They reported that because of the events “Broadway shows like Lion King have cancelled performances.” Now, compared to the actual event this isn’t really THAT big of a deal. I assumed this was correct since it came from, ya know CBS!!!!  But the truth is that the show started an hour late.  I was working at Come Fly Away (in the Marquis Theatre, dead center in the middle of the chaos) and we started at 8:33pm.  Yes we were late and almost half of the audience didn’t show up but we still had a show as did everyone else I’ve heard.  Shows outside of the blocked off area (i.e. Mary Poppins, Million Dollar Quartet, Everyday Rapture & Hair) started on time though.  Had I been watching the news and had a ticket to Lion King I wouldn’t go to the theatre if I was told the performance was cancelled but if I knew it was going to begin late then I would’ve still attempted to go.  The Box Offices are going to be crazy tomorrow morning!

The first bit of information came from word-of-mouth, which is to be expected.  However, there was no news on any of the mobile-friendly sites I visited (NY1.com, CBS.com, etc) until after 9pm.  Why did it take so long for the news to catch wind/post on this event? I ask as a serious question, not to be snarky…  I’m thankful that no one got injured but information is key.  Several friends said they heard explosions and saw smoke and one friend told me they saw propane tanks.  Now, I know the news clearly isn’t supposed to start a panic by reporting this and by the time you read this I’m sure Times Square will be up and running again, but if it APPEARS that a bomb-related explosion went off alongside the building I work in, I’d like to know why, what, when, where, how and I want to know it quickly!  I was not allowed out of the hotel for over an hour and I know this is going to anger me for saying this later but I spent $7.34 on a Snickers bar and a Naked Juice because that was all the Marriott had open! $3.50 for a bag of chips!! Are they cereal??!!??!!

Ahem! A man from Japan told me a few months ago that NYPD are extremely well trained. I was born here so I wouldn’t know the difference between them and any other Officers but tonight really showed how effective and efficient they are.  Blockades were up and police presence was OBVIOUS! You were NOT going where they didn’t want you to go and that made me feel safe.  At 9:20pm I saw a group of about 7 people be asked to show their tickets just to be allowed to pass through the barricades to go see Addams Family.  Its annoying in the moment to be told you can’t get food because of a situation unknown to you but it is meant to keep us safe and I appreciate it.

Soo, from what I’ve gathered from Facebook, Twitter and text messages (not from any official news site so cross-check the info) is that a small car bomb did go off and an explosion was heard and smoke was seen.  Shortly thereafter a second explosion was heard.  At this point defensive actions were put in place by the NYPD and Times Square was effectively rendered a temporary ghost town.  Apparently the bomb itself did not go off so perhaps it failed?  I’m not sure.

I say all of this to say that some people refute the usefulness of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.  Tonight, they gave me more accurate information than CBS did, who, btw, is still reporting that Lion King cancelled their show.  I do not think that the major news stations are any less valuable but I do think that sites such as Twitter can be a very valuable to them.

Who would have thought today, May 1st, probably the most gorgeous day in NYC so far this year would be marred by such a senseless act; if indeed it was a bomb, which it appears it was.  Now that I am home (the subways were running fine with extra police presence) I’m going to sit down with a bowl of pork fried rice and watch South Park’s “Medicinal Fried Chicken.” I encourage you to do the same!

The cast of American Idiot

“I want to be an American Idiot…” 

Standing Ovation

Let me begin this review by saying, yes this show is similar to Spring Awakening in a few ways.  Let me also say that I saw Spring Awakening after it won all the Tony’s (choreography, really?) and after all the hype; I was not won over. I liked Spring Awakening enough to not feel like I’d wasted money on my student rush ticket and not having seen Rent (I know, I know) I just didn’t get they hype. While I didn’t mind the whole “they’re using hand mics” thing, I felt the choreography (I love ya Dr. Jones but…) was awkward and kind of spastic. And this was during the season of Legally Blonde (jump rope choreo!!) and Mary Poppins (Step In Time… ENOUGH SAID!!).  What show am I reviewing again?  Ah yes, American Idiot, which, as I’m sure you know, opened last night at the St. James Theatre.  Being a fan of Green Day I was excited when I heard this show was happening (even more so because Rebecca Naomi Jones is a family friend).  My first trepidation came when the theatre was announced.  The St. James is a 1709 seat house that I still fear a show with such a specific audience will not be able to continuously sell out for very long, but here’s hoping they do and for years to come. 

So, this one-act new pop-punk musical (as Charles Isherwood penned it) is directed by Michael Mayer and is the stage version of Green Day’s multi-platinum 2004 album of the same title about angsty youth looking for a way out of their less than entertaining suburban surroundings.  As the curtain slowly rises an “overture” of George W. Bush quotes is heard about being with us or with the terrorists.  The youthfully exuberant cast stands silently onstage in front of a wall of newspaper clippings and TV screens which throughout the show display images pertaining to each song.  From one cast member hanging upside down from chains next to the car on the wall to the trio of best friends (John Gallagher, Jr. as Johnny, Michael Esper as Will and Stark Sands as Tunny) singing about living in suburbia and wanting to get out, the opening number (“American Idiot”) quickly informs the audience of what kind of show they are about to watch.  The rest of the story basically follows the three friends as Johnny heads to the big city, falls for a girl and drugs, loses the girl, cleans up, realizes he still isn’t happy and heads back home; Will must face fatherhood but finds his priorities aren’t where they should be and loses his girlfriend (played by Mary Faber, last seen in Avenue Q) and his child; and Tunny who decides to enlist in the army, is shipped off to Iraq, is injured and returns back home, not lauded as a hero but is reunited with Johnny. 

The original LP “American Idiot” told a story from beginning to end so the show’s book, written by Michael Mayer and Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong is not the show’s strongest point and is used rather sparingly but is effective in furthering the storyline already embedded in the songs.  The show is mostly sung through and those not familiar with the band or even the music might find the story a bit tough to follow but will probably still be able to understand the general plot.  Fans of the band will hear favorites “American Idiot”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “21 Guns”, and “Time of Your Life”.  The music itself has been arranged for the stage by Tony award winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and in many cases has only enhanced what Billie Joe and his band mates have already created.  Those of the faint of heart should be weary of sitting too close to the stage for there are points in the show when the bass becomes a little much but it all adds to the ambiance of the show. 

The choreography, by Steven Hoggett, did remind me of the choreography in Spring Awakening but here, in most cases, it blends smoothly into the characters and in several instances is poignant and telling of the emotional distress of those performing it.  The stage direction and scenic design (Christine Jones) utilizes the stage, on which the eight piece orchestra sits, in a very well thought out way, a staircase upstage left that one musician and several actors use throughout the show.  Even some of the TV screens can be removed to reveal a room or banner behind it.  A scaffold set piece transforms into a bus and is driven off stage in an almost awe-inspiring way.  Lighting, done effectively here by Kevin Adams, is not so traditional in that it is telling of the emotion on stage in a different way than normal and the projected images that appear towards the end of the show are graphic and in conjunction with the choreography bring everything to a moving breaking point. 

Now onto the performances.  John Gallagher, Jr. I’m sure feels comfortable in this show not only because he was in Spring Awakening but also because he himself is a singer/songwriter.  He not only embodies Johnny in everything he does but his choices, from his speech to his facial expressions, his body movement to the way he tugs his hair, the lyrics he sings seem to be spontaneously resounding around the house and not something he does eight times a week.  The performances for the most part are very organic, something this production depends upon, and Gallagher, Jr. does not fail to deliver.  Stark Sands (Journey’s End) as Tunny and Michael Esper (A Man for All Seasons) as Will have smaller parts but are equally as adept at delivering the necessary emotion.  Sands’ number with the Extraordinary Girl (a song called “Extraordinary Girl), who is played by incredible newcomer Christina Sajous, was my favorite number in the show, and is a hallucination Tunny has while in a hospital, the entire number being performed as a beautiful aerial ballet.  While some feel that this number comes a bit from left field and I must admit that when Sajous first begins to descend from above, I thought “oh, come on” but once the song begins you understand why it is there.  Rebecca Naomi Jones (Passing Strange) plays Whatsername, Johnny’s love interest.  Her character arc is probably the most clear of any of them and Jones pulls it off effortlessly, in both her choices and her crystal clear voice.  Tony Vincent (Rent) as St. Jimmy, Johnny’s angry manifestation, is perfect as a drug pushing manipulative Marilyn Manson esque presence.  Even the ensemble, which is made up of a varied group of performers, each bring an energy that is infectious and moving, making some wonder how they can do it eight shows a week. 

American Idiot will undoubtedly be loved by some and quickly dismissed by others.  Due to its built-in audience of the younger generations, older people may be turned off by the angst on stage and the subject matter but this show definitely delivers 95 minutes of intense and thought-provoking theatre; or at least I believe so.  Yes, the book is sparse and the characters are more archetypal rather than specific people, but they are supposed to be more representative of a larger group.  Even if you cannot personally identify yourself with any of the characters, in these times, post Bush administration (which you obviously lived through), it is hard to not know anyone who was in some way affiliated with the military, was affected by the war, or was/has a tormented youth living under their roof.  The music draws you in and if you let it, it will make you think about your surroundings, familiar and foreign, long after the house lights have come on and you’re walking down 44th street humming “Nobody likes you, everyone left you, they’re all out without you, having fun!”

Alice in Wonderland Banner

Alice in Wonderland

 “You’re all late for tea!”

Fervent Cheer

I may be a week late but I finally decided to see “Alice in Wonderland.”  Being a fan of Johnny Depp and normally being all for the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton/Danny Elfman collaborations I wanted to see this movie but “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” actually disturbed me.  I thought visually it was stunning but the underlying emotionality of several of the scenes, the ones with Oompa Loompa songs in particular, made my cerebellum cry.  I remember sitting in the theater with my best friend hearing children all around us laughing hysterically and thinking to myself that I would never bring my kid to watch this now knowing what it was; but how could one know, no?

ANYWHO…  I had reserved myself to KNOWING “Alice” would be even more bizarre than “Charlie” in every way imaginable simply because it took place in an imaginary world, unlike “Charlie”.  I can honestly say that I was wrong.  Perhaps it was the partnering with Disney or a more severe editing eye on Burton’s part but it wasn’t bizarre.  I have not read the books or seen the original movie so I was not hoping it would be like anything I’d seen before.  It was not bizarre but was just macabre enough to be satisfying, an element that “Charlie” greatly needed.  While this movie had classic Burton visual elements that we’ve seen in “Charlie” and in the “Sweeney Todd” “By the Sea” number, what did puzzle me was that I felt there was a missing element; one that I am still searching for but I want to attribute to the screenplay. 

The film began with its rising action but once Alice, played with great character awareness by Mia Wasikowska, reached Wonderland, to me, it plateaued for a good 45 minutes, or until Alice reached the White Queen played by Anne Hathaway (in this, seemingly a mix of Snow White and Ariel with a schizophrenic edge).  Not that nothing of interest happens in those 45 minutes but the new elements were not introduced in a way that I found intriguing.  Many of these scenes, beginning with Alice’s shrink/growth scene seemed to have a Quentin Tarantino quality to them and last a few moments longer than they should have.  Fine for Pulp Fiction, not so much here. 

Depp’s Mad Hatter, an interesting coupling of Jack Sparrow British with fits of angry Scottish, is first seen at the famous Tea Party that has a bit more build-up than delivery and I found my focus to be more on the March Hare than the Hatter.  As we follow Tarrant Hightopp as the Hatter is named, we see more levels of his character.  Depp’s Hatter is indeed multi-layered, his persona changing with different emotions, the change being manifested in his eyes and skin, a great creative element.  Perhaps it was the ultra-visual makeup but Depp’s Hatter was not as mad as one might expect after his Willy Wonka, however it does not fail to deliver the performance the film required.  Perhaps less was indeed more in his portrayal for such a character could quite easily become a joke. 

The Red Queen, played with a child-like sense of “mine!” by Helena Bonham Carter, was an intriguing character within the larger character of her castle.  A castle which slightly resembled the Disney logo castle covered in heart shaped accents.  The details within the castle were all intriguing from the winged creatures carrying chandeliers to monkeys holding seat cushions.  Her henchmen, red mechanical playing cards with spears, were also a nice touch as was the Knave of Hearts, played effectively sinister by Crispin Glover

The Jabberwocky scene was also a bit of a disappointment.  I expected and wanted it to be larger in size and the battle that ensues I wanted more from, not just in length but in imagination as well.  Neither the Red nor White Queen fight in the battle, something I really wanted to see.  Another pleasing moment in this scene and throughout the film really was the airy appearance (apparition to borrow a Potter term) of Chessur, or the Cheshire Cat, played with a sleek seductive brilliance by Stephen Fry

Overall the film entertained in spurts but not completely from beginning to end.  Furthermore, Danny Elfman’s score wasn’t as “wild,” for lack of a better word, as some of his previous film scores.  And though I was beginning to feel his film scores tend to stay on one track, the lack of familiarity was something I missed.  Don’t fix what ain’t broke I suppose.  The opening title sequence did maintain that classic Burton/Elfman feel (a bit reminiscent of the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban title sequence) but after that the score seemed a bit more mainstreamed than normal.  I would see this film again so I could better appreciate the smaller details that this film is chock full of, costumes and scenic design especially.  I would however preface suggestions to see it with a message not to expect the classic story.  I would also definitely buy the two-disc DVD to see what went into the creative design in pre and post-production because though I wanted more, I’m sure a lot of thought went into creating such a visual retelling of a classic story.