The Purge


This isn't Avon calling.

This isn’t Avon calling.

(2013) Sci-Fi Thriller (Universal) Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis, Tom Yi, Chris Mulkey, Tisha French, Dana Bunch, Peter Gvozdas, John Weselcouch, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Karen Strassman, David Basila, Boima Blake, Nathan Clarkson, Chester Lockhart. Directed by James DeMonaco 

We all need to blow off steam. Think of human beings as walking pressure cookers. The stress inside us just builds and builds and builds until we need to let it out one way or another. The more complicated and stressful our world, the more extreme the release is needed.

In 2022, America has been taken over by the New Founding Fathers which seems to be a crypto-fascist regime with evangelical Christian overtones – in short, a kind of paranoid Hollywood liberal version of the Tea Party. They’ve managed to reverse some of our modern society’s most pressing problems; unemployment is down to 1% and crime is down to near-zero.

That’s because of the Purge. One night a year, for 12 hours, anything goes – including murder. You can go out and burn down a bodega because you don’t like the owner or better still, burn it down with him in it. Got an issue with your boss? Go down to his house and gun him down. It’s all legal. Think of a night of wilding with a Get Out of Jail Free card attached.

Of course, the wealthy can afford state of the art home security systems, turning their homes into steel-reinforced fortresses. James Sandin (Hawke) has made a fortune selling these home security systems – most of his neighbors have one. In fact, James himself has one. As Purge night approaches, James drives through the neighborhood with the air of an ancient lord who’s provided shelter for his kin and his vassals.

His wife Mary (Headey, the villainous and incestuous Cersei from Game of Thrones) prepares the house for the night’s activities. As a show of support for the Purge, she places a vase of blue flowers out in front of the house. Tightly wound neighbor Grace Ferrin (Bareikis) delivers cookies; her annual Purge party is on hold tonight.

The sun goes down and the hour draws near. James gathers his family – sensitive son Charlie (Burkholder) – you can tell he’s sensitive because he has long hair and an unspecified medical condition that requires his vital signs be constantly monitored – and rebellious teen daughter Zoey (Kane) who is sulking because her parents have forbidden her to see Henry (Oller), an 18-year-old who she is head over heels for but is too old for their 15-year-old princess. Not to worry however – he’s snuck into her bedroom and is there for the duration, promising to plead his case man to man with Dad. Sirens wail. The Purge is on and the police, fire department and rescue services are all closed for business until the morning. The father settles in for an evening of watching security cameras and maybe a movie, complete with microwave popcorn. It’s evening in America.

Of course, things go terribly wrong as they surely must in a movie like this. Sensitive son Charlie sees a bloody stranger (Hodge) outside pleading for help. He inputs the code sequence to disarm the security system, giving the stranger time to come into the house. James, having a mini-arsenal as part of his home security system, draws a gun on the new arrival in a tense standoff in the foyer. Then Henry shows up and opens fire on dear old dad. James, being the hero, returns fire and Zoey is abruptly back on the boyfriend market again.

To make matters worse, the group of mask-wearing freaks that were chasing the stranger arrive and demand that the Sandins give up their rightful prey. The leader (Wakefield) of the group, mostly dressed in prep school uniforms, is creepy-polite and warns of dire consequences if the homeless pig isn’t given up. In the confusion, said homeless pig makes himself understandably scarce. With the power cut off and James admitting ruefully that the system is more for looks than an actual deterrent in case of a frontal assault (God bless capitalism), the Sandins are in for a very long night (in a very short movie).

I think DeMonaco, who also wrote The Purge, was going for a bit of political symbolism here disguised as a home invasion thriller that is supposed to be a commentary on our society’s fascination with violence as well as a dig at conservative values (nearly all those who Purge are what you would consider wealthy white conservatives; nearly all the victims are minorities except for the Sandins themselves) and liberal paranoia. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite pull it off.

Hawke and Headey are capable actors but like most of the characters in the movie, the parts they play are largely caricatures broadly drawn with little or no depth and none of the people we see onscreen act like real people you’d meet offscreen. The lead family may be the most unintentionally dumb heroes in the history of cinema.

And therein lies the main fault with the movie, the lapses in logic that are so blatant and major that you can’t believe that someone at some point before approving this script didn’t ask a few questions. For one thing, if you were a wealthy family, wouldn’t you arrange for a weekend trip to, say, Canada? Or Mexico? Or anywhere but here? That’s a plot hole that could have been fixed quite simply – during the scene when the rules for the Purge are delineated, add another one – all citizens must be home for the Purge unless on government or military business. However, the filmmakers don’t do that so Da Queen, logical moviegoer that she is, spent the whole of the film obsessing over it.

And why would anyone give their kids the codes to disarm the home security system on a night where murder and mayhem are roaming the streets? What parent would trust the judgment of a hormonal teenager or a sensitive young kid when the stakes are life and death?

I could go on and on but you get my point and this isn’t a movie that deserves that much attention. I’m a card-carrying liberal and even I felt a little uncomfortable with the characterization of Tea Party conservatives as homicidal Stepford Wives (and Husband and Kids) who place personal security and economic stability over the lives of people, or of Young Republican preppies as viewing the homeless as sub-human scum who exist to give them a buzz and for no other reason. I have my issues with Tea Party policies but I do draw the line there.

The entertainment value here is reasonable, mainly because Hawke and Headey are so likable, but as social experiment this is just short of an epic failure, although I have to admit that the cathartic moments when the bad guys get theirs was somewhat disturbing within the context of the movie and maybe the lone success the movie has was prying that uncomfortable feeling that violence was being used to wring out that reaction out of me. Maybe we aren’t that far from our caveman ancestors as we like to think we are.

REASONS TO GO: Decent enough concept..

REASONS TO STAY: Horrible execution. Too many plot holes, some of them major.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of swearing and plenty of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: As of this past weekend the movie had made back more than 20 times its original budget and a sequel has already been greenlit.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/23/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100; not a whole lot of love from the critic.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Strangers

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: A Lonely Place to Die

Informant (2012)


Is Brandon Darby considering his actions or playing the martyr?

Is Brandon Darby considering his actions or playing the martyr?

(2013) Documentary (Music Box) Brandon Darby, Scott Crow, Michael T. Stewart, Andrew Breitbart. Directed by Jamie Meltzer 

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Our belief system is usually powered by a number of different factors ranging from out upbringing, to our personal life experiences to our education. It really boils down to the things that are important to us. If it is a desire to do good for others, that’s one thing. It might be a desire to provide for yourself and/or your family. However, sometimes it’s all about one person.

Brandon Darby is not a very well-liked man these days among the radical left and that’s something of an understatement. It wasn’t always that way. He had always been mistrustful of government, leaning towards anarchism as a philosophy of politics. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his feelings were intensified as he felt that government on a local and state level but particularly on a national level weren’t doing the job in bringing relief to people suffering from a natural disaster.

To that end he co-founded Common Ground Relief with his close friend Scott Crow in order to speed relief to people who needed it most. As a community organizer, he became a champion in the radical left, one who was seen to have the ability to get the job done.

But through it all, despite the public face that continued to espouse the politics he always had, Brandon Darby was disillusioned. And after meetings in Venezuela in which he became further disillusioned with the politics he’d always held and after allegedly being approached to help fund a Palestinian terrorist organization, he flip-flopped.

He continued to lead Common Ground but he became an informant for the FBI. While participating in protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, he became aware of a pair of eager young protestors who had plans to do far more than carry signs. They were assembling Molotov cocktails to lob at police cars, presumably with policemen in them. This, Darby felt, couldn’t stand and he turned the two young men in for which the radical right has labeled him a hero and a patriot.

Both David McKay and Bradley Crowder were convicted and jailed for their roles, but they and other leftists who were familiar with the situation tell a different tale. In their version, Darby encouraged and manipulated the men into building the devices. His motivation was to look good for the FBI and allow him to exit to the far right where he belonged.

Darby comes off as a self-centered lout who is all about Brandon Darby and nobody else. Whether this is Meltzer’s portrayal or simply Darby being Darby is up to interpretation. Meltzer livens things up with re-enactments of certain events in which Darby portrays himself. I found that the re-enactments were confusing at first but once you figured out that they were re-enactments and not archival footage (which there is also plenty of) it wasn’t hard to follow. However, I thought they weren’t necessary, or at least overused.

Still, this is a fascinating story, a leader of the far left doing a complete about face. These days Brandon Darby is one of the shining stars of the Tea Party, speaking at Tea Party functions about his heroic actions (feel free to put heroic in quotes) and writing a column for Andrew Breitbart’s website. He claims to have gotten death threats from more radical elements on the left; certainly he is despised by those who were once his friends, who show the vitriol that only the betrayed can produce.

Whether or not Darby was complicit or not in the case of McKay and Crowder is always going to be a point of contention – certainly Meltzer has his opinion and while he doesn’t explicitly say it, I think you can infer his thoughts. For my purposes, I don’t think anyone can make such a profound change in their political thinking so rapidly unless their thoughts always leaned in the new direction in the first place.

REASONS TO GO: A compelling story with compelling characters.

REASONS TO STAY: The re-enactments blur the line a bit and were occasionally confusing and unnecessary.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some colorful language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Winner of the Grand Jury prize at the New York Documentary Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/8/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; has been playing the festival circuit but was recently picked up by Music Box for a summer release.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Contender

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Iron Man 3

In Time


In Time

The future is a hell of a party.

(2011) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer Johnny Galecki, Olivia Wilde, Nick Lashaway, Collins Pennie, Rachel Roberts, Matt Bomer, Yaya DaCosta. Directed by Andrew Niccol

Time is money they say and in some ways it’s literally true. When we are employed, we are not only being paid for our skills but for our time. A good percentage of us receive our wages paid by the hour and our work lives are measured in how many hours we work so when you buy a gallon of milk at the grocery store, the money you pay for it is symbolic of the time you worked. That gallon of milk represents twenty minutes of work you put in to make the money you paid for it.

In the future, there is no pretense about it anymore. Cash is a thing of the past and the only thing that matters is time. An hourly wage is literally that. We’ve been genetically engineered to stop aging at age 25; after that, we’re given a year of additional life and in order to extend it beyond our 26th birthday we need to work to add hours and days to our lifespan. We can even see how much time we have left by a digital countdown clock in neon green that is imprinted on our forearms. When it reaches zero, our time on this earth is done.

Like most people in the ghetto that is called Dayton (not Ohio – it looks a lot like Los Angeles), Will Salas (Timberlake) lives day to day, waking up each morning with less than 24 hours to live. He lives with his mother (Wilde) who’s in the same boat but for whatever reason she seems unable to hold onto time – time management is a necessity in this future. She is working a double shift and won’t be back for more than a day; Will goes out to a bar with his best friend and drinking buddy Borel (Galecki) and encounters Henry Hamilton, a millionaire with more than a century on his arm who seems out to kill himself.

It turns out he’s lived more than a century and has become disillusioned and bored; he wants to die. He has attracted the unfortunate attention of Fortis (Pettyfer), a gangster who leads a gang called the Minutemen who essentially rob people of their time. Fortis wants Hamilton’s but Will intervenes and hides Hamilton in a warehouse. Hamilton tells Will that there is plenty of time for everyone, but the rich are hoarding it so that they can live forever. The two men wax philosophic before falling asleep.

When Will wakes up, Hamilton is gone and Will has more than a century on his arm. He looks out the window to see Hamilton sitting on the edge of a bridge. Will tries to run out and save him but Hamilton’s clock zeroes out and he falls to his death. Security cameras catch Will on the scene and the police force, known as the Timekeepers, are alerted. Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Murphy) is assigned the case and the general perception is that Will stole Hamilton’s time and murdered him.

In the meantime, Will’s mom is getting ready to return home on the bus only to find out that they raised the fare and she doesn’t have enough to return home. She has about an hour left of life to her and a two hour walk so she runs. She tries to get people to help her, give her an extra 15 minutes of life (people are able to transfer time from one another by holding their wrists together) but nobody will help. Will, realizing that she’s not on the bus, takes off at a dead run; she sees him as her time is counting down and they run towards each other but it’s all for naught; she dies in his arms.

Determined to face down the injustice that is ruling the lives of the poor, the now-wealthy Will travels to the wealthy part of town (this costs quite a bit of money to cross from one “time zone” to another) which is called New Greenwich. This is where the wealthy live in spectacular luxury. There are also casinos where you can literally bet your life. Will plays poker with one of the richest men on Earth, Philippe Weis (Kartheiser) and wins a millennium. This catches the eye of Philippe’s daughter Sylvia (Seyfried) who invites Will to a party that evening.

At the party, Raymond catches up with Will and arrests him, taking all but 24 hours from his wrist. However, Will escapes by using Sylvia as a hostage. He manages to make it back into Dayton where he and Sylvia are both robbed of most of their time by Fortis; it would have been all but the Minutemen are scared off by the approaching Timekeepers. Will and Sylvia escape into the anonymity of the slums.

There Will demands a thousand year ransom from Philippe for the return of his daughter. However, Philippe refuses to pay it. Sylvia, incensed, tells Will where to find lots of time. They begin robbing banks, where people can get loans of time. The two take the time but distribute it to the poor. They go on a crime spree which threatens the balance of things; the rich retaliate by raising prices exorbitantly. Will’s Robin Hood crusade looks to be derailed but there might be one way yet to thwart the rich.

That this is an allegory of modern economics seems to be a slam dunk; substitute “dollars” for “time” and you have what is essentially a commentary on the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. There really isn’t anything subtle here although I wonder if there is a connection between the Minutemen – taking from the poor, and the Tea Party who have been accused of doing the same thing. There is a bit of a Revolutionary War theme going here don’t you think?

Timberlake has shown a good deal of potential in going from boy band idol to serious actor. He gets one step closer with this role. It is mainly upon him to carry the movie and he proves to have strong shoulders .Will has got essentially a good heart that he keeps hidden because he’s smart enough to know that it can get you killed in an environment such as this one. Timberlake plays him very minimally, allowing audiences to read between the lines of his performance. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but for my money this is his best performance to date. He’s not quite ready for the kind of stardom of, say, a Brad Pitt or a Matt Damon but he’s getting there.

Seyfried spends the film in a Louise Brooks-like wig that contributes to the overall retro look of the film. In a sense it makes her timeless. Seyfried has at times been impressive in her short career but I would have liked to see a little more fire from her here; something tells me that she was directed to be more subtle with her emotions.

Speaking of the look of the film, it’s an odd mix between high tech (the arm digital display) and retro (the vehicles are mostly chassis from the 60s and 70s souped up a little). Although the movie is set in the near future, there are characters in it who are a century old. One wonders if there was some reverse genetic engineering done for people who were alive when the breakthrough was made. Certainly the wealthy would have been the ones to receive such treatment.

There are some good action sequences here and a nice car chase, but this is more a movie about ideas than action. As such, it isn’t going to get a lot of love from the fanboys who like their sci-fi with phasers set to kill. I get the sense that the design of the future world wasn’t terribly well thought out and budget limitations probably kept them from making the world look too futuristic but this is a well written movie that makes it’s point rather firmly. I suspect Herman Cain might not like this movie much which might be all the reason you need to go and see it.

REASONS TO GO: An intriguing premise with lots of modern day allegories about class distinctions. Timberlake’s best performance to date.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks imagination when designing the future.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence, some sexuality (with a little bit of partial nudity thrown in for good measure) and a teensy bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Olivia Wilde plays Justin Timberlake’s mother in the film, she’s actually younger than he is in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the chase scenes are going to look a lot better on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Dinner for Schmucks

Midnight in Paris


Midnight in Paris

Ahh, the romance and magic of Paris!

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Kurt Fuller, Lea Seydoux, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, Corey Stoll, Nina Arianda, Carla Bruni, Tom Cordier, Adrien de Van, Gad Elmaleh, Daniel Lundh, Marcial Di Fonzo Bo. Directed by Woody Allen

Paris is a place that embodies romance. When we think of the city, that is one of the first adjectives that springs to mind. Paris – City of Light, city of love. There is an ineffable magic to Paris; it is the city once prowled by Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Victor Hugo, Gaugin, Matisse, Luis Brunel, Gertrude Stein, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington. It is the home of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs d’Elysee. It is a city made to enchant and ensnare the visitor.

Gil (Wilson) feels their presences quite keenly. He is a Hollywood hack writer, known for successful but ultimately empty screenplays that have made him rich but haven’t fed his soul. He is in Paris vacationing with his fiancée Inez (McAdams) and her Tea Party parents John (Fuller) and Helen (Kennedy). There they run into Paul (Sheen), a former beau of Inez, a know-it-all who like many of that sort generally know nothing. He precedes nearly every thought with “If I’m not mistaken…” which, as we all know invariably means they are.

The others are tourists in a place that they have no emotional connection to; Gil loves Paris, particularly the Paris of a bygone age. He pictures it after dark, a soft rain falling. He goes for midnight strolls around the streets of the city. After one, he is resting on some marble steps near the Pantheon, not quite sure where his hotel is when an antique car pulls up alongside him and a young couple gesture for him to join them. That’s where the magic and romance truly begins.

I’m being deliberately vague about the rest because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the movie. This isn’t your typical Woody Allen movie – there are no neurotic New Yorkers to be found here. Instead, this is more akin to movies like Purple Rose of Cairo and Play It Again, Sam – movies that have an element of fantasy and romance to them.

Woody Allen, despite all his jokes to the contrary, is deeply romantic at heart. He believes in magic and destiny, points that are made in nearly every one of his movies. He also requires a certain amount of literary awareness of his audiences and the references here are many and varied; from the manliness of Hemingway, to the rough-around-the-edges kindness of Gertrude Stein to the self-promoting whimsy of Dali.

He has some comments for the cultural insensitivity of Americans, and the tendency for us to wish we lived in a Golden Age when Things Were Better. He makes the point that those who lived in that time were in all likelihood thinking that things might have been perfect at some previous era to that. Maybe cavemen thought wistfully that things were so much simpler back when they were Cro-Magnon.

 Wilson makes a nice surrogate Woody, having naturally some of the inflections and cadences of Allen at the peak of his game in the 70s. He has always been an amiable sort onscreen and that easygoing charm serves him well here. Cotillard, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today, plays a love interest in the movie that catches Gil’s eye. Also of note is the French first lady who plays a tour guide at the Rodin sculpture garden (where she runs afoul of know-it-all Paul) and Brody who plays a famous Spanish artist with over-the-top panache.

I’m not a big Woody Allen fan, particularly lately when his movies have been extremely uneven in quality. This is by far his best movie in decades, clearly one of the best movies he’s ever made. I don’t know if it is the change in location that has inspired him but if so, let’s see him do some movies in Tokyo, New Orleans, Montreal and Barcelona. He’s definitely an acquired taste that I haven’t acquired – until now. I will admit that my view is colored by the fact that in less than two weeks my wife and I will be taking a vacation in Paris so seeing the places we’ll soon be haunting ourselves gave us a special thrill. Nonetheless, this is wonderful filmmaking, bringing back the magic and romance that movies used to bring us in massive doses – and seems to be so rare and precious today.

REASONS TO GO: As charming a movie as you’ll ever see. Perfectly captures the romance and magic of Paris. Allen’s best in decades, maybe ever.

REASONS TO STAY: You’re a big Woody Allen fan and you think Play It Again, Sam and The Purple Rose of Cairo were his worst films.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and quite a bit of smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The flea market scenes were filmed at the market on the days it was normally closed with crew members and extras dressing the stalls for filming, then restoring the market to its normal appearance when filming was done.

HOME OR THEATER: This should be seen in a darkened theater with a big tub of popcorn and a soda; the magic of Paris combined with the magic of the movies.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: And Soon the Darkness

Alice in Wonderland (2010)


Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Let it be said that too much time in Hollywood can give you a big head.

(Disney) Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman (voice), Stephen Fry (voice), Timothy Spall (voice), Michael Gough (voice), Michael Sheen (voice), Christopher Lee (voice). Directed by Tim Burton

The world as we know it is a crazy place. Sometimes we do things for reasons even we can’t fathom. There are times that the craziest people of all are truly the sanest.

Alice Kingsleigh (Wasikowska) is the daughter of a visionary. Her father Charles (Marton Csokas) founded a successful import company on the premise of pushing beyond the boundaries of what is considered reasonable. “I often do six impossible things before breakfast” he tells his adoring daughter, soothing her whenever she has one of her frequent nightmares.

But it’s always the same nightmare, falling down an endless hole into an impossible place with strange creatures. That nightmare continues to occur even when she is a young lady, her father prematurely dead and now her mother determined to see her wed to the impossibly haughty Lord Hamish (Leo Bill). This doesn’t sit well with the plucky and intelligent Alice who can’t see being married to an absolute twit, but at the same time the marriage may be necessary to the survival of her family.

She follows a rabbit racing through the underbrush at the Ascot Manor until she finds a convenient hole to fall in. There she reaches a strange place, a kind of underbrush below the world, where potions can shrink her and little tea cakes can make her grow to gigantic dimensions.

This isn’t the Wonderland that Lewis Carroll told us about. The Red Queen (Carter) has taken over, ruling the land by intimidation. Her Knave (Glover) leads a pack of mechanical-looking soldiers throughout Wonderland to intimidate and wipe out any resistance. Her iron will is enforced by the Jabberwocky (Lee) which is far too powerful for anyone in Wonderland to overcome and the only weapon that is capable of slaying it, the Vorpal Sword, is in the hands of the Red Queen.

Alice believes this is all a dream and despite her many attempts to awaken, remains dreaming. She is taken to the caterpillar Absalom (Rickman) who proclaims that she’s “not hardly” the right Alice that the denizens of Wonderland are awaiting to slay the Jabberwocky. When the Knave attacks along with the terrifying Bandersnatch, she finds her way to the Mad Hatter (Depp), once the haberdasher to the White Queen (Hathaway) but now completely insane and harmless, although he harbors much ill will towards the Red Queen. His little group of followers includes the Cheshire Cat (Fry) – an expert in evaporation, the plucky Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), the nearly-as-mad March Hare (Paul Whitehouse) and the loyal bloodhound Bayard (Spall).

Forces are gathering with the fate of Wonderland itself in the balance as the Frabjuous Day approaches, the day that Alice is fated to slay the Jabberwocky. Is she the right Alice? Or is she merely a plucky girl lost in a strange dream?

Tim Burton has always been one of the most imaginative directors in Hollywood from a visual standpoint with only Terry Gilliam to rival him. With movies like Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Ed Wood to his credit, he has long been a director whose work is so interesting that he has become a brand name unto himself. Quite frankly, his version of a children’s story that he never particularly connected to as a child will end up ranking as one of the very best works of his illustrious career.

This Wonderland is amazing to look at, with creatures that are both strange and terrifying wandering around the landscape. The characters are mostly grotesques, with the bulbous-headed Red Queen leading the pack looking not unlike a forced perspective illusion.

This is a fabulous cast, and Depp is terrific as the Hatter, lending the character depth that it was never accorded either in the Lewis Carroll book or in the many film and animation versions that follow. His madness isn’t just a joke; it is hard-won by devastating events in his life. As good as Depp is, he doesn’t overwhelm the movie and is content to be a cog in the wheel rather than the straw that stirs the drink. Carter is also clearly having a great time as the Red Queen and screams “Off with their heads!!!” with great gusto.

The story isn’t taken straight from the Alice books that Lewis Carroll wrote but is rather inspired by them. Burton chooses to take a route that ages Alice into young womanhood and while he keeps the Victorian era (which in many ways seems as strange to us as Wonderland itself does) he gives the story a logical flow that makes sense within the confines of the universe created by Carroll, and still works for modern audiences. The writing is absolutely audacious and brilliant.

Some critics have groused about the action sequences in the final act but I find that a bit prissy. Certainly Burton could have come up with something a little more talky or prosaic but I found the action curiously satisfying. It helps wrap things up from a Wonderland standpoint, and gives Alice the necessary courage to finally embrace her own strengths.

Not everyone is going to love this movie as much as I did. Certainly purists are going to grumble at the liberties taken with Carroll’s story and those expecting a live action version of Disney’s animated feature of Alice are going to be extremely disappointed. There are those who won’t like Burton’s vision and may find it too esoteric and too fantastic.

Never mind them. I admire imagination in all its forms and even when I don’t get it, I at least try to give props for the attempt. Here I clearly connected with what Burton was trying to do and I wasn’t the only one. This is a marvelous movie that has only a few minor flaws that keep it from my highest rating possible. I can recommend it without reservation to anyone except those who like their fantasies safe and spoon-fed. Those sorts probably shouldn’t be reading my blog anyway.

REASONS TO GO: Completely imaginative, this is a movie that actually improves on a classic. Great acting, a believable story and impressive visuals make this one of the year’s top movies early on.  

REASONS TO STAY: Wasikowska is at times a little bland as Alice. Purists will shudder at the liberties taken with Carroll’s work.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some mildly disturbing images and the wee small tykes may be a bit frightened by some of the fiercer creatures, but otherwise suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: If you look carefully at images of the Mad Hatter, one of his pupils is dilated and the other is not, which implies a serious brain injury.

HOME OR THEATER: This is best served on a big screen in 3D; even better in IMAX if that’s available near you.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Body of Lies