Films This Week
Check out the movies playing around town.
With reviews and trailers.
Burton follows Carroll down the rabbit hole in a funny, engaging 'Alice in Wonderland'
The better you know the Alice books of Lewis Carroll, the more you'll appreciate Tim Burton's winsome and nutty remix, Alice In Wonderland. Instead of rehashing of the familiar children's story, Burton and scriptwriter Linda Woolverton borrow elements from both classic Carroll books, "Alice In Wonderland," and "Through The Looking Glass," then dare to imagine an entirely new story populated by Carroll's enduring fantasy characters.
Burton and collaborator Woolverton (she wrote the marvelous script for Disney's Beauty And the Beast) understand what makes the books so much fun—deadpan, Seinfeld-like conversations about the minutiae of life, the usefulness (or not) of language, silly plays on words, and the stubborn pragmatism of resourceful little Alice in a world gone cheerfully mad. Staying true to this antic, anarchic spirit, they fashion a funny, girl-empowering saga that is often Carroll's equal in drollery.
Will twice the nominees be boon or bust at 2010 Oscars?
A funny thing happened on the way to this year's Academy Awards ceremony. The Academy decided to open up its nominating process to 10 films, instead of the usual five. Who (besides Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, who will reap twice the revenue from "For your consideration …" ads), is this new policy designed to benefit? Well, the Academy, mainly, suffering from charges of elitism for failing to include more popular, crowd-pleasing titles among its most august list of Best Picture nominees in recent years. This was kind of a surprise to some of us pointy-heads who thought the Academy's recent trend toward more interesting, independent films was sort of a good thing. (Big box-office movies have big box-office receipts to console them.) After all, you don't have to go too far back in the last decade to find movies like Gladiator and Lord of The Rings: Return of the King—not exactly popularity wallflowers— not only nominated, but waltzing off with the whole Oscar enchilada.
‘North Face’ is a brutal, compelling moutaineering saga
It’s ironic that the mountain-climbing movie North Face should arrive in the wake of the Winter Olympics. Sure, German filmmaker Philipp Stolzl’s gripping dramatization of a true story begins like one of those “inspirational” athletic movies about the indomitable human spirit in the face of impossible odds. There’s plenty of camaraderie and suspense as fresh-faced youths test their mettle against a ferocious opponent—in this case, the notorious north face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps. There’s even a decorous hint of romance. But as the incidents in Stolzl’s film become more harrowing, and the truly operatic scope of the drama is revealed, viewers start to realize we’re not in Hollywood any more, Toto.
Ideas, not action, drive wry Romanian cop drama ‘Police, Adjective'
If you expect a lot of shootouts and car chases from your police dramas, if you can't imagine a crime investigation that's not an action thriller, then Police, Adjective is not for you. Low-key in the extreme, this police drama from Romania unfolds at such a glacial pace, it often recalls those experimental Warhol movies of the '60s which were all about the depiction of absolutely nothing. But viewers willing to pay attention and get into its slow, spare, real-life, real-time rhythm will discover a sly black comedy from director Corneliu Poromboiu, depending more on a gradually building intensity of ideas than conventional action.
Twenty is a sexy age—even for a film festival. Fortunately for San Jose, Cinequest has never looked better—both onscreen and off. Actually, the revered celluloid soiree, which hits its 20-year marker this week, has managed to produce one of the most impressive outings in the Bay Area this season. More than 200 film screenings roll out, among them about 76 U.S. and World and premieres from 45 countries. The fest also honors "Maverick" filmmakers and innovators. Speaking of, mark your calendar and clear you Sixth Chakra: Deepak Chopra—yes, the Deepak—is being honored with a "Life of a Maverick Award" at 7pm Tuesday, March 2 at San Jose's California Theatre. Interesting to note is that Chopra has penned the script for "The Sadhu," which is under development—the film is based on the comic book series
'Last Station' is a smart, gripping tale of Tolstoy's final years
The great thing about The Last Station is that it doesn't take sides. This lightly fictionalized story of Leo Tolstoy in his twilight years, beset by public and domestic discord, is rife with polarizing issues: poverty vs. wealth, communal life vs. privilege, religious doctrine vs. personal freedom, male vs. female. But as characters are revealed and their relationships entwine, filmmaker Michael Hoffman refuses to condemn anyone or tell the audience what to think. Instead, his smart, gripping film provides a sprawling and juicy canvas of life in all its messy contradictions.
Hoffman adapted the film from the novel by Jay Parini, which was inspired by private diaries kept by several witnesses in Tolstoy's household during his later years. In Hoffman's film, this busy narrative is pared down to single viewpoint from which the rest of the story unspools, that of Valentin Bulgakov (solid, earnest James McAvoy), an innocent, awestruck young writer hired on as Tolstoy's new personal secretary.