Tag Archives: Alice in Wonderland

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/24/09

A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available on the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Loren Cass (2006):  Merely going off the film’s own press release, it’s difficult to discern what this movie is, although we learn a lot about how difficult it was to bring to the screen.  More research reveals it to be an experimental angry teen drama about the 1996 race riots in St. Petersburg, Florida, with poetry interludes (featuring spoken word contributions by Charles Bukowski and other underground figures) and mondo-style documentary footage of a televised suicide added for shock value.  Jacob Reynolds (the “weird-looking kid” from Gummo) has a role as “The Suicide Kid”.  The few reviews are good, describing it basically as raw but intense.  Opening this week in New York, with a short limited release across the rest of the U.S. to follow before it seeks out its core audience on DVD.  Loren Cass official site.

NEW ON DVD:

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1966):  A movie about a middle-class housewife prostituting herself on the side; but director Jean-Luc Godard breaks the fourth wall and philosophizes about consumerism and the Vietnam war while telling his story.  The movie was shot at the same time as Made in U.S.A. (see below) and both films are receiving Criterion Collection editions this week. Buy from Amazon.

Coraline (2009):  From our March review: “a welcome dark fantasy for children, although its themes of evil Doppelgänger moms, frightening buttons, and implied eye-gouging are too scary for very little ones… Though there’s nothing really weird to be found here, Coraline, in the best children’s movie tradition, is worth a trip even for adult fans of fantasy and pure escapism.”  Available in a single disc version including 2D and 3D versions (with 4 pairs of glasses) (buy), a two disc collector’s edition (buy), and Blu-ray (buy).

Made in U.S.A. (1966): Jean-Luc Godard’s avant-garde, Pop Art remake 0f Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep, with a female detective and an even more convoluted plot, gets the Criterion Collection treatment.  Shot at the same time as 2 or 3 Things I Know About HerBuy from Amazon.

Visioneers (2008): An absurdist black comedy about a mysterious epidemic that is causing people to explode.  It sounds promising; hopefully the presence of Zach Galifianakis (who scored a mainstream hit with his role as the slob in Hangover) will help this independent corporate satire do well in the rental market. Buy from Amazon.

Watchmen (2009): From our April review: ‘The setting is so original that the film has the power to relocate you into it’s own peculiar universe, which is what escapist entertainment is supposed to do.”   Available in a single disc theatrical cut DVD (buy), a dual disc special edition director’s cut with an extra 25 minutes of footage (buy), and on Blu-ray (buy).  Fans might want to save their money, since word on the street is there will be a 5 disc (!) set released in December.

IN PRODUCTION:

Alice in Wonderland (2010):  Alice in Wonderland has long been a source of weird movie inspirations, and offbeat fantasist Tim Burton has the pitch-perfect voice to make a live-action Alice.  Despite the fact that it’s way too soon to get excited about this, Disney released a teaser trailer today: enjoy!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CAPSULE: PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND (2008)

DIRECTED BY:  Daniel Barnz

FEATURING:  Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman,

PLOT:  Adorable, precocious and angst-ridden Phoebe (Fanning) has a psychological

Still from Phoebe in Wonderland (2008)

disorder that makes her spit on her classmates and occasionally talk to the Red Queen, among other misbehaviors; she uses her role in the school’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” as self-therapy.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  A few very brief and inorganic Alice in Wonderland hallucinations do not a weird movie make.  (In the film’s defense, it’s not trying to be weird, at all).

COMMENTSPhoebe in Wonderland is definitely an actor’s movie.  While the plot introduces us to some interesting, quirky characters—enigmatic drama-school weirdo and free-spirit Miss Dodger; conflicted mom Hilary, who loves her child dearly while resenting the fact that caring for her has overtaken her life; and of course Phoebe, who desperately wants to be a normal but can’t control her need to ritualistically hop on each stair in a correct order that exists only in her mind—it resolves itself in a disappointing Lifetime-network-feel-good-tearjerker-of-the-week fashion, with only the briefest of detours into Wonderland.  Fortunately, Dakota’s little sis Elle turns out to be every bit the actor her older sibling is, and carries the film on her tiny shoulders, with the adult veterans doing their part to keep up with her.  She evokes a heartbreaking pathos in her desire and inability to be the good little girl her parents can be proud of and her peers accept.  The visions of Wonderland she sometimes sees aren’t magically staged, and in fact make little literal sense: whatever Phoebe’s psychological issues might be, she’s no schizophrenic.  Only once does the intrusion of Alice’s world inside Phoebe’s mind work or make much plot sense: when she sees the rabbit hole yawning in front of her (it’s also the best looking of the fantasy sequences, which are mostly pedestrian and effects-free).  With that single exception, the script should have kept itself firmly on this side of the looking glass.

We go to independent films hoping to see something different than the twenty formula Hollywood movies that are permitted to dominate the United States’ 38,000 movie screens each week.  It’s disappointing to find that, when an independent film does manage to break the major studio stranglehold and get a small release, it turns out to be pretty much the kind of fare Hollywood would have released anyway, if they’d had extra room for another April drama.  Phoebe in Wonderland is just as good as any product released to the cineplexes, perhaps even a cut above in the acting department, but we have to wonder: don’t we deserve at least one screen per metropolitan area dedicated to showing something off the beaten path?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The ‘Wonderland’ motif, which could be a really cool framework for the story, is little more than a sparse reference point, and Phoebe’s occasional dalliances in the surreal are more disruptive than not.”–Jamie Tipps, Film Threat

17. TIDELAND (2005)

“[Producer] Jeremy [Thomas] knew [raising money to make Tideland] would be difficult, particularly because the film is very, very weird.”–Terry Gilliam

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam

FEATURING: Jodelle Ferland, Brendan Fletcher,

PLOT: Jeliza-Rose is a nine year old girl with an active imagination who is being raised by a pair of junkies. When her father spirits her away to a lonely, dilapidated farmhouse, then takes an extended “vacation” on heroin, Jeliza-Rose is left to her own devices. She retreats into an intricate fantasy world where her four doll’s heads are her closest companions, but reality is scarcely less bizarre than her imagination: her neighbors are a witch-like one-eyed woman with an unhealthy interest in taxidermy and a childlike mentally retarded man who also lives in his own fantasy world.

tideland


BACKGROUND:

  • Tideland was adapted from a critically praised novel by Mitch Cullin; ironically, this faithful movie adaptation was critically panned.
  • Gilliam made Tideland while on a six month hiatus from directing the big-budget commercial fantasy, The Brothers Grimm (2005).
  • Tideland was a commercial disaster, earning less than $100,000 in its initial domestic run.
  • According to Gilliam, the French distributor did not want to screen this film at Cannes because there is a scene involving farting, which the French find objectionable.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Many will remember Jeliza-Rose’s doll’s heads, who make memorably fantastic appearances in an underwater house and flying about inside a man’s ribcage.  But the more indelible image, because it’s repeated so many times, is the view of the broken down farmhouse in front of amber waves of grain.  The look was inspired by the Andrew Wyeth paining “Christina’s World,” and, though unacknowleged, also from the 1990 film The Reflecting Skin (which had an almost identical look as well as an eerily similarly child protagonist). Gilliam often emphasizes the tall gold grass towering over tiny Jeliza-Rose’s head, as if it were surf and she was living in an undersea world.  This ubiquitous aquatic imagery helps to explain the title “Tideland“.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Gilliam has described the movie as a cross between “Alice in Wonderland” and Psycho, which sounds weird enough on its own terms. He pushes the envelope of weirdness even further with his trademark visual flair for phantasmagorical set pieces, for example, with a gloriously imaginative sequences of Jeliza-Rose falling down a rabbit hole full of tumbling syringes. But even if the audience wasn’t planted firmly inside the skull of the 9-year-old heroine, peering out onto this grotesque world through her child’s eyes, the scenario would have been weird, as the world of Tideland is peopled by grossly exaggerated lowlifes who live out their lives on the lonely fringes of plausibility.


Original trailer for Tideland

COMMENTS: Tideland is a misunderstood film, which is not automatically the same thing Continue reading 17. TIDELAND (2005)