<p>Mia Wasikowska plays the title character in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland'</p>

Mia Wasikowska plays the title character in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland'

Credit: Walt Disney Company

Why do some critics willingly go down the rabbit hole while others don't?

A look at the wild disparity in reviews for 'Alice In Wonderland'

When I published my review last week for "Alice In Wonderland," I intentionally didn't read other reviews first.  I've certainly read a ton of them at this point, due in part to the way many of you kept throwing other reviews at me as a way of refuting my opinion on the film.  "But look! A.O. Scott liked it! And he's smart!" Yes... yes, he is.  Looking at the Rotten Tomatoes page for the film, there are a number of smart critics who appear to have given the film a passing grade, although a close reading of many of those reviews would reveal a big of ambiguity as to just how much they actually enjoyed what they watched.  I actually considered running links to various reviews, both pro and con, but I don't feel like attacking or nitpicking every individual reaction is something I want to start doing.  But I am fascinated by the general division here, and there is no denying that there is a fairly serious difference of opinion on this one.


Why does that happen?  Why are there some films where people seem to have a generally accepted middle-ground of opinion, and others where critics are driven to polar extremes?  I think "Alice" is a good case study for the question because, in this case, I can see where some of those battle lines have been drawn, and even if I disagree with the reasoning, I can understand what's causing it.

There are many viewers who seem perfectly happy to simply bask in the familiar with each new Tim Burton film.  And if what you want is what you've already seen, "Alice" more than delivers that.  My complaints were not so much that I think he ballsed up an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's work, although he did, but more that there was nothing in this movie that I haven't seen from Burton already.  I think he is enormously talented, but I think that talent is slowly ossifying, locked into a rigid set of expectations of what a "Tim Burton film" is supposed to be.

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<p>Helen Mirren is the voice of Nyra, an evil queen in Zack Snyder's animated film 'The Legend Of The Guardians,' in theaters this September.</p>

Helen Mirren is the voice of Nyra, an evil queen in Zack Snyder's animated film 'The Legend Of The Guardians,' in theaters this September.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. unleashes Zack Snyder's 'The Legend Of The Guardians'

Marketing blitz begins with a trailer and the first images online

I guess Warner Bros. decided it's time to get "The Legend Of The Guardians" onto everyone's radar.

And based on the reaction in my own house to the trailer, it may have worked.

USA Today kicked things off yesterday with a "first look" article yesterday featuring five new stills from the film, and the accompanying article did a nice job laying out what to expect from this animated adaptation of the Guardians of Ga'hoole novels by Kathryn Lasky.  I didn't realize there are fifteen books in the series so far, but that would suggest that there is a big audience out there just waiting to see these stories brought to life.  Just because I didn't know about them doesn't mean they're not well known to the exact audience that Warner Bros. is trying to reach with this film.

The trailer itself is stunningly beautiful, something that was only hinted at in the footage I saw while I was in Vancouver in December.  I'm taken aback at how strong the work by Animal Logic appears to be.  It's realistic, but it also has a lush, rich style that suggests they're treating the material seriously, and not just making a "kiddie film."  That's exactly the approach I would expect from Snyder, and it looks like it's paid off.

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<p>The Cheshire Cat, voiced by Stephen Fry, is one of the characters brought to life by the work of Ken Ralston and his team in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland.'</p>

The Cheshire Cat, voiced by Stephen Fry, is one of the characters brought to life by the work of Ken Ralston and his team in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland.'

Credit: Walt Disney Company

The M/C Interview: FX guru Ken Ralston creates magic in 'Alice In Wonderland'

Plus he talks about his inspirations and past triumphs

It's obvious that my review of "Alice In Wonderland" touched a nerve with people, which is strange because most of the responses to it were from people who haven't seen the movie yet.  I'm going to write a little more about the film and the critical responses tonight, but for now, I'm excited to run this particular interview.

It's not often you meet someone who rewired you as a human being, but I think it's safe to say that Ken Ralston is one of the people directly responsible for me being who I am at this point.  He's been an FX legend as long as I've been a filmgoer, and the work he does continues to push the cutting edge each and every time he works, it seems.  That challenge is one of the things that defines him, and he certainly faced a whole new batch of difficulties bringing the world of Lewis Carroll to life for director Tim Burton.  We got a chance to sit down at the Hollywood Rennaisance Hotel as part of the "Alice In Wonderland" press day, and he more than lived up to expectations.

Drew McWeeny:  I have literally grown up watching your work.  The movie that changed my life and made me want to be a filmmaker when I was 7 was “Star Wars”… and it was really from that moment…

Ken Ralston:  I’m feeling so old.
DM:  …from the moment the Star Destroyer rolled overhead it was like, okay, whatever this is, I want in.  Over the years, you have been on the front of almost every major sea change in how effects are handled in films. And several times I think you have pushed the cutting edge to the point of breaking.
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<p>'The Secret Of Kells' was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards.</p>

'The Secret Of Kells' was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards.

Credit: GKIDS

The M/C Review: 'The Secret Of Kells' is lovely, lyrical animation

This year's suprise Oscar nominee deserves serious attention

When this year's Oscar nominations were announced, perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the inclusion of "The Secret Of Kells" as a nominee for Best Animated Feature.  The film opens in limited release this weekend, and while I doubt it's going to steal the Oscar out from under Pixar, I hope the attention that's been given the film draws an audience to what might otherwise have been a very hard sell for families who are used to simply following the Disney or the Dreamworks brands around by the nose.

"The Secret Of Kells" is steeped in Irish history and folklore, and directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey brings an incredible sense of composition and style to bear in telling the story of the creation of the Book Of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript from somewhere around 800 A.D.  The film's art direction draws inspiration from the way the actual Book Of Kells was illustrated, as well as artists like Gustav Klimt, but it's still very modern and very approachable for young audiences who have grown up with shows like "Dexter's Laboratory" or "Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends."  Evan McGuire voices the main character, a young boy named Brendan, who is being raised at the Abbey of Kells, where preparations are being made for an impending attack by raiding Vikings.  Those preparations are the all-consuming focus of the Abbot (Brendan Gleeson), and as far as he's concerned, a wall around the Abbey is the only thing that will save them.

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<p>Are Sam Raimi and David Slade set to team up for a new film version of 'The Shadow' for 20th Century Fox?</p>

Are Sam Raimi and David Slade set to team up for a new film version of 'The Shadow' for 20th Century Fox?

Credit: Universal

Fox knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, picks up 'The Shadow'

Sam Raimi producing for David Slade to direct

I've been saying it for about a year now, and sure enough, pulp is starting to become a big deal again.  The recent news that Shane Black is directing "Doc Savage" had me dancing around the house for days, since I love Shane Black, and I am a raving "Doc Savage" fanatic.  I can't claim the same level of affection for The Shadow as a character, even if he was closely associated with Doc during the heyday of the pulp magazines.

But sure enough, it looks like Sam Raimi's longtime dream of bringing The Shadow back to life is one step closer to happening, and 20th Century Fox appears to be the new home for the film.

Latino Review broke the story today that Fox is planning to bring Raimi and director David Slade together on the project.  Slade, of course, directed "30 Days Of Night" for Raimi's Ghost House Pictures, and he's currently finishing work on the newest film in the "Twilight" series, "Eclipse."  

So just who or what is The Shadow?  Well, that depends on which version you're familiar with.  The best known incarnation was the radio show, where he was Lamont Cranston, a man who fought crime using mystical abilities he learned from the shadowy East, foremost of which was the ability to cloud men's minds so they either didn't see him or they didn't remember what they saw.  If you've seen Raimi's "Darkman," then you've already essentially seen his version of the character.  Alec Baldwin played the character in the '90s for a big-budget Universal film that was written by David Koepp and directed by Russell Mulcahy.

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<p>Olga Kurylenko stars in Neil Marshall's 'Centurion,' which will open Asheville, NC's brand-new ActionFest in April.</p>

Olga Kurylenko stars in Neil Marshall's 'Centurion,' which will open Asheville, NC's brand-new ActionFest in April.

Credit: Magnet Releasing

Festival News: SXSW gets 'Predators' and Asheville gets ActionFest

Plus Tribeca goes VOD day and date with several titles

Since starting here at HitFix in December of '08, I've attended more film festivals than I had in the four years prior put together, and it seems like every day, there's festival news of some sort in my inbox.

For example, I'm leaving next week to fly to Austin, TX, my favorite city on Earth, so I can attend the film portion of the SXSW Festival.  I've written about their amazing line-up at length already but today, it got even cooler.  How is that possible?  Well...
"The South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival has announced Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal will present a  First Look at their upcoming motion picture 'Predators', at SXSW on March 12, 2010.  SXSW also announced the world premiere of Géla Babluani’s '13', the previously announced Super Secret TBA as part of the SX Fantastic midnight section.  The 2010 event will take place March 12 – March 20, 2010.
The special presentation of 'Predators' will take place at the Alamo Ritz Theater in downtown Austin, at 10:15pm. Doors open at 9:45pm, and the special event is only open to SXSW Badge-holders on a first-come, first-served basis. An audience Q&A follows the unveiling.  SXSW Badges are still available for purchase.
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<p>The back cover to the new book 'Abraham Lincoln:&nbsp;Vampire Hunter,' published today and already optioned as a film by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmembatov.</p>

The back cover to the new book 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,' published today and already optioned as a film by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmembatov.

Credit: Grand Central Publishing

Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambatov team up for 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'

New book from the author of 'Pride & Prejudice & Zombies' already optioned

Just last night, I read a review for Seth Graeme-Smith's new novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which surprised me.  I had no idea such a thing existed.

Last year, Graeme-Smith was the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I wanted to like.  I think the idea of taking an older novel and playing with it is a fun one, and the notion of the cast of a Jane Austen book getting eaten by the undead is, frankly, heaven after all the adaptations of Austen I've sat through over the years.  But in actual execution, I thought the book was kind of a drag, and I am amazed at the behind-the-scenes struggle between some wildly talented folks to be involved in adapting it.  Maybe they'll improve it.  They'll have to.

That book was an assignment from an editor, so Graeme-Smith can't take full credit for the high concept idea.  This time out, though, the idea was all his, so he's got to be feeling good about the news that Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambatov, and Jim Lemley are all signed to produce a film adaptation, announced the same day that the book hits stores.

There's something irresistible about the idea of a Civil War that was fought not only to free the slaves but also to quietly, secretly eradicate a vampire infestation of our young nation. There's not a lot of Civil War-era horror out there, so it seems like fertile ground for them to do something fun and different.

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<p>Roger Ebert appeared on his long-time friend Oprah Winfrey's show today to unveil what can only be described as a modern medical miracle.</p>

Roger Ebert appeared on his long-time friend Oprah Winfrey's show today to unveil what can only be described as a modern medical miracle.

Credit: Harpo Productions

Watch: Roger Ebert speaks again

Technology returns what illness and surgery took

I'll admit it... this made me cry.

Roger Ebert has been a part of my cultural life since 1978, and a part of my actual life since 1999.  I'm not close friends with him, but he did fly me to Champaign-Urbana to be a guest speaker at his Overlooked Film Festival one year, and two highlights from that experience really stand out in memory.  One night, after a late dinner with a large group of people, Roger offered to drive me back to the on-campus rooms where I was staying, and he took the long way around, giving me a late night tour of the city where he grew up.  Being in a car with just him, having him tell me stories about his life, it seemed surreal.  Later in the festival, after a double-feature of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" with a live orchestral score and the Rin Taro anime "Metropolis," I joined him onstage for a conversation about SF, anime, and more, complete with a Q&A with the audience.  When I was watching him and Gene Siskel on their various review shows, it would never have occurred to me that one day I might sit across from him in front of a crowd talking movies, and even now, years later, it still feels like something I dreamed.

When I saw Roger and his wife Chaz at Sundance this year, I didn't want to take much of their time.  It was impressive to see the pace Roger kept at the festival.  I'm guessing he saw more movies than I did.  I think what he's done in the last month or two in terms of putting his new face out there and finally answering all the questions people have about his condition since his various cancer-correcting surgeries has been brave stuff.  That Esquire piece was amazing, as was the accompanying photography.

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<p>Carol (James Gandolfini) makes an ominous early appearance in the Spike Jonze version of Maurice Sendak's classic 'Where The Wild Things Are,' available on DVD&nbsp;and BluRay today.</p>

Carol (James Gandolfini) makes an ominous early appearance in the Spike Jonze version of Maurice Sendak's classic 'Where The Wild Things Are,' available on DVD and BluRay today.

Credit: Warner Home Video

DVD & Games Forecast: 'Ponyo' and 'Titans' and 'Wild Things,' oh my

Plus '2012' blows up at home, and a whole fistful of 'Alice In Wonderland'

Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast.

It's a great week for films that you can watch with the whole family.  Some weeks, it's all about action movies, some weeks are great for horror films, but this week, films for the young and the young at heart are arriving in snow drifts, including my second favorite film of 2009...


"Where The Wild Things Are" (BluRay/DVD)
"Tell Them Anything You Want" (DVD)

My wife watched the gorgeous, sad, wonderful "Where The Wild Things Are" last night on BluRay, and when I asked her today what she thought of it, she told me... and I quote... "that was a total waste of time."

Okay, then.

I understand that "Where The Wild Things Are" is not a film for everybody.  Even among critics last year, reactions were wildly varied, pro and con.  It's such a particular emotional experience that it does't surprise me that it works for some people and not for others.  You can certainly pull the film apart and analyze the meaning, but I think it works on a far more intuitive level than that.  It is a movie that you either feel, or you don't.  No in-between.  I think it works hand-in-hand with Maurice Sendak's original book, but I also think it's a very different experience.  For more of my thoughts on the film, you can read my original review.

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<p>Willem Dafoe makes a perfect counterfeit bill in William Friedkin's classic cop thriller 'To Live And Die In L.A.,&quot; available now on BluRay.</p>

Willem Dafoe makes a perfect counterfeit bill in William Friedkin's classic cop thriller 'To Live And Die In L.A.," available now on BluRay.

Credit: MGM Home Entertainment

Motion/Captured Must-See: 'To Live And Die In L.A.' burns down the '80s in style

On BluRay, Friedkin's cop drama demands serious critical reassessment

Welcome to The Motion/Captured Must-See Project.

From the moment it starts, William Friedkin's "To Live And Die In L.A." is absolutely, unmistakably a creature of the 1980s.  That Wang Chung score is the first thing that anchors it as a Secret Service details drives the President down Santa Monica Blvd. toward the Beverly Hilton hotel.  Once inside, we see agents checking out the building, and we hear the voice of Ronald Reagan delivering a speech offscreen.  Then again, Reagan's speech is one of his famous tax cut rally cries, a message that would seem current today, and when William Petersen faces down a potential Presidential assassin, the killer cries out "Death to America and Israel and all the enemies of Islam!", something you could put in the mouth of any current movie bad guy and it would sound absolutely timely.

There's not a subtle moment in the film, and the combination of a visual style that is supercharged, courtesy of the great cinematographer Robbie Mueller, and a script that is absolutely tin-eared in terms of character and dialogue, courtesy of Friedkin and Gerald Petievich, somehow add up to a movie that still carries a hypersleazy kick, even twenty-plus years after it was made.  Petievich was a real-life Treasury agent, although one assumes he wasn't a corrupt scumbag like lead character Richard Chance, played by Petersen in one of his earliest starring roles.  There's something hilarious about the notion that Friedkin only decided to make this movie when he was refused the rights to Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, the book that became Michael Mann's "Manhunter" starring William Petersen after Mann sued Friedkin unsuccessfully over the way "To Live And Die In L.A." supposedly ripped off "Miami Vice."  I'm dizzy just writing that out.  I can see how Mann might get butt-hurt about the style of Friedkin's film, but that was the '80s for you.  Everything was neon and pop music and a certain sort of film stock, and "Vice" certainly helped define that, but it was not the only film to do so.  Friedkin's film owes as much to his own work of the '70s as to anything else, and what "The French Connection" was to the drug trafficking business, "To Live And Die In L.A." is to the counterfeit trade.

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