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Reviews for March 5th, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Directed by Tim Burton.

Based on the books by Lewis Carroll. Just as about to say her vows to her arranged husband-to-be at her wedding, 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) spots the little white rabbit and follows him down the rabbit hole into Underland. There, she encounters a wide array of characters, namely, Tweedledum and Tweedledee (voice of Matt Lucas), the Blue Caterpillar (voice of Alan Rickman), the Cheshire Cat (voice of Stephen Fry), Dormouse (voice of Barbara Windsor), the Mad Hatter (Johnny Deppy) and the tyrannical Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Alice, with the help of her new friends, joins the good White Queen (Anne Hathaway) on a quest to dethrone her evil sister, the Red Queen, who had once taken the throne from her during a battle and brought darkness upon Underland. The mostly dull screenplay by Linda Woolverton re-imagines the classic story of Alice in Wonderland rather than merely following it religiously, but, in the process, Woolverton has drained out all of the storyís magic, heart, thrills and cleverness. All youíre left with are director Tim Burtonís eye-popping, breathtaking CGI animation and a few lively characters, especially the big-headed Red Queen and the delightfully bizarre Mad Hatter. Even while you watch the film in 3D, youíll find it difficult to feel part of Aliceís journey because her character seems too cold and distant from the audience, so youíd probably care less about what happens to her. Moreover, some of the scenes might frighten and disturb little kids, such as when the White Queen throws chopped fingers into a pot to make a magic potion or when Alice battles the Jabberwocky monster in a very run-of-the-mill action sequence that lacks exhilaration. At a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes, Tim Burtonís Alice and Wonderland manages to be visually stunning and sporadically amusing, but lacks thrills, heart and cleverness. Itís ultimately too scary for little kids and too unimaginative, pedestrian and bland for grown-ups.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Walt Disney Studios.
Opens nationwide.

Brooklynís Finest

Directed by Antoine Fuqua.

Sal Procida (Ethan Hawke), a Narcotics officer, lives with his wife, Angela (Lili Taylor), and seven kids in an apartment that has mold which exacerbates Angelaís asthma. They desperately need money to move to a new apartment, so itís up to Sal to figure out a way to provide it. He puts his life on the line when he considers stealing money from drug dealers while on a drug bust in Brooklyn. Just one week before his pension plan begins, Eddie Dugan (Richard Gere), a burned-out cop, attempts to kill himself by pointing a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, but canít bring himself to do it. He must show the ropes to two rookie cops in his Brooklyn precinct. Chantel (Shannon Kane), a prostitute, has sex with Eddie and cares more about him emotionally than her other clients. Will she give up her life of prostitution to start a new life with him outside of the crime-infested city? Finally, Clarence Butler (Don Cheadle), an undercover cop known as Tango on the streets, goes through a serious dilemma when he must kill Caz (Wesley Snipes), a drug dealer recently released from prison who had once saved his life. Screenwriter Michael C. Martin recycles many plotlines and conflicts that can be found in superior crime thrillers such as The Departed andTraining Day, but what keeps the film engaging are the solid performances and a few intense sequences. The film jumps back and form between the gritty events that surround Sal, Eddie and Tango so often that you never really get a chance to get to know any of them enough to root for one of them. Concurrently, they each go through complex moral dilemmas that often blur the line between right and wrong for themóespecially when it comes the policeís aggressive tactics that lead to drug dealers/addicts dead from gunshot wounds during a raid. Director Antoine Fuqua keeps the pace moving briskly and includes terrific cinematography with gritty visuals that turn the streets of Brooklyn into a character in itself. He could have trimmed some of the action sequences a bit so that the film wouldnít drag occasionally during its running time of 2 hours and 5 minutes. Ultimately, Brooklynís Finest offers no surprises, is far from a classic and has forgettable characters, but at least itís mildly engaging thanks to solid performances and Fuquaís stylish directing.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Overture Films.
Opens nationwide.

Harlem Aria

Directed by William Jennings.

Anton (Gabriel Casseus), a 28-year-old man whoís mentally slow, lives with his over-protective aunt (Eyde Byrde), and works at a laundromat. Ever since he was a child, he has always wanted to fulfill his dream of becoming an opera singer. One day, he decides to run away from his home while wearing a tuxedo to travel to Italy in hopes of following his dream. Little does he know that he doesnít have nearly enough money to even purchase a cheap airline ticket to Italy. Wes (Damon Wayans), a homeless man, takes his money and swindles it. Anton then meets Matthew (Christian Camargo), a failed concert pianist, at Washington Square and the two of them join together to perform at the park for money from onlookers. Wes convinces Anton to give him some of the money that Matthew pays him. Anton, Wes and Matthew form an unlikely friendship that may or may not lead to success for Antonís passion for become an opera singer. Will Anton learn the harsh realities of life on the street? Will he ever learn how to grow up? Will he find true happiness with his passion for opera singing? The screenplay writer/director William Jennings has so many contrived scenes with awkward dialogue and over-the-top, irritating performances, especially by Gabriel Casseus and Damon Wayans, that you never really get the chance to care about the answers to those overarching questions. Anton is a goodhearted young man, but he doesnít come to life onscreen at any point. How many times does Jennings have to remind you that Anton is talented at singing opera? The scenes with him singing last too long and overstress a point that has already been made over and over. He could have taken the time to seriously flesh out the character of Anton much more so that youíre able to tap into what heís thinking and feeling. A far superior blend of a young musician discovering his passion for music with a light touch of magical realism and charm is found in the Swedish film Vitus. Harlem Aria does veer toward magical realism in its third act with a preposterous set of twists, but it does so in a way thatís just as naÔve and silly as Anton himself. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Harlem Aria manages to be a contrived, lazy drama thatís increasingly asinine, unrealistic, awkward and over-the-top.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Magnolia Pictures.
Opens at the Cinema Village.

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