October 26, 2016
        Viola Davis will be campaigned in Best Supporting Actress for "Fences"                Mel Gibson to be Honored with the Hollywood Director Award at the 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards                Michael Moore drops a surprise new film with "Michael Moore in TrumpLand"                Hollywood Contenders: New Oscar Predictions for October                Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Naomie Harris, Lily Collins get Honors at 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards                "Manchester by the Sea" leads the Gotham Award nominations                Tom Ford, Marc Platt and Kenneth Lonergan to be Honored at 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards                Tom Cruise is in his action hero comfort zone with "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back"                "Moonlight" could be A24's big Oscar horse this year                Ewan McGregor steps behind the camera with "American Pastoral"                Hollywood Contenders: A second crack at Golden Globe predictions for 2016                "The Accountant" seeks to help give Ben Affleck another blockbuster                85 countries will be competing for Best Foreign Language Feature nominations at the Oscars                Tom Hanks to receive Hollywood Actor Award for "Sully" @ Hollywood Film Awards                "Certain Women" showcases Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams        

Tim Burton, Johnny Depp’s “Alice in Wonderland” redeemed on beautiful Blu-ray

Hollywoodnews.com: HollywoodNews.com stays on top of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases so you know which films are worth your time and money. This week, we review:

Alice in Wonderland (Blu-ray)
When we reviewed Tim Burton’s take on “Alice in Wonderland” in March, we noted that the 2-D version would be as rewarding (if not more so) than the 3-D one released in theaters because most of the conversion work was done in post-production … and you could tell.

Turns out we were right. But what we forgot to add was that the 2-D, Blu-ray version of Burton’s “Alice” really was the one you needed to see, because friends, it is spectacular.

Considering the fact that the 3-D decision was foisted on Burton following the success of James Cameron’s “Avatar,” this rendition of “Alice” looks exactly how it should … not the unnecessary 3-D image rolled out for increased ticket prices. And since Burton relied heavily on green-screen and digital effects, Blu only makes “Alice” look that much better on your home video system.

Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland” is a demented adventure based more on the director’s macabre interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s novels than on the authors stories themselves. Set 13 years after the “Alice” stories of our collective youth, Burton’s take finds a teenage Alice (Mia Wasikowska, powdered and pale like most of the director’s corpse brides) plunging down the rabbit hole to escape an arranged marriage to a unpleasant duke (Leo Bill). She lands in a rundown photocopy of Wonderland, a neglected fantasy realm that resembles a mental institute. Though she has no memory of a prior visit, friends remember her – or argue whether or not she’s the right Alice. Squabbles are put on hold, however, when Alice is recruited for a mission to rescue a kidnapped Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and slay the Jabberwooky, a dragon creature.

Burton carries his characters over from Carroll’s books. The deranged Hatter and his tea-table denizens are opposed by the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and her mighty minion, Stayne, the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover). The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) watches from a distance until it is time to interfere. But these recognizable players seem borrowed and placed in service of an adventure that’s very much Burton’s own. On the sliding scale of cinematic tributes, Burton’s “Alice” stays more faithful to its source material than the “Planet of the Apes” remake, yet not quite as reverent as the triumphant “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” reimagining.

And that’s OK, for some odd reason. Filtering any story through Burton’s prism instantly turns it darker – and “Alice” was plenty twisted on its own. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m tired of Burton and Depp coasting on white-faced, carbon-copied caricatures of stories we cherish, yet sitting through “Alice,” I ultimately appreciated the bizarre avenues this film fearlessly explored. Carter walks away with the picture, delivering a full-fledged performance as the short-tempered Red Queen with facial expressions and perfectly timed line deliveries. Wasikowska is comfortable in Burton’s world, and helps sell the film’s conventional but appreciated messages about finding one’s own path and embracing personal dreams. It’s a common theme to Burton’s work, yet Burton’s work – as usual – is uncommon.

And that’s the hook. Burton’s “Alice” exists at our wit’s end. It embraces the mind’s fringe, and dares us to join in the lunacy. Once I stopped comparing Burton’s choices to his predecessors – which happened early on – I appreciated the lavish, luscious production design that went into his unbalanced world.

And you’ll learn a LOT more about that process on Disney’s three-disc “Alice” Blu-ray, which offers extensive features on the Wonderland characters, and a multi-part “Making of” that delves into the musical score, stunts, tea party props and so much more.

As is the case with most Disney Blu-ray DVDs, “Alice” comes with a standard-edition DVD, as well as a digital copy for your portable devices.

The movie – *** out of 4 stars
The Blu-ray – ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Elektra: Director’s Cut (Blu-ray)
A while back, 20th Century Fox released a director’s cut of Mark Steven Johnson’s “Daredevil” that vastly improved the Ben Affleck-led comic book thriller. A few minutes of additional footage in key places, as well as liberal edits to unnecessary scenes, made “Daredevil” not only watchable but downright enjoyable. Memories of that experience led to rays of hope as I popped the director’s cut of Rob Bowman’s spin-off flop, “Elektra,” into the Blu-ray player. Could lightning strike twice, improving two Marvel adaptations that needed more than a little help?


“Elektra” remains a flat, muddled adaptation of a character who was so vivid and lethal on the page. I don’t necessarily fault Jennifer Garner, who was still in the throes of “Alias” and probably eager to give Elektra another chance after the heroine was cut short in “Daredevil.” But the screenwriters shackled her to a “mommy issues” subplot that can not be improved by an directorial touches.

Garner looks amazing in those outfits, however, and “Elektra” looks really good on Blu-ray. The lights have a warm hue, and darks are rich and shadowy. Christophe Beck’s score is bombastic (overwhelming, actually), and the film engages when it sticks to esteemed author Frank Miller’s texts … which, sadly, isn’t that often.

Extra features on the “Elektra” Blu-ray make it worth the purchase, however. There’s a commentary track, a two-part “Making of” reel, deleted scenes, multi-angle options for select scenes, alternate/extended versions of certain scenes, interview with Elektra’s comic creators in a rich “Mythology” section, and more. 

The movie – ** out of 4 stars
The Blu-ray – ***1/2 out of 4 stars


About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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