March 2010


Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Librarians agree:  Alice in Wonderland in 3-D is well worth the money and the entire country has Alice on the brain.  On opening week I organized a group of librarians and library students to attend a screening of Tim Burton’s latest film in the relatively new Real-D.  While I am certain this film will be amazing either way, it is truly a masterpiece in 3-D.  Without giving in to creating shots blatantly for the use of 3-D, it still manages to take full advantage of this feature.

This is clearly Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland.  For one Alice is older, and the film takes a much darker tone than the classic Disney animation (is anyone really surprised that this film might be too much for young children) and there are many twists and surprises along the way.  That said, it does not lose the sense of Wonderland for older fans of early imaginings of Lewis Carroll’s work.  I am certain that fans of Tin Man will be delighted to see this incarnation of Alice in Wonderland.  I know I am.

I was a bit nervous that it would be too Mad-Hatter-centric.  It was not, however.  The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) did play a large role and I understand why Disney would throw their money behind the star.  However, I felt the advertising for the film overshadowed the other amazing performances, none so much as Alice (Mia Wasikowska).  She is perfect as 19 year old Alice, who is expected to accept the marriage proposal of Hamish (Leo Bill), but thankfully gets distracted by a silly white rabbit.  It is not surprising that Tim Burton also cast Helena Bonham Carter in her role as The Red Queen, but it is not just favoritism.  Ms. Carter is amazing as the large headed and violent queen.  Anne Hathaway is no less brilliant as the flighty and hilarious White Queen.  Of course, the best part of the movie are the amazing creatures and world Burton and his team has created:  the White Rabbit, the March Hare, the Red Queen’s frogs, the Caterpillar, and the Cheshire Cat!  My favorite moment being when he is kneading (as cats do).  Lovely!

Fans of this film also might like to check out The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.  It has a very similar dark take and I am excited to reread the original to compare. In this first in a series of books, we learn that Alice is from Wonderland.  She was heir to the thrown until her aunt, the Red Queen, waged war against her family to cease control of Wonderland.  Alice escapes Red, her army of card soldiers, and an assassin with the help of her friends (including a Mad Hatter that is a skilled fighter himself), but she is cast out from Wonderland lost and alone.  Another related book that is on my to-read list was recommended to me by Laura Rancani.  She recently wrote about the historical fiction Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin, so please visit her website for the full review.

In related news, to celebrate the release of the film, I visited the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where there was an exhibit of rare Lewis Carroll items including original photographs taken by the author (my personal favorite), games owned and/or invented by him, books, and memorabilia.  They also held a tea party for children and had games that Lewis invented that visitors could try out.  I was very bummed out to have had to miss out on tea, but I was late for a very important date!  Still, I managed to quickly snap a few photos for your viewing pleasure.

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The Lady & The ReaperTomorrow night, Sunday, March 7, you can watch the 2010 Academy Awards (the 82 Oscars) on ABC.  Some of the best films are not the big names you have heard of already, or are even films that you have to set aside a few hours to watch.  They are the nominated short films.

You can also watch many of the short films that are nominated for this year’s awards.  You can purchase short films through iTunes, or in some cases you can already find them at a library.  Some of them are currently available on YouTube (either in their entirety or trailers), if you are like me and would like to watch them before you purchase them for yourself or your library, you can get a chance to do just that.

Personally, I haven’t had a chance to watch any of the live action nominees, but the animated shorts are all strong. The video trailers ‘available’ from the Oscar website did not work for me.  I hope you have better luck.

This year’s nominees are:

Animated Short Film (2009):

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty – Brown Bag Films – Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connel:  Hilarious film about a Granny that sure has an interesting take on storytelling for her young grandbaby.  This is my favorite for the win, but it is a tough call.

Additional information:  Official website (includes full film, or watch the embedded video below).

French Roast – Fabrice Joubert:  A gentleman, a beggar, and a nun walk into a cafe.  Sounds like a joke, right?  Well, it is.  This nominee is about what happens when someone can’t foot the bill.

Additional information: Official website

The Lady and the Reaper (La dama y la muerte) – Javier Recio Gracia:  Don’t fear the reaper!  An elderly widow waits for death to reunite her with her late husband, but it isn’t that simple apparently in this film that will remind you of Bugs Bunny cartoons and at least at one point will have you saying “well that was disturbing” (at least I did).

Additional information: Official website


Logorama – H5 (French company) – Nicolas Schmerkin:  The world is made of logos and corporations…so basically this is a documentary (kidding…sort of).

Additional information:  Official website

A Matter of Loaf and Death – Aardman Animations – Nick Park:  Wallace and Gromit are back!  I love these guys!  This time they are in the bakery business.  Only the trailer is available online, but you can find this item at a library near you!

Additional information:  Official website

Best Live Action Short Film (2009): [note: information from Oscar website]

  • Kavi — Gregg Helvey:  A young Indian boy and his family are forced to work as slaves.  A video trailer available from the Oscar website.

If you are interested in watching the 82 Academy Awards check your local ABC listings for more details, but don’t forget that you can watch nominated and award winning films from past years anytime.

One such collection is the DVD Collection of 2006 Academy Award Nominated Short Films.

West Bank Story
West Bank Story, 2006 Oscar winner for Short Live Action Film

The first short film in this collection, and the Oscar winner for “Best Live Action Short Film” 2006, is West Bank Story (by Ari Sandel, USA).  Set in the West Bank, this musical comedy parody of West Side Story is the love story of an Israeli soldier (Ben Newmark) and a Palestinian cashier (Noureen DeWulf).  Their families have are warring fast food restaurants.  This is ultimately a story of hope that someday the two sides will find peace…and that we can all enjoy yummy good food in harmony.

Additional information:  West Bank Story official website

The Danish Poet (by Torill Kove, Norway & Canada) was the winner for Animation Short.  This is a touching love story about all the tiny, seemingly insignificant things that lead up to the birth of a child.  Liv Ullmann narrates this film, taking us through the life of the Danish poet.  Tracing the small events in life, can we find the bigger picture?

You can watch the entire film on the National Film Board of Canada’s Youtube Channel:

Additional information:  The Danish Poet at the National Film Board of Canada

This collection also features nominated short films.  In the live action catogory we have The Saviour, One Too Many, Helmer and Son, and Binta and the Great Idea.  A nominated animation is also included, Maestro, in addition to bonus short films A Gentlemen’s Duel, Guide Dog, One Rat Short, The Passenger, Surviving the Rush, and The Wraith of Cobble Hill.

Find this item at a library near you!

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PenelopePenelope is a modern fairytale which redefines the genre for a new millennium.  Unlike the traditional princess tale, this modern reimagining features the strong princess, a contemporary setting, and a prince that is not exactly in shining armor.  While fans of Enchanted and Ella Enchanted will likely love this tale, I prefer Penelope for the positive body image storyline, which is a great change for young women.  This is an untraditional fairytale love story about learning to love yourself no matter what your short-comings may be.

Penelope (Christina Ricci) is born into a high-society family.  The world should be at her feet, but she due to a strange curse on her family, she is born with a face like a pig (and no, it can’t be fixed with plastic surgery).  The only thing that can reverse it is for a blue-blood to accept her as one of their own.  Her parents fake her death and keep her hidden away to protect her from tabloid reporters, specifically one named Lemon (Peter Dinklage) that almost got a picture of Penelope as a baby.   Once she is old enough, her mother (Catherine O’Hara) arranges to use a match-making service dealing only with high-society clients.  The suitors all come for the sizable dowry, but run once they see her.

Penelope & MaxEverything changes when she meets Max (James McAvoy); a handsome, charming, and down on his luck gambler.  He is hired to get a picture of the “hideous pig faced girl,” but Max and Penelope fall in love.  Our unlikely couple are a wonderful match, but when the truth is revealed, Max leaves and it devastates our heroine.

Heartbroken, Penelope strikes out on her own for the first time in her life.  Along the way to finding herself, Penelope makes friends including a spunky bike messenger (Reese Witherspoon), and she learns to love herself.  She is able to really live for the first time in her life.

This story is an amazing example of a modern, likable princess that does not fit the traditional mold.  I cannot recommend this film enough.  The breathtaking beauty of the shots and amazing use of color is reason enough, but when combined by the moving, yet hilarious, story of this young woman you have a film that will stand the test of time.

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