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Borderstan Movie Fan: “Alice” and “The Secret of Kells”

by Borderstan.com April 20, 2010 at 2:00 pm 1,161 1 Comment

Borderstan Movie Fan movie reviews Mary Burganby Mary Burgan

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. She is a retired professor of English and association executive. Mary’s previous reviews are listed at the end of this post.

I simply haven’t had time to go to a lot of movies recently. But I have seen two interesting movies in the past couple of weeks, an I’ll report on them. Both were visually adventurous, and both were interesting, though I would recommend only one as a must-see movie.

The first of the films was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I hesitated to commit to seeing this film because I’m not a fan of the always morbid Burton, and I have grown tired of the simpering Johnny Depp cavorting around as a pirate. I can only stomach that beautiful specimen of tragic male ego in small doses, and the previews showing him in a red wig, gap teeth, and glaring eyes outlined in red were not inviting.

Well, Depp was better than I expected, and so was the film. There are other brighter and wittier Alice films, though I haven’t had time to review them for this blog entry. And I would recommend reviewing Lewis Carroll’s two children’s books–Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass–before seeing the Burton version, which blends the one with the other. Actually, it lifts characters and occasionally names and phrases, but this “based on” is based like a balloon with a mile-long string.

Burton changes the fantasy in a major way by giving a motive and a key to the dream images of a more grownup than usual Alice. The frame plot seems contrived to me, but the figure of Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska (an actress I’ve never seen before), is compelling as a stolidly adventuresome teen-age girl going up against adult madness and ire portrayed in Gothic gruesomeness.

As for its art, the film tries hard to be fanciful, but its vision is so dark that the imagery, imaginative though it may be, is somewhat repellent.

The other movie I’ve seen was one of the most beautiful films ever. It is The Secret of Kells, one of the nominees for best animated film in the recent Academy Awards. This wonderful exploration of a ninth- century illuminated manuscript is playing at E Street Cinema these days. I recommend it highly.

Again, it may be good to get some sense of the style to view images from the real Book of Kells before venturing into this wonderful movie. You can find a history of the book and a number of images on the Internet. An odd one that I found interesting included drawings of the various knots that adorn the book; you can see it online.

The film swirls in the color and curve of the gorgeous Book of Kells to tell the imagined story of its survival of the depredations of the Vikings in Ireland. The hero is Brendan, a young monk who is guided in his search for color by a mysterious forest sprite, who lets him in on some of nature’s secrets. When the marauders come, he leaves the monastery of Kells with the book, returning as a grown-up man with the book intact.

Well, the plot is a little Disney-ish, but the animation is unique. Disney tried something like it in the experimental film, Fantasia (1940), but that film hedged its lovely abstract effects by including cute human or animal figures doing cute things. The music, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, is wonderful, and the film is worth seeing for its introduction of some of the choice chestnuts in the classical repertoire. Not all of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is there, but enough to whet the appetite.

The Secret of Kells is historically accurate, as far as I’ve been able to tell. It may have one anachronism, though, the abstract images of the Vikings show them attacking with swords. A man came up to us at the end to ask the date of the events, saying that in the 800’s, the Vikings would have had battle axes, not swords. I couldn’t answer his question about historical armaments, though a search on the Internet reveals that the Vikings began switching to swords at about the time of the Kells raids.

I enjoyed The Secret of Kells for its sheer beauty, and didn’t worry about the history, the plot, or the symbolism. I thought, “Just look at the screen. Who cares about the swords?”

Note: Watch for Kurosawa’s Ran at the E Street Cinema starting the week of June 4. And don’t miss Treme (pronounced Tremé), which will be on HBO.

Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan

Comments (1)

  1. It’s good to read your review, Mary! I haven’t seen “Alice” yet, though it is on my list. I had not heard of “The Book of Kells” (Oscar nomination, notwithstanding–it must have flown right by me in all the hoopla, not to mention my family’s attempts to keep abreast of which one of us had chosen correctly on our ballots. We probably won’t make it to the E Street Cinema, but I’m definately adding it to my list of movies to rent when it becomes available. Who knows, it might come to VA, too! There’s always the Fairfax Arts Cinema.

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