Because it’s my night off–and because I’m on cold meds–I found two retellings of “Alice in Wonderland,” and figured they’d be perfect.
“Malice in Wonderland” was first. A young American woman is hit by a taxi, and finds herself with amnesia. As the night unfolds, she encounters some of Metro-London’s seedier denizens, each of whom bear a certain resemblance to a Wonderlander. The young woman–naturally, named Alice–is played nicely by Maggie Grace. As clueless as she is about her identity, she moves along through her odd night with a certain acceptance. Her savior, repeatedly, is the man who initially ran her down: a cabbie named Whitey (Danny Dyer). Whitey is obsessed with time, constantly looking at one of the watches he wears on each wrist.
“Malice in Wonderland” is a fun reimagining of the “Alice in Wonderland” stories. The movie doesn’t bash us over the head with similarities–e.g., there’s no flashing sign saying, “THESE CLUB BOUNCERS ARE TWEEDLES DUM & DEE.” The pacing is even, and there’s enough surrealism to keep it interesting. The only misstep, to me, was an unnecessary sappy backstory. Beyond that, I’d recommend it.
Harder to recommend is “Alice (Neco z Alenky),” a Czechoslovakian surrealist rendering of the children’s classic.
So often, when people see something unusual or odd, they’ll describe it as “surreal.” In this case, it’s honest-to-Dali surrealism.
I’m not going to describe the whole thing, because I honestly think my brain would explode. Alice is played by Kristýna Kohoutová. Happily, Kristýna Kohoutová is a real little girl, and makes a fine, mischievous & plucky Alice. Except when Alice shrinks, in which case she’s a stop-motion-animated doll. The White Rabbit is played by a taxidermied rabbit, horrifying incisors and all. Oh, and the White Rabbit is constantly trying to kill Alice, except when she’s played by the doll, at which times he bosses her around, and calls her “Mary Ann.” Got that?
Okay. The Mad Hatter is a marionette, while the March Hare is a stuffed wind-up toy. There is a scene where Alice is trying to find a key, and she’s rummaging through a kitchen. A large piece of raw meat starts moving across the counter.
My favorite portrayal had to be the Blue Caterpillar. The Caterpillar had no hookah, drat the luck, and was acted by a patterned blue sock with false teeth and fake eyes.
I am not saying by any means that these quirks make “Alice” a bad film. It is an original vision of a classic story. I wouldn’t recommend it at all for children under the age of, say, 35. Okay, I’m kidding, but it is definitely not kid-friendly in its presentation or pacing. The truly weird presentation plays up the surreal menace lost in many versions.
One of my cinematic pet-peeves is when foreign films are dubbed into English, rather than subtitled. While this is the case with “Alice,” it didn’t bother me. Seriously, y’all: a sock with false teeth and fake eyeballs was the Blue Caterpillar–there’s no way Alice’s voice and mouth not matching up would freak me out.
The Czechs have a long tradition of making actual, non-hyperbolic, surrealist films, and “Alice” is one of them. (Below, I’ll give you a link to a Czech surrealist classic I enjoyed a lot more). My problems with “Alice” aren’t the peculiar choices the filmmakers made for the characters. They lost me with uneven pacing. This movie is only 86 minutes long, and it felt like we spent a quarter of that in one scene, with an invisible screaming baby and smashing dishes. It was just grating as all hell, and advanced nothing. Then, when we got to the bedentured sock/caterpillar, that scene was over in a couple minutes. We spent ten screeching, monotonous minutes with the Hatter and March Hare, but spent only a few with The Queen of Hearts. It’s profoundly uneven, and it was a very long, crowded-doctor’s-waiting-room-feeling 86 minutes.
Take “Malice” over “Alice.”
Malice in Wonderland: B
(Rated R, for language, sexual suggestiveness, drugs, and some violence; available on Netflix)
(No MPAA Rating, probably PG-13 for disturbing fantasy images)
For a different taste of Czech surrealism, check out “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.” It has evil vampire/priests, lots of nudity and oddity, and everything else they could imagine. It’s 75 minutes, and free on YouTube here: