The Key of F'd Up

My keyboard is freaking out again, so posts and comments may be sparse to nonexistent for a while.
I hope this gets resolved soon, since there's a big Cover Album entry from Tuesday to try to get back up and another First Friday installment coming tomorrow, but while the laptop is working I'm updating this post with some more word-verification fun so that it's more than just bad news.

brawlyst — n. A practitioner of the pugilistic arts.

coape — n. Your gorilla sweetheart.

Colognet — The first cable channel devoted exclusively to smellin' good.

dehortic — adj. Of the removal of one's encouragement.

distra — wd. frgmt. Expression often used by easily confused or inattentive people. ex. "Sorry I couldn't talk before; I was distra... What was that?"

Emusal — Do you resemble a large, flightless Australian bird more and more with each passing day? Emusal is guaranteed to not only halt but reverse this and other embarrassing avian transformations!

equit — v. To take a sabbatical from online activity.

HoLac — Infant formula for the working girl.

icind — 1. n. A bitter combination of ice and wind. 2. phrase How French people explain that they're in Fargo.

laspep — n. Spanglish for "cheerleading squads".

misthro — n. One way to mark an error in Phonetic Baseball.

Naffula — Dracula's sister's son.

Objecto — The great 19th-century magician and defense attorney.

panthyl — n. Part panther, part pterodactyl, all awesome.

pective — adj. Afflicted by nervous spasms of the chest muscles.

pholes — pl. n. Young male horses genetically engineered for cell reception.

pringall — n. The nerve it takes to eat the very last potato crisp in the can.

Pronato — n. 1. A brand of vitamin for expectant mothers. 2. A subatomic particle found in potatoes.

remisc — v. To decide something goes in the catchall category after all.

slypi — n. The number that Rocky Balboa counts out to as many decimal places as possible to cure his insomnia.

suplamp — 1. n. A light fixture used at the dinner table. 2. Casual greeting to that (or any) light fixture.

uncest — n. The realization that, whew, that wasn't your cousin after all.

xyloge — n. The extremely difficult combination sport of xylophone and luge.

Parodies Found

You can blame this one on kismet, my sister, and Tim Rice & Alan Menken, in no particular order.

Cover to the 'Aladdin' Original Motion-Picture Soundtrack CD, showing the Genie rising from his lamp holding a picture of Jasmine and Aladdin flying on their magic carpet
Image © 1992 Walt Disney Productions.

In 1992, Disney continued its creative rebirth with Aladdin. The Little Mermaid was an unexpected delight, and Beauty and the Beast was romantic, funny, and just plain lovely — deserving of its Best Picture nomination — but for all its problems Aladdin is probably my favorite Disney neo-classic.

Lost in Thought: Misery

["And I Love Her" was the original subtitle of this post, but I took the liberty of changing it to something more appropriate after it was deleted during the blog attack.]

Lost was awesome last week.

That just sounds so fannish, I know. Or is your objection that Lost is on again tonight, and a belated post on...

... is totally moot? [Never mind that this was one of three posts in a row that wouldn't stay up, and at this writing it's now yet another week later.]

This episode rocked, though. And a fact that continues to delight me is that, despite years of experiencing and writing about entertainment with a critical eye, I'm still able to be utterly transported by a solid story on the page or screen. Sure, I can overthink things, and my mind might try to "fix" a plot hole unbidden, but usually it's only the bad stuff that gets dissected at first blush; outside of trying to remember a choice line or panel/frame composition, the good stuff sucks me in and really only gets analyzed in retrospect. Whether it's a function of age or energy or options, I have much less patience for middling work than I used to, but reading or basking in the cinematic glow of quality material continues to feel, well, awesome.

Great movies or books that are complete experiences unto themselves are tremendously satisfying, but a piece of serialized fiction firing on all cylinders holds a special thrill, especially when (more likely in prose and television than comics) it's barreling towards an actual conclusion as with this final season of Lost. Episodes have not been equally impressive, true; moreover, despite the promises of producers and ABC's promotional spots, very few questions have been answered. The reason why it's no biggie to post belated thoughts on almost any episode to date is that very little of the discussion prompted each week is invalidated the week after, to say nothing of how the cumulative mystery of the "flashsideways" world has yet to be addressed at all.

My favorite line this episode turned out not to be quite as weird as my ears made it out to be. Hurley doesn't say "cheese carrots" when he's waking up, but "cheese curds". I was not alone in hearing the former, which conjured up one nauseating image, although some folks might find the latter — which I had to Yahooglepedia — just as odd.

Also very funny was Hurley asking Richard if he was a vampire or a cyborg — and getting a straight-faced no on both counts, when everyone I've spoken to about the episode admitted to wondering, in the split-second before he replied, if Richard would counter with "What's a cyborg?" Richard's been off the Island, off course, as we've seen him visiting young John Locke and recruiting Juliet, but it's still strange to think of him as up on popular culture, long-lived and generally isolated as he is.

References and transitions between the familiar universe and the alternate timeline seemed more blatant than usual. Ben talking about Napoleon's exile on Elba practically came with sirens and flashing lights, of course, but connections such as that tend to be fun little winks even when they veer into groaner territory. Direct visual cues and dialogue like Leslie Arzt calling Ben "a real killer" before jumping over to Ben digging his grave on the Island in penance for having shivved Jacob were what surprised me. Perhaps the most macabre in-joke came when we saw that Roger Linus was dependent on oxygen tanks; I laughed out loud when Ben changed a canister and it hit me that he gasses his father in both realities.

Other nifty stuff included discovering that Ben and Alex still have a connection in the alternate universe and that back in the original Jack is again showing some resolve, purpose, and conviction — although it's worth noting that things don't always work out well when he does so. That face-off between Jack and Richard with the lit dynamite looked to be way cool until I realized that we weren't going to get any answers from Richard after all. More satisfying, until it fizzled out like the dynamite fuse, was the subplot of Ben's craftiness coming to the fore in the alternate universe in a way that was still equal parts self-serving and for the greater good but — not to belittle either the principal's prickishness or school-administration politics in general — almost laughably microcosmic compared to his other self's involvement in Island intrigue.

The most impressive thing in the episode was Michael Emerson's portrayal of the many faces of Ben Linus. While there are those who believe Ben — or as it dawned on me to dub him the other day, a little to late to ride the zeitgeist, The Locke Hurter — utterly incapable of showing true emotion, if he has ever bared his soul to himself or anyone else then the scene in the woods with Ilana was likely such a rare occasion. Alex's sudden death remains one of the most shocking moments in the series, and it's possible that Ben has truly come to grips with his own part in it as well as determined that it not be in vain. I'm glad that flashsideways Ben got to mentor Alex in what was (to me, although not everyone) a refreshingly non-creepy way, and I hope that it isn't too late for him to raise a daughter of his own.

Purple and Green

Charlton's 1967-1973 and 1973-1985
logos ® the publisher, once upon a time.

The first time I saw a Charlton comic book it totally freaked me out.

I was in the stockroom of my grandparents' main store, c. 1976. Devoted mostly to merchandise and storage, the stockroom also included a private office and an open lunch/break area with countertop, chairs, and refrigerator. My sister and I were put to work out front young, but we also spent a lot of time being kids in the stockroom — great for climbing, hiding, and perhaps ironically playing store — as well as reading or drawing in the office.

One day, a comic book appeared on the break table. I'm pretty sure that I saw it upon entering the store through the back door, which opened from a parking lot and delivery area into the stockroom with the break table immediately to the right. I shifted into Matrix-style Bullet Time instantly; everything slowed down as my mind excitedly registered "Comic book!" and then sped up a heartbeat later as the next visceral thought formed was "Yikes!"

This is what confronted me:

Cover to Space Adventures [3rd series] #5 © 1968 Charlton Press Inc.

In my short life I had come to love comics and indeed did not remember a time without them. But the ones I knew featured either silly antics or superheroes, and their covers were always bright. Here was a horned lagoon creature staring out at the reader as aliens celebrated their "moment of triumph" over Earthlings on a tilted viewscreen — images made all the more grave by the dull matte finish of the cover, which read Space Adventures. Oh yes, I knew that the aliens were evil, as the fascination over how such a black-magic item as this could even exist was a powerful lure, and I eventually screwed up the courage to stand in its presence long enough to confirm that the voodoo vibe given off by the picture was matched by the print. I didn't really need to read the cover copy, however, because the 3/4 of real estate between the story titles said it all: bad-guy colors.

It will be no great insight when I say that most costumed crimefighters have traditionally come in primary hues. Not just the ones who wrap themselves in the flag, like
Captain America and Wonder Woman, but Superman, The Flash, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Spider-Man — combinations of blue, red, and gold are the name of the game. Even Wolverine's first outfit was blue and yellow, and while (like the X-Men) the movie Batman has mostly been draped in black the comics found the cowl, boots, and gloves worn with his grey bodysuit very quickly lightened to navy or royal blue, accented by a stunning yellow belt from the start, even before the vibrant Robin came along. Green might take the place of blue for a change of pace, as with Hawkman or the first Green Lantern, but except for such anomalies as The Sandman (in his original, pulp-influenced outfit), color schemes made up of purple, orange, and green were nearly exclusively used for contrast. That meant sidekicks, secondary characters, and most especially supervillains.

Covers to Superman #299 and Batman #291 © 1976, 1977 DC Comics.

The Joker comes to mind readily, as do fellow Batman foils Catwoman and Two-Face. Spider-Man's opposite numbers in opposite colors include The Vulture, The Lizard, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, and of course The Green Goblin. And not only did Superman's adversaries from Lex Luthor and Brainiac to the increasingly obscure Parasite, Blackrock, and Phantom Quarterback sport the sinister shades, green kryptonite could actually kill the guy. There certainly are superheroes with predominantly green motifs, as I pointed out in a post last St. Patrick's Day, but they're the exception that proves the rule likely by design — meant to stand out on the magazine racks either from their competition or amongst their compatriots in group appearances; for every Aquaman (whose sidekick wore the primary colors) or Hulk (not the most traditional protagonist), there are a dozen Mirror Masters.

The intriguing yet offputting issue of Space Adventures turned out to belong to Bobby, the stockboy, a high-schooler or thereabouts who would give me rides on the dolly (hand truck) and taught me a maneuver called, at least in those days, an Indian burn (about as painful as its politically incorrect name). He knew of my passion for comic books and had brought in the eerie item to share, although how incidental or precious it might have been to him escapes me. It was a gesture no less thoughtful for being so traumatizing, which, come to think of it, could also be said for the some of the faster dolly rides.

I became pretty savvy about the differences between the DC and Marvel superheroes early on in my comic-book collecting, and like other kids was aware that the Harvey, Gold Key, and Archie names were also valuable indicators of content on the off-chance that characters on a cover weren't recognizable. Charlton was almost certainly new to me, though, when that Space Adventures issue showed up, and the next time I saw Charltons I probably didn't make the connection anyway. Bobby's bestowal was easily a half-dozen years old by the time it showed up on the break table and carried a publishing logo that had by then been supplanted by the Charlton Bullseye. The first new Charlton comic book that I bought or had bought for me, sporting the Bullseye, was probably an issue of the television tie-in The Six Million Dollar Man.

Covers to the Modern Comics editions of, clockwise from top left,
Atom #83 © 1977, 1978 Tops Photo Engraving Corp. according to indicia.

Not too long after the Space Adventures incident, however, I would discover that Charlton had in fact published superheroes, just that they had been before my time. It was 1978 and my friend Jamie brought me face to face with another kid in our art class, boasting that I knew every superhero in existence. The other kid mentioned Peacemaker, a guy with guns, which troubled me — first, because superheroes didn't carry guns (at least not the traditional bullet-shooting kind), and second, because I'd never heard of Peacemaker. I don't recall whether the other kid tipped me off on where to find them or fate lent a hand (in the form of me checking my numerous comic-book haunts as frequently as possible), but within the week I had discovered a new crop of bagged triple packs — three comic books in one sealed plastic bag, two facing out with a mystery in the middle, sold for a dollar — at one of the local five-&-tens, with merchandise from a heretofore unknown publisher called Modern. And in those triple packs were issues of not only Peacemaker but Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Judomaster, Thunderbolt, and other titles utterly unfamiliar to me.

I would soon learn that the Modern line reprinted Charlton material from the past couple of decades — and later find out that Charlton, a printer and distributor as well as a publisher, actually owned the Modern imprint, using it for the triple packs (whose contents were apparently also sold individually) much as Western used the hated Whitman icon on issues of its own Gold Key titles as well as on DC issues for triple packs sold through five-&-tens, toy stores, and other non-newsstand outlets. The Charlton superheroes were different (some even unsettling me to the same degree as that Space Adventures cover), and I'll write more on all of them eventually, but arguably the most traditional and thus the most appealing to me at the time was Captain Atom. Only a few Modern issues existed, but luckily soon after the Modern experiment Charlton began reprinting Captain Atom stories from the beginning, in the latest revival of one of its best-known titles, the series that had introduced Captain Atom in its issue dated March 1960.

Three guesses as to what that series was...

Cover to Space Adventures [4th series] #9, reprinting Captain Atom's debut
from Space Adventures [2nd series] #33, © 1978 Charlton Publications Inc.

Scans are from and links are to The Grand Comics Database as usual. GCD editor Ramon Schenk runs a Charlton reference site and also hosts the online presence of the acclaimed fan magazine Charlton Spotlight. Captain Atom's 50th anniversary will be the subject of an imminent installment of First Friday on this very blog. [Update: Well, it was, but it's been taken down and will be posted elsewhere.]

Ebert, Oscars, Etc.

If you're not entirely over thinking about the Oscars yet, I recommend an article written by Entertainment Weekly columnist Mark Harris for New York Magazine titled "The Red Carpet Campaign: Inside the Singular Hysteria of the Academy Awards Race". While it was published Feb. 7th, it's still a worthwhile, thorough (long) behind-the-scenes look at the recent film-awards season.

Although neither pre-Oscars specials nor The Oprah Winfrey Show are usually my bag, I taped and caught up with the Oprah episode featuring Roger Ebert last week. Ebert and his wife, Chaz Hammel-Smith Ebert, visited to discuss his long battle with cancer and longer battle with that battle's complications, and to debut a new computerized voice specifically designed for the now-mute Ebert using nearly 30 years of television appearances as reference.

When my health made it difficult for me to get out much and my finances were fairly literally nil — a set of circumstances that I can't entirely relegate to the past tense — I frequented Borders. Sometimes I would arrange to meet friends there, it being a good destination for browsing on my part and theirs in case I was early, late, or unable to make it. Sometimes I would stop in for a respite among errands. Sometimes I would make it a destination unto itself, to soak in the social atmosphere and seasonal music or decorations even if I wasn't up to actual interaction... and, of course, to look at the books.

Screen Savor: Quick Hit

Jimmy Kimmel Live's post-Oscars show is repeating tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC. I've written before that JKL is usually out-of-sight, out-of-mind for me, but I greatly enjoy parts of it when I tune in; the post-Oscars show (also online at that link) had a sit-down with Robert Downey Jr., the premiere of an extended trailer for the new Iron Man movie (now everywhere, probably), a very strange taped segment with Christoph Waltz (an in-studio guest on last Tuesday's show), and another cameo-laden extravaganza in the mold of the hysterical "I'm [Shtupping] Ben Affleck" that brings us inside a meeting of The Handsome Men's Club.

It's All Good

An odd, infamous cover has been on my list to share for a while.

Cover to All Good © 1949 St. John Publications, via The Grand Comics Database.

You might find more boastful titles than All Good (its actual name, according to the indicia) — up to and including World's Best Comics, which would seem to have had the last word; there is no Greatest Comics in the Universe as far as I'm aware. What you won't find is a cover that makes its case more plainly.

Related Posts: Pigs in Space; June Bugs

Guerres des Noms

Promo shot © 2010 ABC & AMPAS.

So the much-discussed showdown between Avatar and The Hurt Locker — two very different movies about soldiers dealing with crucial, only-man-for-the-job missions — finally came to a head at the Oscars last night.

I'd been wondering if the Best Picture and Best Director prizes might be split between them, especially given the expanded roster of BP nominees. The fact that Academy members ranked their Picture picks instead of choosing just one, and the way those picks were tallied, probably cut down on any real "third-party" interference, however. And beyond the fact that
The Hurt Locker was a gripping, well-acted, well-told story with right-now, real-world resonance, I wouldn't be surprised if the analysts who pointed out that the Oscars' voting pool is overwhelmingly made up of actors were onto something.

The telecast was all right, but not a standout. While I laughed when I saw Neil Patrick Harris, his musical number was underwhelming — and I was surprised that there was no explicit joke along the lines of him assuming he'd be the host. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin had good, if mostly goofy, monologue material ("damn Helen Mirren"); I remember Martin's last time being funnier, though, and
Why could Alec Baldwin not stop his hands from fidgeting at his sides? My favorite presenting duo was Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr., drawing increasingly testy comparisons between writers and actors. My least favorite pair was Miley Cyrus, whose slumping shoulders and poor articulation come across not as "genuine" but as lazy, immature, and disrespectful of her good fortune, and Amanda Seyfried, sinking to Cyrus' level.

The awards themselves pretty much went out as expected. One school of thought goes that when there's little suspense fewer people watch, but I'd think that if folks are interested in and agree with the presumed winners then they'd want to see the acceptance speeches. [
Update: This was the highest-rated telecast in five years.] Then again, I also don't understand how the slate of Best Picture nominees or even the choice of host seriously drives viewers towards or away from the telecast. When I was growing up, the Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys (at least) were occasions for my sister and I to settle into our mom's bed — or, later, sleeping bags in the living room — and enjoy the tacky, communal spectacle of it all as a family ritual. Either you go for awards shows or you don't; not watching because you're sure Mo'Nique has it in the bag or you're still upset over Crash beating Brokeback Mountain is much stranger to me than having a thing for montages.

I had a real love/hate reaction to Christoph Waltz's Hans Landa in
Inglourious Basterds — and not in the sense that I loved the performance but hated that he was a Nazi — yet it's hard to deny that it was a tour de force. Stanley Tucci was apparently brilliant as usual in The Lovely Bones, which I didn't see; I wanted to, actually, despite the mixed reviews, because the cast was impressive, it was filmed here in the Philadelphia area, and Peter Jackson earned my admiration as much with the personal drama Heavenly Creatures as with Lord of the Rings. Hopefully Tucci's past work, from Murder One to Big Night to Julie and Julia, leads to some mass public as well as industry recognition one day soon.

With the other Actor nominees, I have no quibbles, although my gut was telling me to expect a possible upset in favor of Gabourey Sidibe over Sandra Bullock. I didn't see
The Blind Side, so it's possible that Bullock deserved the statue over Sidibe on the merits and not just because she's a lovely, genuine trouper who had a great year at the box office. But while it may be too much to ask Academy members to ignore context completely, I find nothing wrong with rewarding unknowns with Oscars for outstanding first-time (or thereabouts) performances, from Sidibe or An Education's Carey Mulligan this year to Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider to the overlooked Ellen Page in Hard Candy — which had the misfortune to come out the same year as Helen Mirren's The Queen, so Page never would have won, but the fact that she wasn't even nominated was cosmically criminal.

Neither of the songs from
The Princess and the Frog nominated for Best Song were the best songs in the movie, curiously. Good on T-Bone Burnett, who's resembling more and more a towering, blond Roy Orbison, for taking the Oscar for Crazy Heart's "The Weary Kind" with co-writer Ryan Bingham, though. I'm also happy for the supremely talented Michael Giacchino, winner of Best Score for Up, but the best film score I've heard in years was Bruno Coulais' mesmerizing work on Coraline, inexplicably shut out of the category. Likewise, as touching and enjoyable as Best Animated Feature Up was — and as strong as the category was across the board — I was disappointed that Fantastic Mr. Fox, perhaps my favorite film of last year, didn't take the gold guy; I'd easily have given it a Best Picture nod.

While it was great to see the deserving
District 9 in there, I suspect that the expansion of the Best Picture slate to ten only partly served its purpose. Entertainment Weekly's Oscars guru Dave Karger pointed out early and often that it was pretty obvious which of the ten would've made the traditional list of five, and the aforementioned numbered ballot helped reduce spoilage potential. I'd actually like to see the list settle around seven serious contenders, and wouldn't mind the Actor and Screenplay categories expanding to six or seven slots when the nominating ballots warrant it numbers-wise instead of having a hard cutoff at five, just as the so-called technical categories often have fewer than five nominees based on how things cluster.

I was ready to see either of the expected top contenders named Best Picture, although by the time Tom Hanks walked out there to announce the winner the vibe was pretty clearly in favor of
The Hurt Locker. Frankly, Inglourious Basterds could've pulled out an upset and I wouldn't have been disappointed, either, because I think Avatar dominated the epic/spectacle end of the conversational pool in a way that shuffled the literally ridiculously satisfying guignol of Basterds offstage. My grin was wide as Kathryn Bigelow's name was announced for Best Director, however; I had mostly been rooting for her, and The Hurt Locker overall, because the film was just a quality piece of work, but when the moment came the glass-ceiling factor was undeniably satisfying. I suspect that the dearth of female Director nominees and lack of any wins among women before last night has been due more to discrimination at the financing and filmmaking stages than when the Oscar ballots come around, but it's good to have the celluloid ribbon finally broken and great that it happened with such a deserving honoree.

Not So Frabjous

When I first saw the poster below left in a movie theater last summer, my reaction was the same as many other folks':

"Is that Madonna?"

As it turned out, of course, that was actually Tim Burton's longtime collaborator Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Burton's Alice in Wonderland. But something in the uneasy gap-toothed smile forged an eerie resemblance between the pair.

I was surprised that the early posters didn't show Alice herself, falling down the rabbit-hole or surrounded by the lushness of Wonderland as in the far superior one-sheet atop this post, rather than Depp's Hatter in close-up — not only because the actor (otherwise a presumed selling point) is so unrecognizable but because his dazed, dyspeptic expression isn't exactly what I consider inviting.

Little did I know at the time how closely that expression would reflect the way I felt as the movie unfolded.

Burton's Alice in Wonderland is, in a word, terrible. It's a generic, dark action fantasy that, at least based on their trailers, could just as easily be one of the big-screen adaptations I've never seen of videogames I've never played. And, oh yeah, it's not actually what you think of as Alice in Wonderland but, potential yet worthwhile spoiler alert, a sequel.

Just the other day I expressed my great love of the Alice books, so you might question whether I'm simply dismissing out of hand liberties taken with the source material. Except that in that same post I praised the books' adaptability to other media in forms both faithful and merely figurative. True, I was quite confused by the movie's opening scenes; surely Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton didn't mean for that Charles to be Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll – no, indeed, he's Charles Kingsley, and his daughter is Alice Kingsley, but surely the filmmakers knew that young Alice dreamt of Wonderland (if after all it was a dream) by the banks of a river at her sister's side, not in bed attended by her father. When the backstory further unfolded, I accepted it, plodding as it was, in the name of setting up why Alice was 19 years old in the film's present day rather than a decade younger, although really if you're cutting the original's opening you probably want to do so in the name of getting to Wonderland as quickly as possible rather than making viewers sit through a boring, predictable, uncomfortable sequence showing at too-great length Alice's unsuitability to the boring, predictable, uncomfortable life planned for her.

I felt a tentative thrill when voices from offscreen, spying upon Alice's misfortunes at the bottom of the rabbit-hole, suggested that Ms. Kingsley had been here before, but nothing good came from this twist. While only weakly echoing the original narrative, Burton tried to weave new mythology not even suggested in the books, as with the shoehorning of Alice into the poem "Jabberwocky" — on the coming Frabjous Day, we are told, Alice is destined to confront the titular creature with the fate of the realm hanging in the balance. Carroll imposed certain logical structures upon the Alice books — Through the Looking-Glass is, for instance, broadly patterned after a chess game — but Burton and Woolverton turned the delicious nonsense of the stories into a mundane hero's journey. They gave the Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, the Red and White Queens, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and the White Rabbit names. All this and another arguably big reveal smacked of dismissing the original story as a little girl's childish fantasy, and while even the brightest entries in Burton's oeuvre have forbidding undercurrents I'd never have suspected him as being anti-imagination.

My viewing companions were similarly unimpressed, although most weren't as taken aback as I was at the sheer ordinariness of it all. The movie has a 53% rating at Rotten Tomatoes (among "top critics" it's 61%, edging into "fresh" territory) and a coincidental score of 53 at Metacritic. We saw the 2D version, by the way, since I was expecting a bright, colorful Wonderland and didn't want the expected visual treats compromised by cumbersome (extra) glasses in service of a gimmick that generally impedes my enjoyment of what's onscreen.

It dawns on me that a new Tim Burton film long ago ceased to be a must-see event. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was a total delight before Burton's name meant anything to anyone, and Beetlejuice was brilliant, sending me and many others to the video store in search of his short films as profiles of him began to appear in the entertainment press. Batman and Batman Returns were wildly uneven but visual treats that at least (mostly) presented the Dark Knight in a gothic fashion properly reflecting his contemporary comic-book incarnation to the world at large. After the acclaimed Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, however, Mars Attacks! was a bizarre comedown — it still had its moments, but they probably added up to about five minutes altogether. After that, I only saw most Tim Burton movies, not all of them, although more as a function of having to be choosier when I was able to get to the theater; Big Fish I did not regret, though it could have been better, but Planet of the Apes represented time and money ill spent. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the main reason why I approached Wonderland with trepidation, as I enjoyed much about the film but hated Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka; those of you who, like I, found the Oprah clip in that film supremely jarring should brace yourself for a brief breakdance of sorts late in Alice, offputting less for the anachronism of its synth blast than the innate tackiness of same, not to mention that it sort of blows a running joke by showing us what's better left to the imagination.

There were some bright spots in this Wonderland, just not nearly enough for it to live up to that title in the generic or earn it as a worthy version of the Lewis Carroll masterpiece. Mia Wasikowska gave an appealing performance as the Alice she was hired to play. I would have enjoyed seeing Helena Bohnam Carter's take on the Red Queen or the Queen of Hearts in a faithful adaptation of Through the Looking-Glass or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland — in Burton's movie, as in Disney's familiar animated Alice and other adaptations, the two queens are conflated into one character. The Dormouse's total makeover as a sassy swashbuckling gal was actually a real standout. And even Anne Hathaway's ridiculously ethereal White Queen, if a bit too over-the-top, entertainingly exaggerated the royal mien she mastered under Julie Andrews in The Princess Diaries.

Perhaps, with the very significant exception of screenwriter Woolverton, the women of Wonderland are blameless and it was the men who messed up this movie. Except that Depp isn't bad as the Hatter, given the utter reinvention of the character, save for the unseemly intimation that he fancies Alice; nor are the similarly chameleonic Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts or the impressive voice cast, which includes Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, and Christopher Lee. No, I charge Burton with stealing Carroll's tartness.

Movie posters © 2009 Walt Disney Pictures.