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Alice in Wonderland, The Wolfman among new DVD reviews

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010). Here's the problem with the vast majority of movies based on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass: They're too tame, too hesitant and too conventional to really tap into the more unsettling aspects of an immortal fantasy that provides as much satisfaction for adults as for children. And now, falling down the rabbit hole of good intentions, is Tim Burton's take on the classic, a visually stimulating rendition that nevertheless comes off as lamentably timid. Carroll's 7-year-old protagonist has been transformed into a 19-year-old heroine (played by Mia Wasikowska), who escapes from a dull Victorian-era garden party only to find herself tumbling into the strange world known as "Underland." She quickly comes to learn that this mysterious place is ruled by the wicked Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who has usurped the throne from her saintly sister, the now-banished White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Convinced that it's all only a dream, Alice largely stumbles from one incident to the next; her strongest ally proves to be The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), who lost his marbles at the same time the White Queen lost her empire. Providing unnecessary backstory to an established character like the Hatter is the sort of boxed-in thinking that often torpedoes the picture. The changes made to the source material are, almost without exception, devoid of true vision or imagination, meaning that the most demented moments need to be embraced whenever they sporadically appear. The only cast member who truly excels is Bonham Carter, whose performance is outrageous enough to meet the demands of the Red Queen's excesses yet also allows a smidgen of pity to be applied toward the character's resigned awareness of her own deformity. The actress clearly holds the winning hand here, trumping all other players in this rickety house of cards.

DVD extras include a 6-minute look at the character of Alice; a 6-minute look at the character of The Mad Hatter; and a 7-minute piece on the film's visual effects.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **

THE THREE STOOGES COLLECTION: VOLUME EIGHT (1955-1959). The eighth and final collection finds the Stooges winding down their rich comic legacy – it's still decent stuff, even if the boys often found themselves relying on recycled footage and remaking many of their past hits. Moe Howard and Larry Fine also had to deal with switching out that third slot again: Just as Shemp Howard took over after the great Curly Howard retired in 1947 for health reasons, so did Joe Besser have to fill Shemp's shoes after the latter passed away in 1955. Shemp co-starred in the first 12 films in this set, with the subsequent four films relying on previously shot footage; Besser then assumed the mantle of the third Stooge for the final 16 shorts. Besser was no Curly, of course – heck, he wasn't even up to Shemp's standards – and as a result, the team as a whole suffered. But any Stooge fan who already owns the previous seven box sets will certainly want to complete their collection. Incidentally, after ending their 34-year run of shorts, the team tried its hand at feature-length tales, as Moe, Larry and yet another new Stooge, Joe DeRita, starred in such motion pictures as Snow White and the Three Stooges and The Three Stooges in Orbit.

There are no extras in the set.

Collection: **1/2

Extras: *

THE WOLFMAN (2010) Loosely based on the 1941 classic The Wolf Man, this disappointing new take casts Benicio Del Toro in Lon Chaney Jr.'s iconic role of Lawrence Talbot, the British-born nobleman who returns to his family estate after spending most of his life in the United States. Estranged from his aloof father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), Lawrence prefers the company of his late brother's fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), but he fears for her safety after a wound from a ferocious creature periodically turns him into a monster. Although he's physically right for the role, Del Toro's line readings are unbearably stilted, and he brings none of the playfulness that Chaney contributed in his rendition. In short, he's a brooding bore. Fresh from triumphing as the title character in The Young Victoria, Blunt is alarmingly one-note, hampered by a sketchy part that allows her to do little more than pout and fret. As for Hopkins, he's clearly indifferent to the whole project, and one suspects his eyes kept darting back and forth between the dopey script in one hand and the hefty paycheck in the other as he mulled over whether to accept the part. The makeup design by Rick Baker is excellent, although the transformation scenes aren't nearly as thrilling as the pivotal one in 1981's An American Werewolf in London (for which Baker won the first of his six Oscars). Yet what sinks the film on the technical side is the abundance of CGI effects; these simply come off as (no pun intended) overkill, although viewers will probably be too busy tittering at the risible dialogue anyway to concentrate on much else. As for the epic battle pitting werewolf versus werewolf – well, let's just say it couldn't be any less frightening had the filmmakers elected to pit Pekingese against Poodle.

The DVD contains an unrated version that runs 16 minutes longer than the theatrical cut (also included). The extras consist of two deleted scenes; three extended scenes; and trailers.

Movie: *1/2

Extras: *1/2

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