Two more movie reviews

When pressed for inspiration for a topic but lacking any, it helps to keep a queue of movie reviews. Here are two more for your consideration.

Greenfingers (2000)

It’s hard to believe, but a movie can make Clive Owen look not particularly attractive. Owen, who recently played opposite Julia Roberts in the less than stellar movie Duplicity (2009) also had the lead role in Greenfingers back in 2000. In Duplicity, Clive Owen is all super handsome and buff. Here he plays the prisoner Colin Briggs who while a teenager and in a fit of berserk rage accidentally killed his own brother. Of course, he was sent into the British penal system where he endured a hard life in a dreary gray prison, a prison he expected to die in. Since his violent episodes did not recur, Briggs showed the promise of full rehabilitation. Very unexpectedly, he finds himself transferred to HMP Leyhill, an experimental prison without walls in the English countryside. Ironically, at first he prefers the old prison. He had gotten used to it.

Now he has to get used to his roommate Fergus (David Kelly), a serene old man who very late in life has found peace within his soul. At first, Fergus’s happiness freaks Briggs out. Briggs is not in the “prison” long before he discovers that Fergus is not only old, he is slowly dying because he often spends weeks in the infirmary. That often leaves Briggs alone and staring at Fergus’s houseplant, which after a while he starts guiltily watering. The progressive governor at Leyhill (Warren Clarke) notices him taking care of the plant and decides he’s been cleaning toilets long enough. Briggs has a new task for him: to create and plant a prison garden. He is given some guides to gardening written by the British gardening maven Georgina Woodhouse (played by Helen Mirren). Briggs and a half dozen of his very burly and virile fellow prisoners halfheartedly begin their garden, with Fergus helping when he can.

It is hard to imagine a more unlikely group of gardeners. As you might suspect, against all odds Briggs develops a genius for gardening, in the process also absorbing every book Georgina Woodhouse ever wrote, who he sees as a role model. The garden eventually comes to the attention of Woodhouses’s daughter Primrose (Natasha Little). Her exposure to Briggs oddly leads to love and to meeting the famous Georgina Woodhouse. The prisoners’ brilliance in the prison garden leads to more exposure and finally to an exhibition at Great Britain’s premier garden exposition.

This movie is based on a true story. Greenfingers is a sincere and understated movie. Owen seems a bit miscast in the role, at least compared with much of his other work, including likely his best part ever in the amazing Children of Men. It is a strange and sweet movie of a set of wholly improbable events that slowly result in Brigg’s spiritual resurrection. If you like heartwarming movies, Greenfingers will fit the bill. While better than most movies, its gentle structure will not let it soar that high. 3.0 on my four-point scale.

Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton is rapidly becoming one of my favorite directors. Where there is a Burton directing, you know the odds are good that Johnny Depp will be one of the stars. The two go back two decades now to Depp’s breakout role with Burton in Edward Scissorhands. Since Helena Bonham Carter did such a fabulous job with both Burton and Depp in Sweeney Todd, she was also invited back. Alice though cannot possibly soar as high as the delightfully gruesome and brilliant Sweeney Todd. Still, both Depp and Carter give Alice in Wonderland their best, Depp playing the weird but harmless Mad Hatter and Carter playing the impulsive and largely empty-headed Red Queen. Playing Alice is Mia Wasikowska, who is very well cast for the part. In spite of Depp and Carter’s fine acting, I actually enjoyed Wasikowska’s more, who with Burton’s fine directing nails the young adult Alice to near perfection.

The title of the movie is really a misnomer, since this is actually really Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, a sequel to Alice in Wonderland. In this telling, Alice is navigating her way into adulthood. She is expected to marry a foppish British Lord and live an ordinary upper crust life. Of course, her experiences in Wonderland serve to inform her that she cannot live that sort of life. She will have to break the mold and live a more adventurous one, one like her late father, who was a daring adventurer and entrepreneur.

I hope I didn’t give away too much but most likely you are already familiar with Alice and Through the Looking Glass. Like most movies these days, Burton depends on a lot of CGI and it is all woven together with live action so seamlessly that it is very well visualized, as you would expect. There is a lot to like about this version of Alice. There are really no off performances, but few that soar. I particularly liked Tweedledum and Tweedledee, with both parts performed by Matt Lucas. The ending was particularly well done, with Alice called to battle the Red Witch’s champion, the Jabberwocky. You know that Alice is going to win this battle somehow. Yet, it is hard not to shed a tear for her anyhow when she finally triumphs and applaud for her when she ends up back on Terra Firma and takes command of her life from her mother and host of relatives. Alice gets to grow up and Wonderland is her unlikely catalyst.

I have yet to see a bad Tim Burton movie, although I have not seen all he has done. Still, while no masterpiece, it is fun and engaging, at least to those of us who are only casually acquainted with Carroll’s books. 3.3 on my four-point scale.

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