Tophat and I were remarking on the large number of movie reviews we here at Faceplant have been doing lately, and I admit it’s been a lot. But fact is watching a movie is much simpler than beating a 60 hour game or reading through the entire archives of a comic and I’m in the process of moving, so today I bring you Malice in Wonderland.
There’s something about Lewis Carroll’s most recognized work that lends itself to discussions on the seedier aspects of society. This likely has to do with the fact that he seems to have been on a serious opium binge while writing the stories of Alice. The first of these to catch my eye was the EA game Alice in 2000. I never actually played the game, but I was intrigued by the premise. I think that’s part of the reason I had to watch Malice in Wonderland when it popped up on Netflix. That and Maggie Grace on the cover.
There’s something about those odd British folk that makes them tell stories that are generally weird and deeply character driven. In a lot of ways Malice in Wonderland reminds me of one of my all time favorites, 28 Days Later, though they’re really nothing alike. Aside of the Britishness and the black cab, and the music to an extent. Which is to say not at all.
This particular take on the magical world of Alice stars Maggie Grace of Lost fame. I admit I never finished Season 2 so I don’t know the disappointment the world met when the whole thing ended and when I left Maggie was only beginning to come out of her annoying bout of clueless uselessness. Her role as Alice is a significantly less annoying bout of clueless uselessness. These makes her much more attractive and less of an annoying sorority girl. But while Maggie’s performance is wonderful, as Alice’s story generally goes the most interesting characters are those that Alice meets along the way. Many of the old stand-bys have taken on fresh, sometimes unrecognizable, personas. The London underground, that’s with a lowercase U mind you, is full of fascinating characters. There’s the hydroponic Bonnie and Clyde the rhymin dope deala Caterpillar and his lady of the evening and the hilarious Steve Haze as Midge the crafty little guy Alice always seems to chasing.
The plot is non-existent on a soap opera scale. Poor Alice is lost in London without her memory and this leads her on a wild ride through an insane twist and turn in a visually striking land not quite in London and not quite out of it. Supposedly Alice was trying to find someone she lost a long time ago before she took a hit on the head but there’s hardly any focus on this bit until the end.
What makes this movie interesting is what Netflix terms stunning visuals. It’s no Amelie, but it couldn’t be. It has to be grittier. It is about a bunch of sleazy criminals after all. Still, it is a beautiful film to watch and the British comedy is quite good. Which brings me to another point.
I’ve been noticing lately American comedy is stagnating at the level of third grade humor. If you’ve caught any of the “must watch” sitcoms of late your likely to have seen the disturbingly high rate of potty humor and stereotypes. A friend of my begged me to pick up Modern Family and I found it to be a perfect example of just that sort of low brow comedy. I flipped it on one night and found the janitor from Scrubs, or the FBI man from the Fugitive if you prefer, complaining about having to take out the trash and going on about how his family doesn’t listen to a word he says. Hasn’t America seen the Honeymooners? Sure there were a few off-color jokes about smells from the bathroom and his daughter’s pseudo lesbian relationship or something but really.
I know Dad wants to meet his daughter’s date at the door with a shotgun. I know that Dad wants nothing more than to sit and watch the game and drink beer instead of cleaning the gutters. Oh, and did I mention he hates his in-laws? This has been going on in television since its inception. Just because the whole world is on a recycling kick doesn’t mean comedy writers have to be. When a few brilliant minds in Hollywood actually get an audience in front of the executives and manipulate them into making shows like Arrested Development or Better off Ted the executives manage to convince the advertisers that no one wants this type of thing and off it goes after a few seasons. Fox is notorious for this sort of thing. They are better at killing good shows than anyone out there.
So why does Britain have great shows like Top Gear and The IT Crowd? Well I’ve been thinking about that. If you’ve read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 then I think you know the answer. America has frequently been described as a cultural melting pot. A blending of people from all over the world. It’s what makes this country great. All the best minds coming here for a better life and a shot at the big time.
For some reason it doesn’t quite work out that way in the world of TV executives. No, these fools think they need to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to make their bread. Well, not bread, more like caviar and Dom Per. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no problem with people making money. But when they are sitting on a pile of dough already and are afraid to take risks I have a big problem. Where would American culture be without Seinfeld? Talk about your risks. A show about nothing? Come on. Who would have guessed it would become the longest running sitcom of all time?
The merits of the show are arguable, sure. But my point is clear. In Britain you have the BBC. The largest broadcaster in the world. Sure it’s mostly government-funded which means if it doesn’t maximize profits one-quarter people get aggravated but no major action is taken. But there’s no reason corporate run networks can’t take the same risks. I have faith in American society. If you leave shows like Arrested Development in a time slot that viewers can consistently find and give it the correct amount of marketing it will become popular, and might even reach the level of Seinfeld or Cheers. When is the last time American television featured something at those levels of clever and popular entertainment? Everybody Loves Raymond? Maybe.
But my point is, the British are willing to take the risks necessary to make a clever and funny production, and Malice in Wonderland is an example. Perhaps not a fine example, but an example nonetheless. Just make sure you watch it late at night. And with all stories set in Wonderland, a certain amount of opium or other hallucinogens couldn’t hinder the movie, I’m sure. We don’t want to become mindless drones surrounded by our 4-D sets now do we?
If you don’t know that you should watch Malice in Wonderland after my soapbox grandstanding, then you don’t know you shouldn’t.