No one hard-boils glamor like Humphrey Bogart. And here in the inauguration of his peremptory charm, first-time director John Huston gives film noir the slanted shadows to match the ones under Bogart’s eyes. Raymond Chandler slashed it with rain before sticking its romance in the cold corner pocket, like Dashiell Hammett (who pens the book Huston adapts), a man of mean streets and smoky rooms, of loose broads and heroes who charge by the hour. Huston gets it. He gives a hard-drinking city its cool hilarity, that crease-faced ire of Bogart turning whiskey glasses to dust in a fit of rage, storming out, and grinning in the hall, too pleased with himself. He gives it the broken bottle dreams that would pass to Rick Blaine. He’s no story, all character. If he doesn’t make the first noir, he makes the first that knows itself.
won·der noun a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable
If Disney and director James Bobin will not remember the particular verses hiding within this one, indispensably childlike word, which can only be felt bouncing on a knee or lying under the stars, then at least you might. “Inexplicable” is the only one of those words that applies to “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” a film that rehashes Tim Burton’s rehash of Lewis Carroll to the point that the lack of wonder is actually discomfiting. Like the movie spread its sick into the hole your wonder used to live in. I can explain how it makes me feel, but not how it was made by thinking human beings.
Stars and planets constantly move, but even a thousand years ago they looked the same from earth, inspiring countless mythologies to adopt similar symbols for love, loss, life, and time. From the perspective of those stars, humans must appear quite cyclical folk, making the same mistakes and chasing the same dreams no matter the millennia. “The Fountain” is a story of love and loss as from the perspective of those stars. Unfortunately, it seems like the stars spent less time reading Joseph Campbell (author of the mythologist’s bible, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”) than they spent watching “The Notebook.” It’s as mystifyingly impersonal as you’d imagine of a rom-com (hold the com) from Icarus’ point of view. But where it really burns up is how discernible it all is once you sweep up the mythic pretension of a three thousand year story and put what’s left back on its cramped, 96-minute shelf.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is Neolithic in its scrawling horror, chilly as autumn in its perverted imagination, the 21st century’s proof of the “dark fantasy.” Though I haven’t considered the subcategory necessary since “Alice in Wonderland” proved that even the most innocent-seeming fantasy is incisively and queasily dark, here we are, darker than ever. “The Lord of the Rings” proved a fair point for the genre by giving fantasy back to the adults. But if Peter Jackson reintroduced us to the old stories, he did so only as we see them now. If wonderment was an apartment building, Jackson would be its doorman.
How can wonderment be an apartment building? “Pan’s Labyrinth” gives fantasy back to the child in the adult. Its wonderment is a bone-riddled cave gaping at the brain stem of your imagination. Guillermo Del Toro is its dragon.
There is no fantasy until you hear the “Once Upon a Time,” which the French director Jean Cocteau wisely knew was the same, to the childlike spirit, as “Open Sesame.” You must cross these words as a ring of salt, a barrier to wonderment that you believe in every fiber to be real, as though you’re one of the chosen few who remembers them. J.R.R. Tolkien’s monomyth (or, his one fairy-tale to rule them all) understands what it means to say “Open Sesame.” “Much that was, is lost,” a voice regrets, “for none now live who remember it.” This is the invitation to waft into his parchment tapestry, his wondrous wild ride of humorous darkness and fairy-tale breakfasts and trolls.
A wearying task falls on me, however: to separate J.R.R. Tolkien’s wonderment from Peter Jackson’s presentation of it. More on this later.