Malice in Wonderland. Simon Fellows’s, though made first, is the second version this year of the Lewis Carroll children’s classic, updated (albeit little more distorted than Tim Burton’s) in a depopulated urban underground in North East England, with a funhouse atmosphere of tilted cameras and electric Expressionistic color. It is often good to look at, not least for the comely Maggie Grace as an amnesiac adult Alice, but the forced fidelity to the original text — to the Mad Hatter, to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, to the Cheshire Cat, to the (now male) Queen of Hearts — becomes a ball-and-chain.
The Secret of Kells. Tomm Moore’s recent Oscar loser in the animation category, largely hand-drawn, flat and unfluid, to mythologize the creation of a Medieval Irish illuminated manuscript, from which numerous visual motifs have been lifted. An esoteric cartoon (who’s it for?) to say the least, soporific to say the worst, so stylized as to eliminate the menace from a pack of wolves or the magic from a woodland fairy.
The Perfect Game. Fact-based inspirationalism appalling and amusing in ineptitude (William Dear, director): a scrappy upstart Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico, blazes a trail across the U.S. to the 1957 World Series in Williamsport, evidently without ever having played a prior game, and without encountering en route a single intelligible and suspenseful baseball situation. (Coach, Clifton Collins, Jr.; spiritual guidance, Cheech Marin.) The ignorance of the sport is tipped off early: “I tipped it,” protests a batter after a swinging third strike, even though the catcher cleanly catches the ball. If I need to explain that to you, maybe it wouldn’t bother you.
The Warlords. Hoked-up Civil War epic, visually very uneven, set in mid-19th-century China, featuring three of the usual suspects, Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kineshiro, and directed by a new name to me, Peter Ho-Sun Chan. The weighty statements on the specific history and on war in general are subverted by eruptions of martial-arts silliness in the hand-to-hand combat. A filmmaker must choose whether he wants to be taken seriously or taken sillily. He can’t have it both ways.