Alice Through the Looking Glass Review: A Depp in the Wrong Direction


Director: James Bobin

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


2/5

Best part: Sacha Baron Cohen.

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

A-lister extraordinaire Johnny Depp has had, even by his standards, a bizarre past twelve months. On top of hilarious run-ins with foreign governments, the actor was forced to confront his mother’s passing, a costly divorce to Amber Heard, allegations of domestic abuse, a dwindling worldwide fanbase, and a string of critical and commercial flops. His latest misadventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, has done nothing to part the dark clouds hanging over his current predicament.

In amongst misfires like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and Mortdecai, 2010’s woeful Alice in Wonderland and its sequel add to the actor’s ever-growing list of crushing cinematic hiccups. Part of 2016’s collection of sequels nobody asked for, this installment continues ‘acclaimed’ filmmaker Tim Burton’s bright, shiny, unwarranted vision. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished ship captain coming home after over a year on the high seas. Cast out by her bitter ex-fiance (Leo Bill), she falls back into Underland with a thud. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Absolem (Alan Rickman), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) among others, Alice seek to cure the Mad Hatter(Johnny Depp)’s sadness.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is an unnecessary and underwhelming homage to Alice in Wonderland‘s legacy. Based very loosely on Lewis Carroll’s seminal works, the movie delivers few original ideas or twists. Plot-points including the Hatter’s long-lost family and the Red Queen’s backstory fail to justify this sequel’s existence. Although covered in Burton’s grimy fingerprints, director James Bobin (The Muppets) is left to pick up the scraps. This time around, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returns from exile with a new antagonist – Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). So that’s…something. Despite said talented cast and crew, everything about this production – From the typecasting to its overwhelming reliance of style over substance –  comes off as pure self-indulgence.

Alice Through the Looking Glass haphazardly toys with several intriguing ideasTime’s dungeon-like domain is operated with textbook precision. Each person’s soul is encapsulated by a stopwatch, with human life determined by Time’s current mood. Leaping between his own motivations and Underland’s well-being, the character – supported by Cohen’s Werner Herzog/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression – provides a welcome spark of life. Sadly, the movie delivers a mind-numbing assault on the senses. Packed with unconvincing green-screen vistas and brash CGI characters, the experience is more tiresome than entertaining. In this day and age, over-the-top performances from Depp, Carter, and Hathaway are no longer interesting. Meanwhile, talented actors including Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, and Geraldine James are underutilised.

Like many of 2016’s new releases, this fantasy-adventure reeks of sequelitis’ unbearable stench. Dragging a talented cast and crew through the mud, the uninspired direction and leaden screenplay make this yet another strike against Depp’s once-glowing reputation.

Verdict: A useless, mind-numbing sequel.

Interstellar Review – The Space-Mind Continuum


Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine


Release date: November 6th, 2014

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 169 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The mind-blowing visuals.

Worst part: The exasperating length.

Whenever a Christopher Nolan feature is released, two distinctive camps wage war. One group, known simply as the Nolanites, strives to elevate the acclaimed British filmmaker’s status. Convinced he’s cinema’s biggest game-changer, this cult pushes internet comment sections to breaking point. The other group directly clashes with the Nolanites. Convinced he’s another Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, the group causes a stir before, during, and after each movie’s buzz-time. His latest monster, Interstellar, has crafted the decade’s boldest cinema-related feud. Inexplicably, it’s a behemoth ripe for praise and parody.

Matthew McConaughey vs. the universe.

So, how did Interstellar garner said backlash? Oh boy, where do I begin?! There are many reasons behind said divisive reaction. Hot on The Dark Knight Rises‘ heels, it had a fascinating production history. Passed from Steven Spielberg to Nolan, the production undertook  several exponential changes. Working from  brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan’s original script, Nolan crafts a concoction of weighty concepts, directorial ticks, and peculiar casting choices. Indeed, Spielberg’s version would have worked. However, Nolan’s version is a scintillating yet flawed epic. The story is…seriously, where do I begin?! This extravaganza follows mankind’s journey to infinity and beyond. Former NASA test pilot/engineer turned corn farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a bland life. Born into a warring world, he’s pushed through food wars, social obliteration, and his wife’s death. This widower, fathering Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), treats his job and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) with contempt. Humankind, regressing into an agrarian society, must contend with blight, dust storms, and economic/political/social/cultural failure. In fact, its schools teach children about phony, propagandistic space programs and 20th-century “excess and wastefulness”. Murph, convinced a ghost haunts her room, asks for Cooper’s help. Thanks to gravitational anomalies, it outlines a binary message listing nearby coordinates. Finding NASA’s underground station, Cooper is chosen for a humanity-saving mission. Aided by astronaut Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and artificially intelligent robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart), Cooper searches for life-sustaining systems and multi-tiered dimensions.

Anne Hathaway.

Interstellar bares several overwhelming positives and mind-numbing negatives. Wanting to have its cake and eat it too, the movie reaches for the stars but just misses. As notoriety and power rushes to these siblings’ heads, their latest aims higher than the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception combined. Despite Chris’ majesty, his reach still exceeds his grasp. So, with this in mind, why the high rating? The well-renowned filmmaker, switching from mind-bending blockbusters to unique drama-thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to outside-the-box surprises (Following, The Prestige), still deserves immense credit. His style, delivering blockbusters no one else can compete with, deserves meticulous study and discussion. Interstellar, despite being a lesser effort, is born from full-blooded ambition. Unlike previous efforts, light, space, and optimism solidify its core. Fuelled by intriguing ideas, multi-layered plot-lines, and major themes, each act delivers significant twists and turns. Standing out from the second-two thirds, the opening 45-60 minutes weave through parenthood, global degradation, and spirituality. Despite the leaps in logic, the first third delivers touching moments and picturesque flourishes. Ripping up/burning down corn fields, poetic happenstances, and far-fetched ideologies, its less-is-more approach switches between  apocalyptic-actioner tropes and ponderous dream-weaving. After Cooper’s run-ins with Dylan Thomas poetry aficionado/Earth saviour professor Brand (Michael Caine), Nolan hurls us into the stratosphere. Pulling us into his galaxy-hopping journey, the second-two-thirds obsess over quantum mechanics, wormholes, potential home-worlds, black-holes, physics, and relativity. The convoluted screenplay, spilling vital details through exposition, becomes a miasma of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne-approved science mumbo-jumbo, plot-holes, needless plot-strands, and contrivances.

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” (Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Interstellar).

Jessica Chastain & Casey Affleck.

Sadly, Interstellar‘s egregious run-time is inexcusable. Exhausting his audience, Nolan’s latest is too dark for too long. In the last third, its grand-scale messages send it into a crash landing. Flipping between hard science and love-and-fate-conquer-all posturing, Nolan becomes lost in his own tumultuous labyrinth. However, its smaller moments add emotional resonance, awe, and stakes. Nolan’s uncompromising visual flourishes are worth the admission cost. Wearing its central influences – 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Right Stuff – on its sleeve, it laps up the universe’s wondrous creations. Lapping up our solar system, Saturn has never looked so appealing! Also, the black-holes/wormholes are vast, awe-inspiring obstacles. The planets – constructed of water, ice and sand – are imaginative constructions. Shooting on anamorphic 35mm film, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography paints with delectable strokes. Nolan’s world-building – depicting space’s weightlessness, silence, and claustrophobia – delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills. Nolan’s process – utilising practical effects over CGI – improves over each set piece, visual flourish, and extended take. Capturing space travel, human endeavour, and astronomy’s overwhelming merits, his style crafts engaging dreamscapes. Hans Zimmer’s organ-based score, coming in at opportune moments, amplifies the movie’s atmospheric glow. Throughout the middle-third, cross-cutting between space-and-time-tearing adventures and Murph(Jessica Chastain)’s and Tom(Casey Affleck)’s sibling rivalry, its overly insistent momentum swings wildly. However, the action – including one set piece connecting a shuttle to a damaged spacecraft – amplifies Nolan’s glorious style. Also, McConaughey elevates this monolithic sci-fi extravaganza. Crafting new inflections and ticks, the Oscar winner solidifies his immense worth.

Swinging for the fences, Interstellar attempts to deconstruct blockbuster cinema and create ground-breaking celluloid playgrounds. Despite the polarising screenplay and directorial choices, Nolan’s ambitions deliver several heart-breaking moments and wondrous flourishes. Delivering 2014’s ultimate movie-going experience, his willpower and attention to detail overshadow other action-adventure filmmakers’ styles. Aiding Nolan’s grand-scale project, McConaughey and Hathaway are flawless in beautiful roles. As an enthralling concoction of Cloud Atlas, Sunshine, and The Grapes of Wrath, this is true big-budget spectacle. However, Gravity achieved much more in half the length.

Verdict: A flawed yet invigorating sci-fi extravaganza.

Les Miserables Review – A Sombre Sililoquy


Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: William Nicholson (screenplay), Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil (musical), Victor Hugo (novel)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried


Release date: December 25th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: UK

Running time: 158 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Oscar-worthy performances from Jackman and Hathaway.

Worst part: The love triangle.

A young girl’s visage is draped across the screen, her voice whistling in the wind as she drags her suitcase cross a bitterly snow-covered French landscape. This devastating image is part of what makes 2012’s Les Miserables such a profound piece of theatrical storytelling. This story now has a cinematic opus worthy of its esteemed emotional core and harsh re-telling of the French Revolution. Les Miserables is a moody and eclectic adaptation of this epic story of rebellion in the heart of 19th century Paris.

Hugh Jackman.

Les Miserables captures the visceral qualities of this historically significant tale. Based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel, the stage musical has been adapted countlessly on stage and screen. This adaptation begins with Jean Valjean(Hugh Jackman)’s release after a 19 year imprisonment. Locked up for stealing a loaf of bread, his courage and tenacity have led to an exiled existence. Cast out into the cold by both the law and the lower class, Valjean’s religious awakening leads to a life in hiding. 8 years later and Valjean, having broken his parole laws, is the target of Parisian prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean seeks a peaceful life in France as a factory owner. Despite Valjean’s efforts to keep women in his factory and out of the cold, the ill-fortunes of single mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) go tragically unnoticed. Valjean swears to protect her daughter Cosette, feeling he has wronged Fantine in horrific ways. Years later, the ‘June Rebellion’ affects both Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), as Cosette falls in love and Valjean’s time on the run may soon be at an end.

Russell Crowe.

Les Miserables is much more of a sweeping epic than a dull period piece. The film captures one of Europe’s darkest times through a haunting visual style. Each filthy, claustrophobic setting becomes a dark labyrinth. This is a story where good people are made to suffer and wallow in filth while people who can help stand over them. For example, the first scene is one of astounding beauty and severe consequence for our hero. A ship is pulled into the docks by an army of prisoners. Their chant is a battle cry of hatred and despair, while Javert looks down upon them with an unmistakeable sense of disgust. ‘Look Down’ is one of the film’s greatest musical numbers and a perfect way to introduce the increasingly sombre tone. Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) once again proves to be an Oscar-worthy visionary. His take on a beloved classic is an emotionally powerful stance against crime and corruption. Hooper has created an uplifting modern musical and a stirringly cinematic Spartacus/A Tale of Two Cities style epic. Atrocities in 21 century France, Egypt and Libya make this harrowing story of teenage rebellion as relevant today as it was during the acclaimed novel’s creation. The ‘June Rebellion’ is one of the film’s most powerful sequences.

Anne Hathaway.

Guns and ideologies clash as political uprising rears its ugly head. ‘Red and Black’ is harmoniously voiced in unison; becoming a rousing musical number with moral and social importance. Despite this story’s stance on civil upheaval, this is an operatic tale of loss and redemption from Valjean’s perspective. Valjean is a man convinced that religion and humanity have shown him the way to a better life. He is a strong protagonist in this cat-and-mouse tale as he constantly searches for a way to enlighten his tragic existence. Fantine, however, becomes brutally disfigured by loss and heartache. Her sacrifices were made so that Cosette could live a peaceful life. But Fantine tragically falls into the depths of tuberculosis and prostitution. Javert, on the other hand, is a vague character. His obsession with catching Valjean remains sorely enigmatic and understated. This bombastic affair is tempered by Hooper’s choice to have his actors sing live. Instead of the over-dubbing process used in most screen musicals, this unique process allows the vocals to intertwine seamlessly with the soundtrack. Each sputter, tear and torment comes across in each note, aiding the darkness of this adaptation. Hooper’s hand-held camera-work also adds to the film’s gritty edge. Focusing on the wavering emotions embedded in each character, the camera tracks across each scene and illuminates the endless emotional current.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” (Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), Les Miserables).

Amanda Seyfried & Eddie Redmayne.

Amanda Seyfried & Eddie Redmayne.

The camera-work matches each crescendo, using swift crane shots to transition from one scene to the next. The film’s stellar performances are likely to garner Oscar acclaim. Jackman has never been better. He is a captivating presence as every ballad is delivered with melodic force. ‘Valjean’s Soliloquy’ is performed with a devastating amount of pain and anger. Hathaway is a remarkable talent here as Fantine. Her portrayal is one of harrowing sorrow; providing the definitive version of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. Bravo! Russell Crowe is always an intense presence on-screen. He continues this here going scene for scene with Jackman. He is however unable to match Jackman’s stellar vocal range. His gruff tone hammers each ballad with a thud instead of a ring. The sickening tone is balanced by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as ludicrous thieving innkeepers, the Thenardiers. ‘Master of the House’ is a harmonious and whimsical number illustrating the depths they have sunken to. Seyfried brings a canary-like chirp to scenes of emotional dexterity. The love story however is underdeveloped. Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks are convincing yet shift the focus too far away from Jackman’s enthralling embodiment of Valjean.

Hooper’s adaptation of Les Miserables hits the high notes. Powerful performances and rousing musical numbers stand out in this cinematic extravaganza likely to compel audiences during Oscar season.

Verdict: A stirring and sumptuous screen musical. 

The Dark Knight Rises Review – The Final Flight


Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan

Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine


Release date: July 20th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: Nolan’s direction.

Worst part: The leaps in logic.

With a penchant for achieving both artistic integrity and visceral entertainment with his acclaimed works, Christopher Nolan has now seemingly achieved the impossible. The Dark Knight Rises delivers on its promises, while defying impossible fan boy expectations, to create an over-long yet powerfully affecting conclusion to the Dark Knight Saga.

Christian Bale & Tom Hardy.

Set eight years after the Joker’s wrath upon Gotham City and Harvey Dent’s downfall from heroic grace, Gotham is at peace. A crippled Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is torn from its citizens through his own exile. Despite a slinky cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), hot on his trail, Wayne is still determined to rebuild his shattered company, Wayne Enterprises, and restore his family’s honour. But this promise of redemption in the eye of a first world order comes at a powerful price. Under the city, a new evil has crawled to the surface; determined to destroy its hate filled existence. Bane (Tom Hardy), a complex yet threatening psychopath  and terrorist leader, leads the strike against Gotham’s democratic order. His thirst for destruction plunges the city into  darkness, drawing the controversial yet hailed caped crusader out of the shadows to end Bane’s destruction of Gotham’s integral infrastructure.

Anne Hathaway.

Nolan has created an influential, thrilling and poignant tale of good and evil set in the confines of a city under siege. His vision is ever changing, blending together fantastical and realistic elements in an organic fashion. Nolan’s unique and constantly evolving style has developed a balance between dystopian crime-drama and artistic action cinema. The Dark Knight Rises is definitely the most formalist instalment in this already revered saga, as the grand scale of this epic masterpiece creates the climactic struggle for democracy within Gotham’s soul. This is a powerful story created by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, crossing the boundaries of modern blockbuster cinema through emotional depth, a relevant thematic structure and a truly involving and epic sense of scale. The thematic and symbolic structure is based on both Nolan’s artistic influences and the relevance of a crumbling democratic society. The destruction of economic and social order, inspired by Metropolis and The Taking of Pelham 123, is carefully examined through Bane’s madness and Catwoman’s desire for a shared socio-economic society. As a symbol of the wealthy elite in peril, Wayne must ultimately face his harshest fears to protect the citizens of Gotham. With Batman Begins symbolising the importance of fear and The Dark Knight questioning the structure of a post 9/11 society through chaos, The Dark Knight Rises creates a crumbled existence based on the relevance of social order.

“We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.” (Bane (Tom Hardy), The Dark Knight Rises).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Gary Oldman.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Gary Oldman.

The personification of all three elements here is Bane. A mythic creature born with a taste for torturous violence and a vision of ‘freedom’ within Gotham City, his violent ‘Occupy Wall Street’ based assault on Gotham’s elite social hierarchy creates a terrifying yet empathetic presence. Immersed in terrifying villainy, similarly to Heath Ledger’s Joker, Hardy is a dramatic and physical force. With a multi-layered muscular structure aiding his cold demeanour, thick accent and thirst for pain, Bane goes toe to toe with Batman, using his tortured soul to create a similar sense of anguish for Gotham’s citizens. Hardy also creates an awe-inspiring menace through brutal fighting ability. His lack of remorse and fierce physical presence creates a truly potent and symbolic battle with Batman, particularly in their first fight sequence featuring beautifully shot and creatively choreographed martial arts. Bale delivers one of his greatest performances here as the emotionally decayed anti-hero figure, particularly through poignant interaction with Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Hathaway commands the screen with a much needed ferocity. While Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provide solid turns in important roles close to Wayne’s emotional separation from Gotham’s existence.

Arguably the best trilogy in the history of Hollywood cinema, Nolan has grown as a film-maker through his creation of an emotionally gripping and revered superhero saga. Through this depiction of poignant characterisation, a symbolic visual style and resonant thematic core, this truly is cinema as it’s meant to be.

Verdict: An emotionally gripping conclusion to one of modern cinema’s greatest trilogies.